|Vol. 9, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1980
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THESE past months have brought us some inspiring news of the Lord's special
grace as revealed in the experiences of men who have suffered imprisonment
for Christ's sake. There was Frank in Iraq, then there was Joseph in Rumania,
and now I have been privileged to listen to a cassette recording of a Chinese
servant of God who has just been released after 23 years of detainment in
I was greatly moved as I listened to the cassette which included the
singing of two English hymns by the elderly Chinese brother. Our Chinese
friends are understandably reluctant to countenance any publicity over here
in the West, and for this reason I refrain from mentioning the name of this
honoured servant of Christ. He was more widely known than Watchman Nee, though
I personally did not know him. During those early years of fierce trial,
though, his name became familiar to us as we prayed for Brother Nee and
others like him, knowing that they were under constant attacks only because
of their loyalty to the Lord and His Word. This particular brother was much
prayed for by many lovers of his land.
After his recent release from imprisonment, a friend from this country
was the first Westerner to have the contact with him which enabled him to
bring pictures and the recording back from China. Communications were easy,
for the Chinese pastor speaks English fluently. Indeed he was so familiar
with it that he knew two English hymns and often sang them to himself during
the long years of his lonely captivity. I imagine that it was more possible
for him to do this in English than it would have been in his own language.
In any case, these are the words which I heard and which he had so often
sung in that communist prison:
All the way my Saviour leads me:
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Saviour leads me:
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul a-thirst may be,
Gushing from a rock before me,
Lo! a spring of joy I see.
Now look again at those words and try to realise that they had become
the testimony of a man who had just emerged from 23 years in prison. During
the whole of that time he never handled a Bible, nor even saw one; he had
no letters from the outside world and had no contact whatsoever with another
Christian. Is it not wonderful that he was able continually to sing: "
Can I doubt His tender mercy?" How sorely he must have been tempted
at times to doubt! And, "Jesus doeth all things well." What a triumph
of faith! So he sang on: "Heavenly peace, divinest comfort. Gives me grace
for every trial. A spring of joy!" What an amazing testimony! And what
amazing grace lies behind it!
During all those years no human ear had heard the triumphant testimony.
But it had been heard. Heavenly beings had heard it and worshipped the Lamb
in the midst of the throne Who was triumphing in the life of His tested servant,
just as He Himself had triumphed when He lived and suffered here on earth.
The hosts of wicked spirits must have heard it too, and trembled even as
they listened. In the early church days the demons said, "Jesus I know and
Paul I know ...". Ever since then they have had to take cognisance of the
triumphant grace of God in Spirit-filled saints. And if anyone doubts whether
this Chinese brother was filled with the Spirit or not, I can only imagine
that they have not properly appreciated the spiritual victory involved in
a man being able to sing such words under such circumstances.
Some of us may deserve the contemptuous question put to the sons of Sceva:
"Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?" (Acts 19:15) for we make
little impact on the kingdom of darkness, but not such a radiant saint as
this imprisoned Chinese brother. In him and those like him can surely be
discerned the fulfilment [101/102] of Paul's words:
"to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly
places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God"
(Ephesians 3:10). Our testimony is not only intended for men; it is designed
to confront heaven and hell with the miracle of the grace of God in Christ.
The old brother had never heard his own voice, so he was delighted when
his songs were played back to him and he heard his own singing. As we listened
to the cassette we felt privileged indeed to have some share in his obvious
joy. The words were clear, though marked by a foreign accent, and obviously
the voice was that of an elderly man. It was quite unaccompanied. The first
hymn was, "Safe in the arms of Jesus", and the other the one already quoted,
"All the way my Saviour leads me". There was no mistaking its sincerity.
Being interrogated as to whether he felt that God had made any mistake
in allowing him to be so shut away from all human help for 23 years, and
as to whether he regretted it, he gave emphatic negatives to both questions,
even going so far as to say that he would not have missed one day of it.
"It was my spiritual university", he said, "that was where I learned my deepest
lessons of the Lord". And this from a man who was well known as a Bible teacher
long before he was arrested. He went on to say that although all the time
his outward man was decaying, it was certainly true that his inward man
was being renewed day by day. "Jesus was so real and so near that it was
like a long honeymoon" was the way he described it. Re-united now to his
wife who has become blind, he is full of praise to God and is a living proof
of Christ's utter sufficiency under every circumstance. His one piece of
advice to his fellow believers was that they should always stand firm in
the Lord. He knows, as only a man in his position can, that a practical walk
with God is more important than any amount of mere head-knowledge of divine
things. In his typical dry humour he remarked: "A man who has a very large
head full of theology and very small feet of practical obedience is top-heavy.
He will soon fall over." He went on to emphasise that the only way to have
spiritual authority and to be used by God is to live a life of practical
obedience to His Word.
Several points seem to me to emerge from the deeply moving message from
this saintly brother who in his day was a mighty voice for God in his own
land. The first is a fresh call to worship and praise. When the heavenly
hosts heard that jubilant testimony they did not get busy calling together
committees to plan new operations -- they bowed in worship and wonder before
the throne of God and the Lamb. Should we do less? Through the years we have
prayed on, sometimes almost despairing as to what could be left of the Church
in China, and often lamenting that our missionary work seemed closed down,
when all the time the Spirit of God had been mightily at work. I have a Chinese
friend who has always insisted that it was not a closed land. "Closed perhaps
to missionaries, but not closed to God", he used to say. How right he was!
This has been abundantly proved by the testimonies now reaching us of the
miracles of God's grace.
The next is prayer. Not for an inrush of missionaries into China, but
for the vast numbers of witnessing Christians already there. It is good to
know, too, that there are many Chinese copies of the Scriptures available,
and that they are quietly passing into the right hands without any need for
smuggling operations or deceiving the authorities. We must pray that the
many copies of God's Word already to hand may be distributed as quickly and
as wisely as possible, and that in addition to Bibles there may be suitable
spiritual literature for the upbuilding of God's people. We must concentrate
our prayers on spiritual support for Chinese Christians who can return freely
to their native land to witness for Christ there. We should also pray much
for the very many students who are over in the West for studies and who might
come to know Christ before returning to their life and work in their own
Pray that God's people may be preserved from sensational and fund-raising
appeals. Wrong publicity is most harmful and calculated to produce a backlash
against the very people whom it is supposed to help. We have been put to
shame by the devoted and sacrificial life of our Chinese brothers and sisters,
many of whom have laid down their lives for the sake of the gospel. We should
be inspired by further practical proof of the fact that God is able to do
exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. His purpose in so doing,
and our purpose in praying must be that there should be glory in the church
by Christ Jesus. Let us keep at it. [102/103]
"If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one"
LATER on Jesus said to those same disciples, "Put your sword back into
its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).
There must be a good explanation for the Lord's earlier command that His
disciples should be sure to be armed, and among other possible reasons for
this apparent contradiction I propose to concentrate on the one point that
the Christian's warfare is not physical but spiritual. This is very clear
from the whole of the subsequent teaching of the New Testament, notably from
Paul's statement that "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but
mighty before God" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Moreover we nowhere find the apostles
-- to whom these words were addressed -- carrying swords as they pursued their
ministry, so we presume that when the Lord said: "Put up thy sword", He meant
that we should put away from us any idea of fighting against men and address
ourselves to active participation in spiritual warfare.
The Reality of Spiritual Warfare
Although we know that the Bible teaching reminds us that we are soldiers
of Christ, we forget that we are in a battle. We put down our troubles to
other causes. There are times when we get into conflicts because of
our own faults or strained relationships -- then it is no use blaming the
Devil for what is really our responsibility. On the other hand we must not
become obsessed with secondary causes, people and circumstances, when the
real issue is that extra element of spiritual evil which is the real enemy.
There is a warfare in heaven and from this, circumstances can be created
and people affected.
When, in New Testament language, we speak of heaven, do not let us think
of that which is remote and far away, somewhere in or beyond the clouds.
No, heavenly warfare is in the atmosphere all around us. The Devil is called
"the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2). Now the air is not all
above the clouds, but it is where we are as we breathe it now. The heavenlies
are wrapping us round all the time and the spiritual conflict is in this very
atmosphere. There is an illustration of this in the Old Testament story, when
Elisha prayed: "Lord, I pray thee open his eyes that he may see" (2 Kings
6:17), and the young man had his eyes opened to see how near as well as how
real were the unseen armies of God. Because we have a spirit, which is the
medium of connection with that which is spiritual, this evil atmosphere is
not always outside of us but sometimes seems to make the conflict inward.
In one way or another, the spiritual conflict is very real and for it we
need the Spirit's sword.
The Church's Battlefield
The occasion of this conflict is the destiny of the Church. All departments
and realms of really spiritual work seem to provoke the opposition of spiritual
forces, but the nearer we get to the great, eternal conception of God's destiny
for the Church of Christ, the Church which is His Body, the more pronounced
the enemy's antagonism becomes.
We meet spiritual antagonism in seeking to win souls for Christ, because
it is only in this way that the Church is born. When, however, the full thought
of God is brought into view, then the greatest challenge of the forces of
evil is registered. This is because it is in the Church and in relation
to the Church's destiny that the whole kingdom of Satan is to be met and
overthrown. Hence, of course, the tremendous significance of corporate life.
Even by small and seemingly insignificant means, moodiness or trifling disagreements,
Satan breaks up the flow of fellowship among the saints. It seems strange
that the vital power of the Church should be weakened by the moods and temperaments
of God's people but so it can be. If the Devil cannot succeed by such simple
methods he has many other ploys and complex strategies, all aimed at the
destruction of the relatedness of God's people. So spiritual fellowship becomes
a real battleground.
Some think that fellowship is a kind of picnic, a religious festival.
We praise God for all the [103/104] joys of fellowship,
but the matter is more serious than that, and is so important that it can
become a matter of real battle. The exercise and preserving of true heart
fellowship with all other Christians -- not just with those whom we like
but with all -- is a field of constant conflict. Fellowship is not just something
that happens. We must fight for it. It is a great factor in the spiritual
Conflict in Corporate Prayer
One of the main functions of such fellowship is the great corporate activity
of united prayer. We need to be reminded from time to time that our seasons
of coming together for prayer are more than occasions for bringing to the
Lord a list of items. We have, of course, to be definite with the Lord and
we have to ask Him for things. The real goal of our praying, however, must
be not merely personal blessings but the triumph of the will of God. Daniel
gives us an excellent example of such prayer. He was stretched out for three
whole weeks, fasting and praying, as he gave himself to prayer for the fulfilment
of the great purposes of God. His prayer was based on what he "understood
by the books" (Daniel 9:2). He knew what other servants of God had written
about the divine purposes and he had those purposes in his heart. Because
those purposes were in apparent suspension, because there was a contradiction
of them since the Lord's enemies had been given an advantage through the
unfaithfulness of the people of God -- this was why Daniel was so drawn out
in his praying. We are told that the result was great warfare in heaven. During
the twenty-one days of this particular season of prayer, a terrific conflict
had been taking place without his being aware of it. The very principalities
and powers had been so stirred and roused by this kind of praying that they
had withstood the messengers of God. A fight had been going on, and one great
angel needed to come to the support of another, as if one angelic being was
not enough and needed help to get through. The value of prayer is not decided
by asking for things but the nature of the things asked for.
What God needs is a people who have seen His intentions and purpose,
seen the destiny of His Son and of the Church which is His Body, and devote
themselves to the fulfilment of His will. Such prayer draws us into a spiritual
conflict, for which the Lord told us to be sure and have a sword. It is
so easy to be discouraged, so easy to be put off or silenced. With our sword
in our hand we must stick at it and press the battle through to victory.
The Ground of Triumph
For this prayer warfare we are advised to "take up the whole armour of
God" (Ephesians 6:11). It is not that we enter a prayer session by some
mental process of thinking of the armour. It is no use when you sense that
the battle is on that you should try to concentrate your thoughts on the
various items of the armour. To do that would be to find yourself too late.
You can only begin to stand if you are already girded beforehand. This is
not an emergency outfit for special occasions but a manner of life for the
i. The importance of truth. We begin with the matter of being
girded with truth. This means that things must be real in our lives. If
there is anything false about our position, anything artificial or unreal
about our profession, then we will be ineffective in the spiritual battle.
We must be free from errors in doctrine -- that is very important. More than
that, though, we must be living in the good of what we believe, not just
holding some mental ideas without real heart knowledge of the truth. The
spiritual warrior needs to be girded with the truth if he is to triumph.
ii. Practical righteousness. "Having put on the breastplate of
righteousness". What matters is what is satisfying to God, for that is His
righteousness. The whole question of righteousness is that of God's rights,
what He has a right to; and what God has a right to must accord with His own
nature. God is always right, He is just and true. He therefore must have that
which satisfies Him and He has found this in His Son whose righteousness is
imputed to us. The wiles of the Devil are always directed against that, trying
to get us off the ground where we stand in the absolute satisfaction of God
by faith. The enemy keeps saying, "God is dissatisfied with you, He has this
and that against you" so to counter his accusations we must hold fast to
the fact that full righteousness is supplied to us through faith in Jesus
Christ. It is His righteousness which alone can protect that most vital part.
No doubt this also makes a reference to the need for that righteousness to
work out in our lives in a practical [104/105] way,
for anything unrighteous in our dealings or behaviour will mean that we cannot
stand against Satan.
iii. The Good News of peace. "Having shod your feet with the preparation
of the gospel of peace". We need not become too involved with the reference
to our feet, but rather stress the point that God's message is good news
of peace. Anybody with that message is a menace to the kingdom of darkness,
for the enemy is always endeavouring to oppress us with bad news. We must
go to the world with the good news that God offers perfect peace to the troubled
heart and mind. Satan never minds us going to people with bad news, or with
a face that suggests gloom, but he hates to have Christians spreading the
glad news of peace. Paul and Silas went to Philippi with good news, the gospel
of peace, and the enemy did his best to take that off their faces and out
of their voices (Acts 16:11-34). He did not succeed. They triumphed over
him because the very spirit of the good news was in their hearts. It is a
tremendous strength against the Devil to be standing in the good of the glad
tidings of peace. Christ "made peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians
1:20). There is now no need for estrangement or depression. God is for you.
He has shown that in Christ. Stand and walk in the power of His peace.
iv. The shield of faith. We must take up and make good use of
this big -- or overall -- shield of faith. Faith is all-embracing and relates
to every possible aspect of the conflict. There can be no triumph in the spiritual
life without the full exercise of vital faith.
v. The assurance of salvation. Clear assurance about salvation
needs to cover the head as a helmet. How many arguments, debates, fears and
uncertainties are ready to impinge upon our minds and paralyse our value
to the Lord. The salvation of the Lord is mighty, and we must use it to protect
our minds from succumbing to satanic assaults. His strong salvation is the
only cover which can do this.
vi. The Word of God. Finally there is "the sword of the Spirit
which is the Word of God". We know how the Lord Jesus met the enemy in the
wilderness with apt quotations from God's Word. He had so soaked Himself
in the Old Testament that the right emphasis came to Him at the right moment.
We, too, are told to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly" (Colossians
3:16). Do not let any of us think that we are going to triumph in the spiritual
warfare if we neglect our Bibles, any more than we can do so if we neglect
prayer. Try to do without prayer and the Word and you will be worsted in the
fight. You will be a soldier without a sword!
A GREAT GOD, A GREAT KING (4)
(Four pairs of Psalms on this subject)
J. Alec Motyer
Psalms 99 - 100. The King's Holy Nature
IN the first two psalms in this Book of Praises to the King, Psalms 93
and 94, we were allowed to see the kingship of God over the world. In the
next two, Psalms 95 and 96, we saw His kingship over the gods. In Psalms
97 and 98 the spotlight shifted again, and we saw His kingship in the hearts
of His people and how such kingship automatically produces the cry of joy.
There is only one other place where the spotlight can fall, and so in the
final two, Psalms 99 and 100, we see God's kingship as revealed in His own
holy nature. As we consider them we will be reminded that our King is both
holy and good. What more can be said or needs to be said about Him?
Psalm 99. Holy and Good
All the truth of kingship, which is so plain in Psalm 99, is focused
down on to the point of divine holiness. This is a particularly easy psalm
to divide because it provides its own divisions; like many hymns it has a
chorus, except that here the chorus is not identical on each occasion, but
the heart of identity is here: "Let them praise thy great and awesome name:
holy is he" (v.3); "Exalt ye the Lord our God. Bow in worship at his footstool:
holy is he" (v.5); and "Exalt ye the Lord our God, and bow in worship at
his holy hill: for the Lord our God is holy" (v.9). So it is a psalm of
kingship, yet the spotlight [105/106] falls not so
much on His kingliness as upon His holiness.
The opening three verses stress God's greatness, yet I feel that if I
were to call this section of the Psalm, The Greatness of the Holy One, I
believe that I would be doing it an injustice, for rather it should be entitled,
The Grace of the Holy One.
1. The Grace of the Holy One
First of all, and obviously, He is great. The Lord reigns. He exists
in His reigning majesty and so the people tremble. He does not have to do
anything. He just is. "He sits enthroned upon, or between, the cherubim".
His enthronement is such that the mere fact of His being such a King makes
the whole earth move in His presence. As the girl Rahab said to the spies:
"All the inhabitants of the land melt away before you ... for the Lord your
god is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:9-11).
The psalmist stresses this point that the awe-inspiring presence of God makes
the hearts of men melt.
Then we are told that He is near -- "The Lord is great in Zion" (v.2).
His greatness is not afar off but it is a greatness near at hand. In the
original the emphasis rests on "in Zion" -- it is in Zion that He is great.
He has brought down that awe-inspiring greatness right into His indwelling
presence among His people. I am reminded so much of Isaiah 6 that I wonder
whether perhaps it was Isaiah himself who was the author of these psalms.
He had a vision of the King; he felt the earth shake and tremble, and he
suddenly knew in his spirit the reality of the awe-inspiring nearness of
the holy God.
But now look at that which occupies the centre of this section of the
psalm, He is gracious. Where does He set His throne? "He sits enthroned upon
the cherubim". This is not the enthroned majesty of God associated with
Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel 1. It is not here, as it is in Genesis 3:24
that His throne is associated with the cherubim with the flaming sword, turning
every way to guard the way to the tree of life. No, this is a reference to
the cherubim in Zion, the cherubim covering the mercy seat with their
wings, concerning whom it was commanded: "toward the mercy seat shall the
faces of the cherubim be" (Exodus 25:20). That is where He reigns enthroned,
in the place of mercy. The grace of this great and awesome God is that when
He comes down to be among His own people, He takes up His throne in the place
where mercy triumphs over wrath.
2. The Law of the Holy One
The second section of the psalm in verses 4 and 5 is occupied with the
theme of The Law of the Holy One. There are many translations of verse 4
but the literal translation is: "The king's strength loves justice (or judgment)".
All the variations in their different ways say that the strength of this
great kingly God is wrapped up in the love and exercise of justice. This links
up to what is already stated in the Old Testament; the law is a manifestation
of the image of God. Concerning that giving of the Law, Moses reminded Israel
that "the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound
of words, but saw no form" (Deuteronomy 4:12). This means that the Lord
chose that He should be known amongst His people, not by any visible representation,
but by the law which He spoke to them: "This was the image of a God which
they were to cherish. "you shall observe all my statutes and all my ordinances,
and do them: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:37). This may sound as if God
were telling them to accept His authority and do things because He said
so, but since the reason given is "I am Yahweh", He is really saying that
they should keep the law because it represented among them what He Himself
is. At the beginning of that chapter, He said to all the congregation of
Israel: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2).
The law is the preceptual image of God, the image of God written down in
precepts, so that if anyone follow them he will be like God.
All the great strength of God goes out among His people in concern for
a just society. "Thou dost establish equity" (v.4). His pleasure is in a
just society. The implementing of holy principles and holy practices, judgment
and justice, these are the concerns of a God who desires a people who keep
His law. And will you please notice that He insists on this, despite our
incapacity. I was struck by the fact that it is Jacob who is mentioned here.
As in 94:7, the name of Jacob is used, I believe, to underline the helplessness
of the people of God, their inadequacy in their Jacob nature. It is of them
that God demands life along the straight-edge of His law. He does not accommodate
His principles to the inadequacies of His people, but rather tells them to
obey His law and so find that it ministers life to [106/107]
them. The New Testament speaks of "the Holy Spirit, whom God has given
to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32). Obedience brings us into an experience
of the power of the Spirit.
But will you notice that the law of God is linked to the grace of God?
He looks in Jacob for a standard of obedience which is quite beyond Jacob.
He demands obedience from a people who constantly fall short. If we read
on, though, we find that we are told to "bow in worship at his footstool".
Now since God is enthroned between the cherubim, it follows that His feet
rest on the mercy seat. How marvellous that it is the verses which call us
to an obedience beyond our capacity which point us to a God who deliberately
places His feet upon the mercy seat, the place where the blood is sprinkled.
It was grace that brought the people out of Egypt by the blood of the lamb
to come to Mount Sinai to hear how they were to live to please their Redeemer
God. Then no sooner was the law declared to them than the sacrifices were
instituted so that the blood of the lamb might accompany them in their pilgrimage.
Truly the Bible is one book! What is visually portrayed in what we call
the Old Testament, is plainly stated in the New, namely that "if we walk
in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" and
the blood goes on cleansing those who commit themselves to the way of obedience.
"And these things are written that ye sin not" -- the call to obedience,
and sinless obedience at that! "But if any man sin, we have an advocate ...
and the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:1-2). Praise be to God that
grace accompanies law!
3. The Fellowship of the Holy One
In the third section we are continuing to deal with holy Kingship, but
this time in relation to individual life. "Moses and Aaron ... Samuel also"
(v.6). These great ones are not here mentioned in virtue of the great status
God gave them, but in their representative capacity. They are spoken of
as "among his priests ... and among them that call upon his name"; we therefore
look on them as typical of what it is like to be a member of the people
of God -- they are representative believers. Under this heading, then, of
Fellowship with the Holy One, we are directed to the individual among God's
people who is walking in the fellowship of the Holy One.
Notice what comes first: like Moses and Aaron they have priestly access
to God and like Samuel, they call on the Lord's name. So the first characteristic
of the people of God is that they are a praying people, and as they pray
in God's presence they receive His answers -- "They called upon the Lord,
and he answered them". They make prayer and He answers prayer. The primary
mark of walking in fellowship with the Holy One is a life of praying and receiving.
The original should be rendered, "They keep calling upon the Lord, and He
keeps on answering". This is to be the changeless reality of those who enjoy
fellowship with God; ceaseless calling and constant answering.
The second characteristic of this fellowship consists of hearing and
obeying: "He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimony
and the statute that he gave them" (v.7). Notice the interchange: they and
He. "They called ... He answered"; "He spoke" ... they obeyed. This is the
beautiful reciprocity and mutuality of the life of fellowship with this
royal and holy God. The people of God have an accredited revelation -- "His
testimonies". A testimony is that which a reliable witness vouches for.
The Word of God is His testimony, it is divine truth vouched for by the
greatest and most reliable of all witnesses, God Himself. And so insistent
was He that His people should have an accredited revelation that in due course
He Himself came down in the Person of the Word. Christ Himself set the hallmark
of authority upon the written Word which God had given to His people. It
is also a normative revelation, to be the standard and norm of their behaviour.
This is shown in the word "statute", which had behind it the idea of what
is engraven on a rock and therefore permanent and unchangeable.
The third mark of those who walk in fellowship with God is that they
have a life of forgiveness and chastisement: "Thou answeredst them, O Lord
our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them and didst take vengeance ..."
(v.8). As to forgiveness, we find that behind the word is the truth of a
God of sin-bearing. This was typified on the Day of Atonement when Aaron
laid his hands of confession upon the live goat and it was said that "the
goat shall bear all their iniquities ..." (Leviticus 16:22). Isaiah used
the same word: "and bare the sin of many" (Isaiah 53:12). John the Baptist
also used it: "Behold the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the
[107/108] world" (John 1:29). This psalm sums it all up: Thou wast
a God of sin-bearing. The Bible is one book!
As to vengeance, the idea here is of giving exact payment for wrong done.
So it was that when Moses and Aaron disobeyed God in the smiting of the rock,
the chastisement of God fell upon them in a way which all knew to be just,
and they were excluded from the land. In this sense He was a God who took
vengeance. Forgiveness and chastisement. Not one alone nor the other alone,
but both together. Forgiveness without chastisement would make us complacent:
chastisement without forgiveness would make us despair. Forgiveness without
chastisement would spoil us: chastisement without forgiveness would crush
us. Together, they are the reminder that while we can trust that we will
be forgiven, we must never treat sin lightly. Only so can we enjoy true fellowship
with the Holy One.
Psalm 100. The Privilege of Knowing Him
This psalm speaks of the people of God in the presence of God. Here is
the sum of all privilege: to be with Him and to know Him. Here we have a
world-wide people gathered around the only God. There is a three-fold invitation:
"Make a joyful noise" (v.1); "Serve the Lord with gladness" (v.2); "Come
before his presence" (v.2). This is followed by a three-fold affirmation:
"Know that the Lord is God; it is he that made us; we are his people, the
sheep of his pasture" (v.3). The invitations are, shout, serve, come: the
reasons are, He is God, He made us, He saves us.
Moving on, we find a further three-fold invitation: "Enter his gates
... Give thanks to him; bless his name" (v.4), followed by another three-fold
affirmation: "The Lord is good; his mercy endures for ever; his faithfulness
is to all generations" (v.5). Is not that beautiful!
1. The Privilege of Access
As we take up the first call with its accompanying affirmation, we find
that it speaks to us of the privilege of access, for the three verbs are
used to denote increasing closeness to God. "Shout", "Serve", "Come into his
presence" -- we hail Him from afar, we join in worship to Him and then we
come right to where He is. The people of God are welcomed into the presence
of their God. And they come with joy. This joy of their approach is explained
by three facts, all dealing with what He has done for them. He is Jehovah,
the God whom we know by name. He created us, and to me that refers to His
redeeming work; He made sinners to become His redeemed people. And if that
were not enough cause for rejoicing, He is our Shepherd and we are the sheep
of His pasture. So we look upward and see Him as God; we look backward and
see the work of salvation which He has wrought; and we look around us and
rejoicing find His shepherding care.
2. The Privilege of Intimacy
The second half of the psalm speaks of the privilege of intimacy with
Him (v.4-5). Once again the verbs are those of increasing closeness. "Enter
his gates". Come through the gate into His nearer presence and look up to
Him and thank Him. Then comes the closest of all -- "and bless his name".
I am sorry if your translation renders it: "Praise his name", since the distinctive
word in the Hebrew makes it clear that we are to bless His name. We may
well ask how we can bless God. We answer with another question, How does
He bless us? Well, He examines our situation and reacts accordingly: He
reviews what we are and responds to what He finds. "Therefore", says the
psalmist, "bless his name". Ransack the revelation of Himself that He has
given and has encapsulated in His name. Explore it from one end to the other,
and then let your heart and mind be drawn out in worship and commitment and
every other way required by the fathomless nature of this eternal God. So
will you bless His name.
What in particular do we find as we ransack His name? According to verse
5, we find out what God is in His very nature. We find that "the Lord is
good; His mercy is for ever; and His faithfulness is for all generations".
We look at Him as to what He is in Himself and we find that this Holy One
is completely and utterly good. We look at Him in His unvarying attitude towards
us, and we find that His steadfast love is everlasting. And we look at the
ongoing experience of life and discover that His faithfulness, His reliability,
just goes on, one generation after another, in the unvarying experience of
We might have wondered if it were right to include this psalm in the
Book of the Praises of the King, since there is no reference to kingship
in Psalm 100. Although this is true, the psalm brings to fruition the call
to worship which is [108/109] contained in Psalm
99. And, like Psalm 99, it makes the spotlight fall, not on the worshippers
who come, but upon the God to whom they come. It focuses on the nature and
activities of the Lord.
There is another reason why Psalm 100 belongs to the Book of Praises
of the King, and that is that it is plainly linked with Psalm 95. There
it says: "He is our God. We are the people of his pasture, and the sheep
of his hand" (Psalm 95:7). As we noted in our earlier study, that psalm
belongs to Israel's closed circle of the people of God, the Exodus people.
Between that psalm and Psalm 100 we have found the spreading gospel going
out and affecting every land and nation, until a world-wide people become
God's spiritual Zion. How significant, then, that this psalm returns to the
same theme: "The Lord is God! It is he who made us and not we ourselves.
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture" (100:3). The statement about
the Saviour God has broken out of its old confines; it is now the glad experience
of the whole earth to contain a world-wide people who acknowledge this God,
know His salvation and rest in His shepherding care.
So it is that Psalm 100 begins with the command that all the earth and
all the lands shall shout to the Lord. This, surely, is the climax of His
Kingship. In this way Psalm 100 brings the whole series to a climax, presenting
us with the glorious scene of a world-wide people praising God and blessing
One Lord, one empire, all secures;
He reigns -- and life and death are yours.
Through earth and heaven one song shall ring,
"THE LORD OMNIPOTENT IS KING!"
CHRIST AT THE DOOR
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door,
I will go in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20
THE psalmist speaks of his God as a "very present help." These words
of the Lord Jesus suggest the same truth in an even more personal and intimate
way. They have often been used in evangelism to invite troubled sinners to
open their hearts to the Saviour, and have been blessed to the salvation
of many who have responded in faith. They have also been made use of to stress
the need for churches and their members to hand over the government of their
affairs to the absolute lordship of Christ. This is a legitimate and helpful
application of them. May I suggest, though, that the imagery and parables
of the Bible were not so much meant to provide theological material as to
illustrate and support divine truths stated elsewhere, and this is a case
where we may miss the helpful comfort of Christ's words if we try to limit
them to a strict doctrinal interpretation.
If the members of the seven churches argued that this promise was only
for non-Christians, they might rightly thank the Lord for the "happy day"
when they opened their hearts to the Saviour, and fail to appreciate that
this was a meaningful message to them. All of them -- and especially some
tried saints in Laodicea -- were being given a timely message from their
ever-present Lord. It was as if the risen Saviour cried: "I am nearer than
you think, more involved in your affairs than it may seem. Don't mull over
your problems alone and eat the bread of affliction in solitude, but call
Me in to share things With you. Behold! Wake up and take note of truth you
may have lost sight of. I am not remote, even if I seem so, but I am here,
at your very door. Far from being indifferent to your circumstances and needs,
I am eager to be admitted to your innermost counsels. What you hear is no
merely impersonal knocking but My own authentic voice. Listen! Admit Me!
Let Me share your problems and do you share My provisions."
May it not be that this verse was not meant only for Laodicea but as
the final thrust of Christ's call to all the churches? We should
[109/110] realise that -- unlike other New Testament Letters --
these seven were not dispatched singly to their appropriate churches, but
were included in one whole book which was addressed to each of the churches.
In other words, every church heard its own special message in the setting
of the letters addressed also to the other six. Certain phrases which appear
in each letter were therefore repeated seven times to each listener. Seven
times over they were reminded of the all-knowing Lord and seven times over
were urged to listen carefully to His Spirit's message.
I hope that it may be helpful to consider some of the spiritual features
which emerge from the general background of these seven letters in Revelation
2 and 3. The fact that these features were repeated seven times over to every
listener in the churches stresses how great and important the truths were
to them and are to us. They are not minor details of old historical churches
but up-to-date matters. Just as it is a present reality that at every circumstance
of our lives the Lord Jesus is right at the door, waiting for us to consult
Him and seek His help, so these great spiritual truths call for the careful
attention of us all. I propose to deal with them under four headings: A
Great Privilege, a Great Purpose, a Great Victory and The Great Sufficiency.
1. A Great Privilege
"He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Seven times over we find this common refrain. The very phrase provides
a personal link with the Lord Jesus, for on at least five occasions He called
for attention by the use of the words: "He that hath ears to hear, let him
hear". The connection is a close one, for although in these letters men are
called to listen to the Spirit, the speaker in each case is in fact the
risen Lord Himself: "These things saith the Son of God ...".
When Jesus made His public utterances, He called for "ears", as any public
speaker might do. In these letters, however, He asks for "an ear". The imagery
passes from general hearing to a private and even intimate communication.
We are asked to give a confidential hearing to the words of our Lord. Can
any privilege be greater? For each church it is repeated seven times over.
Who will not respond with eager readiness when the King of kings says to
him: "A word in your ear, if you please"?
We note then that it is the privilege of every church member to be taken
into the confidence of the risen Head of the church. Bible study and preaching
are meant to be more than mental exercises; they should provide the opportunity
for receiving apt and vital messages from Christ Himself. Those who would
minister God's Word should always remember that their task is not just to
instruct or entertain but to provide the Spirit's vital speaking into the
ear of those who listen. A church is not worthy of the name unless it can
truly be described as a place where those who wish to, may hear what the
Spirit is now saying to them.
There was, of course, variety in the actual seven messages. Each church
had its own history, problems and prospects, and each needed some distinctive
and timely help. When the Spirit speaks, whether from the printed page or
through the lips of a preacher, He always operates in this way, not merely
dealing with generalities but applying eternal truths to present circumstances.
And he always does it through the Bible. This last book of the New Testament
came as an integral part of the Holy Scriptures, and finally closed their
presentation of God's Word to man. So much so that the book begins and ends
with a solemn warning against subtracting from or adding to it. If anyone
does that, then we should close our ears to what he says, for it is the voice
of man and not of Spirit. The Holy Spirit always speaks to us through the
Word which He Himself inspired for that very purpose. In point of fact there
are many references to the Old Testament in these seven messages, a point
which demonstrates the unity of the Scriptures.
The question posed to us, though, is not just whether we give our mental
assent to Bible truths, but whether we are sensitive enough and responsive
enough to know what the Spirit of Christ wishes us to learn at this present
moment in our experience, in our church and in our world. Seven times over
we are reminded of the great privilege which is ours, namely to hear for
ourselves the authentic voice of Christ. "The secret of the Lord is with them
that fear him". We can ignore the geographical or historical allusions, provided
we use these letters to know what the Lord is saying to us just now and where
2. A Great Purpose
A further feature of this speaking to the churches is that from seven
different aspects we [110/111] are reminded of the
eternal vocation of the church. These are found in the promises offered to
those individuals in each church who are said to have "overcome". Certain
theologians have been dogmatic about the fact that all believers will continue
in grace to the end. They call this "The Final Perseverance of the Saints".
I do not take exception to this truth, though I have no special liking for
the phraseology. What is presented as the destiny of believers in these letters
is rather different. It is more than their eternal security which is being
considered and therefore seems to be relevant only to the victorious Christian
-- "he that overcometh". What is in view, however, is not an extra to Christian
vocation but the proper high calling of all those who are in Christ.
We have here seven aspects of this destiny; they do not point to special
prizes for those who have excelled in holy living, but rather stress what
the New Testament writers have already disclosed as the eternal purpose of
God for the church. Nevertheless we are nowhere encouraged to take it for
granted that all this will be automatically inherited, but are rather exhorted
to prove the victorious power of the Spirit in daily living and so make
this calling and election sure. There is a possibility of being saved and
yet "saved so as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15) -- whatever that may
May I repeat what I have already indicated, namely that the seven destinies
here described are not differing blessings for different churches, but a
composite view of the one eternal purpose of God for the believer. When we
come to section 4 -- The Great Sufficiency -- we will have no difficulty in
accepting the proposition that the churches were not being addressed by seven
different Christs, but that each letter commenced with a different view of
the one Christ. Each of the seven was given its own personal revelation of
the Speaker. This same consideration applies to His promises. They are seven
aspects of God's intention for His redeemed people.
Since these are described in some detail, it is doubtless profitable
to study them as fully as possible. Parallels and enlargements of them can
be found throughout the Word of God. In the present article, however, I propose
only to deal with the first and the last, that is, the reference to the
paradise of God (2:7) and to the throne of God (3:21). Both of these allusions
are clearly referred to in many parts of Scripture; they represent the glorious
purpose of God for man, seemingly lost by the Fall but marvellously recovered
When God created the world, He had man in view, and when He Himself planted
the paradise or park of Eden, His design was to draw the human race into
loving and reigning relationship with Himself. Man was destined to be a partner
or "partaker" in reigning sonship (Hebrews 3:14), to share His life and His
throne. Far from being a crude evolutionary creature, slowly emerging from
lower orders, Adam came straight from the hand of his Maker God, a most noble
being, clothed with light and appointed to have dominion (Genesis 1:28). He
was tested, and he failed to overcome. The sombre story of his failure is
described in the Bible, and is also painfully evident in the whole of human
history. God's plan for mankind had seemingly proved abortive.
God, however, can never be defeated. He provided a last Adam who triumphed
under every test.
O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A final Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive, and should prevail.
The recovery of God's eternal purpose for man was achieved by the redemptive
work of Jesus, the Second Man; through Him it is yet to be realised in the
church of the firstborn ones who, in Christ, form the one new man.
To Ephesus, the, the Lord Jesus gives the promise of Adam's forfeited
destiny: "to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the
Paradise of God". To Laodicea He offers the complementary prospect: "I will
give him to sit down with me in my throne". This is the great purpose of God
for redeemed sinners. The other five promises fit into this comprehensive
outline of the church's destiny. The seven-fold reminder of the great things
which God has prepared for them that love Him should surely inspire us to
seek a much closer walk with our God. The Christ Who is at the door of the
individual is also said to be at the door of the fulfilment of all things.
We have no time to waste: "That which ye have, hold fast till I come" (2:25).
We must open the door anew to our Lord, so that He can come in to nourish
our souls with this holy and glorious prospect. Can we have been, like the
church in Ephesus, so occupied with our orthodoxy and our Christian activities
that we have been deaf to that gracious knocking? Can we have become so captivated
by earthly success and possessions that, like the Laodiceans, we have not
responded to His loving desire to share His spiritual riches with us? Well,
He is still knocking. The opportunity of hearing more clearly what He longs
to communicate to us is ours for the taking. If the Lord repeats a matter
seven times over, then it must be very important.
3. A Great Victory
"He that overcometh ...". Seven times over we have a reference
to this matter of overcoming. The immediate and correct inference is that
the churches are involved in a conflict. There is a good fight to be fought,
wherever you live and worship. Diverse as the churches may be, none of them
can escape the challenge of powerful enemies and the downdrag of their own
proneness to failure. Perhaps the most perfect church (in Smyrna) was in the
fiercest fight of all.
The immediate question which all too often is posed, concerns the destiny
of those who do not overcome. Speculation arises about their future, even
though they are saved. Do they attain to God's full purpose? Do they forfeit
the riches of the inheritance? This is not a question which I am competent
to answer, nor is it one which ought to concern us. The Lord does not ask
us to contemplate failure: He calls us to know victory. And in this last
letter to Laodicea He reveals that close association with Him will ensure
He tells us that He also had to fight the good fight -- "as I also overcame".
His place with the Father on the throne is not due only to His divine status,
but to His triumphant faith. No step of His holy walk was unchallenged; no
temptation which comes to us did not first assault Him. The Father relied
on Him to overcome every obstacle and defeat every foe, and He did so. And
now He calls us to follow in His steps. We, too, are not to rely only on
our standing as potential heirs, but to live our faith in daily obedience.
The Lord would never suggest our overcoming as He overcame, if it were not
possible for even the weakest believer. He would not call for victory, unless
His own grace could make that victory possible. Seven times, therefore, He
told the churches that He expected each member to be an overcomer. The constant
repetition of the phrase, "he that overcometh", impresses us with the greatness
of the victory which can be ours.
The Spirit never suggested that membership of any special church made
overcoming easier. He never admitted an excuse from believers who might be
located in one of the unsatisfactory churches. On the contrary, His last
great prospect of a place in His throne was extended to saints in that church
which was most repugnant to Him -- in Laodicea. The Lord's repeated call should
remind us that Satan cannot defeat us, the world cannot defeat us and the
carnal church cannot defeat us. Only lack of faith can do that, for "faith
is the victory that overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). And how can faith
be sustained and increased? Surely by heeding that knocking of His and opening
the door to closer fellowship with Him. He alone is our sufficiency.
4. The Great Sufficiency
"These are the words of the First and the Last" (2:8); "These
are the words of him who ... holds the key" (3:7); "These are the
words of the Amen" (3:14). Here are three of the seven introductions to
the letters. Each of the seven gives an inspiring glimpse of the all-sufficient
Lord. The whole vision had already been given to John (1:13-18); it becomes
ever larger and ever clearer as we move on in our reading, for the whole
book is described as being the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, however, the truth must be divided up into seven different
aspects, each one especially appropriate to the church which is being addressed.
Such a description of the Lord forms the first of the features which are
common to all seven letters. I have left this subject of the seven-fold presentation
of Christ to my final section, but in fact it forms the opening introduction
to each letter. First of all, before the churches heard of their present
circumstances or future prospects, they were confronted with some significant
features of the person and work of the Lord. We need to look at Him before
ever we begin to look at ourselves or our circumstances; indeed we need to
look at everything in the light of what He is and says.
God does not only work towards an end; He [112/113]
also works from a beginning of fullness. Just as for us the Sabbath is
the first day of the week, just as Pentecostal fullness characterised the
beginning of the church's life and just as "first love" is the best love
from which there should never be any departing, so Christ must be to us the
First as well as the Last. We need to look afresh at Him before we begin
to search our own hearts or consider our own needs.
Each church received and read all seven letters, so each had the advantage
of the full seven-fold presentation of Christ. At the same time, though,
each assembly had its attention drawn to some special attribute of the Saviour,
which attribute was selected by Him personally and calculated to answer to
the special circumstances and history.
There is an interpretation of these seven letters which makes them apply
one after the other to various consecutive periods of the church's history,
beginning with the sub-apostolic age of Ephesus and concluding with our own
last days of Laodicean luke-warmness. This is attractive but not very convincing,
not least because throughout the history of the church universal, anyone
of the seven conditions could be found in different places at any time. There
are certainly saints today who are passing through the same traumatic trials
which beset those at Smyrna, and I hope that if the strictures on Laodicea
do apply to some of our Western churches, there are many more in the world
who measure up to the happier experiences of those in Philadelphia. Is it
not better, therefore, to think of the seven churches as giving a full-orbed
view of the whole church here on earth? And if so is it not a fact that
while we all need a fresh vision of Christ, different circumstances call
for different emphases on His person and work?
This is not to suppose that the Spirit wishes to limit our conceptions
of the Lord. Far from it! The rest of the book is also "for the churches"
(22:16). Immediately after the open door of 3:20 we find another door which
stands wide open: "there was before me a door standing open in heaven" (4:1).
If there is a logical connection between the two, it would seem to be that
if we are prepared to open our door to the Lord, He is ready to open heaven's
door to us. However much we may already know of Him, there is still very
much more to be known. When John responded to the invitation to ascend and
pass through that open door, he found that he was led from one breathtaking
revelation of the Lord Jesus to another. The rest of the book shows us that
all the seven churches -- and indeed all the churches then and now -- have
a Lord whose glory is supreme and whose greatness is infinite.
The very realisation of Christ's fullness may make us reluctant to return
and focus down on any one of the partial and individual cases of His Self-revelation
to the various churches. Perhaps we will find it better just to reiterate
that the Spirit will prepare us for each stage of our spiritual development
and need by drawing attention to some feature of Christ which is timely and
meaningful just then. It is helpful to notice that whenever the Spirit speaks
to a church, His first and foremost stress is on the Person of Christ. This
is in accord with the words of Jesus: "He will testify about me" (John 15:26);
"He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to
you" (John 16:14). Let us not miss the special blessing offered to those
who have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying!
The wonder of Christ is that He is the answer to every need, whether
of sinner or saint. He who stands knocking at the door is the One -- and
the only One -- who can turn our defeat into victory. This seven-fold reminder
of His nearness and sufficiency urges us to be sure and keep the door wide
open to Him. As He says, His offer is open to "any man", in any church, at
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS (1)
(There has been so much appreciation of the series "Chapter by Chapter
Through Romans" that we are now glad to publish articles translated from
Poul Madsen's Commentary on 2 Corinthians. The book itself is only obtainable
2 CORINTHIANS is the most personal and perhaps the most controversial
of all Paul's letters. Nowhere else does he tell us so much about himself,
which confirms his remark in 6:11: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians;
our heart is wide". [113/114]
The letter does not contain a systematic setting forth of doctrine, as
is the case in the Letter to the Romans, but nevertheless it contains sections
which as to doctrine are fully on a par with that Roman epistle. It is striking
that during a period of seemingly overwhelming trial, the apostle was not
overwhelmed. Instead of that he regarded everything -- most of all his own
situation -- in the light of eternity, and so was able to utilise people's
sarcasms and personal attacks as a basis for enlarging on the essential truth
of the gospel. The doctrinal sections carry so much more weight because they
are obviously not mere paper-work but born out of the writer's experience
of union with his Lord and Master in His cross and resurrection.
Greetings and Thanks (1:1-11)
Since in this letter Paul plans to explain thoroughly what are the characteristics
of a true apostle, he begins with the introduction: "Paul, an apostle by
the will of God." This would seem to indicate that whereas in the first epistle
he opened by saying that he was called by God to be an apostle (1 Corinthians
1:1), so emphasising the call itself (on the Damascus road), he is now dealing
with the carrying out of that call in his apostleship. Both of these, the
call and the work which was the result of the call, were due entirely to
the will of God. He took the initiative, not only by sovereignly calling Paul,
whom He had chosen from his birth, but also by leading him in all his work.
The will of God was the basis of all the apostle's service from first to
The greeting is much briefer than that of the first letter, but in both
places emphasis is placed on the fact that it is the church of God
. At the same time it is obvious from the New Testament, and not least
from this letter, that this does not mean that it is immune from dangers
both from without and from within. Each church does indeed belong to God,
but it bears responsibility under Him for its survival as His church.
We should notice that the apostle's thoughts about this church are categorical.
The church in Corinth is the church of God. In his thought it is not
part of the church of God or an expression of it, but it is simply "the church
of God". It lacks nothing in comparison with the universal church; the only
difference between them being that it has fewer members. The apostle seems
to indicate that wherever the saints of the Lord gather to call upon the
name of our Lord Jesus, worshipping and serving Him, they constitute the
church of God in that place.
Verses 3 to 11 are devoted to praise and thanks to God. Most of the apostle's
letters begin with thanksgiving, but here there is a deeper note than in
any other letter. This is because Paul has been through an overwhelming trial
which exceeded his strength and which gave him an experience which could
best be compared with a resurrection from the dead.
From the first, the apostle sought to draw the attention of the Corinthians
upwards to God, as if to draw them -- and us -- into participation in his
own praise. He therefore describes God as "the Father of mercies". It is
important for us to understand this word "mercy" in a Biblical and not merely
human sense. The mercy of God must not be understood sentimentally, as if
God yields to man's wishes and relinquishes His first will in deference to
human weakness. When God shows mercy to a person or a nation, His compassion
forwards His plan of salvation in the experience of those to whom He is merciful.
He acts positively and brings to pass His will when He shows mercy. He does
not let us off but He brings us through. That is how it worked out in Paul's
He also calls God, "the God of all comfort". This word must also be understood
Biblically, for God's comfort is His active intervention in order to effect
His saving purpose. In Isaiah, the comfort of God consists in His restoring
of His people who, without that comfort, would have perished. So with the
apostle; without the comfort of God he would have succumbed and perished
in his overwhelming affliction.
The apostle's deep experiences of affliction and comfort enabled him
to comfort others. As he enlarges on this, he emphasises that his ability
to comfort others was not because he was a great personality but because
he himself had first proved God's help in a situation where all human hope
was lost. He applies to his afflictions the strange description of "the sufferings
of Christ", so lifting the whole idea of suffering far above what is accidental
and meaningless. Such sufferings, like those which Christ Himself endured,
are purposed by God, even when they are [114/115]
inflicted by the powers of darkness and through blinded and cruel people.
They are afflictions for Christ's sake because the sufferer is one with Him
Paul says that his sufferings "abounded", but he assures us also that
he also received comfort which abounded. In Danish the expression in each
case is "in rich measure" and it is exactly the same as is used to describe
the grace which is made to "abound" to every believer (9:8). It is as though
he said, "Grace abounding involves abounding sufferings, but it also brings
abounding comfort". For the believer God appoints everything in rich measure.
It is typical of him that before he enlarges upon the afflictions which caused
him to be "utterly unbearably crushed" (v.8), he is careful to assure us that
he is in the good of abounding comfort through grace.
What is more, Paul asserts that such sufferings and such comfort are
part of our ministry of helpfulness to others. Until Christ comes again,
suffering and comfort, death and resurrection, characterise God's dealings
with His people. An apostle is the embodiment of such a process, but the
rest of the saints cannot evade it. The Corinthians are reminded that they
have a share both in the afflictions and the comfort, and that is to be
true of us all, and we, in our turn, fulfil our ministry in this way. Paul's
sufferings, as well as the comfort he experienced, were a source of inspiration
to the Corinthians, enabling them also to hold on in their life of faith and
witness. Who dares to say what would have happened to them, if he had not
held on in spiritual triumph!
With this in mind, the apostle proceeds to give them some insight into
what he had been through (vv.8-9). His desire that they should not be ignorant
came from the realisation that the whole matter was of great significance,
this principle of being delivered from all self-confidence in order to have
a purity of faith in God alone. In Asia he was utterly unbearably crushed.
We do not know what the trouble was except that there was no human hope that
he could be saved. He himself had come to the conclusion that he was about
to die; he had received and accepted the sentence of death. When a person
comes to such a pass, every natural hope expires. This was precisely what
happened to Paul, and he emphasises that he had this experience in order
to make him give up any remnant of self-confidence there might be in him
or any expectation of help from men, and rely only on God who raises (present
tense) the dead. As C. K. Barrett says: "Resurrection is not one possibility
among others; where resurrection takes place it is God and God alone who
is in action." To raise up and give life to the dead is as good as creating
something out of nothing. It is God's prerogative, lying entirely beyond
the province of any contributory factor.
Paul stresses that he did not so rely on God in vain: "He delivered us
...". Every human hope had been extinguished and every natural possibility
of surviving excluded, but God intervened and raised him up again. This
assured the apostle that God would continue to deliver His own in the same
way. This does not necessarily mean that He will deliver them from death
or martyrdom every time, but it does mean that in every circumstance He
will deliver them from all evil and preserve them for His heavenly kingdom
(2 Timothy 4:18).
Such severe tests of faith call for prayer co-operation from fellow believers:
"You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf
for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers" (vv.10-11). The critical
deadly peril in which the apostle had been, carried with it the risk that,
as his self-confidence was broken, instead of confidence in God he might
give way to unbelieving despair. His trial was really a trial of faith. The
decisive factor in any such trial is not the outward course of what happens
(whether he lives or dies) but whether faith stands the test or breaks down
in offended unbelief. As therefore Paul declares that he has set his hope
on God that he will know further deliverances, he appeals for prayer help
from his Corinthian brothers. If he were to maintain such an active faith,
he needed the help of their intercessions. In this way they would be together
in the fight of faith and consequently share together the joy of praising
and thanking God, which is the end product of every experience of testing
and divine deliverance. Such praise would be rendered for the "blessing" granted
to him. The blessing (Gk. charisma) which Paul sought, included both
the sufferings of Christ and the comfort of Christ, which had already been
granted to him in abundance and which he looked forward to as he moved forward
in the will of God.
(To be continued) [115/116]
THE SECRET OF DANIEL'S STRENGTH
Chapter VI. JEHOVAH
"I set my face ... and I prayed unto the LORD"
IT seems clear from the time indications in 6:3 and 9:1 that the prayer
described in chapter 9 preceded and provoked the events here described in
chapter 6. However since chapter 6 continues to give an account of affairs
in the Babylonian capital's public business, it would be vain to expect to
find in it any use of the thrice-holy personal name of Israel's covenant
God. The earlier chapter (9) describes Daniel's private heart exercise; it
makes use of the Hebrew language again and takes us into the heavenly atmosphere
of God's audience chamber.
For this reason we are not surprised to be introduced to the supreme
and highly personal name of JEHOVAH, which appears no less than seven times
in the course of Daniel's intercessory prayer. The correct name is YAHWEH,
the great I AM (Exodus 6:2). In the Bible it is usually rendered in full
capitals -- LORD -- while transcriptions, influenced by Hebrew vowel pointings,
have accustomed us to the more familiar rendering, Jehovah. This is the form
which I propose to use now. While Yahweh is more correct, Jehovah is more
readily identified by most of us.
Chapter 9 opens with the information that Daniel's study of his Bible
revealed the fact that the time was very near for Israel's return from captivity.
Through the ministry of Jeremiah, Jehovah had pledged His word that there
would be an end to Jerusalem's desolations, and had indicated when that would
be (9:2). This drove Daniel to earnest prayer. To natural logic it must seem
foolish to pray intensely for an event which had been already decreed by God.
To the spiritual mind, however, this is a most reasonable thing to do. It
is He who has chosen to link His operation with the requests of His servants,
and true prayer must be based on His Word. As a true intercessor, Daniel
sought to co-operate with God by his prayers, not trying to induce God to
make new plans, but rather to fulfil what He has promised, asking "according
to His will" (1 John 5:14). The person who prays does not allow himself to
be confused by questions as to why an omnipotent God should seek prayer as
a basis for His working, but he knows that it is so. It was just because Daniel
read and believed Jeremiah's prophecies that he got to grips with the matter
in humble but earnest prayer.
It is most important to read chapter 9 before coming to the open window
of chapter 6. The whole prayer is most moving. Daniel prayed not as an important
personage, not even as a consecrated saint, but as an undeserving sinner.
He had begun in that way when he urged his companions to seek God on the
basis of mercy (2:18), and he was now careful not to depart from that ground
himself, though many years of faithful service and bold witness had elapsed
since those first simple prayers. "To the Lord our God belong mercies", "we
do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but
for thy great mercies" (vv.9 & 18); this was how Daniel prayed, urging
that for His own name's sake God should do this seemingly impossible work
of restoring Israel. "O Lord hear; O Lord forgive; O Lord hearken and do;
defer not; for thine own sake, O my God, because thy city and thy people are
called by thy name" (v.19). We notice in this prayer that there are not only
seven mentions of the great name, Jehovah, but also many appeals to God as
Sovereign Lord, a title which is found nowhere else in the book after 1:2.
Unless our God is absolute Lord of all, what is the use of our asking Him
to do impossible things? Because Daniel did know Him as Sovereign Lord, he
prayed. His prayer, as recorded in chapter 9, is one of the outstanding prayers
of the Bible. It produced startling results, as this kind of prayer is bound
to do. God intervened with a message to His praying servant, and He did so
at the most significant hour of the evening oblation (v.21). New Testament
readers know that this was the hour of Calvary's shout of victory, and remember
that the cross provides a basis for all our prayers.
Daniel was given assurances that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, though with
the added [116/117] information that it would be "even
in troublous times" (v.25). Many years later, when Nehemiah read this Scripture,
he might well have added his own commentary, "Yes, and you can say that
again." He had to live and work through those times and knew only too well
how troublous they were. What a thrill for him, though, as the work of restoration
went on, to know that what he was engaged in was the fruit of another man's
prevailing prayer. Prayer has a kind of chain-reaction. Daniel was supported
by Jeremiah's prayers. Ezra and Nehemiah were encouraged by reason of Daniel's
prayers. So it goes on. When the final day of fulfilment comes for God's
eternal city and His redeemed people, it will be acknowledged that an important
part has been played by the prayers of believers (Revelation 8:3). We know,
of course, that all human prayers are only made acceptable by the incense
of the holy ministry of intercession of our Ascended Lord Jesus. It is in
His name that we pray: "Thy kingdom come".
That final day of fulfilment was referred to by God in His answer to
Daniel. That answer went far beyond the immediate miracle of the restoration
of ruined Jerusalem, pointing on to the end of the age when vision and prophecy
will be fully consummated (v.24). It is not without significance that in
doing so, God mentioned that there will be wars right up to that end (v.26).
No doubt that applies to international affairs -- as we see in our day --
but it refers most especially to the praying people of God. The soldiers
of the cross will have no respite from conflict until Jesus returns. Those
who pray in the Spirit will inevitably find themselves engaged in a grim
warfare. Daniel certainly did, as we will see if we move back to Chapter 6.
So far as Chapter 9 is concerned, it is not my intention here to comment on
the fulfilled or still unfulfilled prophecies of the "seventy weeks" referred
to, but rather to enquire what was the immediate effect of Daniel's prayer.
Following the time pattern, we return to Chapter 6, and there we find what
devilish opposition was aroused by this one man's prayers. We have no reason
to believe that much time elapsed between the two chapters and are impressed
with the close link between the prayer chamber of Chapter 9 and the lion's
den of Chapter 6. One contrite sinner prayer and a whole storm of satanic
opposition broke over him.
Outbreak of Opposition
Chapter 6 opens with the information that Daniel had made such a favourable
impression during the first year of the reign of Darius, that the emperor
devised a power structure in the kingdom which was to give Daniel the highest
post. As we may well imagine in such a court, the other officials were envious
of him, so there arose one of those political plots with which we are familiar
today and Daniel's enemies combined to discredit him. The attack was made
possible because there had been a deterioration in the kingdom, as illustrated
by the metals forming the image of Chapter 2. No longer was there a head
of gold. If Nebuchadnezzar had signed such a decree and then regretted it,
he would have had no scruples about rescinding it and might possibly have
proceeded to liquidate the men who had drafted it. Not so with Darius! He
was ruler of the silver kingdom in which the laws of the Medes and Persians
were so binding that even the monarch who signed them became their slave.
Darius was duped by flattery, as many better men than he have been during
history; when it was too late he found, to his great distress, that he was
forced to administer his own decree. The whole thing was a trick.
But although human elements of jealousy and ambition were the more obvious
factors in this confrontation situation, these were only the outworking of
spiritual activities -- as such evils often are. It was Satan who was jealous
and ambitious. And Daniel had become a threat to his evil plans. The hidden
truth behind the obvious was that Hell was being badly shaken by this one
man's prayers. God's will was moving triumphantly forward, and all because
three times a day Daniel was on his knees. So the command came from Satan's
headquarters that at all costs this prayer must be stopped. No doubt the
satraps and presidents thought they were very cunning, but what are evil
men but the foolish instruments of diabolical craft and spite against God?
In any case, an attempt was to be made to destroy Daniel by denouncing
him to the king. It was easy enough for Satan to foment jealousy among political
colleagues, but it was not so easy -- in fact it was impossible -- to discover
any offence or shortcoming in Daniel's public life which could be used to
provide some sort of basis for their calumnies. They searched hard, but they
could discover no grounds for complaint [117/118]
anywhere: "They could find none occasion nor fault; foreasmuch as he was
faithful, neither was any error or fault found in him" (v.4).
This is how it should always be. Daniel served in an alien and a very
corrupt court, but he was just as faithful there as if he had been in the
forefront of holy temple service in Jerusalem. God's man is never excused
from loyal devotion by reason of the unworthiness of his masters: he must
do everything as to God Himself. "Whatsoever you do, work heartily, as unto
the Lord and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord you shall receive the
recompense of the inheritance: you serve the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24).
Although Daniel lived in Old Testament times he lived by New Testament standards.
How much stronger would be the testimony of the Church in our day if God's
people carried this principle into their daily work. We notice, of course,
that this did not prevent Daniel from being attacked, but we must observe
that it did mean that God was on his side when he was under attack.
His opponents came to the conclusion that the only way of destroying
Daniel was to entrap him by a subterfuge connected with his well-known faith
in God. They therefore persuaded Darius to accept the foolish decree which
he regretted as soon as he had signed it. It was too late, however, for him
to rescind it. He spent the whole day in a vain effort to alter its application
to his favoured servant, but he was a prisoner to his own law. It was a bad
day for him and there was no remedy. The night was even worse, for his trusted
servant had been thrown to the lions. God did not help Darius. He did not
seem to be able to help Daniel. With hindsight we approve of Daniel's
quiet faith, but we must remember that he no more knew about his immediate
future than we know about ours when troubles confront us.
Response to Opposition
In a few phrases we are told about Daniel's reaction to the crisis which
so troubled the emperor. In full knowledge of the inevitable consequences,
he entered his room which was open to public view and there knelt as he was
accustomed to do. He had the window opened towards Jerusalem before him,
and he continued his normal custom of facing that window as he prayed to
God. For him there was no crisis -- it was just another day with God. He
could have gone into another room; he could have closed the window; he could
have prayed without kneeling. It was his own private house and he was a man
of such standing that no-one could have intruded to spy upon him if he had
made any attempt to hide his activities. He could have stopped praying for
the time being -- it was only for a month! These are the kind of temptations
which come to any Christian, but had Daniel yielded to any of them, he would
have been spared the lion's den but he would have lost his power with God
and provided Satan with a victory. If we suspend praying for a month, the
probability is that we will never take it up again. Those who absent themselves
voluntarily from the Prayer Meeting for four weeks will probably find it very
hard to resume their place among the Lord's intercessors.
It may well be that Daniel hardly thought of such behaviour. He does
not even seem to have offered any special request for self-preservation
but rather to have gone quietly on his way with God. When he knew that the
writing was signed, he prayed and gave thanks before his God, "as he did
aforetime" (v.10). His reaction was simply to give thanks to Jehovah and
to pray on, with a holy contempt for his enemies: "In nothing affrighted
by the adversaries; which is for them an evident token of perdition, but
of your salvation, and that from God; because to you it hath been granted
not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf" (Philippians
1:28-29). Once again we marvel at such New Testament behaviour from an Old
Why was the window opened toward Jerusalem? The temple was no longer
there -- it was all in ruins. It was not that he prayed to Jerusalem,
he prayed to Jehovah his God, but he did pray about Jerusalem. This
was the clear and definite objective of his praying. His was not a general
prayer -- "God bless me and my friends" -- but a focused appeal to his covenant
God on behalf of the people and city of His divine purpose. It was a matter
of faith that the windows should be opened in that direction. The distance
was so great that he could not see anything, and in fact there was nothing
to be seen but shameful ruins, but he had the eye of faith. Without it there
is not much point in praying.
In the matter of "thanksgiving" (v.10), we seem to detect a new element
in Daniel's praying, [118/119] for although the prayer
of Chapter 9 is extensive and very moving, it is limited to confessions and
appeals. Why should he start giving thanks now, and what was there to be
thankful about? Well, in the first place he could give thanks for answered
prayer. He was no longer battling in prayer over Jerusalem. He had done that,
and he had won through and received a full assurance from God that his prayer
had been heard and would be answered. His clear course, therefore, was to
do what we are told to do, "to watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Colossians
4:2). So he was able to thank the faithful Jehovah that his prayer for the
restoration of Jerusalem had been favourably received. He knew that nothing
and nobody could prevent that prayer being answered. Even if he himself were
devoured by lions, God would see to it that Jerusalem was restored. How
much better to die with thanksgiving that one's prayers live on, than to
live on oneself and allow one's prayer life to die!
In addition, however, Daniel was able to praise Jehovah because he knew
himself to be so enveloped in covenant mercy that nothing could happen to
him outside of the will of God. Daniel was an old man. His life already had
had most satisfying fulfilment. If the issue of the captivity was now decided
and his part in it completed, a rest remained for him (12:13) and he could
go to it with a song. How better can a man die? If, on the other hand, God
wanted him to see and even have a part in that deliverance from captivity,
then no power could stop that happening -- lions or no lions. Darius might
well spend a sleepless and cheerless night of worry. Poor man, he did not
know Jehovah! He was outside of the covenant, so he was bound to worry.
Daniel, however, did know Jehovah and found that such knowledge gave him
peace of heart, even as he faced the grimmest of prospects. We know that
he had read Jeremiah but no doubt he had read Isaiah's prophecies too, and
was familiar with the words: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose
mind is stayed on thee ... Trust ye in Jehovah for ever ..." (Isaiah 26:3-4).
His behaviour in the prayer chamber gave no hint of emergency but rather
the opposite -- "as he did aforetime". The servants of God can so easily
give way to unrest if they imagine that everything depends upon them. It is
possible to persuade ourselves that we are thinking only of the Lord's interests,
while in fact there lurks somewhere in our sub-conscious mind the feeling
that the purpose of God can only be realised if we have a part in it. Old
people are more prone than others to this kind of anxiety. Daniel was an
old man, yet he was free from all fretfulness. He believed that Jehovah was
pledged to recover and restore His people. In a sense it did not matter what
happened to him, for he had done his part in prayer. He had no special wish
to die, especially in such a violent way, but he knew that even if he were
eaten by hungry lions, that would make no difference at all to the outcome.
Prayer had been made. The answer had been promised. Daniel could therefore
accept any personal calamity with complete calm. So he kept on praising.
In any case he knew that the lion's den would not be the end for him, since
"at the end of the days" he would stand in his lot (12:13).
Futility of the Opposition
His was a directed prayer: he prayed before the opened windows. Had he
prayed with the four walls of Babylon as his outlook, there would have been
nothing but gloom, for the empire was as strong as ever. Had he prayed towards
a mirror he would have found plenty to worry about, as we all find when
our prayers become introspective and centred on ourselves. No, his prayer
was outgoing towards the purpose of the heart of His God. He could not see
Jerusalem, but his windows were opened in that direction because his faith
gave substance to his hope. On this day of crisis in the kingdom, therefore,
and in the face of the inevitability of the cruel decree, Daniel quietly
carried on with his ministry of praise and prayer.
The third prayer, the evening one, was his last -- or so it seemed. The
plotters had pressed their case and the king found himself obliged to honour
his own signature. When the sun went down, he had found no way out of his
predicament and so had no other alternative than to hand Daniel over to the
lions. It is striking to observe his genuine affection for Daniel, but rather
pathetic to hear his feeble suggestion that perhaps Daniel's God could do
a bit better than he: "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver
thee" (v.16). Although he spoke the words, the idea gave him no comfort,
and he spent a miserable night nursing his doubts. Dawn came at last, as
it always does, [119/120] and he seized the very first
opportunity of morning light to hurry down to the animals' lair, enquiring
with what is called "a lamentable voice", if by any chance Daniel had survived.
He certainly had! The signed decree had proved futile, for faith had once
more given the victory.
How quickly the tables were turned! Daniel was restored to liberty unharmed,
while his accusers were themselves cast to the lions. God is not mocked!
When Pharaoh drowned the Hebrew babies, he himself died by drowning. When
Haman built a gallows for Mordecai, he himself was hanged on those same gallows.
The city of God was burned by the Babylonian invaders, and it is prophesied
that Babylon herself will be destroyed by fire (Revelation 17:16). So Daniel's
accusers were thrown to the lions through whom they had plotted to destroy
him. To our ideas it may seem unspiritual to record this feature of the story,
but at least it shows that these were no phoney lions. Daniel's survival
was a miracle.
It does not need much imagination to suggest that the first thing which
Daniel did when he arrived home was to go into that special room whose windows
were opened towards Jerusalem and kneel afresh to pray and give thanks before
his God "as he did aforetime". No doubt he did not look as neat as usual
-- he had slept rough. No doubt that there was special thanksgiving this time
-- he had proved God in a new way. But prayer went on. In fact it had never
stopped, for Daniel's last prayer of the previous evening was followed by
this first prayer of a new day. For all we know, there was probably some extra
prayer and praise as he rested there among the lions. Daniel was "more than
conqueror". Satan cannot prevent prayer. He cannot hinder God from answering
prayer. But we, alas, can so easily stop praying. That is precisely what
Daniel did not do.
In the previous chapters we have been encouraged by some of the wonderful
titles and names of God -- The King of Heaven, The Most High God, etc. In
a sense this Self-revealed name of Jehovah is the greatest of them all. It
stands in a class by itself. This personal name would never have been known
if He Himself had not disclosed it. We are privileged to have an even greater
understanding of Him, for we have come to know the "I AM" in the Person
of the Lord Jesus Himself. We can and we must pray in His name. Our New
Testament shows us that He has a people and is building a city which is
to be for His eternal satisfaction and glory. That is the "Jerusalem" towards
which the Christian prayer-chamber windows are opened, and that should be
the inclusive objective of all our lesser and more detailed prayers. It
may be that our praying in the Spirit will provoke fierce opposition, as
it did in Daniel's day. He ignored the opposition, and got on with the job.
Should we not follow his example?
(To be concluded)
Readers in North America may be interested to know that a new edition
of the Editor's "DAILY THOUGHTS ON BIBLE CHARACTERS" has been published by
Christian Literature Crusade of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania 19034. It
can be obtained through any Evangelical Bookshop. [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (28)
"(because our testimony unto you was believed)"
2 Thessalonians 1:10
IN the first article of this series I pointed out that the parenthetical
section in double brackets could be altogether omitted without in any way
affecting the smooth sequence of the main statement. I also made the point,
though, that the brief sentence of parenthesis had a spiritual significance
and provided some extra helpfulness. In the case of our present Scripture,
this latter point is far from obvious. Clearly the parenthesis could be omitted.
Why, then, did Paul insert it and -- what is more important -- why did the
inspiring Spirit include it in Holy Writ?
SO far as the apostle is concerned, we may well conclude that he had
a swift flash-back from the ultimate glories of which he was writing to
the beginning of it so far as the Thessalonians were concerned. As he explained
to them the amazing prospect of Christ's glory in the Church, he could rightly
praise God that the Thessalonians would be included in that glory as a direct
result of his own faithful testimony among them. This would make him feel
HE could praise God for His sovereign overruling, for humanly speaking
the apostolic group only went to Thessalonica because they were thrown out
of Philippi. He could marvel at the miracle of first faith, as every person
does whom God allows to have a part in the conversion of another. It appears
from Luke's account that the stay in Thessalonica was quite a brief one (Acts
17:2), so Paul would doubtless rejoice that in such a short time there could
begin in men's hearts a good work which God would carry on into completion
until the day of Jesus Christ. For Paul, then, the parenthesis might represent
a moment of grateful recollection.
BUT what did it mean for the Thessalonians? And what does it mean for
us who now read? Perhaps the apostle felt that there could be spiritual value
in the Thessalonians looking back to their beginning. In Acts 17 three things
are suggested in their case. Firstly, their conversion turned their world
upside down (v.6). Secondly, it clearly introduced the new factor of the
supreme Kingship of Jesus Christ (v.7). Finally, it gave them the new status
and responsibilities of being brethren to one another and to all of God's
people (v.10). It was, then, no small matter for them to have begun to believe.
THE same, surely, is true in our case. The first step of faith which
we took committed us to a life of faith which God plans to consummate when
His Son will come "to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at
in all them that believed in that day" (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Like the parenthesis,
we fit right into the middle of that sentence, for we too have believed.
"HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY;
BUT MY WORDS SHALL NOT PASS AWAY."
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