|Vol. 10, No. 4, July - Aug. 1981
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"SOME BETTER THING"
THESE words are taken from Hebrews 11:40 and are doubtless dispensational
in that setting, but they apply to all of God's dealings with His people,
and not least in the moments of our greatest disappointments. The Scriptures
make plain that whenever God says 'No' to His praying people, He sees to
it that in the end He has done so in order to provide an even greater blessing.
When we talk of prayer it seems natural to begin with Abraham, God's
friend, and it is with something of a shock that we read of the time when
God refused to answer him: "And Abraham said unto God, Oh that Ishmael might
live before thee!" And God said, "Nay ..." (Genesis 17:18-19). Abraham was
not asking that Ishmael might stay alive, for there was no fear that he
would die. What he did want God to do was to recognise Ishmael as the true
inheriting son; to accept him as the makeshift substitute for a true-born
son of Sarah.
This was not a lightly uttered prayer. Abraham was actually on his face
before God when he voiced it. At that time Ishmael was the only child he
had, the object of his love, and he felt that it could help God's plan if
he were made to inherit. Nor was God's answer lightly uttered when He had
to say No to His friend. There are some things which God cannot do. He cannot
go back on His promises. He cannot accept a human substitute for His divine
plans. And He cannot give the easy answers to prayer which would ultimately
involve loss and not gain.
Had Ishmael been incorporated into God's covenant people, for ever afterwards
the new race would have been a sad testimony to what man has to do when God
is powerless. What would have happened when the Lord asked Abraham to offer
up his son on Moriah? Ishmael was "a wild ass among men" with "his hand
against every man" so instead of harmonious submission to his father and
being placed on the altar, there would probably have been a disgraceful scuffle
on the holy mountain, with a son far more likely to turn the knife against
his old father than meekly to submit, as Isaac did.
No, Abraham did not know what he was asking when he pleaded for Ishmael.
Nor do we when we try to force God to accept our ideas and efforts as though
they were His own. But although God refused, He is not negative in His intentions.
He followed up His emphatic "No", with the "much better thing" of a true
son, concerning whom He could later say to Abraham: "Thy only son, whom thou
lovest" (Genesis 22:2).
And what a man of prayer was Moses. Yet in one matter God had to say
to him: "Speak no more of this matter ... for thou shalt not go over this
Jordan" (Deuteronomy 3:26-27). How can we say that Moses received a better
thing by having his earnest plea rejected? Well, let us imagine that he had
not died as he did. In the land he would have grown old and feeble. Perhaps,
like Eli, his eyesight might have failed or worse, like David, he might have
become a pitiful old invalid. Instead of the actual image we have of the vigorous
leader, he might have come to be known as a poor, worn-out character, shuffling
pathetically out of history. Instead of that, "his eye was not dim, nor his
natural force abated". His honour and dignity never deserted him; he was
taken away in such full strength that the people felt that they could only
go on if Joshua was, in effect, another Moses (Joshua 1:17).
And what shall we say of Moses' share in the glory of the Mount of Transfiguration?
And of the honour implied in the heavenly "song of Moses, the servant of
God, and of the Lamb" (Revelation 15:3). Only that for him, as for all of
us, seemingly earthly deprivation makes eternal gain all the greater.
There were good reasons why God should not answer David's agonised pleading
over the son of his sinfulness (2 Samuel 12:15-25), but David felt that they
could perhaps be set aside in view of God's great grace to him. But the
child died after all. So great had been his distress in his seven days' crying
to God, that his servants were afraid to tell him of the death, for they
could [61/62] not imagine what fresh paroxysm of grief
would meet the denial of his prayer. To their astonishment, no such thing
happened. David "came into the House of the Lord and worshipped ...". As
a spiritual man he behaved as though the Lord had said 'Yes' rather than 'No',
finding peace and joy -- as we may do -- by accepting the will of God.
But the story does not end there. It goes on to tell us that the sequel
was "some better thing" in the person of the child whom the world called
Solomon but whom the Lord called Jedidiah because he was so greatly loved.
Even if, as in David's case, human sin has complicated things for God,
His refusal to answer our prayer is only because He has even for us "some
"... and he sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself
that he might die; and said, It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life
..." (1 Kings 19:4). It was a very natural prayer, and there have been times
when the best of us have prayed it, but nevertheless it was a silly prayer.
Elijah had prayed mighty and noble prayers for God's people and God's honour
but this time, we are told, "he requested for himself ...". What mean
and unworthy utterances come from us when self-pity spoils our prayers! God
did not even say "No" to this prayer: He simply ignored it. We, like the prophet,
have reason to be very grateful at times that God ignores some foolish prayers
of ours. Yet it would be wrong to imagine that Elijah did not mean every
word he said. Only those who have risen to such heights of devotion as he
had, and then sunk to such depths of seeming failure as he endured, can understand
how he felt when he asked the Lord please to take him out of it all. "It
is enough!" Surely it would have been kinder of the Lord to excuse him further
heartbreak and let him fade quietly out.
But no! The Lord's servant has to go right on to the end. So Elijah was
not granted his request. He had to go on a little longer. He was most graciously
cared for by an angel, led on to Horeb and made to hear "the voice of gentle
stillness", and in the end he did not die at all, but made a triumphant ascent
to glory. And he left behind that faithful Elisha who would have gone on
ploughing for the rest of his life if Elijah had died then. So if we want
to give up; if we feel that the kindest thing is for the Lord to take us
Home, by all means let us pray Elijah's prayer if it gives us any satisfaction
to do so; but we need not expect God to agree. He will not answer that prayer,
for He has "some better thing".
We need not be surprised to find that such experiences did not terminate
with the Old Testament. The New Testament carries on the same story. Take
the case of John: "And there come near unto him, James and John ... saying
unto him: Master we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we ask
of thee" (Mark 10:35). This sounds spiritual enough: "Whatsoever we ask ...".
Why surely that was a good prayer! Yet it was a prayer which was never answered.
When the Lord enquired further of the two men, He found that they wanted
personal pre-eminence -- a place on His right hand and on His left hand in
the glory .
Christ asked them if they were willing to pay the price. This is a most
important question, for it is no use our praying if we shrink from the cost
of the prayer being answered. To their credit they were ready to pay the
price, and in fact they both did drink of the cup of suffering for their Lord.
Even so, the prayer was not and will not be answered. John himself is the
best witness of this.
Late in his life he was given a look into heaven. He received a marvellous
vision of the glory that is to be (Revelation 5). He looked on the right
hand of the Lamb, and what did he see? No place for James. No place for their
rival, Peter. No place for John himself. There was no place for any other,
either at the right hand or at the left, for the Lamb was the central figure
in that great scene, alone in His great majesty with no place found for any
Far from being disappointed, John gives us the impression that he thoroughly
agreed with those Living Ones and the Elders and the "ten thousand times
ten thousand" in their exultant praises of the unique and all-glorious Lamb
in the midst of the throne. Perhaps he wished that his foolish prayer for
pre-eminence might be blotted out of the divine record. How stupid and selfish
will some of our most pious requests appear when they are seen in the light
of eternity! But what did it matter, for now he saw the "better thing" which
was the unique and unshared glory of his beloved Lord? We shall not waste
any time in [62/63] heaven grieving over our own faulty
prayers but be completely taken up with the wonders of surpassing glory in
which we have a part.
For John did see someone at the right hand of the Lord Jesus. As we read
on in his book of Revelation we find that it culminates with what the psalmist
says: "At thy right hand doth stand the queen in gold of Ophir". She is there
because she is the consort of God's king whose "throne is for ever and ever"
(See Psalm 45). In John's words: "I saw the holy city ... coming down out
of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation
21:2). We know that God's redeemed Church is being prepared for eternal
bridal union with His reigning Son, and we believe that John will be among
that company as, by grace, we ourselves hope to be. So although the Lord
Jesus seemed to deny John's request, He only did so because He knew that
the Father was going to provide "some better thing".
To be part of the Bride, the Lamb's wife, sharing the throne and the
kingdom with Him, to be one of the blessed company of the redeemed in most
intimate association with their enthroned Lord, this was a privilege infinitely
above the petty throne which John had longed for and been denied. It will
doubtless be part of the thrills of eternity to discover how the Lord has
not rejected our unworthy prayers but purified and fitted them into His
own purposes of grace and glory. And even here on earth we will not complain
if some lesser requests of ours seem to be denied when we remember that
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of
man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Corinthians
For redeemed sinners to have a place among Christ's Bride will indeed
be "some better thing". It will be more than that, for it will be the best
thing of all. Even now, although the great Day of consummation has not yet
come, we are assured that to be with Christ is "very far better" (Philippians
1:23). So if concerning ourselves or concerning some loved one, we have a
sense of the Lord having denied us in our praying, let us take heart from
these and many other examples of the fact that our Lord gives the very best
to those who leave the choice with Him.
LESSONS IN LIFE AND LEADERSHIP
J. Alec Motyer
WE consider the book of Exodus in trying to discover the basic principles
of life which God taught to Moses and also the way in which he lived out
his life according to what God had taught him. The first part of the book
is largely a story of private dealings between God and Moses. Very few others
enter into it -- Pharaoh now and again, the people of Israel hardly at all.
It is a God and Moses matter. For instance, at the beginning of things, when
God says to Moses, "I am come down to deliver them" (3:8), He goes on to
say: "Come now, I will send you". It is a God and Moses arrangement. In chapter
15, however, a big change comes over the scene so that from then onwards
Moses is brought into direct relationship with the people who are given into
his charge: "Moses led Israel onward" (15:22). So we have here a pattern
which often works out in the men and women of the Bible called to leadership.
They start off with a secret apprenticeship in which God has private, personal
dealings with them, trimming them into shape by His discipline and then
sending them into their work in the world.
A Life of Submission
The first main lesson Moses had to learn can be summed up by an adaptation
of familiar words. "Not I, but the Lord." For this I have coined a word for
the occasion and it is "self-unimportance". This lesson of submission involves
the opposite of self-importance, so that is surely "self-unimportance". The
other side of this lesson is that of "God-importance". See how Moses learned
this lesson. [63/64]
1. "Not I" in my ability.
In these chapters there is a pattern. It consists of Vision (3:1-11),
Assurance (3:12-26) and then Failure (5:1-22). Moses went bouncing into the
land of Egypt full of confidence, and fell flat on his face. So the pattern
had to be repeated but with a dramatic change, marked by God's word, "Now"
(6:1). The change is not in the Vision, nor in the Assurance but in the
outcome. This time it is not failure but Success, for from this time onward
Moses is able to carry the work through to completion and bring the people
to meet God at His mountain, Sinai.
Now what is the difference? Vision, Assurance, Failure: Vision, Assurance,
Success. It is to be found in 7:6: "Moses and Aaron did so; as the Lord commanded
them, so did they". It is as simple and elementary as that -- "Not I any
more, but the Lord" in the exercise of obedience.
First of all there had to be the removal of the ungodly 'I' element,
the first stage of which was to show Moses the failure of what we like to
call 'strong natural leadership'. Moses was such a leader and he had to
find out that by itself this will not do. Strong natural leadership! Moses
tried it but it did not work: it is not God's way. He was brave and resolute,
a decisive man with many of the attributes that may seem so desirable in
God's work. But he failed utterly. God had to show him -- and us -- that
He does not work in that way. He has to deal with any element of self-confidence
or self-importance. So Moses was rejected by the people who asked, 'Who made
you a prince and a judge over us?' His only answer could be, 'It was I who
made myself such a prince and leader'.
That will never do. So Moses went off into the wilderness and made his
home with the priest of Midian, marrying one of his daughters. We see the
difference in the statement that he "was content to dwell with the man"
(2:21) and with what he said when his son was born: "I have become a resident
alien in a foreign land" (2:22). He was beginning to come to a new estimate
of himself. Forty years later he was still in the same situation: "Moses
was keeping the flock of Jethro his father in law" (3:1). He had made no
progress: he was still keeping another man's sheep. And yet he had been learning
that valuable lesson of self-unimportance. And there was a wonderful divine
purpose in it. Why did God keep him feeding another man's flock for forty
years? Because for the next forty years he was to shepherd the flock of God.
God is always positive. He deflated the strong natural leadership of Moses
so that he would be fit to be trusted as God's chosen leader.
2. "Not I in my inability."
Now, however, he had to learn the "Not I" in quite the other way. "Not
I" in respect of ability, but also "Not I" in respect of inability. Here
we have Moses pleading inadequacy (3:11), pleading ignorance (3:13), pleading
ineffectiveness (4:1), pleading inability (4:10) and pleading unreadiness
(4:13), as though saying, "Anybody but me, Lord!" But God said, That is not
the point. It is all part of the principle of "Not I". It must be followed
up by "But God!"
Having therefore deflated Moses and assured him that He was well aware
of his unimportance and lack of capacity, He now begins to fill the picture
with Himself. First privately, and then publicly, He insists that He will
be present in Moses' life as LORD.
3. "But God."
First of all Moses had to learn obedience in his private life. "The Lord
met him and sought to kill him" (4:24). How remarkable! Yet no, it was God's
way of saying, 'Moses, I can do without you. I am not dependent upon you.
Please don't think that I have committed Myself in any way into your hands'.
The story is a remarkable one, but as Zipporah made the boy's foreskin "touch
his (presumably Moses') feet", so associating Moses with the act of circumcision,
so God released His deadly grip upon Moses -- "He let him alone". Although
this has puzzled many commentators, it surely indicates plainly that Moses
had been living in disobedience to the Word of God, but when the family came
back into the place of obedience and the divine word concerning circumcision
was implemented, the crisis was over. To the disobedient Moses God made it
plain that He will only use the man whose life is hall-marked with obedience
to the Word of God. It is one thing to say, "Not I", but sometimes another
thing to say "but God". In the private sphere of his own life the servant
of the Lord has to do just that.
Then Moses passed on to learn the same lesson of obedience in his public
life. From 5:1 onwards he is out of the privacy of their room at the inn
and into the public arena of the court of Pharaoh. [64/65]
Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh: "Thus saith the Lord, the God
of Israel, let my people go that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness"
(5:1). It sounds marvellous. The only fault was that it was quite different
from what God had told him to say. It was different in tone and it was different
in content. What God had said was: "unto the king of Egypt you shall say,
The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met us. Now, let us go we pray thee
three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord
our God" (3:18). This is quiet; it is conciliatory; it is modest in its request.
Moses, however, spoke in a manner which was hectoring and thundering and
demanding. He refused to use the phrase which Pharaoh would understand --
"the God of the Hebrews has met with us", insisting rather upon using the
word which Pharaoh would not understand -- "the God of Israel". 'Israel' was
a name which Pharaoh never used, knowing only the term 'the Hebrews', which
was what God told Moses to employ.
Moses was not yet a man disciplined to the Word of God so, of course,
he came to the place of failure. But happily when he failed he knew what
to do about it -- "Moses returned unto the Lord" (5:22). That is what to do
with failure. There is nothing like trouble and failure for driving us into
a corner by ourselves, but the Bible tells us to do just the opposite. The
thing to do is to take it to the Lord. "Moses returned unto the Lord and
said, Lord, why have you done so much harm to Your people? ... neither have
you delivered Your people at all." The Lord answered this in two ways. First,
He repeated the vision of Himself, for it is the vision of God more than
anything else that will teach us: "Not I, but God", and then He repeated His
insistence upon His Word: "I am the Lord. Speak thou unto Pharaoh, king of
Egypt, all that I speak to thee" (6:29).
A Life of Obedience
From 7:8 onwards we find Moses in the arena of the court of Pharaoh,
negotiating, demanding, seeking the release of the people of Israel. And
here the same truths are tested. Anybody who goes into the place of obedience,
goes into the place of testing. Conflict is essential to their walk with
God. Not that we should seek it, but it is essential in the sense that obedience
must be able to withstand testing.
For example, Moses was tested when counterfeits were produced. The magicians
of Egypt could do just as well as the rod of God. They also could produce
frogs. Whether Pharaoh was appalled at the production of even more frogs
than there were already, we do not know, but we do know that it must have
been a severe test for Moses. It seems to be a distinctive feature of those
who truly follow God that they are tested by ceaseless opposition.
There are eleven distinct references here to the hardening of the heart
of Pharaoh. It is not just that the opposition goes on but that it mounts,
so that at the end it is eleven times more severe than at the beginning.
Perhaps the most severe tests which came to Moses were those of the proposition
to compromise. First Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, "Go, sacrifice
to your God in the land" (8:25). He grants what God requires, but not where
God requires it. Then he said: "Go, serve the Lord, only let your flocks
and your herds be stayed. Let your little ones even go with you" (10:24).
This is the very opposite -- granting where God wanted but not what God required.
Moses found that to grasp the fact that it is "Not I, but the Lord" demands
A Life of Prayer
Right through this section of the story of Moses, runs the truth that
prayer must be proved. When you come to think of it, this is the second necessary
element in the basic principle of "Not I, but God". It is not only a matter
of obedience but also of drawing on divine resources. Moses was learning
that there are resources in God which must be tapped by prayer. If you look
at the references in 8:12, 8:29, 9:29 and 10:18, you will notice that Moses
always goes out from Pharaoh before he prays. He goes apart to pray, for
prayer is the nourishing of life in secret, drawing life from God Himself.
It is the cry to God which is the solution of the problem.
A Life of Spiritual Growth
In this sequence of stories, we notice how Moses grows in stature. In
other words, the life of obedience and the life of prayer is the way of sanctification.
This is so clear in the Exodus story of Moses, and it is confirmed throughout
the rest of the Bible.
Consider how Moses grew in stature. One of the striking things about
him at the beginning [65/66] was his repeated testimony,
"I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue", a fact which is borne out by
the fact that his first speech to Pharaoh at the beginning of chapter 5 occupies
five meagre lines. In chapter 7 he is able to manage a speech of fifteen
lines. Later in the same chapter, he puts up his record of speech to eighteen
lines (7:20), and then in 9:13 he manages a speech which occupies thirty lines
of print in my Bible, and in his last speech to Pharaoh, he fills up twenty-four
lines (11:4). Slow of speech and of a slow tongue, indeed! First he had to
lean on Aaron as a kind of crutch, but by the time we reach chapter 11, Aaron
is forgotten. Now it is Moses, the man of God. This may sound frivolous but
it can be a very telling example of the way in which growth is made from the
"Not I", to the "but God".
The Practice of Leadership
Having considered the personal story of God's dealings with Moses, we
pass to the later chapters of Exodus to find how the principles worked out
as he undertook the call to leadership. How important is the place of the
leader among the people of God! At every significant point of the people's
need, God sent them a leader. When they were slaves in the land of Egypt,
He sent them a leader. When they were poised on the brink of the land of
Canaan, He sent them another leader, Joshua, to bring them into the possession
of the land. When they had declined from all true spirituality, He sent them
a leader, namely Samuel. When they were to be brought into their characteristic
position as the people of God, ready typically to enjoy the prosperity God
intended for them, He again sent them a leader -- David. When they departed
from truth and needed to be recalled, what did God do? He sent them leaders
-- the prophets. When they needed saving by one sacrifice for sins for ever,
what did He do? He sent them the Leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we
are called to any kind of leadership, let us learn the Mosaic principles of
The first is the practice of self-forgetfulness, self-effacement -- Not
I! Perhaps we may begin with the time when Moses was overburdened with the
tasks and responsibilities of leadership, took his problem to God and was
told that the Lord would take some of the spirit upon him and put it on seventy
elders (Numbers 11). For certain reasons, objection was made to two of them
and Joshua, his minister, "answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them"
(v.28). Joshua was jealous for the dignity of Moses, but "Not I" means that
Moses would not yield to self-importance and replied, "Are you jealous for
my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the
Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" It is a mark of true leadership to
be able to rejoice in the gifts which God gives to others.
We return to Exodus 32 and note the searching tests of self-unimportance
which were imposed upon Moses. God offered to destroy the sinning people
and begin again with Moses: "... I will make of you a great nation"
(v.10). This was an offer which Moses rejected as he continued to plead for
the erring people. He was even ready to forfeit his own eternal welfare on
their behalf: "... if not, blot me I pray, out of thy book". What a prayer!
Later we read of the deepest disappointment of his life, when he was
forbidden to enter the promised land but allowed to go up to the mountain
of Abarim and contemplate it (Numbers 27:12). It seems that he ignored his
own personal deprivation and was fully occupied with the needs of God's
people, so he prayed: "Let the Lord the God of the spirits of all flesh appoint
a man over the congregation ..." (v.16). He was not preoccupied with the
fact that he could not go but rather by the fact that if they were to go,
they needed a divine leader in his place. How well he had learned the lesson
of "Not I"!
What we have been saying and much more shows us also how well he had
learned the lesson of prayer. Whenever there was a crisis among God's people
-- and there were many, as there always are -- we are told that "Moses cried
unto the Lord". When perhaps the greatest crisis of all arose, we are told:
"Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces" to pray (Numbers 14:5). Crisis
after crisis was met by prayer. This is a great feature of those who have
learned "Not I, but the Lord". Have you ever heard of the Motto Card: "Why
pray, when you can worry?"
As to obedience, it might be good to try to discover how often in these
stories we read the words: "And the Lord said to Moses", but we would be
blinded by the statistics. The thought runs right through the whole Pentatech:
"The Lord said to Moses ..." and Moses did exactly [66/67]
what the Lord said to him. Just in the Tabernacle sequence of Exodus
chapters 25 to 40 there are twenty-one distinct references to the fact that
in Moses' case, the will of God was done on earth just as God in heaven
had said it should be. No wonder God described him as "faithful in all my
house" (Numbers 12:7). He obeyed as he grew, and he grew as he obeyed.
So there it is; the life of Moses exemplifies "Not I, but God" -- "when
I am weak, then I am strong". But if that is so, we have the one example
when he showed the opposite -- "When I am strong, then I am weak". For the
great man, the man who had learned and practised the law of obedience, lost
his inheritance in the land because of disobedience. Let us beware lest any
strength of ours gives Satan a handle to defeat us. Right through to the end,
may we abide by the great Biblical truth, "Not I, but God"!
(To be continued)
LIFE IN ITS FULNESS (1)
(A running commentary on Romans 8)
IN Romans 8 Paul has reached a turning point in his argument in this
deep and fascinating study of the gospel. He introduces it with the words
"therefore" and "now". He has dealt with the matter of our standing in chapters
1 to 5, showing that faith has brought us into a new standing and relieved
us of the shame and condemnation that was upon us as sinners. In chapters
6, 7 and 8 he is expounding the kind of persons that believers have become,
and stresses that in their innermost heart they are without condemnation.
For them there is no manner of condemnation, and the result of this is that
they have a comfort and joy in knowing that they are right with God which
forms a basis for a life of power, purpose and serenity.
Paul puts this in a special way. He could have said that there is no
condemnation to those who believe in Christ Jesus, but in fact what he says
is: "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus".
This is important and worthy of our attention for its clarification will
help us to understand the drift of the whole chapter.
Over against the phrase, "in Christ" or "in the Lord" and other similar
New Testament variations of this matter, there is the other phrase which
Paul so often uses, "in Adam". When we were born, we were in Adam; when we
were born again we became "in Christ", and it is this which makes all the
difference. In Adam there is only condemnation, our standing is all wrong,
we are wrong with God and fundamentally unacceptable to Him. Now we have been
moved into another race and are no longer "in Adam". We still have adamic
bodies, but inside we are new persons, new people belonging to a new race.
Just as Adam was the head of the first race, and we all descended from him,
so Christ is the Head of another race, a new humanity, a new race sometimes
called the "corporate Christ". There is a wide cleavage, and this is why we
insist on people being "born again" or "born from above". We didn't have to
do much about being born into the adamic race -- really we didn't have to
do anything. But we do have to do something about the new race; we must come
to the Saviour and take our place in Him. Once we do that, there is no more
PAUL gives us the reason. He says that it is because "the law of the
Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and
death". The law of sin and death is what operates in the race of Adam; they
work under that law in degree and over time. Sin can be gradual, varying
in quantity in individuals. Death, too, is in a sense a gradual thing, working
spiritually, mentally and physically. It takes place over a range of time,
but it is the absolute law of existence for the adamic race; men are bound
by it. But when we come to Christ there is a new law, one which cuts us
off from the old law and delivers us from it. Just as the old adamic race
operated by the law of a sinful nature which went on to death and finished
in corruption, so the new race, the new humanity in Christ, operates by another
law, and that law is the law of the Spirit of life, the living Spirit of
Paul goes on to explain that the law could not do this. He needed so
to explain it because Jews wanted to know what the law was about, since
it had operated for some 1,500 years in their history. He had to point out
that the Law could tell them what to do, but it could not give them the power
to break from the bondage of sin; it could not empower them to live the way
they ought to live -- it was weak through the flesh. So the apostle tells
us of four ways in which God has solved this problem.
1. He did it by sending His Son -- He came about the business Himself.
2. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, that is, He was a true member
of the adamic race, but without sin. Adam himself had originally been a member
of that race without sin, but then he sinned. Jesus came with a sinless human
nature and He did not sin.
3. He came about the business of sin. That was what He came to deal with,
the whole problem of the adamic life.
4. He condemned sin in the flesh. There on the cross, the Lord dealt
with the problem of sin in judgment.
Then the purpose of all this is stated: "so that the righteousness of
the law (or the righteous requirements of the law) might be fulfilled in
us" (v.4). That was God's intention, namely that what the law was really aimed
at might be secured. It could not be secured by the law, because the law
was frustrated by our old nature, but now it can be secured in Christ. The
righteous requirement of the law is not just the regulations and rules that
are found in the book of Moses: what Paul is talking about here is the perfect
fulfilment of the holy will of God for man.
THE old passes away and decays, as the Letter to the Hebrews says. It
had to, for it was largely aimed at the outward. It said, for example, that
you are not to commit murder, but you could hate like poison -- indeed it
was said that you could hate your enemy -- so long as you did not follow
through your feelings with an act. But that, of course, was not what God
really wanted, as the Lord Jesus explained in His Sermon on the Mount. He
says that God wants you to be the kind of person who doesn't even hate anybody,
for the heart that hates is the heart that murders, and God is always looking
into the heart. It is easy enough to refrain from actually murdering people.
As a red-haired boy in an Irish school, I would cheerfully have murdered some
of my teachers. I never actually did! It wasn't too difficult to refrain from
it. But it would be very difficult indeed to ensure that one's heart was
always filled with love and never harbour hatred, but that is what God wants.
And when we hate somebody we do harm to God Himself.
Similarly it is not too difficult -- even in these degenerate days --
for one to avoid adultery; and in the old days that was what the law was
concerned about. You could have concubines, for example, and not offend the
law; you could have a dirty mind, but the Law of Moses was not concerned
with that. God, however, is deeply concerned, for He wants the kind of heart
that has no moral perversion in it. It needed the teaching of the Lord Jesus
to bring this out, though in fact it is clear for, while the eighth commandment
said, Thou shalt not steal, the tenth commandment got right underneath to
what God was after and said, Thou shalt not covet. It is interesting that
in chapter 7 of this Letter Paul exposes this. Like the young ruler, he could
say about the other nine, "All these things have I kept from my youth up",
but when the Spirit of God directed him to the command not to covet, he
realised just how sinful he was and had to confess: "I died". Through the
gospel he discovered that what the law could never achieve in him had been
fully provided for by God, who had relieved him of all condemnation by putting
him right in Christ Jesus.
The apostle uses the word "fulfilled" deliberately because such a programme
takes time. A child is a sinner by nature, but not by practice, but in due
course it will become an obviously practising sinner. So in a sense, we who
are "in Christ" are no longer sinners but are called "saints"; but it takes
time for this to be developed, for the life to show itself, for the baby
to become a youth and then to grow into a man. So Paul talks about this righteousness
being 'fulfilled' in us. As persons, when we are born again we are absolutely
right with God, but we have to grow in this new sinless human nature given
to us by the Spirit of Christ. It is now possible if only we walk after
the Spirit and not after the flesh.
'After' is one of a number of prepositions used in this section, and
all are worthy of close investigation. This one about walking 'after', is
[68/69] just a description; the ordinary human
being walks after the law of his nature and the new Christian walks after
the law of his new nature, which is the Spirit of God. Of course if we walk
after the Spirit, then the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled
in us, because the Spirit of God will not guide us into anything that is
wrong and will not empower us to do anything that is carnal.
IN the following verses Paul explains to us some of the contrasts of
these two natures: the old nature which we still have because it is allied
to our bodies, and the new nature which is our real person, what we really
are underneath, by grace. He contrasts them first in regard to their affections
-- the kind of things they like. The things that interest fallen human nature
are the things that are typical of this world. But those who are in Christ
have different interests: a new affection comes in. This is one of the most
extra-ordinary things in the conversion of any person. Do you remember it?
Suddenly your desires were changed. There were things that you stopped liking,
if they were wrong, and there were things that you had a mind for, for they
pleased God. Such things became of paramount interest because of the new nature
in Christ has new ideas and new affections.
The Holy Spirit does give us a new mind. The 'old man' still likes the
old things, but there is a 'new man' in us which likes the new things. This,
of course, leads to difficulty, and that is all explained in chapter 7 where
Paul confesses that it was a wretched position to be in for, even though
he had a new nature, he still had an old nature, and the two were contrary
the one to the other: "that ye may not do the things that ye would" (Galatians
5:17). But he doesn't leave us without a solution. We not only have a new
nature now that we are in Christ Jesus, but we have the Holy Spirit dwelling
within us. That makes all the difference. To have Christ dwelling within
us is a very different matter from just having a new nature. If it were a
matter of the new nature and the old fighting it out, with us trying to arbitrate
between them, then we would be in one great mess. But the scales are weighted
by the Spirit of God in the Christian's heart. It is His presence that enables
us to triumph, and that is what the rest of the chapter is about.
"To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life
and peace" (verse 6). Everything that the natural man is interested in ends
in death and finally he dies. Everything he has dies and then he dies. This
is the tragedy of eternity, that the things which men have wrapped their lives
around while they were here -- even the good things -- are lost at death
and they will never find them again. They do not await them in another sphere
to be enjoyed there: they are gone for ever. To be carnally minded is death.
But to be spiritually minded is life. Everything will live. We will carry
our things through; the things that are in Christ, the things that He has
given us, the things that the Spirit of God and our new nature are interested
in are ours for ever. And not only them, but all other good things too. As
Paul says in another Letter, "All things are yours" -- things past, things
present or future, things up there or down here, seen or unseen -- all things
are yours because they are Christ's. Such conviction brings a life of tremendous
serenity. There is peace as well as life in following the Spirit.
The opposite is too sad to be endured. Paul gives a very succinct summary
of the dilemma and tragedy of those who have only got a fallen nature: they
are at enmity with God; they are not and cannot be subject to God's law and
they cannot please Him (verses 7 and 8). But in the next verse he goes on
to show that those who have become Christians are in a different situation;
they are not "in the flesh". We are no longer in the adamic race: we are
now part of the new race in Christ Jesus, and in that new race we have a new
nature, "if so be", he says, "that the Spirit of God dwell in you".
This is what makes somebody a Christian -- "if so be"! It is not just
church going; we are not "in the Spirit" because we do that, indeed it is
possible to go to church and be in a very wrong spirit. Nor is it that we
are able to speak languages we have never learned. Such speaking is not rated
very high by the apostle, who makes it the least of all the gifts and points
out that for himself he would rather speak five intelligent words in his
own tongue than ten thousand (about an hour and a half's sermon for any normal
speaker) in some unknown tongue. Since he demands that in any case the 'tongue'
must be translated afterwards, the comparison is staggering.
No, it is the presence of the Spirit of God dwelling in us that makes
all the difference. There are gifts of the Spirit, some of them wonderful
to us and given to each of us, but it is His [69/70]
presence not the gifts which makes us to be "in Christ". It is not without
significance that the Lord Jesus warned us that one day people will come to
Him claiming to have done great miracles in His name. Notice not just "great
miracles" but "miracles in Your name". But He will deny ever having known
them. Far from being "in Christ" they were total strangers to Him. It is
the Spirit of God's presence in us that makes the difference. "If any man
have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Just as if a being had
not a human spirit he would not be human. If anyone has not Christ living
within him, then he is not a Christian. If you don't feel Him within, then
you can be grateful, for He is not just a feeling. He may produce feelings,
and sometimes does, but they themselves are not the Spirit.
PAUL then argues that "if Christ be in you, though the body is dead because
of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness", and many commentators
agree with the R.V. in putting a small 's' for the spirit here. Though the
body is dead, that is, it will not respond to the will of God, the spirit
is very much alive. Paul has said: "Evil is present with me, and there is
a law in my members, warring against the law of God in my mind" (Romans 7:14-23),
but now shows that not only is the spirit life because of righteousness but
there is also the Spirit of God who weights the scales and produces the
difference. He then explains further that "If the Spirit of him that raised
up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead
shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you".
No doubt he here includes the coming resurrection, but he is not directly
referring to that. Paul uses his words carefully. When he uses this word
translated 'quicken', he refers to being made alive. When previously he had
spoken about our bodies being dead, he didn't mean that they were in the
grave but rather that they were non-functioning -- dead to the will of God.
He now assures us that the Spirit of God in us gives life to our mortal bodies,
making those bodies able to do the will of Christ, so that they will speak
what He says and go where He says, and act as He wishes. This is the present
and glorious 'quickening' by the new life of the Spirit. In chapter 7 he
has shown that having a renewed spirit and still having the old spirit leaves
a believer in a quandary -- and we are acutely aware of that! Now he tells
the solution of our problem, namely to recognise that we have the Holy Spirit
to tip the scales and enable us to make our mortal bodies to do the will
So, then, we are under an obligation (verse 12) "not to the flesh, to
live after the flesh ...", but to mortify the deeds of the body and live.
We are under an obligation, not to do what the old nature says -- we have
been freed from that -- but to carry out the will of Christ. For we can
do His will. It was Paul himself who asserted, "I can ..." and who also
exhorted the Ephesians to pray for themselves that they might be strengthened
with might by His Spirit in the inner man. It is the work of the Spirit of
God in our hearts and our yielding to Him, that enables these bodies of
ours to be brought into line with the will of God. The trouble with the unconverted,
adamic man is that he cannot stop his body doing the wrong things, but the
Christian can. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the
sons of God" (verse 14). This does not refer to the items of daily life
for which we need (and may pray for) guidance, but rather that the son of
God finds the Spirit saying, 'Come this way! This is the way in which I
want you to go'. If we follow Him we will learn to conquer sin and walk in
the way of righteousness. This was where our chapter started -- "that the
righteous requirements of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not after
the flesh, but after the Spirit".
(To be continued)
BEHOLDING HIS GLORY
(A Study of John Chapter 12)
John H. Paterson
OF all the Gospel writers, John is the one who most clearly wrote his
Life of Jesus to prove a point. While Luke's concern was with the sequence
of events -- that is, with the factual record -- John's purpose was what we
should now call didactic: he wanted to convince his readers of a truth. "These
are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God;
[70/71] and that believing ye may have life in his
name" (20:31). John selected those incidents or words which best contributed
to the point he wanted to make.
What he evidently hoped to do was to lead his readers by the same path
that he himself had followed, from ignorance to faith in Christ. He wanted
them to share the experiences which, cumulatively over three years, had
convinced him that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the giver of life. They
had not been present as he had but, by picking out the significant points
of evidence, he hoped to recreate for them the road to faith and eternal
For the first three years in Jesus' company had brought to John a dawning
realisation, firstly, that He was someone with special powers; then, that
He was unique; then, that He was indeed the Son of God. The evidence had
gradually accumulated before John's eyes so that, when he came to write his
Gospel, he took as his theme the weight of evidence. He wrote "We beheld his
glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (1:14). The miracles
of Jesus which he described in his narrative he called not miracles but "signs",
or evidences. And so the fundamental challenge of the Gospel becomes simply
this: When you look at Jesus, do you behold His glory, the glory of the Son
of God, or do you not? And in the Gospel, each character who appears in his
narrative falls into one category or the other.
Nowhere is this structure of the narrative clearer than in the twelfth
chapter. Compared with those which precede and follow, this twelfth chapter
may well appear rather scrappy -- as a collection of anecdotes assembled
under a general heading such as 'A day in the life of Jesus'. But if we bear
in mind John's purpose and John's theme, the anecdotes are marvellously transformed
into a series of case studies of people who beheld His glory and others
who did not.
The Case of the Blind Disciple
The first case study (vv.1-8) is of two people with very different estimations
of Jesus and His value. One was Mary, with her ointment of spikenard, who
anointed Jesus' feet. The other was Judas, who said "What a waste!" And the
difference between them lay in their estimation of the comparative worth
of the ointment and of the worship of the Son of God. By his attitude Judas
was implying 'He's not worth it'. And Mary as responding 'Oh yes, He is! He's
worth this and much more, for I have beheld His glory, and it is the glory
of the only begotten Son of the Father, You simply cannot over-value that
The Case of the Dead Man Alive
The second section of the chapter (vv.9-11) deals with people's reaction
to one of the most striking of John's "signs" or pieces of evidence -- the
raising of Lazarus. It is apparent from the story that, unlike some others
of Jesus' miracles which were known only to a few people, this particular
event occurred with what we should now call the full glare of publicity to
accompany it. So well-known were the events of the past few days that there
was no possibility of explaining them away; everybody knew that Lazarus was
alive, and then dead, and then alive again. The only question, really, was
what to make of this sequence. And the logic of the matter was inescapable:
only God had authority over life and death, therefore only God could have
brought this about. But in that case the voice of Jesus, crying "Lazarus
come forth", was the voice of God. The glory that they had seen was the glory
of God. And many of the Jews, we are told accepted the logic and believed
on Jesus (v.11).
But the chief priests did not see it that way. Their solution was to
get rid of the evidence (v.10) -- to have Lazarus safely buried again. When
you wake to find the glory of the sun shining through the window, you can
either accept the logic of the fact that day has dawned and get up, or you
can pull the curtains tightly shut, and pretend that it is still night!
The Case of the Cheering Crowd
Verses 12-19 present the third incident in this chapter -- what we usually
refer to as the Triumphal Entry. From the account, this was clearly a great
public spectacle; hundreds and perhaps thousands of people saw it, and each
of them might well have gone away and told his friends 'I beheld His glory'.
They had seen Jesus treated royally, and hailed with shouts of "Hosanna".
Surely these people, at least, had understood?
I wonder. And in particular I wonder because John, writing long afterwards,
added that strange [71/72] comment, "These things
understood not his disciples at first: but when Jesus was glorified, then
..." (v.16). John is very frank -- that the true meaning of the event did
not dawn even on the disciples, let alone the crowd of onlookers, until something
else had happened -- and that something was, precisely, Jesus being glorified.
John tells us, then, that the true glory was not here in the shouts of acclamation;
that this Triumphal Entry was, in itself, meaningless without what followed
afterwards; that it had been only incidental to, and preparatory for, the
real moment of glory.
No doubt the crowd thought that they had seen glory. No doubt they went
away saying 'What a moment of glory!' But no doubt, also, some at least of
them had enough breath left to shout very different words a few days later
-- words like "Barabbas" and "Crucify Him!" Had they really "beheld His
glory", or had they simply been swept along on a wave of public enthusiasm?
There was all the difference in the world.
The Case of the Foreign Tourists
The next event in the crowded sequence which John describes (vv.20-26)
is the coming of some Greeks who were in Jerusalem on this occasion, and
who sought an introduction to Jesus. To judge by the Lord's reaction to their
request, they were simple sightseers, curious about the goings-on in a strange
city, in the same way that you can find foreign tourists any day of the week,
waiting outside Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the royal family.
We cannot believe that, if they had been genuine and earnest seekers
after truth, Jesus would have avoided meeting them, as He apparently did.
His response was wholly negative. But to judge by His words in vv.24-26,
the Lord was reacting in this way: 'What is the use of their seeing Me as
I am at present? When they meet Me they will inevitably get the wrong impression.
To see Me as I am, here and now, will give them no clue as to the real nature
of My mission. For that mission is concerned not so much with living as with
dying. Only when I die will anybody really behold my glory'. For there
is a distinction between seeing and understanding what you see. "Seeing ye
shall see, and shall in no wise perceive."
The Case of the Thunderstorm
The last of the anecdotal sections of this chapter, before John comes
to his summing up, is found in verses 27-35 and, like its predecessors, this
section too is about glory. As the Lord Jesus began to feel the approach
of the shadow of His death, His thoughts turned not to His own safety or sufferings,
but to the glory of God. Rejecting out loud the idea of trying to avoid the
suffering that lay before Him, Jesus showed that His sole concern was that
people should behold God's true glory -- and this, as He recognised (v.32)
could only happen when He was seen not as some kind of tourist attraction,
nor yet as a national leader, but as a crucified Saviour.
To this attitude God responded immediately: "Father, glorify Thy name.
There came therefore a voice out of heaven, saying, I have both glorified
it, and will glorify it again" (v.28). The message, alas, had been lost
on the crowd. It had been delivered, Jesus told them, not for His sake but
for theirs, but they missed it; they thought it was just another roll of
thunder! In verse 34 of our chapter, they appear as mixed up about Jesus
as at any time during His years among them. Men and women who had watched
the Triumphal Entry and stood listening while God spoke about His name had
seen and heard -- what? Nothing of the true glory!
Glory -- True or False?
John now draws his twelfth chapter to a close and, with it, the section
of his Gospel which covers the public ministry of Jesus. From this point
in his narrative onwards, the public as a whole never saw Jesus again, except
as a crucified felon. From chapter 13 on, He was shut away with His disciples.
In the last part of chapter 12, therefore, John is summarising, in his own
words or those of Jesus, what the Lord's public ministry had been about.
And the theme of that ministry, says John, had been glory.
The paradox, John says, the conundrum of Jesus' life, was that people
saw Him and yet did not see. They watched the things He did, but failed to
draw from them the logical conclusion. And the only explanation of this puzzle
that John could offer was that provided long before, by the prophet Isaiah
(v.39); that there was a process going on in human eyes and ears and minds
which made them impervious to the sight and sound of true glory.
What was this process? In some cases, John feels, it was easily identified.
For some people, he says, there is no mystery at all: "... even of the rulers
many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it,
lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory
of men more than the glory of God".
But there must be a broader explanation, and it is surely this -- that
the glory of God, the true glory, is insulated from the merely spectacular.
There was always the danger during the ministry of Jesus, that people would
get the wrong impression from His miracles; that, in His own words, they
would follow Him for the bread He gave them rather than for Himself. If faith
in Christ was generated merely by seeing a miracle, then how unfair on those
who do not happen to have witnessed one -- and how disconcerting for those
who have witnessed apparent miracles that have nothing to do with God! After
all, on the television the other day I saw -- or so I thought -- a large
cage containing a lion disappear from one place and reappear a hundred feet
away a moment later. Needless to say, this 'miracle' had no connection with
The miracles themselves were not the glory of the Son of God. They were
the signs of the glory -- the challenges, if you like, to investigate
further; to face the logic of the situation. And so Jesus' very last words
to the crowd, before He passed out of their presence for ever (vv.44-50),
were an appeal to them to look beyond the person and the events that they
saw before them to what lay behind. His words were an attempt, to use an
awkward modern word, to depersonalise the situation. People who met
Jesus were always troubled by the fact that He was one of themselves: they
knew His father and mother, they met Him on the street -- therefore how
could there be any more to Him than met the eye?
But there was. Behind the glamour of His entry and His miracles (and
how short a time the glamour was going to last at this point!) there was
a true glory, which those who observed honestly and fearlessly might yet
behold. If they followed the crowd, or minded what other people thought
of them, they would miss it. But it was there. Glory as of the only begotten
Son of the Father -- the glory of God Himself.
These things said Isaiah because he saw
His glory, and he spoke of Him.
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
5. "THIS MINISTRY"
AFTER discussing so fully the work he is doing, Paul turns back to what
had occasioned his explanation, namely, accusations of unreliability and
deception: "Therefore, seeing we have this ministry (of the Spirit), even
as we obtained mercy (when God revealed His Son on the Damascus road), we
faint not ...". There are other MSS which read: "we do not neglect our duty",
which suits the context better.
There is clearly a controversial undertone in his words but, even as
he could change petty people's sarcasms into beautiful truths concerning
the gospel, so now he handles the polemical issue in such way that attention
is not drawn to the more or less convincing arguments about it so much as
to bringing everything into the clear light of God. He commends himself to
every man's conscience. At first glance it might seem that he is doing the
same as his opponents, seeking to win men's approval by asserting himself,
but this is not the case. So far as attempts to attract adherents by self-praise
are concerned, he would regard that as among "the hidden things of shame"
which he has renounced. No, what he is doing is to ask his readers to come
before God together with him, and allow God to speak to all their consciences
concerning him and his ministry. If only they will do that, he will be content.
By including "every man" in his appeal, Paul shows both that he regards
it as possible that God can speak to all consciences, and also that he is
not seeking recognition for any particular group in Corinth. He denounced
the idea of some [73/74] saying, "I am of Paul", for
he never could permit a party to gather around him personally. He claims
that his commendation in God's sight is by "manifestation of the truth", that
is, by showing how preaching Christ is a matter of daily life as well as
of words. For this reason he devotes the rest of the chapter to a description
of the endless trials under which he carried on his preaching.
One would think that such a recommendation would convince all who read
it -- but no! Although nothing was veiled by him, yet the gospel remained
veiled from many who could, if they would, allow God to speak to their consciences.
Those who are perishing are Satan's victims. To describe him as 'the god
of the world' is not to attribute omnipotence to him, but only to stress the
power he has to attack and blind men, so that they may not see the light which
radiates from the gospel of God's glory.
It was not Paul who was veiling the gospel. In no area was he obscuring
Christ; in his preaching he never drew attention to himself and in his behaviour
he never assumed any lordliness. In more positive terms, he preached the
absolute lordship of Christ and confirmed his words by humble living in which
he always took the place of a servant.
Jesus Christ is Lord! This is the sum total of our faith. This means
(1) God has raised up the crucified Saviour and exalted Him as Monarch
of the whole universe.
(2) He who atoned for man's transgression has conquered Satan and all
the powers of darkness.
(3) As Lord, He has the right to demand obedience in terms of complete
This is what Paul preached and when he adds that he was the servant of
the Corinthians "for Christ's sake", he reminded them that it was obedience
to the Lord Jesus which sent him to Corinth and enabled him to serve them
with a love beyond human understanding (See 12:15). This was his only commendation,
and it was addressed to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
To the apostle there was no problem in calling Satan "the god
of this world" and the next moment asserting that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It presented no problem to him to say that it is Satan who blinds the minds
of unbelievers and at the same time to recognise the personal responsibility
of those unbelievers as well as the sovereign right of God to choose and
elect. These truths seem contradictory to us and the apostle makes no attempt
to reconcile them. Each of them is fully valid and our wisdom is to accept
that the ways of God are unsearchable and cannot be fitted into any scheme
of human logical reasoning.
Paul now passes to an allusion to Creation, but still in connection with
what he calls "This ministry". In order to understand verse 6, we need to
answer three questions:
Q.1. Who is it who is working?
Ans. It is God and God alone. He created in the beginning and
He has taken the initiative now.
Q.2. What did God do?
Ans. He shined in Paul's heart; that is, He revealed His Son to
Q.3. What was God's purpose is so doing?
Ans. That the knowledge of God's salvation as revealed in Christ
might "shine brightly" (Danish) for others.
When we consider these three answers to the posed questions, we come
to the conclusion that what Paul is here comparing with the first day of
creation is not only his own salvation but also his apostolic ministry.
The light which illuminated Paul at his conversion is diffused by his ministry
of the gospel, and so creates light in others. This shows that for a living
knowledge of God more is needed than explanations and statements, for it
comes by nothing less than an act of creation. Such a creative act happened
to the apostle and was continually acting through him. This is why
he speaks later of men coming into Christ as "a new creation" (5:17).
There is a tremendous difference between the gospel (the treasure) and
the messengers of the gospel (earthen vessels). The gospel is the message
about the glory of God, but not about the glory of Paul or anyone else.
God's purpose is to keep the treasure in earthen vessels in order to ensure
that the exceeding great power may be from Him alone. Already Paul had spoken
of [74/75] the steps taken to make him despair of
himself so that he should not trust in himself but in God (1:9). He knew
that it was not natural for him to trust only in God. On the contrary, it
was much easier for him to trust in himself, for by nature he was a strong
and talented man. That was why he had to go through deep experiences which
robbed him of all self-confidence and left him cast upon God alone. He discovered
also that other people could easily begin to trust in him more than in God.
If that happened, he would be a bad servant of the Lord. For this reason,
God had to keep him very weak in order to use him and also to avoid anybody
imagining that the "exceeding greatness of the power" was due in any respect
So God broke Paul down day by day. This involved a daily trial of faith
for the apostle. The margin is very narrow between being "pressed on every
side" and yet "not being straitened"; between being 'perplexed' and yet "not
in despair". This whole letter is a powerful reminder that divine omnipotence
reveals itself best in human weakness. Paul did not expressly state that
the earthen vessel has to be smashed in order that "the treasure", the light,
may stream out to others, but the thought never seems to be far away. There
can be no doubt that what characterised Paul's ministry more than anything
else was suggested by the Lord's words to Ananias about him: "I will show
him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul
does not actually mention the cross in these verses, but that is what he is
referring to when he speaks of being "always delivered unto death for Jesus'
sake" (v.11). Day by day he experienced a real fellowship of suffering with
his Lord and Saviour.
There was, of course, a positive purpose behind this, namely, that the
life of Jesus might be manifested through Paul. When he was describing his
life of trials he was not appealing for sympathy, but rather taking pleasure
(12:10) and in good heart. He notes with holy satisfaction that "the light
of the knowledge of the glory of God" shines so clearly through him that
others come also to enjoy that light. No servant of God can have greater
satisfaction than that.
The apostle ignores the arguments against him, contenting himself with
emphasising that the life of faith is just the sort of life he had been
leading: "But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is
written, I believed, and therefore did I speak: we also believe, and therefore
also we speak; knowing ..." (vv.13-14). It seems that he was suggesting
that the natural consequence of a life like his would be to give up and
the natural evaluation of it would be that he lacked a vital knowledge of
Christ, but his own answer was to reject the natural and insist that faith
should be given its opportunity: "but having the same spirit of faith
according to that which is written ...".
The Scripture he quotes is from Psalm 116 and it is possible that he
has the whole psalm in mind. It concerns a man in a similar situation to
his own, compassed about by cords of death, landed in trouble and sorrow.
In his alarm, but also in his faith, he insisted that "all men are liars".
The lies represent the false conclusions of the natural mind of men. He,
however, rejects that natural verdict and speaks in faith, in accordance
with gospel principles, that God works when circumstances are hopeless to
man. The faith which Paul recognises has God alone to lean upon. Like Abraham's
faith, it hopes against hope. It finds no reliance on self or on other men,
but trusts in the God of resurrection: "knowing that he which raised
up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up also with Jesus, and shall present us
with you" (v.14).
He then repeats what he has already stated in verse 1, that he does not
faint or neglect his duty, and explains the reason why: "Wherefore we faint
not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed
day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for
us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not
at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the
things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are
eternal" (vv.16-18). Far from fainting under his continual afflictions for
Christ's sake, the apostle enjoys a constant inner renewal, even while his
outward man is subjected to continual processes of death.
It is important to note that the contrast is not between body and soul
but between his outward man (which is in Paul himself), and his inward man
(which is Paul in Christ). The outward man is the 'old man': the inward
man is 'the new man'. Renewal of the inward man depends upon his remaining
in unbroken fellowship with the [75/76] Lord. Paul
was not looking at the present world which will pass away, but at the world
to come, which is eternal. He already knows something of that eternal glory,
even in the midst of the trials which, humanly speaking, were anything but
glorious. He knows it by the daily renewing in Christ Jesus.
The things which are seen, as he explains, are those which may seem very
real now, but which do not last. He does not only mean the visible things,
when he talks of the outward, but he includes all the interests and values
which have no permanent part in God's scheme of things. He will not direct
his attention to them. They belong to the old world which can and must pass
away. He centres his gaze on the eternal realities of God's new world and,
as he does so, the transforming and renewing work of the Spirit operates
to produce for and in him "an eternal weight of glory".
(To be continued)
IN THE BEGINNING
(Some studies in Genesis)
3. GOD'S ENEMY
THE enemy of all God's loving purposes for man can be described in one
word -- pride. When we think of the majestic greatness of the Creator, we
are apt to imagine that He is proud, but this is quite untrue, as is proved
by the revelation of the Father's character given to us by the Son. The
Saviour who, towel-girded, had just washed the feet of the twelve disgruntled
and quarrelsome apostles, could claim that those who had seen Him -- if
you like, had just seen Him -- had seen the Father. That is what God is
No, pride is God's greatest enemy and, so far as man is concerned, has
provided Him with His greatest problem, as the opening chapters of Genesis
disclose. What completely ruined that earthly paradise of sabbath rest was
the Satanic offer to Adam and Eve that by one single act of disobedience
they would be made as clever as God (3:5). That looked good to them, and
tasted good too, but it introduced into the human race a deadly poison which
continues to defile every heart of man to this day. "Everyone that is proud
in heart is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5).
The agent by which this evil was introduced to the human race is called
"the serpent" (3:1). This appellation for Satan is consistently used throughout
the Bible. He is clearly identified by Paul who passes from speaking of the
serpent who beguiled Eve to the reminder that "Satan himself" appears as
an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:3 and 14). The final book of the Bible
gives us an identification which includes all the titles of God's adversary;
he is "the great dragon ... the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and
Satan" (Revelation 12:9). There is much that is mysterious about this arch-enemy
of God's love plans for man, but two prophetic passages undoubtedly refer
back to his pre-creation rebellion and both emphasise that the primary motive
Everybody is familiar with the phrase 'As proud as Lucifer'. The passage
in Isaiah 14:12-15 gives us the original description of this arrogant being.
It is true that the passage refers to the king of Babylon, but it is quite
consistent with Isaiah's prophetic manner of giving revelation to extend
beyond the original subject in view to embrace larger spiritual realities
which lie behind the obvious surface allusion. If 'Babylon' is a term for
the world's pride, then the king of Babylon clearly relates to "the god of
this world", that is Satan. We therefore conclude that this is not just an
exaggerated description of some earthly monarch but a reference to the one
whom Jesus Himself called, "the prince of this world". Isaiah tells us that
this spiritual being is the acme of pride, for he aspired to make himself
"like the Most High " and to set his throne above the stars of God.
And what shall we say of Ezekiel's disclosure of what must surely be
the same being, though in this case the words are associated with the king
of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11-17). The great commercial centre of Tyre is itself
quoted as boastfully claiming to be "perfect in beauty" (Ezekiel 27:3),
and its ruler is charged with setting himself up to be as God. Several facts
emerge from the passage under consideration. The first is, that it applies
to a created being. The earthly king of Tyre, like the rest of us since Adam,
was procreated and so not one of whom it could be said: "You were blameless
in all your ways from the day you were created". Nor could it be stated concerning
any son of Adam that there was a day when "iniquity was found in him". Furthermore,
this one who at the beginning was perfect in beauty and able to walk "in
the midst of the stones of fire", was then rejected by God and cast out of
His presence as profane. We are left in no doubt as to the nature of the transgression
of this hitherto honoured servant of God, for it is said of him: "Your heart
was proud because of your beauty" (Ezekiel 28:17). So it was pride which
caused the condemnation of the devil (See 1 Timothy 3:6). It has been thought
by some that Christ's reference to His having seen Satan fall as lightning
from heaven refers back to this precreation judgment, an idea which seems
possible since the context was His words of warning to His disciples that
they should beware of conceit over the success of their ministry and be humbly
grateful for their own secure place in heaven (Luke 10:17-20). Twice over
the New Testament cites the statement from Proverbs that "God resists the
The tragedy of original sin in the universe became the tragedy of the
human race when Adam entered into complicity with the serpent because of
his desire to be "like God", and was cast out of the glories of Eden because
pride was found in his heart too. Every son of his has become a victim of
this pride, as may be traced in the history of his descendants.
It was wounded pride which made Cain murderously jealous of Abel, and
it is an interesting comment on the corrupt antedeluvian community which
God had to destroy by the Flood that "there were giants on the earth in those
days" (Genesis 6:4). Following that, satanic pride seems to have found full
expression in a character called Nimrod who was "a mighty hunter" (or rebel)
in his attitude to the Lord (Genesis 10:9). H. L. Ellison describes
him as 'the personification of human society in its pride'. Genesis goes
on to tell us that the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, or Babylon, which
throughout the Scriptures is consistently presented to us as the concentration
of godless pride. We are later given more information of this kingdom and
how it took action by its notorious tower to get the better of God (Genesis
11:4). It may not be quite clear what was the intention behind this building
of a heaven-high tower, but it seems that God Himself regarded it as a united
human attack upon His majesty and acted accordingly. The men of that place
conspired together to make a name for themselves -- a very common expression
of human pride. What is more, they worked audaciously to carry that name
right up to heaven itself. Some think that they were trying to outwit God
by making provision against a possible repetition of the judgment of the Flood.
They were certainly pioneers of the religious idea that man can attain to
heaven by his own efforts, which is a deep-rooted conceit of fallen humanity.
At that time God robbed them of their united power by a simple device but,
from then onwards, it has always been the policy of 'Babylon' to enforce unity
by imposing universal submission within its kingdom.
We read no more about Babylon until the fall of Jericho when Achan sinned
by coveting riches and planning to give himself airs with "a goodly Babylonish
garment" (Joshua 7:21). Again there is a long lapse of time before we reach
the sad story of the fall into pride of that great Judean king, Hezekiah.
The story is told twice (2 Kings 20:12-20 and Isaiah 39) which shows how
important it is, and Hezekiah's conceit was said by Isaiah to be the deciding
factor in the forthcoming captivity (Isaiah 39:5). Flushed with the special
goodness of God to him and flattered by the attentions of the king of Babylon,
Hezekiah could not resist the temptation to boast and had to confess: "there
is nothing in my store-houses that I did not show them".
One of the most striking of pride's victims was the great king of Babylon,
Nebuchadnezzar, whose heart was indeed lifted up but who, in God's mercy
came finally to admit concerning God that "those who walk in pride he is able
to [77/78] abase" (Daniel 4:37). Almost always Babylon
is described as the "great", and this is especially so in the book of Revelation
where she is reported as saying: "I shall sit as a queen for ever" (Revelation
18:7). This proud attitude had already been described by Isaiah who makes
her say twice over: "I am, and there is no-one beside me" (Isaiah 47:8 and
10). No wonder that all heaven cries "Hallelujah" when this kingdom of pride
is brought to its final end (Revelation 19:3).
That will herald the full expression of the new creation. Meanwhile the
old creation continues to repeat Adam's first sin. Everyone of us who has
heard the honest verdict of his own conscience will confess that humility
is his greatest lack and pride his favourite sin. Sometimes it did seem that
God had produced a man who was untainted by this satanic characteristic but
even Moses, "the meekest man on earth" betrayed his deep-seated pride when
he cried to the grumbling Israelites: "Shall we bring forth water
for you out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10). For this he was excluded from
the land for this kind of spirit could not be overlooked; it is the meek,
not the overbearing, who inherit the earth.
The case of David is even more striking. In our last article we dealt
with what we would consider his greatest sin, but later we find something
which appears to have been even more serious, that is, the numbering of Israel.
He deeply offended God and provoked judgment on the whole people when he
yielded to Satan's temptation in this matter (1 Chronicles 21:1). Seemingly
this wilful determination to gloat in pride over the forces under his command
was the worst sin of all. Even Joab, the man of the flesh, was reluctant
to be involved in such a project and in fact left it uncompleted. Alas that
the man who could claim that God's gentleness had made him great could succumb
to the satanic urge to be proud in heart over that greatness.
Pride was not just a possibility in Old Testament saints, witness Paul's
own confession of how severely God had to deal with him to ensure that he
should not be what he calls "exalted overmuch" (2 Corinthians 12:7). If we
had doubted the deep incurability of fallen man, this would surely convince
us, but in any case we must be aware of the constantly repeated calls to
humility which abound in the epistles. The Romans, with their seeming doctrinal
superiority; the Corinthians, with their special gifts; the Galatians with
their pride of ritual; the Ephesians, with their special sense of high calling;
the Philippians, with their personality clashes in the Lord's service; the
Colossians, with their holding on to people and things rather than to the
Head -- all had to be urged to be "not wise in their own conceits" (Romans
12:16); to have a love which "vaunteth not itself" (1 Corinthians 13:4); to
cultivate "a spirit of meekness" (Galatians 6:1); to "do nothing through faction
and vainglory" (Philippians 2:3) and to "put on a heart of compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness ..." (Colossians 3:12).
Right on through the rest of the epistles, Christians are warned of the
dangers of pride in its multiplicity of forms. They can be proud of their
orthodoxy, proud of their liberty, proud of their enlightenment, proud of
their gifts, proud of their physical health, proud of their prosperity (or
perhaps of their adversity), proud of their zealous service, and even proud
of their pride! Pride is such an insidious sin that God's people can not
only be blind to it in themselves but even regard it as a virtue. Many of
the problems in church life and most of the difficulties in the larger realm
of evangelical Christians would disappear if here were no such thing as pride.
But there is! And we return to our consideration of Genesis to re-affirm
that pride is the greatest menace to God's love-purposes for men. It is too
much for us, even the best of us. Happily it is not too much for God. Being
God, He has already solved the problem.
As we have said, pride is God's greatest enemy. He could find no lasting
sabbath satisfaction in His relationship with man so long as it persisted.
Being Almighty, it follows that nothing can finally defeat Him and if His
believing people are described as "more than conquerors", His victory over
pride must surely be a superlative one. It is that, for the Incarnation was
His master-stroke to provide a new creation humanity in which there is no
trace of pride. Jesus only once gave a Self-revelation of His inmost life
and the revelation is highly significant: "I am meek and lowly in heart"
(Matthew 11:29). It is striking that this claim to humility is associated
with heart rest. Adam forfeited the sweetness of sabbath rest when he yielded
to pride: Jesus enjoyed that rest [78/79] (and even
offered to share it) because no suggestion of pride could ever be found in
The whole matter is graphically described for us in Philippians 2:5-9
in a passage which begins in eternity and heaven and ends in eternity and
heaven but which covers the whole interim period in time while the Son of
God lived here on the earth. The familiar story moves on to the climax of
the cross, but in this particular passage the apostle is not so much explaining
the atoning sacrifice for sinners as offering a most moving presentation of
the humility of mind which characterised God's new Man.
He relinquished all his rights; He emptied Himself; He accepted man's
low estate; He humbled Himself; He utterly submitted Himself in total obedience
to the will of the Father. Each one of these statements deserves a chapter
to itself. The Gospels spell them out as they give us some glimpses of this
perfect Man who deliberately chose humble beginnings, renounced all rights
and took upon Himself "the form of a bond-slave", purposely pursuing a course
of selfless love though it led Him on to the most painful and shameful of
deaths. Why did he do this? Because that is what He is like; this was and
is the 'mind' of the Lamb of God. So in one Member of the human race at least,
the kingdom of pride has no place: "the prince of the world cometh; and
he hath nothing in me" (John 14:30).
But there was a further reason. Jesus did not only come to contradict
Babylon: He came to destroy it. His Incarnation and life of service were
directed towards one goal, namely the production of a new humanity which would
also be "meek and lowly in heart" like Himself, and would be eternally disposed
and able to worship the Father in "the beauty of holiness". It took but a
confusion of languages to scatter those conceited builders of Babel's tower,
but it took the infinitely costly sacrifice of the cross to deliver man from
innate pride and provide a kingdom in which selfishness has no place.
There is so much about the life and death of the Lord Jesus which may
give the impression of unnecessary suffering. While we accept the need for
His sacrificial death for redemption, we may wonder why He had to endure
"such opposition from sinful men" (Hebrews 12:3), spiteful, senseless and
unrelenting opposition in addition to the nails of the cross. Why that treachery
of Judas? Why those base denials of Peter, that harrowing caricature of a
trial by the Jews and the brutal mockery of the Roman soldiers? If indeed
Isaiah's words truly applied to Him, why did the Lamb of God have to be the
"Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"?
Was it perhaps to demonstrate that He really is The Lamb of God
? Were those accompanying pains and insults part of divinely permitted
attempts of Satan to extort one single word of resentment from this sensitive
Man? They totally failed. "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again;
when he suffered, threatened not ...". And by this perfect expression of
true humility did not Christ completely overthrow the whole kingdom of satanic
By weakness and defeat,
He won the meed and crown;
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.
This is a moral universe; therefore pride cannot truly be overthrown
by crushing force but only by pure humility. When the meek and lowly Jesus
died on the cross, He effectively and totally destroyed God's great enemy,
pride. That is included in the great cry of victory: "It is finished". In
His own good time God will finalise the outworking of that triumph, though
the actual work was accomplished at Calvary, as may by seen by Paul's assertion
that: "Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name
that is above every name." (Philippians 2:9).
The Lord Jesus has not only given us an example of the first Man untainted
by pride, but has pressed the attack upon pride to its ultimate issue, undercutting
and forever destroying Babylon's kingdom and Babylon's king. We live in a
world already judged; we know that, by the cross, the prince of this world
was "cast out" (John 12:31). At the beginning God had said that this would
be so, when "the seed of the woman" would bruise the serpent's head, though
suffering the bruising of His own heel in doing so (Genesis 3:15). "In His
own time" (1 Timothy 6:15), God will make that total victory obvious to all,
but meanwhile He allows His defeated enemy to continue his operations because
He wishes to [79/80] complete His task of redeeming
men and women for His new creation and establishing that victory first in
their regenerate souls. We must all "clothe ourselves with humility" (1
Peter 5:5) and so resist the roaring lion tactics of Satan. Strangely enough,
God can overrule Satan's attacks and use them to increase in us the Christlike
virtue of humility.
A striking example of this sovereign overruling for victory over pride
is given us by Paul's account of his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians
12:1-10). It seems that this "thorn in the flesh" was so suprisingly painful
and so persistent that the apostle could only describe it as a "messenger
from Satan". He did not waste time questioning how Satan could attack him
in this way but, convinced that his Lord was greater than all, he pleaded
with God to remove whatever it was. God did nothing of the kind. After the
third agonising appeal, however, He gave a personal assurance that there
was a sufficiency of grace in Christ to bear the trial and even profit from
it. What is more, the Lord gave Paul an explanation as to why the severe
suffering was being permitted and not removed. It was to save him from being
"exalted overmuch", that is, conceited by reason of the overwhelming experience
of blessing which he had enjoyed when he was caught up to the third heaven.
Any man, even an apostle, might be tempted to think highly of himself
after such a signal honour from God, but it was supremely important that
Paul should be kept from pride, which is Satan's sin. So God allowed Satan
to harrass His beloved servant in this cruel way to make sure that the apostle
kept humble before his God. God used Satan's attack to preserve His servant
from Satan's sin! No wonder that Paul was able to find reasons for rejoicing,
even in spite of his pain, and to recognise that his new experience of humbling
was providing fresh occasions for a demonstration of the power of Christ.
It is always "the Lamb" who overcomes, whether that be in the actual person
of Him who is the Lamb or in His people who are learning of Him and knowing
the lamblike spirit of Christ's humility. The "thorn in the flesh", therefore,
not only saved the apostle from pride but sanctified him in humility. No
wonder Paul claimed that "in all these things we are more than conquerors
(To be continued) [80/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (31)
"(the Lord grant unto him to find mercy of the Lord in that day
2 Timothy 1:8
THIS is a favourite proof text for people who are trying to find Scriptural
support for the practice of praying for the dead. It is an extremely doubtful
one. The objective of the wish or prayer is not the present at all but 'that
day', and in any case there is no proof that Onesiphorus had already died.
IT is, however, a somewhat unusual passage. It begins by including the
whole house of Onesiphorus and was provoked by Paul's recollections of how
much he owed to this helpful brother in Christ. He tells us that Onesiphorus
used a visit to Rome for searching out and finally discovering where the
apostle was. Having found him in the danger and disgrace of imprisonment,
he was not ashamed of him, as were many other Christians, but frequently
brought Paul what he calls "refreshment". Since the only other use of the
word is found in Peter's promise of "seasons of refreshing from the presence
of the Lord" (Acts 3:19), we may conclude that it was the apostle's spirit
which was comforted and ministered to by this brother.
NOT that Onesiphorus was unpractical -- far from it. Timothy himself
well knew how helpful the brother had been when he was with Paul in Ephesus.
I am glad that the old and pressed apostle retained such grateful memories
of the kindnesses received from an otherwise unmentioned Christian. Gratitude
is not always a prominent virtue among the saints. I am glad, too, that he
not only put Onesiphorus's kindness on record, but prayed that it might be
appreciated in eternity -- "in that day".
IT will be! And so will a multitude of other kindly acts and words which
are ignored or forgotten in this life. Even if Paul had not praised Onesiphorus
nor prayed that he might ultimately be rewarded, there could be no question
of his being overlooked "in that day". We are clearly told that all the hidden
things will be brought to light and "then shall each man have his praise
from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5). If Paul remembered, we can be sure that Paul's
Lord will never forget.
AND what shall we say of this double mention of the household of Onesiphorus
(See also 4:19)? It suggests that if in fact he had died, his name was still
being honoured and his faith practised by his family. Any man can die contented
if he knows that his faithfulness will both be carried on in time and remembered
"BUT HE SAID: YEA RATHER, BLESSED ARE THEY
THAT HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND KEEP IT."
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