|Vol. 6, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1977
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURE?
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
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.
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
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 cause the ointment of the perfumer to send forth a stinking
so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honour." (Ecclesiastes
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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)
"IN THE LIKENESS OF HIS RESURRECTION"
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"
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
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.
GOD'S SECRET TRANQUILLISER
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
"To the Book of Psalms, I guess. But where would I turn in the Book of
"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]
"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
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)
39 Honor Oak Road, LONDON, SE23 3SH, ENGLAND [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (10)
"(Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their
in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.)"
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.
"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
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