|Vol. 9, No. 3, May - June 1980
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE CROSS AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH
"Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:18
THERE are two outstanding features of this earnest appeal. One is the
close association which Peter claims with the apostle Paul (v.15). The other
is that these are the final words of the faithful under-shepherd to the flock
of God. They concentrate on the matter of growth. Such growth represents
the best safeguard against their falling from their secure position. It also
is the surest way in which, in their case, glory would be brought to their
Lord "both now and for ever". This, then, is a most important message for
us all. We are to grow in the knowledge of Christ and we are to do so by growing
Years ago I visited a school and was introduced to a teacher who explained
to me his method of encouraging his pupils. Around the classroom walls there
were displayed personal details of each child, complete with a small photograph.
The actual records on the sheets consisted of stars which were affixed from
time to time and which, of course, varied in number. Each week some of these
stars were distributed to different scholars, and this was done exclusively
on the basis of growth. If a pupil passed from reading five-letter words
to those of six letters, he got a star, even though there was no star for
those who could already manage eight-letter words. If one correctly repeated
the 'seven-times table' for the first time, she got a star, whereas the one
who already knew the 'nine-times table' got nothing. In these and other subjects,
the one condition for the coveted star was to have made some improvement
on the past. So the dullest scholar of all had as much chance as the brightest
-- perhaps more. Stars were not so much for attainment as for growth.
In the spiritual School of Christ progress is just as important as attainment.
None of us must be smug about our present spiritual stature, but we must
be concerned about growing. To grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus means
much more than to increase in head knowledge about Him; it involves the process
of daily becoming more like Him in character. And it is only possible on
the basis of grace. The Lord Jesus reminded us that we cannot grow just by
thinking about it or by any efforts of our own. Growth comes by life. For
us life is wholly a matter of grace. So it is that Peter puts grace first.
We must grow in grace if we are really to grow in likeness to the Lord.
NOW the essence of grace is that it allows no place for self. Self-sufficiency
of any kind has to be totally abandoned before we can enjoy the free gift
of God's grace. As Paul once wrote: "If it is by grace, then it is no longer
by works; otherwise grace is no more grace" (Romans 11:6). And it was Paul
who was able to help Peter in this matter at a most critical time of his
spiritual life. We read the story in Galatians 2:11-21. How could the aged
Peter ever think of his beloved brother Paul without remembering that incident
when Paul was able to lead him and Barnabas back from the ground of the flesh
to that of grace with the outstanding definition of what grace has done in
changing the basis of life from the old 'I' to the new 'Christ in me'? "I
have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ
liveth in me". And it all emerged from a traumatic confrontation between the
two men. "I resisted him to the face", Paul says, "because he stood condemned"
We may be shocked at the very idea of a quarrel between the two great
apostles. When he wrote the Acts, Luke did not care to mention it. The Holy
Spirit, however, inspired Paul to give the Galatians and us this disclosure,
and we may feel certain that Peter would be in full accord with the story
being told, for it can be a great help in pointing out the way of spiritual
growth by grace alone. We know that growth comes by attention to God's Word
(1 Peter 2:2). We know also that it comes by a constant drawing near to the
Lord in prayer (1 Peter 2:4-5). It certainly comes by obedience (1 Peter
1:22). Basically, [41/42] though, it comes through
the cross. For this reason God is able to use our humiliating experiences
to foster our spiritual growth. I believe that this is what happened to Peter
at Antioch. After all, it was he who wrote: "Humble yourselves therefore
under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter
5:6). If our growth is not growth in humility, then I doubt if it is growth
THERE can be no doubt that at Antioch he had to be resisted, for he was
quite wrong. The plain fact was that he was beginning to treat fellow-believers
as second class Christians just because they lacked the outward distinction
of being circumcised. We marvel that Peter who was chief of the first missionaries
commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature
(Matthew 28:19) and the very man who opened the gospel door to the Gentiles
at Caesarea (Acts 11:17) could so behave. Before we begin to condemn him,
though, let us ask ourselves if we have not at times acted as inconsistently
as he did. And let us make an effort to discover the underlying cause of
this spiritual lapse.
It is not hard to seek. The motive behind his actions was fear, "fearing
them that were of the circumcision" (v.12). For that moment Peter had moved
off the ground of the new man on to the ground of the old. The simple fact
is that every Christian has two natures -- his old man, which is at enmity
to the will of God, and his new nature in Christ which is wholly pleasing
to God. So far as redemption is concerned, our old man has been crucified
with Christ, and our Christian life begins when we are made a new man in
Christ's resurrection life, but in actual experience this is a matter which
needs to be applied and developed. We are to "reckon ourselves to be dead
unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11). To grow in grace,
then, means daily to have less and less of self, and to grow in the knowledge
of the Lord is to have one's daily life more and more dominated by the indwelling
To return to Peter. One of his natural characteristics was cowardice.
We remember that at the time of the crucifixion he had been so overcome by
fear that he had three times denied his Lord. He could not help this if
he was fearful by nature. Each one of us has differing characteristics in
our make-up, and Peter seems to have been constitutionally a fearful man.
Of course he shouted loudly at times; fearful people often do. He waved his
sword about and talked aggressively, but this could easily have been a manifestation
of the basic fearfulness of the man. Now we can rightly argue that after
Pentecost Peter was a changed man, and even became notable for his boldness.
That is true, and is a beautiful example of Paul's words, "No longer I, but
Christ ... in me". It is important to realise, though, that while there was
a new Peter, there was always the possibility of his reverting to his old
self if he took his eyes off the Lord.
Peter's Pentecostal boldness did not mean that his 'old man' had been
changed. It is so corrupt that it cannot be changed; that is why it had to
be crucified. No, it just meant that he was experiencing the power of the
cross to deliver him from himself. He went on in the good of this experience,
but the essential type, with its physical and psychological characteristics,
not only persisted but was ready at a moment's notice to reassert itself
if Peter moved off the ground of grace. Perhaps we do not realise how quickly
we can pass from the realm of the Spirit to the realm of the flesh if we fail
to keep "looking unto Jesus". The new life which we live is, according to
Galatians 2:20, a life which we live in the flesh by faith in the Son of
God. We will find, as Peter seems to have found, that our crucified old man
can always come to the fore if we take our eyes off the Lord.
Paul rebuked Peter but he recognised his own absolute dependance on grace.
"For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a
transgressor" (v.18). Peter might have tried to justify his actions with
pious phrases, but the stark truth was that he was afraid. And fear belonged
not to the new man in Christ but to the old man who had not yet accepted the
verdict of the cross on him. Perhaps he argued, 'Well, I feel ...' or 'I
prefer' or 'I think', but the divine answer to all such arguments would be
that by the cross such an 'I' had been set aside. "It is no longer I ...".
I imagine that when Paul spoke the words, Peter's heart responded and most
especially when he was reminded that the loving Lord Jesus had given Himself
up so that this could be possible, he hurried back to take his place beneath
the cross of Jesus. If so, then that was a moment when he certainly grew
in grace. The cross is God's provision of grace by [42/43]
which we know a moment by moment experience of deliverance from self.
WE ask, what about Barnabas? Our proposition is confirmed by the fact
that in his case there is no mention of fear but rather that he was "carried
away ..." (v.13). Barnabas was a bold man by nature so fear did not bother
him. He was a very likeable and conciliatory type. Perhaps it is reasonable
to suggest that it was this very kindly nature of his which caused him to
share in the breakdown at Antioch. The 'old man' in Barnabas may have been
a nice, friendly character, but that does not alter the Scriptural verdict
that "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). And let
no man tell me that by being born again I can never now be "in the flesh",
for I know that I can. It is not for us to discriminate between those who
have a nasty 'old man' and those who have a nice one, since we are told that
in all of us the old man "waxeth corrupt" and must be put away (Ephesians
4:22). So if friendly Barnabas argues, 'I feel ...' or 'I think ...', the
same divine reply will come to him as to Peter: "It is no longer I ...".
I feel sure that he did not do so. Paul's great words about the effectiveness
of the cross to rule us out and bring in Christ would have been as welcome
to him as to Peter, and as it surely is to you and me. Do we not gladly repeat
the words of John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John
3:30)? John spoke of outward things, for he was an Old Testament man, but
in the New Testament such an experience must also be inward. It is in me,
in my life and character, that I want Christ to increase, so it must also
be true in my case that I must decrease.
The following words were written by the late Dr. F. B. Meyer: 'I used
to think that God's gifts were on shelves, one above the other, and that
the taller we grew in Christian character, the easier we should reach them.
I find now that God's gifts are on shelves, one beneath the other, and that
it is not a question of growing taller, but of stooping lower, and that we
have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts'. This is another way
of reminding us that we only grow in the knowledge of Christ as we first
grow in grace. And grace means a constantly new discovery of my own need to
DOES this seem negative? Well, Paul's words only present that aspect
in order to clear the way for the other side, which is gloriously positive:
"nevertheless I live ... Christ liveth in me". This is true of every Christian.
It is not an ideal to which we are expected to aspire, but it is the very
basis of our acceptance with God. This is what grace has done. It has put
away the old man and brought in the new. As soon as Peter and Barnabas faced
up to this issue, they were delivered from themselves and the harmony of Christ
and His gospel was restored to the church at Antioch. It had been a painful
episode, and yet by it Peter had grown. He had accepted the reproof, returned
to the cross and moved even closer to the Son of God who loved him and gave
Himself up for him. He had humbled himself under the mighty hand of God.
That is the essence of spiritual growth. Listen to him later at Jerusalem:
"But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,
in like manner as they" (Acts 15:11).
It may sound rather theological or clinical to talk about the two natures
which will characterise us until we get our sin-free resurrection bodies,
but it is a fact which we do well to face. When John wrote: "Whosoever is
born of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him; and he cannot
sin because he is begotten of God" (1 John 3:9), he was referring to this
incorruptible new life which is ours in Christ -- the life which I now live
in the flesh -- which is sinless because it is Christ in me. This is the birthright
of every believer who is born of God. At the same time we realise that there
is the other side of our beings which Paul describes as "the law of sin which
is in my members" (Romans 7:23). It may well be that only as he began to
make progress in the Christian life did the apostle become aware of this
innate sinfulness which is in our old nature. It was late in life that he
was constrained to admit that he was the chief of sinners. When he said that
he was not fit to be called an apostle, though, he was able to add: "But
by the grace of God I am what I am ... I laboured more abundantly than they
all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
The double growth was taking place. He increasingly realised his need of
grace and at the very same time became increasingly like his Lord.
The cross not only works for us; it is meant to work in us. There is
something in me which cannot be changed; it can only be crucified. As a
believer, however, there is also in me that holy nature of Christ which
will grow in proportion as my heart is occupied with Him. There is an ugliness
of self which I often deplore. It drives me to the cross for a new experience
of the liberating power of God's grace. As this happens, I grow in grace.
Thank God that I do not have to be preoccupied with myself. There is a beauty
in the Lord Jesus which thrills me with wonder and praise. God's Word tells
me that this same Jesus lives in my heart, by faith, and He does so in order
to make known His beauty to others through me.
HOLINESS is not a spiritual luxury. It is a part of the gospel. And it
is the divinely chosen way by which God plans to reveal Christ to the men
and women around us. When Ezekiel wrote of the new covenant by which the
heart of stone was to give place to a heart of flesh and God's redeemed people
were to be indwelt by His Holy Spirit, he added: " And the nations shall
know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in
you before their eyes" (Ezekiel 36:23). This means that the supreme testimony
of the gospel to non-Christians depends upon the growth in the grace and
the knowledge of the Lord Jesus on the part of those who are saved by His
He loved me and He gave Himself up for me with this end in view, namely
that one day I may be truly like Him. As I move towards that day I can know
a constant increase of His life in me. But I must be willing to decrease.
I must grow in grace as well as in His knowledge. That is what the gospel
is all about.
A GREAT GOD, A GREAT KING (1)
(Four pairs of Psalms on this subject)
J. Alec Motyer
Psalms 93 - 94. Reassurance
THE book of Psalms is an anthology, just like a hymn-book, and it does
not necessarily signify that there is any sequence in their numbering. But
within the book there are Psalms which clearly belong together and may even,
indeed, have formed a small hymn-book of their own before being incorporated
into the larger collection. Psalms 93-100 have the common theme of the Kingship
of God, and seem to have been put together in a deliberately progressive
way, with one thought leading on to the next. The whole earth is involved
in the Lord's kingship. For this reason -- because His worldwide kingship
will be satisfied with nothing less than worldwide allegiance -- all the earth
will one day crowd His courts, acknowledging that the Lord is God and that
He is good (100:1-5).
We take the first pair, 93 and 94, and find them expressing companion
truths, each supplementing the other under the one great common theme that
the Lord is King. 93 majors on pictures; one of the pictures that it gives
of this kingly Lord is that His rule does not go unchallenged. "The floods
have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods
lift up their waves above the voices of many waters, the mighty breakers
of the sea. The Lord on high is mighty" (v.3). The throne of God is pictured
as if assailed by a stormy sea. Psalm 94 speaks of the same truth, but in
terms of people. It takes us out of the realm of illustration into the realm
of experience. "They break in pieces your people, O Lord" (v.5). The Lord's
throne is a challenged throne.
Again, Psalm 93 speaks of the real exalted majesty of the Lord Himself.
"The Lord reigns; he is apparelled with majesty" (v.1). The word "majesty"
is the same word which in other places in the Old Testament is translated
"pride". It suggests the proper pride that God has in His own nature, His
seemly and sinless esteem of Himself. This word comes over into Psalm 94:
"Render unto the proud their desert" (v.2). In this world there is an unreal
pride, an attempt to usurp the dignity of God. So true pride and false pride
are contrasted. [44/45]
Again, in Psalm 93 we have the lovely thought of the house of God. "Thy
testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thy house" (v.5). At this point
there is only a truth affirmed, that there is a house of God, but in Psalm
94 that truth goes beyond affirmation and enters into experience: "The Lord
has been my high tower, the rock of my refuge" (v.22). So we see that
broadly speaking, Psalm 93 deals with affirmations, telling us how things
are, while Psalm 94 deals with experiences, bringing these great truths
into the arena and conflict in which the people of God live. So, for example,
Psalm 93 tells us that there is a house, while Psalm 94 invites us to go
and find security in it.
Psalm 93 deals with God in His sovereignty: Psalm 94 speaks of the Lord
not as King but as Judge. It tells us: "Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the
earth" (v.2). That is to say, the Lord on His throne is the active Ruler
of things that happen on earth. It is not simply that He sits in transcendence,
so that the roughest storm cannot move Him from His throne; it is that upon
His throne He is the executive ruler, the judge, the administrative ruler
of all things upon the face of the earth.
Psalm 93 THE KING ACCLAIMED
The Psalm starts with "The Lord reigns", but I think that this reads
better, "The Lord is King". First of all, then, we will stand back and consider
His supreme kingship.
1. He is the Eternal King
The statements made in verses 1, 3 and 4 are in the present tense, and
affirm the present reality of His kingship. He is king; the Lord on high
is mighty. Verse 2, however, tells us that this present kingship is not something
that has suddenly happened: "Thy throne is established of old: thou art
from everlasting". So we stand by the throne and we look back to find that
there never has been a time when the Lord was not King. If we look forward,
too, we read: "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house,
O Lord, for evermore" (v.5). This kingship is unto length of days -- as
long as time endures.
2. He is the Universal King
We find that He is King over all the world. Having had our attention
drawn to the throne we are now encouraged to let our eyes drop so that we
see beneath the throne the world over which the King reigns. The eye of
faith is focused on the reality of God, but then it may turn to the reality
of what is around. The unseen is the ground and explanation of the seen.
God is on His throne; the world is securely set in its place. The psalm
does not here draw out a connection, but it leaves us to appreciate that
the created order depends for its stability on the changelessness of a reigning
The first half started with God; now the second half starts with the
world, the world in its turbulence, but the conclusion is just the same.
The world is full of turbulent waters, it is depicted as a sea with raging
storms, pounding waves and mighty breakers. Their threat is both noise and
strength; they have the power to frighten and the power to damage. But when
we look to the reality beyond the pounding waves, we see what the Bible insists
as being an equal reality -- a reigning God who is in charge of it all. So
the psalm makes it very plain that His kingship is fully effective over the
world in which we have to live.
3. He is the Omnipotent King
His kingship is neither ornamental nor idle, but is real and active;
He really is King. "He is apparelled with majesty. The Lord is apparelled;
He has girded himself with strength" (v.1). We have here a metaphor that
the Bible often uses, that of clothing. When the Lord appeared before Jericho
to that rather apprehensive soldier, Joshua, He did so in armour (Joshua
5:13). Joshua had such a tough nut to crack that he decided to take a closer
look at the fortified city. So he went out to look at Jericho, and found himself
looking at God! What a blessing for the believer when he starts to look his
problem in the face and finds that God has come out to meet him! But see
how the Lord came, as a soldier. He did this in order to assure His servant
of His capacity and commitment, as if to say, I am able to fight your battles
and I will fight them.
Clothing carries this double meaning of capacity and commitment. So in
his illustrations the psalmist assures us that God is wearing the garments
-- He is a real King. And when the floods lift up their voice (as in our
experience they often do), though they are real enough, we can affirm with
equal realism: "The Lord on high is mighty". Hebrew is not as rich in words
for power as is Greek, but of all the words in the Hebrew Bible, this is
the crudest and [45/46] hardest. It speaks of the
absoluteness of power. The Lord on high is One of irresistible power -- He
really is King.
4. He is the Acknowledged King
Even though the world is full of turbulence in its challenge to the Lord's
kingship, there are those who acknowledge Him as king. When Jehu's brother
officers took off their tunics and made a garment throne for Jehu, they set
him upon the throne of their coats, blew the trumpet and shouted, "Jehu is
king" (2 Kings 9:13). In effect they were each saying: "Jehu is our king.
Look, he sits on my garment: he is my king".
So in this psalm His kingship meets with the response of faith (in the
first section of the psalm) and with the response of commitment (in the
second part). The psalm holds together very beautifully. Verse 2 and 5 are
different from the rest, because they are personal addresses made direct
to the great King. Verse 1 has spoken about the King -- "the Lord is King",
but verse 2 stands beside Him and declares: "Thou art from everlasting".
Verse 3 and 4 go back to a third person description: "The Lord on high is
mighty". But verse 5 returns to the words of direct address: "Thy
testimonies are very sure: holiness becomes thy house for ever".
So it is that the people of God claim and acknowledge Him as their King.
In doing so, they affirm three things. First they identify themselves
with the unseen God. They endure as seeing Him who is invisible. Next, they
trust in the Word which He has vouched for: "Thy testimonies are very sure".
God has borne witness to His people. A testimony is what is given by an eye-witness,
and God assures us that this is how He sees it when He gives them His testimonies.
For their part they commit themselves to the reliability of the word which
He has spoken and vouched for. Thirdly, they commit themselves to the holiness
which He requires, as from His throne He speaks to His people.
5. He is Absolute King
Having stated that the Lord is King, the psalmist invites us to assume
that He reigns over this world as we observe it. "The world is established".
A passive verb is used there. Security, stability, are not inherent in this
world. They have to be given to it. The world is made firm; it
is held secure. The world is only a safe place to live in because
He holds it in His hand. There may be enemies and turbulence and challenges,
but He is greater than them all. The Lord on high is mighty. He is an absolute
Psalm 94 THE KING EXPERIENCED
Beloved friends, these truths are given to us as a shield and a strength.
I don't suppose that there is one of us who would think of doubting that
the Lord is King. I think that every one of us would be only too ready to
stand up and sing, "The Lord is King". It does seem, though, that it is one
thing to affirm the truth and another thing to take up that truth and use
it as a practical weapon in the daily actualities of life. As we pass from
Psalm 93 to Psalm 94, this is the bridge we are crossing. We must take full
note of the great fact, the King acclaimed, and then put on the truth as an
armour, entering the battles of this world in the experience of His great
When I was learning Geography at school, the people who composed the
atlases were keen to help us understand, and made a special arrangement
for this purpose. The atlas pages were, of course, all of the same size,
so it might have been easy for the unwary to imagine that since England (or,
in our case, Ireland) filled a page and Australia also filled a page, the
countries could be of the same size too. To guard small boys against such
an error, they arranged that on the page where there was a map of Australia,
there was also a tiny little figure on the same page which was called 'England
on the same scale'! There was no difficulty about that but suppose they had
needed to accompany the page of England with a map of Australia on the same
scale! The only way in which they could have done this was to accompany the
page-size map of England with an open fold which just went on opening and
opening. This illustrates what our two psalms are doing. First of all they
allow us to see God in all His greatness, and having allowed us to see that
immensity, the Bible judges it safe to allow us to look at the world we live
in -- the smallest possible item down in the corner. In reverse, we have
the chance to look at the world on a full page. What immense and infinite
unfolding is necessary to give us a scale for describing the greatness of
1. The Place of Difficulty
Psalm 94 brings us first of all into the place of difficulty. The people
of God find themselves an opposed people. Verse 3 tells us about this.
[46/47] They are faced by their enemies; they are opposed in speech,
in acts and in attitudes. In speech -- "they speak arrogantly; all the workers
of iniquity boast". In deeds -- "They break in pieces thy people and afflict
thy heritage ...". And in attitudes -- "They say, The Lord shall not see,
neither shall the God of Jacob consider". How typical this is of the way
in which the people of God suffer in this world: they suffer the defamation
of the tongue, they suffer the persecution of the act and they suffer the
opposition of unbelief. This is a particularly cutting form of disbelief.
It is not the disbelief which says that God is not there, but the disbelief
which says that God does not care. It is not the disbelief which denies His
existence: it is the disbelief which denies His involvement: "The Lord shall
not see, neither shall the God of Jacob consider".
2. The Place of Prayer
Out of the place of difficulty the psalmist brings us into the place
of prayer, for the psalm is a prayer. "O Lord, thou God to whom vengeance
belongeth, shine forth ... render to the proud their desert". In this first
verse the psalm twice speaks of vengeance, and to make it worse, the noun
is plural, so that the Hebrew idea is "dire, absolute and total vengeance".
Such language and the call that the proud should be given their desert (v.2),
are not very acceptable in this mild and polite end of the twentieth century.
It is easier for us to suggest that the Lord Jesus and the New Testament
have taught us better. If, however, we take the Bible Concordance instead
of the Oxford Dictionary, we will find by comparing references that the word
translated "vengeance" seems to have as its basic idea, "that which is required
in the situation". So the appeal is really for God to deal with these people
according to what the situation requires. And the word which is rendered "desert"
has as its meaning, "Deal with these people according to what is deserved".
So the appeal to the Judge of all the earth is that He will do what He judges
to be right, giving to these people both what the situation requires and
what is right. One of the greatest verses of the whole Bible was spoken by
Abraham: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right " (Genesis
Note especially that this psalm is nothing but prayer. The psalmist does
not intend to do anything regarding his enemies, believing the Bible truth
that vengeance belongeth to the Lord and that He will repay. So he proposes
to do nothing about it in thought, word or deed, except commit the case to
God in prayer. We note, too, that this is an effective way of dealing with
the situation, for his prayer at the beginning is, "Render to the proud their
desert", and the confidence expressed at the end is, "He will bring upon
them their own iniquity" (v.23). Prayer is effective and is the primary weapon
given to the people of God when they face the antagonisms and the hardships
of life in this world.
3. The Place of Reassurance
"Consider, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be
wise?" (v.8). The word "brutish" refers to man unchanged by the grace of
God, man in his animal state, unregenerate. It has nothing to do with I.Q.,
but with the lack of those perceptions which only come by the regenerating
work of the Holy Spirit. An interpretive translation would be "Consider you
unregenerate ones, whose eyes have not been illuminated by the grace of
God". The word translated "fools" -- often used in the book of Proverbs --
means "people who always take a superficial view". So the psalmist appeals
to his opponents to see things differently, as grace would enable them to
see them, and in making that appeal to his opponents he is challenging himself
and challenging us to view the situation as it can be seen in the light of
grace, to see it as it is revealed at depth to the discerning eye of the spiritual
person. To do this is to receive divine reassurance.
i. We are reassured first concerning The God of Redemption (v.5).
The emphasis in the Hebrew is on the possessive pronoun: "Thy people
... Thy heritage". Perhaps it would be better to say, "Thy possession".
The book of Exodus tells us how, by redemption, Israel became God's special
people: "I will redeem you and I will bring you to myself, and you shall
be my people". In that same book God is shown to give especial care
to the needy, the widow, the fatherless and the helpless. "They slay the widow
and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. They say, The Lord shall not
see, neither shall the God of Jacob understand" (vv.6, 7). How wrong they
are, for God's care of such is wrapped up in the Exodus theology, the Moses
theology, the book of Deuteronomy. After all, that is why God went down to
Egypt, to look after and redeem and deliver a slave people, because
[47/48] He is the God of the helpless ones. The first reassurance,
then, to the beleaguered saint is this: The God who redeemed you will not
forget you. They may say that He has forgotten, but how can He forget one
on whose behalf the blood of the Lamb was shed?
ii. Secondly, we have the reassurance of The God of Creation (v.9).
What nonsense these people are talking, says the writer of the psalm. They
say that He doesn't know and doesn't see, but He is God the Creator. Is it
possible for God to mould the eye and yet Himself not see? Is it possible
for God to make the ear and Himself not hear? Then from this logical deduction
he goes on to speak of what he knows of God the Creator by true revelation.
In the Old Testament the Creator is stated as having four involvements: He
originates, He maintains, He controls and He directs. And can such a God
be absent, forgetful or uninvolved? The reassurance that comes from the truth
of the Redeemer is that His love will never fail; the reassurance that comes
from the truth of God the Creator is that His involvement with us is ceaseless.
iii. Further reassurance is given to us by the fact that He is The
God of Providence (vv.12-15). Here in verse 12 is the marvellous response
of a man who is beset by every kind of enemy and yet who, in the thick of
that experience, exclaims: "Happy is the man whom thou chastenest". He is
able to speak of his sufferings by reason of hostility as a purposeful chastening
from the hand of his God. The purpose is to provide a way through to peace.
"That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity ..." (v.13). It
is the loving way by which God brings His people home. "For the Lord will
not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance. For judgment
shall return unto righteousness; and all the upright in heart shall follow
it" (v.15). God is the God of Providence, and I use this word 'providence'
to bring to mind the thought of God's direct involvement and direction and
control even in the smallest details of the experiences of His people. The
third element of reassurance therefore is the purpose of God who may be chastening
now but is pointing forward to a glorious and righteous future in so doing.
iv. He is The God of Tender Care (vv.16-19). The psalmist speaks
of loneliness (vv.16-17), of life's precariousness (v.18) and of mental anxieties
(v.19), but in it all he proves the Lord's tender care. He is able to report
that the Lord is on his side: "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul
would soon have dwelt in silence" (v.17). In the original the phrase is so
emphatic that I need to use a paraphrase to express it: 'Except the Lord
had been my help, Oh what a real help, and Oh, so definitely on my side!'
This is not very good English, but it stresses how truly the Lord dealt with
his affliction of loneliness. He says also that the Lord met his need. "When
I said, my foot slips, thy mercy, O Lord, held me up" (v.18). The verb is
definite and precise: When I said (as I did), my foot has slipped -- I'm
done for -- time and time again Your mercy kept holding me up. How true this
is to experience! The saint feels on one hand that this must be the end,
and on the other hand he enjoys an incessancy of mercy from God.
He finds this an almost unbelievable fact, that the Lord is in his soul:
"In the multitude of my anxieties within me, thy comforts delight my soul"
(v.19). The word "delight" is only used three or four times, and the Hebrew
uses it with the idea of taking a little one on your knee and cuddling it.
"Your comforts took me on their knees and cuddled me!" What a wonderful way
of describing that secret inner communication of God whereby He comforts
v. We find the psalm closing with a description of God as The God
of Security and Triumph (vv.20-23). The Lord lifts His child up into
a sure refuge because it is inaccessible to the enemy -- "my high tower"
(v.22). Inaccessible to our enemies but wonderfully available to us: "The
name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is
safe" (Proverbs 18:10).
Here, then, is the reassurance which comes from our knowing that the
Great God is a Great King.
The Lord is King! lift up thy voice,
O earth, and all ye heavens rejoice;
From world to world the joy shall ring:
The Lord omnipotent is King!
(To be continued) [48/49]
SONGS OF PRAISE (3)
(Further thoughts prompted by the words of a hymn)
John H. Paterson
FOR many years we lived in Scotland, in a town small in size but great
in its history. We often used to remark that, in the most literal sense,
the history was written in the stones of the city, for in the road and on
the pavement there were a number of markers to show where men had been burned
at the stake for their faith in God, and in His offer of justification by
faith in Christ alone.
Among the stones of the city, however, there was one which became my
favourite and which, in a curious way, carried me back in thought to my
very early memories. When I was a small boy, I was taught to play the piano,
and one of the best places to find easy tunes -- those being, alas, the only
ones I ever managed to master -- was the hymn book. Among the first of my
'party pieces' was the tune called 'Rutherford'; it had only one flat, which
was about my limit, and it was set to the hymn 'The sands of time are sinking'.
And now comes the connection. My favourite stone in our Scottish home
town was the gravestone of Samuel Rutherford. He was born in 600, became
a professor of divinity and then Principal of the university, and died in
1661. Today, we can look back upon him as one of the great men of God of
his century: he wrote books and letters which we can still read, and the hymn
that goes to the tune 'Rutherford' is composed of his own thoughts and expressions,
set out in verse form by a nineteenth-century hymn-writer. I am told that,
in the original, the hymn has nineteen verses but most hymn books, accurately
judging the stamina of the average congregation, print only four or five
of them! So whenever I come across the hymn in a book, I always look to see
whether one particular verse has been included among those selected. Here
With mercy and with judgement,
My web of time He wove;
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustred with His love;
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel's land.
In order to appreciate these words, it helps to know something of the
strangely-woven life of Rutherford. He lived as a man of God in that perilous
seventeenth century when changes came thick and fast, and a man could find
himself in favour for his beliefs one day and in prison the next. Within
the world of organised religion, the counter-currents were very strong; to
many, they proved fatal. It took a brave man to stand by his beliefs in such
times, and no one in public life, and certainly not a professor of theology,
was safe for long.
Rutherford became a parish minister in 1627, and soon came to be loved
and trusted by his country congregation. But nine years later, on orders
from London, he was not only turned out of his parish and sent into what
is nowadays called 'internal exile', but actually spent a period in prison
in Aberdeen. He was released in 1638 and within a short time, now in favour
(for the Civil War had broken out in England) he was a university professor
and a commissioner of the Scottish church in London, where he helped to codify
the Reformed faith and made a great impression. While he was in London, however,
two of his children died. He returned to Scotland became university Principal,
but was dismissed from office in 1660, at the Restoration of Charles II,
and died only just in time to avoid experiencing, for the second time, the
more serious consequences of royal displeasure.
What a checkered career! Reading his story, we cannot help feeling 'If
only Rutherford could have been left in peace to get on with his ministry!'
There were so many who sought his advice and appreciated his help, and the
way in which [49/50] God led him must very often
have seemed baffling, not to say wasteful of his great gifts.
This, of course, brings us back to our hymn. The first half of the verse
I have quoted is, in Rutherford's case, a simple statement of fact: mercy
and judgement, sorrow and joy; to be loved and hated by men -- his career
was a mixture of all these, and through them all he was sustained by an awareness
of God's love. Many others -- perhaps all God's people -- have known this
kind of mixture. But the important part, the real challenge, lies in the
second half of the verse.
Knowledge Now and Knowledge Later
What these lines tell us is that, in the here-and-now, not even a great
man of God could hope to make sense out of God's dealings with him. Putting
that the other way round, the best that you and I can hope for is that we
shall have an explanation of why everything in life has been as it has
when we get to heaven. But having said that, I want immediately to
stress that this 'best' is a very great thing indeed.
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul speaks of a creation groaning and travailing
under a great sense of frustration and futility, and he goes on to say that
"even we" groan as well. We live in a world made subject to futility -- senselessness,
if you like -- so that it should come as no surprise to us that 'things'
(that favourite word of the English translators of Romans 8) do not make
sense, even in the lives of believers. We cannot explain why things turn
out as they do. But Christians, says Paul, have two advantages; two great
benefits which the poor, groaning creation lacks -- or rather, which it will
obtain only as and when the sons of God are revealed (Romans 8:19). The first
is a hope and the second is a purpose.
The Christian hope is that one day we shall be able to look back
and see that all the 'things' made sense after all. We shall have explained
to us the present mysteries of God's ways -- why He took one and left another;
why He moved us when He did, or closed an open door, or sent us no message
in our darkness. Other men and women do not have this hope: for them, life
will never make sense. They can only (to use a famous line from Dylan Thomas)
'rage, rage against the dying of the light'. This is a wonderful hope indeed
-- so wonderful, says Paul, that we are saved in or by it (Romans 8:24).
The Christian sense of purpose is proclaimed by Paul in those
well-known words (Romans 8:28-29), "We know that all things work together
for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His
purpose ...". Whether we can, for the moment, appreciate it or not, God
is managing 'things' for the best. But even if we have this hope of things
eventually making sense, we still have no answer to the questions, 'Why
are we here now ?' 'How are we to occupy ourselves while we wait
for our hope to be realised?' Paul reminds us that there is purpose in it
all. The time between now and then is to be spent in moral transformation
. We are to become "conformed to the image of His Son" -- made like Jesus
Christ. That is indeed a purpose which will occupy our every waking moment
if it is to be fulfilled! It will never be complete until we reach Immanuel's
land, but "when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see
Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).
Let me try to summarise the points. With our limited vision as human
beings, it is idle for us to expect that our lives and experiences will
make sense -- form clear patterns -- whether we are Christians or whether
we are not. If we trust in Christ, then we are assured of an ultimate explanation,
but we must face the reality of the present which is that, for the believer,
all those questions which are provoked by our experience and which include
the word 'Why?', while perfectly understandable, are actually ruled out! God
has not committed Himself to answer our 'Why?' questions in this life at
all. And it is a mark of spiritual maturity, which Rutherford had and which
you and I may strive for, that the mature man or woman of God does not ask
Imagine how many 'whys' there could have been in the life of Abraham!
'Why should I leave home? ... Why be stuck in this desert? ... Why do you
want me to sacrifice Isaac after You have gone to all the trouble of giving
him to us?' But in fact there is no 'why' in any of these stories. There
was no 'why?' from Moses when God excluded him from the Promised Land, and
no 'why me?' from Mary when the angel told her of the birth of a Son. And
one of the most striking evidences of the awfulness of the Cross is that the
Lord Jesus, at that particular moment, asked the only 'why?' of His earthly
life -- "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" If that does not give us an impression
of what [50/51] was going on between Him and the Father,
But since we know in advance that there is going to be no answer,
how much more restful to refrain from asking the question in the first place!
For 'why?' always carries with it the suggestion, the suspicion, that God
does not know His own business; that He has, in fact, made a mistake, and
in that suggestion there is no rest at all.
A Hand and a Heart
So far, we can probably all share Rutherford's experience; we have all
been baffled by the seeming mysteries of God's way. But there remain two
lines of the hymn verse which we have not yet considered and, so far as I
can see, they pose the real challenge:
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned
Confronting the loss of loved ones, the break-down of health, the termination
of a career, the frustration of our best intentions, we face the real question:
is this universe ordered and directed by a hand and a heart
, or by blind, impersonal unfeeling Fate? On the answer to that question
depends a second, far more personal concern: do I have any individual significance
In the past twenty years, we have witnessed a great spread in the use
of computers. Now the thing about computers is that while very few of us
have the slightest idea how they work, we nearly all fear them, because
we see them as reducing us, the individuals who make up society, to mere
numbers or cyphers. We fear that the computer is going to take decisions about
our lives which we want to take for ourselves; that we shall be judged not
on our merits but on the automatic reaction of a machine. And to any such
idea we react violently, for it is a denial of our own individuality.
This is only the modern version of an age-long challenge -- a challenge
that Rutherford knew, computers or no computers. When his two children died
during his absence on God's business: was that the action of a God
with a heart? When some valued servant of God has been taken -- a
missionary or a pastor in a key position -- was that really the hand
of God, or was it simply the falling out of a number like the machine
that spins out the Premium Bond winners, or like the wartime bomb of which
people used to say, 'If it's got your number on it, it'll get you anyway'.
Billions of human beings are confined to the mechanistic view of the
universe -- that it is simply a great machine in which we are disposable
parts -- for want of any believable alternative. We who have the Scriptures
have such an alternative, for from cover to cover the Bible pictures God
as watching over His creation, approving, grieving, loving. But with this
alternative view of our world comes also a problem -- the problem of reconciling
what we believe with what we see. If you do not believe that this
universe is guided by a hand and a heart, then you have no problem, because
nearly all the evidence suggests that you are right not to believe it. But
precisely because we believe that there is a heart behind it all, we are driven
to try to explain what we experience, and that is the real challenge to faith.
If ever a man had cause to question God's involvement by hand and heart
in His creation, Rutherford had. Did God want him to minister His word or
did He not? Did God mean him to have children or not? The test of faith for
us is different only in detail. But there is a sense in which it is the
absolutely ultimate test. Even the temptation to doubt that Christ really
came and died for my sins is subsequent to, and dependent on it. If you and
I lose confidence in the existence of a God with a hand and a heart, then
we have absolutely nothing. And absolutely nothing is just what most people
have -- 'most people' being not so much the heathen in the jungle as the
nice neighbours next door. For most of them, there is simply no basis for
believing that there is a God who actually cares.
So let us hold on, not only for our own sakes, but also for theirs. Let
us hold on, as Rutherford did, in the face of bewildering contradictions,
to our confidence that, come what may, it is a heart that has planned it.
And surely the day of explanation for us and vindication for Him cannot now
be far away! [51/52]
THE SECRET OF DANIEL'S STRENGTH
Chapter III. THE MOST HIGH GOD
"Ye servants of the Most High God, come forth and come hither"
SINCE it was in answer to their prayers that Nebuchadnezzar had received
the revelation about the head of gold, it may well be that the three Hebrew
princes were tempted to regret the whole matter. It seems most likely that
it was this that put into the king's mind the idea of making his great golden
image, and that image made great difficulties for the three young men. It
sometimes happens like this for those of us who pray. God takes great risks;
they are always justified but they are not always easy for His servants to
understand the way things work out. The name which we are going to consider
in this chapter is The Most High God. It will appear frequently in the subsequent
chapters, but this is its first appearance. It is just because He is the
Most High that God allows proud men to go to such lengths before He deals
with them. He is always confident that the last word will be with Him. This
story proves that very point.
No Support From Daniel
Until now the three had always enjoyed the inspiration of Daniel's leadership.
This time they had to stand alone. It may be pertinent to ask why Daniel
is not mentioned at all in this chapter, but the spiritual lesson is clear,
namely that there comes a time when the Lord removes our human support in
order that we may learn to rely on Him alone in a new way. There are several
possible explanations of Daniel's absence. The previous chapter closes with
the information that he had been exalted to the position of being "in the
gate of the king". It may therefore be that Nebuchadnezzar himself had no
intention of sacrificing his favourite, and so excused him from attendance
at the ceremony. Or it may be that the tale-bearing Chaldeans (v.8) would
not dare to accuse Daniel to the king, judging it more tactful to keep silence
so far as he was concerned but to get at him through his three compatriots.
Or it may have been some accident of daily life which kept him out of it all.
We must remember that this is not a book about Daniel, but about Daniel's
God. There is a certain encouragement for us in knowing that we who are second-
or even third-rankers, can know and prove that He is our God too. The God
of Daniel (6:26) turns out to be also the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
(v.29). By Daniel's influence these had been promoted in the province (2:49).
This time it was not through him but by the king's own desire that they found
further promotion (v.30). The Most High God had a purpose of blessing for
these three servants of His, even while He allowed them to undergo such a
This chapter gives clear illustrations of the psychological pressure
which Satan exerts on God's servants in order to force them to be disloyal
to their God. This pressure largely operates in the realm of fear. This
is Satan's master weapon. To him it is more important to frighten us than
to do us actual harm. He might, or might not, have found pleasure in the
burning to death of the three Hebrews, or in the destruction of Daniel in
the lions' den, but his supreme objective was to use these terrors to frighten
those concerned into compromise, and so destroy their testimony. I sometimes
feel that he did not so much want Jesus to die on the cross, but that his
main purpose was to induce the Lord either to shrink back from it or to
come down from it, so saving Himself but leaving a disappointed Father and
an eternally lost world. We remember that it was Satan who prompted Peter
to urge Christ not to go that way. It was only when all else failed that
he used Judas to precipitate the crucifixion but even then his was really
the voice which, through the senseless mob, [52/53]
called to Jesus to save Himself by coming down from the cross. What glee
in Hell if He had so saved Himself: what dismay when He stayed there until
He could rightly claim "It is finished!" Satan may work for our outward destruction,
but his real goal is to divert worship from God and claim it for himself.
He bitterly hates the fact that God is the Most High.
See, then, some of the psychological pressures exerted in Satanic attempts
to destroy men's faith:
1. Mass Persuasion
The essence of this kind of pressure is to stress the folly of being
different from others. Not only were the three surrounded by large crowds
of image-worshippers, they were to be intimidated by the calibre of the
opposition. Twice over we are given the impressive list of celebrities present:
"the satraps, the deputies and the governors, the judges, the treasurers,
the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces ..." (vv.2
& 3). What is more, the loud-voiced herald gave the king's command to
"peoples, nations and languages" (v.4) and then "all the peoples,
the nations and the languages" obeyed (v.7). The three lonely young men were
being made to look ridiculous.
There are many young men in our own day, and young women too, who suffer
this kind of assault on their faith. How often does the world ridicule Christians
with their sneers about what "All intelligent people know ..."! 'All
' the scientists, the archaeologists, or even the religious leaders, are
alleged to judge our faith as being unworthy of sensible people. Well, it
has always been like that. The 'overwhelming majority' will always overwhelm
the man of faith if he pays any attention to them. "Have any of the rulers
believed on him, or the Pharisees?", they asked concerning the Lord Jesus
It is difficult to exaggerate the tremendous pressure of public opinion
which was brought to bear on these young men. They had to stand alone. They
had to do so in the presence of all the important people in the empire as
well as the massed crowds of onlookers. How high was that company! How high
was that image! How high the flames of that crackling furnace! Only by keeping
their eyes on the One who is the Most High could they resist the frightening
pressure. Such moments come to most of us who seek to stand true for God
in this Babylonian world.
2. Emotional Atmosphere
In any public reading of this chapter, the repeated enumeration of all
the musical instruments becomes wearisome and absurd. No wonder that after
the second list the bright young curate rendered the other ones as, 'the
orchestra -- as before'! Surely, though, the four-fold repetition of the
detailed list of instruments (vv.7, 10 & 15) is meant to stress the emotional
influence which was also brought to bear on the three witnesses for God.
Any publicist knows what powerful influences are exerted by suitable music,
and it seems that Nebuchadnezzar's staff had nothing to learn from our modern
P.R. men. Music can be almost divine -- it can release in us a heart worship
of God which we felt but did not know how to express. Music can also be well-nigh
devilish -- it can sweep people off their feet in frenzies of irrational
I am not here making any comment on various types of music. I am not
competent to do so, nor does it form any part of my argument. The simple
point I wish to make is that what music can do -- at any rate to most people
-- is to loose them from rational restraints and govern them by impulsive
emotions. These three received the full treatment. They were not only surrounded
by overwhelming numbers, they were exposed to "all kinds of music" (v.15)
in an atmosphere of idol-worship which was well-nigh irresistible. God neither
silenced this hellish orchestra, nor drowned its sound with heavenly harmonies,
though either action would have been very simple for Him. He risked all on
the sheer faith of His servants.
3. Reasoned Argument
The whole souls of these men were under assault. First there was pressure
on their wills, then influence on their emotions, and now a call to use their
minds and think again. Nebuchadnezzar's counsellors may have been amazed
at the trouble which he took to reason with the recalcitrants. He was a man
of hot impulse rather than cool logic, as is amply demonstrated in this book.
Why, then, did he take the trouble to remonstrate with the three and give
them the chance to reconsider their decision? He was, it appears, very angry
indeed, yet he left the offer open and promised that all would be well even
at this late hour, if they only complied with the formality of prostrating
themselves (v.15). He even offered to get the music going again for them.
What is more, he tried to bring God into the matter, though only to argue
that the One [53/54] who had given him his kingdom
and power (2:37) would not, or could not, support them in their disobedience.
He was not so foolish as to argue against the existence of God. To anyone
who has a personal knowledge of God this is a sheer waste of time. No, it
was more subtle than that; it was an insinuation that their God was so remote
that they could not expect Him to keep them out of the fire. In a sense he
was not entirely wrong, for God did not intervene to prevent their being
thrown into the furnace. In another sense he was quite mistaken. It was not
that God could not, but that He refrained from doing so because He had something
better for them. They themselves had no clear conviction that they would
be spared the fires, though they were most dogmatic about His ability to do
so. What they were quite positive about was that He would never leave them
in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (v.17). They had all God's Word behind them
in this conviction.
So they were quite adamant. They were not open to this kind of reasoning.
The psychological pressures were powerless, for faith is the victory that
overcomes the world. The image was high; the pressures were higher; the threat
of the furnace was higher still; but theirs was the Most High God. That
knowledge kept them steady in their hour of testing, so much so that they
felt it unnecessary and unprofitable to discuss the matter with the king:
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter" (v.16).
It was as though they said: 'It is not our business to reason about the fiery
furnace: our business is to keep our worship for God and to leave the consequences
with Him. Even if He makes no move to deliver us, we will not bow down to
the golden image. We settled that long ago when we entered God's service,
so we do not need to reconsider anything now'.
All this is past history, and remote history at that, but it is full
of meaningful relevance for us today. The world's golden image is higher
than ever now; the masses worship it, the notables honour it, the musical
world sings its praises and the voice of reason warns us not to reject it.
What can the people of God do? Nothing at all save prostrate themselves
with the rest, unless they have a personal knowledge of Christ as the Most
High. They will be saved if they feed on the Scriptures. They must remember,
as the three Hebrews doubtless did, that it is written: "Above the voice
of many waters ... the LORD on high is mighty" (Psalm 93:4).
God's Strange Ways
Just because God is the Most High, His ways are strange to men, even
to godly men. There was no word or act of intervention from Him as His three
trusting servants courageously stood together while the rest of the world
bowed in worship. When Nebuchadnezzar's face revealed his mounting fury against
them (v.19) God showed no sign of His favour. An already frightening fire
was heated seven times more than usual, and with an altogether uncalled-for
show of violence, shock troops of the Chaldean army were summoned to tie
them hand and foot and throw them into the flames. So much the worse for the
soldiers! Their actions were so eager and the fire was so fierce that they
themselves were immediately incinerated. How helpless the three must have
felt. It seemed that God would not deliver them after all. They were tossed
into the very heart of that devilish conflagration. What next?
Perhaps their first reactions were to imagine that they were now in heaven.
Scholars tell us that there is almost no allusion to life after death in
the Old Testament. One of the most definite exceptions to this general fact
can be found in this book of Daniel: "Many of them that sleep in the dust
of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and
contempt" (12:2). Moreover we are specifically told in the New Testament that
in the old days there were people of faith who "were tortured, not accepting
deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35).
It was in this spirit that the three faced the furnace, but God still had
a surprise for them and for all the onlookers.
He really is the Most High God. His ways are different from ours, and
they are also much higher and much better. For, instead of going into heaven,
heaven came down to them. God's power was not withheld until the resurrection
day, it was demonstrated right then and there. Nebuchadnezzar must know how
wrong, how very wrong, he had been in his ideas about the Hebrews' God. He
was the first to witness the miracle. He had a front seat in order to enjoy
the discomfiture of these misguided fools, and now found that he was being
made a fool of and that they had been so very wise to commit themselves
[54/55] to the King of Heaven. He sprang off his throne to inform
his startled counsellors that he could see that the men of Judah were walking
about at liberty in the very heart of the fire, and that a Companion from
heaven, the very Son of God Himself, was there in the furnace with them.
All that his terrific fires had been able to do had been to remove the ropes
which had bound the captives; apart from that they were powerless.
Unbelief or little faith would have expected God to shelter His servants
from ever having to go into the fiery trial. There are not lacking Christians
today who have this kind of mentality. 'Pain', they say, 'is of the Devil,
and is not the will of God for His children'. Well, there is little doubt
that it was Satan who lit these fires, but clearly it was the will of God
that His three servants should go into them. His word promises victory, not
immunity. Blessed are those who discover that in fiery trials they can discover
a new liberty of spirit and a new awareness of the Lord's presence. That
is what faith did for these three. They did not seem at all in a hurry to
emerge from the furnace. They were enjoying their walk with the Lord. It
was only when they were commanded by the king to "come forth and come here",
that they moved towards the furnace door.
The story concludes with the information that the Lord had added a new
title to the very many that He already possessed; He is called, "The God
of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego". This was a tremendous honour for them
-- much greater than the civic honours given to them in the province of Babylon
-- but it also represents some new facet in the divine glory. "God is not
ashamed to be called their God" (Hebrews 11:16). Nebuchadnezzar's verdict
on the whole affair is truly remarkable. He admitted that the three had
changed his word and realised that they had done so not by any human capacity
or effort but by yielding their bodies as living sacrifices to God. He had
yet more to learn, as we shall see in the next chapter, but in his own pagan
and intolerant way, he himself owned that the God of the Jews is in a class
of His own -- He is indeed "The Most High God". I feel sure that Hananiah,
Mishael and Azariah afterwards agreed that it had been worth the burning
fiery furnace to be privileged to establish such a testimony right there
Not that they made anything of their part in it. One of the most astounding
features of the whole story is that they came through those terrific fires
and yet had no smell of scorching to betray what they had passed through.
It is rare to meet such believers. Too often those who have suffered for
Christ are persuaded to publicise their experiences and to carry around with
them the constant reminder of what they have endured. Although the trial is
now over, they are encouraged to feel that it ought not to be forgotten. Not
so Shadrach and his friends. We are so glad to know that the hair of their
heads had not even been singed, but the most striking thing is that "nor
had the smell of fire passed on them" (v.27). Nobody would have guessed that
they had ever been in the fire at all, except that perhaps they were even
more praiseful than ever.
Praising in the Fire
These men literally praised God in the fires. Were they not proving God's
promise "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned" (Isaiah
43:2)? Were they not upheld by the Lord's words: "Fear not ... I will be
with thee"? Although they could not have known this at the time, all the onlookers
could see that their God was actually with them as they had never seen it
before. The world witnessed their testimony.
The Scriptures themselves do not tell us that they actually praised God
as they walked with Him, but there is a passage in the apocryphal book called
The Song of the Three Holy Children which assures us that they did, and even
purports to give us the triumphant hymn which they sang. On the whole I
find the books of the Apocrypha very dusty reading. This professed amplification
of Daniel is, however, quite inspiring. Its sixty-eight verses are inserted
after verse 23 of our chapter. Rightly enough, the three are here given their
proper names of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and their inspiring call
is for universal praise to God: "O ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord;
praise him and magnify him for ever". Those who possess a Church of England
Prayer Book will find this hymn in the Service for Morning Prayer and will
find special interest in the fact that after calling upon the heavens
[55/56] and the winds to bless the Lord, the three are reputed to
have sung: "O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify
him for ever". This is victory indeed! Whenever a saint under extreme pressure
can glorify God and even praise Him for the fiery trial, it is clear that
faith has embraced the fact that God is in fact The Most High. The story
of these young men confirms to us the Bible assurance that "the people who
know their God are strong and do exploits" (11:32).
(To be continued)
Arthur E. Gove
"She said to him: Yes, Lord; I believe ..." John 11:27
THE raising of Lazarus, Christ's greatest miracle, was the seventh of
the sign-wonders described in his Gospel by John. The pattern of this Gospel
is based on the number seven, so we are not surprised to find that in His
dealing with the two sisters He is seven times addressed as "Lord". We realise,
of course, that the title was often employed in gospel times as a quite ordinary,
polite, form of address which could easily be rendered, 'Sir' in our language.
It marked respect, but not necessarily more. We can be sure that in the case
of Martha and Mary it meant much more.
In the New Testament this same word is rightly ascribed to Christ in
its fullest and most spiritual meaning, namely that of Sovereign Lord. We
are told, for instance, that the time will come when every creature in God's
universe will attribute this excellence to Jesus: "Every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11).
It will be the ultimate confession of humanity, to God's glory, that Jesus
Christ is the unique Sovereign Lord. Paul tells us that even now, "No-one
can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3),
and he claims that the essence of his own preaching was just this "For what
we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Corinthians 4:5).
We know that it was in this fullest sense that Martha exclaimed to Jesus:
"Yes, Lord ...".
Martha may have her critics, but in her simple words to Jesus, she crystallised
for all time what should be the heart response to the Lord Jesus of all who
truly love Him. Others could call Him Lord, and yet not follow through with
the implications of His lordship. Peter -- during a brief moment of inner
conflict -- could even coin that incredible phrase: "No, Lord!" (Acts 10:14).
The only valid response, however, to the challenges and claims of Jesus
is this which was voiced so long ago at Bethany where, out of much sorrow
and perplexity, Martha was given the grace to say: "Yes, Lord". Her example
leads us to four areas of life in which this language was so sincerely used.
1. Yes, Lord, I believe Your claims (John 11:27)
Martha had been favoured by a Self-revelation of Christ: she was able
to declare that she fully accepted that He was all that He claimed to be.
His words to her were: "I am the resurrection and the life", He claimed to
be the "I AM" and at the same time He said that He would share His life with
those who trusted in Him: "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19).
These were the clearest claims to Deity that could possibly be. In Him
there is the answer to life after death but, more than that, there is an
answer to every experience of death here and now. Jesus says to us: "If you
are dead, you can live through faith in Me". Our reply must be a positive,
"Yes, Lord" as we appropriate His risen life. He affirms: "I am the resurrection
and the life", and He waits to hear our reply: "Yes, Lord. I believe Your
claims". He says to us: "If you believe in Me and live through Me, you will
never be overcome by death but will live in the good of eternal life". It
is for us in faith to respond, "Yes, Lord". [56/57]
John wrote that "every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come
in the flesh is of God" (1 John 4:2). This must surely mean much more than
simply saying that the story of Jesus Christ is a historical fact. That does
not need the Holy Spirit. Secular historians accept the evidence of His
life here on earth as being authentic. What it does imply is a vital relationship
between Jesus -- the human name, and Christ -- the name of Deity. We are
told that those who have this kind of living faith in the Lord Jesus are
born of God (1 John 5:1). New birth first comes when the individual first
commits himself to Christ and when, for the first time, he uses Martha's words
and declares: "Yes, Lord. I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of
the living God". This is the beginning, and it is intended to introduce a
life-style in the believer which means that he is constantly responding to
the Scriptural presentations of the claims of Christ with a heartfelt, "Yes,
2. Yes, Lord, I trust Your power (Matthew 9:28)
This verse comes from the story of the blind men who followed Christ,
crying out and saying, "Have mercy on us thou Son of David", and then actually
met Him in the house. They wanted him to give them sight, and He challenged
them with this direct question: "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" It
was then that they made their positive answer, "Yes, Lord".
The parallel with us is very clear. Having confessed that we accept His
claim to be what He is, we are now confronted with our own personal problems,
and we have to make up our minds whether the Lord is great enough to be able
to handle them. Such problems, like the blindness of these two men, may
call for a miracle. If Jesus really is Lord, then we must let our faith rest
securely on His ability to do that miracle.
What is our problem? It may be fear -- fear of the future. It may be
a threatening situation which is quite beyond us. It may be one of those
deep needs or those tangled circumstances for which there seems no possible
answer. Do we pray to Him as Lord and yet doubt His ability in some specific
matter? While we call Him Lord, do we despair, thinking that things have
gone so far that no-one can help us? In any case we are faced with a straightforward
issue. Christ poses the question as to whether we believe in His absolute
sufficiency and ability. Is He really Lord? In connection with this particular
problem, can we disregard all the arguments of unbelief and confine ourselves
to the bold venture of faith, saying "Yes, Lord"? That is what the two blind
men did, and that was all that Christ needed to release His power on their
behalf. Even in the most impossible circumstances, Jesus is still Lord and
therefore it is only right that we should say 'Yes' to Him. 'Yes, Lord. I
trust in Your power'.
3. Yes, Lord. I understand Your will (Matthew 13:51)
I am not here concerned with the extensive teachings of this chapter
in Matthew's Gospel which the disciples claimed to have understood. I merely
use their words to remind us that the explanation of the parables given by
Christ to His disciples was accepted by them as being adequate. It is rather
remarkable that they were able to say that they understood, when scores
and scores of volumes have been written in attempts to throw light on those
The point, surely, is not so much that they reckoned to have the fullest
insight into these spiritual truths as that they humbly accepted the light
given to them by Christ. He was their Lord, so they took His word for it
all. In this they set us an example as to the absolute authority of God's
Word. As believers we begin when we understand our need of salvation and God's
provision for us in Christ. At that first step the Saviour challenged us
as to our attitude to His will by asking: "Have you understood all these things?"
As true disciples, we replied with the Twelve, "Yes, Lord".
Every subsequent step can only be made on the same basis. The Lord has
prepared from all eternity what each one of us should be and do. "Created
in Christ Jesus for good works which God afore prepared that we should walk
in them " (Ephesians 2:10). This is not just a vague statement about
God's fore-knowledge, but a reminder that He is working on us with specific
purposes in view and continually challenges us in the light of some special
matter as to the reality behind our readiness to call Him Lord. It is as
though He asked: 'Do you accept what I show [57/58]
to be My will for you? Are you one of those people who claim to be entitled
to have your own opinion? Very well then, you may think that you are right,
but please do not expect Me to endorse your ideas or to approve your actions.
If I am Lord, then you must abandon your own thoughts, listen humbly and
attentively to Me, and then just reply, Yes, Lord'.
The Lord does not ask for our opinions: He demands our obedience. "I
will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go" (Psalm
32:8) is spoken by the One whom we habitually call Lord. It may at times
take much faith and grace to silence all our arguments or objections with
the simple reply of agreement, but if He really is Lord, then we must always
be ready to say "Yes" to Him.
4. Yes, Lord. I love You most of all (John 21:15)
Peter had denied the Lord before a fire of coals in the High Priest's
courtyard; now, before another such fire by the seaside and with the smell
of burning charcoal to remind him of his denial, he was challenged as to
the reality of his love.
The Lord did not reproach him for his past failure. That was forgiven
and forgotten, as all our sins are when once they are confessed. Jesus did
not ask Peter if he were sorry, if he would promise never to deny his Friend
again or if he would always remember his bad breakdown. No, three times the
Lord asked him the most direct question as to whether he really loved Him.
Without any hesitation, Peter was able to reply to this straight question
with a straight answer: "Yes, Lord!"
The question was amplified into the larger question of the extent of
Peter's love: "lovest thou me more than these?" There are several possibilities
as to the meaning of Christ's words. What did He mean by "these"? Was it,
these nets, these boats and these fishes? Do you love Me more than you love
your business? That is a very valid question for every disciple, especially
in these competitive days. Are there "things" that we love more than Him?
They may be earthly things; they may even be spiritual things; but none of
them should have priority in our affections. Are we busy? Are we too busy
for Him? Do we love what we are doing more than we love Him? If so, then
there is a serious weakness in our claim that He is our Lord. "More than
these?" "Yes, Lord, You know that I love You most of all."
It is possible that Peter felt a warm love for his fellow disciples and
that Jesus really asked him: "Do you love Me more than you love other people?"
Again it is quite relevant for us to be challenged as to whether loved ones,
people, are more dear to us than He is. Do we call Him Lord and yet pay more
heed to someone else than to Him, adjusting ourselves to retain their friendship
or approval rather than committing ourselves in totality of love to Him?
The Lord points to all our human relationships and enquires: "Lovest thou
Me more than these?" Surely this calls for a new consideration of just how
real is our acceptance of His absolute lordship. For the committed Christian
there can only be one answer to this challenge: "Yes, Lord. I love You most
It is, of course, quite likely that what Jesus asked Peter was really:
'Do you love Me more than these others love Me? Do you outstrip all your
companions in heart love for Me?' Such a question would take Peter's mind
back to his earlier brash claims of devotedness even to death. Well, it was
not an easy question to answer and Peter was in no mood to boast, but he
could and did appeal to Christ's knowledge of his heart, and say: "Lord,
thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee". He would not boast
that his love was superior to that of the others, but without arrogance and
also without pretence he could appeal to Christ's reading of his inmost thoughts
and confirm that in the matter of supreme love their reaction was "Yes Lord!"
The Lord's one comment on Peter's confession and appeal seemed to amount
to His saying this: 'Yes, Peter, I know it. Now it is up to you to show it!
With your life of service before you, make it always a reality that I so
continue to be Lord to you that you always say "Yes" to Me.' This applies
to each one of us. We need a constant renewal of the grace of God in our hearts
that, however great may be the cost, our reply to His challenges to us is
always "Yes, Lord!" [58/59]
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
23. TRUE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH (Chapter 14)
THE STRONG AND THE WEAK (vv.1-12)
IN chapter 12 the apostle had exhorted them to be of the same mind one
toward another and not to be wise in their own conceits. He now turns to
a state in the church which made such an exhortation necessary: there were
"strong" and "weak" members who had contradictory opinions in certain matters.
Those who were "strong" ate anything; those who were "weak" ate only herbs.
Those who were strong regarded all days alike, whereas the weak regarded
certain days more highly than others. There seems also to have been a difference
of opinion about drinking wine (v.21).
The problem was not a matter of principle, as such questions were among
the Galatians. There the real point at issue was justification before God.
Peter's behaviour at Antioch was condemned since, by refusing to eat with
Gentiles, he had treated them as if they were not as justified before God
as he and other circumcised Christians were. If food and the observance of
certain days were imagined to gain God's pleasure (Galatians 4:10), so ignoring
the gospel of justification by faith alone, then Paul would not yield an
inch of concession. Here in Rome, however, he recommends tolerance.
In Rome both the strong and the weak Christians agreed that salvation
was God's free gift of grace, but they were not agreed as to what was the
will of God in certain questions of food and drink and holy days. Now Paul
did not regard such problems between the strong and the weak as being wholly
without danger, for if not handled aright, they can lead to dangerous results.
Before Christians realise it, their enjoyment of God-given righteousness can
be undermined. "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye (as Christ has received
you, 15:7), yet not to doubtful disputations of judgment or discussion on
opinions". It is a fact that Christians may have scruples about food and other
things. This may be due to their background, lack of instruction or even
measure of faith (12:6). In any case the strong, who may have a clearer view
of the gospel than the weak, must never despise his brother; nor must the
weak regard himself as more "consecrated" than the others because of his
abstinence or observance of days. It is in these attitudes that dangers lie
hidden for both groups.
In Galatia, men observed days and seasons in order to gain God's approval,
but in Rome there were those who knew that they were fully approved in Christ
but who still regarded certain days as better than others, presumably for
worship and service. The apostle does not disassociate himself from such
an opinion, but uses the expression, "fully assured" (v.5) which makes a link
with the life of faith (4:21). Each Christian, whether strong or weak, is
an independent personality who must live his life before God rather than only
The truth is so fundamental that Paul both expands and explains it in
verses 7 to 9. He says that the whole of our existence in life and in death,
in time and in eternity, belongs to the Lord, and that not by reason of what
we eat or refrain from eating, but because Christ died and rose again for
this very purpose. In this way he passes from relative trivialities of personal
actions to the greatest consideration of all, Christ's death and resurrection.
By that work He has been made Head over all Christians; over the living --
whether they are strong or weak; and over the dead -- whether they died strong
in faith or passed away in weakness. Christ is Lord of all.
Seen in this light, questions of custom or tradition are reduced to their
rightful insignificance, and the idea of a brother judging another is quite
excluded. The strong Christian may be more correct, but even the most orthodox
can never stand by reason of his correct views. Before the judgment-seat
of God, both strong and weak [59/60] have nothing in
themselves to count upon. Every knee shall bow (in humility) and every tongue
shall confess (praise) God, (for His free salvation) (v.11). Then no-one
will praise himself, despise others or erect divisions among God's people.
THE STRENGTH OF LOVE (vv.13-23)
Because we are each to give account of himself to God, both the strong
and the weak must refrain from judging one another, and rather make the
decision that they will avoid harming one another in any of these matters.
In order to understand the apostle, let us again define the situation in
the church in Rome. As we have already shown, there was no group there which
made eating or drinking a matter of justification before God. Had that been
so, Paul would not have recommended tolerance, for the truth of the gospel
would have been in jeopardy. Paul would never have tolerated a "strength"
which insists that if others did not eat like them, then they would be second-class
Christians, nor a "weakness" which claimed to be more holy than others by
reason of abstinence or observances. The "judging" of which he speaks concerns
differing opinions among those who readily accepted one another as brothers
(vv.10 & 13).
The case was that there were Christians for whom the gospel meant a carefree
conscience, and others, who were just as much in the good of the gospel but
whose consciences were sensitive in a weak way. The danger was that the
liberated Christians would express their carefree conscience by actions of
liberty which would either offend their weaker brothers or influence them
to an imitation of actions which would be against their own consciences.
In this case they would not act from faith but just because they were carried
away by the strong influence of the others, and in this case this would involve
sin (v.23). The apostle is suggesting that a strong Christian, by using his
liberty regardless of others, might take the ground from under the feet
of a blood-bought fellow believer (v.15).
Christ sacrificed His liberty for all His people: those among them who
feel strong must be prepared to sacrifice their liberties for the sake of
God's people as a whole. If they fail to do so and assert their rights,
then they may lead others into violation of their consciences, unbelief
and departure from Christ. Should this happen, then the liberty which Christ
so dearly bought for them will have been used to give advantage to Satan,
the great enemy of souls.
Furthermore, every Christian must realise that consideration for the
kingdom of God must take precedence over matters of personal liberty (v.17).
In a choice between food and the preservation of mutual peace and joy among
the saints, the choice is clear. All God's people, under the government of
the Holy Spirit, must be full of joy and peace together. Anything less cannot
be regarded as right before God and men, and the hall-mark of the kingdom
is righteousness. The edification of the Church should be more important
to believers than the assertion of their own opinions. Paul makes a link between
his earlier appeal for living sacrifices -- "well-pleasing to God" (12:2)
-- and such a willingness to abstain or forego in which "he that herein serveth
Christ is well-pleasing to God" (v.18).
The apostle sums up the whole matter by appealing for a faith that works
by love. The strong must make his own faith a matter between himself and
God, not displaying it in a manner calculated to harm his brother but abstaining
even from what he judges rightful if by so doing he can help to build up
Christ's Church. This way lies happiness (v.22). The strong is happy, for
he can abstain without feeling himself brought into bondage, and the weak
is happy for he can give thanks to God for his herbs and water. There is no
happiness, though, but only condemnation, when men depart from the simplicity
of a faith walk with the Lord. If we are to be strong, let us be strong in
(To be continued)
"Love, like death, hath all destroyed,
Rendered all distinctions void;
Names, and sects, and parties fall,
Thou, O Christ, art all in all."
Charles Wesley [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (25)
"(which is the first commandment with promise)"
SINCE Luke was Paul's closest companion at the time when this letter
was written, the two must surely have discussed together the story of the
Boy Jesus which Luke incorporated in his Gospel, and they must have marvelled
at His simple submission to Joseph and Mary. Let nobody think that this was
easy for the twelve-year-old Jesus. It must have been a matter of real cost
to our Saviour to abandon the exciting atmosphere of the Rabbinical schools
where He could so excel, and accept instead the discipline and drudgery of
the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. Nevertheless He accepted the orders of
Mary and Joseph without demur. He honoured those who acted as His human parents,
and in so doing He brought greater honour to His heavenly Father.
NONE of us know whether Mary's insistence that Jesus should return to
Nazareth with her and Joseph was the right decision. We do know this, though,
that the Lord Himself never questioned the rightness of His obedience to
it. So we see that the matter of obedience to parents belongs to both the
Old Testament and the New. As always, the Law and the Lord Jesus are in perfect
harmony. What is more, both offer a blessing to the obedient.
DIFFICULT as it may sometimes be for an adolescent to submit to imperfect
parents, he or she will be showing a Christlike Spirit by so doing. And it
follows that they will get a blessing. The actual nature of the promise is
not stated here in the New Testament; Paul simply draws our attention to
the fact that there must be something special about this commandment, for
it is the first (and the only) one to specify a reward for those who keep
POSSIBLY this commandment is singled out from among the rest because
it involves that filial attitude of heart which is so preciously found in
full expression in the relationship between the Lord Jesus and His heavenly
Father. God merits our respect, for His fatherly love is full of understanding
and kindness. That this is not always so in the case of earthly parents
only makes submission an even greater virtue and the more pleasing to God.
Not that this excuses parents if they fail to do their part. They must seek
to earn their children's respect rather than to demand it, as the subsequent
SCRIPTURE balances Scripture. This commandment must not be allowed to
set aside the divine decree that marriage changes things for a man, for with
it he must make a break with the old order. "For this cause shall a man leave
his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife" (Matthew 19:5). That
a man should forsake his parents to enter into a close union with his wife
is a basic principle of human life, dating from the beginning and confirmed
by the Lord Jesus Himself. It can only be ignored with unhappy consequences.
SENTIMENTALISTS wax eloquent about the beauty of patriarchal establishments
and they flourished all over the world throughout the ages. They do not represent
God's ideal for man. He wants new families to begin rather than that old
existing ones should extend to swallow up and stultify further generations.
The new husband and wife have mutual obligations which modify this commandment,
though they do not nullify it. For some this makes it difficult to know
just how to maintain a right relationship with parents. The Spirit-taught
adult will be guided as to how to honour parents without being wrongly subservient
towards them. They can always enjoy the special promise spoken of in this
parenthesis if they balance Scripture with Scripture.
"HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY;
BUT MY WORDS SHALL NOT PASS AWAY."
Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London
WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454