|Vol. 5, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1976
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
WITH this issue we complete five years of the sending out of the magazine
in this form and with this title of TOWARD THE MARK. My heart is full of
gratitude to God for His wonderful loving kindness and help through these
years. To Him be all the glory! I know, however, that I express my readers'
feelings as well as my own when we give thanks to God for those whose messages
have provided the spiritual food which it has been my privilege, as Editor,
to make available to hungry saints all over the world.
At the same time I must express my very warm thanks to all our readers.
I want to thank those who have written letters of appreciation, letters which
are so greatly valued but so seldom answered. Then I want to thank the many
generous friends who have ministered to financial needs, and particularly
so, as they have been kind enough to forego receipts in order to reduce our
heavy expenditure on postage. Although you have no personal thanks from me,
I pray that our Heavenly Father may reward you with the joy of His own approval.
There are readers in some lands who are unable to send any money out of
their countries. That these have been able to receive their copies just
the same is due to the measure of your generous gifts. They -- and we -
-thank you in His name.
And what shall I say of the very many who remember us in their prayers?
There are no words with which to express our profound indebtedness for your
support in prayer. It is a humbling as well as an inspiring experience to
know oneself the centre of such loving and faithful prayer. We must wait
until eternity until we are fully aware of how much we owe to the prayers
of others. Maybe then we shall also have some opportunity to thank those who
have so sustained us and ministered to us by means of the Throne of Grace.
If so, then I rather feel that it will take me a few hundred years just to
express my personal thanks to so many dear prayer partners. May I make a start
right now by saying a big 'Thank You' to you all?
After much exercise about a suitable text for the back cover of the next
volume, I feel that I have been led to Psalm 126:5: "They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy". It is made clear in this psalm that while reaping is
an exhilarating experience, the real and costly contribution is that of sowing.
Everybody is thrilled when the sheaves are being gathered in, but in some
cases God's people are tempted to give up because they see no signs of a
harvest. The Lord here stresses that the matter of supreme importance is to
sow. It may be with weeping; it is always an action which offers no quick
or immediate results.
The Lord Jesus sowed. He not only sowed the seed but He sowed Himself.
That is what we all find so costly. So while it may be in order to ask:
'Where are the reapers?', a more pertinent question is often: 'Where are
those who are willing to sow, even with tears?' May the Lord encourage us
to go on sowing, even though it be with suffering. If we do, we shall doubtless
come again with rejoicing -- in eternity if not in time.
With loving wishes and earnest prayers,
Yours very sincerely in Christ,
GLIMPSE INTO HEAVEN
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: Revelation 4:1 - 5:6
IT'S lovely to be in the know! We go on holiday every year to a small
village in Devon. On our way up to the village shops there is a house which
has always intrigued us because it looks like one of those houses that has
grown by chance rather than been planned by an architect. The result is that
the outside of the house gives no clue as to what the inside is going to be
like. We often tried to fathom out what it would look like inside, for the
window pattern on the outside is so curious that at times you seem to be
looking into a corridor rather than a room. No doubt we were too inquisitive,
but we just longed to know what it was like. Imagine, [101/102]
then, our pleasure when we were invited there to coffee and knew that
we would have the opportunity to indulge our inquisitive instincts. And,
as you may expect, the explanation of its outside appearance was fully explained
once we had gone in to see for ourselves. Everything became clear to us when
we were able to get inside.
You have to be let in behind the scenes in order to know and understand.
This was precisely what happened to John -- he was taken behind the scenes.
A voice told him to come up through the open door and so he was able to see
for himself. Suddenly all the outward appearance of things yielded to reality.
When that front door opened in Devon and we got into the house which we
could not explain from the outside, we saw things as they were. John was
let in; he saw the reality behind the appearance, saw things as they were,
and so discovered the explanation of all things. What did he see?
"... Behold, there was a throne ..."
The inner reality was a throne. As soon as John got behind earthly appearances
and was admitted into the heavenly place, the one dominating feature which
struck and held his gaze was the reality of the throne (4:2). What is more,
it immediately became apparent to him that this was no empty throne, for
he tells us that there was "one sitting upon the throne". This was no vacant
throne waiting for an occupant, nor was it a throne which had once had an
occupant who had now abdicated and abandoned it. Thank God that there is
a throne, but the central idea of heavenly reality which gives explanation
to all that is seen here on earth is more than the bare idea of government.
There is God who sits on the throne. We used to sing a little jingle which
would never be given a prize for its poetry but which should always have a
place in our doctrine:
God is still on the throne,
And He will remember His own;
Though trials may press us and burdens distress us,
He never will leave us alone.
God is still on the throne,
And He will remember His own;
His promise is true. He will not forget you.
God is still on the throne.
Beloved friends, I am not asking you to accept that this world looks
like that. I am not calling you to agree that living in this world feels
like that. The look of things and the feel of things do not necessarily represent
the reality of things. The look of our friends' house gave us no clue as to
the reality which was on the inside. What I ask is that you believe that the
reality of things is that our God is on His heavenly throne. I beseech you
that when you listen to news on the radio or T.V., every item of news which
comes over will provoke from you the reaction: 'Nevertheless God is still
on the throne'.
Look at this throne with me, please. Let us gather the various references
in the passage that we may see more clearly the sort of throne and the sort
of Occupant who is the essence of John's revelation to us.
"... there was a rainbow round about the throne ..."
"He that sat was to look upon like a jasper stone and a sardius: and
there was a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon"
(v.3). Naturally when John became aware of the throne, his eyes were fixed
upon the Occupant, but all he could see was a brightness of light which yielded
no form. It is the invisible God in all His glory who is the Occupant of this
throne, and so nothing could be seen but the intense brightness of light.
As that central brightness shone out, however, it crystallised into a radiance
right around the throne itself. This radiance, the outward shining of the
central glory, was the radiance of a rainbow.
In the time of Noah the wrath of God was declared against the sin of
man. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth ...
and it repented the Lord that he had made man ... and the Lord said, I will
destroy man whom I have created from the face of the ground. But Noah found
grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Genesis 6:5-8). Noah found grace. This is
a perfectly adequate translation, and please do not feel that I want to change
it, but may I suggest that if you want to know just what those three words
really mean, you should read them backwards thus: 'Grace found Noah!' Noah
was a sinner like all the others; he was under the wrath of God with all
the rest, but sovereign grace reached out and said: 'No. Wrath will not
prevail in his case; grace will prevail.' So God sheltered Noah in an ark
while the rain of His [102/103] wrath fell upon the
face of the earth. Noah passed through the judgment. He was not excused it,
but passed through the wrath of God into salvation. Then there came a day
when God said to him: 'Look Noah! I have hung my bow up. See it there. That
is My great war-bow. There has been war between Me and mankind, but now there
is peace. I have hung up My bow, for I have no further use for it. I have
put it away, and every time I look upon that bow which I have hung up as
something not to be used any more, I will remember that I have pledged Myself
never again to flood the earth in My wrath. The war is over: peace reigns.
"And there was a rainbow round about the throne." So the first thing that
we discover about this throne is that it is a throne of grace where sinners
find peace with God.
"... lightnings and voices and thunders ..."
"And out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices and thunders" (v.5).
We move on in the story of the Old Testament and come to Israel in Egypt.
With them God's great redemption takes a significant step forward as these
people come out of Egypt, redeemed by the blood of the lamb. They come out
with an identical testimony to that which you and I have concerning the blood
of Jesus. Blood prevailed over wrath. God said: "When I see the blood, I
will pass over you" (Exodus 12:13). There is something effective in that blood
which can remove the wrath of God. God brings His people out of the land
of Egypt and brings them by a direct route to Sinai, for He had said to Moses:
"This shall be the token upon thee ... when thou hast brought forth the people
out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain." So at this appointed
destination of the redeemed in Mount Sinai, God comes down in thunders and
lightnings and a voice. He has not changed from being the God of grace who
redeems His people, but He wishes to declare to us that the God of all grace
is also the God who imposes His law upon the redeemed, so He backs up His
law with all His majesty -- lightnings and voices and thunders. The redeemed
must learn the dignity of God's holy law, so John not only sees the throne
of grace with the gracious radiance of the rainbow, but finds that lightnings,
voices and thunders proceed from the throne because the God who sits there
is the Lord who wills to have His people live in His way, and still looks
for obedience from them. It is marvellous to be able to rejoice that our
enthroned God is the God of grace, but we need to remember, my beloved, that
He is also the God of holy law.
Jeremiah, in a very sad passage made familiar to us because Jesus took
it up also, used the expression 'den of robbers' in connection with men
who tried to abuse the grace of God: "My house shall be called a house of
prayer: but ye make it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:13). If we consider
this we will realise that the robbers den is not the place where they execute
their thieving activities so much as the refuge into which they flee after
committing robberies, and a kind of base from which they again sally forth
to rob once again. For the robber, his den is a place into which he goes
to be safe and from which he emerges every bit as much a robber as when he
went in. It is a place of safety devoid of moral transformation. There were
people in Jeremiah's day who wanted to live on terms of grace, yes, they
wanted to have a place in the house of God, but they did not want any sort
of moral transformation. They wanted to be safe with God, but they did not
want to grow in holiness, they did not want to hear the law of God nor to
recognise those demands of God which produce changed lives. So they wanted
to use God's house as a den of robbers; God, however, is still the God of
the lightnings, thunders and voices.
And what about us? No doubt we spend some time each day with our Bibles.
Is it possible that even our Bibles can be made into such a den for us? Is
it possible that we turn to God's Word because it is nice and gives us a
warm feeling of comfort, and yet do not allow it to bring any real change
into our lives? We may feel proud of the fact that not a Sunday passes but
we are found in God's house in the fellowship of His people, but we do well
to beware lest we too make a kind of 'den of robbers' of the house of prayer.
Yes, we have rejoiced in the message of grace; yes, we love the fellowship
of God's redeemed people; but No! no change has taken place in us, for we
are left no different from what we were before.
"... a book ... with seven seals ..."
A further reference to this throne in heaven tells us of God's book.
"I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within
and on the back, close sealed with seven seals" (5:1). John is, of course,
talking of a scroll, a scroll which has writing on both sides. As we
[103/104] go on in the book of Revelation we learn that the significance
of this scroll is that it is the sealed book which contains all the details
of the divine government of the world. This merits our close attention. There
in the hand of the Occupant of the throne is an account of everything that
shall yet be in the unfolding history of the world. It has all been written
beforehand by God Himself. He has written it, He holds it in His hand, and
its fulfilment will be dependent upon the Lamb's breaking of the seals.
Let this be our encouragement. Things may take us by surprise this week
because to us the future is impenetrable. We do not know what this month,
or even this day will bring forth. But it is all written in heaven. What
is yet to be unrolled down here upon earth has first been signed and sealed
in heaven. What a comfort this can be for God's people! He is never taken
by surprise. Nothing untoward ever happens so far as He is concerned. If this
week should bring some sort of calamity or even tragedy into your home, do
you think that you are not in your Father's hand when that blow strikes? Do
you think that the Great Shepherd has suddenly deserted the flock, that the
Father has abandoned the family, or that the all sovereign God has stepped
down from the throne? It cannot be! All has already been settled in heaven.
Let Psalm 119 reinforce John's vision of the throne: "For ever, O Lord, Thy
word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou
hast established the earth, and it abideth. They abide this day according
to thine ordinances; for all things are thy servants" (Psalm 119:89-91).
"... in the midst of the throne ... a Lamb ..."
John was much perturbed because the sealed book could not be opened.
No one was found worthy to do this. One of the elders, however, came to
him in a brotherly way, saying: 'Don't weep. Dry your tears. All is settled.
The Lion has done it.' John looked to see who was this "Lion of the tribe
of Judah" who had prevailed to open the book and loose the seals, and he tells
us: "I saw in the midst of the throne ... a Lamb standing, as though it had
been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits
of God, sent forth into all the earth" (5:6). The Lion who is a Lamb! Oh
yes, He is a Lion in all His dignity and in all His ferocity. In the words
of C. S. Lewis, 'He is not a tame lion, you know; he is a wild one'. Our
Lord Jesus is no tame lion; He cannot be contained by any artifice of man.
He is the sovereign God in all His majesty. But look, beloved, look Christian
-- to you the Lion is the Lamb. He is discovered as 'standing', because He
is alive for evermore. He is 'as though He had been slain', because Calvary
goes on in its efficacy. He died once for all, and the moment of crucifixion
will never come again, but the efficacy of the cross is eternally valid upon
the throne of God.
In the throne there is One who bears the lasting scars of that precious
blood shedding. For us, therefore, the throne is no longer shrouded in impenetrable
and dazzling light; the figure upon the throne has a face and a form; grace
has a shape and a Person. For us the terms of the inflexible law are kindly
expressed and the government is in nail-pierced hands. The God on the throne
is the Christ of Calvary. What greater reality can there be for us than that
behind the scenes of this troubled world of ours there is a high and glorious
throne, and that the Occupant of this universal and eternal throne is our
"The liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21)
THIS verse quickens our imagination as we wonder what the apostle can
mean when he speaks of: "the liberty the children of God will have in the
glory" (Danish version). It is an expression of immense content, which meant
so much to Paul that he did not reckon the sufferings of this present time
worthy to be compared with it. [104/105]
But an expression which stirs our imagination contains a danger of arousing
it to such an extent that the whole thing runs away with us. Few things interest
people as much as the future life, and few things are so likely to lead
to wishful thinking and fanciful imagination. All religions offer their
prospects of a future life of one kind or another, and we can easily be
influenced by dreamy imaginations, especially if we are romantic and religious
"... we shall be like Him ..."
While Paul speaks of the liberty which the children of God will have
in the glory, John tells us that although it has not yet been revealed what
we shall be, we know that when He is manifested we shall be like Him (1 John
3:2). They are obviously occupied with the same wonderful reality, for to
be perfectly free is to be like Him.
Perfect liberty consists in unbroken fellowship with the Father. The
Son manifested this as He walked down here on earth among men who were not
free. He promised His disciples that He would lead them into the enjoyment
of this same perfect liberty. However much of this we may experience now,
the fact is that we have to wait until we see Him as He is before we are
perfectly like Him. When the Lord returns, then everyone who belongs to
Him will know perfect liberty, and experience unbroken and unlimited fellowship
with the Father.
We are told that we shall see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But whom shall we see face to face? Him! And since all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge are in Him, this means that we shall no longer know only in
part, but fully understand. Our partial restraint and limited freedom down
here is due, among other things, to the fact that we only know in part, only
see through a glass darkly, and sometimes even misunderstand. Confusion and
muddled-headedness restrict freedom, but when we know the full truth in
all its clarity and completeness, then we can experience the genuine liberty
which the children of God will have in glory.
To see Him face to face does not only mean that our eyes will be able
to behold Him and our minds be enlightened by perfect knowledge and liberating
harmony, but also that we shall live in the immediate and unlimited experience
of His love. Down here we can only partly experience that love, for the imperfection
of our beings makes the full and continual enjoyment of His love impossible.
When we see Him, however, all the imperfections and limitations of our natures
will be overcome, so that without any kind of restraint we shall be enabled
to live in love as love is. We shall live in God who is love. When, in our
beings, there is no longer any division between the willing and the doing,
between ideal and reality, then we who are the sons of God will be able
to experience God as He really is, that is to say, to live in a never- ending
enjoyment of His love and light.
As this becomes true we shall also be enabled to live in full consecration
to God, wanting only what He wants and feeling delight in so wanting. So
shall we continually rejoice in God and worship Him with all our heart. It
is a fact that our bodies will then have been changed into the likeness of
the body of His glory, but this only has significance when we remember that
it is within that we shall have become like Him, as John tells us. Then the
outer and the inner man will correspond to each other. Man will then have
become complete man in the full content of that word.
"... a man in Christ ..."
When I venture to speak of a being becoming a complete man, I wish to
emphasise the fact that he will be the 'I' which he was originally meant
to be. In other words, he will have become the personality which God originally
intended in His purpose for man. We must not forget this for, if we do, we
will fail to realise what love and life in love really is, namely a relationship
between persons who give themselves fully and wholly to each other. In no
way do they cease to be themselves, but they have such a relationship that
they perfectly understand themselves and remain themselves and yet are entirely
committed to the one loved. Eternal life does not consist of some mystical
ecstasy in which a man loses his personality and surrenders himself in a self-effacing
loss of individuality. It is rather a conscious and voluntary fellowship
with God whereby a man fully knows God face to face (that is, as person to
person), and fully understands himself as the person God made him to be.
Only when we fully live in God do we live our own true personal life.
That is the liberty of the children of God which they will experience in
[105/106] glory. Mystical ecstasies may give those
who cultivate that sort of thing a certain sense of liberation, but it is
so often a liberation without definite content. This so-called liberation
may often be followed by depressions of various kinds, so it is therefore
not a real liberation and does not result in genuine freedom. Where the personality
is slighted or deformed there can never be true liberty. True fellowship
with God which really emancipates is therefore something quite different
from vague ecstatic absorption into the divinity. It is the free-born and
unhampered fellowship of love, in which the personality develops in a healthy
and meaningful way as it voluntarily and consciously consecrates itself
to God and to His will.
This was what Paul looked forward to and anticipated with such intense
appreciation that he did not count all his sufferings worthy of comparison
with so great a glory. For him it would have been no rich experience but
rather an impoverishment if an ecstatic experience of the divinity had been
all that he could hope for. We have no reason to believe that he ever had
such ecstasy as involved the relinquishing of his own personality - -not
even the experience of being caught up to the third heaven deprived him of
the dignity of still being himself, as he assures us in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4:
"a man in Christ".
"... I am what I am ..."
No, full and free fellowship with God face to face is our wonderful hope
of glory. The foundational characteristics of our earthly personality remain
the same, freed from weakness and imperfection. Each one of us will remain
'what I am' or 'who I am' (1 Corinthians 15:10), not wanting to be anything
else. Then each one will live in the full sense of being whole, without any
thought of envying others but rather continuing to breathe freely and joyfully
to exclaim: "By the grace of God I am what I am". The mystics speak of God
being a sea into which we all, like rivers, will one day flow and so form
a comprehensive oneness. That is not true. God is a Spirit, that is a Person.
We say 'Thou' to Him and He says 'you' to us. He is an 'I' in His relationship
to each one of us, and you and I are an 'I' in our relationship with Him.
God will never alter that and we are deeply grateful that this is so. When
the Bible teaches us that we are 'in God', it does not mean that we have
been absorbed into the divinity and have lost our own personal entity; on
the contrary, we have only really found ourselves by being in God. Only by
living in Him will each one of us become the personality which He intended
and desires that we should be. Not that being 'in God' means that we become
as God. God is the only One who has not derived His existence from any other.
He has life in Himself. Even in the ages to come we will not have life in
ourselves, but will always and exclusively have it from Him. He is, and remains
God: we are, and remain creatures, His sons and His daughters. He is, and
remains, the Lord: we are, and remain, His servants.
"... we have fellowship with one another ..."
When you and I live in the full knowledge of God, in the complete experience
of His love and total and free consecration to Him, we will also live in
perfect fellowship with one another. To give ourselves to God in free and
joyful love includes giving ourselves to all the redeemed. This embraces all
redeemed personalities who are each individuals, with their own personality
different from every other. The recognition of the fact that each one possesses
a unique 'I' makes possible our living in perfect mutual fellowship. The unity
of the people of God, which in this dispensation is often hidden, will then
come fully into view as the unity of love in the diversity of personalities.
As we then know God, we shall also know each other; and as we rejoice in
God we shall also be able to rejoice over one another without reserve or distance.
All self-seeking and personality clashes will have disappeared for ever.
Then we shall understand why God created each one of us as a unique individual,
and why the personality of each one is so important. For then we shall realise
how each one of us displays the glory of God in his own way, and that
the experience of each becomes enrichment for all the others as each appropriates
God's grace in his own particular way. Then everything artificial and impersonal
will have disappeared; there will be no more imitation and no more unreality.
We shall no longer hear meaningless and unworthy phraseologies, for all will
speak in simple sincerity. Fellowship in love does not provide for the deprivation
of the individual entity of any of us, but rather releases us in true relationship
with God and with one another. This is the liberty which God's children will
have in the glory. Such fellowship is infinitely blessed and so it is worthy
-- worthy of our God and worthy of His creation, man. [106/107]
"... ye, brethren, were called for freedom ..."
All this should be working effectively in our life today. The liberty
which we will possess in glory will be the perfect fulfilment of the liberty
which the gospel already gives us down here on the earth. This liberty of
the children of God must operate decisively in our life here and now. Already
we are to prove and stand in the good of this same liberty, with all the
blessed features which we have been considering. Let us, then, gratefully
receive every spiritual help which contributes to this glorious purpose;
but let us reject all spurious offers of a so-called liberty which in fact
threatens to rob us of our true heritage in Christ.
THE SPIRIT AND THE DRY BONES
Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
EZEKIEL had many experiences of the Spirit but none so strange as the
one on the day when he was taken to Dry Bone Valley. "Behold," he ejaculated,
and then again: "Lo" (verse 2), as the full nature of this scene of desolation
broke upon him. And then the Spirit of the Lord posed the question to him:
"Son of man, can these bones live?" No wonder that even a man of God like
Ezekiel had no glib answer to such an enquiry. If it happened it would be
one of the most sensational miracles which could ever occur. Very sensibly
he put the whole matter back to God: "Thou knowest", whereupon he was shown
that God not only knows but He operates. The scattered dry bones became a
living army on the march. In this way God declared for all time that His
own purposes for His earthly people Israel will never be abandoned.
The vision is yet for the future. There are those who judge that we are
now halfway through the realisation of this remarkable prophecy; that Israel's
dry bones have already become united and clothed with flesh, so that we are
now only waiting for the final breath of God which will complete the national
miracle. There is much to confirm such an interpretation, but there is also
a significant weakness about it. When the Lord Himself applied the interpretation
of the vision, He spoke of His people confessing: "Our bones are dried up,
and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off" (verse 11). In other words the
prelude to such a startling divine resurrection is complete despair from
the human side. Is this true of modern Israel? Or does she yet have to come
to a new zero of hopelessness before God can fulfil His Word? Before she
is recovered must she yet despair?
The very word 'despair' reminds us of the personal experience of the
great Israelite, Paul, in his own proving of resurrection power: "We despaired
even of life ... that we should ... trust ... in God which raiseth the dead"
(2 Corinthians 1:8-9). So we turn from God's promised miracle for a nation
to enquire about His working in individual Christians. In this way, without
in any sense lessening our conviction about Israel's future, we may discover
what this message can mean to us personally. Are we feeling dry and scattered?
Does the question arise as to whether there is any future here on earth for
us? Then let us turn again to Ezekiel's vision so that we may find new inspiration
from Ezekiel's God.
THE PRINCIPLE OF RESURRECTION
Resurrection is the divine method of working. The Scriptures consistently
describe God's activities as being based on the principle of resurrection.
Let us consider some examples:
We take it that Job was a very early figure among the patriarchs, and
that his long and enthralling book has a message for us all. In the New Testament
we are reminded of his patience (James 5:11); but if he waited, what was
he waiting for? The answer is that he needed a miracle of resurrection. His
friends alternated advice as to action with counsels of despair, but Job
maintained that his faith would continue [107/108]
even down to death: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job
13:15), and he also voiced the triumphant confidence that issues out of death
are guaranteed by his living Redeemer (19:25). He was right! His dry bones
did live again. His final vindication brought him not only to the doubling
of all his possessions but also to the replacing of his lost sons and daughters
by an equal number (42:13). In this way God established at the dawn of history
that His principle of blessing is resurrection.
We are told that Abraham's triumphant faith involved him in going down
into the valley of death itself (Hebrews 11:17-19). Even the miracle of
new life which was embodied in his son Isaac had to be delivered over to
death, not only to test Abraham's obedience but to establish the basis upon
which God dealt with him as that which is applicable to every genuine believer.
If God had asked him: 'Can a slain Isaac live again?', as He asked Ezekiel
about the dead bones, Abraham would surely have surpassed the prophet's
faith and uttered a triumphant: 'Yes'! It is not without significance that
even such a man of God as Abraham took almost a lifetime to learn this lesson
of faith in the God of resurrection. After all, Paul openly confessed that
it was a lesson which he was only painfully and slowly learning (2 Corinthians
1:9). If we are men and women of faith, then this is the great principle
which we must grasp, namely that God always works on the basis of death and
There is a sense in which the greatest 'resurrection man' of the Old
Testament was Jonah. Christ Himself chose this prophet's experience as the
illustration and foreshadowing of His own burial and resurrection (Matthew
12:40). Somehow this brings us more comfort. Job was a massive man spiritually,
a veritable giant of faith. Abraham was even greater, for he was God's acknowledged
friend. We who know that we are both insignificant and unworthy, feel ourselves
to be completely outclassed by such great men of God. 'God would do that
for them,' we argue, 'but our faults and feebleness make it most unlikely
that He would ever do it for us.' So it helps us very much if we turn to
a man who was more noted for his faults than for his faith, a wilful man,
an unloving man, an altogether unworthy man and -- to our surprise -- we
find that the mighty miracle of resurrection came to him.
If ever I feel particularly depressed, I invariably find enormous comfort
in Jonah 2. Here was a man in the direst of straits, a man who was touching
bottom in an extreme way; and moreover one who had brought all his troubles
upon himself. How could he pray? But he did pray, even though it was from
"the belly of hell" (Jonah 2:2). How could God answer such a man's prayer?
Well, the fact remains that He could and He did, for "salvation is of the
Lord" (2:9). So even man's unworthiness does not paralyse God. Far from it!
Jonah's self-will and self-righteousness delayed the divine plans, but when
he came low in spirit as well as in circumstances, then God "who raiseth
the dead", raised him and renewed his commission to service. We presume that
the startling success of Jonah's ministry was partly due to this resurrection
experience. God's principle of resurrection is essential for fruitful service.
This, as I have said, is the basis upon which He always works.
We know, of course, that the whole redemptive work of the Lord Jesus
hinges on His literal resurrection from the dead. But even before He went
to the cross He made it very plain that the validity of His right to bear
the name of Jehovah was proved in terms of resurrection: "I am the resurrection
and the life", He affirmed. It seems clear from many of His miracles that
He only began to work when men's efforts and expectations were exhausted.
Take the first of them all, the beginning of the 'sign' miracles described
in John's Gospel, which was that of the water turned into wine. It was only
when all the bridegroom's resources were completely used up and when Mary
desisted from offering her advice, that Jesus began to work. Until then He
insisted that 'His hour' had not yet come (John 2:4). Clearly 'His hour'
is when everything human is at zero. So long as men had wine and Mary had
plans He was not ready to act. The moment that everything was left to Him
was the moment of His power. Cana of Galilee laid the foundation for Christ's
manifestation of His glory, showing that it was to be based on the principle
of resurrection. If we pass to the seventh great sign of that Gospel, the
[108/109] climax of all Christ's miracles, we find
that once again He deliberately waited until all human hope had gone before
He called Lazarus from the dead. "Lord, by this time he stinketh; for he hath
been dead four days," expostulated Martha, only to be reminded by the Lord
Jesus that this very fact made a suitable platform for a manifestation of
the glory of God (John 11:39-40).
5. The Church
So the Church came into being, a community of those who confessed with
their mouths the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts that God had raised
Him from the dead. From the first, however, its members not only proclaimed
Christ's resurrection but were led into experiences which demonstrated that
with God resurrection is an abiding principle. Read the book of the Acts
with this in mind, and you will find God's people constantly involved in
fresh experiences of need and almost despair, only to find new deliverances
which led to mightier blessings. It is not always easy, nor is it necessary,
to explain how or why things so worked out. Those concerned must have been
first puzzled and then relieved as they experienced these miracles of divine
intervention. The epistles, however, do give us an explanation of what lay
behind these descents into the depths and the subsequent uplifts to the heights,
pointing out that they represent the working out of the principle of resurrection.
"For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that
the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death
worketh in us, but life in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). So we look through
this essentially Jewish vision to find a relevant message for ourselves. It
is clear for all to see that God always works on the principle of resurrection.
THE PRELUDE TO RESURRECTION
By a quite deliberate action, the Lord confronted Ezekiel with an impossible
situation. Thinking superficially we might judge that the description was
exaggerated. Not bodies, not skeletons even, and not just bones, but scattered
and very dry ones. We must remember, though, that Ezekiel, far from inventing
this scene, had it shown to him by God Himself; and God never exaggerates.
If, then, we ask why the picture was such a dark one, we must answer that
God purposely chose this means of conveying to His people the essential basis
of His working. We remind ourselves again of Paul's words: "We have had
the answer of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves,
but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). The human approach
to any situation is embodied in the saying: 'While there's life, there's hope'.
This vision, though, gives us a glimpse into another dimension of life, the
divine; and we find that real hope only begins when all lesser hopes have
Take this matter of Ezekiel's ministry among the remnant. He only began
it after the second stage of the captivity, but when the city was still standing
and the temple intact, so that the false prophets could insist that they
would never be destroyed. Strangely enough that was a period in Ezekiel's
life when God kept him dumb, as can be verified in 24:27 and 33:22. He was
not literally silent, but he had nothing to say to the superficial optimists,
but devoted chapters 28 to 32 to the non-Jewish nations. In other words,
God had no word of hope for Israel until all man's false hopes had been entirely
exploded. When, however, tidings came back to the prophet that the city
had finally been overthrown, then his mouth was opened to tell of God's
promise for a new day. So in this chapter 37 we are told that the whole
house of Israel will confess: "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost"
(v.11). On the basis of this confession, the Lord finds Himself free to promise
that He will open their graves and bring them back into the land. It was
as though He said: 'If you have been brought to the end of yourselves and
have abandoned all your hope, then I will now act in resurrection
recovery and prove Myself to be the God of hope'. I have already stated
that I do not think that modern Israel has by any means reached this zero
point, and therefore expect that the nation will yet be brought into some
extreme of human hopelessness before God fully implements this vision. We,
however, are not discussing Israel, but ourselves. We, too, must be people
of the resurrection. But such a miracle demands despair from the human side.
The prelude to resurrection is always death. We shall know little of the
power of His resurrection unless we are first prepared to be conformed to
Perhaps a consideration of the spiritual agonies of the man described
in Romans 7 may illuminate [109/110] this truth for
us. Whether that man was Paul the Christian or not, it is undeniably true
that the letter was written to Christians and that the very personal nature
of the passage verses 7 to 25 suggests that the apostle was seeking to write
helpfully to his readers, leading them through the valley of despair to the
mount of transfiguration. Here was a man trying to achieve holiness by personal
effort, struggling with all his might to fulfil God's "holy, and righteous
and good" commandments (v.12), only to discover that the more he struggled,
the worse his condition became. It was a losing battle, and no wonder, for
it is not in the power of fallen human nature to conquer sin and live in
Note that the use of the personal pronoun, 'I', 'me' and 'my' appears
no less than forty-five times in this short passage, until the final confession
is made: 'I of myself (i.e. 'left to myself') am bound to revert to
serving sin, even though I desire and plan to serve God' (v.25). This is
wretchedness indeed! This is "the body of this death". And yet out of his
deep despair this same believer is able to cry: "I thank God"! How can this
be? It is because his thanks are made "through Jesus Christ our Lord". He
is the One "raised from the dead" (v.4), who is ready to share His resurrection
life with us. Is it too much to suggest that many do not enjoy the fullness
of Romans 8 because they have never really come to despair of themselves as
this Romans 7 man did? The prelude to resurrection is death.
As always, we turn back to our Lord Jesus to understand divine truth.
When He rose from the dead it was not by self-effort but because "the glory
of the Father" came down into that silent tomb and triumphantly quickened
that inert body (Romans 6:4). In the brief article on 'Inspired Parentheses'
on the inner cover of this magazine I have drawn attention to that most significant
Second Day, when our Lord's body lay in quiet expectation of the resurrection
morning. In this connection that Sabbath is highly relevant. In His dying
moments Jesus declared that His flesh would rest in hope (Psalm 16:9). He
was willing to wait for God's answer to death. and He did wait all through
the long hours of that mysterious interlude, until God's Third Day arrived.
This points the way for us. It is only when God's people despair of all
merely human effort and accept the divine verdict of the cross on the whole
of the natural man, that the full power and glory of resurrection can be
displayed in them. Israel's dry bones, far from being too dead for God's
purposes, were only now ready for His miracle of resurrection. As the startled
Ezekiel saw this amazing answer to the question posed by God, he must have
been devoutly thankful that he had not intruded with his own ideas, and
had left the matter to his faithful, covenant-keeping God. Our trouble so
often is that we cannot wait for God, but must needs interfere with our own
ideas or efforts.
THE PROPHET OF RESURRECTION
And yet there was a sense in which Ezekiel had to play an important part
in the great resurrection miracle. It was God who performed the action but,
as He so often does, He chose to make use of a human instrument. The prophet's
part in this miracle was small and yet it was absolutely essential. It had
two aspects, his speaking to men and his speaking to the Spirit of God.
1. The Word of God
Ezekiel was told to speak in the Lord's name: "Prophesy over these bones,
and say to them ..." (v.4). God always works through His Word. The Lord Jesus
foretold the day when all humanity will emerge from its tombs, and said
that this will occur at the sound of His voice (John 5:28). This is future.
But He also spoke of the spiritual experience which is for now (John 5:25),
and promised present eternal life on this same basis, i.e. hearing His voice.
This present hearing of His voice can only be through those who speak the
Word of God in His name. The parallel with Ezekiel suggests that the Lord
needs men and women who will so speak His Word, and through it the dead
will come into newness of life. This is familiar to us. We find it described
in the book of the Acts, and we rejoice that from that day to this, the
Lord has had His witnesses who speak for Him. Sometimes we do so feeling,
like Ezekiel, that we prophesy in a dead valley to dry and scattered bones;
but we must not despair. We are witnesses of the resurrection, not trying
to get people to lift themselves, but proclaiming Christ's power to lift
them. The task is humanly impossible. Like Ezekiel, we are by no means sure
that there can be any positive results. But the Lord does not ask us to explain
or to understand, but only to obey. When Ezekiel opened his mouth, God did
the rest. [110/111]
In the vision Ezekiel had to speak twice. On the first occasion his utterance
brought a restoration of the form of life which was truly remarkable, but
the essential breath or spirit was still lacking. The prophet was therefore
told to prophesy again, not this time to the people but to the Spirit. (It
should be noted that in the original, the word for 'Spirit', 'breath' and
'wind' is the same.) So this time Ezekiel opened his mouth to call for the
life-giving Spirit, an action which seems to indicate prayer rather than
preaching, speaking to God and not to man.
One thing is certain, and that is that prophesying with no prayer background
is ineffectual speaking. The very first allusion to a prophet makes it clear
that his function was to pray: "He is a prophet, and he shall pray for you"
(Genesis 20:7). If, therefore, we are to see God's resurrection power at
work, we have got to take our prayer ministry seriously. In the historic restoration
of God's people to the land, it is clear that the key factor was the prayer
of Jeremiah, of Daniel, of Ezra and of Nehemiah. None of these was an inactive
or unpractical man -- far from it! Nehemiah was himself a worker, if ever
there was one; but even a cursory glance at his book will reveal that absolute
priority was given to prayer. And what shall we say of our Lord Jesus? He
did so many miracles without seeming to pray especially about them; but when
it came to raising Lazarus from the dead, He deliberately paused before the
tomb and publicly declared that what He was about to do was in answer to
prayer already made on the matter: "Father, I thank thee that your heardest
me ..." (John 11:41). This clearly shows that before He spoke the life-giving
word, Jesus had prayed and received assurance of the answer. Our Saviour
is the great Prophet of Resurrection.
"Can these bones live?", God asked Ezekiel. When Ezekiel passed the question
back to Him, the Lord made it plain that they could if only the prophet would
get involved in both prayer and preaching. And so it proved. The scattered
bones became a living, marching army. Surely God still looks to us for co-operation.
We, too, are meant to be prophets of resurrection.
PURPOSE AND PATTERN
(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)
John H. Paterson
THE ART OF LETTER-WRITING
THE art of letter-writing is dying out, killed by the coming of the telephone
and the news broadcast. For most of us, writing letters means no more nowadays
than a stiff note to the electricity board about our new oven, or a wish-you-were-here
postcard from the seaside. Like tatting, or pressing leaves, it seems to
be one of the polite accomplishments of a past generation which we have let
slip. Yet, in the past, when travel was difficult, and it might take months
to receive a reply, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely by letter
was important; one could not telephone next day to sort out misunderstandings,
or offer that apologetic kind of restatement that begins, 'What I really
meant to say was ...' The letter had to convey exactly the right impression
the first time, for there might well be no second opportunity.
Most of our knowledge of the Apostle Paul comes to us through his letters.
He was a great and, as we are going to see, a very accomplished letter writer.
Yet even he did not always succeed in creating the impression he intended.
It seems evident, for example, that when he sent his first letter to Corinth
-- a letter which he hoped would bring the Christians there to their senses
and shock them into putting right the grotesque moral conditions in the church
-- their reaction was not to repent, but to say 'Who does he think he is?'
It then took a second letter from Paul to reinforce the first -- to authenticate
his own apostleship.
But there is only one Epistle to the Ephesians (if, indeed, it was really
written to the church of Ephesus -- some scholars think rather that it
[111/112] was a kind of general epistle, a circular to be passed
around a number of churches). It is constructed with great care and designed
to have the maximum impact on its readers. For of course how we say
a thing is of the utmost importance. We all know the kind of person who
tells a story but manages to bury the point under a mass of trivial detail,
so that the impact -- the 'punch-line' -- is lost upon the hearer. We have
all stood outside an office, too, and marshalled the case we are going to
present to the person inside -- bank manager, tax collector, housing official
-- carefully arranging our points in the right order, so that we shall make
the most favourable impression possible upon the person we wish to influence.
The Epistle to the Ephesians has an interesting and rather unusual construction.
Some analysts content themselves with dividing it simply into two halves:
the first three chapters form the first half, which is theoretical, and the
second three chapters then form the other half, which is practical. From
here, it is a short and easy step to convincing oneself that the first half
contains great spiritual truths, worthy of Paul at his best, while the second
half is full of tedious practicalities about stealing or telling lies, which
Christians would not dream of doing anyway. This is certainly not, however,
the impression that Paul set out to create when he wrote the letter.
THE KEY WORDS
On any reading, the words which occur in the very middle of the letter
hold the key to the rest. These words are found in the first verse of the
fourth chapter: "I therefore ... beseech you that you walk worthy of the
calling wherewith you are called." It is, in fact, the single word 'therefore
' which gives the clue. It links together the two halves of the epistle,
disparate as they may at first appear. As we read the word, we realise that
Paul has been leading up to something; that unconsciously, perhaps, we have
been prepared by the first three chapters for what is to follow. 'Therefore'
alerts us to the fact that there is a logic here; that those wonderful visions
of spiritual blessing in Chapter 1 and the story of our dramatic rescue from
sin and death in Chapter 2 and the prayers of Paul for more vision
and more appreciation, are being presented in the letter for a definite
purpose. Paul is not interested in having his readers merely bask in the
glow of sins forgiven and union with Christ. Lurking behind all his word-pictures
is an entirely practical 'therefore'.
It may well challenge our own understanding of this epistle if we stop
to realise that, seen in context, the really important part of the letter
is not the first half but the second. If we are honest with ourselves, we
may well have to admit that we have often enjoyed the great spiritual truths
of Ephesians 1-3, but have then skipped the practicalities of the latter
part of Chapter 4 and of Chapter 5. Paul, we tell ourselves, was always bringing
up these practical details of Church life and including them as a kind of
appendix to his letters. Our eye travels swiftly over them, to alight on
the splendid passage in Chapter 6 about the armour of God.
But if we allow this to happen we are wrong. Seen in their context, the
great truths of Chapters 1-3 are included simply to ensure that we read Chapters
4-6 with a heightened sense of impact. We are to appreciate more clearly
the importance of not stealing (4:28) or of treating our employers properly
(6:9), because of what is involved -- nothing less than the eternal purpose
of God in His creation. Paul includes Chapters 1-3 for the weight that they
lend to his 'therefore'.
In R. D. Blackmore's famous story, Lorna Doone, the giant hero,
Jan Ridd, was asked to help some miners by splitting a huge stone which
had defied their efforts. He took one of their hammers and swung it against
the stone, but found that the hammer was too light to make any impression
on it. So he tied together three hammers not, as he was careful to
explain, in order to strike three blows, but so as to increase the impact
of the single blow, which then split the stone.
In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has prepared his triple
hammer, so that when the blow is struck the impact shall be as great as
possible: "I therefore beseech you". Only when we appreciate what
is at stake can we understand the importance of his call to a worthy walk.
So we shall examine these first three chapters in our next study, to try
to understand the logic of the case. What is it that gives such importance
to the ordinary doings of our daily lives? Why should it matter whether
or not we speak the truth? What has marriage got to do with the eternal
purpose of God? Paul is going [112/113] to answer
these questions, and fearing lest his own written answers and his own powers
of persuasion may not suffice, he is going to add to them his prayers, "that
the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto you
the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of
your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know ..."
OF THE LIFE OF THE LORD JESUS
Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8-10
THE Lord Jesus was the embodiment of the incorruptible. Life and incorruption
were embodied in Him in terms of manhood, as the true Man. We leave out of
our present consideration His Deity, for very God of very God leaves no
room for discussion or argument concerning incorruption. We will consider
Him in His capacity as Son of Man, by which He makes the whole question and
issue of the incorruptible a human question.
Man, or manhood, is a big and specific thought of God. The idea of Man,
humanity, was born in the mind of God. He is a peculiar creation intended
for a special purpose. When the writer of the letter to the Hebrews asserts
that "Not unto angels did he subject the world to come", he proceeds to ask:
"What is man?" (Hebrews 2:5-6). 'Not unto angels ... but man ...' This, then,
is not a matter which concerns angels and it is certainly not a matter of
abstract and unrelated ideas. There is a testimony which has to be found
in the concrete expression of man and manhood. The Bible makes it perfectly
clear from beginning to end that the idea connected with man or manhood is
that of representation. "In the image of God", in the likeness of God -- that
is representation. The question running all through the Bible is as to whether
man does or does not fulfil the purpose of his being, which is to represent
God, to express God.
Now man was made for incorruption, for incorruptible life issuing eventually
in his glorification. I am not going to argue that from the Scripture, for
those who know their Bibles will be able to support the statement. But man
missed the purpose of his creation, he missed the incorruptible life, by
his disobedience and unbelief, by his rebellion against God, his self-will,
his pride. He is no longer a candidate for glory in his natural condition.
Glory is not possible for man as he is found outside of Christ. But Christ
came, and in His coming fulfilled a work by which the destiny and purpose
of man was recovered and secured. In Christ, incorruptible life is recovered
for man, for He was a Man who could not be corrupted, and therefore
corruption was kept out of the very stream of His life. It was not possible
that He should see corruption even in the grave. "He whom God raised up saw
no corruption" (Acts 13:37). He was incorruptible in His life and therefore
triumphant over corruption in His death. So Christ was constituted of incorruptible
characteristics, and we are now going to ask what these were.
A RELATIONSHIP ESTABLISHED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
The first, then, of these characteristics was His union with God as His
Father -- a simple but most profound truth. We are aware of how often He
used that word: 'Father', and how often He said: 'My Father' and then: 'The
Father and I'. His enemies saw the point; they were not slow to pick on what
they thought was blasphemy: "He makes Himself equal with God" (John 5:18).
That union between Him and the Father was of such a kind that their relationship
was absolute and final. That relationship was established by the Holy Spirit.
I am speaking now of Christ as the Son of Man. In his birth He was begotten
of the Holy Ghost. In His work, He functioned by reason of the anointing
of the Holy Spirit. His walk was always in and by the Spirit. In His cross,
He offered Himself up by the eternal Spirit. And we can complete the circle
by saying that it was through that eternal Spirit that He was raised. The
Holy Spirit initiated, maintained [113/114] and consummated
that relationship with the Father. The union with the Father was the governing
thing in His whole life. At every point, at all times, He referred and deferred
to God as His Father. All His works were out from the Father: "The word which
ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:24). Everything
for Him was out from the Father, by way of this union, this oneness, and
this was the occasion of all the conflict in His life. It was the very point
of all the attack and assault of the enemy. The one thing that the Evil One
and all the evil powers were ever focusing upon was this oneness and fellowship
with the Father, in order to try somehow to drive in a wedge, to get that
relationship ruptured. That is very significant. If an enemy concentrates
all his attention and all his resources on anyone point, it is clear that
he regards that as the point upon which the whole matter can be made to collapse.
It did not matter which method the enemy used -- whether open antagonism
or friendly suggestion or subtle subterfuge, or any other means -- the point
was to try to get between the Father and the Son.
THE EXPLANATION OF HIS SUFFERING
That union, then, that relationship, was the explanation of all His sufferings
and testings -- indeed of the whole ordeal of His life. Would He, on any
consideration, let go, violate the principle of that union? To maintain and
preserve it, to adhere to it, was no small or light thing for Him. For that
one thing, the most terrible cost ever paid in the history of the universe
was paid, the cost of that dark moment of the cross when everything seemed
lost. There was not one glimmer of light, even from the Father's face, while
He was under that test. Yes, this was a costly thing. There must have been
some very great issue involved in this union. There was nothing superficial
about it, but rather something infinitely great. What was it?
PROVIDING GOD WITH A PLACE
It can be answered in one brief sentence. Primarily, it was the issue
of providing God with a place. God created the first man in order that He
might have a place in that man and in all his seed; and not just a
place, but the place. In a sense God's place had been taken from
Him. God had been rejected and put out of His place with man. He still remained
sovereign Creator, of course. He still remained Ruler and Lord, the original
Owner, but there was a difference. Let us look at it like this.
Here is a landlord. He builds a house and he is the owner of that house.
In kindness and friendliness he lets that house to some people, and to begin
with, the relationship is quite a happy one, so happy that he is able to
visit the house and is welcomed and given a place in the family; they are
always glad to see him. But someone comes along while he is not there and
begins to say things about him that are unworthy and that are scandalous,
defaming him and making evil suggestions against him, with a view to getting
him out of his place in that home. This evil person succeeds so well that
no longer has he a place in the heart of that family. He is still the landlord,
the rightful owner, and all the law is on his side, but there is a difference
between being a landlord with legal rights and a friend who has a place in
the family. That is what I mean. God lost His place. He is still sovereign
Owner of this universe. He is still Lord, and one day He will assert His
legal rights over His creation. But do you think that is good enough? Within
His creation He wants to have a place.
There is all the difference between sovereignty and fellowship. The union
between Christ and His Father was not the relationship of a sovereign and
a subject. He did not live that life and do that work under the sovereign
government of God. No, it was all on a different footing from that. It was
fellowship. God can do a lot of things with us and through us in a sovereign
way, but that is never, never good enough for Him. He wants us in fellowship;
He wants a place, not as sovereign and despot, but as Father. Father
! That is the significance of the word on the lips of the Lord Jesus.
He taught them to pray: 'Father'. The significance, then, of the relationship
between Christ and God as His Father was that God had a place in the heart
of a Man.
The Bible is occupied with that one concern; that is the issue which
arises all the way through. God is seeking to have a place in the heart
of man -- somewhere where He can be known in terms of fellowship, of love,
in terms of a delight to have Him. The Old Testament is full of that in
type and illustration. He seeks some place for Him Name, where His Name
is loved, some place [114/115] where He can meet
men on the ground of fellowship and love. The New Testament brings that
out into bold relief. Its beginnings contain links between the Old and the
New. Christ, as Son of Man, is the inclusive link. Here again is the law
of incorruptibility. There is that which will go through to eternity, something
that Satan cannot destroy, something that death cannot annul. There is something
that is so precious to God that it will appear again for ever. When all
that is capable of corruption has gone, the love relationship as between
Christ and His Father will abide. Oh, what a difference there is between
this and the kind of relationship with God that exists in general!
This, of course, is clearly seen to be the idea of the New Testament
as to the individual. This is what God is after with us all. It is just
that -- to have a place in our hearts on the basis of love and fellowship.
"My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode
with him" (John 14:23). That, too, is the idea concerning the nucleus
-- that they, even the little companies of the two and three, should give
Him a place. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there
am I" (Matthew 18:20) and: "I come unto you" (John 14:18). And it is the
New Testament idea of the whole Church. What does the Church mean in the
divine thought? Just a place for God in love relationship, in perfect fellowship.
That is the idea of the Church.
So, then, if Christ meant anything, He signified the coming of God into
this world in terms of fellowship. And this is an eternal issue. If we could
project ourselves into the ages of the ages, the eternal hereafter, and see
the nature of things, as it will be then, we should find it was just this:
a perfect harmony between God and man, so harmonious that it is all music.
There is no discord, no strain, no shadow; there is no suspicion, no prejudice,
no fear. All those things have gone with the corruptible: it is the incorruptible
which remains. And in this first place the incorruptible is this -- fellowship
with God. It is this kind of relationship. It is an eternal issue.
THE TEST OF EVERYTHING
Therefore the test of everything for us will be: How much of God came
in by our having been here? That is a fairly thorough-going test. It may
sound very exacting, but it is just this -- how much of God came in by your
and my having been here? How much, afterward, will it be possible for others
to say: 'Well, through that life I came to know God, I came to fellowship
with God, to know more of Him'?
Yes, that is testing and discriminating. The test of everything, of all
our teaching and all our labours, is how much of it results in more of God
-- not more of knowledge, not more of mental apprehension, but how much more
of God? As I have talked with others about the life-work and teaching of
certain men of God in the past, we have agreed that even though there may
have been things in their teaching which we did not feel able to accept, they
themselves had left us a heritage, they have given us a deposit of God. There
is something of the Lord that has come through them to us, and that is what
marks them out to us. It is not just that they were great teachers, great
organisers of Christian work, but that somehow they have passed to us a deposit
of God; God has come through them to the enrichment and enlargement of our
That is the test of everything. For me, at least, it is a searching test
-- one that I wonder whether I can face. Is it going to be like that, that
after all the speaking, after all the teaching, there is a heritage of the
Lord Himself left behind? The teaching of the truths about the Church as
the House of God is important, but we need to beware of putting the emphasis
on the truth of the thing, instead of the spiritual reality of how
it works out. This issue is this -- that God comes in. His place is provided,
He is there. We have many meetings and other Christian activities, but if
they do not issue in the people concerned having something more of the Lord
Himself, then the whole thing is futile. Yes, with all our exact technique
and the rest -- if the Lord is not found there, it is meaningless, valueless.
All must be related to this one issue, that of God having His own rightful
place. That is the incorruptible element.
This is what the apostle says in our Scripture: "Be not ashamed ... of
the testimony of our Lord". What is this testimony of our Lord? It is that
He: "annulled death, and brought life and incorruption to light through
the gospel". The testimony of our Lord is His incorruptible
[115/116] life. In His life here on earth the Lord Jesus provided
a place for God, and there was no place in His life for anything else. Oh,
that we might be like that! It will be that which will determine the measure
of the permanent, the eternal, the intrinsic value of our lives.
THE world of today in whatever realm, business, politics, religion or
any other, is in crying need of people who are above the average. Nowhere
is this more obvious than in the Church. The Church is characterised by mediocrity,
and is often dying slowly as a result. The irony of the situation is that
the Church professes to be the recipient of spiritual power and insight foreign
to the non-Christian world. Yet when it comes to producing outstanding people,
the Church often does no better than worldly business enterprises which
quite candidly are dependent upon their own efforts to produce leadership.
Why does the Lord allow His Church to suffer from a lack of leadership
which leaves it without direction or spiritual incentive? Why does the Lord
allow a church to be born without providing what is necessary for it to
grow up to spiritual maturity? Is it enough to say, as I have heard said
so many times: 'There is so little gift'? Is it all God's fault?
Is the Church mediocre because it is not in the nature of the Church
to be anything else? Does God's transforming grace transform only up to
certain not-too-high limits? Or do we really like mediocrity in spite of
our outcry against it? Mediocrity is usually fairly comfortable. It makes
no great demands. It allows people to get on with the business of living
their own lives unnoticed. Mediocrity has a built-in protection against
the attention attracted by those who go to extremes. In fact mediocrity
has much to commend it to those who are content to live mediocre lives,
and to others as well. The reasons why it is attractive, however, are not
One of the baffling things about the New Testament is the paradox so
often found in its pages. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility; faith
and works; grace and judgment. These and many more are all in the Bible.
Yet the Bible does not seem to expect us to hold to only one of each of these
opposites; nor are we expected to hold a delicate balance between the two,
never coming down on one side or the other. The Bible seems to expect us to
hold on to both sides of a paradox, however contradictory they seem, and to
hold both sides firmly.
The tension between fellowship and leadership
Mediocrity is the half-way house between fellowship and leadership. Recent
years have seen a tremendous emphasis on the need of fellowship among Christians.
Christians of all sorts and conditions have been enquiring afresh into the
Biblical nature of the Church. The truth of the Church as the body of Christ
has come to the fore, a body in which each part is active and has a contribution
to make to the whole. In Western countries there is an increasing move away
from the institutional churches. Believers are finding fellowship in house
groups where there is freedom for all to participate in corporate worship
and mutual edification. Much of this is healthy and good, but certain weaknesses
are also apparent. There is the danger of mutual edification becoming stabilised
on a superficial level; of a zeal which is largely untaught and ultimately
founders or is able only to produce what is of an inferior spiritual quality.
In other words, even the warmth of vital Christian fellowship can settle
down into mediocrity.
The present emphasis on fellowship can be seen, to a large extent, as
a reaction against a type of leadership in the past which has left no room
in the Church for ordinary believers to participate. Efficient leadership,
the more so if it is also outstanding, tends to monopolise the scene, while
less gifted mortals slip into the background and allow the leaders to get
on with it. The strong leader is often far in advance of others in vision
and understanding. Alone he forges ahead, while others who feel sure he
[116/117] knows where he is going are content to follow. The leader
can set the aims and map out the way to achieve them. Under his leadership
they are easily achieved. Strong leadership, however, is not self perpetuating.
It lasts for one generation only. The strong leader usually has no time to
teach others, so once he is gone only mediocrity is left.
From whichever end we begin, leadership or fellowship, we are likely
to end up between the two in the slough of mediocrity with no strength left
to go any further. If we should gain sufficient momentum to swing beyond the
mediocre, the likelihood is that we will end up at the opposite extreme, no
better or worse than we were to begin with. Something obviously is wrong.
The Church should have purpose, understanding, initiative and power. An emphasis
on leadership seems to concentrate all these in one man. An emphasis on
fellowship seems so to dissipate them among the many that they are practically
lost to sight. To find a mean between leadership and fellowship is to lose
the blessings of both and to settle for mediocrity.
Some children are naturally brilliant. They will make progress whether
encouraged or not. Others have little capacity for progress. No amount of
encouragement will coax them beyond a limited measure of attainment. The
majority, however, have the ability to progress, but are dependent upon encouragement
to do so. In the spiritual realm it is much the same. If a believer or a
church is going to advance beyond mediocrity, he is dependent upon a competent
ministry of the Word, and example. Where leadership does not have time for
this, it does not have time for true fellowship.
The dangers of fellowship
"Ye are all one in Christ Jesus," says Paul (Galatians 3:28). Relationship
with Christ brings all men on to a level of equality. Yet it is not an unqualified
equality. Equality does not mean complete uniformity. Before the Lord, all
His children are of equal worth. All have some contribution to make to the
building up of the body. The practice of fellowship is based on these facts.
On the other hand, we do not receive an equal blessing through each believer,
Some spiritual gifts are of more value than others. We are exhorted to "earnestly
desire the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31), presumably because they are
a source of greater spiritual benefit.
An emphasis on fellowship is always in danger of rejecting what is outstanding,
for the simple reason that anything outstanding does not appear to be consistent
with the idea of equality that fellowship suggests. Since no company of believing
Christians consists entirely of outstanding people, the tendency is to look
upon what the least can give as an acceptable standard. It is an effort
for any fellowship to mature beyond certain limits. A conscience may be
developed about advancing faster than the slowest member, and the incentive
provided by a thought-provoking ministry may be regarded as an intrusion
or an optional extra. When this happens, people content themselves that
they are experiencing fellowship, and persuade themselves that after
all, this is what really matters. But their experience does not necessarily
Fellowship which has become experience-centred and limited repels leadership.
When a person with an outstanding ministry finds that it is practically impossible
to break through and find acceptance in a self-satisfied Christian company,
he will offer his contribution where there is a greater willingness to learn
from it. Fellowship not infrequently denies the means whereby alone it can
The danger of leadership
Leadership can only function where there are those who need and are willing
to be led. While fellowship by its very nature recognises that others can
make a contribution to it, leadership by its nature gives rather than receives.
Leadership, therefore, tends to forget its need of others and, with a superior
air, to pursue an independent way. If the leader cuts himself off from all
spiritual ministry, as some do, his own ministry becomes more and more impoverished,
because it is limited to the insights of one man untempered by the insights
Peter as an elder exhorts his fellow elders: "Tend the flock of God that
is your charge" (1 Peter 5:2). We need to be careful not to take this metaphor
too far. A shepherd is always a man, and sheep are always animals. They are
permanently inferior to the person who leads them. This is not true, however,
with the flock of God. Spiritual life adequately taught should be in a
[117/118] state of constant progress. Leadership must be willing
to accept the growing spirituality of others on a level with itself. In fact
it may even be necessary for leadership to give way to others who have grown
in the Spirit. When John the Baptist said of the Lord: "He must increase,
but I must decrease" (John 3:30), he was submitting his own leadership to
the leadership of Christ. Strong leaders find it very difficult to resign
themselves to accepting others as equals, much less submitting to the leadership
of others. The result is that leadership becomes domineering and autocratic.
The leader then acts without a thought of teaching others to lead. His action
becomes more and more mechanical, and those who follow languish for lack
of proper spiritual nurture.
The answer to the problem of mediocrity is the cross, the cross applied
to both fellowship and leadership. The privileges of fellowship need to go
to the cross in willingness to accept the leadership of a spiritually competent
ministry. The privileges of leadership need to go to the cross in a willingness
to accept the correctives of fellowship and the insight of others. The cross
also means the resurrection of both fellowship and leadership together to
a new plane of meaningfulness. The cross means not mediocrity, but triumph.
"THE FLESH IS OF NO AVAIL"
JOAB was a strong character, but I believe that he typifies for us the
Christian who seeks to do God's will and God's work in the strength of the
flesh. He was a man who acted in the flesh and not in the spirit, whose
work was bound to end in death and not in life.
1 Chronicles 11:5-7
Joab was a man of courage and strength. The fortress of Jebus seemed
impregnable, but David said that the first man who captured it would be
made chief and captain. From the fact that Joab was the first man to tackle
these Jebusites in their rocky fortress and dispossess them and so was made
Commander-in-Chief of David's army, we know that he must have been a man
of courage and strength. As we look at the Church today, we exclaim: 'We
need men of courage and strength for our time; that is just the kind of
man we have need of. Give us more men like that!
2 Samuel 11:14-21
We see also that Joab was a man of loyalty and unquestioning obedience
to his leader. Though the instructions must have seemed strange to him,
and though he must have suspected what lay behind David's orders, yet he
did exactly as he was told. Even though the whole matter was terrible, it
reveals Joab as a man who was loyal and unquestioningly obedient to his king.
We say again: 'That is a quality which we could do with in our churches today.
Would that there were loyalty and obedience to the King among us. We need
men and women who are characterised by unquestioning loyalty.'
2 Samuel 12:26-28
Moreover he was marked by real selflessness. Having taken Rabbah, he
invited David to come and get all the credit for capturing the city, in
spite of the fact that he himself had been responsible for the victory. Again
you will agree that we could do with more of this quality in the Church,
this selflessness which means that a man looks on the things of others rather
than on his own. A willingness for others to be praised for what we ourselves
have accomplished is a characteristic which would add to the richness of our
1 Chronicles 21:1-6
This chapter gives us a further glimpse into Joab's good qualities. When
David instructed him and his public officers to go out and number Israel
and then to report back, Joab answered: 'Even if the Lord should increase
His people one hundred fold, would not your majesty still be king and all
the people your slaves? Why should your majesty want to do this, since it
will only bring guilt on Israel?' Joab, however, [118/119]
was overruled by the king, so he went up and down the whole country,
finally returning to David to report the numbers recorded. But so deep was
his repugnance to the king's order that he refused to count Levi and Benjamin.
Here, then, was a man who was prepared to stand against something which
he judged to be destructive to his king and country, a man unafraid of speaking
out against what was clearly wrong. Certainly this is one more quality which
we could do with in our Church life, and one which we all approve of.
Where, then, did Joab go wrong? He had so many good points which we could
wish to see in our churches today, but he also shows us what is destructive
to that life. He had the right objectives; he wanted to see Israel secure
and prosperous under God's blessing; he wanted to see David firmly established
on his throne; all his life was devoted to this end, and all his activities
seemed directed towards what was good. We must consider, however, not his
objectives but rather the means by which he obtained them. He was quite unscrupulous
in this respect and in fact three times committed murder in order to achieve
what he considered to be the right end.
2 Samuel 3:17-27
Abner had been Saul's Commander-in-Chief and was now gaining great influence
in Saul's house, having his son, Ish-bosheth, in his power. He decided to
betray Ish-bosheth and sellout to David, so he visited king David and offered
to make a deal with him. David accepted him, thinking that the prospect of
uniting Israel was a good one, but he seemed unaware of the dangers of Abner's
proposition. He had said to David: "I will gather all Israel unto my lord
the king, that they may make a covenant with thee ..." (v.21). In other
words, Abner was to be the king-maker; it was he who proposed to give the
kingdom, whereas we know that it was God alone who had given the kingdom
into the hand of David. This would have been a very dangerous move, a very
wrong move from such a man. When Joab came back from his raid, he heard of
what had been going on and saw the danger of it. He could discern that just
as Ish-bosheth had been beholden to Abner and dependent on him so now David
might come under Abner's power. If he had brought the people to be under
David's rule, then what was to prevent his taking them away again if it suited
him? Joab may have been right in his fears but he was certainly wrong in
the way he handled the situation. He saw the danger to David and the kingdom,
and he had only one answer -- the knife. So Abner was put out of the way.
It may have been a foolish arrangement on the part of David; Joab may have
been correct in suspecting it. The trouble was that he dealt with it with
the arm of flesh. And that is always wrong.
2 Samuel 18:10-16
Here again we find Joab acting to protect David, in spite of himself.
Absalom had rebelled against his father and sought to lead the whole country
into revolution. If anyone needed to be put away and deserved to die, it
was this troublemaker. Yet David had given instructions to the leaders of
the three bands of his own soldiers that at all costs they should spare Absalom.
It was ridiculous really, for the only way of saving David's own life and
preserving the kingdom was to be rid of this revolutionary. Joab was well
aware of this, being a man of sound common sense, so that he took no notice
of David's orders or of the inhibitions of the soldier who brought him the
information, but thrust his darts through the heart of Absalom. Was this
the right way of ridding Israel of trouble? The objective was right enough,
but we are still left wondering about the methods of this strong-armed Joab.
2 Samuel 20:4-10
What had happened had produced a break in the relationship between David
and Joab, and it seems that because of this David had decided to replace
Joab by making Amasa his new Commander-in-Chief. Abishai personally saved
David's life (2 Samuel 21:17) and Joab had been given his position as the
promised reward for the man who captured Jerusalem, so David owed a lot to
these sons of Zeruiah and yet he now proposed to come to terms with Absalom's
rebel commander and promote him to the position of Commander of the Israelite
army. There seems to have been nothing in Amasa's history or skill to warrant
such an action; rather does it appear to have been a compromising attempt
to re-unite Israel. Even so, Amasa was dilatory in discharging his new duties,
and this gave Joab his opportunity. He took the matter into his own hands
and dealt with Amasa in his usual way -- by the knife. [119/120]
1 Kings 2:28-33
As Joab had lived; so he died. We are told that what is of the flesh
must end in corruption, so we should not be surprised to find that this
man who had always been ready to take matters into his own carnal hands
finally perished in a violent death. With the introduction of Solomon, the
king of peace, and the prospect of the building of the temple, how could
such a man of carnal strength remain the Commander-in-Chief? His murderous
actions were doubtless intended for the good of his nation: now that nation's
good demanded his own death. The flesh is of no avail. Its inevitable outcome
is failure and death. Joab's story provides a striking illustration of this
We look at the contrast presented by David, the man of the Spirit. There
is a sense in which we can say that even though David may have been wrong
in some matters, his spirit was right. Just the opposite is true of Joab,
who was often right in his judgments and concern, but so wrong in his methods.
If we reconsider the events already described we may find that David was
not so wrong after all. When Abner first came to him it was for reconciliation,
and is it not true that our Lord is the One whose work is that of reconciliation?
So David displayed a Christlike spirit in wanting to reconcile the divided
people and bring them together. His was the spiritual way, whereas Joab's
method was by means of the knife. Again in the matter of Absalom, when he
went astray and became a rebel, David's desire was that he should be spared.
Is it not characteristic of the Lord that He desires to spare the rebel and
to restore him to a right relationship and a place in the home? We must therefore
agree that there was a mark of Christ about this longing of David after
the wayward Absalom.
Perhaps David was wrong to have chosen Amasa and offer him the position
of captain of the army, but who can tell? It is true that he was not a man
of such courage and spirit as Joab, but it may well be that he could have
been influenced by the king and learned something of his spirit even as he
served. Joab was not prepared to wait for this -- the flesh can never wait
-- nor was he prepared to accept a second place in the kingdom's armed forces.
For him the knife was the only answer.
We may well argue that this is very far removed from our present world.
Nobody ever dreams of taking a knife against another Christian in order to
get his own way. We cannot try to put things right or to deal with wrongs
by such violent methods. This is true, but it is equally true that we are
all too prone to resort to carnal strength in trying to avoid perils or to
right wrongs in church life. And if we refrain from the actual knife we
have a sharp and deadly weapon in the shape of our tongue. The tongue can
be like a razor-sharp arrow (Psalm 120:3-4). Joab's killings were drastic
but they were mercifully quick, it was all over in a second. The unkind tongue,
however, can produce agonies which go on for years, making wounds which
persist. We may protest that our aims are good ones. So were Joab's. The
question is not so much the objective as the method, and we must realise that
we can never help the work or people of God by the arm of the flesh.
It seems fairly clear that in most of the cases, Joab was really expressing
self-interest, though perhaps not aware of the fact. For him it was a question
of the self-seeking of Abner and Amasa as well as that of Absalom which could
not be tolerated. Well, we have to face such problems in our church, problems
of self-seeking or of rebellion. We may speak or act violently, as Joab
did, and that will only bring in death. Or we may follow that better way,
the way of the Spirit of Christ.
David was a man of the spirit, a man who walked by the Spirit of God.
For all his strength and good intentions, Joab was a man of the flesh, whose
way had to end in death. The flesh always brings in death, that is why the
Lord Jesus described it as being of no avail. God's kingdom and God's house
are served by those who may not be faultless but who are ever learning to
repudiate the flesh and be governed by the Spirit of Christ. "Let him that
thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."
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INSPIRED PARENTHESES (4)
"(for the day of that sabbath was a high day)" (John 19:31)
IT is a feature of John's Gospel that he frequently combines a historical
fact with a hidden spiritual implication. This Sabbath, as he reminds us,
was a very special one. Phillip's rendering is: "for that was a particularly
important Sabbath". This was true in the matter of the Jewish Calendar. Spiritually,
though, it was much more than that, for it was surely the most significant
Sabbath in the whole of human history. When He spoke of His impending death,
the Lord Jesus invariably singled out "the third day" as the day of resurrection.
The second day was not mentioned and is seldom considered by us, yet this
was the 'high day' which the Spirit urged John to record in his parenthetical
remark. It merits some special attention from all readers of the Gospel.
The outstanding feature of the Sabbath was that it was the day when man
was required to "cease from his own works" (Hebrews 4:10). The Lord Jesus,
however, made no apology for performing His miracles of mercy on that day,
and seems perhaps deliberately to have chosen it for the occasion of some
of His greatest works of healing. This was doubtless because He wished to
emphasise that these were the acts of God. The powers which He displayed
were not the works of Man only, but were the works of God. In this way the
real implication of the Sabbath was beautifully expressed; the mighty power
of God operated on a basis of pure grace.
When we come to this 'high Sabbath', we are tremendously impressed with
the way in which it almost seemed that time stood still. The second day was
a day of supernatural silence. Whatever may have been happening in those
unseen realms where the Lord Jesus had so positively promised to welcome the
penitent thief into God's Paradise, in the realm of things visible there was
a complete absence of activity. The tomb was sealed; the guard mounted their
watch; the sacred Body lay at rest in that cave where death had never before
entered. The sorrowing friends of Jesus waited in sad inactivity for the
third day to dawn.
They themselves were helpless. The apostles were stunned in dark despair.
Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus had done their best to accord some honour
to that revered Body, but they could do no more and were left with their
bitter-sweet reflections. The women were eager enough to pay their tribute
to the remains of their beloved Lord, but the law did not permit them to proceed
any further until that day of silence was over. The first day had been a
day of tragedy. The third day was to prove a day of glory. The second day,
though, was seemingly a non-day. Yet it was, as John tells us, one of very
What shall we say of the Lord Jesus? What was His attitude towards that
second day? For this we must consult the prophetical psalms. They show that
His attitude was a positive one -- faith is always positive -- and yet it
is declared to be one of waiting. "My flesh also shall dwell in hope: because
thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades, neither wilt thou give thy Holy One
to see corruption" (Acts 2:26-27). He did not try to rise. He made no effort
at all. He waited for that new day, the famous 'third day', when the glory
of the Father would raise Him from the dead (Romans 6:4).
This, then, is the meaning of the second day. So far as men are concerned
it is the experience of 'hands off', to leave the way clear for the mighty
hand of God to show its power. In the verse of Romans 6 which has been quoted
we notice that we too are called to walk in this same 'newness of life',
and to do it on the basis demonstrated in Christ's resurrection. For us it
is not a matter of a day of twenty-four hours, nor of any interval of time
as such. The simple principle is one of cessation from all human effort and
endeavour in order to give God His opportunity to work in us to will and to
do of His good pleasure. When man struggles, God holds His hand. When man
waits on God and waits for God, the mighty miracle of resurrection is bound
"THE LORD OF HOSTS IS WITH US:
THE GOD OF JACOB IS OUR REFUGE."
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