|Vol. 14, No. 3, May - June 1985
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
John H. Paterson
"When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth
His Son, born of a woman ..." Galatians 4:4
EVEN those of us who do not worship in the Church of England must be
aware that, within it, there have recently been wide-ranging discussions
about the content of the historic Christian faith. In particular, the question
has arisen as to whether it is necessary to believe that the miraculous occurrences
in the Gospel record really happened as they are described by the writers.
This debate, of course, is actually one of long standing: the only special
feature of its 1985 version is the number of bishops involved in it! But
it is an issue which confronts us all. How important are the stories
of Jesus which involve miracles -- His birth; His own signs; His resurrection?
Since, inevitably, they make belief more difficult for sceptical people to
whom the Gospel message is presented, are we at liberty to discard them?
Can we say, in effect, "Don't worry if you can't swallow all those miracles!
They are not essential to belief."
Between those who can believe and those who, for whatever reason, cannot,
there is another group who take the view it doesn't matter whether
the things reported by the Gospel writers happened or not. No doubt they
mean well -- they want to soften the stark either-or that otherwise confronts
us. But they are in an impossible position. I remember a sermon in which the
preacher announced as his theme Christ walking on the water. After explaining
that some people believe that this really happened while others do not, the
preacher said, "But it doesn't matter whether it happened or not: the message
for us is that, if we are in trouble, Christ will come to us." But that
is ridiculous! If it did happen, then indeed Christ may come to us,
but if it did not, then how do I know whether there is a real Christ
who will really come to me? Somebody just made it all up.
So this is something about which we must decide for ourselves. Part of
the problem, I believe, is that the reasons usually suggested for the inclusion
of the miraculous element in the Gospels by the Holy Spirit are not very
compelling. Unless, obviously, that element serves some very important purposes
then we are indeed better off without it, for it can only put off enquirers
and raise doubts in believers' minds.
What 'important purposes' are there? I want to suggest three. Please
note that I am not offering these as three reasons for believing
that the miracles happened just as they are described -- although that is
my personal belief -- but three grounds for holding that it is vitally important
for each of us to resolve the question as to whether or not they did.
(1) The Argument from History
The first reason is that, as human beings, we live in time and history,
and God does not: He is eternal. We cannot penetrate into that world where
He is -- we can never reach Him. Consequently, if there is ever to be any
contact between God and man, He must enter our world, a world
of events. As soon as He does so, in whatever way, He enters our history;
His coming becomes an event, at a specific place and time. To us, with our
time-based lives, there is no other way of identifying or describing His
Now this, of course, is exactly how the Gospel writers portray the coming
of God in Christ: the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
But because that coming, and all other comings of God, were from outside
our world of place and time, they must by definition have been miraculous,
for a miracle is simply an event for which there is no earthly explanation.
You cannot have God intervening in the events of our history without
it being a miracle! So the question is not: was the intervention of God
in Christ done in a miraculous or non-miraculous way? It is: did it happen
It is a little surprising that those who see God-in-Christ as a myth,
or simply as a message or emphasis, have not recognised this. To have any
"word from the Lord" is a miracle, however it is delivered, but to distinguish
it from mere imagination, or hallucination, or dreamland, it must
[41/42] be accompanied by event; otherwise, tomorrow's dream or
vision may reverse or extinguish today's. In short, to speak of a message
from God to man which has no miraculous element, and consequently no miraculous
event, is a contradiction in terms.
Ordinary believers have, of course, been holding this event-centred view
ever since the apostles first stated it: "That which we have seen and heard
declare we unto you" (1 John 1:3). But we need, perhaps, to remind ourselves
of it in the present context. The Gospel is more than message: it was history.
The cross is more than symbol: it was event. It is surprisingly easy to be
caught out over this! The late Dr. Francis Schaeffer was fond of pointing
out that in Salvador Dali's famous crucifixion painting, which hangs in a
Glasgow art gallery, and which many believers profess to admire, the cross
of the Lord Jesus is depicted as standing not on the earth, but in
space. That is the cross as symbol, not as event!
(2) The Argument from Expectation
My second reason for seeing the miracles in the life of the Lord Jesus
as critically important to His coming is that they conform to our reasonable
expectations. Let me explain that, by putting it the other way round. If
somebody appeared among us today, claiming to have come from God, or to be
the Son of God, what should we expect of him? What kinds of evidence should
we look for in support of His claims?
I suggest that, as a minimum, we should expect that his birth would in
some way be special, that he would exhibit unusual powers, that he would
display a specially detailed knowledge of the God who -- as he claimed --
has sent him, and that he would give some evidence of having special means
of contact with God, beyond what other men might claim. At least, anybody
who could not convince us in those ways would be regarded as a suspicious
character, if not a downright charlatan.
So why should it not have been so when Jesus of Nazareth came? His coming,
as we know, raised all sorts of doubts in the minds of those who met Him.
There were those who worried about His birth ("Is not this the carpenter's
son?"). There were those for whom the evidence in support of His claims was
quite good, but not quite good enough ("Art thou he that should come, or
look we for another?") -- and in today's world their successors include many
who hold to the Jewish faith. There were also those who, not being able to
deny the things they had seen Him do, resorted to the explanation that it
was the prince of devils who empowered Him.
But notice that, in every case, what was being complained of is the exact
opposite of today's criticisms of the Gospel: not that there was too
much of the "special" or miraculous about the life of the Lord Jesus,
but too little. His contemporaries demanded more of the miraculous,
not less -- a more exotic birth story (after all, they knew Joseph
and Mary), and a larger supply of miracles. And before we dismiss them as
ignorant rustics of the first century A.D. with a liking for conjuring tricks,
we must recall that they were on the spot or behind the scenes; that it would
have been difficult to hoodwink such close observers and that they were denied
the luxury of scholars twenty centuries later who can say, "It can't
have happened that way."
Let me emphasise, once again, that this is not an argument proving that
the miracles actually happened. That remains a matter of belief for us all.
It is simply to argue that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot complain
that the miraculous element in the story of Jesus hinders us from believing
the Gospel record and, in the same breath, complain that the evidence for
His divinity is insufficient. One or the other, perhaps, but not both!
(3) The Argument from the Old Testament
The third direction from which we can approach this matter is to start
from the Old Testament record and ask, in effect, "What unfinished business
was there left for Jesus to complete? What had the final Adam to do which
the first Adam had left undone?" This third approach is a variation of the
second: it is to ask, "What should we expect?", and then to look for it
in the life of Jesus.
Let us turn back in thought, then, to the start of the Bible story --
to a perfect creation of which God had placed man in control. Into this creation
there came sin and breakdown. Man fell into sin, and the creation was lost
to his control: nature turned hostile (Genesis 3:17-19). Death became
[42/43] the fate of all men. God's great enemy had been successful
in damaging the fabric of God's perfect world.
In this situation, there were two courses open to God: to extinguish
that first, marred creation and begin again, or to repair it. But of these
two, the first was unthinkable: it would leave Satan triumphant, and would
offer no guarantee that, in some new or future creation, he would not succeed
in doing the same thing all over again and spoiling that, too. The only acceptable
-- may I use the word godlike? -- thing to be done was to repair the damage.
But that would require a repair to the very seat of the trouble, which was
in man himself. The breakdown had begun with Adam, so the search was on
for a new -- a second or a final -- Adam. And what he had to be able
to do was to reverse all the earlier work of Satan -- on the one hand to
resist temptation; on the other, to reassert authority over all that world
on which the first Adam had lost his grip.
Well, we know what happened. Some very remarkable men came along, and
women too, who stood for God, and resisted some temptations, and even
performed a few miracles. But none of them came within hailing distance of
being a new Adam to meet the requirements of the situation.
What were those requirements? Once again, we can draw up a specification
-- a list of the "damaged" areas that this man must repair. They would include
the whole world of nature -- earth, air, plants and animals -- and the whole
world of life and death, including sickness, suffering and the spirit realm
of Satan's authority. They would cover the whole area of the knowledge of
God, good and evil -- the moral world of which men had become so woefully
ignorant. Let any of these be untouched or unrepaired, and some part of the
damage of Eden would remain.
With Paul, we may well ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Who
indeed? The New Testament tells us: the Lord Jesus, the Man from God. With
a precision which is awesome in the light of the Genesis story of the Fall,
He dealt as a man with every one of the areas of damage. So man is morally
ignorant? He spoke with authority of God and His law, and kept it. So Nature
is out of control? He stilled the storm. So the earth has not yielded food
for people? He fed five thousand of them. So sickness is taking its toll?
He healed the sick. So Satan has possession of one of God's creatures? He
cast out the devil. So Lazarus is dead? He brought Lazarus back to life. So
He is dead? No, He is alive again!
It is a marvellous story. But let us for now keep in mind only the point
with which we began. Do the miracles matter? Or are they superfluous baggage,
which we do better to discard? Well, I cannot prove that they happened, although
I believe that they did. But if they did not; if any one
of them did not, then we are in trouble for there is liable to be a part
of that disaster of the Fall unrepaired: then the work of recovery is incomplete,
and Satan still has a foothold somewhere.
You and I, of course, cannot normally control storms, and most of us
cannot heal the sick, and none of us can thwart death when it comes. But
Jesus could and the Gospels say that He did. If He indeed did, then that
is enough: as the writer to the Hebrews says, "We see not yet all things
subject to him (man), but we see ... Jesus". One man has broken through
and He can bring many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:8, 9, 10). But if He did
not then there is no Gospel: no amount of message is any use unless
it is linked to events .
The miracles don't matter? What do you think?
Roger T. Forster
CHRIST made it clear to the Laodicean church that He had reached His
Father's throne not just by birth or by favour, but by overcoming (Revelation
3:21). It follows, then, that since the essence of Christianity is "Christ
in you", the Christian life must be full of conflict -- a battle even to
the death. Moreover, what is true at the earlier stages of our Christian
experience continues to be true right up to the end: there is no real respite
from the conflict with Satan's kingdom. Those who have expected to find life
all smooth and pleasant may well be disappointed [43/44]
when they discover the reality that they have been caught up in a great
conflict between two kingdoms, the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of evil.
But the conflict is real and we must not turn our backs to the enemy,
but face him and throw ourselves into the fight. Unhappily we do sometimes
find the pressure so great that we turn our backs on the serious issues and
prefer some soft, sentimental kind of religious experience rather than the
virile, fight-it-out faith which is characteristic of the cross. The cross
was no make-believe: it was bloody, horrific and devastating. Nowadays the
issue may be more inward for us than it was for the early Church, but the
issue is still the same, and the consequences of refusing to give worship
to men are as harsh as ever. The New Testament and notably the book of the
Revelation shows the severity of the conflict.
In those early days even an old saint like John was not allowed to die
comfortably in his bed, but was exiled to the rough work of the Patmos mines.
To the unenlightened it must have seemed -- and it still does -- that after
all the Lamb is not the final answer to Satan, since evil still has the
advantage and the world is overrun by harshness and oppression. The early
Christians seemed to have everything against them, and they might well have
asked, "Is this all there is to offer after all? To fight and suffer and
die, with little evidence of victory in a world which is as strong as ever?
Is the cross really the answer to life and eternity, and to the ever-present
problems?" It must have appeared that there was no real hope of victory
for the followers of the Lamb.
For this very reason John was given his visions to be conveyed to all
the churches, visions which revealed the true nature of the conflict and
its glorious outcome. We need this vision continually if we are to be nerved
for the fight. We need John's vision, and perhaps we can catch something of
it if we consider the four occasions in which he claimed to have been "in
the Spirit", noting that in each of the four sections he [subsequently] speaks
of God's throne. The four references [to "in the Spirit"] are: 1:10; 4:2;
17:3 and 21:10.
This of course does not mean that there are four thrones, but rather
that as we too are "in spirit" we can consider four aspects of God's throne
and so catch a glimpse of the glorious authority by which He holds and governs
the universe. With God's help and by John's ministry we may be shown what
it is that Satan is really attacking, and how his hand is against the throne
of the Lord (Exodus 17:16 R.V. margin).
His hand is not just against you and me. It really doesn't matter much
to him whether or not we are successful; what does matter, though, is the
authority of Christ, for this is what he hates. We are nothing to him; the
One he hates is God's Son, the chosen Ruler. We are unimportant in ourselves
but Satan is against us if by hurting us he can express his spite against
the Lord. Since we are "in Christ" we are totally involved in this attack
upon the throne and by seeing clearly what it is all about, we are the better
equipped to take our part in the spiritual warfare. It may help us to pay
attention to the four visions of the throne.
1. The Father's Throne (3:21)
This is the first expression of God's authority, and it is against this
as part of God's right and rule that Satan is always seeking to incite men
to rebellion. God's Fatherhood is eternal: it existed before the creation.
In due time it has found its expression among men, so that now every time
the enemy attacks the Father's authority he is trying to destroy God's eternal
purpose for men, which is sonship. Every time he can trick us into carelessness
about sonlike behaviour, tempting us to say or do that which is unworthy
of our Father's holy name, he is making an attack on the eternal Fatherhood
of God. God plans to have sons, conformed to the image of His Son, so that
if we can be induced to act in an unChristlike way, to fail in proper obedience
as sons, then a blow has been struck at the Father's throne -- even through
It follows that our selfishness can mean that we are being used as tools
to undermine the authority of God by seeking to diminish or contradict the
glory of His Fatherly throne. In a similar way, when Satan tempts us to fail
to show this family love to others, he does this not merely to mar our own
spiritual life but as a deliberate insult to God's character as Father.
When he deflects us from acting and maturing as true sons of the Father,
then he wins a battle. We should not be ignorant of his devices (2 Corinthians
2:11). The battle goes on all the time -- the war against the Father's throne.
2. The Governmental Throne (5:13)
This throne, associated with the Lamb, is surrounded by various classes
of beings who [44/45] represent the totality of God's
creative activities. The presence of the Lamb shows us that the secret of
God's government of His creation is suffering love. Man does not understand
this kind of throne; he relies on the forceful rule of the strong arm, the
mailed fist, and he wrongly imagines that God is a kind of super-despot who
does the same thing, only on a bigger scale. As for the slain Lamb, the
crucified -- well, to natural eyes His experience seems to give conclusive
proof that Satan has prevailed. This however is not the case, as the heavenly
Far from it! God's way of ruling is by suffering love and every time
we share the bread and wine at the Table of the Lord we declare that we
repudiate force as a way of government and have complete faith in a God
who rules by the cross. Other world rulers have their hands stained with
blood, but it is the blood of their opponents. God's King has His hands
stained with His own blood.
In the light of human misery people sneer at this throne, asking how
it can be a throne of love when wars, calamities and wickedness produce
so much human suffering. These are ill considered arguments. If God's throne
were one of naked might He could soon end human selfishness with crushing
judgments. But if He did this, which of us would survive? Once He began to
crush sinful people then which of us would not be destroyed? No, brute force
is not God's method. His King reigns from the tree. It is difficult for
us to maintain a steady faith if we do not have a clear vision of this governmental
throne. Satan attacks it constantly, by whispering to us that God cannot
be love. He is always trying to express his enmity to the divine throne
by seducing us into doubting the efficacy of the cross as the divine method
of government. Every unlamblike outburst of ours, every carnal effort to
rule affairs or people by force, in fact everything in us which savours of
harshness, is really a devilish trick to entrap us -- he wants to wound God
3. The Judicial Throne (20:11)
This vision portrays the last assize where all must stand, with the records
open and all judgment committed to the Son. The enemy tries to convince us
that the throne is not really white -- not as white as all that -- but that
there are shades and degrees, and that everything is relative. This is his
lie, for the throne is as pure white as the Man upon it. Now what makes
this throne the more terrible is that its occupant is not some austere inquisitor,
but is incarnate love. Heavenly love opens the books; heavenly love investigates
every detail; heavenly love will never be satisfied until it has penetrated
the deepest recesses of the object of its love.
We don't always like being investigated. Our prayer tends to be, "Don't
search me too much; don't try my inmost heart; don't turn Your white light
too intensely into certain recesses of my life. Let me run away from the
great white throne!" Every time that we re-act in that way, however, we are
in complicity with Satan against God's judicial throne. We may not mean it
in this way, but this is what lies behind our attitude. It may be even more
surprising for us to realise that of the many ways by which we can unconsciously
aid Satan in his attack on the throne, there is probably none worse that self-righteousness.
The man who tries to write his own account and paste it over the record
written on the pages of God's book, is playing the enemy's game. He is trying
to hide the stark truth with his own biased version of what happened. We
often do this, justifying ourselves and failing to realise that we are insulting
the great white throne and the Man upon it whose name is the Truth. What
a fight it is, though, to keep our actions and motives exposed to this white
light of God's judgments! And it seems to get harder! We begin our Christian
lives in such simple sincerity that we are glad to open ourselves up to God's
Word, but we so often succumb to Satan's wiles aimed at leading us to cover
up or excuse our faults. When we do this we are taking his side in the battle
against the throne.
4. The Imperial Throne (22:3)
The city revealed in this chapter is the administrative centre of God's
universe; it is transparently clear, and its focal point is the throne. The
servants of God function in relation to this throne. They bear the Emperor's
name on their foreheads, and they reign in loving service. It is not surprising,
therefore, to find Satan's present assault upon this imperial throne is to
induce us to stop working for God, to yield to slackness, or to take offence
and leave the work to others. Or it may be to try to get us to work without
having that name stamped upon us, to be active [45/46]
without being Christlike. All this is an expression of the hand against
Why is it that in any church almost all the work is in the hands of a
very small number of people? Why is it that the one-talent members refrain
from playing their part? Is it not the result of the cunning of Satan to
vent his spite against God's imperial throne? He attacks the Emperor by discouraging
or corrupting His throne servants. But he must not succeed! We who have come
"in spirit" to know something of the importance of that throne must rise
up in the power of the Holy Spirit to serve wholeheartedly for the honour
of that great name. It is not enough to think only of the future opportunities
for service which await us in the eternal glory; we must buy up the present
opportunities while we have them.
Weapons for the Spiritual Warfare
As we commit ourselves to this throne service, we may ask what are to
be the instruments of our service, or the weapons of our spiritual warfare.
Some of the answers to this question may be found in the book of the Revelation.
Here are three of them: "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb,
and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life
even unto death" (12:11). One of them is the word of our testimony: we must
be bold and understanding in our use of the Word of God. Another is meekness:
Satan's kingdom is built on and maintained by pride, so that the humility
of the Lamb is an essential instrument to break its power. We note what is
said concerning "the blood of the Lamb". Christ's blood is the full answer
to all Satan's accusations and claims. Moreover the God who destroyed the
kingdom of death by the blood of His Son will not waste the blood of the
martyrs: "they loved not their life even unto death". God will use the blood
shed by His suffering people to intoxicate and destroy Satan's kingdom. The
harlot, Babylon, will find that God will avenge the blood of His servants
at her hand (19:2).
The Weapon of Prayer
There are many other instruments which could be mentioned, but we limit
our consideration now to the great weapon of prayer. We can see in this book
how the prayer of the saints is the way by which God's throne, particularly
His governmental throne, can be brought into operation. When the Church prays,
then things begin to happen.
The whole matter is illustrated by the golden bowls or vials. We are
told that these golden bowls full of incense are the prayers of the saints
(5:8). As God's people begin to praise and worship, offering Him these bowls
of prayer, things start happening on the earth. Seals are broken. As each
of the first four seals is broken there is a command to a rider to go forth.
One by one the various riders emerge and move out (6:1-8). This is because
of prayer. After this three more seals are broken, each consequent upon the
prayers of the saints. Then again, more prayer is offered with incense (8:3).
When the censer is filled with coals which are poured out on the earth, then
seven trumpets are sounded, and further events are precipitated by these trumpets.
Following these, seven bowls are taken and used to pour out the wrath of
Almighty God (15:7). The same words are used at the beginning of the seven
seals and the seven bowls of wrath, namely "golden bowls", and these would
appear similar to the "golden censer" at the beginning of the seven trumpets.
Both bowls and censer have incense added to them for offering, but it must
be noted that it is the bowls which are the prayers of the saints,
not the incense itself (as is shown by the Greek of 5:8). As we offer ourselves
as empty bowls -- not knowing what to pray for as we ought -- God will add
the fragrant incense of Christ to our prayers by the Holy Spirit (Romans
From all this we see that there is an intimate connection between the
working of God through the seals, the trumpets and the bowls, and the prayers
of His people. When we lay hold of God's throne in prayer, things happen on
earth; they happen in the spiritual world and they also happen in men's hearts.
The seals unloose political events -- precipitated by prayer. The trumpets
deal with the spiritual world -- in answer to prayer stars fall out and demon
forces are unleashed; things go from heaven to earth in answer to prayer.
Again, by means of the bowls, the wrath of God is poured out. And people
know it. They are not able to get up thinking that they are just suffering
from a bad Monday morning feeling which they can shrug off, but they are
forced to realise that God's displeasure is against them. Men are not allowed
merely to deplore that they are depressed or to wonder why they are anxious,
for they are made aware that there is something between them and their God
-- and all because of [46/47] prayer. The Church has
left the world in its present psychological condition by not praying for
it, which accounts in some measure for the fact that men are able to ignore
the wrath of God.
All the great events described in this book are connected with the golden
bowls. A praying Church affects political events, it affects the supernatural,
it affects the hearts and consciences of men who are far from God. If we
do not pray, then politics will go on just as before; if we do not pray, then
nobody is aware of supernatural powers and warned against them; if we do
not pray, then how can men know that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven
against all unrighteousness?
If we do pray, then we can influence those who are in authority, for
whom in any case we are commanded to pray, and we can exploit for God the
inevitable happenings among the nations. There will always be unrest and
wars, bloodshed and famine -- Jesus Himself said so -- but as we pray, these
things can be steered and exploited to bring to a head God's purpose in
history. There will always be demonic forces, evil spiritual powers which
affect and infect men and women, but as we pray the warning trumpets may
be sounded. God's wrath will always be revealed, but as we pray men may be
led to sense what it is all about. So by these three means, the seals, the
trumpets and the bowls, the world can be made to see, hear and feel the reality
of the throne of God. A praying Church is a disturbing Church -- it is meant
to be so. Kings and rulers take counsel together when the Church prays. The
beast and the false prophet make war with the followers of the Lamb and there
bursts forth war in heaven when the Church prays. We are a disturbing and
troublesome people when we are in touch with the throne by prayer.
In Touch with the Throne
Some will say, "But I don't know how to pray like that." All that God
asks of you is that you will be a bowl. Surely that is not too difficult!
And yet perhaps to some of us it is difficult, for the bowl must be empty.
When, however, we do offer ourselves in this way for the service of prayer,
then it is that incense of Christ is added to our prayers. We are to be empty
bowls, but the Spirit is able to add that which is inexpressibly valuable
to God. However note that to pray in the Spirit does not mean that we are
to wait until we feel the Spirit moving us to do so before we pray. If we
do that, some of us will wait for ever. No, "praying always in the Spirit"
means that as we get going, offering ourselves as bowls, the Spirit will move
and lead us out in our prayers far beyond what we knew or thought.
All God requires is bowls. When we feel we do not know how to pray, we
must remember that we are followers of the Lamb. The people of God do not
have to look or feel lionlike, they are not expected to give outward impressions
of strength or ability, but in all their weakness they may offer themselves
as vessels for throne prayer. If we do not pray, time and happenings are
being wasted. If we do pray, then things can move swiftly towards the great
day when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our God and of His
Christ (11:15). There is no doubt that when that great Day does come, there
will be much deeper joy for those who have helped to hasten it by using their
weapons for God than for those who have only been spectators or theorisers.
SECRETS OF SPIRITUAL CONSTANCY
"I have told you all this to guard you against
the breakdown of your faith." John 16:1
J. Alec Motyer
2. THE SAFEGUARDING PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT
THIS second article will deal with the Comfort of the Holy Spirit. Comfort
is a beautiful word for a beautiful idea. Here is a person who is worried;
for him comfort speaks of soothing in respect of worries. Here is a person
who is weak; for him comfort speaks of strength in respect of weakness. Here
is a person who is afraid; for him comfort speaks of reassurance in
[47/48] respect of fear. It is a strong word but it is not a harsh
word; it has a strength which is full of competence, of warmth and of calmness.
All of this is embraced in the New Testament idea of the comfort of the
Holy Ghost. We touch here one of the richest doctrines in the whole Bible
and we find it to be the warmest, most assuring and least frightening of
all New Testament doctrines.
I find that there are at least twelve different titles given to the Holy
Spirit in the New Testament. We cannot do more than rehearse them but by
doing so we can let a great wave of truth wash over our souls.
There are titles which declare that He is a divine Person, He is the
Holy Spirit; He is the Spirit of Holiness, holiness being the central characteristic
of God, the attribute which makes God to be God. He is the Spirit of Glory.
There are titles which declare His divine oneness with the Father and the
Son; He is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Him who
raised up Jesus from the dead, the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit of
Jesus, of Christ and the Spirit of God's Son. There are also titles which
declare His relationship to the believer -- He is the Spirit of adoption
by whose agency we are brought into the very family of God and He is the Spirit
of life who makes the divine nature real to us. He is also the Comforter.
Then lastly, there are those titles which declare His relationship to the
Word of God: He is the Spirit of truth, and the Spirit of promise.
Is there not a richness and what we might call a solidity in the doctrine
of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament? Just in reading out the twelve titles,
there is the beginning of the comfort of the Holy Ghost. And this is the
doctrine which we find so prominent in John Chapters 14 to 16, being the
doctrine dwelt upon by the Lord Jesus in connection with our key verse which
tells of His provision against the breakdown of our faith. This is not just
truth but on the lips of the Lord Jesus it is safeguarding truth. Amongst
the other things which He spoke of as safeguarding truth, He spoke of the
Holy Spirit. The references are in 14:16, 14:26, 15:26 and 16:7. They provide
a continuing strand in the teaching of Jesus in these chapters, and therefore
we may legitimately say that here is a truth upon which He dwelt and to which
He returned four times while He was guarding His disciples against a breakdown
of their faith.
1. The Holy Spirit as Companion
"I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that
he may be with you for ever" (14:16). This One is to accompany you, to be
alongside with you, the Paraklete. This is a lovely name, traditionally
translated as the Comforter and becoming in more recent versions the rather
colder and more obscure title, The Counsellor. We all know that the word
paraklete means 'one who is called alongside'. It seems to me that
instead of Comforter, which has a vague if warm meaning, or Counsellor, which
has a precise but rather cold meaning, it might be more accurate and faithful
to the teaching of our Lord to render it, The Companion. "Another Companion
... even the Spirit of truth; you know him; for he abideth with you, and
shall be in you. I will not leave you desolate; I come unto you." You see
how the idea of companionship is found in this word; it is true to the context
in which the word first appears as a title of the Holy Spirit.
In what sense is He our Companion? Well, consider the title given to
our Lord Jesus in the words, "We have an Advocate" (1 John 2:1). The Greek
says that we have a Paraklete with the Father, one called alongside
with the Father. How did He get there? How is He alongside? Not by our will
but by the divine will. He has been called into that place of function at
the Father's right hand by the Father's own will. The title of Paraklete
given to our Lord Jesus is a divinely given title for a divinely intended
It is a splendid truth to think that the Holy Spirit is alongside me
whensoever I call Him, but isn't it a much more splendid truth to know that
the Holy Spirit is always alongside me because the Father called Him to
be there? He is the divinely appointed Companion of the believer, and His
function is to make real to us the abiding presence of the Lord Jesus. Jesus
speaks of Him as the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive and then
goes on to say. "I will not leave you bereft ... I will come unto you" (v.18).
So it is that the Spirit is called 'another Companion'. They had had a Companion
already in the person of their Lord who by the divine will had been alongside
them. Now the day would come when they would have another Companion, but
when that other Paraklete came, the reality would be that Jesus Himself
would be with them. They would have His abiding companionship.
Christ is my abiding Paraklete. He keeps me secure in the Father's
presence, and by His Holy Spirit He makes His presence known to me here.
Don't you find that a safeguarding truth? The Holy Spirit guards me by making
the presence of Jesus real. Of course there are conditions of enjoyment of
this blessing for Jesus said: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments,
and I pray ..." (v.15). If you love me, then you will keep my commandments,
and if you do that, then He will give you another Companion
...". One of the astonishing things about the New Testament is that the passages
which seem to be about the Holy Spirit have as their central theme the person
of the Lord Jesus. In this case we are challenged as to whether we wish
for a consciousness of the presence of the Spirit, with the statement that
if we do, then the condition of that is an emotional and moral involvement
with the Lord Jesus. To love Him and to obey Him are the conditions for enjoying
the Spirit's companionship.
2. The Holy Spirit as Teacher
"... He shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all
that I have said unto you" (14:26). "... when he the Spirit of truth is come,
he shall guide you into all the truth ..." (16:13). The Holy Spirit continues
the teaching office of the Lord Jesus. That is what these two passages have
as their basic common truth. In the first reference He works in relation
to truth already made known. The Companion would bring back to their remembrance
what they had already heard. Jesus had been with them as their Teacher and
none of that teaching would be lost because the Holy Spirit would carry
on the teaching function, recovering all that Jesus had said and making
it real in their mind and memory.
So we have His teaching function in relation to the past teaching of
Jesus. In balance of that we have the thought about the future teaching.
Jesus spoke to His apostles here in a 'now' and 'then' contrast. "I have
many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now" but when
the Spirit comes, then "he shall guide you into all the truth" (16:12-13).
There was an expression of the truth which Jesus Himself knew then, but for
merciful reasons He did not reveal it to His followers. He therefore expresses
here the thought that His teaching function with His own would be continued
by the Holy Spirit, who would make known to them the things that He had not
felt it right to reveal to them in their present state. So we have, first
the work of the Holy Spirit to confirm and continue the teaching office of
Jesus and second, to convey to the disciples that which will be made known
to them from the Father and through the Son. The origin of truth is the Father,
the mediation of the truth is through the Son, and the bringing home of that
truth is through the Holy Spirit (16:13). So we see the involvement of the
Holy Trinity in bringing the truth to the Church.
"He shall not speak from himself". This warns us that the teaching of
the Holy Spirit is not self-authenticated. There is no ground for anyone
to say, "The Lord has said that to me!" As soon as anybody does say that,
the legitimate and indeed required response is to ask, "How do you know?"
I base this on the single word 'for' in the middle of verse 13; "...
for He shall not speak from himself." How will we know what we have
is all the truth? By the Scriptures which he has inspired. The Spirit does
not come as self-authenticated teacher, but rather as the bearer of truths
from elsewhere. And it is the origin of truth in Jesus and in the Father
that authenticates the truth to the Church. "but whatsoever things he shall
hear, these shall he speak". He is not the originator of truth but the bearer
of truth from elsewhere.
He continues the revelation of Jesus and the revelation of the Father:
"He shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you" (v.14). 'Mine
' involves something deeply wonderful for it is "all things whatsoever
the Father hath" which are included in that word. When the Lord said, "He
shall take of mine", He said it in the sense that all that He possesses
is what the Father possesses and what has been deposited in Him for the
Church, and then brought from the Father and the Son to the Church by the
office of the Holy Spirit.
Thirdly, we are told that the Spirit is our Teacher to make known to
us the saving work of Jesus. We have that mysterious phrase: "He shall declare
unto you the things that are to come". The words are not written for us in
the middle of an otherwise empty blackboard; they occur in a context, so
that we do not just ask what they mean but what do they mean in this context.
In verse 12 Jesus spoke of known truth and unknown truth, saying that He had
many things yet to say. The implication is that He had many more things to
say. He had said much, [49/50] and there was more to
follow, but He held them back and would not then deliver them because they
could not then bear them.
The word 'bear' is unusual in connection with the truth. It is as though
the Lord had said, "If I were to tell you this now, it would be like the
hanging of a great stone around your necks; it would pull you down." The word
is used of burdens that have to be carried; it is a burdening word. The truth
therefore that Jesus was holding back from them would at that time have been
for them a burdening truth to drag them down. When then it is described as
the truth which the Holy Spirit when He came would make clear to them, it
was because then they would be in a position to carry it, finding it no longer
What then did this coming truth mean? What was it that if they had known
it then would have been a burden too heavy for them to carry? Why, it was
the truth of the cross. The revelation of what would happen to Jesus and
the understanding of what was involved was more than they could bear. If we
search the Scriptures we will find that up to this point, this was the one
thing which had not been revealed to them with any degree of amplification.
This truth about the atonement was more than they would know how to carry
at that point in their experience. When, however, the Holy Spirit came, there
would be a gracious amplification of that which in mercy Jesus left unsaid,
and then they would be able to bear it.
When He came, the whole of those coming things would have been performed.
Jesus would have gone to the cross; He would have gone to the tomb; He would
have come out in resurrection; He would have been with His followers and
would have been lifted up to the right hand of the Father. In His exaltation
they would have received that which had been poured out upon them so that
now they could bear it. The Holy Spirit opened their eyes to that
over which Jesus had drawn the veil, making known His saving work on the cross.
I find that there is a great deal of difficulty in these chapters of
the teaching of Jesus in deciding what we must understand as spoken particularly
to the men who were there with Him and what we may understand as applying
directly to us. In the matter of the teaching function of the Holy Spirit,
these two passages in which He is mentioned as Teacher are passages which
are anchored into the immediate context. Therefore the truth which they declare
and the promises which they enshrine can only come to us derivatively and
not directly. Look for example at what verse 14 says of His teaching function
being to bring to the remembrance all that He had said to them (14:26).
Now that belongs to a particular group of people who had walked with Jesus,
talked with Him and listened to Him. The promise was directly and specifically
to them, that they who had actually heard His teaching, would afterwards
be enabled to remember it. It was a promise made to one group of people.
Insofar as that promise has any meaning to us, it can only be indirect or
Likewise in Chapter 16 He again spoke specifically to a certain group
of people in the 'now' and 'then' balance of the sentence. He could not tell
them 'now' because they were in no condition to receive it, but presently
the Holy Spirit would come and then they would be able to bear it.
Once more, that belongs to a long past historical context, a historical context
which bridged the gap between the words of Jesus and the coming of the Holy
Spirit. Here again is something which belonged directly to that group of
people, but only indirectly to us.
How then can we say that we must look to the Holy Spirit as our Teacher
of the things of God? Clearly He is not here to reveal to us the meaning
of the saving work of Jesus in that fresh and originating way in which He
did to those who had previously not been able to bear it. The promise of the
Holy Spirit as our Teacher is exercised for us indirectly as compared with
the way in which He operated for them, since He brought to them with fresh
directness the full truth of the Atonement and by His inspiration -- as we
most certainly believe -- called them to write it down. He therefore exercises
His function of teaching in our case by means of the written Scriptures. In
those writings, the apostles encapsulated that which was brought to their
remembrance of the speaking of Jesus. What is more, the Holy Spirit taught
them to supplement and bring to fullness all the truth, including the things
which Jesus left unsaid. For us to be taught means to attend upon the Holy
Scriptures. The Spirit binds us with the truth of the Father and the Son
and so gives us a safeguarding for our faith.
3. The Holy Spirit as Leader
"When the Comforter is come ... he shall bear witness of me: and you
shall also bear witness [50/51] ..." (15:26-27).
"When he is come, he will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness,
and of judgment" (16:7-8). So we see that the uniting theme at the end of
Chapter 15 and into Chapter 16 is that of witness. The Spirit comes to tell
the world about Jesus: that is His function. We are told that He comes to
bring a three-fold revelation of the Lord Jesus. "Of sin, because they believe
not on me". This is a revelation of Jesus as the object of personal sin,
of the sin of not finding Jesus as the object of personal faith. That is what
sin is -- not to believe on Jesus. "Of righteousness because I go to the
Father, and you behold me no more". Men must believe on Jesus as the Finisher
We should realise what a glorious thing it is that we do not now see
Jesus. The fact that He has gone to the Father and we behold Him no more
means that He has been accepted in the Father's presence. He went there
to register the claims of the One who had finished the work of salvation
and the claim was accepted before the Father's throne. He has not come back
as one who is banished from heaven: He is set at the Father's right hand
because He is the Righteous One, accepted before God as the full Saviour
of sinners. The Spirit comes to make that truth known. He has also come to
make Jesus known as the Arbiter of eternal destiny: "Of judgment, because
the prince of this world hath been judged." He makes known Calvary as the
moment when the two princes interlocked in single combat and the Prince of
life won the day. It follows that eternal destinies are set at the cross.
Man's allegiance goes either to Jesus or to the prince of this world.
So it is that the Spirit comes to make the gospel witness on a worldwide
scale, and in this He is but a Leader of the Church for Jesus said, "You
also bear witness ..." (15:27). Because the Holy Spirit comes witnessing,
the Church must go witnessing. Notice in Chapter 16 the relationship
between verses 7 and 8. "I will send Him to you, and when He is come ...".
When He is come where? Why to you? Because the presence of the Holy Spirit
in the Church means that the voice of the Holy Spirit is made known through
a witnessing Church so that by this means the convincing work concerning
sin, righteousness and judgment is carried forward. There is a parallel work
to be done: He bears witness and we bear witness (15:26-27). There is a voice
to be provided and -- let us say it humbly and softly -- the Holy Spirit
comes to the Church in order that by the voice of the Church the convincing
message of the Lord Jesus may go forward.
We have a shared life because of this shared objective. I have discovered
that while courtship by post is just about possible, marriage by post is
quite out of the question. There has to be a 'being together', a sharing of
objectives, and therefore a growing together. How does the Holy Spirit safeguard
us from the breakdown of faith? If we accept Him as Leader, if we identify
with His objectives by sharing in His actions, we become wedded to Him, and
His presence becomes a reality in the work of testifying in the world to
the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the Lord assures us that our faith will be safeguarded from breakdown
by the absolute reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit, guaranteed by
the Father and the Son, the sense of that presence being made real by our
love and obedience. We are kept safe by having Him as our Companion, our
Teacher and our Leader. This is the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
(To be continued)
LEARNING TO KNOW GOD
(Some thoughts from the Pentateuch)
2. EXODUS. God the Redeemer
THE theme of Exodus is, "They shall know that I am the LORD". Although
the Lord often revealed Himself in various ways, it seems that it was difficult
to get to know Him. For example, we might expect that after Moses had met
the Lord at the burning fire in the Bush, or as the Children of Israel had
experienced deliverance from the house of bondage, they would surely
[51/52] know Him. But it was not so. The fact is that knowing the
Lord is not a matter of course, as we might imagine, but to learn to know
Him is a task for life. If we could know Him easily or in a short time, it
might be open to question as to whether He really would be the LORD.
When Moses asked God's name, he was told to say to the Israelites: "I
AM hath sent me to you" (3:14). God is who He is and will remain so; He will
always be what He is. His thoughts are as high above ours as are the heavens.
No-one can learn to know God in his own way, by his own thoughts or imagination,
nor can he get to know Him by mystic meditation or merely subjective experiences.
On the other hand, it is possible to learn to know Him. While He is exalted
and awe-inspiring, this does not exclude hope for any, since the Scriptures
contain an invitation to sinners to draw near to Him and learn to know Him.
Although Moses had the revelation at the Bush, he still failed to be
governed by it, protesting again and again that he could not do as he had
been told. I imagine that perhaps what made the greatest impression upon
him was when God offered to make all His goodness pass before him (33:19).
So it was that "the Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the
Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous
(rich) in mercy and truth" (34:6). Without plenteous mercy and truth from
God's side, not one of us could learn to know Him. Humanly speaking, all
of us must have disappointed Him often. Moses disappointed Him. Certainly
the Israelites did. But He is so rich in the kind of riches which we need
that little by little we may learn truly to know Him.
Pharaoh also had to learn to know Him, though in a very different way.
There are various ways of getting to know God; Pharaoh's was a tragic way.
One of the first things which he said when Moses asked him to let God's
people go was, "Who is the Lord? I know nothing about the Lord". Well, he
had to come to know Him, but it did him no good. At last, and much against
his will, he encountered the further revelation which God had given of Himself:
"Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished" (34:7). Those solemn words
were part of the gracious revelation given to Moses, for they constitute an
aspect of the knowledge of God.
In the end, the Almighty God, the Glorious and Holy One, said: "I will
harden Pharaoh's heart and he shall follow after them; and I will get me
honour upon Pharaoh and upon all his host; and the Egyptians shall know that
I am the Lord" (14:4). That is what our God is like; He was then and He still
is today. We cannot understand His hardening, but still more incomprehensible
to us, His people, is the assurance of His choosing: "Ye have not chosen
me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit ..."
The people of Israel more than all others should have learned to know
the Lord. He revealed Himself to them in such an abundance of salvation that
several verses are needed to express it: "I am Jehovah, and I will bring you
out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their
bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments;
and I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God; and ye
shall know that I am Jehovah your God, which bringeth you out from under
the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land concerning
which I lifted up my hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob;
and I will give it you for an heritage: I am Jehovah" (6:6-8).
Salvation begins and ends with the declaration: "I am the LORD". It is
of Him and to Him; it is His work from beginning to end. We are to see that
at times this provoked true worship in the hearts of His favoured people,
but equally we are to see that they behaved as a people who had no idea of
who the Lord was. In His redeeming grace, He had declared: "I am Jehovah"
but hardly had they arrived in the wilderness before they behaved as those
who did not know Him. He said, "I am Jehovah" when He provided them with
the manna, but not long after this it became obvious that they did not truly
know Him. He declared "I am Jehovah" when He gave them the law, the Tabernacle
and the services, but they had their times when they seemed ignorant of His
true nature. [52/53]
There were periods in between when it seems that their response to the
divine revelation was what it should be. Even before their actual deliverance
we are told that after Aaron had spoken to them: "The people believed; and
when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that
he had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped"
(4:31). We must not despise or overlook this, but we must realise that such
a wonderful verse must be balanced with other verses about the same people
which show that the seed had fallen, as it were, into shallow ground so
that the fruit was not lasting. The Lord Jesus told of stony ground into
which the seed fell and sprang up quickly but when tribulation and difficulties
came, then it bore no lasting fruit. This reminds us to be wary of wrongly
pressuring people when the Holy Spirit may be at work. Sometimes we may
do this and a healthy result ensues, but let us be careful not to publish
abroad too much or exaggerate what has happened, for the true result can
only be known after the test of time.
At the time of the Passover we read of another wonderful time which makes
us rejoice. The people were told that when their children asked them what
it meant, they were to answer that it was the sacrifice of the Passover when
the Lord passed over the houses of the children of Israel and then we are
told: "The people bowed the head and worshipped ... and went and did so;
as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they" (12:27-28).
We worship the Lord in the bright moments, but the Lord wants our worship
to be of the kind that survives all trials. When we read the words of the
worship in Egypt and then how that at the Red Sea, "Israel saw the great
work which the Lord did on the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord;
and they believed in the Lord, and in his servant Moses" (14:31), we sense
a joyous atmosphere which they thought they would never forget or go back
on. Chapter 15 goes on to record their triumphant song and the enthusiasm
of Miriam and the women, as if they had now come to a full knowledge of the
Lord. Had man written that chapter, I feel sure that it would have closed
on that high note, but the Holy Spirit so overruled in the arrangement that
in that very same chapter the record tells us of the people's murmuring (15:24).
Only three days of journeying and they betrayed by their complaints that
they had already forgotten the Lord's great faithfulness. It is one thing
to believe in Him and praise Him when we are in a happy atmosphere, but it
is quite another so to know and trust Him and continue with Him when things
seem to go wrong. At this point we are only dealing with Exodus, but when
we pass to Leviticus and Numbers we shall find that in spite of all God's
wonderful dealings with them, the Israelites gave priority over the Lord
to their own experiences and feelings and circumstances.
If I am asked if I am a believer, I readily and rightly claim to believe
that Jesus is the Son of God, but if I am challenged as to whether I do only
the will of God, I fear to make the claim. Yet a believer is not just one
who accepts a mass of truth en bloc, but one whose life is governed
by the practical implications of his faith. Israel's tragedy, recorded as
a warning to us all, is that they failed to give personal expression to what
the Lord had revealed to them of Himself. So far as I can discover, they
provide ten records of their complaints against the Lord, even wishing themselves
back in Egypt. Altogether they revealed a lamentable lack of knowledge of
the Lord, in spite of the many wonders He had done for them.
Even though God does many miracles for a person, unless something happens
with that person himself, the blessings do not of themselves lead to a knowledge
of Him. Concerning those Israelites of old Moses, as he was about to die,
said: "But the Lord hath not given you an heart to know, and eyes to see,
and ears to hear" (Deuteronomy 29:4). He had given them many benefits but
to that very day they did not really know Him. Happily Moses was able to
go on to promise: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart
of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all
thy soul ..." (30:6). This points us on to the New Covenant which in fact
lay hidden already in the Old, eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart that is
circumcised. This strange expression points on to the work of the Spirit who
cuts off man's own strength and righteousness and brings him to personal dependence
on the Lord alone.
One of the purposes of this book of Exodus seems to be to give us a glimpse
of God's longsuffering patience. When He refers to His people,
[53/54] He does so with His Father heart that does not grow cold
or impatient, even though His people are so slow to learn. The word 'congregation'
which appears so often not only in Exodus but also in the following books
of the Pentateuch is the one which most Danish Christians use for the Church.
How important God's people were and are to Him. Is the expression warranted?
God speaks of His people as His first-born son, His own possession and inheritance,
His kingdom of priests. The fact is that even when God's people do not believe
Him as they ought, He believes in Himself; He knows that He can bring about
what He wills. What He wills, He does.
He is LORD, and therefore He speaks of His people with titles which do
not correspond to facts as we see them, but He has no difficulty in believing
in Himself; He invites us to share that faith, and it is the word of faith
which is the undercurrent throughout the Pentateuch. When we really hear
this, it changes the Pentateuch from being a boring record of endless laws
and ordinances, to a revelation of Himself, the Lord who is our Lord and God
and who in redeeming love has circumcised our hearts so that we can know Him.
It is not possible fully to understand Exodus without the background of the
New Testament. It is in this way that we are meant to read these old books,
for they are a shadow of that which was to come but "the matter itself came
with Christ" (Colossians 2:17 Danish). God has much more to teach us
of Himself and to bless us with in the future. Precisely because He has given
us the privilege of knowing Him, we have the earnest in our hearts of the
full knowledge which is to be ours.
(To be continued)
ISAIAH AND THE GOSPEL
3. CHRIST'S KINGLY MAJESTY (9:6-7)
ISAIAH'S previsions of the gospel came not in the seclusion of a study
but in the hurly-burly of national life. In our last article, the Messiah
was described in surroundings of conflict and privation; He is now presented
to us in His kingly majesty.
The land of Judah was swamped by the floods of the Assyrian River, but
the capital, Jerusalem, was spared. It was a serious situation, though,
for Isaiah had announced concerning the king of Assyria: "He shall overflow
and pass through; he shall reach even to the neck ..." (8:8). The reality
of Immanuel was put to a severe test. But the name stood.
The Lord of hosts dwelling in mount Zion had set Isaiah and his children
for signs (8:18), but while Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the second son,
foretold speedy calamity, there was also the reassuring reminder by his firstborn,
Shear-jashub, that a remnant would survive. From this faint ray of
hope Isaiah was able to move on to a fuller picture of the One who would
be the divine Agent of this recovery, namely, a new and majestic Son of David
who would establish peace under a righteous and eternal rule (9:6-7).
The prophet was therefore able to develop further his task of throwing
light on the gospel by proclaiming that the child born to the virgin would
also be the Son given by the Father: "For unto us a child is born, unto
us a son is given ...". This Son would be the glorious King of the Four
Names: "His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Father
of Eternity and Prince of Peace". The theme of the omnipotent King on His
righteous throne runs like a golden thread through Isaiah's prophecies.
The darkest experiences of the Israelites were in the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali, where the region was devastated and the people
brought into contempt and taken away into captivity by the Assyrians. Isaiah,
however, was able to look beyond the darkness and shadow of death into the
dawning of a new day and announce a future time when God would honour Galilee
of the nations by making it a springboard for the ministry of the One who
would come with the [54/55] glorious light of the coming
kingdom. We might have thought that this reference here to Galilee was a
coincidence if Matthew had not pointed out that the preaching of Jesus really
did begin from this very area of Zebulun and Naphtali (Matthew 4:12-16). This
makes one of our familiar Christmas readings and should inspire in us a new
wonder at the amazing accuracy of Isaiah's predictions. We have New Testament
authority for welcoming this vision of God's coming King as a true picture
of the Lord Jesus Christ. Already the prophet was being given further enlightenment
concerning the King whom his eyes had seen at the time of his call to ministry
The new king was to come when Ahaz had abjectly failed. In measure it
may be that this prophecy of the Four-Names Monarch referred to his son Hezekiah,
who certainly brought loyalty to God back to the Davidic throne and proved
the power of God to deliver from the invading enemy. That, however, if at
all a fulfilment, was only a partial one. It was true that at the blackest
moment of a later siege of Jerusalem, Isaiah was able to announce a victory
which brought deliverance to the city and allowed its inhabitants to "see
the king in his beauty" (33:17), but this did not last long. Later Hezekiah
failed badly, and in fact it was he who finally precipitated the confirmation
of the divine edict concerning Jerusalem's ultimate destruction (39:6).
Isaiah looked far beyond Hezekiah and gave us a glimpse of this other
King; we know that the Monarch of the Four Names whom he predicted was none
other than the Lord Jesus Himself. The Gospel stories stress what a Wonderful
Counsellor the Lord Jesus was, how He exercised the mighty power of God and
how He brought peace to troubled souls and even to the winds and the waves,
while He was here on earth. The fact of there being four names and also
four Gospels is no chance matter. Four denotes that which is universal. The
light which came through Galilee now illuminates in all the nations of the
earth as believing sinners come under Christ's rule and prove His wisdom,
His power, His love and His peace. At this point the prophet uses for the
first time his statement that "the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform
this". The very word 'zeal' carries us right over into the gospel age.
Isaiah brought this section to a close by reiterating the promise concerning
a remnant according to the election of grace (10:21-22). Paul tells us that
his words were fulfilled in the gospel: "Isaiah crieth concerning Israel,
If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is
the remnant that shall be saved" (Romans 9:27). He also refers back to Isaiah's
beginnings in this connection: "Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us
a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, we should have been like
unto Gomorrah" (Isaiah 1:9). Isaiah's son, Shear-jashub, pointed onwards
to the redeemed Church. His book is saturated with the gospel.
We are frequently and rightly reminded that the gospel does not begin
with the presentation of Jesus just as Saviour, allowing the challenge of
His lordship to follow at a later date, but that from the first it confronts
us with the majestic might of His kingship. We are not surprised, therefore,
that in his prophecies Isaiah presents the Messiah in this way. The Prince
of Peace is also the Mighty God. Some of what Isaiah writes is concerned with
the supreme victory of Calvary, but other references link up with the stories
of the triumphs of His earthly ministry. Matthew reminds us that at the Jordan,
the voice from heaven used Isaiah 42:1 to proclaim the Beloved with whom
the Father was well pleased, and he also explains how that passage in Chapter
42 was fulfilled in the daily ministry of Jesus as He "sent forth judgment
unto victory" (Matthew 12:18-21).
It is not my intention, though, to trace the various references to this
Monarch of the Four Names throughout Isaiah's prophecies, but rather to concentrate
on one great incident. What the prophet had to say was often associated
with personal experiences and contemporary events, so that it may be helpful
to enlarge on one great historical happening which can serve us as an illustration
of the Messiah's great might. The story centres around that promise to the
people that in the person of Hezekiah they would "see the king in his beauty".
Hezekiah inherited from his faithless father a vassal relationship with
Assyria which meant that he had to pay tribute money to Sennacherib (2 Kings
18:14), and had to despoil the Temple to do so. Among his counsellors there
was a strong pro-Egyptian party which plotted to be freed from Assyrian domination
by making a treaty with the rulers of Egypt. Their secret plans were
[55/56] denounced by Isaiah again and again. "Woe to them that go
down to Egypt for help," he protested, "They trust in chariots, because
there are many, and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they
look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord." He added his
ironic comment, "Yet He also is wise" (31:1-2).
He had already described the secret treaties of which they boasted in
their drunken toasts, telling them that in fact what they had done was to
make calamitous covenants with death and agreements with hell (28:14-15).
He advised those who would listen that the only security was in God's Zion,
so that "he that believeth shall not make haste" (to rush off to make alliances
and seek help elsewhere). It is always disastrous to make our own plans instead
of relying on the sure foundation of Christ. Peter said that such unbelief
turns the Living Stone from one sure foundation into a stone of disaster:
"A stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to those who stumble by being
disobedient to the word" (1 Peter 2:8).
When the Assyrian armies surrounded Jerusalem their spokesman, Rabshakeh,
reminded them how foolish they had been to rely on Egypt (36:6) and in this
he was correct. Where he was wrong though -- and very wrong -- was when he
poured scorn on Hezekiah's trust in the Lord. For the moment things looked
very bad. The king's anguish was so great that he had covered himself with
sackcloth (37:1), but Isaiah's promise was that the people would soon see
him restored to the majesty of his royal apparel -- they would see the king
in his beauty -- and that was precisely what happened.
The time was not yet ripe for Judah's downfall and Assyria was not the
world power destined by God to bring it about. We can understand why, since
the policy of Assyria was to scatter the captives whose lives they had spared
and then re-settle their lands with imported foreigners. This was in fact
what happened in the case of the Northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:24), but God's
plan for the ultimate return of a godly remnant did not permit such a catastrophe
(37:31-2) so because He is wise as well as gracious and because Hezekiah
sought Isaiah's advice and prayer help, the Assyrian campaign ended in defeat
and disaster for those who had dared to defy the living God.
The story is a thrilling one. Isaiah urged the people to trust in God
alone. They did not have to reply to the enemies' taunts, indeed they were
forbidden to do so. Faith does not have to argue or justify itself; it can
confidently await God's justification. Thanks to Hezekiah's tunnel into the
pool of Siloam (2 Kings 20:20), the promise of God was fulfilled: "His waters
shall be sure" (33:16). Then suddenly relief came.
Isaiah assured the besieged Jews that they would soon see their king
on his glorious throne once more, and would have a clear horizon of "a land
of far distances" all freed from besieging foes. The prophet gave a graphic
account of how the people of Jerusalem would look out to see the Assyrian
officials anticipating their prospective victory by counting the towers and
making their calculations as to the weight of tribute, only to discover that
they had all suddenly disappeared (33:18-19). It must have sounded unlikely
to the point of the ridiculous, but it all happened -- and it happened in
a single night (37:36-38).
This deliverance was limited in its scope and temporary in its duration,
but for us it serves as a foretaste of the glories of our King, the Lord
Jesus. From it we may perhaps learn something of the gospel deliverances which
He brought to a troubled and defeated world.
1. Deliverance came at the darkest hour
The people of God were in despair when He intervened and saved them from
their great enemy. In the case of Isaiah's prediction of the coming of the
Monarch of the Four Names, the light began to dawn only when it could be
said: "They shall look upon the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the
gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away" (8:22).
This was followed by one of Scriptures' great uses of the word 'but': "
But there shall be no gloom ... in the former time he brought into contempt
... but in the latter time hath he made it glorious ..." (9:1). The
gospel brings hope where there seemed to be none.
How often was this the experience of those who witnessed the mighty power
of Jesus. That power was manifested in the most impossible cases -- the man
who had never seen, the poor wretch who was "full of leprosy", the demoniac
whom no man could tame and others, most [56/57] especially
to Lazarus who had already been in his tomb for four days. This, according
to Isaiah, was to be the wonder of Christ's majesty. His first chapter spoke
of the abysmal state of the nation which was described as having "the whole
head sick and the whole heart faint" (1:5) and offered the wonderful counsel
that if they would heed the call to reason with the Lord, the scarlet stain
of their sins could be taken away, leaving them "as white as snow" (1:18).
From then on the prophet had again and again to denounce their hopeless condition,
only to follow up his stern rebukes with promises of the coming Saviour.
The dark clouds were expressions of God's anger with sin; the bright light
of deliverance came from the triumph of grace achieved by the Prince of Peace.
2. Deliverance came when human effort was exhausted
Hezekiah had paid Sennacherib all that he could (2 Kings 18:14-16) but
in vain. Then his ambassadors had carried their rich treasure down to Egypt
(30:6) in a desperate attempt to enlist aid from that world power, but it
was all to no purpose. Isaiah kept telling both king and people that the
only way to deliverance was the way of faith, but they would not listen: "In
returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be
your strength; and ye would not" (30:15). We tend to ignore this last
part of the verse and concentrate only on the promise, but it is all of a
piece and it is all relevant. When I first married, a gifted friend gave
the whole verse to me on an illuminated scroll, offering to remove the last
four words if I so wished. I decided to accept his offer, so he took back
the text and removed the phrase, "And ye would not". I afterwards decided
that it might have been both wiser and humbler to have retained the whole
verse with its faithful warning. I am sure that from time to time I have needed
The faithful Isaiah had his answer when they would not listen to him.
In effect he told them that the Lord would let them taste the bitter fruits
of self-reliance but would not altogether give them up but hold His hand until
their own schemes and strivings had become exhausted: "Therefore will the
Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted
that he may have mercy upon you" (30:18). It was as though God told them
that when they came to realise how hopeless their situation was, then He
would be able to help them.
It happened like that with Hezekiah. Threatened by the hordes of Sennacherib's
army, with clothes torn and covered with sackcloth, he sent his message to
Isaiah: "The day is a day of trouble and shame; for the children are come
to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth" (37:3). That was
a truly vivid expression of ultimate disaster. But it was God's opportunity.
It was what He had been waiting for. It enabled Him not only to bring an
end to the siege but also a humiliating end to Sennacherib himself. The zeal
of the Lord of hosts saw to that (37:32).
This very word 'zeal' moves us straight over into the gospel age and
to what lay behind the activities of the Lord Jesus (John 2:17). And how
true it was in His case that the deliverances He brought were for those
who had come to despair of all human efforts. There was the sick woman who
"had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she
had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse" (Mark 5:26); there
was the desperate father who complained to Jesus about his sick son: "I
brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him" (Matthew 17:16);
and there was that bent-down daughter of Abraham who "could in no wise lift
herself up" (Luke 13:11). The Good News of those days and the same Good News
today is that God's King can give help when all human means have been exhausted.
His is the majesty of the impossible
3. The deliverance was instantaneous
God often gives us gradual relief from our pains and sorrows, but in
Hezekiah's case it happened in a night. Isaiah had foretold the surprised
questioning of the beleaguered Jews: "Thine heart shall muse the terror.
Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed?" (33:18). Nobody saw
them go. The deliverance was as sudden as it was complete.
This was the striking feature of Christ's acts of power and mercy. Whatever
happened, did so in a moment of time. Peter's cured mother-in-law got up
from her sick bed and just went straight on with her housework (Mark 1:31).
The formerly paralysed man of thirty-eight years' [57/58]
affliction not only walked firmly away, but carried his pallet with him
(John 5:9). A few words from the glorious Jesus turned the water into wine
in an instant -- and better wine than what might have taken a long time to
mature! (John 2:10). The howling wind did not gradually die down at His command,
but ceased instantly; the waves did not take their normal period of many
hours before responding to the dying out of the wind; but at once became
placidly calm (Mark 4:39). Such literal, instantaneous miracles seldom happen
today. Perhaps they need the personal presence of the majestic King whom
Isaiah rightly described as "The Mighty God" and also "The Father of Eternity".
Praise God that such miracles can and do happen now spiritually in this gospel
age, and they will go on happening until this Monarch of the Four Names gathers
all His redeemed together in His glorious kingdom.
* * *
Then we will see the eternal miracles presaged by those Gospel stories.
No longer will there be any need for demons to be exorcised, for Satan himself
and his evil kingdom will be destroyed for ever. Then the dead will not be
brought back to their old life for a brief prolongation of their earthly
history, but they will share in that First Resurrection, and live to die no
more. Miracles of healing, by which bodies were restored by a kind of 'make
do and mend' of what was in any case steadily perishing, will be eclipsed
by that one great miracle when, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be
changed into the likeness of Christ's resurrection body. The touch of glory
when the water was turned into wine in a limited and local situation, and
the feeding of a multitude who enjoyed a passing experience of the bread that
perishes, will give place to an unending feast of rich heavenly food and
'the royal wine of heaven' at which Christ Himself will preside. This is
the gospel message. And this is what Isaiah describes so eloquently: "In this
mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things
... and He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that is
cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath
swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off
all faces ... for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:6-8). In that day the
whole redeemed universe will vibrate with the glory of the Monarch of the
Four Names. That will be the Day!
(To be continued)
SONGS IN THE NIGHT
"Be of good cheer; for I believe God, that it shall be
even so as it has been spoken to me." Acts 27:25
The Scriptures abound in night incidents. There was the night when Jacob
wrestled with the Angel, the night of the Exodus from Egypt, the night when
Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, and then the dread night
when Judas betrayed his Master and Peter denied ever having known Him. After
the resurrection there was the night of Peter's unprofitable fishing expedition
-- and so we might go on, However, high on the list of nights which have
so much to teach us must come this fourteenth night in which the ship which
carried Paul was drifting in the Adriatic.
As Paul stood on the moving deck of the stricken ship, he was able to
affirm his complete faith: "Sirs ... I believe God". But before those who
heard him were to appreciate the glorious realisation of Paul's hopes, they
had to pass through a night of amazing and contrasting incidents. Safety was
near at hand, perhaps a few hundreds of yards away, but so far as the people
on that ship were concerned, it might have been hundreds of miles away. Even
when they knew that the land was near, they could not see it and had no
idea at all as to how they could reach it. Throughout that night, however,
a night of [58/59] horror and despair, there was
the apostle, encouraging, advising, instructing, praying and believing.
His message to us all is inspiring, and it came not only through his
words but by this outstanding example of how a servant of the Lord can prove
God's faithfulness on the darkest night and in the stormiest circumstances.
During those hours his mind may well have gone back to the Gospel story
of another troubled night on another stormy sea when Christ's disciples
were in distress. In that storm it was the Lord Jesus Himself who said "Be
of good cheer ... be not afraid" but then He got into the ship and His presence
brought peace, security and calm to the wind and waves (Matthew 14:25).
Or there was that other time when the ship was full of water, but He stood
up and spoke His word of authority, "and the wind ceased, and there was
a great calm" (Mark 4:39). But now there was no such intervention.
The Old Testament told Paul how in a previous time of peril, God had
rescued His servant Jonah from the troubled waters by having him swallowed
up by a great fish. Nothing like this happened to His most faithful servant
Paul: there was no calm and no fish. But there was deliverance. As Christians,
you and I cannot demand that God should be working supernatural miracles to
astound us and sustain our faith. He expects us to trust Him in the dark.
Then it may well be that the purpose of God is fulfilled by things which to
us may seem quite normal. That is the lesson of this story.
See how the deliverance finally came. Those who could swim did so, those
who could not did not receive a miraculous ability to swim, but were told
to get hold of a bench or a board which was floating by and cling to it.
We are not told whether Paul belonged to the swimmers or to the non-swimmers;
we only know that to him and to them all God gave either strength of arms,
legs and lungs, or else He provided a spar from the ship which they could
lay hold of. The miracle was that they all escaped safely to land, proving
how right the apostle had been to cry, "I believe God", even in the darkest
It may be that some, despairing of life as the storm raged around them,
judged that God had failed and that Paul had been wrong to trust Him. It
is true that to the last they had no supernatural miracles, but the fact remains
that when the incident was over, it was found that not a single one of the
276 people had been lost. So it was right to trust God even in the
dark. It was then and it still is in 1985. We may be in similar circumstances,
in the dark, storm-tossed and wondering why God does not work some striking
wonder to help us. Let us still believe in God. And let us rejoice in the
wonderful miracles of the everyday. Of course God can do marvels; but sometimes
He uses a person's ability to swim or even a broken piece of the ship to
bring us safely through.
"It came to pass that they all escaped safe to the land" (v.44). That
was indeed a miracle. To us the word 'miracle' may suggest the Lord calming
the sea, walking on the water or raising the dead, but is it not the greatest
miracle to have songs in the night? Is it not wonderful to know the peace
and presence of Christ in the darkest night and the most terrifying storm;
to be quietly confident of a safe arrival on land while the waves are lashing
round and tragedy seems inevitable?
"I believe God!" The apostle did not utter those words as a mere creed,
and not when the sun was shining, the sky blue, the sea like glass and the
air filled with gentle breezes, but in such a dark extremity that it may
almost have appeared that God had abdicated all responsibility for them. For
many days no-one had seen sun, moon or stars in their places, but they were
still there and were still shining. Just as certainly Paul knew that God
was still on His throne and he sought to inspire the same faith in others.
He knew nothing of the island, for faith does not make one a know-all.
But he had been told by God that he was to go to Rome, so he knew where
he was going and that God would see to it that he got there. We may have
the same glad assurance. This experience has a present message for us in
1985. However dark our night may be and however tempestuous the seas around
us, we must not relinquish our faith-hold of the promises of God. The Bible
does not promise that the believer will have a calm passage to his desired
goal. No, on the contrary, it takes for granted that tests and tribulations
are to be the lot of those who are wholly committed to the will of God.
What it does tell us, though, is that He will bring us safely through all
the storms so that we arrive at our God-ordained destination.
Of the many spiritual lessons to be learned from this story, I select
just one, taken from Paul's words about abiding in the ship: "Except these
abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved" (v.31). I hope that it is not wrongly
using these [words] to lay down a spiritual principle of the need for abiding
in Christ. In this connection I would say that:
1. Those who abide in Christ, though tossed about in the trials of
life, are not afraid.
For them, the only safe place was in the ship. For us, the only safe
place is to be 'in Christ'. This is no empty optimistic assurance to everybody
that things will all come right in the end; it is a solemn call to all to
be sure that by faith they are found 'in Christ' and that by His grace they
choose to abide in Him. This was Paul's testimony of fearlessness to a crowd
of frightened men: "I believe God. I believe Him in spite of all that is going
on around. And believing, I am delivered from fear". It is our privilege to
give the same testimony.
2. Those who abide in Christ, though driven to and fro, will always
know where they are going.
It was not just that Paul wanted to go to Rome, though he did. The point
was, however, that this was the destination which God had appointed. And
just as surely as Paul was confident that he would reach Rome, so may the
Christian be sure that he will arrive at his destination in glory: There is
no question about that. The question is whether we will be strong in faith,
giving praise to God and a clear testimony to the world when everything seems
to be against us. Let us remember, when we cannot see sun, moon or stars,
that darkness and light are both alike to the Lord. So shall we have "Songs
in the Night". [60/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (15)
"(But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to
do that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel
his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following
idols, according to all that the Amorites did, whom the Lord
cast out before the Children of Israel)" 1 Kings 21:25-26
THE contents of this parenthesis do not surprise us, for we are already
aware of what a wicked king Ahab was. What does surprise us greatly, however,
and what must have surprised Elijah very much, is what immediately follows,
for we are told of God's obvious satisfaction in finding that even such a
man would humble himself in repentance. "Have you seen it?" He asked Elijah,
as if meaning, 'Can you believe it?'
WE are not told whether Elijah was pleased or offended. Nor are we able
to determine whether Ahab's was really the godly sorrow which works repentance
unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). We are only informed that God regarded
Ahab's humbling as genuine and gave him immediate reprieve. If we pursue
our enquiry we may retain strong reservations about his subsequent behaviour
and we find that God's arrow pierced his disguise and his armour, leaving
him to bleed to death in a day of defeat on the battlefield.
THE historian was inspired to emphasise his self-humbling as he records
that the king "fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly". Then, as if
that were not enough, he added this confidential exchange between the Lord
and Elijah in which it is emphasised that Ahab had truly humbled himself
before God. So it seems that this parenthesis draws particular attention to
Ahab's heinous wickedness only to give added weight to God's words of kindness
when He drew the attention of His beloved servant to the marvel of even an
impossible case like that being prostrated in contrition. If Elijah was not
overwhelmed, I confess that I am.
ALL Scripture has a meaning. Does this parenthesis suggest, then, that
the man in question was the chief of sinners? We remember that in the New
Testament there was another man who admitted this charge but was able to
rejoice that even so, through grace, he had obtained mercy (1 Timothy 1:15).
If Ahab's experience does nothing else, it should encourage us to go on praying
that even those who seem most hardened may yet humble themselves before the
Lord and find mercy.
TO me an equally surprising case is that of King Manasseh, the evil king
of Judah who is said to have slain Isaiah and who "filled Jerusalem with
innocent blood" (2 Kings 21:16). Throughout most of his long reign this king
seems to have given himself over to every kind of evil and refused to listen
to the Lord. Yet we are told that "when he was in distress, he besought the
Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And
he prayed unto him; and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication
..." (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). His crimes reached almost to heaven, but the
amazing grace of God reached even higher.
WORSHIP GOD! FOR THE TESTIMONY OF
JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.
Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London
WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454