"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
"
(Philippians 3:13-14)



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Vol. 6, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1977 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster


CONTENTS [page]
What Saith The Scripture 101
The Goings Of God (1) 103
Dead Flies 109
Chapter By Chapter Through Romans (8) 112
In The Likeness Of His Resurrection 115
God's Secret Tranquilliser 119
Inspired Parentheses (10) ibc


[ifc/101]
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WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE?

John Kennedy


THE Christian scene is terribly confused. It has probably never been more confused than it is today. For centuries, believing Christians have divided themselves up on a sectarian basis. They have gathered round a particular truth, a precise doctrinal statement, a form of church government, allegiance to a man, or some other focal point. All, of course, have claimed to substantiate their point of view from Scripture. They have excluded those who cannot pronounce their own particular shibboleths, but they have been generally strong in their emphasis on what we call the 'fundamentals of the faith'.

No longer is this the case. Mention has frequently been made of the present-day emphasis among Christians on experience. Often this has overshadowed everything else, and questions of doctrine have been relegated to an inferior place. This is part of the spirit of the world in which we live, a world in which the impermanence of material values is becoming more and more evident. People are looking for something more, an experience -- a spiritual experience if you like -- and making that the criterion. The growing question among many believing Christians seems to be: "If a person has 'experienced' Christ, how far should we be concerned with doctrinal considerations? If God has accepted a person, should not we?" The result is a widening of the circle of acceptance which overflows not only sectarian barriers but doctrinal barriers as well.

True enough, we are inseparably linked together by our experience of Christ, but how do we judge what is a valid spiritual experience and what is not? There is much in the New Testament to guide us in this matter. John, in his first letter, shows us that the marks of a child of God are righteousness, fellowship and right doctrine. It is important to see that these three things go together. Doctrinal orthodoxy, if the truth had really gripped the heart and soul of a man, should be a sufficient basis for Christian gathering, because it should automatically lead to fellowship and righteousness. The trouble is that we are limited in our capacity to discern. Finally only God knows the heart of a man. Man looks on the outward appearance. We judge what a person believes by what we see on the outside, by what he does or what he says. Our judgment may be right or it may be wrong. Because of our fallibility we need the confirmation of other factors. Even then we may be mistaken, but are less likely to be so.

We cannot say: "He is an honest, upright person; therefore he is a child of God". Neither can we say: "He loves the fellowship of God's people; therefore he is a child of God". Still less can we say: "He says he believes the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith; therefore he is a child of God". Each of these tests may be an indication of a person's standing before the Lord, but a lack in any one direction should be grave cause for doubt, especially if the lack consists of a disbelief of basic truth. Truth alone makes us truly free (John 8:32), and only that conduct and fellowship which is based on truth is truly spiritual.

The importance of truth or right belief is attested throughout Scripture. Paul's great exposition of the gospel in his letter to the Romans would surely never have been written if he had considered Christian doctrine of minor importance. The pastoral epistles emphasise the place of right teaching in the life of the Church. Peter in his letters also stresses the importance of sound doctrine. To set aside this emphasis is a matter of gravest import.

Human judgment at best is liable to err. It needs an anchor, a norm on which it can be securely based. Experience cannot provide this, for experience itself is bound to the limitations of our humanity. It too is unstable unless it has an anchor outside of itself. Where can such an anchor be found? Only in revelation, the revelation which God has given or Himself in His Son and which has been expressed through His Word. Even here we are not rid of the human element. The truth of the infallible Word still has to be discerned by our fallible human judgment. Every child of God can claim the enlightenment of the Spirit. Yet the human element, perhaps unconsciously, continues to intrude. It would be a brash and sadly undiscerning person who would claim that, in any matter, his discernment was all of the Spirit and none of himself. Our judgment, therefore, can never be final, but discernment based on the infallible truth of the Word is much less liable to err than discernment based on unstable human experience. [101/102]

To sum up what has already been said, a spiritual experience is only valid when it is based upon the truth of the revealed Word. The ground of our gathering as a church must therefore include a definite acceptance of basic Christian truth. The question now arises as to what is basic Christian truth. What should be included and what should be left out? Much sectarianism has arisen because of a too close definition of Christian truth; Well-intentioned people have sought so to define revealed truth as to leave the least possible margin for error. In doing so they have often left the least possible room for a developing understanding. Truth is absolute and unchangeable but, as we have already emphasised, our discernment of it is not. Our spiritual knowledge is, and should be, in a state of constant development. A statement of truth so closely defined that it leaves little or no room for development will inevitably pose a threat to the spiritual life of the church. This has happened again and again. It has resulted in an orthodoxy which is lifeless. What we need to be concerned with is a framework of basic truth within which our spiritual understanding can develop freely. Paul speaks of this when he says: "Follow the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me" (2 Timothy 1:13). The word translated 'pattern' means an outline or sketch which has to be filled in. It provides the basic framework we require.

But one of the errors of the present day is to define truth, not too closely, but too loosely. The ecumenical dictum of the oneness of all who own Christ as Lord is capable of such wide definition that it can include those on the very fringe of Christianity, if not beyond it. Basic Christian truth may not go beyond the framework of which we have spoken, but it does go that far. This framework is necessary. It is of vital importance. We do well to enquire what it is.

One expression of basic Christian truth is found in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter fifteen he launches into a great defence of the resurrection. He begins by reminding the Corinthians of the terms of the gospel by which they were saved (v.2). These are, he says, "of first importance" (v.3). Within the compass of two verses we have, in embryo, the great basic doctrines of the faith: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). These doctrines we may conveniently divide into three sections.

The Person and Work of Christ

Paul begins with Christ, the One who came from God and was God. There is no need to go further back than that. He is, after all, writing to Christians, and a person who does not accept Christ is not a Christian at all. His deity is implied in the term "Christ" and in His resurrection. His humanity is pointed out in the historical facts of His life, death and burial. His death was an atoning death. The tense used in the word 'died' indicates an action completed. This alone is a repudiation of doctrine such as that of the mass where the sacrifice of Christ's death is supposed to be repeated over and over again.

The Doctrine of Man

"Christ died for our sins." Man's nature is not such as to require merely a good example by which to pattern his living. His sin requires the atoning death of the Son of God. Here is implied all the depths of human need. There is no room here for the liberal theologian's conception of the essential goodness of human nature.

The Authority of the Scriptures

Paul claims that the terms of the gospel he preaches are all "in accordance with the scriptures". The gospel is what he himself had received from God. It was a revelation through and in accordance with the Scriptures. The Scriptures to Paul consisted mainly of the Old Testament writings, but in speaking of what he had received he speaks in terms of a revelation finally given. The point is that God has revealed Himself fully, and that revelation has been set forth in a complete form in the Scriptures. Our understanding of what God has shown will always be developing, but nothing remains to be added to the revelation He has given. For the believing Christians the final authority is the Word, not any man or ecclesiastical organisation. This at once rules out the Roman belief in an incomplete and growing revelation; and the acceptance of the authority of the Church beyond the authority of the Word.

We do not attempt to make a final judgment on the relation of any individual with the Lord [102/103] (God alone finally knows those who are His), but in the public testimony of the gathering of the church, basic doctrinal considerations have an important place. We dare not attempt to build on an unstable foundation. Most of all we need to guard the place given to the Word of God, for the Word alone is the source of all truth. The Word must take precedence over experience, for by it experience must always be judged. We must never lose sight of the humbling truth of man's depravity and of his need of Christ's atoning work. Only in our constant dependence upon the Lord will His pre-eminence in our midst be assured. We must hold fast to what God has revealed regarding the person of His Son, and the finality of the atoning work of His cross. These are our essential doctrinal foundations.

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THE GOINGS OF GOD

(Studies in the book of Exodus)

J. Alec Motyer

1. THE PERSEVERING GOD (1:1 to 7:7)


IN its care for our spiritual welfare the Bible deals with real situations. A more exact way of saying this is to point out that our Caring God wrote the Bible for us in this way so that through His holy Word He may exercise His own pastoral care over His Church here on earth. We are reminded that the people of God are in this world: "They went down into the land of Egypt" (1:1). The opening two chapters of the book deal with marriage, birth and death; for the people of God have to face the realities of life here. There is hostility -- Pharaoh stirring up his servants and all his people against the people of God. There is also good fortune -- Moses is unexpectedly taken into the household of the king, to be brought up as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. And there is also failure -- Moses, seeking to exploit the opportunities involved in his special situation, blunders badly. All this is to be found in two chapters.

We notice also that the people of God are presented in their totality and their individuality. We begin with the names of every man who came with Jacob and then we are told that "all that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls". The people of God, total and individual, are found to be deeply embroiled in world affairs, affected by its politics, preoccupied with its cares, hard hit by its hostilities and subject to various degrees of fortune, and in it all they are remembered by God. You may wonder how I can even suggest that God could be capable of forgetting, but the words are: "God heard their groaning and God remembered" (2:24). It is part of the attractiveness of Holy Scripture that it has a delightfully human way of speaking about God. We can only understand this sudden reviving of memory against a background of forgetfulness. As Moses came to write up the story, he looked back and saw that at this point a line was drawn across the history of God's people: this was the day when God began to act. In retrospect it seemed to him so dramatic and so to involve a change in God's feelings, that he could only describe it by saying: "That was the day when God remembered us". Nevertheless, as he wrote up everything that happened before that date, he had to call the people's attention to the fact that God had never forgotten them. This, then, is the first lesson of these opening chapters of Exodus, namely the persevering ways of God with His chosen people.

God's Ways With His People


The sheer numerical quantity of the people of God struck terror into the Egyptian rulers. They felt that here was a danger within their borders which they must take steps to contain. The new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph was not bound by any obligation to God's people, so he took steps to deal with what he felt was a threat to his kingdom. It was then that he began to discover that this is a people which cannot be destroyed. The narrative from 1:1 to 2:22 shows us:

1. Providential Care

Humanly speaking everything was bent on their destruction yet "the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied, and the more [103/104] they spread abroad" (1:12). This is in accordance with so much else in the Scriptures which is summed up for us in the words of the Lord Jesus: "No one shall pluck them out of my hands". Pharaoh was great and his taskmasters many and strong but no efforts of theirs could ever set aside God's providential care of His chosen people. It is interesting to contrast the two similar phrases: "lest they multiply" (v.10) and "the more they multiplied" (v.12). The king of the world may have been bent on destruction but the King of Heaven overruled with supernatural preservation.

2. Timely Aid

We learn here what is said in another New Testament scripture: "All things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose". Pharaoh had a second plan. If he could not crush this people by general oppression he would call the midwives to his aid and attempt to wipe out the men of Israel at birth. His policy of infanticide was, however, set aside by God who in His marvellous wisdom saw to it that the plan was committed to the very people who would frustrate it: "The midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them". So the midwives came under the blessing of God (v.20) and instead of perishing, "the people multiplied and waxed mighty". The Sovereign God saw to it that His own timely aid met the enemy in ways that he never expected and could not cope with.

What was true of the totality of the people of God was equally true for individuals. The individual is in the care of God, as we find when meeting for the first time Moses, the man who is to dominate the remainder of the first five books of the Bible. Here, however, he is not introduced to us in the light of his subsequent greatness but simply as an object lesson on how God looks after the individual among His people. In Moses' case there was special care in relation to divine purpose, but this is not mentioned here. We simply see that the same God who caters for all His people with providential care is also careful to shelter the individual under His preserving grace.

God covered Moses protectively from every threat. His parents married and the child was born at that very time when the royal edict commanded that he must be put into the river. In due time he was put into the river, but the river could not claim this child. As he was lying there, watched by the loving eye of Miriam, who should come along but Pharaoh's daughter! This was no ordinary Egyptian, but a princess from the royal house. The contest was being brought to a particular point: it was the royal house which decreed infanticide and yet it was the royal house which intervened to save the infant. The princess asked for the box which was floating in the river to be brought to her, and when the box was opened the child started crying. In a remarkable act of providence God produced a tender-hearted princess from that savage royal house. Out of the palace which did not hesitate to murder infants on a big scale there came one girl whose heart was moved by a crying baby. By the clever intervention of Miriam, the baby was given back to his parents to be brought up. Right there, in the midst of the Egyptian people whose king had decreed his destruction, the child grew up whom nobody dared touch. "Take this child away and nurse it for me," the princess had said. The preserving providence of God had so surrounded this child's life that no matter how much hostility the neighbours felt and no matter how greatly they detested the Hebrew people, they could not and dare not touch this child. Our God is a God of timely aid.

3. Purposeful Care

We soon find that God's providential care is also a purposeful care. The next thing we are told about this man shows how conscious he was of his vocation. He saw an Egyptian striking an Hebrew and he could not keep his hands off the aggressor. There was that in Moses which automatically reacted violently against helplessness and injustice. He was rather like his adoptive royal mother who had championed his cause in his infancy. Moses needed that kind of heart, for this was part of God's preparation for the man who was to suffer for the rest of his life with a cantankerous and ungrateful people without ever losing heart compassion for them. We see the purposefulness of God with Moses from the very beginning, how He started with this man as He intended to go on with him through his long life of service.

A further incident in the life of Moses shows that he is at it again, leaping to the defence of the helpless: "The shepherds came and drove the daughters of Jethro away, but Moses stood [104/105] up and helped them" (2:17). This involvement in Jethro's household meant that Moses settled down there and spent forty years in caring for another man's sheep. This is a story of apparent failure, but not even failure can take Moses out of the purposes of God who sovereignly presided over it all in order to bring those purposes to pass. So for forty years Moses tended another man's sheep until the day came when God was ready to say: "I will lead My sheep, My people, like a flock by the hand of Moses".

4. The Resource of Prayer

If chapter one shows that God's people cannot be destroyed by any human agency, chapter two makes it very clear that neither can they be delivered by a mere human agency. If Pharaoh cannot destroy them, neither can Moses deliver them. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal" was a lesson learned long ago in the land of Egypt. For all his capacity and for all his authority, Moses was quite unable to be the deliverer of God's people. They could not be destroyed by man and they could not be saved by man. Mercifully, however, the people possessed a spiritual resource as we learn in the closing verses of this chapter. "It came to pass in the course of many days ... the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried" (2:23). Relief was not found in the passage of time, though many days passed. The Christian never says that time is the great healer. No, the passage of time did not bring relief; it only brought continued bondage. What brought relief was the place and practice of prayer; "and their cry came up unto God by reason of their bondage". The repetition of this last phrase shows that their cry to God originated from a deeply felt sense of need and was also the explanation of God's answer: "their cry came up unto God by reason of their bondage ". The motive for the cry from earth was bondage and the motive for prayer being heard in heaven was also bondage. Our very necessities are in themselves an appeal to God and a guarantee that He will hear us.

The next two verses give a four-fold explanation of why such prayer is efficacious. It is because God hears. Then it is because God remembers. He remembers His covenant, which simply means that God had made a solemn promise. He had said that He would be a God to Abraham and to his children after him, and He actually went on oath to that effect. Pharaoh challenged Him, saying: "These are my people and I will destroy them", but God could not allow this, for they were His people and He was pledged to them. God always remembers His promises and never departs from them. We are then told that God saw. We should notice that though the covenant was associated with Jacob, God saw them as Israel. He always looks at His people in the light of what He has done for them by grace. He does not see them in connection with their sinful inheritance in Jacob but in connection with their inheritance of grace in Israel. God always looks upon His people through the spectrum of grace.

Fourthly we are told that God took knowledge of them. Scripture says crisply and abruptly: "God knew". This means that God knew all about it. He looked down on their situation and He knew what it was; not just that He had information about it but that He deeply felt its agonies. The needs of God's people and their circumstances go right through to His heart. For those Israelites there was One on the throne touched with the pangs of their sufferings, and that was why prayer proved effective.

We now turn to the steps which God took to answer these agonised prayers, and as we move into chapter three we leave the consideration of God's persevering ways with the totality of His people to be concerned with one man and what God did for him.

God's Ways With His Servant


The whole section from 3:1 to 7:7 works according to a pattern. Firstly there is the sequence of Vision, Reassurance and Failure. The same pattern is repeated with one significant difference, for this time it is Vision, Reassurance and Success. Such sequences lead us to ask what is meant by Vision and what turns Failure to Success.

The answer to this first question is that the essential preparation of an individual for service consists in his knowing God by reason of dealings in the secret place between God and his soul. This is not put forward as a suggestion but what is clearly shown in the times when God came to Moses as a solitary individual and spoke to him in secret. Moses' preparation for service had its point of origin and its most effective lessons there in the secret place, where he came to know God through His revealing action. It [105/106] was not a case of the cleverness of Moses but the revelatory action of God. God took away the veil and showed Himself to Moses; that is where service begins. The second question relates to the difference between the failure the first time round and the success at the end of the second pattern. What was it that made the key difference? The vision was the same; the reassurance was the same; in the first case Moses failed, whereas in the second he triumphed. Let us investigate further.

The pattern begins with vision, and we commence chapter three to find Moses in the way of revelation as he diligently carries on with humdrum affairs. Did not the Lord Jesus say that when we are faithful in a very little thing, it is then that much authority will be given to us? Moses is an object lesson of this truth: he was faithful in keeping another man's sheep in a desert place, and found great authority committed to him by God. Here he was given a threefold revelation, a revelation of God, of the people's need and of his own vocation in the meeting of that need.

"An angel of the Lord appeared to him as a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush. And he looked and behold the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed" (v.2). It is one of the odd things of life that this is so often called the passage of the burning bush when the words clearly tell us that the bush did not burn. Let us get it right; the bush was not burning but it was God Himself who was the flame of fire. In this way God was saying to Moses: "I am the Living God -- living in the most absolute sense." Did you ever know of a fire which did not need fuel? Every fire known to man feeds upon fuel. Here, however, was an undying flame which needed no fuel. And wonder of wonders, this most gracious living God has come down to indwell the most ordinary thing and make it effulgent with His own radiance. The vision was that of the undying flame of God in a meagre desert bush.

The vision stressed the holiness of God. Where God is, holiness is. And it meant that God revealed Himself as the faithful God -- "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." He is the God who continues faithfully and patiently with His chosen people. Moreover He is a caring and delivering God (vv.7 & 8). This, then, was the first revelation, the vision of the holy, faithful and caring God, presencing Himself with sinners. And on the basis of this, God opened Moses' eyes both to a need and to a call. Moses, however, was unwilling to hear that call and needed a long session with God about it. So we pass to the matter of Reassurance.

Moses made five separate excuses; but before we look at them we should register that God did not accept them, but He did pledge Himself to remedy the complaints. Here they are:

1. Inadequacy. "Who am I" (v.11). To this God replied: "But Moses, I never said that you were anybody! It is not you that matters, it is I! I will be with you in all My living power, in all My holiness, in all My faithfulness and in all My determination to be a Deliverer."

2. Ignorance. The excuse of ignorance of what he should say when he met the children of Israel. "What shall I say?" (v.13). God immediately reassured him that if ignorance was the trouble then he could not have come to a better place for that to be remedied. He only wanted to know one thing, but God told him three. He wanted to know what he should say about God, and the Lord told him not only about Himself, but about His plans (vv.16-18) and about the course of events (vv.19-21) and even about the ultimate outcome (v.22). He loaded Moses with information. If you are ignorant, then the Lord is the very One to put you right. How amply He meets our needs and our excuses!

The central point about the revelation of Himself is contained in the words: "I AM THAT I AM" (v.14). Many years ago I was present at a Women's Meeting, not to speak but to listen to a speaker. To my delight she chose to speak on Exodus 3:14, so I sat back with eagerness, ready to learn more about this verse which had often exercised me. The substance of the address went like this: "Dear friends, what needs have you got?" She then began to outline what might be the needs of a typical gathering of women on a Monday afternoon. She continued: "Now look at those needs. Here they are, one, two, three, four five ... Name each of your needs and then in respect of everyone of those needs, listen to God saying: 'I am that! -- I am!'" In some ways this is laughable but yet it conveys the sense of what God said. Whatever the need, He is the answer. Is there a need? Then He affirms: "I am THAT! I am!" This is the message and the theology which God sent Moses to declare [106/107] in Egypt. The people needed salvation, so He would be their Saviour. Whatever the need, the great Yahweh offered Himself as the answer. I am that! I am!

3. Ineffectiveness. Moses went on to plead ineffectiveness: "They will not listen to me" (4:1). This is answered by three signs. "Ineffective in relation to resources? What have you got? For if you will throw what you have got in your hand down in front of Me, it will become a powerful thing." So God answered Moses' ineffectiveness by pointing to Himself as the God of transforming power. "Ineffectiveness of your person? You are quite right about that. Put your hand into your bosom and feel your own heartbeat. Now take out your hand and look at it. It has the contagion of leprosy from your heart. In your inner man you are all wrong. Now repeat the action and you will find that the leprosy has all gone." God is the One who can remove all inner defilement and make His servant into a new man. "Ineffectiveness in the face of the enemy? Go and draw water from the Nile. Go to the very place where the life of Egypt is beating, the very thing they worship as a god. Go there and take water from that river and watch me turn their life into death!" He is the God of conquering power who can face the enemy and bring all his power to nothing. Objection not sustained!

4. Incapacity. "Oh Lord, I am not eloquent" (4:10). To this objection the Lord gave the answer that would apply in principle to any incapacity which we might plead: "Who made that organ, that capacity which you complain is so inadequate for the purpose? Am not I your Creator who made your mouth as it is? How then can I leave you without a word to speak? I, who made your mouth, will be with that mouth and teach you what you shall speak."

5. Unreadiness. This was the last of Moses' objections and it made God angry with him. "Oh Lord, send by the hand of him whom Thy wilt send" (4:13). How the Lord hates unbelief! To think that He had given Moses so many reassurances and yet the man would not trust Him! But if the anger of the Lord was kindled grace prevailed, so that along with the anger came a kindly accommodation. "Well, Moses, go you must, because I insist upon it; but if you feel that you cannot go alone, I will arrange for Aaron to go with you." With this gracious reassurance Moses went. The next section of the chapter makes it clear, though, that God went with him. God is not like a lake-side hirer of boats who allocates someone for Boat No. 9, pushes him out and leaves him to get on with it. That is not the Bible idea of vocation. God determines what shall be done. God determines the servant who shall be chosen to do it. And then God goes with him.

We see that there were three ways in which God exercised this pastoral supervision over His servant. Firstly He taught him a lesson concerning Divine leadership. Moses went back to ask permission of his father-in-law and was just receiving that permission when God rudely interrupted this conversation, saying: "I beg your pardon, Moses, but it is I not Jethro who is doing the sending: Go, return into Egypt" (v.19). God must remain in charge of His own work.

The second lesson related to divine righteousness: "the Lord met him and sought to kill him" (v.24). What an odd incident! The Lord was fighting against His chosen servant. We must look into this. The Lord was fighting against him because his son Gershom had not been circumcised. This is the clear lesson of the passage. As soon as the lad was circumcised He (the Lord) let him (Moses) alone" (v.26). It is dangerous to go on God's business in a state of disobedience. There was Moses going to the covenant people to speak to them in the name of the covenant God and to pledge them covenant promises, and yet he was going in a state of covenant disobedience. Nothing could therefore go on; Moses could not set a foot in Egypt or take up the work of God, until that had been put right. Now what about Zipporah? Well, I am afraid that we are all led astray by that unfortunate translation of her words: "a bloody bridegroom". We are bound to regard this as though it were a term of rebuke and even of abuse. Not so! The Revised Version renders it " A bridegroom of blood", but even that is not accurate enough. "A bridegroom of bloods" (in the plural) is what the Hebrew says, and it implies a bridegroom of shed bloods. Zipporah knew the cause of God's anger, and since her husband was incapacitated, she herself took the knife, circumcised the boy and touched Moses with the blood of circumcision to associate him vitally with this act of obedience. No sooner had he been touched by this blood that he was restored to her from his death-bed. She cried [107/108] out in gladness: "Look, our marriage has started all over again! You are my bridegroom again, restored to me by the shed blood!" What an indication of her love for Moses and the happiness of their home together: He is her bridegroom, restored to life, restored from death, because she brought him into the place of obedience.

The third lesson which God gave Moses in this final session of briefing and pastoral care concerned divine graciousness "The Lord said to Aaron, Go out into the wilderness to meet Moses. And he went and met him" (v.27). What a thrill that must have been to Moses! In those days there was no post, no telegraph, no means of communication; and yet Aaron made the rendezvous just as God had promised. Grace had gone on before, grace had provided the one human welcome to prove that God was on his side. What more could a man want? "Moses, let Me be your Leader. Moses, above all things keep right with Me by obedience. Moses, I am with you in grace." With that background Moses went on into the land of Egypt -- only to meet with total and unmitigated failure! "Moses returned to the Lord and said, O Sovereign One, why have You treated Your people so badly? Why ever did You send me? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has afflicted the people, neither have You delivered Your people at all" (5:22-23). Total failure!

God's Ways With His Failures


The reason for Moses' failure was partial obedience. God gave him very precise directions and he ignored or changed them. He was told to bring a delegation of the elders (3:18) and he only brought Aaron (5:1). He was told to come tactfully, and he came like the blast of an east wind. He was told to say: "The God of Israel has met us" and he said: "Thus saith Yahweh, the God of Israel". He was told to make an interim request for a three-day journey into the wilderness, and he made an absolute demand for release. In one sense he did what God told him to do, but in another sense he utterly failed in the matter of obedience. As a result Pharaoh hardened the people's bondage and their elders came and cursed Moses in the name of God.

Partial obedience, the partial obedience of one man, gave the enemy victory over the whole people of God. It brought the people -- not Moses but the people -- into severer trial and hardship, and it fragmented fellowship to such a degree that the elders came to Moses and said that they did not want anything more to do with him. Just the partial obedience of one man did all this. It always does. It gives power to the enemy, it brings suffering to the Church and it breaks up fellowship. In spite of the vision and the reassurance, Moses ends this phase in complete failure. Now we pass through the pattern for the second time with further Vision, further Reassurance and then Success.

Look what Moses did with his despair, he went back to the Lord (5:22). That is how to deal with failure. Satan will always have us hug our failure to ourselves, slinking into a corner, well out of sight and succumbing to a sense of condemnation. The example of Moses tells us not to do that but to bring our failure right out into the light in the presence of God. Go back to the Lord and tell Him all about it. Verbalise the calamity. "Neither hast thou delivered thy people at all!" That is what Moses did with his failure; now see what God did with it. This is simply beautiful: "Now shalt thou see what I will do!" What is more, God pointed to Himself, opening Moses' eyes to a new revelation, a saving revelation: "I am JEHOVAH" (v.2).

God met Moses with strong hope. "Now," He said, "Now that I have got you to the place of utter despair, I can really show you My power. At last -- now -- I have you where I want you and so there is every ground for strong hope." The renewed vision consisted in the most wonderful statement of the meaning of the divine name (6:2-8). This passage begins and ends with the majestic assertion: "I am Jehovah" and contains within it seven verbs by which God pledges Himself to action. "I will bring you ... I will rid you ... I will redeem you ...". On the basis of His great name of Saviour, the Lord thunders out His repeated "I will" again and again, giving Moses a renewed vision of Himself in all His living power as the ever-present Saviour. It is in this passage that the verb "to redeem" is used for the first time in its characteristic biblical sense.

The Vision is followed by Reassurance. Moses was still conscious of his weakness and inadequacy, and stressed again his weakness as a speaker (v.12). He had rightly diagnosed this central point in the matter of his weakness; it was in the realm of speech that he felt so incompetent, and in fact it does seem that when he went to Pharaoh he said all the wrong things. [108/109] So as he went back to God he asked: "What can You do with a man of uncircumcised lips?" And God told him what He could do and He told him not once but twice: "The Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge" (v.13), and the Lord said: "See I have made you a god to Pharaoh and Aaron shall be your prophet" (7:1). God gave Moses a double reassurance on the point where he was most conscious of personal weakness. He set up for Moses a whole system of communication to meet him in this place of cardinal need.

And what then? No more failure now! Moses is going to have an unbroken career of success and never to fail again until that last unfortunate action of the double smiting of the rock. The reason is to be found in the response to this renewed Vision and further Reassurance: "And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded them, so did they" (7:6). The words ring in a constant refrain from now onwards: "As the Lord commanded Moses"; the failure had at last found the secret of success.

In chapter two Moses found that it was inadequate if he went simply with personal resources to be a deliverer. In chapter five he found it inadequate to go even at the call of God to be a deliverer. But in chapter seven he had at length learned the lesson that victory and success attend the way of the man who is obedient. "As the Lord commanded, so did they." That was the key to the whole enterprise of the exodus.

(To be continued)
----------------

DEAD FLIES

Harry Foster

"Dead flies cause the ointment of the perfumer to send forth a stinking savour;
so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honour.
" (Ecclesiastes 10:1)


SOLOMON'S book of Ecclesiastes is full of worldly wisdom, always helpful and sometimes very penetrating. But we remember that its writer was a man who received special wisdom from God, so we must regard this verse not merely as a pungent comment on human life, but as an expression of a divine spiritual truth.

The picture is a simple one. The perfumer, or apothecary (A. V.), gathering together his precious oil and his various costly ingredients, weighing and measuring them and skilfully blending them together, is able to produce something delightfully refreshing and fragrant. In a moment of unwatchfulness, however, he allows one or two flies to kill themselves by getting mixed up in the confection. Being of a particularly unsavoury species, although they are quite small, these flies introduce a corrupting influence which takes away all the value of this attractive scent and makes the ointment to be so unpleasant as to be objectionable.

The moral comment is that any amount of wisdom and honour can be marred by a little foolishness. Indeed the more wisdom and honour there is, the more refined and costly the scent, the more damage is done by even a little folly. The spiritual commentary is this: there is an ointment being compounded by the great divine Apothecary; the whole Bible is filled with references to this fragrance and its meaning. In the early wilderness days, in the instructions concerning the Tabernacle, men were commanded by God to produce an anointing oil of unique fragrance, with a sweetness that none must try to imitate, which was to represent the ineffable fragrance of our Saviour. Right through the Bible this matter of sweet scent is brought before us as a reminder of the beauty of Christ's character. The very next book to Ecclesiastes is Solomon's Song of Songs, which speaks frequently of ointments, and opens with this testimony concerning the Lord: "Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance; Thy name is as ointment poured forth" (S. of S. 1:3). The sweet ointment which the Father has prepared is the beautiful character of His Son Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels we are told of the feast which was made for Jesus after the raising again of Lazarus from the dead, and concerning the costly ointment of spikenard which Mary there offered it is said that "the house was filled with the fragrance" (John 12:3). This was symbolic of Christ Himself, and in the epistles we find the [109/110] same thought transferred to His people, for the apostle was able to say: "We are a sweet savour of Christ unto God", who makes that fragrance known through us "in every place" (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). This is a beautiful thought and it should be a great encouragement to us, as we find ourselves in the hands of the great Perfumer. We are not expected to produce the fragrance by our own efforts; indeed according to the Old Testament any attempt at mere imitation will only result in death. It is vain to try to copy Christlikeness; we cannot produce it by any human effort. We are assured, though, that if we truly belong to Christ and follow Him, if salvation is a vital experience, then Christ is in us and the spiritual ointment is present. The sweetness and fragrance are received when Christ is received, and it is His scent and owes nothing to our natural effects. In all humility the apostle was able to declare that we are a sweet savour of Christ.

Alas! the most skilful perfumer with his most costly ingredients can find his work hindered and thwarted because of the presence of "dead flies". Flies have a way of seeming to come from nowhere; they are so quick that they are often present when least expected. It may seem that such small creatures cannot have much effect on a large preparation of ointment, but clearly they can, and in the spiritual realm it is certain that just a little element of corruption can spoil the fragrance, displacing it by what is unsavoury.

The margin informs us that the phrase "dead flies" is taken from the Hebrew "flies of death", and an interesting feature of the grammatical construction, so I am told, is that the verb is in the singular. It does not need a swarm of such flies to do the damage -- "it causes" the trouble. If there is only one, this is enough to produce the repulsive smell.

Here, then, is a practical lesson from one of the most practical of the Bible books. It is as though the Lord says: "I have committed to your life, as a believer, the most beautiful fragrance. There is no need for you to be yearning and planning, praying and studying, in an effort to produce it. It is not man-made at all. I have made it and I give it freely to you. Christ is in you and you are therefore a sweet savour of Christ to Me. Beware, then, of the 'flies of death', elements of corruption which can subtly spoil this gracious purpose of Mine in your lives."

Each of us may ask ourselves just what might be the dead flies which mar the fragrance of our testimony. Speaking generally, everything corrupt can be included under this head of "flies"; anything of sin, however small, can spoil the delicacy of our fellowship with God. In our world corruption flies around us all the time, but what we have to watch is the entry of this intrusion into the purity of our spiritual experience. What are the most common faults which threaten the fragrance of Christ in us? Can we single out a few of our most common dangers?

1. Self Importance

I suggest that we begin with the dead fly of self-importance. Just a little conceit on our part and the fragrance somehow disappears, though nobody knows just why this has happened. What should be so attractive becomes faintly distasteful and all because of the intrusion of self. We can easily explain away this fault, for self-importance can masquerade under pious descriptions of " my ministry" or "my responsibilities" or other expressions which act as a cloak to our pride and justify us in our attitude. It is not the name that matters, though, but the dead fly, and whatever pious name we give to self-importance it still makes the ointment of grace to have a bad smell.

Self-importance manifests itself in various and sometimes in apparently opposite ways. You can be determined to have prominence or you can be hurt because you are not taken notice of. I think of two men who were unexpectedly called to the throne of Israel. The first, Saul, began with an appearance of humility while the other, David, proved truly humble. In both cases they could not be found when they were first called. Saul was deliberately hiding, so that when he was brought forward to be acclaimed king he had about him an air of reluctance which subsequent history proved to be unreal. David, for his part, was simply caring for the sheep and was overlooked by his father in this matter of the selection of a king. But the Lord's eye was upon him and Samuel's enquiries eventually discovered him. He too had to be sought out, and what a difference there proved to be between him and Saul. David was not self-conscious at all. He neither came forward nor did he hide; he just gave himself to the humble work of a shepherd. Self-importance may be shown by seeking prominence or by hiding from it in order to attract more attention. David did neither. He just forgot [110/111] himself as he attended to his task of caring for his father's sheep. And what a fragrance there was about the life of David from those early days and right through to the end!

Every preacher knows what it is to long to convey something of the fragrance of Christ through his ministry, and most of us have had times when this has all been spoiled by some "fly of death", perhaps the strength of one's own personal opinion or the desire to be clever rather than gracious. The fault was a small one, hardly meriting the charge of being a fault, and it may be that there was no very bad odour of death on the occasion. But even the small flies can rob our ministry of its fragrance, when something of the man obscures what should have been of the Lord.

2. A Critical Spirit

Another "fly" which can rob life of its sweetness is the spirit of criticism. This can act as just a small element of corruption which robs the atmosphere of what should be delicate fragrance. I do not here refer to the need for discernment. It is important for us to be faithful in discernment of right and wrong, both in the realm of the family and in our personal relationships. The fellowship of church life calls for such faithfulness. This is right. So easily, however, a little unkindness or destructive criticism comes in, like a dead fly, and if it does no harm to the one concerned, it sours our own inner life.

I think again of Saul the king, and of how Samuel was forced to be very faithful in saying some hard things to him in the Lord's name. Having done this, though, the prophet went home and gave himself up to heart-broken prayer for the erring Saul. His behaviour shows us how it is possible to be faithful in discernment without the defiling influence of unkind criticism. Then there was another prophet, Jeremiah, who was commanded by God to speak to the people in the strongest terms, but whose prophecies are interspersed with references to his secret sorrows and prayers over them. I am afraid that few of us can measure up to his example of self-sacrificing frankness.

It frequently happens that what could have been a lovely atmosphere of fellowship in the fragrance of Christ can be spoiled by a little thoughtless criticism. So perverse are our hearts that, even in the midst of divine mercies, we tend to adopt a superior attitude to others, blaming them because they do not appear to have the favours which God is showing us. The Lord blesses us. We have the great privilege of helping in the work of the salvation of sinners. This provokes much praise to Him, but before we know what is happening, we look round and blame others for not having similar results. This is a dead fly, a little folly, but it chases away the fragrance which should always be present where grace abounds. The Lord wonderfully answers our prayers in providing for our needs, but if we are not careful we begin to look down on others whose experience is less sensational, as though there were some merit in us which produced the happy results. So quickly do the flies of criticism pollute what should be the delicate fragrance of pure praise to God. If it is true that the Lord finds a pleasant scent where brethren "dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1), then how sadly He is deprived of that delight when they despise or denigrate one another, as alas, they not infrequently do.

3. Impatience

We imagine that the fragrance of the holy ointment was meant to convey a hint of the lovely sweetness of the atmosphere of heaven. A main feature of that atmosphere is surely divine peace. Quiet serenity and delicate perfume go well together. Christ carried this about with Him wherever He went. We are told that He is the same now and always will be the same as He was when here upon earth (Hebrews 13:8) which means that even when He was here among the unsavoury conditions of the world He carried with Him the beautiful scent of a serene spirit. One "dead fly" of impatience would have spoiled that loveliness, but none was ever found in Him.

We regret that this is one of our common failings. We so soon lose patience with people, with ourselves and even with God. Only by a constant appropriation of that divine love which "suffers long and is kind" can we hope to be a sweet savour of Christ unto God. The whole point of this verse in Ecclesiastes seems to be that it is the apparently insignificant ingredient which nullifies the Perfumer's labours, in which connection it may be well to remember that we tend to be indulgent with ourselves over this matter of impatience, as though it were of little or no importance. Yet we agree that there are few more fragrant experiences than to encounter [111/112] a Christian who is graciously patient under trial. What is their secret? What was Christ's secret? Perhaps we get a hint of it in His simple statement: "My Father ... is greater than all" (John 10:29). The one who is governed by that conviction will never harbour the dead fly of impatience.

4. Unbelief

Perhaps unbelief includes all other faults. It certainly deprives God of enjoying the sweet scent of Christ in us. Like the fly it may seem very small, and it is certainly most elusive. It is as difficult to get hold of and deal with as any fly, but it must be dealt with if the fragrance of Christ is not to be driven from our lives. Unbelief keeps us from action or drives us into carnal action; it can keep us from praying or even urge us to handle affairs ourselves instead of waiting for God to answer our prayers. It can make us afraid to venture on the Lord or it can make us rush in and take things out of His hands. It is as unpredictable as a fly and -- like the flies of which Solomon wrote -- it robs a life of the fragrance of Christ which characterises the true believer.

It is interesting to note that Beelzebub means "prince of flies". Unquestionably it is he who labours night and day to move us from the ground of simple trustfulness to reactions of unbelief, and this is not surprising, for he is the sworn enemy of Christ and all that speaks of Him. The sad truth is that when we allow unbelief to settle in our hearts then the beautiful perfume of what Christ is gives place to the unwholesome evidence of our natural life. In this way God is robbed of the pleasure which He could and should have from us, for the fragrance is first of all for Him and then made available to others. How we need the Lord to help our unbelief!

It is interesting to observe the contrasts between this book of Ecclesiastes and the following Song of Songs which was written by the same man. In this connection, then, perhaps we should conclude by turning away from the ointment with a stinking savour to consider the fragrance of divine love as portrayed in the second book. Certainly our Saviour's name is as ointment poured forth. What a beautiful ointment the great Apothecary has compounded in the person of His beloved Son! Oh, the sweetness and preciousness of this gift of God to an unsavoury world! No trace of corruption ever lessened the sweetness of His holy life. His ointment has a goodly fragrance; it is unique and incapable of being imitated. In the Song of Songs, though, the Bridegroom is made to exclaim: "How much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all manner of spices!" (4:10) while the bride uses an almost New Testament illustration when she is made to say: "While the king sat at his table, my spikenard sent forth its fragrance" (1:12). Can this be possible in our case?

We can only repeat Paul's words: "We are a sweet savour of Christ unto God". None but the Redeemer Apothecary could ever make such a miraculous ointment as that. The very idea provides us with a new inspiration to be rid of the dead flies which can subtly spoil God's handiwork in us. All Christ's garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, "out of the ivory palaces" (Psalm 45:8). Let us so abide in Him that at least a trace of that fragrance may be on our garments too.

----------------

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS

Poul Madsen

8. THE FATHER OF THE FAITHFUL (Chapter 4:1-23)


PAUL has more than once asserted that the law and the prophets themselves preach justification by faith. Now he proves his assertion by pointing to the ancestor of the Jews, Abraham, who was revered by them all. What did he attain, what did he find?

With his inner ear Paul hears many protests against what he has already stated, namely, that no one who stands justified before God has anything to boast of, and imagines the retort: "But at any rate our father Abraham had something to boast of!" Yes, if he were justified by works [112/113] he really would have had cause for boasting. "You may think he was justified by works," Paul replied, "perhaps to you he stands as one who was justified by his works and so can boast, but that is not how he stands before God."

What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness." The quotation is from Genesis 15, where we are told what it was about God that Abraham believed. It was His seemingly "unbelievable" promise: "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to tell them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." When Abraham heard those words he believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it unto him for righteousness. Abraham did not come to the Lord with any effort or "work" from his side, but the Lord came to Abraham with His promise. Abraham believed the Lord and that the Lord reckoned this for righteousness is obviously an act of grace from God's side.

"Now to him that worketh (in contrast to Abraham), the reward is not reckoned as of grace (as it was to Abraham), but as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness." This statement that God justifies the ungodly, which is a shock to all self-righteousness, is not modified or softened, for it is a valid expression of the fact that the gospel is as high above our thoughts as the heaven is high above the earth. It is offensive and it corresponds to the offence of the cross. It does not leave any possibility of glory or praise, but glorifies the God who acts in this way. By this statement even Abraham himself is included among all other sinners who stand silenced before God.

Paul then brings forth another of Israel's great men, David, as a proof of this same truth: "Even as David also ...". The quotation is from Psalm 32 which presumably he wrote after his fall with Bathsheba. In spite of that great sin he was blessed, for he, the ungodly, was justified by faith. He had no good works to show, but only transgressions and sins. God, however, did not reckon these to him. On the contrary, He reckoned righteousness to him, David the sinner. The non-reckoning of sin and the reckoning of righteousness are two sides of the same thing: justification by faith. This staggers us, for when his sin is not reckoned to a sinner, then he is declared not guilty. His guilt has gone. He stands blameless and righteous before God. This is blessedness indeed.

BY pointing to Abraham and David, Paul has emphasised that there is no man who has any qualified righteousness before God. For him only one righteousness is valid: the righteousness of faith, namely, that God is just and the Justifier of him who has faith. By this sharp emphasis Paul has shown that not even the two greatest men in the history of Israel, the ancestor of the nation and the king after God's own heart, have any other righteousness before Him than that which they received by faith.

This is hard for the religious mind to accept. In the Jewish mind, circumcision and the law played the decisive part, as though it were by them that righteousness was attained. Already in 2:28-29 Paul has touched on circumcision, saying that it is not outward, in the flesh, but circumcision of the heart, in the spirit. Now we might expect him to say that circumcision has no significance at all, but he does not do so. What he does, though, is to point out that Abraham was reckoned righteous by God before he was circumcised, so that he did not attain to righteousness by circumcision but by the faith which he had when still uncircumcised. Circumcision was given him as a sign, a seal of the righteousness he already had. It must not be understood as an Old Testament sacrament by which God acted and gave him righteousness, but only as a sign or testimony of what God had already given him by faith.

It was, then, Abraham's faith which was the decisive factor. He possessed that when he stood before God in uncircumcision and received the promise that his seed would be as the stars of heaven. This promise must be much more far-reaching than appears at first sight, for it means that all who believe as he believed in God's promise, belong to his seed, irrespective of whether they are circumcised or not. By his faith he gathered all those who believe; the fact that he was later circumcised and that his natural descendants were also, does not exclude the uncircumcised so long as they have the same faith. They all have the same father in the faith, Abraham: "that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might be reckoned unto them; and the father of circumcision to [113/114] them who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith ..."

"For not through the law was the promise to Abraham ... that he should be heir of the world" (v.13). The promise to Abraham that his seed should be as numerous as the stars also contained the promise that he should be heir of the world. Paul asserts this without giving any reason. He sees the world government of Christ as the real content of the promise; in that government of Christ both Abraham and everybody else who is justified by faith has a share. For the religious mind, though, this raises the question: "Can so great a promise really be received on the simple basis of faith? Must we not show ourselves worthy of it?" Paul's answer is clear and unambiguous. It is an integral part of the idea of "promise", that it is a favour and an act of grace on God's part. A promise can only be received by faith. If it were coupled with conditions -- "if you keep My commandments, then you will be heir of the world" -- then it would no longer be a promise. Nor would it any longer be a matter of grace.

Promise, faith and grace belong inseparably together. You cannot take the promise away without faith and grace also disappearing. Over against these stand law, works (that is, transgressions) and wrath. These also belong inseparably together. The two sets of three cannot be reconciled with each other: they are absolute opposites. Either you have the promise with faith and grace, or you have the law with transgressions and wrath. The one excludes the other. If you come with the law, you exclude the promise, and so meet not grace but wrath, for under the law faith is made void and the promise is made of no effect. If a father promises his child all he owns, but later comes and tells his child that he will only receive the gift if he proves obedient in everything, then he will have reneged his promise. God does not act like that. Those who think that He does show a lamentable lack of knowledge of Him. He did not treat our father in the faith, Abraham, in this way and He will not so deal with us.

THE apostle has already stated that "through the law cometh the knowledge of sin" (3:20) and now he says: "for the law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression". These are radical words. Even where the law is not known there is indeed sin, and the wrath of God is indeed revealed against all sin and ungodliness (1:18f.), but sin only appears as transgression where there is law. Far from holding back the wrath of God, the law provokes it. For the law is the power of sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). It is therefore out of the question that the law should be able to help any of us to inherit the world with Abraham. This can only be "according to grace" (v.16) which makes the promise "sure", a promise which cannot be shaken nor weakened and which has no secret condition.

God's promise that Abraham and his seed shall inherit the world is valid and made sure for all who have the faith of Abraham and are therefore described as his "seed". When we read the description of Abraham's faith we must not think that Paul is trying to exalt him as having a mightier faith than ours, but rather that this is written to encourage us, for what is said is a description of the nature and character of all true faith, wherever it is found. The faith of Abraham is your faith and mine. Later we shall be told that "faith cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (10:17). This was true in Abraham's case. God spoke to him. He believed what God said. His faith sprang from God's promise and embraced what God had engaged to do. So his was not a general faith in the existence of God but faith in the One who had so revealed Himself by speech. Neither was it a general faith in the impossible or unlikely, but in what God had definitely promised. It was not fanaticism, for this "unbelievable" which he believed was not a matter of his own choice but of divine revelation.

FAITH is therefore characterised by welcoming God's promise and holding it fast, even though it may seem unbelievable. All human calculations and experiences contradicted what God promised to Abraham. Faith had nothing to build upon nor be strengthened by, but then faith does not need human support for it is centred in the One who "quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were". Paul knows of no other faith than this kind of faith in God; it is not general but quite specific. This description of the God of resurrection dispenses with all merely pious ideas about God, making it plain that He is present and active here and now. He quickens (present tense) the dead, and calls (present tense) the things that are not, as though they were. [114/115] Abraham knew that his powers were dead and so was Sarah's womb, but he believed that this represented no problem to the God who had spoken to him and given him the promise.

Paul is really saying that God does not act where there is a human possibility of accomplishing a given objective, but becomes active when all such possibility has ceased to be. Humanly speaking there are no grounds for hope, since the promise is impossible to man, but in truth this is where hope begins for the man of faith who is looking away to the God of the impossible. When, therefore, it is said of Abraham that "he in hope believed against hope" there is no suggestion that the man produced an extraordinary quality of faith, but rather that this describes how faith always works. It is always in hope against hope; it never has anything more than God's promise to build upon. He who believes has "only God"! That is just where faith begins.

If faith had rested on human possibilities, it would have been weakened by existing circumstances. But just because faith never rests on the human possibilities it is not weakened, but rather strengthened, when the situation seems hopeless. Not that it ignores the hopelessness of the circumstances or tries to pretend that they are other than they are. It does not bury its head in the sand in order to avoid seeing how impossible everything looks. It is not unrealistic, but it concentrates on another more reliable reality, the promise of God. By this means it finds its strength in God Himself who is the greatest reality of all. "Yea, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong in faith, giving glory to God ...". Concerning sinners it says that "knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful" (1:21), but concerning Abraham we read that by his faith he gave glory to God. All that sin had robbed from God, Abraham rendered to Him by faith. Thus faith is the only "work" by which we can give God what is His rightful due.

ABRAHAM was fully convinced that "what God had promised, He was able also to perform". God's promise embraced the sheer impossibility of an old man with dead powers and an old woman with her dead womb ever becoming ancestors of a race as numerous as the stars of heaven. Faith, however, is never occupied with human impossibilities but only with the power of God. Faith, which comes through the Word of God, can only find its home in the promises of God; everything else is foreign to it.

It is affirmed of God that He "justifies the ungodly" (v.5) and that He "quickens the dead" (v.17). These two statements clearly apply to our justification. In this way Paul emphasises that it is the ungodly and those who are dead in sin whom God sets out to justify by faith. Just as no one else than God can raise the dead, so only He can justify sinners. The chapter concludes with the final proof that He can do this by stating that the Saviour who was delivered for our transgressions has been raised again because of our justification. The God who showed His righteousness when He set forth His Son to be a propitiation by His blood on the cross, attested by the resurrection that the sacrifice was accepted and was sufficient. The death of the cross and the resurrection belong inseparably together. Without the resurrection, the death of Christ on the cross would not have any justifying significance and our faith would be futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). But the Christ who died for our sins did rise again, so demonstrating the efficacy of that death. It is on this note that Paul concludes his presentation of how a sinner is justified by faith.

(To be continued)
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"IN THE LIKENESS OF HIS RESURRECTION"

T. Austin-Sparks


IT is important that we should recognise what a great scope and tremendous emphasis the subject of resurrection has in the Word of God. As a principle it is patent or latent, according to the measure of our discernment, from the beginning to the end of the divine revelation of Scripture. Since the fall, all things which are of God have their new beginning and vital value in and by the representative and inclusive resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. [115/116]

Note how much is wrapped up with the divine attestation of Sonship at the resurrection. Not at His birth nor at His death, not at Bethlehem nor at Calvary, was such a specific attestation made, but it was reserved for resurrection. "Declared to be (marked out as) the Son of God with (in) power ... by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). Psalm 2 prefigures the counsel of malignity against the Lord's Anointed. This counsel is put into action to its utmost limit; He is slain. The ultimate issue is the heritage of the nations; the immediate issue in resurrection is a decree (v.7) "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." He is the representative "first born from the dead" of a specific and peculiar kind of sonship.

To this very passage the company of believers in the presence of a further counsel of malignity made their appeal (Acts 4:25) and received at once a further divine acknowledgment; the place was shaken, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and there were other triumphant issues. Similarly an effectual testimony was borne at Antioch of Pisidia with this very passage at the centre of the message (Acts 13:33), clearly relating the divine pronouncement to the resurrection. Then again, this particular transcendence of Christ's Sonship above angels and all else has this very passage quoted as its basis in Hebrews 1:5. This is related to the inclusive dominion in the universe of the race in Christ, and also to the dethronement of "the lord of death" (Hebrews 2:5-15).

This signifies where the finger of God makes its emphatic seal, and how God is jealous for a testimony to the resurrection of Christ. So we are able to draw attention to a very vital principle in Christian experience as coming out of the divine truth. Have you ever noticed that even that which has its origin in God, which comes forth from God, which is brought about by a supernatural act of God, has to pass into death in order that by resurrection it may have its supreme divine seal and attestation?

THE Old Testament is full of types of this truth. Reflect upon Isaac alone. He was brought into this world by a miracle. There was no natural ground upon which to account for him (see Romans 4:19). Yet he must die and (as it is said of Abraham's body) he was "as good as dead" when the knife was lifted; but for all time, resurrection is the point of divine emphasis in this story, especially in the vindication of Abraham's faith. Isaac was a type of Christ and, as we have said, although Christ was a miracle in His birth and truly the Son of God incarnate, yet the death prepares the way for a superlative testimony from heaven.

Without tracing this principle, so far as the Word is concerned let us note its application in experience as to ourselves. We are born of God, and are sons in the Son by right of our birth from above; but how true it is that the course of our spiritual life seems to consist of deeper and ever deeper baptisms in death -- His death -- in order that more and more of the power of His resurrection may be known by us and manifested in us. There seem to be cycles or tides of death and life, and while each cycle or tide appears to compass our end more completely or to leave us at a lower ebb than ever, there comes with ever-increasing fullness an uprising of spiritual life and knowledge and power. Thus while death destroys "the old man", we live increasingly by that life, "the new man", which is not human but divine, and upon which -- and upon which alone -- the seal of God rests. This is a deliberate course which God takes with us.

SEE it further in service and work. Is it not true that most, if not all, of the pieces of work raised up by God to fulfil some ministry in His eternal purpose have firstly had every evidence of being God-born, but later have gone down into a time of deep and awful death, seeming disintegration, break-up, loss, until it seemed that nothing would remain? Sometimes this has been by persecution or massacre; sometimes by a series of what we humanly call catastrophies, tragedies, misfortunes. Sometimes the causes are not apparent; they are inside, like some evil thing sapping the very vitals. Sometimes, again, it is an inexplicable arrest and pressure, a paralysis and a deadlock, and it is difficult to know whether it is from within or from without. All we know is that death reigns, or appears so to do. Place this rule alongside of some of the great missions for work abroad or at home, and see how it applies. What is true in the greater is also true in the smaller -- a local fellowship, a Sunday-school class, or some other piece of work. Provided always that the initiation of the work was of Him, that we were put into it by Him and that it has been kept on such lines as are consistent with His mind and purpose, such an experience of death is not an argument that the Lord is not in it, but may be regarded [116/117] as evidence of His concern to put the work ever more fully where His highest attestation can be given.

The principle holds good in the matter of received truth. The Lord may reveal to us truth which is of great importance and which is intended to be tremendously fruitful in life and ministry. It comes with the power of a revelation, and for a while we rejoice in its light, talk about nothing else, and find that it works. Then something happens. Whatever that may be, the result is that we go down into death with and because of that truth. For the time it seems to have lost its potency, and all hope that we shall be saved is abandoned. We wonder if we shall ever be able honestly to believe that truth again, let alone preach it. But at length, by a touch of life which leaves us as those who dream (Psalm 126:1) and in spite of all our past fears, that very truth now becomes our chief emphasis, but now with a solemnity and reality not known before. Moreover the Lord is making its ministry a power to others which is quite new and previously unknown. So in all this He seems to get more for Himself by resurrection than he did by birth. This may seem largely a mystery, but it is evident and true to experience.

THERE are other directions in which this applies, one of which we might mention. It is that of relationships. How frequently have we come up against this perplexing experience. Between those related -- sometimes in the deepest bonds -- for some reason, often quite without any natural ground, there has come the severest strain. It appears that the old ground of fellowship is entirely breaking down and being lost. It may be by reason of some spiritual crisis in the life of one of those affected, some call to service or to go a little further with the Lord, or some test of faith or loyalty to God. Whatever may be the cause, seen or unseen, such an experience is not uncommon. The first issue is an end of the kind or level of fellowship that has been. It would sometimes appear that the whole thing has broken down and gone for ever. At such a time serious questionings arise as to the apparent antagonism between a conceived idea of what God requires and what looks manifestly to be plain duty to others. This is a bitter and harrowing time to the soul-life. The ultimate issue -- if there has been a definite willingness to suffer the loss of all for His sake and a holding on to God, though blindly and with much weakness -- is that the whole thing is brought back again, but yet not the same. "That which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be" (1 Corinthians 15:37); it is the same, yet different. It is on a higher plane; a purer, holier, stronger, deeper thing, and capable of much greater spiritual fruitfulness. In a word, in the grave it has shed much of the human, and in the resurrection it has become more divine. The elements which are temporal and natural have been supplanted by more of the spiritual and eternal.

HAVING given this space to stating and illustrating a fact and an abiding law, we must now say something about the nature of resurrection. What is resurrection? It is the power of ascendency over death. What is the central factor in resurrection? It is a life which cannot know death, a life which is indestructible. Such is the nature of the resurrection to which we are giving our attention. There is a resurrection which is but the re-animation of the body for a time or for judgment. That is not our subject. We are speaking of the resurrection of Christ and our incorporation thereinto.

By our new birth from above we become partakers of the life of God. That which the Scripture calls "eternal life" is the unique possession of the born-again; no man has it by nature. The whole course of true spiritual experience is for the increase and development of that life, and this particularly takes place, as we have seen, through crises and cycles of death and resurrection. What is the Lord's supreme aim with His children? It is undoubtedly to get them to live by His life only. To this end He will more and more take away their own life.

As the time of the Church's translation becomes more imminent, this truth will have an increasing emphasis, so that to live victoriously at all, or to work effectively, there will need to be a greater drawing upon the Lord for His life. When the saints are translated that they shall not see death, and when that great shout of victory over death and the grave goes up (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) it will not be by some outside, external operation of divine power alone, but it will be the triumph of the resurrection life of Christ within the Body of Christ, expressing itself in that final glorious consummation of a process of ascendency which has been going on since the time when that life was received at new birth by faith in the risen Lord. This is a most important truth to recognise, for it explains [117/118] everything. Why must we know weakness, impotence, worthlessness, nothingness, on the side of our natural life? Emphatically, that His strength may be "made perfect (or be perfected) in weakness". And what is His strength? "The exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:19-20). It is resurrection might and life. The more spiritual a believer becomes, the more he will realise his dependence upon the life of God for all things. This will be true physically as in every other way.

THE central truth of a "divine healing" which is in truth of God and to spiritual purpose is described in Romans 8:11. It is an energising of the mortal body with resurrection life. This does not of necessity, inevitably or invariably carry with it complete physical healing, but it does mean such a quickening as to make for a transcendence of the weakness or infirmity which prevents a fulfilment of the will of God in life or service. It means an accession of divine life in our spirit so that we are enabled to do much more than is humanly or naturally possible. This life cannot be taken hold of and used by the flesh. Immediately there is a dropping down on to a natural level by one who has been led into a life of faith, there will be a recrudescence of death. An atmosphere charged with the life of God is always a place of renewal, refreshing and strengthening to him that is spiritual.

If Enoch was a type of the believers who will be translated that they shall not see death, then we must remember that it was "by faith" that Enoch was translated. What is the nature of this faith? It is the faith which depends upon divine life for all things, and is therefore an abiding witness and testimony to the resurrection of Christ. Hence, as the Lord's coming draws near, we shall be forced to live exclusively by His life -- "the life whereby Jesus conquered death". This is the life which has brought triumph to God's people through the ages. A close study of the Old Testament will reveal that it was faith in resurrection life which brought the divine vindication. "That they might obtain a better resurrection" was the motive which made them victorious in death and therefore over the authority of death. The ascendency of spirit so markedly characteristic of New Testament believers is to be accounted for on the ground of a life within their spirit which could not see death, the life of Him who "dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him", for "it was impossible that he should be holden of death",

NOW it is important to remember that death is not only a law or a principle. It is that; but the Scriptures constantly make clear that behind the thing there is a person. Back of death is he "that had the power of death, that is, the devil". Conybeare translates that: "the lord of death". The great battle which took place at the exodus of Israel from Egypt was really a battle between Jehovah and "all the gods of Egypt" (Exodus 12:12), which gods were but the spiritual hierarchy of him who had ever made it his aim to be "like the Most High", and had assumed the role of "the god of this world". A right understanding of that story would make very clear that it was a conflict between the Lord of life and the lord of death, and that the Hebrews were only translated out of the kingdom of darkness and the authority of death because a lamb had shed its blood, and through death had figuratively destroyed him that had the power of death.

This was fulfilled at Calvary, for on the cross Christ drew on Himself the whole hierarchy of evil, and went down under it to the bottommost reach of its domain, and then, by reason of the life which could not be holden of death, He stripped off principalities and powers, broke through, and rose their Conqueror. It was in resurrection far above all rule and authority that He became the Firstborn from the dead -- the first and inclusive One of all who should be identified with Him. So far as we are concerned, the power of Satan can only be so destroyed as we, through death, know Christ in the power of His resurrection, receiving His risen life more and more.

In conclusion, let us point out that after His resurrection our Lord was, because of the peculiar nature of His resurrection state, no longer subject to natural limitations. Time and space now had no control of Him. This principle abides, and it applies now. When there is a living in the values and energy of resurrection life we are children of eternity and of the universe. Prayer touches the ends of the earth, and the significance of our being and doing is of universal and eternal dimensions: there are no limitations. [118/119] So then, beloved of God, the natural life is no longer a criterion; whether it be strong or weak matters not. Its strength does not mean effectiveness in spiritual things, whether that strength be intellectual, moral, social or physical. Its weakness does not carry a handicap. We are called to live and serve only in His life, which is the only efficient and sure one. What is true of the Head must be true of the members. What is true of the Vine must be true of the branches. What is true of the last Adam must be true of every member of His race. "Planted together in the likeness of his resurrection" said the apostle (Romans 6:5), and he prayed that it might be more and more experimental -- "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10). That should be the prayer of every true Spirit-led servant of Christ.

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GOD'S SECRET TRANQUILLISER

[William MacDonald]


PSALM 4 will always hold a special place in my heart because of the way it spoke to me at a time of personal fear and anxiety. During the Second World War, I was sent on a special assignment with orders requiring air travel. Early during the evening of the flight, I visited the air terminal to check on the travel arrangements.

The plane assigned to the trip was one of the oldest in the squadron; it was laughingly referred to as an orange crate held together by bailing wire! When I saw the pilot's name I was further disheartened -- he was one of the most inexperienced we had! That left only one other item -- the weather. So I went to the Base Weather Office and asked about the weather along the route. "Do you really want to know?" they asked. "Yes, I think so," I said with some hesitation. "Well, it's corruption all the way!" To me that was a new use of the word 'corruption', and I wasn't sure I liked it!

They suggested I go back to my room, promising to send a car for me at flight time. The thought passed through my mind, "You might just as well send a hearse." That's the way I felt!

Back in my room I feared that the end of all things was at hand. For some time I wallowed in self-pity. Then I thought to myself, "This is ridiculous; why should you, a believer, succumb to fear and depression?" Then the following dialogue went on inside me:

"What have Christians always done when they've been in tight places?"

"Turned to the Word of God, I guess. But where would I turn?"

"Where have Christians usually turned in the Word when the going was rough?"

"To the Book of Psalms, I guess. But where would I turn in the Book of Psalms?"

"Well, if you don't know, why don't you begin at the beginning?"


So I did. I began with Psalm 1. But I didn't find any comfort there. I went on to Psalm 2. Nothing there helped my gloom either. I read Psalm 3. Again no verse seemed especially relevant. As I began Psalm 4, I despaired of finding anything either. But then I came to verse 8. It stood out like a neon sign:

"In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

for Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety."


My whole being relaxed instantly. I realised in a flash that
it was not the plane,
it was not the pilot,
it was not the weather,
but it was the Lord! "Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety!"

When flight time came I had to be aroused from a deep slumber (and that was not like me!). On board the plane I put my head back and slept through a furious storm -- lightning and thunder and gale winds -- (and that was not like me either!). A gnarled, weatherbeaten Chief Petty Officer sitting next to me was disgusted that I should have slept through such turbulence. He said it was the worst storm he had ever experienced. My peace was not my own doing, of course, It was the Lord: And the secret tranquilliser He gave me was Psalm 4:8.

(From 'Enjoying The Psalms' by William MacDonald.
Walterick Publishers, Kansas City, U.S.A.
) [119/120]
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"THROUGH THE YEAR WITH WATCHMAN NEE"


A book of Daily Readings to follow the previous "TABLE IN THE WILDERNESS". Entirely new extracts from Watchman Nee's writings. Published by Victory Press and available at all British Christian Bookshops. Prices: Paperback 1.25; Hardback 2.95

This will later be published in the United States by the Tyndale House Publishers under the title "THE JOYFUL HEART".

----------------

"DAILY THOUGHTS ON BIBLE CHARACTERS"

A fourth edition of this book by the editor has now been issued by Victory Press.
Paperback 95p
----------------

Write for catalogue of books by the late T. Austin-Sparks to:

TESTIMONY BOOK MINISTRY
Box 34241 W. Bethesda Br.
Washington D.C. 20034 U.S.A.
----------------

TOWARD THE MARK Volume 6 (1977) Price 80p ($2.30)
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----------------

[Inside back cover]

INSPIRED PARENTHESES (10)

"(Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time
in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
)" (Acts 17:21)


IT might have seemed to Paul that at last he had an ideal audience. Here were people who had a worldwide reputation for welcoming the latest news. He seemed to have just what they wanted, for the gospel, which is good news, was to them startlingly new. He did not have to press himself upon them: on the contrary, it was they who brought him along to their Areopagus and specifically requested him to explain this new teaching to them. If ever a preacher could have felt encouraged to deliver his message, Paul must have been that man. It was an honour to have such distinguished listeners, and it was an unparalleled opportunity too, for they were seemingly wide open to pay attention to this new Christian message.

Opinions vary as to the use which Paul made of his opportunity. Some think that he tried to be too clever, and that his subsequent determination to concentrate solely on "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2) was virtually an admission of his failure to keep the cross in view when he spoke to the Areopagites in Athens. Others, however, argue just the opposite, commending Paul's sermon as a supremely able presentation of the gospel message. In either case no one can charge Paul with a lack of boldness, since his final peroration pressed home the issue of the judgment to come.

WHY, then, did the gospel make so little impression in Athens? Why was it that only a few converts are mentioned and no news is given as to the founding of a church there? The bulk of the listeners who had been apparently so interested either mocked or procrastinated. We wonder why this was so. Perhaps Luke inserts this parenthesis as a possible explanation. It reveals that it was novelty that Paul's hearers wanted, not changed lives; they enjoyed discussion but they recoiled from the call to repentance. If this was the writer's purpose, then he does not call our attention to a missed opportunity but simply explains the poor response. Just because the Athenians and their visitors only wanted novelty they were not good ground for the gospel seed.

The truth emerges that with all their apparent intellectuality, their whole approach was superficial. They enjoyed telling new things as well as listening to them. The word employed by Luke is in the comparative degree, "newer things", that is, the latest! Each wanted to surpass the other in adopting the craze of the moment, and in this they had something in common with many religious people today.

MOST of us have had the same experience as Paul had at Athens. We have been encouraged in our witness by people who appeared to be very interested, who listened well and asked many questions; and then have been disappointed to discover that whether they agreed with what we said or not, they had no intention of repenting and believing the gospel. For them it was a matter of ideas and words and not of serious action.

What do we do under such circumstances? Paul's example suggests that however we approach it, the real issue is sin, righteousness and judgment. Jesus Himself said that the Holy Spirit deals with men in this same way. Some will doubtless mock, as the Athenians did. Others, like them, will insincerely postpone any decision. Some, however, will surely respond to the message and believe, as did Dionysius and others. Those who do will discover that in this old world. of ours there is really only one new thing, and that is the new creation in Christ Jesus.

----------------

[Back cover]

"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
Psalm 126:5
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