"... 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. 3, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1974 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster




T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Ezekiel 43:1-12

AT a time when the temple in Jerusalem was in ruins, Ezekiel the prophet was shown a spiritual temple, measured out by a man with a golden measuring rod. The measurements were all exact; the prophet was led in, led through, led round, led up, set down, so that he could see it from every side. From every angle and every aspect this spiritual house, which was God's mind accurately expressed, was shown to him. For Ezekiel it was a spiritual temple, and it remains so until now. Then the command was given to him to show it to the house of Israel, so that they should be thoroughly ashamed -- presumably at their own short-comings.

It was not only a prophecy: it was also a figure. It spoke of God's people who were meant to form His dwelling place. In a sense it pointed right back to Adam, the man who was originally intended to be indwelt by God and filled with His glory. If, as we look backwards to Adam, we have any doubts about this intention, these doubts are dispelled immediately we take the forward look to Christ, for we see Him as the Man on the mount of transfiguration crowned with glory and honour. We are given to understand that He is the first of the new humanity, and that He is bringing many sons to glory. We are to be joined with Him, as members of His body, and so to share His glory. God's true temple is not an earthly edifice, but a people. Israel's temple was but a type of the intention for Adam to be indwelt by God and filled with His glory. The first man, Adam, failed. Israel, with its typical temple failed, and the key to their failure is found in the matter of heart fellowship with God by faith.

This is really the key to so much, this matter of heart fellowship by faith. For lack of this Adam never became a temple of God, and because of failure in this respect the Jewish temple became a ruin. When it lay in ruins, the word of the Lord came by Haggai: "Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? ... The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, saith the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:3 and 9). Now the fact is that there has never yet been a literal temple on this earth with greater glory than that of Solomon. Whether there is still to be such a temple on this earth does not concern us very much, for we look higher, and see the veil drawn away for a new temple to come down from heaven with the proclamation: "The tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them". Only a spiritual temple can come down out of heaven, so Haggai's words are prophetic, pointing on to Christ. He alone can transcend all that has gone before, so that the last Adam is greater than the first, just as the last temple is greater than the former. Christ is God's eternal reality, not a type or a pattern, but the fulfilment of them all. Adam was a type of Him that was to come, and the temple was a type of Him who said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again". The types have broken down. Christ is the reality. He is the temple in whom God truly dwells, the Amen, the final conclusive realisation of God's desire to live with men.

Ezekiel spoke of "the law of the house". In His life on earth, Christ was governed by spiritual laws, and we can discover one of these by considering the cause of the breakdown of the types. Where did the ruin begin? It began before it affected this creation and overtook Adam. We understand that the original cause of the ruin was pride of heart: "For thou saidst in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God ... I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14). Adam fell by succumbing to this same temptation, and his pride revealed itself in a threefold way -- independence, possessiveness and self-centredness. The same features were thus found in Adam's pride of heart as had been expressed by Satan's fall to ruin. Adam's fall meant that from then onwards he had to take responsibility for making his own way. He had to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Up to that point, God had taken responsibility and provided everything for him; life was a very simple matter, with no cause for anxious thoughts about anything. From the moment of yielding to heart pride, however, he had to accept responsibility for his own affairs and maintain his existence on earth. [21/22]

WE see the great contrast in the case of the last Adam. If pride of heart caused ruin, then humility of heart was basic to recovery. If pride of heart found expression in independence, then humility delighted in dependence. From His birth onwards, everything about the Lord Jesus spoke of lowliness and humility. With Him there was no self-importance; even as the king He came: "... meek, and riding upon an ass". It was by virtue of His life of utter dependence that He provided a home in which the Father could live. It was to this that Stephen was leading up when he was so brutally interrupted. His full quotation would have been: "... what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what place shall be my rest? ... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word" (Isaiah 66:1-2).

If ruin came by pride, and pride showed itself in possessiveness, then humility will be revealed by self-emptying. Certainly Christ emptied Himself, and so became a fit home for God. There is a power about this divine humility which is capable of bringing the pride of Satan to the dust, destroying all the devil's works. It might be thought that when we speak of humility we are simply emphasising one of the common virtues of the Christian life, but in fact we are dealing with a much bigger issue, even the desire of God to dwell in man. The whole intention of the incarnation is "God with us", and for that purpose Christ was God manifest in the flesh so that He could recover a home for God in the hearts of men. He was "crucified through weakness", but what a complete transformation has been made possible in the whole universe on the basis of that crucifixion! The pride which made it impossible for God to dwell in Adam, and which made it necessary to withdraw His presence from the earthly temple, has now been challenged and defeated by the humility of the Lamb.

NOW the outcome of the cross is the Church as the house of God, and we notice that this spiritual house must be governed by the same laws as ruled the life of the Lord Jesus. The perfect humility which made Him a fit dwelling place for the Father must also be found in the redeemed who represent Christ's recovery of a home for God. It is notable that Paul, who was especially called to reveal that house, is a man who speaks a great deal about himself. No apostle used the first personal pronoun so much as he. We believe that it was the Holy Spirit's intention that this should be so, for a man who spoke so much about the house of God needed himself to be an object lesson of the true nature of that house. Paul was taken hold of in relation to his revelation, and made an expression of his message as well as being the appointed messenger. So we are entitled to look for the outworking of the principles of the house in the man Paul.

Now Paul -- or Saul of Tarsus -- was in himself the very opposite of a humble man. Before he met Christ he had been assertive and aggressive, a man of great independence and forcefulness of will. From time to time, even after his conversion, little glimpses of his natural self-strength emerged. But the outstanding impression we get is of one whose pride had been broken, and who displayed a beautiful humility. He was always deeply dependent on his Lord for guidance and strength. Moreover he was careful to lay down the principle of dependence -- mutual dependence -- as the basis of the house of God, insisting that the body consists of many different but interdependent members, who will spoil God's purposes if they abandon the humility of the need for one another and begin, in pride, to act out of harmony with the rest.

As we have said, pride is shown in possessiveness, and so often the ruin which can be seen in the churches has been caused by this tendency of their members. It is a mark of the home of God that it offers no rights of possession, no place for personal power or mastery. The Lord Jesus wanted nothing for Himself, being content to leave it to the Father to decide what should come to Him. He refused to strive, to strain, to manipulate or scheme for His own interests, but committed everything to the Father. That was how the living Foundation of the Church was laid, and that is how the whole structure must be built. We must be very careful that natural possessiveness does not arise in the things of God. It can do so unconsciously, even in our desire for spiritual blessing. Even a desire for holiness may have a subtle snare about it, if it means that we want to be noticed or praised for our holy living.

THE first great law of the house of God must be the humility of Christ in all its aspects of dependence, emptiness and God-centredness. There is a tremendous significance about the [22/23] victory of the humility of Christ. Satan had robbed God of His desire to dwell with Adam and then with Israel, by inducing them to adopt an attitude of pride. Then Christ came, and challenged this whole satanic principle, overcoming it by being the Lamb. He repudiated independence, possessiveness and self-centredness and by so doing brought God into His own. In His case men thought that they were dealing with a poor weak Man, but they found that in fact they had come up against the mighty God. This is to be repeated in the experience of the Church. It may look like a poor remnant of humanity, weak, persecuted, helpless, but as God makes His dwelling there, the opposing forces of evil will find that they have to reckon with the Almighty and so meet with utter defeat. Humility is one of the greatest forces in God's universe. In the case of the Lord Jesus humility did not begin when He took man-form. Of Him we are told: "... who, subsisting in the form of God, counted it not as something to be grasped at to be on equality with God ..." (Philippians 2:6). We may consider this in contrast to Satan, who did grasp at equality with God and who infected Adam with the same proud ambition. There was no personal self-glorying in the attitude of the incarnate Son of God; but on the contrary He was willing to empty Himself to become Man. This makes it clear that humility is not just something required of the human race, but it is a divine feature, an attribute of the Godhead. Humiliation and humility are two different things. The humiliation of the Lord Jesus was one thing; His humility is another. This humility is eternal; it is an expression of our glorious God, who is no vaunting, proud, Self-glorifying Being.

So, from His place in glory, Jesus emptied Himself and "being found in fashion as a man He humbled himself ...". As God He emptied Himself and as Man He humbled Himself. What a marvellous Lord we have! Satan and Adam sought to exalt themselves to be equal with God, but here was One, eternally equal with the Father, who did not grasp at this equality but was willing to relinquish all His rights in order to ensure that the will of God was done on earth as it is done in heaven. And He is the one to whom all glory is given. We are told that Christ has been exalted as a direct result of His perfect humility. In the Word of God various reasons are given for the exaltation of Christ. He has been exalted because of His sufferings in death. He has been glorified because He glorified the Father here on earth. Now in Philippians 2 it is specifically stated that God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name because He carried a life of humility through to its full and final self-emptying. So His humility is the explanation of His power. And humility is the basis upon which the Church can know the presence and power of almighty God. In the humility wrought by the cross we are brought into oneness with our exalted Lord, and we enjoy a practical experience of the spiritual reality of the house of God. God dwells and God makes known His power when the law of the house is observed and the true humility of Christ is allowed to govern in all things.


Brychan Davies

THE unity of God's people is a fundamental doctrine of the faith. It is the rock upon which the Church is built. Yet Christians who are truly born of the Spirit will shun one another's company or refuse to sit together at the Lord's Table because they cannot agree over a certain point of doctrine. They deprive themselves of the richest and sweetest of God's blessings because they have never really grasped the fundamental truth that all born again believers are in Christ and are grounded upon the foundation laid of God. What is the foundation of true unity? It is not found in any creed or statement of faith, it is not found in any man-made systems; for the real question is not 'What' but 'Who' is the foundation, and the answer is that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).

In Christ irreconcilable extremes meet and are reconciled. In Him the great doctrines of God's [23/24] sovereignty and man's responsibility which appear to us throughout the Scripture as parallel lines, find their meeting place and are one. As finite beings we can only see and stand at one extreme at a given time, and all is well if today we stand at one extreme and tomorrow we stand at the other. The danger lies in entrenching ourselves at one extreme and refusing even to acknowledge the other. Both extremes are in the Word of God, and that is why no creed, no set of doctrines, no, not even the Bible itself as we understand it, can be the foundation of the true unity of God's people. There is but one foundation, laid of God, which is Jesus Christ, through whom all God's eternal purposes will be fulfilled. We who are members of the Church, who have been redeemed by Christ's precious blood and baptized by one Spirit into one body; have we ever realised the power of true unity? Sadly we must answer, No! The Church which is to be to the praise of the glory of God's grace is under reproach because she has never worked out fully in practice the unity which is hers in Christ.

There is power in unity. Satan, the arch-enemy, knows this, and seeks to exploit every situation for his own ends. The story of the tower of Babel illustrates this. The people of the fallen creation sought to build a city and tower to reach unto heaven. The Lord took notice of it and said: "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do" (Genesis 11:6). These were the people of the fallen creation under the curse of sin. The Lord saw that they were one people, united in word and purpose, and that this meant that there was almost limitless power in their hands. As long as they remained united in this way they would work out their own plans and follow their own devices successfully. God knew this, so with one stroke He removed that danger. He confounded their language; they could no longer communicate with one another; so their power was destroyed. But God is not the God of confusion, so He would not have caused it at Babel had it not been absolutely necessary. The foundation of their unity had been laid by the god of this world. It was a false foundation from which the devil would have tried to fulfil his proud ambition to be "like the most High". God destroyed this false unity at Babel that He might provide full and true unity at Calvary.

BY the cross we are born again of the Spirit and by Him baptized into one body. No longer are we individual, self-contained, self-centred units; we are members together of the body of Christ. What we need urgently to realise is that the unity of the whole body of Christ is of far greater importance to the Head than the seeming temporary good of the one member. We need to pray and seek for unity and oneness between the members of Christ with far greater intensity than for our own personal blessing.

The Church of Jesus Christ has been troubled and distressed by divisions, splits and schisms down through the centuries. It matters not what period of Church History we study, one fact stands out starkly, the disunity of God's people. From the early days of the Church, recorded for us in the book of the Acts, until the present day, there is ample evidence of this terrible, disastrous and evil plague eating into the body of Christ here on earth. Deep distress has been caused, not only to the children of God themselves but to our God and heavenly Father. How His heart must ache at times when He sees His children, whom He has loved with an everlasting love and redeemed at infinite cost, flying at one anothers' throats. How distressing it must be to the heavenly Bridegroom to see His bride wounded and suffering because of internal strife! She who has been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, who should be marching forward "as an army, terrible, with banners" is so often weak and defeated, become easy prey for the enemy, owing to internal conflict.

WHAT is the cause of this disunity? It is to be found in Genesis 3. The serpent, whom we are told in Revelation 12:9 is the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world. He is the direct cause of all disunity among God's people. We know what he had purposed: "For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of congregation. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:12-14). And ever since that day -- the day when the devil's heart was lifted up because of his beauty, and his wisdom was corrupted because of his brightness -- he has been at war with God. He has purposed in his heart that he will be like the Most High, will rule and will [24/25] become omnipotent so that God Himself will have to make way for him. And when man, God's masterpiece of creation, was made, then the devil saw his chance. 'Ah,' he said, 'If I can by any means gain his allegiance, I will reign in this world. The man in whom God has placed His trust by giving him a free will, will provide my opportunity. Through him I can realise my ambitions. He has the power and privilege of living in fellowship with God, enjoying not only His blessings but His very presence. If only I can destroy that, then I will be well on my way to gaining what I have set my heart upon.'

We know what happened in the garden of Eden. The devil achieved his purpose by using the helpmeet God had provided for Adam; through her he brought about man's downfall; and this opened the way for him to become the god of this world. The man had been warned of the terrible consequences of disobedience, but what did he do in the face of temptation? Did he remonstrate with Eve, rebuke her, show her the folly of her way and her great sin in listening to the voice of the tempter? Not a bit of it! "And he did eat". This gave Satan the opportunity which he needed. What caused man to fall? God had created him a free being, free within the divinely set limits. He was free as long as he remained dependent upon God, and he was God's friend. In his disobedience he rejected all the sweetness and preciousness of the blessings that true love could ever give him. Clearly the devil had been able to implant in the minds of Eve and Adam the idea of being independent from God and like gods themselves. Ah, this was it -- as gods, independent, knowing good and evil. So Eve looked again, and saw that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. Wise -- yes, without God. Eve thought it over, this prospect of being wise in themselves and self-sufficient. The temptation worked: the deed was done. And although the bodies of the man and woman did not immediately die, although their eyes were opened, yet their minds were corrupted and their spirits died to God. The victory was the devil's. Man had in that one act transferred his allegiance from God to Satan, God's sworn enemy. He had believed the devil rather than God. So now man was left to himself. And he had become the devil's servant by obeying him. "Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey" (Romans 6:16). The devil was now able to teach man to develop himself so that he would be filled with the sense of his own importance. Man became filled with love of self rather than love to God. God Himself was ignored, or at best expected to fit in with man's plans.

IS not this the root cause of all disunity among God's people, this inflated SELF? The trumpet call of the devil-directed world is: Develop yourself; express yourself freely; indulge in the things which please you, for you are the most important person. This, sadly enough, seems to be the principle which governs our educational system today, and it is also the principle upon which some misguided Christian youth leaders work. Allow the young people to express themselves; help them to build their self-confidence and stand on their own two feet; help them to develop that self-assurance which is so necessary for young people today; make them realise that they are the most important section of society and of the Church -- feed their ego! 'Do this,' says the devil, 'and you will please me well.' We must remember that he is at work vigorously and unceasingly in the Church. We must beware when he whispers: 'You are a true Baptist, or a good Calvinist, or an orthodox evangelical, so you cannot have fellowship with others of different outlook or connections.' How Satan loves to hear the Christian say: 'I am convinced of the truth of this particular doctrine, so convinced that I cannot tolerate the opinion of those who disagree. I know that I am right, and everybody else must be wrong.' When he hears such talk the devil chuckles to himself, knowing that he can use that one soon to cause a rift in fellowship.

DEAR friends, beware of the devil's teaching, for he has the ability to come as an angel of light and will attempt to deceive the very elect. Remember that all which tends to exalt self can serve the devil, and this is the root cause of all disunity in the Church. God's only way of dealing with this evil is death. Death to self. God's answer to the devil's victory in Eden is the cross of Calvary. It is well for us to understand that the teaching of the devil always runs contrary to the teaching of our Lord. The devil shouts: 'Develop yourself, exalt yourself, assert yourself. Live life to the full now, even at the expense of others.' The Lord Jesus whispers quietly and gently to every believer who will [25/26] listen to Him: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Independent self is the ground upon which the devil works, and where self is dead he has no ground to work upon. That is why he hates the teaching of our Lord, and does all he can to prevent the Christian from entering in fully to all the blessings and benefits of Christ's death. He is not so greatly perturbed to hear Christians say that Christ died for our sins and for the sin of the world. But he is greatly perturbed when Christians realise that, not only did Christ die to make an atonement for sin, but that every true believer might die in Him, die to sin and to self.

The teaching of the Scripture is plain and clear in stating that the believer is identified with Christ in His death, so identified that when Christ died, he died. "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). "We, who have died to sin -- how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were, by that very action, sharing in His death? We were dead and buried with Him in baptism, so that just as He was raised from the dead by that splendid revelation of the Father's power, so we too might rise to life on a new plane together. If we have, as it were, shared in His death, let us rise and live our new lives with Him" (Romans 6:2-5 Phillips). The teaching here is plain; we who are believers in Christ are so identified with Him that in Him we died to sin, and were buried, and have risen again to newness of life. This is one of the great fundamental truths revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and when we accept it and really grasp it by faith, we are led into a deliverance and freedom that completely changes our hitherto self-centred lives. The wonder and glory, yes and the great mystery, of the gospel is that the eternal life which was with the Father and was revealed in His Son -- in His flesh, His body, here on the earth of His humanity -- is communicated to the believer and revealed in him, here on this earth. As the cross does its work in the Christian he can say: 'the life which I now live in the flesh is not the old self-centred life inherited from my parents, but the eternal life of God'. If we ask what are the evidences of this new life, this gift of grace, the answer is in being dead to self and alive to God. If you are dead to the world and its dazzling allurements, and the world is dead to you; if you are no longer concerned whether men praise you or reproach you; if you no longer seek to realise your own ambitions and gain your own ends, however legitimate they may be; and if your only purpose is to be a bondslave of Him who loved you and gave Himself for you, then you experience a life which delights to do the will of God, and endeavours to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


Poul Madsen

IN Ephesus, on his second missionary journey, Paul experienced one of the most striking revivals of all time. The Word of the Lord showed its mighty power, and the name of the Lord was both praised and feared. After all this Paul, who was then a middle-aged man, said that he must also visit Rome (Acts 19:21), and he never gave up this thought, although time and again it looked as if every path to the world's capital was closed to him. Later, when he wrote to the church in Rome to prepare them for his visit, he said: "I will go on by you unto Spain" (Romans 15:28). Even before he had carried out his first decision to visit Rome, he had already decided to reach still further. What is this? It is the spirit of faith and the word of faith, leading on to the work of faith. Let us consider this in more detail, so that we may learn more of the spirit of faith and the word of faith.

Paul Himself

Paul was between fifty and sixty years old when he made his decision to go to Spain. In modern terms this would correspond to his being a man of seventy, already an old man in terms of years. Life had been hard on him. He had poured himself out in devoted work more than [26/27] all the others, and if anyone deserved some 'good years', he did. He had accomplished more than all others. From modern Yugoslavia to Jerusalem, that is in the whole of the eastern part of the Roman empire, he had evangelised and founded church after church in many towns. If anyone might have been permitted to take it easy, surely it was he.

But Paul had learned by faith to forget what was behind and to keep pressing on (Philippians 3:13-14). Behind him he had many years of toil and hardship, and many victories won for the Lord: all this he now 'forgot', so that it should not hinder him in reaching farther. He was able to forget his age, too, and so did not delegate his work to younger and less experienced men who could not adequately fulfil it. This was the spirit of faith in the man of faith. As Abraham considered his own body now as good as dead, and also the deadness of Sarah's body, without being weakened in faith; so Paul considered his great age, his little strength and the overwhelming work and yet made his great decision by faith, without allowing his great age, his little strength and his overwhelming work to weaken him.

Even before he reached Spain, the apostle called himself: "Paul the aged" (Philemon 9). And so he was, even as Moses was old when God called him for his great mission, and as Abraham and Sarah were old when God made them ancestors of the people of faith. It was only in years, however, that they were old, for so far as the spirit of faith and the obedience of faith were concerned, they were younger than most young people. This was why they were able to do what so many young people cannot do and to accomplish what most young people never accomplish.

The Circumstances

As we have already mentioned, Paul was the spiritual father of many churches in the eastern part of the world empire. What would happen to these churches if he now went to Rome, and from there to Spain? Would it damage them? No, it would profit them. Paul never did anything which could hurt the local churches. When he left them, it was to strengthen them. At the time they could not understand this, but nevertheless it was the case.

Firstly, he only left them physically. He always carried them on his heart, however far away from them he might be: His intercessions were not weakened by the geographical distance between him and them. Can a father forget his children? The less he heard from them and of them, the more eager were his prayers for them, in spirit sensing how they were progressing. Real spiritual service is not affected by place and time.

Secondly, Paul would never play the part of amateur providence for the churches. If they were joined too closely to him personally, their faith would stagnate. So long as he was with them, they could not learn fully to trust God or hope against hope, for Paul's presence prevented any situation from seeming hopeless to them. For this reason he remained for a suitably long or short time with each church, considering what would best serve their living and growing by faith. He himself trusted in the Almighty God, and he did not want the churches to trust in Paul. He preached that Christ is Lord, and therefore he did not make himself, or allow anyone else to make him lord over the churches. He knew that the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness, and was therefore careful not to make the churches 'strong' by his presence. He himself thrived most in personal powerlessness, so he would not allow his person or his gifts to deprive the churches of that blessed powerlessness in which the sufficiency of God's grace can be proved.

In this way he kept the churches for God by not keeping them for himself. By depriving them of that human support which they felt they could not do without, he taught them to find their support in God. True values can only be preserved by a readiness to let go in God's time. This agrees with the basic principle of life which the Lord Jesus stated thus: "He who preserves his life, loses it; but he who loses it for my sake and the gospel's, preserves it." If Paul had remained too long with the churches he would, by his presence, have seemed to safeguard their progress and growth but in fact caused them a loss of spiritual life. This does not accord with ordinary human ideas and practice, but the life of faith seldom does that. Paul's actions brought them to the point when they 'only' had God! They had neither Paul nor his experience; neither his gifts nor his authority [27/28] -- they had only God! Perhaps they felt that this was terrible. No doubt they felt sad about their loss. Yet, as always, that loss was really gain. The eagle destroys the nest under her young; otherwise they would never learn to fly and catch their prey. Paul did something similar. It felt so safe when he was there; therefore he left them so that they would learn to fly and catch prey. Is that foolishness? No, it is the wisdom of God. Is it rashness or irresponsibility? That would depend upon the spirit in which it was done and the timing of the happening. If Paul had left them because he wanted adventure, or because he was tired of them, then it would have been inexcusable irresponsibility. When, however, he left them because he was obeying the Lord, then it was the obedience of faith. Paul was no adventurer: he was a man of God. He did not run away from responsibility, but he carried it with him wherever he went, as we should all do.

The Hindrances

We know that there were many hindrances to be overcome before he could reach Rome. The journey took him into great danger in the Mediterranean and at one time it looked as if he would never get there. There would hardly be fewer hindrances on the way to Spain, and possibly would-be spiritual people might therefore assert that the way had not been opened by God. There were also many weaknesses in the churches which he left. There was hardly a church which was not in difficulties or full of problems. For this reason the would-be spiritual people might affirm that it was obvious that Paul could not leave until the problems were solved. To them it would seem that he should not even think of Rome, let alone Spain.

But Paul did think both of Rome and of Spain. Was he not aware of the hindrances? Yes indeed, but he did not think of them as you and I do, and he certainly did not allow them to suggest that God's way was not yet open. His only thought was: What does the Lord want me to do? And God's answer was -- as it so often is -- a command to do the impossible. As the priests were to walk into Jordan with the ark when the waters had not yet divided, and as Zerubbabel was to begin building the temple without waiting for the mountain of difficulties to disappear, so Paul must decide to journey to Rome and Spain without waiting until the churches were perfect and all the hindrances were swept away. In this way he learned to walk by faith, looking not on the seen things, but on the unseen. That is how he carried out the work of God. There is no other satisfactory way.

Very few of us are travelling missionaries, and none of us is an apostle like Paul, but if Christ is our Lord, as He was Paul's, and if the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, as He dwelt in Paul, then the same spiritual principles must apply to us. The Spirit of Christ is neither stagnant nor restless -- He is dynamic. The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of faith and obedience, who never allows us to live just for ourselves. He shows us that there is always more to do for the Lord. He makes each new day a day of new possibilities. If we have put our hand to the plough, we must not look back but drive the plough into the earth and plough up new soil for the Lord. The soil is everywhere -- at our place of work, among our neighbours, in our circle of acquaintances, in schools, training colleges and holiday centres. Wherever we may find ourselves, there is new soil to be broken up for the Lord.

A Firm Decision

Just as a farmer never ploughs up a fallow area without first making a definite decision to do it, so Paul had to take a firm decision about visiting Rome and Spain. Without definite decisions, time and opportunity will slip through our fingers. Paul's decision is described in Acts 19:21, and consists of three parts which represent features of every decision for activities which are to be carried through in God's way.

1. "Now after these things were ended ..."

His decision to go to Rome was part of a development of events. It could be said that it was part of a plan, God's plan, which Paul was realising piece by piece as it was being revealed to him. He had been in Ephesus for about two years and had been the instrument of a mighty work of God. Now an end had come to that phase of things and, since the word used for 'ended' means fulfilled, we presume that God's purpose in his being in Ephesus had now been completed. It was then, and only then, that Paul made his decision to go to Rome. He did not run from one thing to another; he was not chasing after sensations; he was filled with the Spirit of Christ who, as we have already said, is neither feverish nor restless, but firm and dynamic. Having, therefore, carried right [28/29] through the work committed to him, he was now prepared for new advances. He always abode in God, and was therefore prepared to do God's work. He who does his duty for God without regard to what it may demand of him, can always be trusted with new duties in accordance with the Scripture that he who is faithful in little will be entrusted with more. This is the secret of walking in prepared works. Paul's life and service thus developed organically, one could say with spiritual logic; he was faithful in his present job and so was ready for future calls.

2. "... Paul purposed in the spirit ..."

Making decisions in the Spirit is the special characteristic of mature Christians. "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us ...". This presupposes a knowledge of God whose thoughts and ways are as high above us as the heaven is above the earth. It demands undisturbed inner quietness, even in the midst of activity. He who is disturbed and restless, feverish in his spirit, cannot hear God's voice but can only hear himself. He who is too busy shows that 'busy-ness', that is to say, circumstances, govern him instead of God. Only the man who, like Paul, has learned even in the midst of overwhelming activity to abide in God and always to have time for God, can make decisions truly in the Spirit. It is obvious from Paul's letters that, in spite of his colossal work for the Lord day and night, he always remained like Mary at the feet of Jesus. God was so overwhelmingly great to him that the work never overwhelmed him. He knew God in all his ways and he walked before God. As a consequence he could make decisions in the Spirit, that is, in co-operation with the One whose work it was.

It says nothing about his calling a prayer meeting so that the saints together could seek the will of God. Prayer meetings of this kind can be excellent, but they can also mean that we sense that we are so far from the Lord in our inner being that we need an extra effort to get into closer touch with Him. Not so with Paul! He walked with God as Enoch had done and, like Abraham, he knew God's thoughts. He was the friend of God. God showed him confidence. He made decisions in the Spirit, that is, in harmony with the Spirit of God who searches all things, even the deep things of God. It was no wonder that his decisions had something divine about them.

It is possible that he took counsel with others. If so, nothing is indicated about this. Making decisions in the Spirit is not the same as being self-assertive, for the Spirit of God never supports high-handedness or other forms of pride, so it may well be that Paul consulted together with others. Whether he was alone in making the decisions or whether he made them together with others, at any rate he drew others into the carrying out of them. His decision to go to Rome was clearly so convincing to his brothers that he was not left to carry it out alone, but had others joining in his plans. The life of faith consists of a series of decisions. If we stop making decisions in the Spirit, our faith stagnates and we sink down to a lower level of spiritual life.

3. "... saying ..."

Having come to the decision, Paul made it known. The Spirit of faith and the word of faith belong together. What we only hold in our thoughts is much less secure that what we have first thought and then spoken. Paul said that after he had been to Jerusalem he must also see Rome. In the words 'I must', we sense a divine necessity. It was the will of God that Paul should go to Rome; therefore he 'must' go. This explains why he met so many obstacles on the way there. If Satan could hinder Paul from reaching Rome, then he would have hindered God in the outworking of His plans. That is why Paul was nearly lynched in Jerusalem, imprisoned in Caesarea and in danger of drowning in the sinking ship which was taking him there. He knew that he 'must' go to Rome -- and to Rome he came!

It must have been a strength to him to have made known his decision. It prevented him from running away from it in a weak moment. He burned his bridges behind him, making any retreat impossible. He had to go to Rome; in the Spirit he decided to go to Rome; and in the end he came to Rome. The word of faith was followed by the action of faith, that is, the walk of faith on the road of faith, a road which is often narrow, stony and full of danger. You make much better progress on that road if there is no way back! These three parts must be found in every decision which can be upheld by God and be carried through in spite of all hindrances and satanic opposition.

4. "... he himself stayed in Asia for a while ..."

Now we might expect that Paul would immediately set to work to carry out his decision, as [29/30] though there would be no time to lose if he were to reach Rome. Are the king's errands not urgent? Yes, but speed is one thing, while haste is something quite different. Paul was never in too great a hurry. Just as the Lord Jesus Himself was never rushed, though He accomplished more than anybody else, so His servant, Paul, was never hurried. He sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia, but he himself stayed in Asia Minor for a while (Acts 19:22). We are not told the express reason for this, but can hardly be mistaken in presuming that by remaining in this way he helped forward the divine plan.

It is important not only to be able to make decisions in the Spirit, but also to know the opportune moment for action. God's plans cannot be carried out at any time we choose, but must await God's time. To feel an urge to be in Rome and yet to remain in the same place may seem strange to us, but Paul was still in the Spirit. He did not forget Rome, but it seems that there was still work for him to do in Asia before he could leave. There was still a big crisis to be lived through before he could think of leaving the saints there. As we have said, he did not run from one thing to another: he was a responsible, consistent and purposeful man, a man of God. Was it then that new plans began to be made clear to him little by little? Was it then that he conceived the project of visiting Rome and then going on farther to Spain? We do not know when he first came to this decision, but if the letter to the Romans was written from Corinth during the three months he was in Greece, then the thought of Spain which is mentioned there (Romans 15:28) had arisen not very long after his first public statement about Rome.

This later period of Paul's life has been widely criticised. We wonder if, even at that time, many did not understand the course he was taking. We know that those who move in the Spirit are bound to meet with much misunderstanding. Well, Christ understood him, stood by him and vindicated him. So far as Paul was concerned, that was all that mattered.


(Studies in the epistle to the Galatians)


Harry Foster

THE transition from chapter three to chapter four is a very smooth one, for sonship represents the objective of the Spirit's work in us. We are told that if we are Christ's then are we "heirs according to the promise" (3:29), and then we are given a clearer view of what this promised inheritance involves. It is here called: "the adoption of sons" (4:5). This introduces a most important subject, but it would be a great pity if we allowed the matter of sonship to be treated merely as a Scriptural theme, and an even greater pity if we allowed it to become a point of controversy. For this is something very dear to the heart of God whose eternal purposes have been centred on making redeemed sinners into mature sons.

This wonderfully satisfying relationship has begun now, but for the full inheritance we must await the day of our public placing as sons, which is what the New Testament seems to mean by its use of the word 'adoption'. The actual time of such an adoption is decided by the Father (4:2), who doubtless finds much satisfaction from it. We must not be misled by the word to imagine that God has to admit into His family those who are not inherently members of it, but only given the standing of sons although they have not really been born of the Father. This is not the Scriptural idea at all. In our society there is something kind and attractive about an act of adoption whereby a couple take charge of a baby who is not really theirs, give it their name and treat it as their own. They presumably do this either because they have no child of their own or because they do not have enough children. This can never apply to God. He has plenty of children -- they are being born every day -- so He has no need to adopt other people's babies and call them His [30/31] own. That is not what the New Testament means by 'adoption'. By the cross and by the Holy Spirit God is constantly bringing to birth those who are truly His children, with every right to call Him Father, and these are they whom He has predestined unto adoption as sons.

The word 'adoption' is used five times in the New Testament. One of the references is to Israel, and we do not need to consider it here. Another concerns all of us who are "the faithful in Christ Jesus", and it informs us that God has "... foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesian 1:5). So this was what God had in mind from the beginning. This is the particular emphasis of predestination. This is the end of the straight path of the gospel. It obviously represents a supremely important moment in the history of God's relationship with men. His Holy Spirit keeps our attention focused on this great fulfilment of God's purposes and promises: "For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness" (5:5). Surely the hope of righteousness and the inheritance refer to the same event, for which we need the Spirit's aid if we are effectively to wait for it. It seems that the New Testament reserves its use of the word here translated 'wait' for the supreme occasion of the coming of Christ. "For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20) is a typical example. The reference in Galatians 5:5, however, speaks not only of the person of Christ as our hope, but also alludes to what we are to share with Him at His coming. This is the inheritance.

Surprisingly enough we are told that the creation is waiting for the same great occasion: "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit the redemption of the body" (Romans 8:22-23). From all eternity God has longed to have sons, truly born of Him and able to share in His concerns and interests. When we were first Christians we did not realise this. We may not have realised it yet. Certainly the Galatians had no clear understanding of its significance. But God had it in mind from the beginning. That is why He chose us. And called us. And blesses us. The end which He has always had in view has been our adoption as sons. Through Christ -- the firstborn -- He has made possible the realisation of this longing of His Father heart. He, as well as we, eagerly awaits the day of possession of the inheritance. It is true that our inheritance may be enjoyed in varying degrees even now, but the full realisation of it must await the day of adoption.

THE fact that we have been told that we are all sons of God (3:26) must not obscure or negate the underlying warnings of this chapter. God's statements are meant for the appropriation of faith and not as dead truths. The Galatians were not allowed to take anything for granted in this matter of sonship. "Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain" (3:4). What does this signify if not that there was a possibility of some lack of fulfilment in their Christian life? Again, Paul voiced his fears concerning them by telling them: "I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labour on you in vain" (4:11). Did he mean that he was afraid that they had never received eternal life? This is impossible, for he frequently addressed them as brothers, and by this he meant that they and he had the same heavenly Father, being born from above. Yet although they were his brothers he evidently feared that something might have been lacking in their growth towards maturity. He continued: "Yea, I could wish to be present with you now and to change my voice; for I am perplexed about you" (4:20). We have already remarked in our previous study that Paul had no doubts about the Galatians having received the Holy Spirit, yet here he seemed to have been worried and mystified about their lack of progress along the straight path of the gospel. It is not quite clear as to what he meant about changing his voice. It may imply that he hated to speak harshly to them and longed to visit them and be reassured that this was no longer necessary. Or it may be that if he had been there he would have left them in no doubt that the matter was serious, that he would have felt it necessary to pass from those simple assurances of the certainties of the Christian life, which we all enjoy, and challenge them with the possibility that they were in danger of missing the way to God's full purpose in their salvation. He evidently feared that such straight speech would be unacceptable to self-complacent Christians. Already tension was building up [31/32] between him and the Galatians. "So then am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (4:16). It is sad when Christians turn away from those parts of the Scriptures which do not accord with their own set way of thinking, and even sadder when they become hostile to God's messenger. Sometimes the truth is hard to receive, but you must remember that the truth is in Jesus. By all means reject anything which is contrary to Him, but do not treat with enmity the man who conveys to you the challenges of the gospel as well as its comforts. This straight path of the gospel is essentially a spiritual pathway and it has a spiritual destination, even the glory of God. This is something more than mere safety in heaven. Thank God that the Galatians were saved, and so are we if we are in Christ. But saved for what? For sonship. This includes our own happiness, but is especially concerned with the satisfaction of God. His Father heart is set on having those who are His heirs -- "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" -- and for this we are reminded: "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him" (Romans 8:17). The only explanation of God's strange dealings with many of His faithful, aged servants is that right up to the end of their lives He is dealing with them in the light of future sonship.

NONE of us has yet arrived at spiritual maturity, but this is the destination to which God is seeking to bring us as He proceeds with His work of conforming us to that perfect Son of His. Unhappily there are some parents who have the sad experience of finding that their child will never mature into a full and healthy adult life. The deficient child will be called a son. He may be dearly loved. But he can never be claimed as one able to share family responsibility with his father, and can never give to that devoted father the response of love and understanding which would make him a true heir. In human life this is an unavoidable mishap. In spiritual life it need never happen. Spiritual maturity is never left to chance nor is it affected by any kind of circumstantial disadvantage. It is the responsibility of every son of God to allow the Holy Spirit to lead him on to the divine destination, to walk in the Spirit and to walk by faith. This explains the apostle's reiterated appeal to the Galatians in the matter of faith. It is by faith that we wait for the hope, faith working through love being the one essential (5:5-6). Paul not only reasoned with the Galatians, he prayed for them; and his prayer was a father-like travail of heart concerning their inner spiritual needs.

For this whole matter of sonship is neither decided nor helped by anything outward. "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love." Circumcision was the traditional outward sign of separation to God. Its equivalent in modern times are those outward traditional customs and procedures which seem so essential to the legalistically minded. To God they are virtually irrelevant, for they make no real contribution towards spiritual maturity. It is to be noted, though, that the mere discarding of them counts for nothing with God, since uncircumcision of itself is no sign of sonship. What does matter supremely is faith, the faith which springs from love and is expressed by love. In true Biblical fashion, Paul emphasised his point by repetition: "For neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (6:15). Circumcision was what you belonged to, and moreover what you were proud of belonging to. 'That,' said the apostle, 'is of no value at all in this essentially spiritual matter of sonship.' Presumably uncircumcision meant taking pride in the fact that you did not belong to anything. Some of us may be surprised to hear that God is not greatly interested in that, either. The one thing important to Him is that the vital energy of eternal life shall be working in a man so that Christ may be formed in him. For such there can be none of those man-made divisions which so hinder spiritual progress. "I beseech you, brethren, be as I am, for I am as ye are" (4:12). God's people are not rivals in a race but fellow pilgrims on the pathway to the inheritance.

WE have already referred to the Spirit's activities in this area of sonship: "... ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). A similar mention of this Spirit is to be found in this chapter: "Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (4:6). This requires further consideration, especially in the light of the fact that these are the only two occasions on which believers are spoken of as addressing our heavenly Father in this conjunction of two languages. The best [32/33] commentary on the Bible is always the Bible itself, so we turn to the only other occasion on which we find the cry: "Abba, Father". It is conceivable that Mark was even present to hear the Saviour's agonised words in the garden of Gethsemane: "And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; remove this cup from me: howbeit not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36). Some suggest that the Lord Jesus had always prefaced His prayers with 'Abba, Father'. There is no evidence of this. In John 17 we find Him praying: "Holy Father" and "Righteous Father", but then that was a different kind of prayer. The garden prayer was a cry of agony, the agony of one who was finding it a most costly matter to be a worthy Son of such a Father. But because He was such a Son, this was how He prayed. He repeated the prayer three times -- "not what I will, but what thou wilt". If the prayer prompted by the Spirit of adoption is connected with such a use of the words: 'Abba, Father' then it commits the one who is praying to make a similar renunciation and submission. If the Galatians can pray that prayer, then all their deviations and failures, and all Paul's fears for their future, can be left behind, and they can continue to make good progress in the path to sonship. Those who have grace to pray that kind of prayer, and to keep on praying it, need have no concern about their arrival at the appointed destination of glory. This is the prayer of a true son. It is costly; but it is Christlike. Just as Paul told the Corinthians that no man can effectively call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit, so he might well have told the Galatians that no man can pray Abba, Father, except by the Holy Spirit. Thank God that he could tell them -- and us -- so positively that God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts so that we can pray it, and go on in the spirit of that prayer, even though the path leads us to the cross.

The chapter closes with an allegory which refers to Abraham's experience of the crucifixion of his own desires and will. For him, the repudiation of Ishmael was extremely painful (Genesis 21:11); he must have had a Gethsemane experience when he accepted the will of God in place of his own will. He who had prayed: "Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee" was made to recognise that this offspring of his own efforts was a menace to the realisation of God's spiritual purposes of sonship, and found his natural affections in conflict not only with Sarah but with God Himself. So he "rose up early in the morning" and did what God had told him to do. His example must be followed by all of us who are his spiritual seed. "What saith the Scripture?" It says that God's full purposes in sonship demand a complete repudiation of that which is according to the flesh.


Reading: Revelation 20.11-15

Roger Forster

(Roger Forster is not only a Bible teacher but also an evangelist,
as the following message will show. He does much work among students,
and will be grateful for the payer support of our readers. -- Editor

IN these days heaven is no longer the strong, bold doctrine which is found in the Bible. Our ancestors preached much about it -- a city which is golden, bright with precious stones, something as solid and real as the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus which walked across the real earth and sat down at a real table and ate on that first Easter day. It is not enough to think of the resurrection as simply affirming the survival of something about man, his good works, his virtues, drifting along in a shadowy vague existence. The risen Lord Jesus ate fish and must have left the bones on the plate, and in so doing gave us the assurance that there is something real and solid about the world which God is preparing for us.

And if the practical concept of heaven is not very popular in our modern world, I am sure that the doctrine of hell, the Christian doctrine of the judgment to come, is even less popular. People like to think that there is no such place, [33/34] in spite of the fact that the word is so often used in general conversation. You can hardly listen to the BBC without hearing the word on one programme or another. Men try to discredit the prospect by talking about 'a hell on earth', which is almost a suitable phrase for some of the evils of our world, but there is more to it than that. And the people who talk readily of a hell on earth are the ones who dislike it when Christians who are true to the New Testament message warn of a future sense, in which hell will be not just an earthly trial but a final experience after the grave. Perhaps men's prolific use of the word has weakened the impact that the Biblical message was meant to bring, and it may be that the application of the word to certain earthly situations is a manifestation of the fact that deep down in men's hearts is a fear that there may be something in it after all, but they are unwilling to face such an eternal tragedy as being lost.

It is perhaps excusable that at times people have reacted badly to the way in which Christianity has put over this part of its message. We can go back to the mediaeval period, with its great pictures of men being tormented in an inferno, and rather get the impression that some of those who dealt with hell in that kind of context somehow derived a certain distorted pleasure from it. It was not because they loved mankind, but because they hated it; it was not because they wanted to see the salvaging of human beings but rather wanted to gloat over the fate of those with whom they disagreed, that they painted their pictures of hell in such lurid forms. In our days there are those who complain about the eighteenth century preachers, the puritans who -- so they tell us -- used hell-fire as a means of persuading men. It has been said that John Wesley was accustomed to employ threats in his preaching, using the thought of hell to work up a great fear in the minds of his hearers and, when this was of sufficient intensity, to begin to offer them salvation in Christ as a means of being freed from their dread. So they were cajoled into seeking blessing from the Saviour and escape from the terrors of hell. It was a very effective manner of preaching -- so these critics tell us. The pity is that critics seldom read what it was that these men of God actually preached. They propound that this is the sort of thing they probably said, write their books attacking such preaching and then, having overthrown something which probably never existed, they imagine that they have won the argument. In actual fact there was one occasion when Wesley was asked to address a Drawing Room meeting of rather elite folk who were all church-goers; he did so and spoke of hell-fire in very strong terms. The result was that his hosts complained bitterly that their friends should be subjected to such preaching, saying that he sounded as though he were preaching in the fish market. Wesley replied: 'If I were preaching in the fish market, I would have preached on the love of God.' In that he was in tune with his Master, for the Lord Jesus spoke of hell to the religious people and even to His disciples, rather than to the popular crowds.

This does not mean that Jesus avoided the subject of hell-fire -- far from it, for He spoke about it more than anyone else. This is a Christian's problem -- if it is a problem. In our twentieth century sophistication we do not like such concepts, but we have to face the fact that it was the Saviour of the world who spoke most about it. The Christ who, when the very nails were going into His hands could pray forgiveness for His ignorant persecutors, could that be the same who spoke twelve times in the Gospel record of Gehenna, using the illustration of the valley of Hinnom where the fire was always burning up the rubbish outside the city of Jerusalem? It could, and we must accept this fact, and think about what Jesus had to say, and what the rest of the Bible has to say so clearly, about hell-fire. There is very little of it in the Old Testament; there is only a little in the writings of Paul; there is perhaps one touch in Peter's letters; and then there is what John tells us in the book of the Revelation. But twelve times Jesus warned men to beware not to be cast into hell-fire, though at the same time He offered to men infinite, comprehensive, total love, if they would turn and find it in the only Source where it can be found, which is in God. So, clearly, so far as the Lord Jesus was concerned, hell-fire is not inconsistent with amazing love.

There is a hell to flee from. There is a condition of soul which can begin now which, if left to grow and captivate the whole of the inner man, will be the fearful beginnings of an eternity where there is no going back. When the Lord Jesus returns, so the Bible tells us, it will be a case of: "He that is unrighteous, let him remain unrighteous still: and he that is filthy, let him [34/35] be filthy still" (Revelation 22:11 ), because there is a point when we pass the rubicon, where we are caught in what we are, and there is no going back. That is why the Saviour of the world spoke more than any about hell, because there is something to be saved from and He is the only one who can save us.

OUR reading says: "I saw a great white throne and Him that sat on it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them." One of the inconvenient things about God is that He is infinite. Heaven and earth can find no way of hiding from Him. The passage goes on to tell of the small and the great, the big sinners and the little sinners, all standing before God, since there is nowhere else to go. And the tragic thing is that they do not want the One before whom they have to stand; they had fled to the farthest place to try to find escape from the infinite God, but there is no escape. And those who have refused to pray: "Thy will be done", insisting on their own will, leave Him with no alternative than to reply to them: 'All right. If you insist, then your will must be done.' And for those who have determined that it is their will which must be done, heaven itself would become a hell. Some people think that because He is love, God should insist on allowing them to have a place in His heavenly home, but if He did what would be the result? To those whose souls have been paralysed and captivated by the demand that their will, and not God's, should be done, heaven itself would become a terrible hell.

No, men cannot get away from God. So the books are opened, and He begins an enquiry of the small and great. In a sense His enquiry of judgment does an honour to man, for it implies that the account in the books could have been different. He says: 'You could have done otherwise, you could have chosen My way instead of your own.' If He did not judge us, but just pitied us as being psychological misfits, the victims of an unfavourable environment, so conditioned to evil that we could only do what we did, then it would leave us as despicable beings who were something less than human. But when God looks on me and says: 'You could have been different; you could have chosen another way' He gives me the chance to repent. And this is my first moment of manhood. This is when I first start to be a man; when I tell God that I am sorry and hang my head in shame, expecting Him to judge me because I know that I deserve judgment. It is in that same moment that I find where God meets a man. It is at the cross that He met me. The cross was the place of the divine judgment on sin, and when I admitted that this was what I deserved, I found that the Christ who bore the judgment for me was holding out His hand of mercy and bringing me into a new life. So it is that if men will now allow God to open the book of their lives, exposing themselves to His enquiry of judgment, they will find that there is mercy and forgiveness. But those who spend their lives avoiding the issue will arrive at the great white throne and find that it is too late.

God wants to open the pages of our past lives now, and because He is love, His enquiry is one not only of judgment but of love. He wants us to face with Him all that is written there, to be exposed in the stark reality of what we have done and what we are, so that in repentance we turn from saying 'My will be done' to saying 'Thy will be done' and so find forgiveness and eternal life. Those who do this while there is still time have their names written in the Lamb's book of life, but when the judgment of the great white throne comes: "If any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." It does not say that God will cast them, though perhaps He will. It does not say that they will cast themselves, though quite possibly they do. In the final issue they will entirely agree with God's judgment that since they would not have His will there is no other alternative for them than to have their own will in 'the lake of fire'. There is a sense in which hell is made up of negatives -- of things that are not, of shadows of things that might have been. I suppose that people who do not want to be real about themselves and God, are ultimately doomed to a world made up of unreality, untruth and unlove. This may sound paradoxical, but it is another way of saying that their torment will be the torment of things that God originally made for good. He gave us existence for good. He gave us intellect and memory for good. He gave us a will for good. But when we take these gifts and misuse them, what should have been good becomes the terrible world of hell.

THIS is illustrated in the story which the Lord Jesus Himself told of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). When Lazarus, the poor man, died he was "carried away by the [35/36] angels into Abraham's bosom", a place of delight and bliss. The rich man, whose name was not even mentioned, was just described in terms of food and clothes -- he dressed well and ate well, and that is about all you can say for him. He was not a real man at all but just an empty shadow, and when he died he found himself in the unreal world of hell. He was desperately thirsty in that burning fire and, as he saw Lazarus drinking the fresh water of life, he saw what he might have done while he still had the opportunity on earth. For God offers Himself as man's satisfaction, the Fountain of living waters. He is the centre and source of all true satisfaction and through Christ He offers a full experience of coming to the water of life freely and drinking the sweet satisfaction of His forgiving love. This man, however, had refused to accept that invitation; he was content to live his own life without such love; he never came to the Source of everything, so in the end he was left with the source of nothing. He turned away from the Fountain when he was alive and now he could not obtain a single drop of the life-giving water after he was dead. The good faculty of drinking, which he had perverted, had now become a torment, unsatisfied for ever, as it burned deeper and deeper into his being.

In his lifetime communion with God had been open to him. He could have drawn near to God and God would have drawn near to him. He could have enjoyed fellowship with other believers. But instead of choosing to know God and enjoy His company, he preferred to be at a distance. Now he felt the dreadful loneliness of hell and looked across to Lazarus with a yearning for company and help. The Lord Jesus explains the impossibility of this with the words: "there is a great gulf fixed". In the after-life the separation had become irrevocable. He did not choose to draw near to God while he had the chance; his attitude towards divine love was to tell it to keep out; now it was too late, for the gulf had not only widened but become eternally fixed.

At last he had been stirred from his absolute selfishness and desired to show loving concern for his brothers, but it was too late. He had never bothered about being helpful, though he had been given the capacity and the opportunity to show love for others. Now he could do it no more. He found that his neglect of a divinely given capacity had shrunk up his soul and that was what made the torment. Before, he could have helped, he could have shown love; but now it was too late. And that was hell.

THE gospel tells us that when He was on the cross, Jesus experienced these same three things. The Lord had the right to warn men of hell because as He died on the cross. He endured its pangs so that we might be free. He literally cried out: "I thirst". Obviously His body, shrunk and distorted in the hot sun, must have cried out for some relief from its parched condition, but this was indicative of the deeper thirst which gave Him such inward suffering. There is a dreadful dryness of soul for those who are deprived of the satisfaction which can be found in God alone. The rich man was tormented with a thirst for which not even a drop of water was available. The Lord Jesus was made a curse for us, which means that He entered the scene of the hell which sin had made inevitable in human experience, taking upon Himself the unsatisfaction and emptiness. His agonised cry: "I thirst", shows how bitterly He was tasting that dryness for every man. Nobody could slake that thirst for Him: in the torment of the flame of judgment He endured it alone.

And then the great gulf. It seems incredible to us that the One who was eternally in the bosom of the Father could be so cast out from His presence as to utter that further and worst cry of all: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Yet so it was. The Son of God could no longer enjoy or even feel His fellowship with the Father; there was a barrier, a great gulf, a hellish darkness of separation which He voluntarily endured for the sake of us men. With what dread anticipation of His own sufferings on the cross Christ must have described that great gulf between the heavenly bliss of Lazarus and the hellish torment of the rich man. "He who knew no sin, was made sin for us."

The third factor in the hellish torment was that the rich man was now incapable of helpfulness to others. He could not stretch out a helping hand, even to his brothers. And what shall we say of the Lord Jesus?

'And when Jesus hung on the cross

They nailed His hands to the wood.

Those hands that did such good

They nailed them to a cross of wood.'

On the cross those holy hands of His were helpless. He could not stretch them out to comfort the weeping Mary; He could not move them [36/37] to give a touch of friendship to the broken-hearted John: He could not even make a gesture of forgiveness to conscience-stricken Peter. He could do nothing but was forced to submit to the paralysis and powerlessness of a lost soul. So it was that our Lord experienced hell for us, the hell of utter helplessness, of complete separation from God and of agonising thirst. And He did it for us, that we might never have to bear it ourselves.

Yes, He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and from that place He calls us to accept our own judgment. If we will say: 'Yes, that is what I deserve. I am the man who should be there. That is the outcome of my sin', then in those very moments, as we realise that Christ went through hell for our sins -- nobody else's but ours -- then pardon and eternal life are made real to us, and we begin a vital relationship of love with the eternal God.


[Eric Fischbacher]

DEAR D ...

Your latest problem is quite a poser, and I can well understand your being a little depressed about the lack of a solution as yet. I would feel the same, and have done, because I find that as I get older in the Christian Way I find that the actual number of categories of the complex and involved personal problems is quite small. Just as Jesus summarised the Law in two categories -- love for God and our neighbour -- so most of our problems can be similarly classified; and since the second is dependent on the first, the larger part of our difficulty in the Christian life is related to God's dealings with us, and our response to Him.

You already believe, as I do, that all the answers lie in the Word of God. They are usually sufficiently concealed to require a little searching, although when you have found one it seems so obviously on the surface that you wonder why you didn't see it at once -- such is the magic of the Holy Spirit's illuminating touch. But the Word of God does not give detailed explanations of specific problems, with instructions on how to solve them. If it did, the Library of Congress would be hard pushed to find shelf space for it. Instead it presents principles, facts, truth, which will clarify the nature of the problem, and point to an appropriate course of action. Notice I do not say a solution, for the word is too glib to apply to many of life's problems which in this world are often insoluble. An appropriate course of action, a modus vivendi , will be indicated, even where the problem itself is really insoluble in time. This is what Paul is getting at when he says that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength, but will always provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure the trial (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Now your problem. I am not going to attempt to analyse it, but to suggest two great principles in Scripture which have a bearing on it. The first is that trials, difficulties, pressures, are not just avoidable pot-holes on the rough road to heaven; they are essential to spiritual growth, a necessary ingredient of God's training programme. Paul warned the young disciples that their entry into the kingdom could only be by way of many tribulations (Acts 14:22), and whoever wrote the Hebrew letter indicated that much of what we endure is disciplinary in fact (Hebrews 12:7). If you want to be a mature son of your Father then the kind of problem you face at the present is not only unavoidable, but positively necessary. Such a comment by Scripture does little to solve the problem, but it should do something for your attitude to it, which is often more than half the battle. So, that is the first of these two principles -- problems do arise frequently for us, and if they did not, God might have to produce some for us, for they are like school lessons, not just to be solved for their own sake, but to be the means of maturing the child to manhood.

The second Scriptural truth to keep in mind is more specific. The scorpion may not have a very attractive face, but the real trouble he offers is concealed in the rear. So while our problems often come in human forms, frequently less than charming in themselves, the real sting is concealed in the shadows, waiting for the first opportunity to make the kill. Don't allow people [37/38] to distract your attention from the real danger -- it could be fatal. "Our fight is not against any physical enemy" says Paul again; "We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil" (Ephesians 6:12). Phillips' translation is vivid. Don't waste too much time and effort on the people in the case, but search around in the shadows to the rear, and when you find what you are looking for (and to do so you will need your eyes opened to the unseen) then remember that ordinary methods of attack will not do. That is when you will discover that the armour of God, offensive and defensive, is more than just a pretty picture of a medieval knight in full kit. It represents the sheer necessities of war, defence and attack, in that order; and you will not get through without it.

So, I hope that perhaps these two simple factors, like twin binocular lenses, will help to clarify the problems. First, that problems are good for you. Second, that the real troublemaker is not the person you mention, but the unseen power that controls the world. And we are not advised to tackle that with our bare hands -- weapons are provided.

Fight the good fight! As ever, your brother, E. F.



Harry Foster

IT seems to be agreed that the names given in the well-known passage of Isaiah 9:6 are really four in number, each of them being double names. The first of the four is Wonderful-Counsellor.

Isaiah was convinced that God would solve His people's problems by means of a human agent. There was to be a new kingdom, perfectly governed by a perfect Man. The government would be on the shoulders of one who was a Man and yet more than a man. Unto us a child was to be born -- He was born at Bethlehem. The eternal Son, however, could never be born, but He was graciously 'given' to us, in order to be our Saviour and our King. The four names help to identify and explain Him to us, and we can find great comfort in this first: "His name shall be called Wonderful-Counsellor."

All those who have had personal dealings with the Lord Jesus will agree that He is well named. He is the ideal Counsellor, and He counsels with the added miraculous element which can only be described as wonderful. A counsellor must have full understanding of the true needs of the one he is to help. He must also have full understanding of how those needs can be met. And then he must be so able to communicate with the enquirer that the solution becomes equally plain to him and provides the satisfactory solution of his problems.

In all these characteristics Jesus excelled. The wonder element is that He Himself provided the remedy which He prescribed. This is everywhere illustrated in the Gospel. He knew people's needs -- He even knew their names -- and He was able to convey with divine simplicity just what was the right thing to do. There was nothing stereotyped about His advice, and while He was dealing with anyone, He gave them the sense that they had all His attention. In resurrection He is still the same. Take the church at Laodicea as an example. He listened to all that they had to say -- a matter of primary importance to any counselling. He diagnosed needs which they were quite unaware of. He made it clear that their history, past and future, was of great personal concern to Him. And then He counselled them (Revelation 3:18). He told them of the gold, the white raiment and the eye-salve which would be the adequate answer to all their needs, but He did more. He was to them a wonderful counsellor, for He Himself offered to supply them with just those crying needs of theirs -- "I counsel thee to buy of me ...". [38/39]

It is always like this. Christ knows our true state and our real needs; and He not only knows the answer, He also has it. He can not only tell us what we ought to have and ought to be, but Himself has the provision ready to hand if we will only listen to Him and open the door for Him to come in and take charge of our affairs. He is indeed the Wonderful-Counsellor. What a pity that we do not more often avail ourselves of His proffered help!

There is a further feature of this name which is so wonderful that it baffles every human attempt to understand or define it. It points back to the divine counsels concerning the Church which were formulated in eternity. This eternal feature reminds us that the actual counselling which the Lord Jesus gives to us personally is based on purposes of grace and planning in love which took place before ever we were born. The Lord does not have to improvise, as human counsellors often do; He is not forced to accommodate His counsels to the circumstances in which He suddenly finds us; He knows the destiny which He has determined for us and He never swerves from that glorious objective. So it is not just that He is wise in counsel, but that He is wonderful in making sure that His wise counsel is fulfilled. "O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things, even counsels of old ..." (Isaiah 25:1). The day will come when the whole universe will accept Him as its counsellor, and concerning that time we are told that: "of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end". Is it not amazingly wonderful that each believer can now call upon the destined Counsellor of the universe to be his own present personal Adviser?



Harry Foster

'OH, what a lovely pet' exclaimed Lionel as a sheepdog puppy ran out to meet him when he was paying a visit to his uncle's farm, 'what is his name, Uncle?' Mr. Farmer, who was Lionel's uncle, told him that the dog's name was Shep, but then he added: 'He is not just a pet. We are all workers on this farm, and Shep is being trained to work, too.'

That evening Lionel was sitting in the room with Mr. Farmer and, when he had the chance, he asked his uncle what it was that Shep had to learn before he could help with the work. He was told that a sheepdog has to learn three lessons. The first one was very simple, it was just to come when he was called. 'He already knows his name' said uncle, 'but he has not yet learned always to come when he is called. He comes quickly enough if he thinks that there is any food, and he might come out of fear if I shouted loudly enough, but that is no use. He will never be a proper sheepdog until he has learned that whenever I call him by name he must come at once, whatever he is doing.' Lionel wanted to know what the second lesson was, but his uncle would not tell him any more. 'One lesson at a time' he said laughingly, 'whether for little dogs or little boys. After all none of us humans can really work for the Lord Jesus until we have learned always to come when He calls.' It was bedtime, so uncle prayed with him and then sent him off to bed with a reminder about the first lesson.

Next evening Lionel asked his uncle what the second lesson was. Mr. Farmer replied by asking him what he thought. Lionel felt that this was easy, and suggested: 'To go where he is told.' 'No' said uncle, 'that is the third lesson, and no sheepdog is any use until he has learned it, but there is one that comes before that, lesson number two'. Lionel had several guesses at what this second lesson was, but none of them was correct, so at last his uncle had to tell him. 'It is really simple' he said, 'though I suppose that it is the hardest lesson of all, especially for a puppy. It is to sit perfectly still.' 'Not even to wag his tail?' asked Lionel. 'No,' replied Mr. Farmer, 'not even that. You see the point about [39/40] being still is to wait for the master's decision as to when it is time for him to run, and which direction he is to take. If he is moving around he will be tempted to run off too soon, or may not pay proper attention. It is important for a sheepdog to know when to come and where to go, but his real usefulness depends on this second lesson of when to be quite still.'

When bedtime came again, Mr. Farmer questioned Lionel about the three lessons that every puppy and every boy should learn. Lionel was able to repeat all three, and he agreed with his uncle that the hardest was just to be quiet and pay attention. 'Yes,' said uncle, 'but it is a lesson worth learning. Lots of Christians are so busy running to and fro that they don't give the Lord time to speak to them and show them His will. They take for granted many things which He did not really want, or they act too soon or too late, just because they have not listened to the words: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). You can only know if you are still.'

When Lionel got back home, he told his mother about the lessons which Shep would have to learn, and went on to say to her: 'And uncle says that he does not want just pets; he wants workers.' 'Of course,' answered his mother. 'And it is just the same with the Lord. He loves us, but He doesn't want to keep us as pets: He wants us to work for Him and with Him.' So, boys and girls, we must never think that Christians are just the Lord's pets. We are all to be workers. But for this to be possible we must learn the lesson of being still and paying attention.

"Here then is my charge: First, supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings should be made on behalf of all men: for kings and rulers in positions of responsibility, so that our common life may be lived in peace and quiet, with a proper sense of God and of our responsibility to Him for what we do with our lives. In the sight of God our saviour this is undoubtedly the right thing to pray for; for His purpose is that all men should be saved and come to realise the truth." 1 Timothy 2:1-4. (Phillips) [40/ibc]

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