|Vol. 10, No. 3, May - June 1981
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
I have had to abandon an Editorial which I had already prepared in order
to write and tell you the news concerning the sudden and unexpected Homecall
to Christ which came to my dear wife, Hilda, on April 1st.
The painful loss is deeply acute to me and to her family but, since it
means infinite gain to her, we cannot but worship the sweet and perfect
will of God.
Her "Promotion to glory" was encompassed about with tender mercies from
her heavenly Father, even to the smallest matters, so that I find great comfort
even in the depth of my sorrow.
Hilda Bennett, who became Hilda Foster to my great gain 18 years ago
-- almost to the day -- had very many friends in a number of lands all over
the world. It is not for me to speak her praises, but at least I feel that
I can rightly say that she was highly respected and deeply loved by them all.
In the last issue of this magazine I appended to a message by the late
T. Austin-Sparks (to whom she was very dear), one of the verses of the hymn:
"Be still, my soul". I feel that the best way to terminate this letter is
to quote the last verse of that same hymn:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be for ever with the Lord:
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still my soul: when change and tears are passed,
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.
During the years Hilda and I have been much privileged to be remembered
in prayer by very many. Thank you, dear friends! I know that I may count
on your continued support in the little time still left to me.
Lovingly yours in His great grace, Harry Foster
NOT NOW BUT AFTERWARD
"Who is there among you that will give ear to this?
That will hearken and hear for the time to come?"
WITHOUT considering the context of these words, I use them to ask if
we really believe that there is a time to come. Do we believe that the time
to come is a bigger time than now, that the afterward is much greater than
the present; that there are ages of ages before us, and that however long
it may be, our whole lifetime here on earth is only a small fragment of what
is yet to be? Do we believe also that our service in the ages to come is
far more important than what we do in this age?
I do not thereby rule out the importance of this life, in which we should
buy up every opportunity and redeem the time, but even so our life is but
a span which will soon be completed. It sometimes even seems that we depart
just when we are reaching a condition of being more able to help others than
ever before. No sooner have we learned something which might be a real value
to other people than we are called away. What a problem, what an enigma,
"For the time to come." That was the perspective of the apostles, one
of whom wrote: "I will give diligence that ... you may be able after my decease
..." (2 Peter 1:15). This is the real test -- whether we measure things
just by our own lifetime or whether we are content to wait for the values
Some have believed that it has been worth it to go to some foreign land
for Christ for just a month or two, and then to die. They were
[41/42] absolutely right! It was well worth it, if that was the
will of God for them. Indeed if they had not thought so, then they had no
right to go. God's values are always eternal.
Let us always have "the time to come" as a real motive in our living.
The fruit of our lives is never all to be seen now. Only a small part of
its meaning can be in our days: the total value will appear in the afterward.
We have to live not only for this time for, although we live right up to the
limit in our own day, we cannot do or be much and may even doubt whether the
outcome here is worth the cost of it all. The cost, however, is not just for
our lifetime; the Lord has in view "the ages of the ages".
CROSSING THE JORDAN
FOR certain reasons it became necessary for me to arrange ministries
for the weeknight Bible studies in our local church here, and it seemed
right to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to develop and release new
gifts among us. To this end I arranged for six different brothers to take
a chapter in Joshua, beginning at chapter 1 and working through to finish
with chapter 6. Many helpful points emerged but I now select two of them.
THE first comes in chapter 3. The story of the river was very familiar
to me, but there was one point, so obvious and yet so telling, that it may
be good to mention. It hinges on the word "until" in 3:17. We are reminded
that when once they were all over, the waters returned to their place and
there was no way back. Whether any of them, from Joshua downwards,
had any wish to return to the familiar ground of the past 40 years, we do
not know. The fact is, though, that even if they had so desired, there was
no way back; for the river which had seemed so effectually to bar the way
and had then been parted to provide an open door, had now so resumed its
steady flow and risen to its flooded state that no-one could return even
if he wished to.
They probably did not want to retrace their steps. I am afraid that we
often do. If, however, the waters of Jordan have any spiritual meaning for
us, the lesson must be a reminder that:
"I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back. No turning back."
THE brother who took chapter 4 is a practical man -- manager of a Travel
Agency -- and he had some most practical points.
Our town lies at one side of the River Severn, with Wales clearly in
sight across the river. "Suppose", said the speaker, "that the Lord did
for us what He did for the Israelites, and dried up a way right across our
river! Could we then walk over to Wales? We certainly could not. We should
hardly make a start before we found ourselves completely bogged down in the
mud. Even if the waters were no longer a barrier, we would still be unable
to walk very far before we were hopelessly bogged down in the mud". We do
not know about the bed of Jordan as we here know our River Severn, but with
the whole area under flood there must have been impassable areas of soft
muddy ground. But they were not impassable! The priests could stand there
without floundering and the people, even the children, were able to walk
over: "All Israel passed over on dry ground, until all the nation were passed
clean over Jordan" (3:17).
God may allow us to pass through the floods, but it is certain that He
will never let us get stuck in the mud. He has set our feet upon the Rock.
We rejoice at the miracle of the holding back of Jordan's waters, and rightly
so, but we may not have realised the further and most striking miracle of
feet standing firmly on dry ground when humanly speaking we would have been
hopelessly floundering. Thank God for fresh light on old and familiar truths!
"He will keep the feet of His saints". [42/43]
HOW TO FACE TRIBULATION
Arthur E. Gove
Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1
FROM the first the Thessalonian believers had been inspired by the great
hope of the Second Coming, but it is apparent that in aspects of that matter
they were confused. They had other problems too. There was weakness in the
matter of order, since the leaders in the church were not respected and honoured
as they should have been. Alas, that in our own day there are leaders who
do not command respect, those who do not deserve to be followed because they
themselves are inconsistent and unspiritual. The main thrust of this letter,
however, seems to have been to deal with the confusion connected with the
Coming of Christ, a confusion which had been intensified by false teaching
attributed erroneously to the apostle himself (2:2).
There was dismay because some of the saints had died and seemed to have
been cheated of the blessings of Christ's Return. This was put right in Paul's
first letter. Then there were those who lived in such an atmosphere of crisis
that they gave up their daily work and wanted to wait around for the Coming
while living on the charity of others (3:11-12). The main problem, however,
was associated with their intense suffering. They were passing through deep
tribulation and they wondered whether the day of the Lord, the judgment
period, was already upon them. In fact this church had been born in tribulation,
as is shown by Acts 17:1-9 and by many references in the two letters. Happily
this did not cripple their testimony or prevent their growth, but rather
the opposite. Nevertheless it was all very painful and hard to understand,
as we well know. This letter, therefore, offered them and offers us now,
some helpful advice as to how to face tribulation.
1. The heart must be right [(verses 1-4)]
The Thessalonians are an example to us all, for their church was clearly
pleasing to God and one for which Paul could give sincere thanks. In spite
of their sufferings and persecution, their faith was growing, their love
for one another was abounding and their patience was outstanding. The apostle
felt an obligation to thank God for them; it was only right and fitting that
he should do so (v.3). He never lost a chance of telling other Christians
of the way in which they were triumphing in the midst of much affliction
(v.4). How right were their hearts with God! This no doubt explained how they
were able to meet adversity, not only bearing it but actually growing spiritually
because of it.
i. Their faith grew exceedingly. Paul had been rather anxious
about this matter of their faith and sent Timothy to establish and confirm
them (1 Thessalonians 3:2). It must have been a tremendous joy to him to
find that Timothy's ministry had been so effective and that faith was not
only preserved but constantly growing. The verb indicates 'organic growth
as of a healthy plant' so that the only effect of the outward trials seems
to have been to produce deeper rooting in God and increasing trust in Him.
Faith can only grow as we come to know more about the One in whom our
faith has been placed. It therefore depends upon a growing heart knowledge
of the Lord. God had permitted the testing of their faith because He knows
that this is the only way by which it may be made more robust. A faith that
cannot be tested, cannot be trusted. Not only Paul but Peter: "The trial of
your faith ... more precious" (1 Peter 1:7) and James: "Count it all joy when
ye fall into manifold trials" (James 1:2) remind us that an easy life can
well lead to a shallow life. The Christian who has to meet tribulation must
be sure that his heart is constantly fixed on his Lord. Only so can he be
ready for the blow when it falls. Winston Churchill is most apt for us in
our spiritual warfare when he comments that 'we must always be ready at our
average moment to meet the enemy at his selective moment'. At all times our
heart must be right.
ii. Their love abounded. The word used here refers to the kind
of over-spreading resulting from fire or flood covering everything in its
path. To us suffering may seem to deny rather than to prove that God is working
out His purpose, and our first tendency might be to try to avoid it at all
costs. The New Testament, however, teaches us that all our trials are an
expression of God's love towards us, and are being used to develop our character
for His [43/44] glory. Faith and love work closely
together and it is love which enables us to trust the Lord even while we
are in the furnace of affliction. God never wastes our suffering, as the
Thessalonians were proving. They kept their hearts right and found that this
enabled them to endure and to have ever growing faith and constantly expanding
love. Their steadfastness was a cause of help and encouragement to "the churches
of God" as Paul spoke freely to them about it (v.4). There are greater consequences
than we know of when, instead of giving in, we keep going on in faith.
2. The mind must be right (verses 5-10)
We have already pointed out that there was a certain amount of confusion
in the minds of the Thessalonian believers. Like the rest of us, they were
plagued by the nagging question, 'Why?' They wondered how their harsh experiences
tallied with the glorious hope given to them in the gospel. Human logic has
no answer to such problems; only the people with renewed and enlightened
minds can begin to understand the strange ways of God. They are first assured
that everything is governed by "the righteous judgement of God" (v.5). Their
experiences are then explained in the light of the Second Coming, the time
when the full truth about the Church and the world will be manifested.
i. 'To you'. The truth about you is that you are being fitted
for the kingdom of God. You will not always have to suffer. There is an
end and an objective in all that God permits, and when that moment of fulfilment
comes, then you will enjoy "rest with us". It will be, of course, when the
Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven, for He will come "to be glorified in his
saints" (v.10), that is, to show out His glory to the whole universe through
the people who have not only believed on Him but also suffered for His sake.
At the present time those sufferings may seem to be acute and almost endless,
but the same apostle assures us that they are only light afflictions which
last for a moment but which are guaranteed to produce in us "a more exceeding
and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
The truth, then, about the Christian, especially the suffering Christian,
is that God in His wisdom is allowing things to happen which will make him
ready for the Coming in glory of the Lord Jesus. In that day He will be "admired
in all them that believe". When the universe sees the glory of Christ shining
out through His Church, all will wonder at the grace of God which can lift
sinners to the place where they reflect the very glory of God. It is useless
to try to reason out what we are going through; it must be enough to allow
His Word to enlighten our minds as to the eternal destiny of the faithful
believer and to interpret all our experiences in the setting of our being
conformed to Christ so that we will be "counted worthy" of that kingdom.
That is what we are suffering for (v.5) and that is the end which God has
ii. 'To them' (v.6). There is another side to that Day -- a very
sombre side -- and the apostle clearly judged it important that our thinking
about that should also be clear. Christ will come "in flaming fire, rendering
vengeance to them ...". It is not that He will come seeking personal revenge,
nor that we should take any pleasure in thoughts of revenge, but rather that
when God begins to put everything right, His holiness demands that sin should
not be left unjudged. Revenge involves the satisfying of a personal grudge.
The Lord Jesus does not hold any personal grudges against His enemies, and
nor must we, but when men refuse His mercy and will not obey His gospel,
it becomes inevitable that they should bear the punishment of "eternal destruction
from the face of the Lord" (v.9). If we are to endure tribulation triumphantly,
we must get our heads right as well as our hearts; we must maintain a clear
understanding of the fact that Christ is coming again and we must also have
Spirit-enlightened minds as to the implication of that Coming. How different
the future will be for those who trust Christ and suffer for their faith!
Eternal glory for them! For those who refuse to do this there can be no glory
but only lasting shame. We must not be confused. God will carry out His
plan. A right heart and a right mind will enable us to face tribulation and
3. The walk must be right (verses 11-12)
In the closing verses of the chapter the apostle carries through what
he has been saying to the realm of prayer and discloses that he is concerned
that the Thessalonians' heart fervour and spiritual understanding may be
worked out in daily living. Those who have such a great and glorious prospect
must be careful that their present behaviour does not contradict it. Having
spoken of a future day when they are to be "counted worthy of the kingdom"
(v.5), he now [44/45] prays that even now "our God
may count you worthy of your calling" (v.11).
Simply because we have a future hope, we are not to neglect our present
daily duties. The right preparation for the future Day when the Lord will
be glorified in us is so to live that even now there may be glory for Him
in our daily walk: "That the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and ye in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ"
(v.12). Trials do not so much make a person as reveal what that person is
made of. The Psalmist's advice to those who had good cause for fretting
because of evildoers was that they should "Trust in the Lord and do
good" (Psalm 37:3). Those who are called upon to face tribulation need
to have a right heart and a right head, but they equally need to have right
hands and feet to be occupied in well-doing.
This chapter begins with grace and ends with grace. If it is a fact that
in the last days the love of many will grow cold, then how we need God's
grace to keep our hearts overflowing with love. If it is also true that such
days are characterised by increasing darkness and perplexity, how wonderful
it is that God's grace can enlighten and instruct our renewed minds. And if
it is true that "the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of
God", how right it is that we who "suffer according to the will of God" should
commit our souls "in well-doing unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19).
Only so can we adequately face tribulation.
THE RENEWED MIND AND THE TRANSFORMED LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: Ephesians 4:17-24
IN the Epistle to the Ephesians great stress is laid on the importance
of the Christian's walk, and the walk is seen to be the result of an enlightened
mind. The word 'walk' is a lovely one. It describes our manner of life and
tells us that there should be a visible distinction where the people of God
are concerned. The new man is not like the man of the world and does not
walk like him for he is created in the image and likeness of God.
The Divine Plan
What is man? What constitutes someone a truly human being? The answer
to that question is that man is in the image of God. This is something which
could never be arrived at by logical reasoning, but it is the real truth
which can only come by divine revelation. It seems to me that we can almost
sum up one line of teaching in this letter by saying that what God has done
in Christ is to make it possible for us here and now to live out what is our
true nature and to be seen for what we really are in Christ. I know that there
are other lines of thought in the Letter to the Ephesians and that the main
stress seems to be on the Church and its fellowship, but this is certainly
one of the aspects of truth in it, namely that God has planned and wrought
and then applied a salvation which has as its great overriding effect that
we should be renewed into the image of Him who created us, and so be the
distinctive people of God among all others on the face of the earth.
The opening word in the passage under consideration is, "therefore".
This refers us back to the earlier part of the letter where we find how
God planned, accomplished and supplies this salvation for us. He planned!
"He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be
holy and blameless before him" (1:4). Here, in simple words which a child
could understand, we are given that which is quite beyond our understanding.
It may be plain, but it is most precious, and we hold on to it by faith.
You and I are in Christ today because there was a transaction in the mind
of God before the world was founded. He accomplished it. This eternal scheme
of God came to fruition in the cross of Christ: "In him we have redemption
through his blood ... according to the riches of his grace" (1:7). How did
God the Father bring His plan to pass? By sending the Son to be the Saviour
of the world. Christ saves the world by standing in for us and accepting
unto Himself all our demerits, our offensiveness and our failures, and by
bearing them in His body on [45/46] the tree. So
the counsels of God which go back before the world was, took effect in time
and history in the cross of Christ where the blood of Christ was shed for
He applies this salvation. The full drawing back of the veil reveals
to us that it was the Father who planned, the Son who accomplished and it
is the Holy Spirit who is the bearer to us of all the blessings which come
to those who believe in Christ: "... having believed in him, you were sealed
with the promised Holy Spirit, which is an earnest of our inheritance ..."
(1:13). In the work of saving sinners, God reveals Himself in His total way
as God the Holy Trinity. Not till Jesus came was God fully, truly and utterly
known. Not before Jesus came and not until Jesus, were men permitted to
know the glory of the eternal Trinity. And further, this God wished to come
and dwell in His redeemed. In this work of salvation which God planned and
accomplished and applied, His intention is that in all His fullness, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit should come to reside in His people. This intention is
described in Paul's prayer (3:14-19), where he tells us that God's great
purpose is that the Holy Spirit should reside in our inner being, so that
we may be "filled unto all the fullness of God". So God's purpose in salvation
is to impart Himself, to come and take up His residence within those who
believe, so that they may bear His likeness.
All this brings us to the "therefore" of 4:17. We have had a lovely vision
-- first the vision of God in His full reality as God the Holy Trinity, and
then the vision of God residing in us so that at long last we might be rescued
from all the corruption and inhumanity of fallen man and the sub-human condition
which has been brought about by sin, and that through the indwelling Spirit
we might become renewed humanity, the ideal human people in whom the image
of God is seen. How is that vision to be realised? How can we pass from
seeing God's plan to having it realised in daily life? These verses tell
The Renewed Mind
The word "therefore" bridges over to this point, connecting the provision
in Christ with the daily experience of the believer. Paul now begins to spell
out the mechanism whereby the glorious vision can become a daily reality
for you and me. The verses which follow are therefore most important, and
they deserve much prayerful consideration.
They focus on one distinct aspect of our lives which is the mind, and
they show that this is central to the whole idea of the realisation of the
image of God in our everyday life. If we look for the difference between
the walk of the unredeemed Gentiles and of the redeemed people of God, we
find that it is in the mind. The unredeemed walk "in the vanity of their
mind" (v.17). There is no lasting meaning and no true fulfilment for them,
but the blight of vanity is over all their thinking. Further, the unredeemed
are "darkened in their understanding" (v.18). Their way of grasping things
is different and no light from heaven penetrates their natural darkness.
Then they are "alienated from the life of God", having no vital basis of
communication with Him. We are told the reason for this alienation; it is
again a matter of the mind, being "because of the ignorance that is in them".
This constitutional ignorance keeps them cut off from any vital fellowship
Believers, on the other hand, have a different mind. They have been delivered
from natural ignorance for it is said of them that they have "learned Christ"
(v.20). This different mind has delivered them from having to wander around
in the vanity which formerly governed their walk; they are not alienated
as the others are, but are plugged into life, animated and governed by the
power of the gospel. They have "learned Christ", they are "renewed in the
spirit of their mind" (v.23) and they are "created in righteousness and holiness
of truth" (v.24). So, if it is the mind which makes the Gentile, it is also
the mind that makes the new man.
How much do we know of this new mind? How do we find ourselves in our
daily walk? Do we despair of ever losing the image of the world and enjoying
the image of God? Do we constantly wonder how we can ever shuffle off this
likeness to the unredeemed and receive the blessed image of the Redeemer?
Or, are we like Peter, in our best moments saying, "Lord I will follow Thee
to prison and to death" and yet ending the day, as he did, with failure and
bitter weeping? Often it is not that we do not know all about Satan's assaults.
It is true that they are subtle, but they are often quite predictable. And
yet we find them overwhelming, and once more we go down before them. What
can we do about it? [46/47] Well, we can at least note
from the Scriptures that the battle lies in the area of the mind. If we are
seeking progress in sanctification, it is the mind that matters. That may
not be the whole story, but it is certainly a major factor.
We may find help in Romans 12:1-2. We find there that we are exhorted
to present our bodies a living sacrifice to the Lord. There is no problem
about such an action. I have heard preachers try to make a great crisis out
of it, but it seems to me to involve a very simple committal. The act of
consecration is relatively easy; it is what follows which makes heavy demands,
for we are then commanded: "and be not fashioned according to this world;
but be transformed ...". Ah, that is different. That demands a constant crisis
of experience, as is shown by the present continuous tense -- "Do not go
on being fashioned according to this world". We may make the presentation
of our bodies quickly enough, but it is what is meant to follow that is hard
and often painful. We are always being pressurised by the world and must maintain
a firm resistance to this pressure. What is more, the rest of the verse tells
us that we must "go on being transformed". The same word is used here as
is employed in the Gospels concerning Christ's transfiguration. We are to
go on being transfigured!
Stop being like the world! Go on becoming more and more like the Lord
Jesus! A lovely thought, but how can it be realised? The verse goes on to
explain: "... by the renewing of your mind". This is not so much a call for
a single act of an emotional transaction with God which solves all my problems
at the moment of total committal, as a call to a lifetime of discipline under
God's Word. The act of consecration may be the beginning, but the middle and
the end of this work of sanctification consists of going on in a progressive
withdrawal from the likeness of the world and a progressive attachment to
the likeness of Jesus. And this can only happen by a renewing of the mind.
On the way to Emmaus, the two disciples began with slow hearts and ended
with burning hearts. How different was the end from the beginning, and all
because of a conveyance of biblical truth to the minds: "He interpreted to
them in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).
These old, stultified, wayward hearts of ours can be lifted up out of their
natural foolishness and made to burn for God, if only divine truth grips the
mind. Later on we read that the Lord Jesus "opened their mind, that they might
understand the scriptures" (v.45). It was as though the one cardinal thing
that He needed to do before He could go back to heaven and leave an effective
working Church here on earth was this ministry of the Spirit in opening their
In Ephesians 4:17 we noted that the Gentile mind was a mind of vanity.
Its state is such that it can never, never grasp divine truth. It can never
arrive at it, nor see it, nor hold it; it is a mind of vanity. As to capacity,
it is darkened; as to its effect, it brings alienation from the life of
God through ignorance. What a sorry picture! Well, it must have been sad
for the sisters of Lazarus when they saw their brother in the darkness of
death. All the old animation had gone: those eyes of the loved one with whom
they had lived and whom they loved were now quite lustreless. But Jesus came,
and through His restoring work, Lazarus came out of the tomb, now with eyes
that were full of freshness and animation. That is how renewal works. It will
be so in the future, and the words of the hymn are justified by God's Word
when they look to the day of full renewal:
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle
That brimmed with tears of late;
This is a true expression of our prospect of heaven, but we do not have
to wait until the future. It can happen now, There can be animation and renewal
here on earth.
Sanctification begins as the mind is engaged in the truth of God and
grasps it. This, however, is not just a matter of things in the intellectual
realm. Please do not imagine that I am calling you to take high degrees
at a university. No, I simply point to the possibility of a mind illuminated
to know God in His Word. If you are troubled by constant spiritual defeat,
and you wonder how to overcome, enter into the university of Jesus. Take
the higher degrees which He Himself took. When He was put under test, His
reply to Satan was simply: "It is written". Then Satan came a second time
with a further testing, and once more Jesus replied: "It is written ...".
That was His first higher degree. But Satan came again, and this time he
quoted Scripture, but only to receive from Jesus the further reply: "Ah,
but it is also written". That was His [47/48] research
degree. His triumph was not just intellectual but moral and spiritual. He
just knew and used the Bible, and Satan went packing. If you are inclined
to regret that you cannot quote Scripture as accurately as Jesus did, may
I say that I have discovered that sometimes Scripture is even more effective
when it is not quoted aptly. That seems to confuse Satan! The power is resident
in the Word of God and not in our aptitude for selecting the right verses.
The Transformed Life
We must see, however, that becoming like God is much more than a mental
exercise. The mind is to determine the quality of the life. The proper function
of the renewed mind will bring us into the reality of the transformed life.
The darkened state of ignorance is said to produce "uncleanness with greediness"
(Ephesians 4:19), but the renewed mind leads to "righteousness and holiness".
The renewing of the mind is in fact placed in the context of "putting off"
and "putting on". We are told to "put on the new man which is after God"
(v.24 mar.), as though it were a garment. In the Bible, garments are a visual
picture which speak of capacity and committal. You remember the story of how
Joshua was in great straits before the city of Jericho, wondering how he
was to lead his army and crack open the stronghold which stood at the entrance
of the promised land. God met him there in the form of a Man in armour with
a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua needed a God who was a soldier, so God
came to him in a soldier's garb. Garments are a picture of capacity and committal.
Being dressed in this way, therefore, was God's way of telling Joshua that
He Himself had all the military capacity that was needed and that He was
committed to fulfilling that capacity. It was as though He said: 'I come
to you as a soldier, Joshua, because I have all the power needed for this
task and My drawn sword confirms that I am fully committed to it'.
It is in this way that we are commanded to "put on" the new man. The
garments speak of what we truly are. If you are a Christian, God in Christ
has made you a new man. He has supplied those garments for you. Put them
on! That is your real nature in Christ, so live in the good of it. Note,
however, that by doing so you commit yourself to the pursuit of holiness,
for the dress speaks of committal as well as capacity. The new mind must
have practical expression in a transformed life.
This passage in Ephesians 4 calls us first to the new mind and secondly
to holiness. But there is a further call, the third, that directs us to the
Lord Jesus Himself. What is the difference between the unredeemed Gentile
and the redeemed? The mind. What else? A holy life. What else? "The truth
in Jesus" (v.21). Here is the secret of everything, a personal experience
of Jesus Christ. You learned Christ (v.20). It was He who made all the difference.
Moreover you heard Him, and were taught in Him, even as truth is "in Jesus".
It is nowhere else. Here is the very quintessence of the new man -- Jesus,
the One who is the exemplar of this new way of life. He saves you and shows
you the way, so that what you have to do for the rest of your life is just
this, to learn Christ and be taught in Him.
To learn, speaks of a pupil relationship while to hear, speaks of a listening
relationship and to be taught, points to educational progress. All is focused
on Him. Day by day we are to be in the School of Jesus; day by day we are
to come to the One who is anointed as Christ to save sinners, and is Jesus,
the Exemplar of the whole new man. "Even as truth is in Jesus." The Bible
does not just say "the truth" but insists that truth itself can only be found
in Him. Be like Jesus, and you will be made in the image of God, as you
were always meant to be.
A full salvation has been wrought out at Calvary. At that point, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit revealed Himself. There is nothing more that God has
to reveal of Himself, though there is very much more that we must apprehend.
But it was all done at Calvary. When God brought me into relationship with
the cross, He brought me into a full, final and finished work of salvation.
It is mine, and it is mine now.
Do not acquiesce in a lower standard of life than God intended for you.
Do not say to God: "I have had fifteen or more years of experience to show
what I am like and will remain like that till I die. I cannot change now,
so there is nothing that can be done about it." Listen, rather, to what He
says and obey His command to put on the new man. Engage your mind to Jesus.
Listen and learn in His school. How wonderful to find your true manhood or
womanhood in Jesus, the One in whom is the reality of truth.
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
4. MINISTRY IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT
WHAT Paul had been saying in the previous chapter might possibly have
seemed like self-advertisement: "Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?"
The word "again" does not mean that the apostle had previously commended
himself, for no-one who truly speaks in the sight of God in Christ can ever
do that. It shows that he was taking up an accusation which had been made
against him by his critics. These may even have given an impression of greater
humility than he by saying: "Others recommend us, so we do not need
to commend ourselves. How is it that Paul does not have the letters of recommendation
which are customary among us?"
Paul takes that matter up by insisting that the Corinthians themselves
were sufficient letters of commendation so far as he was concerned. It would
be easier to understand him if the few manuscripts are right which read:
"You yourselves are our letter, written on your hearts", and would
certainly be in accordance with his latter words about the letters being
written "in tables that are hearts of flesh". However the majority and best
of the manuscripts have "our hearts", which suggests that the Corinthians
are a letter written on Paul's heart. They certainly were (7:3) and those
who knew him could testify that this was the case.
Perhaps it is simplest to suggest that Paul felt that his letter of recommendation
was written both on his own heart and on the hearts of the Corinthians, a
fact which emphasised their mutual belonging together. In any case the important
point is that Paul tells them that they are a letter from Christ ,
suggesting that through them the Lord speaks to men of His salvation and His
purpose of salvation. Their life testifies to who He is and what He is able
to do, with Paul delivering or penning this letter. The thought is that by
his ministry, Christ wrote His letter in the hearts of the Corinthians. This
is the only letter of recommendation which Paul valued.
FROM this follows something which is typical of Paul. Out of petty squabbles
concerning something as trivial as letters of recommendation, he creates
a great and liberating view of the glory of the gospel. Step by step he has
led his readers away from the formal documents which can be written in ink,
and now the time has come for him to teach them the difference between the
old ministry of the letter and the new ministry of the Spirit, and for this
purpose he uses another picture, that of the Old Testament tablets of stone.
The apostle does not actually quote Ezekiel 36:26, nor is his thought identical
with it, but the idea is akin to it when he emphasises that the letter he
is speaking of has been written by the Spirit, not on tables of stone, but
on tables of flesh, that is, on human hearts. What he is really saying is
that what is written in the Corinthians is really the gospel.
Paul's evangelical work had borne the fruit that the law of God had been
written in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, which implies that his ministry
had been a fulfilment of the prophetic word concerning the New Covenant.
It may seem that this is rather presumptuous, but he counters that idea with
the words: "such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God"
(v.4). He repudiates self-confidence by stressing his complete confidence
in God, the God who raises the dead (1:9). He had worked as a servant of
the gospel, and God had not disappointed his confidence but had done what
was beyond any human possibility by giving the Corinthians new hearts of flesh
to replace their old hearts of stone. Only a God who is able to raise the
dead could do this, and this is the God on whom he had learned to rely.
Paul cannot emphasise enough his confidence in God. Having stressed this
confidence positively in verse 4, he now goes on to describe it negatively:
"Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from
us" (v.5). It could hardly be expressed more strongly. The apostle does not
regard himself as competent to [49/50] supply even
one thought that could serve God's interests. He accepts Christ's words: "Apart
from Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). His words are a frank condemnation
of his opponents in Corinth. They considered themselves able. They had their
letters of recommendation. Since Paul had no such letters they regarded him
as incompetent. It is a sad fact that every teacher of the law who ignores
the total operation of grace must of necessity consider himself and his pupils
as having some ability in themselves. Paul confessed himself totally dependent
HAVING said this, he returns to his positive confidence in God's enabling
grace (v.6). Paul had not become a minister of the new covenant because he
was competent for it, but because God's sufficiency had been given to such
an incompetent man as he. This new covenant is described by Jeremiah (Jeremiah
31:31-34) and is established by our Lord Jesus in His own blood (Luke 22:20).
This is the area in which Paul has been made a minister, but he makes a
further contrast by adding: "Not of the letter, but of the Spirit, for the
letter kills but the Spirit gives life."
The Spirit gives life. In other words, He does something which
lies quite beyond any human capability. Only the Spirit can carry out this
divine new covenant work. Paul is anxious to stress this point. He does it
by insisting firstly, that the new covenant is a work of salvation through
Christ Jesus, wrought by Him, and Him alone, and secondly, by showing that
it can only work salvation in a person when it is God Himself in action, by
His Holy Spirit.
In complete contrast: "The letter kills!" We shall get a clue to the
apostle's meaning if we start with the fact that the Spirit does a work
which is beyond man's capabilities -- He gives new life. The "letter", therefore
represents what man accomplishes when in self-confidence he imagines that
he is able to do what only God can do, namely, to make alive. Thus the term
"the letter" covers every form of religious effort which springs from and
is based upon human ability, whether this comes from a man's mind or will
or emotions. Nothing of this kind gives life, but it rather kills.
WE must be careful not to interpret the apostle's words about the letter
as meaning that the old covenant was unspiritual. On the contrary, the Old
Testament, in which we have God's law, is "breathed out by God" (2 Timothy
3:16). In all the Scriptures, therefore, the letter contains the Spirit of
God. "The law is spiritual" (Romans 7:14). If, then, Paul says that the old
covenant was of the letter and not of the Spirit, he means that under the
ministry of the law, hardly anyone got hold of the Spirit which was in the
words. They knew only the letter -- and that killed and will always kill.
The Spirit who is in the letter is the Spirit of Christ, so that as soon
as a person is apprehended by Christ, he is apprehended by the Spirit who
makes alive. He now finds that all the words in the old covenant, including
the law, contain this Spirit.
Paul's thought is not that the old covenant is unspiritual, being only
the letter, but that we need to find the Spirit in the letter. I have already
said that "the letter" applies here to what a man accomplishes when he tries
to justify himself by his own abilities and actions, but the phrase must
be explained still further. Fundamentally it is God who kills the self-righteous
and self-confident person. God lets him work and struggle himself to death.
The Word of God confronts us with only two possibilities: either to be killed
and remain dead, or to be killed and then made alive! And it is God who does
both. If you listen to the Word of God and are so led to Christ, you find
that it first slays you then gives you new life. If you listen to it without
submitting to Christ, then the same word slays you. In the first case the
word is Spirit through the letter and brings life; in the second it is only
the letter which brings death.
The apostle has now travelled far from his introduction about the tiresome
question of letters of recommendation: he now continues to enlarge on the
ministry of the Spirit which makes alive by comparing it to the ministry
which kills. The latter he now calls plainly "the ministration of death" (v.7),
as he develops the paragraph with an explanation of Exodus 34:28-35 which
describes how on Mount Sinai God gave Moses the tables of the law, and how
Moses' face shone after this meeting with God.
For an Israelite it must have been shocking that Paul could describe
this epoch-making event and the ministry there entrusted to Moses as "the
ministry of death". We have already said that the law was spiritual and
good; yet it led [50/51] to death, because sin found
an opportunity in the commandment (Romans 7:8-16). Had the law not been
spiritual and perfect, it could not of course had appeared in glory
-- but that is just what it did! The law, then, is not a mistake. It is
perfect, even when it slays. God's purpose is that he who is slain by the
law shall be made alive again by faith in Christ, as Paul testifies in his
own case: "For I through the law died to the law, that I might live unto
God" (Galatians 2:19).
The apostle now makes a further comparison by referring to the temporary
outshining of God's glory in the face of Moses and the full and abiding glory
to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6), pointing out that what once
had splendour (which was connected with Sinai) has come to have no splendour
at all because of the splendour which surpasses it (from Calvary). The glory
on the face of Moses could only last for a while, but the greater glory
of the ministry of the Spirit, which makes alive, will never cease.
TO recapitulate, the ministry of death (1) was carved in stone, (2) led
to condemnation and (3) only had a grandeur which faded away, while the ministry
of the Spirit (1) is written on human hearts, (2) leads to righteousness
and (3) has a permanent splendour. By this we understand that the two men
who for this purpose represent respectively the ministry of death and the
ministry of the Spirit, namely Moses and Paul, had to behave differently.
Paul says that the effect on him was to make him very bold (v.12); he had
nothing to hide. It was otherwise with Moses who "put a veil over his face
so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading glory" (v.13).
The thought seems to be that Moses, as opposed to Paul, could not behave with
full openness because the law was only temporary and could never create anything
permanent. The word translated "end" can just as well mean "goal", as exemplified
in Romans 10:4 which says, "Christ is the end (goal) of the law, that everyone
who has faith may be justified". In this way Moses is said to have worn the
veil to hide from the Israelites the fact that the law was only temporary,
and that its true goal was Christ.
This is entirely in agreement with God's purpose to Israel (Romans 11:8
and see also John 12:40). Moses acted on God's behalf, then, when by veiling
his face he hid from the Israelites that the goal of the law was Christ.
Now we might have expected Paul to have written that the consequences of his
action was to darken their minds, but what he does say is: "But
their minds were hardened" (v.14). That which appears to be a consequence
of Moses' veiling his face, he speaks of as a contrast, showing that the hardening
of the Israelites was not a law of nature but rather their own fault. They
were a stiff-necked people: they could have avoided hardening if they had
humbled themselves and given up their self-righteousness. There were indeed
some who were not so hardened: in the Roman letter Paul calls them "a remnant
according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).
The bulk of Israelites still had the veil which hindered them from seeing
clearly that the end of the law is Christ. They think that they must continue
to use the law to procure for themselves true righteousness with God. Only
in Christ is that veil done away. Every time that an Israelite turns to Christ,
he sees clearly that Christ is the law's end unto righteousness for everyone
NOW Paul returns to the boldness with which he operates, contrasting
it with Moses who, in the ministry of the law, had to hide both the powerlessness
and the goal of this law. The minister was limited. How diametrically opposite
is the minister of the gospel: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is
liberty" (v.17). Where there is liberty, there is boldness. What then is
liberty? Paul had already written about this subject to the Corinthians in
his first letter (especially chapter 9), showing that freedom is not freedom
for anything or everything. In a negative sense, it is freedom from the law
of sin and death, and positively it is freedom to follow Christ.
The law cannot procure this freedom for anybody. No-one can obtain it
for himself. It is found "where the Spirit of the Lord is", so that freedom
is one and the same thing as the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit.
How, then, can I get the Spirit and thereby find freedom? This has already
been indicated by the words: "when a man turns to the Lord, the veil
is removed" (v.16). The Spirit is given to those who turn to the Lord.
"And we all (converted Jews or Gentiles) with unveiled face (because
we have turned to Christ), beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed
into his likeness ..." (v.18). This is not an encouragement to be introspective
or indulge in subjective mysticism, but it is the essence of evangelical
Christianity. No-one can behold God directly, so Paul speaks of "beholding
the glory of the Lord in a mirror", that is, indirectly. Who reflects the
full glory of God? Where can we see that glory as in a mirror? Nowhere else
than in Jesus of Nazareth. Only in Him has the unseen God become visible,
and our clearest view of Him is on the cross.
Those who do so behold Him are "changed into the same image". When we
remember that Christ is "... the very image of his substance" (Hebrews 1:3)
and when we also recollect that man was made in the image of God (Genesis
1:27), we understand what the apostle means. As we are transformed, we do
not become divine, but we become like Christ and so become the kind of humanity
which God desired when he created man at first. So it is that the Spirit
works to change us from one degree of glory to another, till we are truly
(To be continued)
SURPRISED BY THE SPIRIT (2)
John H. Paterson
THE New Testament story reminds us, and our own experience confirms it,
that the working of the Holy Spirit is often unexpected and, for all ordinary
human purposes, inexplicable. The early Church never knew what was going
to happen next.
With centuries of church history now behind us, we may feel that we can
trace a pattern in the Spirit's dealings with God's people; that experience
has taught us something of His ways. And so it should have done; yet once
let us begin to presume upon that experience, and take for granted that we
have discovered the formula by which He works and He is sure to surprise
us all over again! He acts as He pleases, not as we think He should.
But in that case, how can we ever be sure what is, and what is not, the
Spirit's work? Is every unexpected thing the sign of His presence?
And if another believer tells me that the surprising action he has just taken
was ordered by the Spirit, am I obliged to believe him? If I doubt
him, is he right to regard me as "unspiritual"?
I think you will agree with me that these are practical questions for
Christians. We are, most of us, cautious about contradicting a brother or
sister who claims to have been guided in a particular action by the Holy Spirit,
but we may well be puzzled by the unsatisfactory result of that action.
In fact I have come across (as you probably have) everything from selfishness
to bad poetry all covered by that unchallengeable claim, "The Spirit led
me to do this."
But is it unchallengeable? Surely we have some guidelines? I believe
that the early Church applied some, and that the Lord Jesus' own explanation
of the Spirit's coming provided others. Let us then consider what these are.
The Spirit and the Church
Faced with the unexpectedness of its Spirit-led life, the Church in those
early days seems to have adopted two basic tests for the acceptability of
any particular line of thought or action. The first was to pray and fast
(Acts 13:1-3) together. This was no less than we should expect of them, but
it is clear that the whole tendency of those days was against individual declarations
of the Spirit's way. I am not at all sure that it was God's will for the
church in Jerusalem to play so heavy-handed a role in the life and development
of God's people as it did, but it is evident that the "apostles and elders"
there did act as a sounding-board, and that even Peter and Paul accepted
the need for a collective view of the rightness or otherwise of particular
As the believers prayed together, that collective view evidently emerged.
I take it that the point of their fasting, as well as praying and "ministering"
was that they could be free from all sense of rush and interruption, even
the otherwise legitimate interruption of stopping for meals two or three
times a day. It was, if you like, a safeguard against being swayed by sudden,
private assertions of the Spirit's leading.
We know, of course -- perhaps from our own church life -- that sometimes
conservatism and caution replace prayerful progress, and that we may ourselves
be quite sure of the Spirit's leading while our stick-in-the-mud brothers
and sisters just can't see the right! We have all known the temptation to
say, "Well, I am sure, even if you are not. I am going on, alone if necessary."
But I think that we may be betrayed by impatience. Quite possible the whole
point of the Spirit's exercise lies not so much in the accomplishment of
His leading as in the transformation of those who have not yet seen the way.
To leave them and go on alone then removes the whole point of the Spirit's
The second test to which the Church had recourse was that of assessing
new developments in the light of the Scriptures. You will recall the believers
at Berea (Acts 17:11), who received the word and then searched the Scriptures,
to check what they had heard. And you will remember that, in all the early
apostolic defences and sermons, the speakers -- Peter, James, Paul -- were
at pains to document the astonishing new developments in terms of the Old
Testament passages already known to them.
We are under no obligation to accept assurances that "this is the Spirit's
work" if we cannot reconcile that work, and especially its outcome, with
the clear voice of God's Word. I once worshipped for some years, when I was
a young man and, no doubt, an opinionated one, with a group of Christians
who had a firm but courteous way of greeting flights of spiritual fancy with
the question, "Have you Scripture for that, brother?" And what they expected
in response was not some personal, idiosyncratic view of the Word, but an
insight that could be shared and accepted by all.
It is not, of course, unknown for whole companies to misinterpret Scripture,
just as individuals may. It is hard, for example, to feel happy about the
"necessary things" (Acts 15:28) laid upon the church in Antioch and Syria
by the church in Jerusalem, even though the former rejoiced to receive the
latter's message, presumably because it was so much less severe than it might
have been! The fact is that the use of Scripture to validate claims of spiritual
guidance must itself be subject to some accepted principles.
I suggest two such principles. The first is that our judgement must be
based on the whole Scripture, and not just on our favourite parts of it
-- the parts that make the case we want to prove. There are companies of
Christians who seem to dwell, with their ministers, permanently in Paul's
middle epistles, or the Acts of the Apostles, or the Sermon on the Mount.
Scripture confirms and re-confirms their beliefs (or their prejudices) because
they carefully confine themselves to those passages that do so. Of the rest
of God's revelation, they seem to have no knowledge. But the Spirit, for
His part, is in all the Word.
The second principle is that each part of Scripture must be used according
to its characteristics -- doctrine as doctrine and illustration as illustration.
History is not doctrine, and should not be used as such -- which is why it
is dangerous, in this matter of the Holy Spirit, to build our position on
the Acts of the Apostles while neglecting, say, the teaching of the Lord
Jesus in John 15 and 16. In particular, we must never risk building our position
on symbolism or parable. I once came across a Christian who wished to show
(for what reason, I am not clear) that Sunday Schools are not God's will
for His people. He tried to do it by arguing that when the Lord Jesus wanted
to enter Jerusalem, He sent for a young colt tied up outside a house, and
that, he argued, is where the Lord will look for our young people -- at home,
and not in some Sunday School! But that was not using Scripture to verify
the Spirit's leading; that was a conjuring trick!
The Spirit and the Lord Jesus
Prayer and fasting and the Scriptures will help us to identify the Spirit's
work, but we shall all be glad if we can obtain some further clues. And these
are provided, I think, as they undoubtedly were provided to the disciples,
by Jesus' explanation to them before His arrest of [53/54]
what it was that the Holy Spirit was coming to do. What He said on that
occasion will allow us to conclude that whatever the Spirit does is likely
to be conformable to a few basic principles.
You will recall His words in John 15 and 16. For one thing, He said,
the Spirit's concern will be with truth: He will lead you into all
truth, for He is the Spirit of truth (16:13). I wonder whether we have sufficiently
grasped this fact. I have a feeling that, if one carried out a gallup poll
of a hundred believers, and asked them, "What is the main thing which you
associate with the Holy Spirit?" ninety of them would reply "Power" and most
of the rest "Love". The number who would say "Truth" would be very small!
He is, of course, the Spirit of power and love, but evidently His fundamental
business is with truth -- the truth about the Lord Jesus (16:14), and about
the real condition of mankind (16:8-11). He reacted violently to the lies
which Ananias and Sapphira told, and Peter described their action as "tempting
the Spirit of the Lord" (Acts 5:9). He will never be associated with anything
in which the truth is shaded or compromised. I wonder sometimes whether our
eagerness to receive and enjoy the gifts of the Spirit in our lives is matched
by our eagerness to have Him "lead us into all truth".
A second feature of the Spirit's work which helps to identify that work
for us is that He is essentially self-effacing: He promotes not Himself but
the Lord Jesus Christ. "He shall not speak of himself ... He shall glorify
me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14).
It seems to follow from this that the Holy Spirit does not give experiences
of Himself but experiences of Christ. Consequently, when someone assures
us that they have had "a wonderful experience of the Holy Spirit", we may
properly share their joy, but we may also properly then ask them, "What new
thing about Christ has it taught you?" for that is the reason, surely,
why it was given. We must be careful not to exalt the means above the end!
In the Acts we can see the Spirit leading the early believers into an
enlarging knowledge of the truth about the Lord Jesus, exactly as had been
promised. They had seen Him and grasped, in some dim way, the idea that He
was the true Messiah, the answer to Israel's longing and prayers. They proclaimed
Him as such in the first halcyon days of their ministry. But they had still
to recognise His greater significance for a whole world of need. And like
someone forcing open a long-closed door with rusty hinges, we then see the
Spirit opening their eyes to the fact that the Lord Jesus was much greater
than they imagined; He was the answer to the needs, not of Jews alone but
of the whole world. The Spirit was leading them into the truth about Jesus
by enlarging, step by step, the sphere of His Church.
This brings us to the third mark of the Spirit's work, as we see it in
Acts and as we know it from Paul's epistles. It is that the Spirit will
always build up the Church. We need here to distinguish between His
method and His object in doing so. So far as method is concerned,
He gives gifts on an individual basis, but His object in doing so is to
benefit the whole Church: "He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets ...
for the building up of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). His gifts
are not given in isolation, or for purposes of enlarging individual standing.
They are to draw believers together, to benefit wholes and not parts.
By the same token, however, it may be worth noting that we do not read
in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit establishing gifted companies
or churches. It is the effect that is supposed to be corporate:
the means are individual. The Holy Spirit gifts one believer or another
and the whole Church progresses in knowledge of the truth about Jesus, and
in discernment of the Spirit's ways. Occasionally, a company of God's people
may say, in effect, "We are something special: we have a particular revelation
of the truth." The result is at best misleading; at worst disastrous.
That, of course, was what the early Church had to learn, or rather unlearn.
For it was a point of view which the Jews not only might legitimately hold,
but which had been drummed into them in Old Testament days. They were indeed
a special people in God's sight. But after Pentecost all that changed. Into
their exclusively Jewish church, unthinkably, the Gentiles were to be admitted!
Listen to the surprise in Peter's voice as he reports to the leaders in Jerusalem
on his experience at Caesarea: "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like
gift as He did unto [54/55] us, who believed on the
Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:17).
The Holy Spirit does not play favourites. Where He has His way, He blesses
and benefits the whole Church equally.
We have, then, some criteria by which to judge what may be, and what
may not be, the Spirit's work. We need these, and any other helps we can
get, in recognising His activity. We must not be credulous. We need not
bow to every assertion that what we are witnessing, or hearing, is from
the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we shall share Peter's anxiety not to
be found "withstanding God" -- refusing to recognise the Spirit's handiwork
when we see it. May experience bring us discernment, and the Spirit Himself
teach us His ways!
IN THE BEGINNING
(Some studies in Genesis)
2. GOD'S PURPOSE
MUCH of the confusion and perplexity which accompany a study of Genesis
1 is due to people asking the wrong questions about the Creation. They ask,
"When?", and find no answer. They ask, "How?", and receive no scientific
explanation. The question which they should ask is, "Why?", and they will
find that the Word of God offers the fullest possible reply to such an enquiry.
The reason is indicated in 1:26, where God expressed His determination to
make man in His own image; the rest of the Scriptures, notably the New Testament,
disclose and unfold this heart purpose of God, calling it "the eternal purpose
which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:11 ). This purpose
preceded and explains the Creation.
The simple fact is that the eternal Creator is also the eternal Father.
From all eternity God has desired to have loving and obedient sons and He
planned to satisfy this desire in the realm of created humanity. For this,
then, He brought the world into being. Father-love gives the necessary clue
to the Creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. It provides the startling suggestion
that the divine purpose behind all those cosmic operations was the preparing
of a home for God with His "many sons".
To many this will sound preposterous. What with excitement about Unidentified
Flying Objects, speculations as to possible inhabitants of other worlds and
the phantasies of so-called Science Fiction, everybody seems intent on denigrating
the status of the human race. Those who ignore or reject the supreme importance
of man in God's scheme of things, offer us a strange mixture of spurious
humility and intellectual conceit. "What is man?", they ask, realising an
individual's relative insignificance but wholly failing to appreciate his
value to God. The question is a Biblical one, but there it is asked in wondering
worship and humble faith. The psalmist received as an answer: "Thou crownest
him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion ..." (Psalm 8:5-6).
Men are intended to be the rulers of God's creation and the sons of His
love. The simple believer rejoices that the great Christian fact is that
God Himself became Man and condescended to live here on this little earth
of ours; moreover He was such a Man that all God's other created beings
(called angels) were called upon to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).
Men are of supreme importance to their Creator. They represent the crown
of His creation and have as their everlasting destiny the privilege of being
God's very dear sons. Now it is true that the first man, Adam, failed dismally
of this high calling, dragging all his descendants down with him to share
his disgrace, but it is equally clear that Jesus Christ, the last Adam, has
fulfilled the Father's purpose to have a human Son (the Son of Man), and
has lifted up all who believe in Him to share with Him the full enjoyment
of sonship. [55/56]
Although Adam failed, this was no fault of God's so that we may rightly
presume that the divine preparations for possible success were carefully
made, the beginning of the human race being fully provided for. Any responsibly-minded
parent would reckon to provide a suitable home for his children, thinking
ahead and arranging for a place which would offer them security and comfort.
He would ensure that whatever was necessary to facilitate and develop loving
family life would be available, so that when children arrived they would
be greeted and provided for in the parental home. I suggest that we look at
Genesis 1 in this setting.
If we do so, we will regard the whole process as the Eternal Father's
work to provide a perfect environment and home for His human family. Considered
this way, we suggest that the five days preceding the arrival of man were
days of preparation occupied with Illumination, Atmosphere, Food, Guidance
and Vocation. The statements of Genesis 1 may not always satisfy the scientists;
but we gather that the order and sequence are not contested by any of them.
We have to accept the first verse by faith, but after this basic affirmation
that it was the eternal God who began everything by creating our world, we
are given five preliminary steps which led up to the commencement of human
history. They seem to make quite good sense.
More than that, they reveal something of God's love of beauty as well
as His supreme power. Can we not believe that the soothing green of nature,
the colourful and shapely beauty of flowers and trees, the glories of sunrises
and sunsets and so much more that is provided for man by God, were part of
the Creator's generous work of home-making? Genesis 2 brings before us the
additional features of God's parkland garden, planted by Him, perhaps in
a world yet undeveloped; it tells us of a flowing river and precious minerals,
with the footnote that "the gold of that land is good" (v.12). What was all
this for? It was part of love's planning and preparation -- an earthly shadow
and foretaste of God's heavenly home and parkland, "the Paradise of God"
As we have said, after the opening sentence concerning God's act of creation,
we are told of the wonderfully wise provision for human needs as the days
unfolded. They are:
The first day was devoted to the introduction of light. The apostle Paul
assures us that he fully accepted this Genesis account (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Light is absolutely essential for life and growth. It is not essential for
us to see the sun. Some people live in areas of the earth where clouds and
mists obscure its direct rays, but they all have light. Ultimately, it would
seem, redeemed humanity will not need the regular periods of rest for, in
the city of God, there is no night (Revelation 22:5). When God Himself is
present there is illumination, for "God is light". We note that God's comment
that "it was good" relates only to the light (1:4). Meanwhile, however, day
and night are His wise provision for His creatures, though we notice a reversal
of the normal order in that day followed night: "There was evening and there
was morning, one day" (v.5).
Verses 6 to 8 are somewhat obscure, but it is usually understood that
they point us to the miracle of earth's atmosphere, which is called "expanse"
in the Hebrew. In our day God has permitted brave and clever explorers to
visit the moon and send back to us pictures which reveal to us how impossible
life would be without air and water. Let men indulge in their speculations
about life on other planets if they will; the fact remains that this earth
of ours has been provided with atmospheric conditions which are perfectly
suited to our human needs. According to Genesis 1:6-8, God made sure of this
before He brought the human race into being. The book of Job has startling
disclosures of the scientific accuracy of patriarchal philosophy, not the
least of these being that air has weight: "He maketh a weight for the winds"
There is one mysterious feature of this second day, and that is the complete
lack of any divine approval concerning it in that God did not say that it
was good, as He did on all the other days. It is possible to surmise that
this arises from the fact that a division between heaven and earth is spoken
of. God's ultimate is certainly the removal of any such division, but that
will be when all invisible powers of evil are banished from what the New
Testament calls "the heavenly places". We are entitled to wonder if evil was
abroad before ever man was created. It may [56/57]
even be that such evil was permitted, to provide a crucial test as to
whether man would or would not open his world to rebellion and unbelief.
Nothing is revealed here about such a consideration, so we are left with
the bald fact that God did not say that it was good though, of course, the
atmosphere around our planet is not only good but vital.
The description of the Creator's activities in the realm of the earth's
flora makes specific reference to the seeds and fruit which were provided
for man's food (1:29). The third day begins with the emergence of dry land
from the all-embracing waters. How did Moses know that the volume of water
in the seas greatly exceeds the volume of land above sea level? Only by
divine revelation. By the same revelation he describes the provision of
plants and trees made by the Creator, reminding us that they are self-propagating.
God's creations are reproductive: man's are sterile!
It is nowhere stated that God created these heavenly bodies at this stage
of His activities, but simply that they were provided by Him to mark out
times and seasons for man. There is no doubt that the sun and moon do rule
human life and that sun and stars make direction-finding possible. It is significant
and comforting that God had already provided for man in this way before ever
he existed, marking off the days, months and years and also giving a system
of navigation for travellers. Whether by day or night, the heavens can always
be consulted when men need guidance on their journeys.
The fifth day speaks of the first created animals, and in the recognised
order -- fish and then birds. It does not move on to the "beasts of the earth"
until the sixth day, but we recognise that all these classes of creatures
were provided to furnish God's earth with life and that the phrase, "And
God saw that it was good" is repeated on both days before man appeared (vv.21
and 25). Good for what? To give man a worthwhile job of work. I suggest that
the totality of non-human animate beings was intended to provide a suitable
occupation for man, in that his vocation would have been "to have dominion"
over them (vv.26-28). So much so that Adam's first task -- daunting enough
in all conscience -- was to classify and provide names for each of them
(2:19-20). Adam, then, was placed on earth to rule as a king and then later
to become a son. Men were meant to be kings as well as sons. The prospect,
then, was so overwhelmingly according to divine intentions that God Himself
is on record at this point as describing everything as "very good".
After this the Creator began to enjoy His sabbath rest of satisfaction.
The seventh day (which is not described as having evening or morning), was
the opportunity for God to settle down and enjoy with man this promising
world over which He had expended so much thought and effort. He blessed and
sanctified it as a most pleasing day.
What a different Bible we would have had if only man had continued in
harmonious and trusting fellowship with his Maker! Christ would have come,
for after all Adam was only "a figure of him that was to come" (Romans 5:14).
True reigning sonship could never have been achieved without the divine Son
as its Head. But the whole heart-breaking story of human history would never
have been what it is if the Father's enemy had not corrupted human life at
its source and done so by the willing cooperation of mankind. It is vain for
us to speculate, for God made His eternal purpose outside of time and with
full awareness of how it would all work out and how, by the cross, He would
right all sin's wrongs.
The Creator was not frustrated. The would-be Father was not disappointed.
No, for immediately He set to work to prepare on this same earth a new creation
in Christ, a permanent and wholly satisfying fulfilment of His original plan.
In one sense, of course, the Church is a salvaging operation, for God is
gathering out sinners from the nations to turn them into sons. From His point
of view, however, it is nothing of the kind, for His redeemed sons were chosen
in Christ before the foundation of the world and moreover were predestined
to sonship in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). Through the cross of Christ God has
secured His new creation and will yet fulfil His original purpose to have
trusting and loving sons. [57/58]
It is not our purpose at this stage to consider the immense cost of redemption
by the blood of Jesus, but simply to deal with the subject in the context
of creation. It is clearly stated that "If any man is in Christ, there is
a new creation; the old things are passed away; behold, they have become
new. And all things are of God ..." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). By the cross
God has not only recovered everything which Adam lost; He has provided everything
to which Adam never attained. In Christ manhood reaches the full intentions
of Creation, and in Him God's family of sons is secured. Christ is the Son
over God's human household, and we constitute that family "if we hold fast
our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6).
Returning to Genesis 1 and taking its days as our pattern, we see that
in Christ our faithful Creator has provided:
"Seeing it is God that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined
in our hearts to give the illumination ..." (2 Corinthians 4:6). The blood-cleansed
are those who "walk in the light as he is the light", and so find their fellowship
with the Father and with one another.
We are "in Christ" and He is in us. The Church began its new life when
Christ "breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit"
(John 20:22). Already here on this polluted earth Christians are privileged
to be able to inhale the pure air of heaven.
The Lord Jesus said: "He that eateth me, shall live because of me" (John
6:57). He is the living bread. Adam never did eat of the tree of life which
was at the very heart of the garden, but we are now told: "Blessed are those
that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of
life ..." (Revelation 22:14). The Lord's Table was never meant to be a religious
ceremony but a recurring testimony to the fact that the Church feeds on
Christ in its heart and is thankful.
The Lord leads and guides us from heaven, not by the sun and stars, but
by His own Holy Spirit. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are
the sons of God".
As holy brethren we are told that we are "partners in a heavenly calling"
(Hebrews 3:1). Adam was never intended to be an idler. Concerning the earth,
he was told to "replenish it and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) and he was put
into the garden of Eden "to dress it and to keep it" (2:15). Believers in
Christ are entrusted with a fulfilling vocation, a "high calling" and even
while they serve God on earth they are being prepared for greater and more
lasting service. Through the blood of Christ we have been redeemed for a
purpose, and that purpose is to be "a kingdom of priests to serve his God
and Father" (Revelation 1:6).
This, then, is the new creation in which by grace we have a part. We
are not just potential sons, as Adam was, but are actually sons and daughters
of the Lord Almighty through Jesus Christ, the Son. The answer to our first
question, Why the Creation? is that its intention is that God's Son, as true
Man, should inherit all things and so that His blood-bought people should
be co-heirs with Him, all for the satisfaction of God's Father-heart.
New creation life is God's own eternal life. We are sons not by creation
but by regeneration, that is, by birth. God has initiated this new creation
work in us by planting within us the incorruptible life of His Son. That
is why John can so boldly assert that "Whosoever is begotten 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). We may profitably forget those attempts to
render this more acceptably by the words, "does not habitually sin" since
the new nature that is in us never sins. The old nature may habitually
sin or it may seem only to sin every now and again, but make no mistake about
it, God has no use for it at all.
Christians are people of two natures. We already belong to the new creation
but we also have a share in the old until we receive our new
[58/59] bodies which will be like unto Christ's body of glory.
We are constantly exhorted to enjoy deliverance from the old -- indeed to
put it off -- and to enjoy the blessings of the new which is "created to
be like God in righteousness and holiness of truth" (Ephesians 4:24). What
man is by nature is incurable: growth in holiness comes by ever-deepening
appreciation of this fact. All that God could do with that old man was to
The prophetic Scriptures give us a glimpse into the future so that we
may know how God plans to demonstrate that natural man can spend a thousand
years in garden of Eden conditions and still rebel against God. The passage
is found in Revelation 20:1-10 and the period is usually called The Millenium,
since the words "a thousand years" are repeated six times over. According
to the chapter it is followed by the final judgment of the great white throne.
The scene is set as idyllic in that this Eden has no serpent. One presumes
that during this long period the "golden age" conditions described by the
prophets will literally be fulfilled and that such passages as Isaiah 11:6-9
accurately describe the conditions which will obtain when the earth is "full
of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea". We are not surprised
to be informed that death persists, for this is no resurrection scene, and
we note that sin will still be present (Isaiah 65:20), but we can hardly imagine
the delights of a world ruled by God's King and completely protected from
the Tempter's activities.
Little is said about the prevailing conditions over that thousand years,
for the striking thrust of the passage is that even after such a long enjoyment
of every outward privilege, the unregenerate heart of men will be so unchanged
that when the serpent is again allowed a short time of liberty, the nations
will rise against God once more and converge in murderous hate upon His beloved
city, the camp of the earthly saints. This will present no problem to God
or to His trusting people. Just as long ago the whole Assyrian army was
decimated in a night, so these enemies who are as numerous as sand of the
seashore will be dealt with by fiery judgment from heaven.
Some Bible students regard this passage as symbolic and find the idea
of the Millenium unacceptable. To me the significance of the whole passage
is not the satisfying of our curiosity about future events but the demonstration
of what the New Testament has all the time insisted, namely that man's trouble
is not in his environment but in his own heart. Even the Old Testament confirms
this with such statements as: "The heart is deceitful above all things and
desperately corrupt" (Jeremiah 17:9). Can it not be that just before the
final "great white throne" judgment, God plans to demonstrate to the universe
that there is no hope of improvement for the old adamic nature. Only what
belongs to the new creation in Christ is acceptable to God.
We are specifically told that this will be a period when those who have
part in the first resurrection will reign with Christ (Revelation 20:4).
If it were not so there would be a vacuum in the unseen realm occupied by
the "hosts of wickedness" who now exercise their influence on men. They will
surely be replaced by reigning saints who have learned here on earth to overcome,
just as their Lord first overcame before He sat down in His Father's throne.
It is for our own good, therefore, that the Spirit should press home to us
the truth of the incurability of the old creation and the need for a growing
experience of Christ's newness.
Moreover I humbly suggest that this literal acceptance of the thousand
year period is wholly compatible with the conviction that God still waits
to fulfil His promises that earthly Israel will be the central nation among
all the nations.
It is important, though, that we do not lose practical spiritual values
by devoting too much attention to the opening days of creation or the closing
scenes before the introduction of the new heavens and a new earth. Holy living
is what matters, and that may be helped by the realisation that the Creation
was not a mistake, but God's first step towards His constitution of a vast
family of trusting, loving sons. Redemption means that He has recovered
for Himself that joy of Fatherhood which seemed to have been snatched away
from Him. By the incarnation, cross and resurrection of His eternal Son,
God's eternal purpose can be fulfilled.
Tennyson's seemingly hopeless wish:
And ah for a man to arise in me,
That the man I am may cease to be!
is far from hopeless, for the poetic words cast some light on the very
essence of God's redemptive [59/60] work. The new
man is provided: the old man has been crucified. At the resurrection we will
be totally freed from our old natures, and only what is of Christ in us will
survive. The pertinent question about each one of us in that day will concern
how much of Christ has been truly appropriated in personal experience of
the new man. According to Peter, those who look for new heavens and a new
earth should "grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ" as a preparation for that glorious future.
(To be continued)
Readers in America are reminded that they may obtain
some books by the late T. Austin-Sparks from:
TESTIMONY BOOK MINISTRY
9001 Bannister Lane
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (30)
"(But if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how
shall he take care of the house of God?)" 1 Timothy 3:5
IN a sense, the logic of this verse is obvious. In practical church life,
however, it raises some real problems. Rather than pursue these in a negative
way, I suggest that it may be helpful to extract from this rhetorical question
a few positive points of spiritual value.
1. The structure of the local church is based upon that of a household.
It is not an institution arranged by men, but a living community brought
to life and kept together by the Holy Spirit. Its leaders, therefore, are
neither young bachelors nor old grandfathers, but men whose church life has
as its background the daily domestic relationships and functions which apply
in any normal home.
New children are constantly being born into the spiritual family and
they need -- as all children do -- to start their lives in an atmosphere
of affection and security. All kinds of stresses are possible and perhaps
inevitable in robust family life, but a firm influence from the top will
keep these under control, and the various members of the family come to
gain mutual profit both from their privileges and their problems. This is
the background for our parenthesis.
2. The function of an elder is to 'take care' of the church where he
operates. The word used does not suggest official government, but it does
imply loving consideration and responsible guiding of the flock entrusted
to such under-shepherds. The only other New Testament use of the verb here
employed is made by Luke when he says that the Good Samaritan "took care"
of the wounded traveller and paid the inn-keeper to go on tending him. Elders
should be 'fathers in God' who function on behalf of the one God and Father
of us all. The stress, then, is not on status but on sacrificial love.
3. The obvious implication of this verse is that such men should literally
be family men. An apostle or an evangelist may perhaps be without any marriage
commitments, but this does not apply to an elder. It is taken for granted
that such a man has his own household, and then it is stipulated that he
should fulfil his function there in a responsible fashion. No father can force
his children to become Christians, though he may sometimes wish that he could.
No father can be held responsible for the 'hiving off' of a prodigal who
chooses to pursue his own way of life. What a father can do is to insist on
the maintenance in his own home of standards which accord with his faith.
Perhaps Christians do not pray enough for divine help for their elders both
in their own houses and in the house of God.
"BUT HE SAID: YEA RATHER, BLESSED ARE THEY
THAT HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND KEEP IT."
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