"... reaching forth unto those things which are
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
|Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1976
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY
(Messages from the Sermon on the Mount)
1. THE LAWGIVER (Matthew 5:1-2)
J. Alec Motyer
IT is quite clear that Matthew's Gospel is very deliberately constructed,
and its purpose is equally plain. It is the Gospel of Jesus the Teacher.
The book has five sections devoted to Christ's teaching, each of them followed
by the description of a period of activity on His part, so that the words
were confirmed by the works. But the striking thing about these five sections
is that each of them is terminated by a verb which though rendered: 'ended'
or 'finished', does not simply mean 'come to a full stop' but rather 'come
We begin with a section of teaching on discipleship (chapters 5 to 7),
after which we are told: "It came to pass when Jesus ended these
words, the multitude were astonished at his teaching" (7:28). Following
the narrative of His actions we come to chapter 10, which gives an account
of how the Lord had been briefing the disciples as He sent them out. This
time He had been teaching about service, the terms, methods and principles
of Christian service, and then we read: "It came to pass as Jesus made
an end of commanding his twelve disciples ..." (11:1). So once again
we are told that Jesus did not conclude until He had fully completed this
phase of teaching. After further activities we find ourselves in chapter
13, with its devotion to that great area of teaching covered by the parables
of the kingdom, and once again we are told: "And it came to pass, when Jesus
had finished these parables, he departed thence" (13:53). Here we
have the identical verb; He finished -- that is not simply that He came
to a stop, but He rounded off in completion. After further activities we
have chapter 18, with its teaching about the Church and its inner life, all
brought to a close by the sentence: "And it came to pass when Jesus had
finished these words, he departed from Galilee" (19:1). After the completion
of the teaching about the Church we have more activity, followed by chapters
22 to 25, with teaching on the judgment to come, this passage again being
closed with the same Greek verb which has been used throughout: "It came
to pass when Jesus had finished all these words, he said to the disciples,
You know that after two days the passover comes and the Son of man is delivered
up to be crucified" (26:1-2). He draws the line: this is the end. Matthew's
Gospel, then, is the Gospel of the finished work of Jesus as Teacher. When
the cry resounded from the cross: "It is finished", a part of that finished
work was His task of being the Teacher of the people of God. Five times
over Matthew writes it down for us: 'It is completed' as he records for us
the teaching of Jesus on Discipleship, Service, the Kingdom, the Church and
the Judgment to Come. In these articles, however, we can do no more than
take the slightest dipping of our feet into the great sea of teaching which
is to be found in Matthew's Gospel.
The Qualifications of the Lawgiver
This is a very carefully constructed Gospel. When, therefore, we come
back to chapters 1 to 4 which lead us into the opening verses of chapter
5 and are used by the apostle to introduce Jesus to us as the Teacher, we
find that Matthew does this by deliberately setting out to draw a parallel
between the career of Jesus and the history of Israel as we read of it in
the book of Exodus. The clue comes in the words: "Out of Egypt have I called
my son" (2:15). Mary and Joseph had been commanded to take the young child
down into Egypt and they stayed there until the death of Herod. Then the words
of the prophet were fulfilled: "Out of Egypt have I called my son". At first
sight -- and perhaps at second and third sight -- this would appear to be
standing history on its head! When Hosea spoke those words (Hosea 11:1) we
have every reason to conclude that he was looking back over the centuries
to the exodus, looking back to that time when God called His son out of the
land of Egypt. Moses had been sent to Pharaoh to say: "Israel is my son, my
firstborn". When Israel came out of Egypt, therefore, it was because God was
dealing with them as His corporate son. Matthew, however, invites us to look
again at Hosea's words and to see that in a more real sense the prophet was
speaking about the true Son, Jesus. He suggests to us that it was necessary
for Israel of old to go down into Egypt and to be brought up
[1/2] thence because that was yet to be the appointed career of
Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So that there is in the history of Israel a
shadowing beforehand of that which was to be. The real coming out of Egypt
was when Jesus came up from that land. And as we begin to follow through
Matthew's parallel of the two events, we will see that the first exodus was
the shadow of the true. It was full of failures but it pointed on to the
real coming out of the Son of God which led to triumph and world dominion.
In passing we should notice that the quotation from Hosea is made in
the setting of that rather awful incident of the slaughter of the Bethlehem
babies. This is something which only Matthew records, but it is true to the
parallel which he is making, for this was the grim reality of the situation
when God called His earthly son out of Egypt. The Israelites were under a
threat of genicide, for their tyrant ruler had decreed that all their baby
boys should be thrown into the Nile. When Israel came out of Egypt that
was the situation from which they came. They left it behind, but the true
Son was brought up out of Egypt to become God's World Ruler.
When the nation came out of Egypt they arrived first at the Red Sea.
So Matthew makes no reference to the boyhood of Jesus, bringing us straight
away to the coming of Jesus to John at the waters of Jordan, and thus opening
out the parallel which he is drawing. This coming to the sea of Israel resulted
in the revelation of their faithless dissatisfied heart. When Jesus came
to the sea, however, the revelation was very different, as we shall see. The
test of Israel exposed serious unbelief (Exodus 14:10); the test of Jesus
at Jordan produced unqualified approval from the Father.
"Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness." How accurately
is the parallel worked out! From the Red Sea Moses led Israel on into the
wilderness. Israel, God's son, was brought out of Egypt to the waters and
to the wilderness. Jesus, God's Son, came out of Egypt to the waters and
to the wilderness. And we know that when the Lord Jesus came into the wilderness
He came into a period of testing at the hands of Satan. When the earlier
Israel came out of Egypt, they might have been forgiven if they had thought
that after the Red Sea crossing all their troubles were left behind and now
the world was at their feet. But it was not like that for them, nor was it
for Jesus, the Son of God. The wilderness was to prove a place of severe testing.
First of all the Israelites were tested in terms of water (Exodus 15:24)
and then of food (Exodus 16:3). They came into a place of hunger and thirst.
This also was the nature of Christ's first temptation. He fasted for forty
days, recapitulating in His own experience the forty years of wandering of
the people of God in the wilderness. He came deliberately into an area of
temptation and at the end of that forty days He was hungry. It was then that
the tempter came to him and said: 'But you are the Son of God, aren't you?
Why should you be hungry? Command these stones to be made bread.' Under the
test of hunger and thirst the Israelites murmured. The test exposed their
rebellious and unbelieving heart, redeemed though they were. "The whole
congregation of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and said to them,
Would we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat
by the fleshpots ..." (Exodus 16:2-3). In this way they revealed the remainder
of unregeneracy whereby they longed for the things of the world because
they were dissatisfied with the providential arrangement of God. The testing
exposed failure. Jesus came into a like test as Satan tempted Him to turn
stones into bread to satisfy His own hunger. He would not do it. He triumphed
under the test.
The second temptation, as Matthew sets it before us, was a temptation
in the realm of putting God to the test. So we read: "When the devil taketh
him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple ..."
(4:5), inviting Him to test out a promise of Scripture to see whether God
was going to be true to His Word or not -- to put God to the test -- Jesus
replied: "It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God". This
also matches the particular situation of the people of God as their story
is unfolded in Exodus. After the testing in hunger and thirst, they came once
more into a place where there was no water to drink, and here Moses levelled
the accusation against them that by their faithlessness and their unbelief
they were putting God to the test: "And Moses said unto them, wherefore do
you tempt the Lord?" (Exodus 17:2) and again: "He called the name of the place,
Massah and Meribah, because they tempted the Lord" (17:7). I suppose that
this is why Matthew gives a different order of temptation from that which
is recorded in Luke, because he was deliberately following out
[2/3] the testings of the people of God to show the same testings
coming to the true Son of God, Jesus Himself. The Israelites were tested in
the matter of faith; Jesus was also tested in the matter of faith.
This matter of putting God to the test may need clarifying. What does
it mean? For, after all, there is a verse which we often quote and cherish:
"Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts ..." (Malachi 3:10). If the
Lord invites us to prove Him, how can it be a sin to prove Him? Well, of course,
anybody who walks in the way of faith is constantly proving that the Lord
is faithful. All of us in our Christian pilgrimage, however meagre our experience,
have amassed proof after proof that God is as good as His Word. So this is
not a sin, far from it. There is sin though, brothers and sisters, when a
person says: 'I will not walk in God's way of faith until I have proved that
He is trustworthy'. That is where the difference lies. One person launches
out in the faith that God is trustworthy and proves that He is so, but another
person stands still and refuses to move until he has actual proof that God
is worthy of his trust. That is the sin into which Satan tried to tempt the
Lord Jesus Christ. 'You have the promise that you are the Son of God,' he
argued, 'but of course you do not really know that you are. Why don't you
test it out, and make absolutely certain that God means what He says?' Christ
refused to do so, but Moses' verdict on the people of God who were called
in those days to be a son of God was that they were unwilling to believe
that He could provide for them until they actually saw Him doing so. That
is why he called the place Massah and Meribah.
Thirdly, Moses climbed the mountain and sat down to watch the great battle
of the nations, the people of God in their conflict against the people of
the world, Israel against Amalek. And as he watched and raised up his hands,
he saw the victory given to God's people and exclaimed: "A hand upon the
throne of the Lord" (Exodus 17:16 mg). That was the way of victory. So it
is that Matthew tells us of the third temptation when Satan took Jesus to
an exceedingly high mountain (Matthew 4:8), showed Him all the kingdoms of
the world and posed to Him the question: 'Wherein does mastery or authority
and victory lie?' He added: 'I will give you the authority if you will bow
down and worship me'. It was at this point that Jesus sent Satan about his
business. It is interesting, is it not, that throughout these temptations
Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, using that book alone for His victory
over Satan. There is a lot of encouragement for us in this. We do not need
to know the whole Bible in order to have victory -- one little bit of it
is sufficient for this. If the Lord's mind was at that time occupied much
with Deuteronomy it may well have been that He was Himself deliberately living
out the experiences of the son of God of old; that He was casting Himself
into this whole business of coming out of Egypt, coming to the water, and
coming into the wilderness. It could well be that the experience of the people
of God in the wilderness was the subject of His daily meditation during the
forty days, so that He took up the inspired words of Moses, applying that
which was said of God's people in their forty years of testing to His own
forty days in the wilderness. I think that we may go even further and assume
that Matthew learned to see things in this way because the Lord Jesus Himself
taught the disciples so to see them.
Over and over again, as the son of God of old, the early Israel, came
to these testings, they completely failed. Let us see Jesus by contrast.
Come with me, please, to the moment when Jesus reached the water and met
John in the River Jordan. There a three-fold testimony was borne to Jesus,
and it was a three-fold testimony of righteousness. The first testimony came
from John. "John would have hindered Him saying, I have need to be baptized
of thee, and comest thou to me?" (3:14). John's baptism was a baptism for
sinners, a baptism of repentance with a view to the remission of sins. Now
John did not at this point yet know that Jesus was the Messiah, for it was
not until he saw the Spirit of God descending and remaining on Him that he
received the confirmation from heaven: "This is he" (John 1:33). At this juncture
he only knew Jesus as his cousin, but since he had examined and watched the
life of this Jesus, he asked: 'What are You doing in a baptism of repentance
for sinners?' In this way he quietly testified to the righteousness of Jesus.
Secondly there was the Lord's own testimony: "Jesus answering said to him:
Allow it to be so now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness"
(3:15). Jesus claimed to be set in the way of righteousness and determined
to carry it through to the end. All through the Bible one consistent meaning
is given to the word righteousness -- it means that which is right in the
sight of God. We can helpfully ask what it was which was right in the sight
of God at this point; what was Jesus fulfilling? Picture the scene. Many
others [3/4] had been in the river, and they had spoken
to John, while everybody else on the river bank had been aware of the subject
of their conversation. They were fully and openly confessing their sins.
When the crowd on the bank saw Jesus, in the water and about to undergo this
baptism of repentance and talking with John, they assumed that they knew the
subject of the conversation. They imagined that He too was a sinner and was
confessing His sins. They saw the heads nodding and the two speaking together,
and came to the conclusion that He also was a sinner. What was really happening
was that Jesus was willingly going into the place where He was identified
with sinners, so fulfilling all that was right in the sight of God. The conversation,
therefore, was not about sin but about righteousness.
Then came the third testimony to Jesus: "And lo, a voice out of heaven
saying, This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased" (3:17).
Even under the strict gaze of heaven no fault was to be found in God's true
Son. So Jesus was the one with the three-fold testimony of righteousness,
and was immediately plunged under the impulse of the Spirit into that wilderness
where this three-fold testimony was subjected to a three-fold testing, as
though each testimony in turn was weighed and attacked by Satan. And you
will notice that the connecting link between the baptism and the temptation
was this idea of sonship. 'If you are the Son of God ...' said the tempter
-- 'don't take it for granted: it is too big and important a thing just to
be lightly assumed -- but if you are the Son of God, well let us see the proof
of it. You need the proof; I need the proof; everybody needs the proof; so
test it out!' But under this three-fold testing the Son of God emerged triumphant
and was seen to be the person of manifested righteousness. Is it too fanciful
to point out that when Israel, the redeemed but failing son of God, came
to the Red Sea, it was the waters which were opened; whereas when Jesus the
real Israel, the genuine Son of God, the Righteous One, came to the waters,
it was heaven itself that opened? That was God's testimony to the Son's righteousness.
The parallel moves steadily on to completeness: "In the third month after
the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same
day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai, and when they were departed
from Rephidim and were come to the wilderness of Sinai, they pitched in the
wilderness and there Israel camped before the mount ..." (Exodus 19:1-2).
So the narrative moves to its climax; they had come through the wilderness;
they had failed in the test; but they came and camped before the mount of
God. Jesus had made this steady progress. Jesus had manifested Himself as
the Man of all righteousness. Then He came to the mount. "Seeing the multitudes
he went up into a mountain, and when he was sat down His disciples came unto
him and he opened his mouth and taught them ..." (5:1-2). This is the setting
for the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had come to the mountain as the Man of
manifested, demonstrated and proved righteousness. So He was able to speak.
The Person of the Lawgiver
There is another line of introduction in these earlier chapters of Matthew's
Gospel which must be briefly sketched in for this introduction. "The book
of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham"
(1:1). Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is very carefully drawn; it is formalised
and stylised. He does not go into every detail of the genealogy, but sketches
it out in great broad strokes in order to make plain the valid claim that
Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. This is important, but
he has something more to tell us than just the human ancestry of the Lord
Jesus Christ, for he points out that in the matter of naming this Baby the
supreme fact was: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bring forth
a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is,
GOD WITH US" (1:23). This then as to the person of the Lawgiver. On the one
side there are two things to notice: He is the Son of David and the Son of
Abraham. On the other side there is one unique feature: He is God with us.
Let us follow this through.
We go straight on to chapter 2 and read there of the visit of the wise
men. The world was beginning to gather to this Child. Here was the beginning
of that which had been predicted by Abraham: "In you and in your seed shall
all the nations of the world be blessed". So Matthew begins to open out the
truth of the claim that Jesus is the Son of Abraham, He is the promised seed.
'Look' says Matthew, who was the only one to record this, 'Look, the nations
are coming to Him. The promise to Abraham is at last being fulfilled. The
promised Seed is born.' When the wise men came looking for a king they began
to [4/5] get a bit illogical about their guidance.
The star had sufficed to bring them so far, but now they commenced to assume
that if He was a king, then He would have to be in a royal city, so they
went to Jerusalem and asked Herod where He could be found. What a lot of trouble
that produced! Herod asked the religious leaders of that time, and they knew
the answer: "And thou, Bethlehem in the land of Judah ...", that is to say,
the Messiah will be born in David's line and in David's city. In this way
we discover that the Seed of David, born in David's town, fits right into
the heart of this explanation of the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise.
When the wise men came into the house and saw the Child with Mary, His mother,
they fell down and worshipped. As he told the story what did Matthew have
in mind? Surely that the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, is God With Us,
even if, as may be, the wise men simply offered in their hearts the reverence
which they regarded as due to a king. Whatever they meant in their worship,
we would not be wrong to conclude that Matthew meant us to understand the
worship that is due to God, Emmanuel.
The words from heaven: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased"
(3:17) is really a composite quotation from the Old Testament which refers
both to the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. "Thou art my son" (Psalm
2:7) was the affirmation concerning the succession of Davidic kings who sat
on David's throne. This was a promise which was inherent in their line, a
promise that in that line would be born a king whom God would acknowledge
as His Son. They all bore the title, as an honorific, in prospect and promise
of the One who would come who would indeed be the Son of God. The other part
of the heavenly declaration comes from the words: "My servant, my chosen,
in whom is all my delight" (Isaiah 42:1) shows a close association with Abraham,
since this servant of the Lord is seen to be related to the Seed of Abraham
whom God called: "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8). The heavenly voice, then, combined
the two lines of prediction and promise, that the One concerned was acknowledged
as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.
But He is also the Son of God. This is very cleverly brought out by Matthew
in chapter 4 since when Jesus came back from the wilderness and from the
temptation, we read that leaving Nazareth He came and dwelt in Capernaum by
the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphthali, that it might be fulfilled
which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, "The land of Zebulun, and
the land of Naphthali toward the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light ..." (4:15-16). We
know from Isaiah what this great light was: "Unto us a child is born, unto
us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his
name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, mighty God. ..." (Isaiah 9:6).
This shows us Christ in all His completeness. He is the Son of David; He sits
on David's throne. He is the promised Seed of Abraham, because the blessing
flows out worldwide. But who is He in the essence of His nature? He is the
So along this second line of development we come once more to Matthew
5:1. "Seeing the multitude He went up into the mountain." Who? Who
went up? Why, the Man of Righteousness, who was also the Son of Abraham in
whom all the nations of the earth would at last find their blessedness, and
He was the Son of David, God's appointed ruler and king. It was God Himself
who came to His mountain. Naturally in the end the parallel breaks down.
When Israel came, they camped at the foot of the mountain and Moses went
to and fro as a mediator. When Jesus came to the mountain, He did not identify
with Israel at the foot, nor with Moses as the mediator, but He ascended
the mountain to sit as God. So it was that He taught His disciples. And so,
beloved friends, the scene is set for us to sit before Him. We do so looking
to Him, as the Man of righteousness, the One who can declare the righteous
law for human life. We sit before Him as God, the One who has a right to
speak and to be obeyed.
BEWARE OF LEGALISM
Reading: Acts 27:9-26, 44
ONE of the many lessons to be learned from this chapter is the supremely
important difference between a legalistic attitude and a standing in grace.
Out of terrors which might have brought despair into the stoutest heart came
the ringing cry of the man who knew the grace of [5/6]
God: "Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God ...". If the
law reigned neither Paul, nor the centurion, nor the master, nor the owner
would have had any future at all. Things would have worked out as Luke feared
they might when he recorded that all hope of salvation was then taken away.
Since the grace of God reigns, however, that proved a false fear; they were
able to be of good cheer and to go on in hope.
Man's Tendency Towards Legalism
There are few matters of graver importance than the peril of legalism.
Right through the Old Testament we are confronted with the oft-recurring
tendency of the human heart to choose its own ground, which is legal, instead
of accepting God's ground of free grace. Legalism is a fault, not of the
ungodly, but of those who have an earnest zeal for God. In the New Testament
the same phenomenon reappears among the people of God. Like the Galatians
they are ever prone to build again the edifice which at their conversion
they destroyed. Having been found on the ground of free grace, they are so
quickly moving away from it; having begun in faith, they seek to be made
perfect by works.
This tendency did not end with the New Testament. The multitude of sects
and heresies in modern Christendom appal us. It would take a lifetime to
discover the particular fallacy of each one, but here is the simple test which
will so often expose their untruth: at some point they make salvation to
depend upon works and not upon grace. Legalism is very appealing to the pride
of the natural man. For this reason every departure from the truth has its
rules and taboos, its regulations as to what must be done and what is prohibited,
and this not so much with reference to moral laws as to provide a basis of
enjoying divine favour.
But the principle of salvation by "works of law" goes even deeper than
this. Even among truly evangelical Christians it is only too apt to creep
in. If we track down the source of clashes, strained relationships, criticisms,
schisms and pride, we will generally find that it represents a failure in
respect of the grace of God. In other words, legalism has asserted itself,
even in the House of God. As it was with the Jews and the Judaisers, so it
is with the Church of today; men are overtaken by a legalistic spirit in
their very zeal for God.
Some Features of Legalism
Without attempting any precise definition of legalism, may I indicate
a few of its characteristics? Legalists are always occupied with externalities.
They attach the greatest importance to the niceties of orthodox practice
and language as things in themselves. By them the simplest procedures of the
New Testament are made into a ritual. The spirit of a thing is lost
sight of in an exaggerated devotion to the thing, whereas to God nothing
has value apart from the spiritual truth it is meant to express.
Moreover the legalistic mind is obsessed with deciding what is right
and what is wrong. That, after all, is what a law is for! Far be it from
me to encourage any laxity in the matter of what is morally right or morally
wrong. If, however, we make ourselves judges or arbiters; if we let our relationship
with other believers be governed by our own interpretation of what is right;
if, indeed, being right, we insist upon our rights, then we have been overtaken
by legalism. There is no possibility of spiritual progress if it is made
to depend on blamelessness, either in ourselves or in others.
There is an outstanding case of this in the parable of the two debtors.
The one, you may remember, was pardoned a large debt which he owed to his
master. But he immediately seized upon a fellow-servant who owed him a trifling
sum, and demanded prompt and full payment. He was punished as a wicked man.
So far as the matter of the hundred pence was concerned, he was right, and
the debtor was blameworthy. He had the law on his side. Yet his master condemned
him. He was right; and yet he was grievously wrong. Having profited so much
from grace he sinned gravely in refusing to show grace to his fellow. How
many bitter words and cruel deeds among the Lord's people are due to a legalistic
insistence on what is 'Scriptural'! A proneness to be always judging the
rights and wrongs of everything can in time become a kind of obsession.
Then again legalism is always profuse in arguments. Reasoning is the
business of the Law Courts. The emotions of the heart have little or no
place there, but logic and ability to dispute are essential. The pharisaical
mind can dispute every matter and prove its own point -- even from the Bible.
It delights in controversy. It is so argumentative that it can hardly conceive
of the possibility [6/7] that it might be wrong. It
even dares to dispute with the Lord.
The legalist becomes conceited. He imagines that he knows just how and
why God works, as though divine activity could be reduced to mere formulae.
He will probe into every circumstance where the Lord's blessing may seem
to be lacking, attributing every difficulty to some supposed breach of the
spiritual rules. It is true, of course, that spiritual principles do obtain
in all God's working, but we can never confine Him to our interpretation
of His laws. Grace will always go beyond such limits, bringing glad surprise
to those who live by it. The practiser of legalism, however, is never surprised,
for he imagines that he knows the explanation and the cause of all that takes
place. A great deal more might be said on this subject, but the main point
which I wish to make is that legalism has a paralysing effect on spiritual
Legalism Hinders Love
"Sirs, be of good cheer!" Only a heart full of the grace of Christ could
have enabled the apostle to speak such words to such hearers at such a time.
Had Paul's attitude been at all legalistic he would have spoken very differently.
Quite clearly the three leaders were entirely to blame for the sad predicament
of the whole ship's company. The centurion had refused Paul's warning and
allowed the owner and the master to overrule him. Paul was proved right;
they were altogether in the wrong. The legalist would have argued that Paul
deserved to be saved, and the others deserved to be lost. Paul was no legalist,
no stickler for praise and blame. He made great claims upon the grace of God,
and the Lord gave him all that sailed with him.
It was fortunate that Paul was no legalist, for perhaps he deserved as
badly as any of them. What was he doing on that ship? Why had he persisted
in going up to Jerusalem when warned not to do so? And being there, why
had he become involved in Judaistic practices in a vain attempt to appease
men's prejudices? The centurion had foolishly taken his own course instead
of listening to God-given warnings. A careful reading of Acts 21 makes it
difficult to resist the possibility that the apostle himself had committed
this very same error. His protest: "Ye should have hearkened unto me and
not have ... gained this harm and loss" could even have been an echo of
the Lord's reproof to his own heart. What then? Did failure, even disobedience,
alienate him from God's love? The legalist would answer: 'Yes'. The Bible,
however, says: 'No', and records that in spite of everything the gracious
Lord stood by him, and said: "Be of good cheer, Paul" (Acts 23:11).
Legally the centurion and his fellows had forfeited all rights to Paul's
love, even as the apostle might have been thought to have forfeited claims
upon the love of God. Only grace can maintain love. Nothing so paralyses
our sense of God's love, and nothing so hinders our exercise of love to others
as a legalistic approach to the rights and wrongs of things. Away in Corinth
and in Rome there were Christians quarrelling and standing aloof from one
another over unimportant matters of judgment, allowing barriers to be set
up by foolish trivialities. Why? Because instead of receiving others as Christ
had received them -- in grace -- they were sitting in judgment. There is
always division and a breakdown of brotherly love when legalism has its way.
The Lord may have so dealt with us that we cannot do certain things which
other servants of God practise. Let us indeed not compromise by sacrificing
our understanding of God's will, but at the same time we must not despise
those others, nor have a separateness of spirit towards them. Spiritual progress
is always attended by this temptation to judge others. Those who approximate
most closely to God's will are most conscious of and sensitive about shortcomings.
But they will hinder their own progress more than that of others if they
succumb to the temptation to set up a judgment seat here and now.
Legalism Hinders Faith
Faith can only triumph where grace reigns. Surely if the law governed
there would have been no future for those who had rejected divine warnings
and steered their own course. In that case there would have been no basis
for faith. Paul would have been obliged to confirm the despairing verdict
of the rest, telling them that it was useless to trust or pray since they
must suffer the consequences of their folly. Happily this was not the case.
Instead, having impressed upon them how wrong and foolish they had been, he
exhorted them to be of good cheer; he had obtained a promise from the Lord
and was bold to believe that it would be fully implemented by the God of
all grace. [7/8]
Faith is impossible without grace. If God's blessing follows logically
upon our observance of rules of procedure, any failure on our part will
suspend all further expectation from Him. The Devil will invariably point
out our faults and failures, sometimes bringing back to remembrance mistakes
of years ago, in order to challenge and wither our faith. It is important
for us to recognise our faults and learn from our mistakes, but we must
never let them be the ruling factor. Grace reigns! Doubtless Paul profited
from his mistakes. It is clear that the centurion learned his lesson. But
that was not all. They might still have been dejected and hopeless men, but
for the Lord's appearance in grace, calling them to rejoice and have faith.
Legalism Hinders The Divine Purpose
So far I have only spoken of the human side, but there is a divine aspect
to this matter. Paul's arrival in Rome was not meant for his own blessing;
it represented a goal of God's purpose. He had been chosen as an instrument
for the fulfilment of God's will; but legalism would have judged that fulfilment
impossible. The God of grace, however, twice appeared to His servant, encouraging
him with the assurance that though the way might be strange, the end was
sure: "Thou must stand before Caesar". What was true of this one event in
the apostle's life is also true for us all. The grace of God provides for
the realisation of God's full intention for His people, in spite of their
unworthiness. For this reason it is most important for them to abide in grace.
Satan knows that legalism will always arrest spiritual progress. If, then,
he finds a zeal for God among them, he will do his utmost to nullify it by
introducing a reversion to works of law. If he succeeds in this, there is
no good cheer. And there is no going on unto the fullness of Christ.
A glorious goal is set before the people of God. Legally they have neither
the right nor the ability to attain it; but grace beckons them on, crying
triumphantly above the noise of the storm: "Sirs, be of good cheer: for I
believe God that it shall be ...". The full purpose of God will find its
realisation in a people who maintain their lives in the realm where grace
THE MINOR PROPHETS
7 and 8. NAHUM and HABAKKUK
John H. Paterson
WE saw, in an earlier article, how Amos and Obadiah complemented each
other in their presentation of the character of God, by offering two balancing
messages about His justice and His faithfulness. With Nahum and Habakkuk we
have two more prophets whose messages balance one another and who are, therefore,
best treated together in a series of periodic studies like the present one.
The Message of Nahum
For many a modern reader, the difficulties which the Minor Prophets raise
must come to a head in the prophecy of Nahum. For here is a prophet ostensibly
speaking the inspired message of God; yet out of his entire prophecy, which
occupies three chapters of our Bible, only three verses hold out any message
of hope or grace; indeed, since the reading of 1:12 in the original is uncertain,
the correct figure may be only two verses! All the rest is a detailed
and horrifying prediction of the fall of a city, Nineveh, and the fate of
its inhabitants. In no other of the Twelve prophecies is there so one-sided
a presentation, or so small a proportion of the prophet's words devoted to
subjects other than judgment. Even so, the few words of hope which the book
does contain are not addressed to the doomed city. The Lord, says the prophet,
is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble (1:7), but of Nineveh He will
make an utter end. There may be some hope, somewhere, but for Nineveh there
is none at all.
No wonder, then, that a number of commentators, even Bible-believing
evangelical ones, seem to give up hope themselves when they reach Nahum!
Typical of these commentaries are remarks like: 'The very vividness of Nahum's
language and the splendour of 'his descriptions [8/9]
tend to hide from us his almost barbarous exultation over the doomed oppressor
... Nahum is so dominated by the sin of Nineveh that he makes no reference
to the sin of his own people ...; though sincere, intense and effective,
he has not much to say about the inwardness of true religion ... He does not
proclaim mercy for all men, even for Nineveh.'
When commentators who stand firmly for the inspiration of the Scriptures
are driven to these remarks, they pose a real question for their readers:
is the book of Nahum to be regarded as a part of these Scriptures or not?
Since this is all we have of Nahum's prophecies, what possible spiritual
value can they have? These are questions which require an answer. There is
such an answer, although neither of the commentators quoted above suggests
it. It is to be found in recalling the simple fact that all this had happened
once before. Nahum was not the first prophet with a message for Nineveh,
but the second. Once before, God had sent a messenger to this city, to tell
it that its doom was sealed. On that earlier occasion, the effect of the message
was revolutionary -- so revolutionary that, in response, God spared the city
and its people; He even spared the cattle too. The messenger was, of course,
Jonah. Nineveh had experienced in the most dramatic form the grace of God
in forgiveness. It had proved the reality behind the words that, later, Nahum
was to use: "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he
knoweth them that trust in him" (1:7).
But now a century and a half had gone by. The lesson of that dramatic
change of heart in Jonah's time had faded from the memory of the generations
that came after. And so it was all happening again, and this time there was
no escape. In 612 B.C. the city fell to the Medes. We shall never know whether
there might have been repentance and grace for this later generation
of Ninevites; in the event there was neither and the end came, swiftly and
completely. Nahum's message was directed to a city which had passed the
point of no return; to people who had experienced once in their history
the grace of God, but for whom the day of grace had now ended.
Was this unworthy of God? Should He not have forgiven Nineveh a second
time? The answer, apparently, to both questions is: 'No'. For the message
of Nahum seems to be that God is perfectly consistent. This consistency
is indeed a "strong hold in the day of trouble", for it means that God's
response is not capricious, but entirely predictable, as all these prophets
have been saying. He is what He is, and He acts according to His character.
He condemns; man repents, and God withholds judgment. Then He condemns again;
this time there is no repentance, and the judgment falls. With a God who
is self-consistent, everybody knows exactly where they are.
It is not easy to link the Old Testament denunciation of a heathen city
to the experience of contemporary believers, and we may err if we seek to
make too close a connection. But we know that God, with perfect consistency,
will one day end the present period of His grace, and in the meantime we
should find in that consistency of character and action a reassurance. It
is notable that those most difficult passages of the New Testament which raise
for some anxious believers the spectre of being saved and lost, are on examination
found to base their argument not on the wrath of God but on His consistency.
Hebrews 6 is a good example. Some things, says the writer, are irreversible
-- the rain falling, or plants growing. The rain cannot return to the sky
or the plant dwindle back into the seed. We cannot see them happen and then
pretend that they did not. We have to accept the result, whether it is a
thorn or an ear of wheat (Hebrews 6:7-8). And we cannot be the beneficiaries
of God's grace and then somehow reverse the process, pretending that it never
happened, for that would be to force upon God an inconsistency of which He
is incapable. There is an inevitability in His dealings with men which
stems from the logic of His own mind.
The Message of Habakkuk
It is difficult to suppress a shudder as Nahum hammers home this message
of inevitable judgment. But let us move on to the following prophecy, that
of Habakkuk. For here we find the consistency of God presented in quite a
different light. It seems likely that Habakkuk was roughly a contemporary
of Nahum's, but there is no similarity between them apart from this. Not
only was Habakkuk speaking about Israel rather than Nineveh; he was speaking
for Israel to God. He is the only one of these Minor Prophets who
speaks -- indeed complains -- directly to God: "O Lord, how long shall I cry?"
Habakkuk was clearly worried. His worry was, quite precisely, that God
was being inconsistent [9/10] Why did He not save
His people from the heathen Chaldeans, a cruel and violent nation (1:6)!
"Thou art of purer eyes that to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity:
wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy
tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?"
(1:13). It has been a recurrent worry among God's people -- sin and evil
apparently triumphant, and God doing nothing about it. It was a situation
that troubled Job, and the psalmist, and Jeremiah. In the New Testament there
are still some of His own people bewildered by His inaction: "How long, O
Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that
dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10). And there was, even for those souls
who had been slain for the word of God, no real explanation: "it was said
unto them that they should rest yet for a little season". Reassurance was
Habakkuk announced (2:1) that he was going to watch and wait for this
reassurance; that he was not going to move until he got it. He complained
that God must have His eyes shut, and now God replied that He did not. The
difficulty lay, as so often, in God's timing: "The vision is yet for
an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie: though it tarry
wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry". It might
appear that evil was flourishing, or that wicked men were getting away
with their sinning, but in reality the eyes of God were missing nothing. Not
a detail escaped Him; not an action was unnoticed.
In Isaiah 3:8 there is a very telling phrase describing this God who
sees all: "their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of
his glory ". The light in these eyes is unblinking and unwavering;
they miss nothing and they judge everything by the standards of His glory.
To Habakkuk, who was worried about the possibility of inconsistency in God's
dealings with people, the Lord presents Himself as the God of Glory
. This glory burns with absolute consistency and permanence. And now He assures
the prophet that although, at any particular moment of time, it may seem
as if He is not applying the standards which His glory demands, yet,
if only he will be patient, one day not only he but all the world will be
reassured that every single thing has been registered and recorded: "For
the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea" (2:14).
Of course God sees all. Of course His eye misses nothing. But we do not
necessarily know that, at least at the time, in the midst of trial
or pressure; that is why "the just shall live by his faith" (2:4). Faith
is necessary, while we wait for proof -- faith and patience to wait for the
full revelation of the glory of God. "Though it tarry, wait for it."
Throughout the present era of human history, and until God brings His
purposes to a climax in His creation, we are going to have to live with this
situation -- with the gap between appearances and reality, a genuine 'credibility
gap'. Until then, it will be possible for unbelievers and cynics to argue
that God does not exist or care, and it will be a trial of faith for God's
people to believe that He does. Moreover, as Paul explained to the Corinthians,
the gap between appearance and reality is one that we as God's servants are
called upon to bridge, and that, precisely as a challenge to those who doubt
His existence or His wisdom or both. 2 Corinthians 3 to 5 are full of the
glory of God and the distinction between appearance and reality or, as Paul
calls it (and the Revised Version uniformly translates it) appearance and
"manifestation". In looking towards the final day when "we must all be made
manifest before the judgment seat of Christ" -- when all the appearances
will be swept aside and the reality will stand revealed -- Paul explains
that the glory of God, a glory hidden from veiled hearts, is to be reflected
from, or carried in, the lives of His people. It was so with the Lord Jesus:
"We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father". Seen
in the lives and witness of those who by faith have overcome the 'credibility
gap', the glory challenges the assumptions of those who do not believe; as
Paul says: "We are made manifest unto God; and I trust are made manifest
also in your consciences" (2 Corinthians 5:11). As the earthly Tabernacle
once housed the glory; as it was once seen in the Word made flesh that "tabernacled"
among men (John 1:14), so now His people are called upon by the Lord of glory
to house that glory and reflect it to others.
Habakkuk had begun by complaining to God; by trying to put into His mouth
some word of condemnation for the wicked Chaldeans. But that is not God's
way; that is what the heathen do, putting words into the mouths of their
dumb idols (Habakkuk 2:18-19). God's answer to Habakkuk, if we may paraphrase
it loosely, is: 'Be quiet, and let the glory shine'.
"The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before
PREPARATIONS FOR THE KINGDOM
(Studies in 1 Samuel)
7. THE ANOINTING OF DAVID (Chapter 16)
WE have been saddened by the story of Saul's failure. At the beginning
he was not only called to the kingdom but greatly blessed, encouraged and
helped; yet he never made good and so was rejected. "Samuel came no more
to see Saul until the day of his death" (15:35). What a tragedy! The prophet
had called and anointed this man, but was now forced to abandon him as beyond
remedy. "Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul" -- he felt it keenly. What
is more, we have the remarkable statement: "the Lord repented that he had
made Saul king over Israel". This cannot mean that God regretted a mistaken
action, as we might, but it gives us a hint that God was saddened as well
as Samuel. This surely is what we are meant to take note of. God was unhappy
about it all. He never enjoys seeing His favours squandered, and having
to withdraw His presence from those whom He would gladly have blessed. Judgment
is no pleasure to God; He is not that sort of being. Men are often so different,
finding a certain mean pleasure in contrasting other people's failures with
their own virtues, ready to say: 'I told you so' when they are proved right.
Now God had been right. He had not wished to give Israel this king. In response
to their pressure, however, He had done his best for Saul, and so had Samuel.
Now Saul had failed but neither the Lord nor His prophet found any pleasure
in being proved right. In his mourning over the rejected king Samuel gave
some faint reflection of God Himself who was grieved in His heart.
This leads on to chapter 16, which shows that whoever else had failed
there was no question of any failure on God's part. Far from it, for Saul's
rejection cleared the way for Him to act. "Fill thy horn with oil and go,
I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite for I have provided me a king
among his sons," the Lord said to the sorrowing Samuel. With Saul it has
been a case of giving Israel a king for themselves (8:22), but this time
God was providing a king for Himself. May I say that I think that this was
the most important crisis in the history of God's people since the exodus
from Egypt? David is a name not yet mentioned but destined to be of great
significance. God was providing this king, and planned to make so much hinge
upon this call and anointing. First there would be the immediate kingdom,
enlarging under Solomon's rule; then, with the kingdoms divided, David's
descendants would still occupy the throne of Judah, their faithfulness being
recorded according as they followed David. So David was the pattern right
until New Testament times, when his significance was shown to be a matter
of his relation to Christ. Had there been no David, there would have been
no Bethlehem manger. As a matter of fact David's name can be found nearly
sixty times in the New Testament, the tremendous emphasis being sustained
to the final chapter, where Jesus claimed to be the root and the offspring
of this mighty king (Revelation 22:16). That book foretells the greatest crisis
of human history. The creation was the first crisis, the calling of Abraham
another and the exodus yet another; but here was one of comparable importance.
Samuel probably had no great sense of history as he filled his horn and went
off to Bethlehem. Being human, he may well have wondered how this man was
going to turn out. He did not even know his name at that juncture. So it
is that there are moments in history which are of far greater importance than
men realise. When Ananias was sent to Saul in Damascus he had little idea
of the magnitude of what was being set in motion by his brotherly visit. It
is not for us to know, but to obey. Happily this was what both Ananias and
Samuel did. And if Samuel had little idea of the significance of that day,
what shall we say of young David? To him it had dawned as just one more stint
of caring for the sheep. We are not told what the other brothers were doing.
Evidently they were around in the house, engaged in this and that. David,
though, was the one who had to look after the sheep. He may even have been
out all night for all we know. Yet this was to be the day of supreme importance,
not only to him, but to the whole people of God then and right up until this
day. God was in action. He had found the man who was to be His elected king.
FIRST, however, I wish to consider Samuel, for he was the central figure
that day, and I would like to point out that the matter was not at all of
his devising, nor even to his liking. It [11/12] seems
clear that God's somewhat reproachful order for him to stop mourning over
Saul suggests that the prophet's tendency was to look back, which is what
we are all so prone to do. Perhaps Samuel was not only mourning for Saul
but lamenting the fact that they had ever had a king, or that he had taken
any part in commissioning him. It is such a common trait, this tendency to
mourn over the past with our refrain of: 'If only ...' God is not like that.
He never looks back over His shoulder in vain regrets over people's failures,
but proceeds with His own perfect plans. He is called "The God of Hope"
-- not the God of moping but the God of hoping. And He is able to realise
His hopes. For this reason He called a halt to Samuel's vain sighing and
sent him out to start again.
Samuel's first response was to argue about the impossibility of God's
command to him. When something is distasteful to us we can usually find plenty
of reasons for not doing it. Samuel's objections were by no means groundless,
for by now Saul was showing himself to be a man of violent passions. But
whether it is Samuel going to Jesse or Ananias going to Saul of Tarsus or
Peter going to Cornelius, or any of us being sent on an unpleasant errand,
we always find that God gets the best of the argument. And rightly so, for
He knows what He is about and always has a solution to our problem. In the
case of Samuel, the Lord sent him off to make a reasonable call on Jesse and
promised to give him further instructions as things developed. "... thou shalt
anoint unto Me him whom I name unto thee." As a trusted and experienced servant
of the Lord he might have expected to be told the name of this proposed new
king, but this was denied him. Like the rest of us, Samuel would doubtless
have preferred to be in the know, to be given some explanation of his Lord's
plans, but God does not deal with us like that. He demands our faith, obedience
and trustful dependence, assuring us that He will give us the necessary guidance
as we move forward at His command. God knew the name but He did not propose
to reveal it to Samuel for His own wise reasons. This should encourage us.
We so often wish that we had instructions in black and white, that we could
understand the why and wherefore of what the Lord orders us to do, feeling
that such instructions and explanations would make our way easier and more
sure. Be that as it may, how would we learn our spiritual lessons, lessons
of dependence and of a sensitive spirit, if God treated us in this way?
SUCH a walk of faith, of course, has its perils. Samuel very nearly made
a mistake. Indeed he did judge wrongly, and he was sure in his own mind that
he was right: "... he looked on Eliab and said, Surely the Lord's anointed
is before him". He was sure but he was wrong. The explanation of this mistaken
judgment is ascribed to the fact that Eliab was tall and good-looking. But
that is exactly what Saul had been! Saul was a man who looked the part, and
now Samuel faced another who had equal qualities and wrongly presumed that
God's king had to be like that. Samuel reasoned, but he did not act. In
this he proved himself to be a true man of God. Mistaken judgment is what
we are all prone to have, but if we walk by the Spirit we shall be saved
from mistaken actions. The Lord's correction of His servant was not so much
personal as a reminder of how mistaken any man can be. He did not say: 'The
Lord seeth not as you see', but "The Lord seeth not as man seeth" (v.7),
not chiding Samuel for making this mistake but pointing out that human nature
will always be wrong. Man looks on the outward appearance. What else can
he do? It was no fault of Samuel's that he could not see into Eliab's heart.
Only the Lord can do that. What Samuel had to remember was that he was only
a man. A man of much experience in the things of God? Yes. A man who had
faithfully served for many years and who maintained a strong prayer life?
True. But still only a man, and all men are fallible. Only God is infallible.
And He will check and guide the man who is sensitive to His voice. So Samuel
rejected Eliab because God had refused him.
The obvious thing to do was to call the next one, and the next, and so
on until there did not seem to be any more. Had Samuel been an impulsive
man he would have concluded that his original check about Eliab had been
a mistaken one, and might have 'forced himself', as king Saul had earlier
done. But the man of the Spirit never does that. Samuel had seen all seven
and received a negative concerning each one. What was he to do? This is a
situation in which from time to time we all find ourselves. We have a strong
sense that something should be done, our impulses urge us to act, but inwardly
we have a sense that we must wait. It is only 'a still, small voice' -- God's
voice is usually that -- and we could easily brush it aside and plunge into
some rash action. The man of the Spirit does not do that. Samuel was not
infallible, but he was wise, and his wisdom made him accept God's vetoes
and enquire further if he [12/13] really had seen
all the family. The answer was: "There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold
he keepeth the sheep". How easily he could have been missed! And how easily
can we miss God's true purpose if we yield to impatience and carnal reasoning.
So the patient and sensitive Samuel found -- as we all find -- that God's
negatives will always lead on to the positive, provided we wait for Him.
David was the man. "Arise, anoint him," God said, "for this is he." So when
Samuel was satisfied that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon young David,
he took his leave and returned to Ramah.
His action revealed an amazing rest of faith in God. Samuel just anointed
the young shepherd boy and then left him with God. He does not seem to have
had any further communication with this new king until much later when David
sought him out in his home in Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18). The wise old servant
of the Lord did what he had been told to do and then took his hands off.
This is a lesson which we all need to learn, for we itch to put our hands
on people. We argue that they need our advice or our help, we long to tell
them where they are wrong or to assist them to manage their affairs. We feel
that they need us. What they need is the Holy Spirit. Samuel was satisfied
that the Spirit had come to take charge of David, so he was content to go
home, knowing that God had His young king in hand. Mind you, he went home
to Ramah, to the lofty place. He did not go home to rest, but to pray, and
to travail in prayer for God's interests in His people and their God-appointed
king. Here, then, we have the picture of a true man of God. He does not enjoy
doing the Lord's will, but he does it. He may argue, but he will obey. He
does not understand, and is mistaken in his ideas, but he is sensitive enough
to wait for God. And then, when he has done what he was told to do, he leaves
the matter with the Lord and returns to the lofty place of intercession.
SO much for Samuel's part. Now we must consider David's side of the story.
It may be surprising, and yet it is true to experience, that the one chosen
from among those eight brothers was the one whom the others either ignored
or despised. Even old Jesse had to be pressed to reveal that he had one more
son, giving the impression that in his estimation David bore no comparison
with the rest. Later on, when Jesse sent him to take food to his brothers
in the vale of Elah, he was greeted scornfully and charged with irresponsibility
(1 Samuel 17:28). The charge was false. He had sought no place for himself
but had been summoned by Samuel to be anointed, and had been sent on a menial
errand by his father when he met Goliath. This is typical of the man after
God's own heart; he is essentially a humble man.
It seems significant to me that he was number eight in the family, for
eight is the Bible number connected with resurrection. So often God's way
of dealing with His people is on this basis of resurrection. The prospects
die, human hopes are lost; and then God acts to bring them back in the power
of resurrection. This happened to David again and again, as we shall see,
for resurrection life is the very foundation of God's kingdom. The apostle
Paul found that this was how his life and ministry worked out, and made
it plain that such recurring 'deaths' and raising from the dead are essential
to a spiritually fruitful life.
It is also significant that David was the one who was caring for the
family sheep. God's king has to be a shepherd. If Joseph was the original
type of exaltation to a throne, it is surely not without meaning that the
opening words of his story are: "These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph
being seventeen years old was feeding the sheep ..." (Genesis 37:2). Moses,
another great ruler for God, has to graduate in this pastoral school. He
was not a shepherd by upbringing, he was a prince, a scholar, perhaps a general.
As such he had no patience and tenderness: he was a fighter. But before he
could serve as a ruler for God he needed forty years of life as a shepherd.
All this, of course, points on to our great King, who was also the Good Shepherd.
The man who has no patience with God's sheep-like people is no use to God
for exercising rule over them.
MOST significant of all is the fact that he was anointed. The anointing
with oil was outward, and was all that Samuel could give him, but God gave
him the inward reality: "... and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon
David from that day forward" (v.13). The sad contrast to this experience
was that the Spirit departed from Saul (v.14). Once again we must not think
in New Testament terms of the indwelling Spirit, for He comes not to enter
and leave but to abide for ever in the heart of the believer. But we may rightly
think of that special enduement of the Spirit, given for some special task,
and in this [13/14] connection it is all too possible
for 'the anointing' to pass from one who fails to fulfil the purpose of God
to another who will carry through God's will. If a man is given divine enabling
for a job and then does not do the job, the Lord may take away that grace
and give it another man who will.
The tragic sequel to this was that: "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled
him", which must surely mean that this spirit found a place in Saul by divine
permission. There are other Scriptures which make it plain that such a spirit
could not trouble him without that permission. In a sense the trouble came
from the Lord, but it was Saul's own folly which led to his involvement with
the kingdom of darkness. Even this, however, God was able to make use of
in His purposes for David, for the remedy suggested by Saul's servant was
a skilled harpist and when Saul demanded to know where such a man could be
found, his servant told him that there was a Bethlehemite, a son of Jesse,
who was just the one. So David was temporarily freed from his limited home
life and introduced into the royal palace. Before I say more about that, may
I invite you to pass over the years and consider the end of his life? "Now
these be the last words of David ... the man who was raised up on high, the
anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel ..." (2 Samuel
23:1). So it appears that one of the most important and lasting features of
David's anointing was to give him ability to praise and worship God. This
was the supreme thing; all the other features of his rule, planning, fighting,
ruling were secondary. The supreme concern of the Spirit in his life, as in
ours, was to produce sweetness of praise to God. David's songs were sung by
the Lord Jesus; the apostles sang them; and to this day we continue to worship
God by means of them. This is proof enough that his psalms were the fruit
of his anointing by the Spirit.
WE return, though, to his introduction to the king's palace and its strange
sequel. If this had been a man-made story, Saul would have conveniently died
very soon, leaving the way open for the newly anointed king to take his
place. But God does not do things like this. God chose David, God appointed
him king, but then God had to test him. And Saul was the main instrument of
the testing. God left him on Israel's throne for at least another twelve years,
while David endured countless bitter and unjust trials. A crown on the head
does not make a man a king. A seat on a throne does not make him kingly.
Something has to happen in the heart of a man before he can truly qualify
to be God's appointed ruler. While David was being selected did not God lay
down the condition that He looks not on the outward appearance but on the
heart? When David was eventually crowned it was because God and men had found
him as one proved worthy of the throne. I believe that it should be the same
in all spiritual offices or positions that we hold. The actual appointment
should be but the recognition of what the man has proved to be.
David had been anointed in the midst of his brothers, but then he had
to go back to the sheep. That was where Saul found him (v.19). He later informed
Saul that it was in those circumstances that he had proved God's power to
save. By a wonderful intervention of God he was called away from shepherding,
given a place in Saul's palace, loved and appointed armour-bearer. But in
the next chapter we read of war with the Philistines, the presence of Jesse's
three eldest sons in the army but David forced to return to his father's
home to care for his sheep once more. In our next article we shall consider
how God once again released him, and after that he never had to return to
that task. Not that his trials were over. Far from it. They had only just
begun, for Saul's love turned to hatred, David became a fugitive, and many
years of testing still lay before him. David had to wait for God. And that
was just where Saul failed. Saul was the man who could not wait; David was
the one who waited long and patiently.
The anointing was in a day, in a few moments. It can be like that. But
the outworking and proving of its values, the evidence and outworking of
its reality, this took long years of severe testing. The humble service with
the sheep was part of the testing. The unjust and unreasonable persecution
of Saul was another part. And all the time David must have been beset by
Satan's suggestions that the anointing had been a mistake or a failure. By
the grace of God, though, he came through all the tests and was found to be
a man after God's own heart. He was not faultless. He was not always consistent.
But he was a man who through faith and patience inherited the promises. The
kingdom was made real in his own heart. This is precisely what the Lord is
seeking to do with each one of us whom He has called to His kingdom and glory
(1 Thessalonians 2:12).
(To be continued) [14/15]
"The church of God which is at Corinth, even those who are sanctified
in Christ Jesus ... with all that in every place call upon the name of
Jesus Christ our Lord, both their's and our's" (1 Corinthians 1:2).
OVER the past months I have been impressed afresh by the nature of the
struggle entailed in establishing a testimony for the Lord. It is true that
the Lord alone can build His Church, but the fallible material He has to
use poses many problems. There is no short cut to maturity, either in personal
living, or in the life of the local church. Growing up can sometimes be
a painful procession of falls and failures. I have not infrequently looked
at a small group of believers and lamented the lack of gifted men who can
adequately take the oversight of the flock. But when gifted men are available,
often the problem is no nearer being solved. The strengths of gifted men
may also be their weaknesses. Their capabilities can so overshadow everyone
and everything, and so shake up the hitherto slowly progressing company,
that it is in danger of falling apart. It is easy to understand the biblical
injunction that an elder should 'not be a recent convert' (1 Timothy 3:6)
when one sees the confusion that can be wrought even by converts of years
of standing and spiritual experience.
The struggle to see a testimony established for the Lord is largely a
struggle for holiness and unity. The many difficulties can be reduced to
the need to express the unity of the body of Christ, or the need to express
the quality of His character. Neither is easily achieved. It has struck me
how, in the introduction to his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul touches
on these two main spiritual problems. Those to whom he writes are "sanctified
in Christ Jesus, called to be saints". They are also "the church of God"
who had been set apart "with all those who in every place call on the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ". Together they are God's people, and they are
vitally linked with God's people beyond Corinth.
Unity -- local and universal
I tend to feel that there is some particular significance in the New
Testament concern for an expression of unity within the local church. It
may well be that the Corinthian church consisted of a number of house groups,
not one central gathering, but "the church of God" which Paul addressed
was certainly something larger than a cosy company united by a common experience
or understanding or temperament. At the same time, it was not so wide as
to make unity something of merely academic interest.
The Corinthian believers were but the raw material of a united church.
Some of them were very raw, though no more so than many groups of believers
today. Nevertheless, let it be said quite categorically, that Paul never
conceived of unity on the Corinthian scene apart from an adequate basis of
truth. There was no question of people of widely differing theological views
claiming unity solely on the basis of a common experience. Read 1 Corinthians
15, where Paul reminds the Corinthians "in what terms I preached to you the
gospel ..." (verse 1). It was in terms of Christ's vicarious death as the
full and completed atonement for sins, His burial and resurrection. There
is no biblical ground for unity apart from an acceptance of the foundational
truths of the gospel. But beyond this, the unity of the local church is a
unity of quest in the midst of diversity. Given the indispensable foundation
of truth, the local church is comprised of people of varying gifts, spiritual
capacity and temperament. Yet we are committed to one another, with our divergent
problems and idiosyncracies, and with our individual traits which leave our
fellow believers bewildered, annoyed or exasperated. The unity of a local
church is not a serene state of never-ending calm; it is the spiritual interaction
of personalities, through which each one grows unto maturity. Through this
interaction our characters are shaped and mellowed.
There is, however, another aspect of unity. Christian unity is broader
than the local church. We are one "with all those who in every place call
on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". God does not mean His people to be
frogs in a well. There is a great world outside which is His and with which,
through Christ, we are vitally linked. We neglect our wider unity with all
of God's people to our own spiritual detriment. The local unity of the church
and the wider unity of all [15/16] believers entails
each its own particular privileges and responsibilities. We must give equal
recognition to both.
Hindrances to unity
The most obvious hindrance to the unity of the Corinthian church was
a failure to grant due recognition to all whom it was privileged to have
as ministers. Some favoured Paul, others Apollos, and others Peter. In favouring
one they tended to neglect the others. It is true that a church is not equally
edified through each of its members. Some have a much greater contribution
to make than others. At the same time, no one is unnecessary. Our unity
is based on a recognition of the fact that we really do need one another.
At times the contribution made by some dear saints is more negative than
positive. We feel we could well do without it. Every assembly has its share
of fault-finders who complain about the weaknesses of the fellowship but
do nothing to remedy them, the inveterate critics who recognise everybody's
ills except their own. Perhaps such people have more to contribute to the
life of the church than we think. Why did the Lord allow not merely a critic
but a traitor among His twelve disciples? Could it have been to demonstrate
the triumph of the grace of God over the ultimate in spiritual disloyalty?
The unspeakable baseness of the betrayal could not provoke the Lord to forsake
the grace and love of His character. How easily the disloyalty of our fellow
believers can provoke us to unspiritual reactions! When this happens, of
course, it is a proof of how much we ourselves have to learn.
The very problems we face with our brethren in the Lord can be a means
of grace and of developing spiritual character. It was so with Paul in the
sad experience to which he alluded in writing to the Philippians (Philippians
1:12-19). I do not suggest that we should go out of our way to seek problematic
relationships, but that we should beware of the tendency to run away from
them when we are already committed to a local testimony. Some believers want
to choose for themselves those who are to form the unity of the local church,
and reject those who are not congenial. They look round for a gathering,
or perhaps form one, where they think that all are of the required outlook
and disposition. Soon they find themselves faced with the same problems from
which they had tried to flee. We hinder the unity of the local church unless
we realise that every believer has a contribution to make, be he congenial
or difficult, be his contribution one of positive ministry or of thrusting
us upon the Lord to find in Him a greater measure of grace.
God works through whomsoever He pleases. We also hinder the unity of
the Spirit whenever we exalt one man as the prime channel through whom God
speaks. To exalt one man, however spiritual he may be, conditions our thinking
by his insights, and cuts the life of the church off from the insights God
grants to others. In doing so we adopt a standard that is other than Christ
and settle for a life of spiritual limitation. This is what the Corinthians
were doing in their exalting, some of Paul, others of Apollos, and others
of Peter. Their danger was division, as it always is when we demand the stamp
of a man upon a ministry rather than the stamp of God.
The responsibilities of unity
The paramount responsibility of Christian unity is to recognise the unique
contribution each believer has to make to the life of the church. When we
grasp this we will be exercised both to make our own contribution and to
encourage others to make theirs as well. We will look upon each one as a channel
through whom God wishes to speak to us, and we will accept seriously what
Unity in the local church means fellowship, and fellowship is a two-way
relationship. It entails the readiness both to give and to receive. We are
responsible to learn how to minister effectively to others, and to learn
how to receive ministry from others, even though it may sometimes be unpalatable.
There is an unwholesome lack of this sense of mutual responsibility among
many assemblies of believers. The tendency is to be either abjectly subservient
or completely overbearing. A person may adopt one attitude to one and the
other attitude to another, and fail to see that each of us must contribute
to and receive from each member of the spiritual family. The final tragedy
is to find a believer who feels he has nothing to contribute to anyone, or
a believer who is so filled with a sense of his commission to minister to
others that he himself is spiritually isolated and untouchable. The first
becomes a spiritual nonentity; the second a spiritual despot. In the unity
of the church no one is exempt from responsibility to minister according
to what God [16/17] has entrusted to him, however humble
the contribution may be. Nor is anyone exempt from heeding the ministry of
the Spirit through others, however humbling that might be.
The unity of the Lord's people is an inestimably precious fact. It is
based squarely upon a foundation of biblical truth, truth which has to be
explored, understood and applied more fully to our daily living. Unity is
destroyed by a rigid, restricted mental attitude which would enclose Christ
in our limited apprehension of Him. Let us be eager to learn through one another
in the local fellowship where God has placed us. Let us be eager also to
learn through the wider fellowship of the Lord's people, a fellowship as
wide as the world in which God has set us. The same Christ who is our Lord
is their Lord also.
CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD
"But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God ..." (1 Corinthians 1:24).
"For I determined not to know anything among you,
save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
IN many ways the explanation of Christ being the power of God consists
in the fact that He is Christ crucified. This second reference by Paul to
his emphasis on Christ crucified is immediately linked with the reminder
that Christ is the power of God and largely the explanation of it.
The whole subject of spiritual power is most important. So many Christians
find themselves involved in a continual struggle to live up to what they
know to be God's standard. For them Christianity is a manner of life composed
of various rules and regulations. They know what ought to be and what ought
not to be, and they therefore struggle to attain to this level of living.
Their consciences play a large part in this constant effort, and for this
reason they suffer many fears and fail to experience the promised joys. Life
for them has become a strenuous business, fraught with much disappointment
and many failures. They may from time to time have a sense of attainment and
success, with much resultant gladness, but with the fluctuating emotions of
the soul, things seem to collapse and go all wrong. So it is that people find
the Christian life burdensome; they long to know real victory, true deliverance
and the joy of the Lord, whereas they experience the ups and downs of a constant
struggle. The Christian life depicted in the New Testament seems so different
from their actual experience that the Devil is never slow to pounce in with
his suggestions that a life of constant victory is quite impossible, so that
all their hopes are but unreal dreams. Satan wants God's people to despair
of knowing His power.
But there is an altogether different life, different because it is based
on the entering into something already completed in Christ; not something
to be attained to but rather that which has already been accomplished. It
is not a standard to be lived up to, but a Person to be lived with. It is
impossible to measure the vast difference between these two kinds of life.
The former is one of self effort and defeat, while the other consists in
enjoying the reality of Christ the power of God.
WE must beware of thinking in terms of advanced or special doctrines.
Scriptural teaching is not departmental or sectional. We may hear of 'higher
truth' or 'advanced teaching', as though there were something special reserved
for the few. So there arises the idea of 'higher life' with 'higher teaching',
as opposed to being a simple believer, content with 'the simple gospel'. I
want very emphatically to contradict any such notion. Wherever you look in
the New Testament you will never find any support for this idea. It is true
that we have to face the call for overcomers, but surely the 'overcomer' in
the book of Revelation is only the ripe and full product of the work of Christ
on His cross; it is only Christ in His fuller manifestation and expression.
Overcomers [17/18] are made possible because Christ
is "the power of God". Just exactly as in the commencement of salvation,
so in its triumphant consummation, everything is linked with the Lamb slain
and the blood of the Lamb.
Nobody should make a special kind of 'Overcomer' teaching, for this is
what God intended Calvary to mean for every believer. God had spiritual
victory as His thought when He first forgave us our sins, and in His mind
this is to be the normal development of every Christian's life. Every movement
forward, however, is related to the cross, and there is a sense in which
there is not one step forward in the spiritual life which is not preceded
by a step backward. What I mean is this, that there has to be some undoing
before there can be any upbuilding. The Christ who is the power of God to
us is the crucified Christ who progressively applies the cross to us also,
so that being released from the flesh which so holds us back, we may advance
in the realm of the Spirit. So spiritual progress is not conditioned by
special teaching but by ever deeper experiences of the inworking of the cross
This being true, we must recognise that everything is bound up with the
Person, and must never be regarded merely as spiritual truth. Everything
is bound up with Him. It is Christ who is the power of God -- Jesus Christ
and Him crucified. This explains the working of the gospel, which surely is
that Christ crucified is revealed in the heart of the sinner who believes.
We are not constituted gospel preachers because we have read somewhere the
historic facts that Christ was crucified, raised from the dead and ascended,
but because God has revealed in us not just facts but a Person in relation
to the facts and the facts in relation to the Person. This, then, brings me
back to what I said at the beginning, namely that the life of struggling and
failing in self effort is really due to a failure to appreciate the wonder
and power of Christ crucified.
When the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts He brings Christ in the completeness
of His finished work on the cross, and then proceeds progressively to conform
us to Christ. Do you realise that the Christ in you is not an imperfect Christ?
When the Lord Jesus wrought His Calvary work He not only dealt with the
matter of forgiveness but He went right on to the perfection of redemption,
finally reaching the throne as the great Overcomer. In Him, the Person, the
whole ground of spiritual experience is covered and completed. There is
no experience that can ever come to you or me which makes impossible the
reaching of God's end, for Christ has already met and overcome it. So we
are not to struggle in vain attempts after perfection, but to co-operate
with the Holy Spirit as He seeks to make good in us the power of Christ's
finished work on the cross. It is Christ in you who is the hope of glory.
Anything less or anything else will bring no hope of glory but rather despair.
I WOULD like to close on this positive reminder that the Holy Spirit
has been charged with and has accepted full responsibility for the conforming
of us to Christ. But we must recognise that power in relation to the Holy
Spirit is not just an impersonal force but is vitally connected with Christ,
and especially on the basis of the cross. For us the power of the Holy Spirit
is inseparably bound up with the Person of Jesus Christ and depends on our
willingness to accept the implication of union with Him in His cross. When
the Lord was discussing this cross with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of
Transfiguration, the word rendered 'decease' should really be 'exodus' (Luke
9:31). Doubtless, then, we can correctly say that Christ's cross is a deliverance,
a way out. It is the way out from condemnation, an elementary truth for the
Christian but none the less a precious and important one. It is the way out
from the power of sin. How can I escape from the bondage of sin which threatens
me and seeks still to make me a slave even though I am a forgiven sinner?
Only by death-union with the Lord Jesus, for it is His death which has made
the escape, the exodus for all who trust in Him. Such trust involves the appropriation
by faith of the power of that death as I am led into it in practical ways
by the Holy Spirit.
In addition we notice that the Scriptures say that Jesus accomplished
this exodus. It was an accomplishment on His part, something which He
achieved. When we recognise this to be the nature of that death, we get a
different conception from that of His just being killed, merely being crucified
by men, and realise that this was a mighty work which He completed. He voluntarily
took upon Himself all those powers which produce man's failures, defeats
and bondage, and then broke through them all and accomplished a perfect way
out by His triumphant death upon the cross. So it is for us to recognise that
all our problems and enemies have been dealt with by the Lord Jesus
[18/19] in His cross. The Holy Spirit is given to us as the Spirit
of His triumphant victory, full of energy and power to bring our besetting
weaknesses to that grave where Christ has brought them, so that we may be
freed for the will of God. I cannot master my sins but Christ has done it,
and can draw me into the power of His delivering death. I can claim my share
in the exodus. And this is not just coming into the light of some new doctrine,
but sharing the power of a Person. It makes all the difference whether we
are trying to deal with our troubles doctrinally or in the power of that
Christ's death is also the way out from the bondage of law. You can have
Christian law just as much as you can have Mosaic law; you can be in bondage
in Christianity just as much as men were in Judaism. Christianity can be
made into an imposed system just as much as Mosaic law was, and there are
many Christians today who live under the fear of the 'Thou shalt' and the
'Thou shalt not' of a legalistic conception of the Christian life. You can
take the Bible as God's standard for your life and try to fulfil it and yet
still be burdened with a sense of constant failure. It is God's standard,
and it is a very exhaustive one which leaves no part of the practical life
untouched, but those who make the effort to try to live up to it only end
in disillusion. No, it is not just a matter of a Book but of a Person, the
Person who did live up to that standard, absolutely fulfilling every least
demand with the most perfect success, so satisfying God to the full. By His
death He has delivered us from the bondage of legal demands. This same Person
now lives in us by His Holy Spirit, seeking to work out that perfect will
of God not on the basis of some binding instructions from without but as a
living force within. We have the law written in our hearts. To be in Christ
is a matter of life and not of legalism.
CHRIST, and Christ crucified, is the power of God to bring deliverance
from sin, from the flesh, from the law and from the world. "God forbid that
I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the
world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). Paul
was not glorying that he could enjoy so much of the world and yet have a
clear conscience, but was enthusiastic about having been delivered from
the world. For believers the only possible way of staying in this world
is to know that they no longer belong to it. Not that we can deliver ourselves.
No, it is much too strong for us. But in this matter, as in all others,
the cross of Christ has made a way out for us. Alas that some Christians
seem to want to hold on to as much of the world as they can without losing
their peace of mind, giving up the minimum and holding on to all that they
can without having their conscience too disturbed. This is not a powerful
life, nor is it a glorious one. The glory of true fellowship with Christ
crucified is the rich satisfaction of those who know the delivering power
of the Christ and the new fulness of life in the will of God.
Many of you have confirmed that we were right to cease sending receipts,
but I feel that it would be less than gracious on my part if I did not record
my deep gratitude for the constant and generous gifts which make possible
the continuance of the ministry of this magazine. It is wonderful to have
such loving support. I want to thank you heartily and also to give glory
to God for the manifestation of the grace of Christ in His people.
Once again we have prepared some bound volumes of the 1975 issues which
can be had, post free, for 80 pence or $2.30. [19/20]
I WOULD RATHER BE A ROAD SWEEPER ...
HER name is Anastasia and she sweeps the snow and dirt from the streets
of Russia's great capital city. A brilliant girl, in her early twenties,
she was just on the verge of taking her finals at University and planning
to go on to a teaching career. But life changed suddenly and dramatically
One lunch hour she was playing with the knobs of her transistor radio
and found herself listening to a religious programme. Later she learnt that
it came from a Christian Broadcasting Organisation. Here was something that
she had never heard before and, fascinated by this talk of a Living God, she
tuned in again next day. Brought up as a Communist, she had been taught that
there was no God and that the Bible was taboo. For the first time in her
life she was hearing the story of God's love to mankind in sending His Son,
Jesus Christ, to die on a Cross. Eagerly she asked some of her friends to
listen with her, and fast and furious were their discussions after the programmes
Alas! Word reached the ears of the authorities at the University, and
Anastasia was hauled up in front of them. She was warned not to listen to
any more of these broadcasts -- but how could she possibly stop? By this time
the Holy Spirit was working in her heart and she was well on the way to finding
faith in this God of reality. So she continued to tune in to the radio station
in the free world. Again she was warned, but still she listened. Finally
she was given the choice of immediate expulsion from the University or of
renouncing her new found faith. To do the latter was unthinkable. She knew
without doubt that she could not give up the truth which she had learned about
this God. Shattered, she realised that her career, her ambitions, her final
examinations in which she had hoped to obtain a 'first', would all have to
go. And underneath was the nagging fear -- where would she be sent?
So Anastasia was forced to leave the University and sent to sweep the
streets. A cold, hard, unpleasant and difficult job. But she had a retentive
memory, and most of that which she had heard on her transistor was stored
away in her heart. As she swept, she thought about it all; her faith grew,
her love for God increased, and she began to really understand what the Lord
Jesus had done for her as a person. She had no Bible, no Christian fellowship,
no inspiring sermons to listen to; but she was truly searching after God.
Has He not said: "Those who seek Me shall find Me?" -- and she was finding
Him as He had promised.
Anastasia still sweeps streets in the freezing wind. One day perhaps
she will possess a Bible and read about the psalmist who said: "I would
rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents
of wickedness, for a day in THY courts is better than a thousand" (Psalm
We know that behind the Iron Curtain there must be many Christians of
all age groups having to face the same decisions. 'Underground Christians'
did you say? Oh no! We are the underground Christians! We have our open Bibles,
our open churches, our open Christians fellowship -- and yet our faith is
so often hidden. Anastasia is suffering for her faith. There is nothing
underground about that!
As she sweeps on we can help her by our prayers and by praying for Christian
'I would rather be a road sweeper for Jesus Christ than ...'
Quite a challenge, isn't it?
(This is taken from a book entitled 'I Would Rather Be ...', published
by the Slavic Gospel Association, and is printed by kind permission of beloved
friends in that work.) [20/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
BOOKS AND BOOKLETS by Mr. T. Austin-Sparks
can be obtained from:
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