|Vol. 17, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1988
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
SINGLE-mindedness is rather a rare virtue. To my mind an outstanding
example of it is found in Judah's king Josiah. He was the last of the more
worthy kings of David's lineage, but would not be expected to rank very
highly among them, except perhaps as the man in whose reign the lost book
of the law was re-discovered among the temple rubbish. Yet he has a Scriptural
commendation which suggests that in one matter at least he was unique.
Here are the historian's words about him: "Surely there was not kept
such a Passover from the days of the judges that ruled Israel, nor in all
the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah" (2 Kings 23:22).
What is more, the book of the Chronicles, commenting later on Israel's history,
confirms this verdict, only varying from it by saying that there had been
no comparable Passover since the days of Samuel (2 Chronicles 35:18).
I find this hard to believe. Nevertheless both inspired writers assure
me that this was the case. No king in Israel or Judah had ever masterminded
such a divine and God-glorifying feast. It seems incredible to us who have
found such inspiration in the stories of the great days of the kingdom of
Israel. Is it possible that this "end of the age" Passover had never before
been equalled? Not in the days of the great David? Not in the peak years
of the magnificent Solomon? Not when the God-prospered Uzziah was at the height
of his powers? Not in the reign of the devout Hezekiah, who gathered faithful
souls from the Northern kingdom to join with him in a Passover which was
so outstanding that it was extended for a further seven days of holy rejoicing
(2 Chronicles 30:13)?
Seemingly not! In God's opinion this Passover ordered and carried through
by King Josiah was the greatest of all. If we may judge from the prophetic
utterances of the contemporary Jeremiah, the heart of the people was not
in it, for they were in a very poor condition spiritually. How much of the
burden of it was borne by the king alone we do not know. In his book on the
Chronicles, Michael Wilcock suggests that Josiah was a very lonely
man who carried through sweeping reforms in a very solitary way, though doubtless
the Scriptural remnant backed him loyally. In any case, though, his Passover
is described in superlative terms.
The first conclusion that I draw from this is that God's estimate of
true values varies considerably from that of men -- even godly men. It looks
as though Josiah's straightforward stand for God in those dark days of the
kingdom's fading glories mattered more to God than all that had gone before
in happier times. Our tendency is usually to look back longingly to the past,
encouraged to do so by the impressive stories of bygone blessings. Had Josiah
done that he would have given up in despair. But he kept on. I ask myself
why he did so, and the only answer I can think of is single-mindedness. When
false prophets arise, leading men astray, and when the love of the many
grows cold, salvation comes by enduring to the end (Matthew 24:11-13). Josiah
did just that.
He had nothing to gain by persisting.
There was no question of seeming advantage; Josiah had nothing to gain
by his devoted faithfulness. The tragedy of the fall of the dynasty and
the captivity of the people was by this time unavoidable. Josiah could have
no eye to the main chance.
Hezekiah, his great-grandfather, had sadly failed. He had schemed to
make an alliance with Babylon's ambassadors and had sold the pass and made
certain the downfall of the kingdom. He was flattered by Babylon; he rather
favoured teaming up with Babylon, so God let him have Babylon in an unexpected
way. The message through Isaiah was: "All that is in thy house, and that
which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried
to Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord" (2 Kings 20:17). Even
if we have been ardent servants of the Lord; even if we have had been miraculously
healed; even though we have been enjoying a marvellous sign from heaven;
we cannot toy with the world. The [81/82] loss can
be catastrophic. This, then, was part of the heritage of Josiah. Captivity
Hezekiah was followed by his extremely wicked son, Manasseh, who corrupted
the kingdom to such a degree that the prophetic message about him was: "Because
Manasseh, king of Judah, has done these abominations, and has done wickedly
above all that the Amorites did, which were before him ... therefore thus
says the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold I bring such evil upon Jerusalem
and Judah that whosoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle ... and
turning it upside down ..." (2 Kings 21:11-14). So the nation's doom was decided
and there was no suggestion of reprieve. Amon, who was Josiah's father, continued
in the same godless way and was murdered in his own house.
It was under such unpropitious circumstances that the eight year old
Josiah came to the throne. We are simply told that his mother's name was
Jedidah, which means "Beloved", so it may be that her influence helped to
mould him. Certainly, like Samuel, the single-minded prophet who introduced
the kingdom, he began his loyalty to God at an early age. In the course
of his reforms, the long-lost book of the law was found, and made a tremendous
impression upon him. Being alerted to the country's peril, he sent to Huldah,
hoping against hope that the wrath of God might be turned aside from Judah,
but the prophetess could only confirm that there would be no change, but
that the Scriptural judgments would be fulfilled to the letter. So nothing
that Josiah or anybody else could do would avert the imminent and total downfall
of the kingdom.
He had nothing to lose by failing to act.
If he had nothing to gain by his faithfulness, he equally had nothing
personally to lose by inactivity. Huldah's message from God contained a personal
assurance to him that he would be all right. He must have known this, for
he was a man of faith and all such believe not only that God is but also
that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him. It was nice, though, to
have a special and personal assurance from God that because his heart was
tender and he had humbled himself before God, he would not live to see the
coming catastrophe but would end his days in peace. This was before he arranged
the Passover. Some people take the idea of "once saved always saved" to
lull them into selfish slackness, but not so Josiah. It was out of pure loyalty
to God and not for the sake of any personal advantage that he pressed on
with the great Passover feast.
In any case it was going to be all right for him. His days would be peaceful.
So why not relax? Why worry? His future was assured in any case. Yet far
from succumbing to the temptation to let things be, he energetically arranged
for the feast. In this life he had nothing to gain from it and equally he
had nothing to lose if he ignored it. I can sympathise with him, for at my
age I am sometimes tempted to shrug off responsibility in a matter which I
know will never happen in my lifetime. Josiah was a nobler man. He was truly
In 2 Kings 23:1-24 there is a long and breathless recital of how he pressed
on with his reforms, the text recording each act as being not just commanded
but actually executed by him -- "He put down ... He brought
out ... He broke down ..." So the story goes on. If nobody else would
be true to God, he would. So we are told that there was no king like him
in this single-minded devotion to the keeping of the Jaw (2 Kings 23:25).
No wonder that the Scriptures make their comment that "surely there
was not kept such a Passover ..." Josiah's loyal faithfulness in the darkening
gloom of his circumstances evidently gave special satisfaction to his redeeming
God. There was a quality about his behaviour which surpassed all others.
Without impugning the motives of previous sovereigns, one has to say
that perhaps their behaviour was affected by some considerations of possible
success or of personal advantage. Certainly most of us are influenced by
some such considerations. Human nature is like that. Josiah, however, was
true to God just for the sake of being true. And what is more, he kept up
this faithfulness to the end. It is true that his rather early death was
caused by his rash foolishness in getting himself involved in this world's
conflicts, but I do not think that this necessarily signified any lessening
of his devotion to the Lord, and perhaps [82/83] his
premature death saved him from any exposure to spiritual deterioration. He
went on to the end!
Strangely and sadly this does not seem to have been true of the kings
who had preceded him. Most, if not all, of them came under a cloud in their
closing years. The Scriptural record of Josiah, however, was that "like unto
him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart,
and with all his soul and with all his mind, according to the law of Moses"
(2 Kings 23:25). During his lifetime Jeremiah had little to do with him,
but after he had gone the prophet made a special lamentation for him (2 Chronicles
Biblical history is prophecy. What then does Josiah's story say to us?
Surely it calls us to be single-minded whatever may be going on around us.
Josiah need not be unique. There is room for all of us at the top in this
call to simple devotion. As a matter of fact the historian attributes the
same uniqueness of faithfulness to Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5). Perhaps the
difference lay in his failure to keep it up. In the words of the Lord Jesus
which I have already quoted, when the love of many grows cold, the call to
us is to endure to the end.
BIG WORDS (2)
"Be careful with your big words"
1 Samuel 2:3 (Danish)
THE first statement made by the Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount
was: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"
(Matthew 5:3). No-one has ever been as poor in spirit as He himself was,
and for that reason the Kingdom of heaven has never been as near as it was
when He walked the earth. He declared that He neither said nor did anything
of Himself but only what He received from the Father.
Paul followed Him. As Saul of Tarsus he was anything but poor in spirit
but when he became the apostle of Christ he could write: "Not that we are
sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves" and then
add: "But our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). Such deep dependence
upon God does not come naturally to us; our thoughts about ourselves are
often too big, and our thoughts about God too small.
In this same Sermon the Lord spoke of many who at the end would say to
Him: "Lord, Lord, did we not ... in thy name do many mighty works", only
to be rejected and disowned by Him (Matthew 7:22-23). In the Day when we
stand before the Lord, all His words will be confirmed, including these which
He said about the kingdom of heaven belonging to those who have been poor
in spirit. There will be some who thought that the kingdom was theirs, as
they pointed to what they called "many mighty works" done by them, but when
the terrible truth is revealed, it will be seen that the Lord never knew
them. He will use the same dismissive words which He used to Satan: "Depart
from me" (Matthew 4:10), for it seems that they have been deceived by Satan
and had served his purposes and not God's. Although they used the name of
Jesus, they were never poor in spirit and so the kingdom had never been theirs.
On the other hand we are told of others on the right of the King, who
are so poor in spirit that when thanked for their actions of love towards
Him, they enquire, with some surprise, "Lord, when did we come to Thee or
when did we take [83/84] Thee in?" (Matthew 25:37-39)
since, in contrast to those who felt rich in spirit, they were not conscious
of the merit of their deeds. When they were here among men they never emphasised
their own significance or tried to prove that they were anything special
in God's service. To their surprised joy, the Lord will say to these poor
in spirit: "Come, ye blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom which has been
prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
We might think that the people who deceived themselves and deceived others
while using the name of Jesus would be the exceptions, but this is hardly
the case, for the Lord says that they are "many"; just as He said that there
are many who go in at the wide gate and go on in the broad way (Matthew 7:13).
We wonder how many of these used the name of Jesus and did "mighty works"
in that name without ever having gone through the narrow gate and on to
the strait way that leads to life.
It is not possible to come through the strait gate with your own riches
of spirit; the gate is so narrow that only those who are nothing in themselves
can get through, and the way is so narrow that it leaves no room for personal
esteem and pride. In fact, to enter that gate is to lose your own life, even
as the Lord said, that only the corn of wheat which falls into the ground
and dies is really fruitful.
How, then, can it be that men can boast even to the Lord Himself that
they have done mighty works in His name when they never came through to life?
Of course this is a great problem, and I have no full answer to it, though
perhaps I may make a few comments.
In his Letter Paul speaks about another Jesus than the One whom he preached
and of another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). It seems that in Paul's time
there were those who seemed to bring the same good tidings as the apostle,
but whom he detected as being different. With his sharp ears, he could detect
that their message was not really about the Jesus whom he preached, but about
another and nor was their joy that which the gospel brings, but another joy.
The Corinthians were too carnal to perceive this, but Paul tried to help
them to do so. He used strong language about false apostles, saying that
they were "deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ,
and no marvel, for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light"
(2 Corinthians 11:13-14). This makes us enquire what kind of Jesus and what
kind of gospel it was that Paul preached.
He himself gives us the answer: "I determined not to know anything
among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). In practice
this meant that he continues to lead us to Calvary and to the foot of the
cross. There we are constantly self-exposed and discover God. There we understand
(though only in a very limited and partial way) God's infinite holiness
and His rejection of even the best that we can provide. But there we also
discover (though also in a limited and partial degree) the greatness of
our Saviour and Lord who, for love's sake, bore the wrath of God in His own
At the cross of Calvary no-one will dare call attention to the miracles
and mighty works done by himself. At the foot of that cross every human sense
of being important is destroyed, only ever to emerge again if the cross
is forsaken. But what about joy? It may be argued that there can be no joy
in looking to the crucified One, only deep sorrow for our sinfulness. Yes,
but the strangest thing about the gospel is that while it does not nulify
sorrow for sin, but rather continually increases it, at the very same time
it gives a deep, deep joy, with gratitude for Christ's redeeming love.
The preachers against whom Paul warned were not satisfied with this.
It was too small for them. They lacked the fear of God and were not at all
afraid of their own fallen nature and so not ashamed to speak big words.
They used the name of Jesus, they referred to the Scriptures, they prophesied
and did miracles, but they never trembled, for they neither knew Jesus nor
themselves. They were deceived and they deceived others. It is most distressing
to think that people who had been so active and had used the name
[84/85] of Jesus should meet with the dreadful condemnation of
the Lord. Who does not tremble and pray: "Search me, O Lord, and know my
heart. Try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any way of grief
in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
The Lord describes those who are in the narrow way as few (Matthew 7:14).
These are those who stand on the King's right hand and although no mention
is made of their being few in number, they are described as sheep. The name
seems to suggest that they are rather helpless and might even be called "stupid",
especially since they cannot remember what they did for the Lord. They are
called, however, The blessed of the Father, and certainly they are invited
to inherit the eternal kingdom. So they must be the poor in spirit. Even
so they are regarded by the world (and sometimes by fellow Christians) as
The call to the kingdom suggests that they have built their lives not
upon their own wisdom or efforts but upon the grace of God which ignores
our ideas of righteousness and any good or evil that belongs to us. In other
words, such people have tasted their own total nothingness and found the
power of Him who "saved and called us with a holy calling, not according
to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given
us in Christ Jesus before times eternal" (2 Timothy 1:9).
Notice what they do not say! They do not boast of all that they
have accomplished in the name of Jesus; in fact they say nothing at all
until the Lord addresses them. They are true sheep. They are the poor in
spirit. They make no claims for themselves and yet theirs in the kingdom
It could be that if onlookers compared them with the rejected "many"
they would judge that the workers of wonderful works had brought more glory
to the Lord than they. After all, what is a gracious visit to a needy home
to be compared with a sensational miracle? Of course the Lord is more than
an onlooker. He views things differently. By Him actions are weighed (1 Samuel
2:3). What is big in the eyes of men is not necessarily weighty in the eyes
of the Lord. We must fear that those who are so keen to remember their good
deeds are thinking rather of themselves than of the love which does not
seek its own.
God's Word is always of current interest; it speaks to every generation,
and we do well to consider what it says. Perhaps our generation needs to
pray for special grace to do so, since it was never more important to be firmly
founded on the cross of Christ. If we are indeed in the end time, as many
think, then we are warned of the many false prophets who will arise to lead
many astray (Matthew 24:11). Humility is the great safeguard. We must remember
that even when we are serving the Lord we are still fallible sheep. Indeed
Paul stated that he and his co-workers were "accounted as sheep for the slaughter"
(Romans 8:36). Thank God that we can look forward to the day when our Shepherd
King will say to us, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world". So let us seek grace
to remain among the poor in spirit. [85/86]
2. REVELATION AND THE CHURCH
"What the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints
THE middle section of Paul's prayer for revelation by the Spirit concerns
God's inheritance, His rich investment in His Church. The mention of the
word "inheritance" in the New Testament tends to make us think, naturally
enough, of what we, His people, expect to receive by inheritance in Christ.
We are heirs of God; we are heirs of the grace of life; we are heirs of the
kingdom which God promised to them that love Him. We are encouraged to look
forward to indescribably great treasures in heaven.
In this case, however, the word is used not concerning us, but it refers
to the Lord Himself. He has an inheritance in His redeemed people; they are
most precious to Him. So if I entitle this article "Revelation about the
Church", it is because we are to consider God's own inheritance in the saints.
I am not now dealing with Scriptural teaching concerning Church order or
Church procedure, important as they are, but with the spiritual value of
the Church to God Himself. This is something more than our personal value
to the Lord, though that is great, for it relates corporately to "the saints".
We are considering the whole body of believers, God's inheritance in the totality
of His redeemed people. Paul prayed that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation
might enlighten us to appreciate how much we mean to God.
In the holy place of the Tabernacle there was a fairly small table, gold-plated
all over and ornamented with a golden retaining ledge. Every Sabbath hot
loaves were placed in order on this table. They were simple in themselves
but were made fragrant with frankincense. They were not for human consumption,
though they could be eaten by the high priest and his sons after they had
grown stale and been replaced by fresh ones. They were called "The bread of
the presence", a clear indication of their close association with the Lord
in the sanctuary; they were also called "the continual bread", for God's table
was never to be an empty one (Numbers 4:7). On the table there were always
to be twelve loaves, indicating the totality of God's people. There had to
be twelve, since God views His people as a whole, refusing to recognise any
division. It was in this spirit that in the divided kingdom Elijah built his
altar of twelve stones when calling for divine fire (1 Kings 18:31).
The fresh and fragrant loaves on that golden table illustrated the Lord's
appetite for and appreciation of the love of His people. It was as though
that love and worship provided for Him a satisfying feast. So much for the
visual aid. The spiritual reality which it depicted is precisely this glorious
inheritance which God has in His Church, about which the apostle was praying.
The same truth had been sung about by Moses after the Exodus: "The Lord's
portion is his people; Jacob is his allotted inheritance" (Deuteronomy 32:9).
Paul was aware of how important it is for the Ephesian believers and
for us all, to have insight and instruction concerning this feature of the
Church's calling. We know that we enjoy the Lord as our inheritance, but
we may not be aware of how much the Lord desires to enjoy us. Supremely,
of course, the word "inheritance" applies to what is future, but it is meant
even now to shed fresh light on the importance to God of genuine spiritual
fellowship among all true Christians. [86/87]
A Family Feast
Because of the Old Testament type of the bread of the presence and the
Lord's feasting upon His people's worship, I am emboldened to refer to the
New Testament story of a scene in Bethany where, so we are told, "they made
him a supper" (John 12:2). One gets the impression that this was a special
treat for our Lord. In some ways we may feel that Jesus got all too little
enjoyment from His disciples in those Gospel days, but at least we have
this one genuine feast of love and gratitude, made at a time when He most
needed it. Were Simon the leper and Lazarus the same man? We do not know.
Matthew and mark record that the feast was held in the house of the former,
while John is the only Evangelist who tells us about Lazarus. My own guess
is that John wrote at a much later date and so was able to mention names
which had wisely been kept unrecorded. If so this would explain Nicodemus,
Malchus, the lad with the five loaves and others. In any case we know that
the happy occasion took place at Bethany, all are agreed about that, and
from John we know it was a direct result of Christ's miracle of raising Lazarus
from the dead.
Significantly enough, it was not held in Jerusalem, as the Upper Room
Passover feast was. Nor was it provided by the Lord, as in the case of what
we call the Last Supper. For that meal He was the host and it was He who
sent to an unnamed householder to request the use of the fully furnished chamber
where He could eat the Passover with His disciples. In this Bethany home,
He was not the host but the honoured Guest and in this case the disciples,
as such, played a very minor part, and not a very creditable one at that.
The Bethany feast was just a family meal in a small village. In his Gospel,
John makes only a very passing reference to the Lord's Table, which for the
Church has rightly become the symbol of fellowship. This was a simple tribute
to the One whom they had come to know as the resurrection and the life,
with no ceremonial element, though it also carried a remembrance feature
because the Lord commanded that the action of Mary should always be included
in the worldwide preaching of the gospel (Matthew 26:13). The connection
with the resurrection is suggested by John's use of the word "so", which
is frequently rendered "therefore" throughout the New Testament, though ignored
by the N.I.V. which, however, does tell us that the supper was made in honour
Unhappily it had an ugly incident in contrast to the atmosphere of grateful
love, explained by John as due to the thieving activities of the one concerned:
"BUT Judas ..." (v.4). One day in the glory there will be no more "buts",
but here on earth most fellowships seem to suffer from them. Sometimes this
is caused by sheer selfishness, at times masked by pious sentiments as in
the case of Judas, and sometimes it occurs when people are foolishly influenced
and speak thoughtlessly, as the rest of the Twelve seemingly did. But for
this, the description was wordless, but the Lord Jesus would not let this
carping remark go unanswered but silenced them with the command, "Let her
alone", just as He had rebuked Martha when she spoke unkindly in the Bethany
home. One of the lessons that we learn from Mary from both occasions is that
those who sit at the feet of Jesus need pay no heed to their critics, for
Jesus will always rise in defence on their behalf and voice His approval
when others complain.
Here, then, in this Bethany supper, is a simple illustration of what
His people's fellowship means to the Lord. It exists for His pleasure and
it maintains His centrality. So it should be in every local assembly of believers.
Just as Jesus had food to eat and sweet fragrance to enjoy in that humble
home, just as the Bread of the Presence provided fresh food and fragrance
to God in the tabernacle, so it should be in our case: "So they made Him
a supper there".
Concerning this feast we observe that:
i. It was the Fellowship of a Family
In this case there were others present, but John's focus is upon the
brother and two sisters as central figures. The Church is not an institution
and not just a community; it is a family of brothers and sisters. By His
atoning work Christ has not just gathered people together as a group of orphans,
legally adopted into an artificial imitation of a family, but has brought
together those who share the eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son
by virtue of new birth. They are said to be begotten of God, each one not
only called a child of God but actually born of the Spirit: "And such we are"
(1 John 3:1). [87/88]
Then let us stick together and serve together. No doubt there were moments
of stress in that Bethany home; we are actually told of one occasion when
Martha and Mary disagreed, but they did not walk out on one another in a
huff as, alas, Christians sometimes do. They belonged to one another. It was
not just that they met and ate together -- they belonged. This is a basic
truth. According to the psalmist it is good and pleasant to the Lord when
brothers live together in unity (Psalm 133) and if it is to enjoy blessing
and to be a blessing, the Church's first consideration must be to minister
to the pleasure of the Lord.
ii. It was the Fellowship of a Beloved Family
Each one of this Bethany family was an object of the Saviour's love.
The original summons to Jesus at the time of the illness of Lazarus was
couched in terms of help for the one whom the Lord loved. Mary, of course,
was loved by Jesus. That almost goes without saying. She had sat at His
feet; Jesus had mingled His tears with hers. John, however, singles out
the least likely of the three when he tells us, "Now Jesus loved Martha
..." (11:5). Does John stress this fact in order to balance Luke's unfinished
story of the clash in the Bethany home, or did he write in sheer amazement
that this could be? We do not know. It was a miracle within a miracle. Lazarus
was raised from the dead by a miracle -- that was wonderful. But Martha was
loved -- maybe that was even more wonderful.
Perhaps this was the sentiment which motivated John's self-description
as "the disciple whom Jesus loved". I had previously thought that this was
due to his modesty, but a good friend has suggested that what lay behind
this phrase was a continuing amazement that Jesus could actually love
him . With us all it is a case of "love to the loveless shown". Every
member of the Church's fellowship may rightly claim to be the one whom Jesus
loves and should find this a humbling as well as an inspiring realisation.
iii. It was the Fellowship of a Tested Family
These three had been through the fires with Him. In the whole gospel
story, pick out the family obviously most dear to Christ and, strangely
enough, you will find that it is the family which had been called to suffer
the most severe trial. And it was no accident. Jesus allowed it. A Church
that has suffered is often one that knows best how to provide a feast for
the Lord. These had been through the valley of the shadow with Him, and found
the comfort of the rod and staff of His love. Having emerged from that valley,
it is now they who set before Him a table in the presence of His enemies
and who anoint His head with oil. Can we not say that His joy and theirs
was like an overflowing cup? That is a picture of what every church should
It may be helpful to follow up these general observations by a more detailed
consideration of the particular lessons which each of these three family
members can teach us. They differ. Christ's members are intended to differ
from one another, but in this case the three together my teach us three main
features of fellowship life.
Lazarus. Humble Commitment
My justification for suggesting that Lazarus's demeanour was humble is
based on the statement that "Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table
with him." Just that! Why Lazarus was surely the most important man there.
He had come through a sensational experience which would have turned the
heads of many people. Yet, apparently, he claimed no special prominence.
He was just one of them that sat at the table. The unspoken impact of his
presence may be described in the line of the hymn: "Not what I am, but
what Thou art". Yet the whole value of the occasion was enriched by his
presence. And that is how it should be with everyone of us.
Lazarus is never recorded as saying one single word. The point seems
to be that it was his kind of life which spoke. It spoke in saving power
to others. The Twelve did quite a lot of preaching, but we never hear of
it bringing others to faith in those gospel days. Of Lazarus, however, it
is reported that "by reason of him, many of the Jews went away and believed"
(12:11). His testimony was a vital one. So much so that it aroused the anger
of Satan. During that gospel period we never gather that the chief priests
were worried by the disciples; on the contrary they seemed rather contemptuous
about them. Lazarus, however, [88/89] shared with Jesus
their murderous hatred: "The chief priests took counsel that they might put
Lazarus also to death" (v.10).
After Pentecost it was of course very different. Then they were mightily
used of God for the salvation of others and their lives were constantly at
risk. At this moment, though, it was Lazarus who personified the vital significance
of this most important feature of God's inheritance in the saints, which
is resurrection life.
The Church glorifies God by living in the good of this new life. There
is all the difference between dead performances accompanied by dead doctrines
in a lifeless atmosphere and a vital fellowship of Christians with an up-to-date
experience of Christ's triumphant life. It may sound over-simple to say that
there at Bethany the all-important role of Lazarus was just to be there.
Perhaps we may better describe this as genuine involvement, and then we will
realise how often such a spirit is lacking. We are meant to bring our contribution
of spiritual life into our church. We are to bring in life.
If any enquire what this means, it can perhaps tend to be best understood
if contrasted with its opposite -- bringing in death. Those who are just
passengers or, even worse, destructive critics, inevitably do this. There
is an Old Testament illustration of this in one of the stories of Elisha and
the sons of the prophets. The prophet had called for a fellowship feast, but
one of the men ignorantly and impulsively threw into the stewpot a strange
and harmful herb. It spoiled everything, and all cried out in dismay, "O man
of God, there is death in the pot!" (2 Kings 4:40). The spiritual parallel
to this is that any one of us can poison the atmosphere of fellowship by giving
place to the foreign element of the old fallen nature. It does not take much
of a carnal contribution to contaminate the unity of fellowship. The offender
may even be acting in good faith, as this young prophet probably was. We
need to take care that our contribution in the realm of fellowship is new
life by the Spirit.
Martha. Selfless Service
What is the lesson to be learned from Martha? John just tells us that
she served. Whether she was literally silent for once we do not know: the
point seems to be that she was content to act the servant. This was in keeping
with her obviously active temperament, but it was rather a different Martha
from the one described in Luke's story (Luke 10:41). No doubt she was the
same beloved Martha, but hers was a transformed service, freed from all the
former tensions. One imagines that she enjoyed being busy, though she objected
to an apparent lack of appreciation of how busy she was. This is the impression
we may get from the story of her complaints to Christ about Mary. If we feel
critical of her, let us recall how aggrieved we have sometimes been when
neither the Lord nor anybody else seemed to be taking note of our devoted
activities. Or let us ask ourselves how impatient we have been with others
who did not seem to be pulling their weight in the Lord's service.
In Bethany that day the whole meal as clouded by this ego trip of Martha's.
She even went so far as to try to tell the Lord what He should do: "Lord,
tell her to help me". That is not the language of a servant. After all Mary
might have said to Jesus: "Lord, tell her to come and sit down with us here."
But Mary was not like that. And nor must we be. At times our prayers tend
to pressurise the Lord to do what we think is best, and when we pray like
this about others we can easily get into a state of tension.
In His gentle rebuke to Martha, the Lord pointed out the strain and worry
which come when our service for Him is blemished by self-opinion or self-interest.
He reminded her that there is a better part. At the graveside of Lazarus
He again reminded her of that better part with His kindly correction: "Did
I not tell you that if you believed (instead of arguing) you would see the
glory of God?" (John 11:40). The better part which Mary chose was not just
inactivity but listening. Martha might have shared it, either by letting Mary
recount to her later what the Lord had said or even by working a bit more
quietly and being able to overhear His words. I don't suppose that He was
At this celebration feast Martha showed that she had learned the lesson.
That surely is confirmed [89/90] by the fact that
the previous story was ever recounted to Luke, for nobody else was present
and Mary would hardly have given him the information. Anyhow John now records
the family meal with the laconic statement: "and Martha served". Just that.
There are many Christians who may well have the same record in their fellowship
life -- they just served. There were talkers at that meal, but they were
mostly the wrong people. Lazarus just sat. Martha just served. But there could
have been no feast without either of them.
Mary. Discerning Worship
And what shall we say of Mary? It was her contribution which the Lord
called beautiful and which He insisted must be permanently associated with
the gospel. Clearly such devoted worship is most precious to the Lord. When
we talk of worship we rather think in terms of display or excitement, but
this was more precious and more lasting than all our celebrations. Interestingly
enough it was not the visionary Evangelist John who added this note about
the worldwide gospel significance of Mary's worship but the ex-accountant
Matthew, who by his nature might have been more interested in the financial
implications, and the equally practical-minded Mark (Matthew 26:13 &
Mark 14:9). They united in stressing this supreme value of sacrificial love.
Mary of Bethany is mentioned three times in Scripture, and on each occasion
she is said to have been at the feet of Jesus. It was to give this picture
of deep devotion that John tells us that Mary anointed the feet Jesus. Matthew
and Mark speak of her anointing His head. Clearly she did both. Luke tells
us of an earlier occasion when in Jerusalem, in the house of another Simon,
a sinful woman washed the Lord's feet and dried them with her hair before
anointing Him (Luke 7:38). John knew all about that, for he was writing at
a much later period. It may well be that because Mary also knew about it
she acted in this way, so disclaiming any merit and being ready to identify
herself with a great sinner. All true worshipers feel the same when they are
at His feet. We are nothing; He is everything.
It seems that Mary understood that Jesus was going to die. Nobody else
did so. First guardedly, and then more openly, Jesus had spoken to His disciples
about His approaching death, but not a single word of comfort came from them.
Now, however, Mary brought the treasured unguent which she had stored up
-- as people did then -- for the possible death of a dear one, and made sure
that He enjoyed it while He was still alive. How much she understood of
His imminent sacrifice we do not know; we only know that she really listened
to what He had to say, which the others failed to do. The more we pay heed
to the Lord and lovingly respond to His words, the clearer do heavenly realities
become, at least to our spirits even more than to our minds. "The secret
of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Psalm 25:14).
My own suggestion is that Mary not only appreciated the coming sacrificial
death of her beloved Lord, but also believed in His resurrection, for after
all He never spoke about the first without also predicting the second. There
were other women who loved Him dearly and who prepared special ointments
for His body after Calvary, but He never enjoyed the benefits of their tributes
of love -- they were too late! Mary alone performed a beautiful act of devotion
which carried on the atmosphere of fragrance which had been associated with
the Table of the Bread of the Presence in the Tabernacle days.
The whole house was filled with the fragrance, so that everybody had
some benefit from her gift. Spiritual devotion is like that. Most of all,
though, the action must have brought comfort to the heart of the Saviour
Himself. "She did what she could" He commented (Mark 14:8). Alas, He can
never say that of me! How many of us who call Him Lord do that? Our churches
might be more characterised by the fragrance of Christ's love if this element
of sacrificial devotion were more evidently exercised to the limits of what
is possible to us.
The Divine Standard
It is a staggering thought that while all the political, commercial and
religious affairs of the ancient world were in full function, the Creator
[90/91] of the world ignored them, to find deepest
satisfaction in the grateful love and worship of this simple family. It is
a quality of life which the Lord values. This is God's richest treasure.
It has little or nothing to do with the impressive institutions which bear
the name of Christian. Not that there is any special value of a meeting in
a home and not that small numbers have any particular virtue; what the Lord
loves and looks for are spiritual families where Christ is all and in all.
After all, we can provide nothing of value to God apart from Christ.
In this same Letter we are told that the Lord Jesus not only died a sacrificial
death for our sins, but lives a sacrificial life in order to please the Father.
He not only atoned for our shortcomings, but He presented to the Father
on our behalf a fragrant offering of love (Ephesians 5:1-2). He did this
for us so that in Him we may do the same. Paul's prayer was not concerned
with religious observances so much as with men and women living holy and
devoted lives, so that was why he asked that we might have revelation by
the Spirit and wisdom by the same Spirit in order to practise what it really
means to be God's dearly loved children.
There is so much for us to learn about what are the essential and lasting
values to God of our lives now and then in the hereafter. Only what has the
mark of Christ upon it will be found to be of praise and glory and honour
in eternity. We all need fresh and fuller revelations in this matter of God's
inheritance in His people.
(To be continued)
John H. Paterson
They assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not
THERE can be few subjects more important to the Christian for daily living
than guidance in doing God's will and few, I suspect, that cause us more
trouble. We have all, surely, said to ourselves at one time or another, "If
only I knew what His will for me was, I'd gladly do it."
This is not, strangely enough, through any lack of examples, in the Scriptures
or in believers' experience, of God's guidance for His people, but rather
the contrary: there seem to be so many ways in which He guides, so
how are we to know which method He may adopt with us?
Some believers resolve this difficulty by refusing to budge without positive
guidance; that is, they decide in advance that guidance to be guidance, must
come in the form of evident signs or voices from heaven. I do not know how
they manage it, but evidently God lets them live like this -- at least, they
always seem satisfied, when I meet one of them, that they are where they
are under direct orders from the Lord! Yet such a limited concept of guidance
cannot but have its pitfalls. I recall an experienced Christian once saying,
"I asked the Lord that, if it was His will for me to go, He would give me
three indications by the following Tuesday. By the following Tuesday I had
all three -- but it still wasn't His will for me to go!"
Here, then are problems galore: must God's guidance always be positive
or overt? How can I tell whether I am being directed by the Spirit of God
or my own wishful thinking? What if I pray [91/92]
for confirmation and none comes before I have to make a decision? How
is it that some believers move through life with such utter assurance, while
I grope my way from choice to choice?
I suspect that these are familiar problems, to you as well as to me,
and I must confess at once that I am not going to be able to answer a single
one of them to your satisfaction. When people tell me that they felt led to
do this or that, I always want to stop them and say, "Describe to me what
it felt like!" And then I go on to wonder whether, in the absence of that
particular feeling, there were no other grounds on which they might have acted,
and which the Lord might have expected them to take into account -- duty,
for example, or compassion, or gratitude.
I remember once attending the funeral of a minister of God's word who
had laboured for many years in a small church, seeking to open up spiritual
truth to the congregation. At the funeral, I met one of its members, and
he casually remarked to me that he and others had prayed about attending
the funeral, and that eventually they had "felt free" to be there. To attend
the funeral of a pastor to whom they were indebted for years of selfless
ministry, they had to get a special feeling, special permission, from the
Lord! Without it, evidently, they would not have come. That, I suggest, is
"guidance" run wild.
But our problems remain. This short article will merely call attention
to a single biblical aspect of the subject of guidance, as we see it in
the life of the Apostle Paul. And the simple proposition from which I begin
is that God's guidance comes to us, at one time or another, through what
does happen and through what does not. The first of these
we might call Positive guidance -- the intervention of the Spirit of God through
outward or inward indications that this is the way that we are to go. The
second we might call Negative Guidance, although that will inevitably make
it sound a second-class kind of affair -- which it certainly is not! Negative
Guidance means that, in the absence of any intervention on God's part
we go on, in the assurance that, until we receive orders for a change of
direction, we are to continue as we are.
No man, I suppose, could have started his life in the service of the
Lord Jesus Christ with more positive guidance than Paul. Lights and voices
from heaven; blindness and healing; the deliverance of the persecutor by
the persecuted; it would be difficult to misunderstand all that!
On subsequent occasions, too, it seems as if Paul received direct messages
from the Lord (cf. Acts 23:11), as well as indirect but equally positive
ones through His people (Acts 13:1-3).
But that is only half the story, and certainly does not enable us to
account for more than a small proportion of Paul's activities, his journeys
and his movements throughout his later life. One thing, however, which his
positive encounters with God implanted absolutely firmly in Paul was that
he was called to be an apostle -- a messenger for God. How often in his
ministry and his epistles he reiterated that claim! It was a conviction
in which he never wavered: it was also, for him, the most important single
element of "guidance" in his subsequent movements.
For this being the case, Paul needed no further bidding. From the time
of his conversion onwards, he took this guidance, this direction, for granted.
As he set out to spread the Gospel, we do not find him praying, "Lord, is
it Your will for me to preach here: if it is, give me a sign." He simply
preached -- in the synagogue, in the open air -- and, when they threw him
out of one city, he went straight up the road to the next and began all over
We could, I suppose, put that in another way: Paul was acting under God's
general guidance. He was called (and he was sure of it) to preach
the Word, and so he preached it, regardless of whether he was in Cyprus or
Paphos, Antioch or Athens. To do so he neither needed nor expected any
special guidance; nor, as we read through the thirteenth and fourteenth
chapters of Acts (what we know as Paul's first missionary journey) do we find
any reference at all to specific guidance over choice of route or city. There
was always one more place up the road to which to bring the Word of Life.
If Paul had been a politician on tour instead of a missionary, he would probably
have acted no differently. [92/93]
Then came the second missionary journey. And how did that begin -- with
prayer for special signs and guidance? No: "Some time later Paul said to
Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit our brothers in every town where we preached
the word of the Lord, and let us find out how they are getting on'" (Acts
15:36, Good News Bible). How casual; how sensible it all sounds! So
Paul set out, with Silas: Syria, Cilicia, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and into
Galatia (Acts 15:41 - 16:6). If you look at a map, you will see that these
last four places lie in a straight line going north. The apostles were, as
we should put it, following their noses. Paul had neither asked for nor received
Then it happened. We do not know exactly how, but the special instructions
arrived! First, the Holy Spirit would not let them turn west into the province
of Asia (16:6). So they continued northwards. But then, secondly, they tried
to carry on with their northward route by going into Bithynia, the most northerly
of all the provinces of what we call Asia Minor. And now the Holy Spirit
blocked that route, too (16:7).
What was to be done? Without, apparently, disobeying their orders not
to preach in the province of Asia (for we hear nothing of their doing so
at this time), they cut straight across to Troas, in the extreme west and
there, with all the other routes blocked and Greece just across the narrow
Aegean Sea, a man from Greece appeared to Paul in a vision, and said, "Come
over into Macedonia, and help us" (16:9).
I apologise for all the names and the geography here, but it is precisely
in the geography that the point lies. Here we have Paul, called to be an
apostle, going straight ahead, following his calling, seeking or receiving
no directions -- operating, that is, with Negative Guidance -- until he reached
a point where a turning was to be made, and then the Positive Guidance
came. The Spirit said, "You have been following your noses long enough:
now turn left!" And before them lay the whole of Greece, and all those
churches of the future in Thessalonica, Philippi and Corinth.
This is only one small gleam of light on the subject of guidance; yet
I hope that it may be a useful light on the way for some reader. I hope,
for example, that it may help some of us to eliminate the hesitation which
we so often feel because, while the Lord has not said "Don't", He also has
not said "Do"! If we operate only on positive signs -- on the "do's" of life
-- we may well find ourselves slowed down to a standstill, too scared to
move lest we step out of the will of God.
Putting that the other way round -- Paul's way -- we confidently believe,
as he did, that God has called us to a particular calling, then we must follow
it to the end; that is, until He changes or cancels it. It is not for us
to say, "I know He called me once, but that was a long time ago. I need some
Positive Guidance -- some signs or voices -- if I'm to go on." We are
to go on! Should we not remind ourselves of that word of Isaiah's, "If
you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear his voice
behind you saying, 'Here is the road. Follow it'" (Isaiah 30:21 Good News
Bible ). To hear nothing in that case should mean that we are on the
I conclude this brief note on one aspect of guidance with an illustration
that may cast a little light on the distinction I have been making between
Positive and Negative Guidance. As an illustration, it is a little out of
date these days, but anybody middle-aged or older has, whether they realised
it or not, probably participated in this experience.
When you travel by train, you are riding behind a driver who, in ordinary
circumstances, drives by looking for the signals ahead -- green for go, yellow
for caution, and red for stop. These signals give the driver Positive Guidance.
So long as he obeys them, he will always be on the right line, at the right
But in the old days, Britain suffered greatly from fog. When the fog
closed in, the driver could not see the signals. His system of Positive
Guidance was now useless. So the railway company, in order to prevent the
movement of trains from grinding to a complete halt, introduced a fog emergency
system which was, as it happens, just [93/94] the
opposite of the fair-weather system. Calling out their workers,
they sent them out to the various signal posts, armed with small explosive
caps which could be laid on the line and detonated by the trains. There they
sat while the fog lasted. If now the signal (which they, of course, were
close enough to see) was green, and it was safe to go, they did nothing
. But if the signal was at danger, they placed caps on the line to warn the
driver. And so the driver, although he could see nothing, drove confidently
on unless and until he heard a bang. Negative Guidance!
All drivers, and all Christians, much prefer Positive Guidance. But without
Negative Guidance on foggy days there would have been no movement at all!
If you wander off the road to the right or the left,
you will hear His voice behind you saying,
"Here is the road. Follow it."
THE EFFECTIVE WORD OF GOD
"We have seen His Glory"
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: John 1:1-18
IT is only those who have a clear vision of the Lord Jesus Christ who
then see everything else in a right priority. They do not lose sight of the
things of this life but they see them properly for the first time when they
can say, We have seen His glory. The claim focuses on the main point of this
introduction about the One who is the Word.
In the first section, verses 1 to 5, we have the truth of the Word in
creation, with its statement, "All things were made by him; and without him
was not anything made that has been made". We see the dignity and efficiency
of the Word of God in relation to creation, and we know that John is speaking
of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Word. He is the sole accomplisher of creation,
as we are told by a positive reinforced by a negative. The positive is "All
things", the negative "No things". There is nothing that was not made by
Him, whether we think of creation in its greatness or creation in its littleness.
The next section, verses 6 to 13, focuses on the Word in the world. He
is not only over the world but He came into it, "He was in the world, and
the world was made by him". That Great One, that Word of God who spoke and
it was done, He came into the world that He had created. Yet "The world
knew Him not."
The third section, verses 14 to 18, presents the matter which we are
now to consider, namely, the Word in the Church, with the key verse, "We
beheld his glory". Within the totality of the created world and its people,
there is a group whose eyes have been opened to recognise and
[94/95] know Him. What is more, they not only see His glory but
they also receive His grace (v.16). This group embodies the truth that the
darkness could not master the light.
Concerning the work of creation we are given the stress on opposition
to the Word in the words, "the darkness overcame it not". This refers to
the whole area of creation covered by Genesis 1 to 3, for at the beginning
darkness was one of the benefits of creation, being part of the created order
concerning which God said that it was good. That darkness of Genesis 1 is
a created blessing and benefit of God for the good of His creatures. In Genesis
3, however, we have the entrance of a different kind of darkness. It was
a darkness of opposition to the will of God and opposed to the welfare of
man, a darkness which brings in sin and makes man subject to the curse of
God, a darkness which blights relationships and defies the light of God.
But we know that darkness can never master light.
So against the opposition of the world we have this surprising group
emerging, those who actually receive the light. The Word came into a system
of rejection, but it also came into a situation of reception, for "as many
as received Him" became children of God. If we ask how could this be, John
unfolds for us the mystery of the new birth. God engineered the new birth
for them and out of that new birth with its new powers, they were able to
behold Him in all His light and to commit their lives to Him: "To them he
gave the right to become the children of God, even to them that believe on
his name". These, then, form the favoured group whom God has sovereignly
blessed. The Word is in the midst of the Church; they are enjoying His light,
not only beholding His glory but also receiving His grace.
A Fivefold Testimony
We may think of verses 14 to 18 as five voices declaring the glory of
i. The Testimony of the Apostles (v.14)
Here we have Jesus among His contemporaries. On behalf of his fellows
John declares: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his
glory, glory as of an only begotten from the Father) full of grace and truth."
The stress is on His uniqueness. He is the only One full of grace and truth.
ii. The Testimony of John the Baptist (v.15)
Our version is true, but it is rather awkward. Here it is slightly paraphrased
by the N.E.B.: "This is the man I meant when I said: He comes after me, but
takes rank before me, for before I was born, he already was" (v.15). It
would not be possible to put the statement more accurately than that.
iii. The Testimony of Experience (v.16)
We will come back again to this, but for the moment observe that all
the people of God of all ages unite to claim that they have received from
the Lord Jesus the full experience of God's grace.
iv. The Testimony of the Scriptures (v.17)
John respects the revelation of God given to us in the Old Testament
Scriptures, but says that what we now have is the complete record of Christ
in the New Testament Scriptures. We are in the happy position of being able
to look back and then to enter into the full revelation of the Lord in the
New Testament Scriptures as they reveal the surpassing glory of the truth
which came by Jesus Christ.
v. The Testimony of His Unique Role (v.18)
"The only begotten God has declared him". This defines the unique position
and function of the Lord Jesus. Without any question, the true and more accurate
rendering of this verse is not "only begotten Son" but "the only begotten
God" so far as the Greek MSS are concerned. It is dramatic and unexpected
and merits further consideration.
1. The Person of Jesus
It seems to me that this review of the wonder of the Word is given us
in order to excite us to worship. The Word, who is God, became flesh, that
is, He became really human. He became flesh without ceasing to be God. The
subject of the verb [95/96] "dwelt" is the Word. It
was the Word who dwelt among us. When He became flesh, He brought His total
deity and in that total deity, He dwelt among us. He remained the Word;
He brought His whole Word nature to live among us, and so He revealed God
by His very person.
"We beheld His glory". It does not say that we sensed His glory, but
that we actually saw it. It was a matter of visibility. It was not that
we were given a special understanding whereby we penetrated His fleshy appearance
to some inner reality in a mystical way. No, in viewing this total Person,
this Person who was genuinely human, we received a revelation of God. God
was revealed not within the flesh or beyond the flesh, but by the flesh,
by the actual Person and the actual life which He lived. In Luke's Gospel
we have a confirmation of what John wrote about handling the Word of life
(1 John 1:1) for he uses the same word to record Christ's invitation to His
disciples: "Handle me and see" (Luke 24:39). We can imagine them all crowding
round to have the privilege of touching Him.
It is in the reality of His Person that Jesus reveals the Father, and
that precious revelation shows Him to be "full of grace and truth". This
verse is immediately followed by the words, "John beareth witness of him
and crieth, saying, This is he." John the Baptist was one of those men who
spoke from God. He was the last and the greatest of what we call the Old
Testament prophets. It seems foolish to divide the Bible when the last of
the Old Testament prophets is found in the New Testament. No, it is one precious
book -- the Bible. John was one of those whom Peter describes as speaking
from God as moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Truly he spoke from
God, but the Lord Jesus spoke as God. He is God incarnate.
"For of his fullness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law
was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ". From this matter
of the rich fullness of Christ there emerge two considerations, first that
He meets our needs and also that He commands our obedience. He who has the
fullness desires to share it with us. The preposition here translated "for"
really means "over against" or "instead of". Grace instead of grace! That
is an odd expression. It is always good to face the Word of God when it
seems to say that which is peculiar, so we ask what it means that we receive
grace in the place of grace. May I make some suggestions:
i. "Grace in the place of grace" points us to the fact that in His fullness
the Lord Jesus has an inexhaustible supply of grace. This means that if one
grace is finished, there is always another to take its place. When we look
up to Him there is always fresh grace to take the place of the grace already
ii. "Grace in the place of grace" reminds us of the total patience of
the Lord Jesus Christ. Does He ever turn round to us and say that because
we have not used His grace, He will offer us no more? Does He tell us that
since we have misused His grace, we must do without more? No, there is always
grace instead of grace. Perhaps a grace given was mishandled; it was given
as an opportunity of being new people in Christ, but we missed that opportunity.
We may have come to a new place of dedication and vowed that we would be
different, so the Lord assured us that He would give us grace to live, there
was grace to match our need. But we did not change. We failed to appropriate
that grace. Well, in His patient love He tells us that He will still be ready
to give us grace. There is not only a plenitude of grace, but there is also
a patience of grace. Grace upon grace.
iii. Every day brings a fresh challenge. Every occasion finds us with
a fresh need. Very well, the Lord assures us that every day and every occasion
can be met by fresh grace. He does not expect us to live tomorrow on today's
There is always fresh grace. I can assure you of this. My certainty is
based on His infallible Word, but it is also echoed by something far less
significant and yet genuine enough. It is that I have proved it to be so.
2. [The Fullness of Jesus]
We now pass to the verse which speaks of Moses and Christ. It informs
us that the fullness of grace not only meets our needs but also commands
our obedience. The law came by Moses; his great role in history was to be
the Lawgiver. We must not, however, make a contrast in what we have here,
for it does not say that whereas the [96/97] law was
given by Moses, grace was given through Jesus. It does not make a contrast
between law on the one hand and grace on the other, but it tells us that
it was grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.
Was there no truth in Moses? Of course there was. Precious truth. Lasting
truth. Truth from God for His Church. So we are not here involved with a
contrast, but with a comparison. There is that about the work of Christ which
completely outshines the work of Moses. But that does not deny that there
was grace in Moses and truth in him too. Was there not grace in the Passover?
Was there not grace in the donation of the law whereby God told His people
that now that they were redeemed they must learn the way of life which would
please Him? Of course there was, but there is such grace and such truth in
Jesus as altogether to outshine what came by the law.
This verse literally reads: "The law was given by Moses but the
grace and the truth came by Jesus Christ." The simplest way of understanding
this use of the definite article in the Greek is to render it as "its", and
in this way we find that the law came by Moses but its grace and its truth
came by Jesus Christ. All the grace and truth foreshadowed in the way God
dealt with His people through Moses is brought to its absolute fullness and
expression of application in the Lord Jesus.
So the Passover lamb which was part of the ancient sacrifice in Egypt
was far, far surpassed in the sacrifice of Calvary. Yet it was the same grace.
That grace which was foreshadowed and in measure enjoyed by God's people
of old is now there for us in its fullness, in all the efficacy of a finished
work of redemption by the true Lamb of God Himself. And all the longing
of God that His people should be like Him -- for that is the essential idea
within the law (Leviticus 19:1-2) -- is made possible by the grace of Christ.
So in Scripture, the law is not the antithesis or enemy of grace, but the
law is part of the outreach of the God who wants to fill His Church with
those who are like Him. So the richness of Jesus is that our needs should
be fully met and our lives directed and governed by the will of God.
3. The Revealing Work of Jesus
The height and wonder of our privilege in Christ is to know the God who
delights to reveal Himself. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten
God, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath revealed him" (verse 18
It may puzzle the reader to be told that no man has ever seen God, since
there were people in the Old Testament who claimed to have done so. They
cried, "Alas, for I have seen God" when the angel of the Lord appeared to
them. There is no contradiction in the Scriptures, even though in the Old
Testament people said that they had seen God and now in the New Testament
John says that no-one has ever seen God. Here the New Testament is expressing
a more penetrating truth, namely, that in His essence God is invisible for
nobody has ever penetrated into the invisible reality of His Person. In His
mercy and grace He could and did clothe Himself with visibility; and when
He did so He always appeared as a Man among men, because man is made in the
image of God, so that the outward visibility which most closely allies itself
to the invisible essence of God is the form of created mankind. Manoah's wife
said, "A man came to me", but it turned out to be God who had clothed Himself
with visibility (Judges 13:22). No-one has ever penetrated beyond into the
invisible essence of God Himself, and nobody ever could.
But doesn't your heart rise in worship to God who wants to reveal Himself
so that people who could never know Him may come to do so? Here is the wonder
of the revelation that comes to us through "the only begotten God ..." This
is the true statement in the Greek MS, and it refers to the Lord Jesus in
heaven. In verse 14, the reference to "the only begotten from the Father"
speaks of Jesus on earth, but in verse 18 the phrase" only begotten God"
points to Jesus in heaven.
Within the mystery of the holy Trinity we deal with heavenly things.
When we speak of a Father and Son in heaven we are not moving upwards from
earth by way of an analogy, as if knowing of fathers and sons here on earth
we may learn how it works in heaven. What we find on earth is the palest
of pale reflections of the heavenly reality. "For all fatherhood in heaven
and upon [97/98] earth derives its name and nature
from Him" (Ephesians 3:15). In the mystery of God there is the God who is
begotten. He is the Father's Son. He is full of grace and truth. He gives
grace and truth because He is the Father's Son.
What must the Father be like to have such a Son! And what must the Father
be like to give such a Son, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of
the Father! And what a privilege is ours, not only to be made privy to what
God is like, but to be made privy by such a means. The Father sent the Son
from His bosom, and the Son left the Father's bosom to make plain on our level
what God is like. There is no better way of expressing this than by the words
grace and truth.
The Word of God expresses what is true and effects what is true. Jesus
comes to us as the Word to express and effect. We need to be still before
God and open our hearts and minds to Jesus who is the Word of God. And,
because He is the Word that does not return void to God, we may trust Him
to effect what He wishes in our lives according to His Word.
IN its fullest expression worship is an activity which should be with
others. Nevertheless, since corporate worship can only be provided by many
worshippers, it is good to find in this psalm an illustration of individual
worship. In a crowd we may be carried away by emotion and the influence of
others, whereas individual worship can only come from personal understanding
as well as feelings.
Such understanding is a real feature of this intensely individual psalm
which records the heart outpouring of a man who is quite alone with his God.
In its 24 verses there are 46 references to David himself and 35 to the
Lord. The only outside reference is to his hatred of the Lord's enemies;
apart from them, this is a song sung to the Lord alone and offered to Him
in heartfelt devotion. Perhaps it may help us to gain a better understanding
of how we may bring acceptable adoration to our Saviour. The Lord Jesus told
the woman of Samaria that the Father desires and appreciates true worshippers.
Naturally we who are His children want to satisfy our Father's desires, so
a study of this psalm may perhaps help us to identify some of the elements
of the true spiritual worship which we may bring Him. They are:
True faith is never self assured. It always finds itself confronted by
that which seems too good to be believed. When captive Israel was released
from Babylon, they confessed that it all seemed like a delicious dream (Psalm
126:1). When Peter was brought out of Herod's prison, he could not believe
that it was really happening and expected to wake out of a dream at any moment
(Acts 12:9). Such wonder makes for genuine worship. People who think that
they know and can predict in detail how God is going to work, seldom do
more than give God credit for what they always expected of Him, and can even
take some satisfaction in their own perspicacity. They will doubtless be
thankful, but they will not be brought low in wondering worship. It is when
we are surprised by the Lord's unexpected goodness that our hearts are melted
in wondering worship. I truly believe that at times God finds pleasure in
giving us surprises, and the Gospel stories bear out this idea.
See here what David says about the greatness of his God: "Such knowledge
is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it" (v.6). Look,
as he considers how to get away from God [98/99] and
finds it quite impossible: "If I ascend to heaven" he argues, or "If I take
the wings of the morning", or "If I try to hide in the dark", there is no
way. I have to give it up. His own being and history are quite beyond him.
"I am fearfully and wonderfully made" he says of God's wonderful skill, and
"all my days are written in Your book even before they have ever happened"
(v.16). And of all wonders, the greatest is the wonder of God's love: "Your
thoughts about me cannot be counted" he sings, "You are with me while I sleep
and still with me when I wake up".
It is all summed up in David's words, "Too wonderful!" Like the rest
of us, David longed to do some great work for God. He even planned to build
a magnificent temple. However the prophet Nathan came and told him not to
do it but just to listen to God's promises to him. So David went and sat before
the Lord and worshipped. "Who am I to be so blessed?" he asked, and then
added, "Thou art great, O Lord God, for there is none like Thee" (2 Samuel
7:22). Perhaps that was David's finest hour; not when he was doing mighty
public deeds, but when in the secret place with God he was pouring out his
heart in worship. God has a lot of people working for Him. It is true that
there are not nearly enough, but there are many. Alas, He has only a few
who will sit quietly in His presence and wonder at His greatness.
A friend can give you presents or work hard on your behalf and so give
you great pleasure. If, however, you have ever had a loved one look straight
in your eyes and murmur, "I think you are wonderful", you will agree that
this is the greatest joy a person can ever experience. And what about our
God? Can we not give Him that joy? Yes, and supremely so when we look into
His face and tell Him that we find Him most wonderful. That was what David
did as he sat in God's presence alone. He had many faults, but he was a true
worshipper. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why God described David as
a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).
We cannot know God unless and until He reveals Himself to us. David's
glowing and eloquent words of worship came, in a sense, from what he had
been taught about God, but his method of describing the divine wonders suggests
that his knowledge came also from personal experience. From God's side it
was revelation but from David's it can best be described as discovery.
i. God's Knowledge
David could have used theological terms and said that the Lord is omniscient.
That would have been correct but would not necessarily have provided a reaction
of worship. He could have spoken in general terms and declared in a cold
matter-of-fact way that God knows everything. Intellectually that would have
been true, but many who believe it are not true worshippers. What David did
was to say that he had found out in his own experience that there was nothing
he could hide from the Lord. His actions, his words and even his thoughts
were all fully known.
The king did not want anybody to know about that evening when he got
up from his bed of idleness and did his peeping Tom act on Bathsheba. But
God saw him. He possibly felt that he was quite clever in getting her husband
home on compassionate leave and suggesting quite privately that he should
go home and spend the night with his wife. Uriah heard the words, but did
not realise the intention, whereas God not only heard David's words but knew
his thought afar off. David lived for about a year without telling a soul
about his closely guarded secret, but when Nathan came and denounced him
with the accusation, "You are the man", he realised that you cannot hide anything
from the Lord.
If you are a true worshipper, you do not want to do so. You may be crushed
by the discovery of the Lord's perfect knowledge but then from the dust you
find not only forgiveness but an urge to worship. You may wonder why, if
God knew, He did not expose and condemn you out of hand. That is the greatest
discovery of all, to know Him as the God of all grace.
ii. God's Presence
Once again, David the theologian might have said, "The Lord is Omni-present",
but in fact he recounted to himself how impossible he found it to get away
from the Lord. The various points raised by his use of the word 'If' suggest
that this was his considered opinion. And who of us has not at some time
wanted to keep God at a distance? Who of us has not welcomed darkness to
[99/100] cover our shame? David's history proved to him that he could
not evade God in this way. He could and did run to heathen kings for shelter,
but he could not get away from God, and his psalms tell how glad he was to
get in touch again. He could pretend to Joab -- and perhaps to himself --
that he only wanted the army to be counted for the sake of efficiency, but
God's all-seeing eye penetrated into the deeper reason, which was pride of
heart, and in the end he confessed and regretted that action. So what began
as a foolish act of self-agrandisement ended in a new tribute of worship
on the altar of his pardoning God.
iii. God's Power
David had looked out on to the mountains and wondered at God's works
of majesty and power. Now he looked into his own frail body and discovered
there an exhibition of the marvels of divine working. Isaiah, with a telescopic
view, had proclaimed the greatness of God in that not one single star is
missing or out of place (Isaiah 40:26). Now David, with a microscopic view,
sees that all his members are recorded in God's book, not one of them being
Perhaps we are more privileged than David was. He realised that even
before he was born God was able to visualise all his members. He saw when
there was nothing to see. With us The Lord does much more, for He sees us
already in our perfect likeness to Christ even though we are all too conscious
of our ugly imperfections. "Whom he justified them he also glorified" (Romans
8:30). All this is because He is absolutely confident of His own ability of
grace. And He plans our days. They are pre-ordained and pre-recorded: "All
the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came
to be" (v.16).
iv. God's Love
This is the greatest discovery of all, the awareness of the Lord's personal
love for me. He thinks of me. His thoughts are precious. They cover every
detail of my well-being (v.17). They are innumerable like the sand on the
seashore. The Lord had spoken to Abraham about this matter of the sands,
promising him that his seed would be as countless as the sand which is on
the seashore. Looked at in that way, David was just one grain of sand. Now
he find's new cause for wonder in that God's thoughts of love about this little
grain are in themselves more than all the sands. This must be a wonder to
all of us. We are just like insignificant grains of sand, yet the Lord's thought
toward us are more than all the sands by the sea. No wonder we want to worship
Him for His great kindness even to people like us.
The third characteristic of true worship is complete submission to the
will of God. The worshipper's proper position is either on his face or on
his knees. First of all David tells the Lord that he hates evil, even with
what he calls 'perfect hatred'. Then he makes it his prayer that no such
thing may be found in him and for that purpose he asks God to pursue that
searching ability of His to deliver him from anything in him which might
cause grief to the Spirit of God. So he ends with a prayer, "Go on with Your
work of searching me" he prays to God, "See if there is any of my ways which
could cause You grief, and lead me from it into your everlasting way."
Now worship is more than prayer. That is a lesson which God's people
seem all too slow to learn. Worship is sheer appreciation and devoted love.
Yet worship may well lead us on to prayer, as it did with David. The psalmist
does not mention the matter of sin in this song, not because he had none
but because grace had pardoned and blotted out all his sins. But still he
prayed; and he did so in a new committal of himself to the perfect will of
The greatest worshipper of all was David's great Son, the Lord Jesus.
For Him also the time came when He fell to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane
and, as He worshipped, He prayed to His holy Father, "Not my will, but Yours
be done". That was submission. But it was more. It was active committal.
He chose at all costs to obey the Father's will. It would be done because
He Himself would do it.
This is the essence of all true worship. It involves not only acceptance
of God's will but also a complete committal for the doing of the things that
are pleasing to Him. The Lord Jesus taught us to worship in this way even
as we voice our prayers. "Hallowed be Thy name" -- we hallow it. "Thy kingdom
come" -- we welcome Your sovereign rule. "Thy will be done on earth ..."
-- may it be done here and in us. This is the true spirit of worship. This
is what it means to be led in the way of everlasting. [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (11)
Psalm 130 CALLING UP
AN evident sign that the pilgrim is now making good progress on his upward
journey is his concern about sin and his appreciation of forgiveness. Only
the soul made sensitive by divine grace can appreciate the abysmal depths
from which he has been rescued.
IT was not that he had descended into those depths but that he had now
discovered that it was to the depths that he naturally belonged. His cry
to the Lord from those profound regions of helplessness would have been useless
if there had not been attentive ears in heaven. The Lord is both a Watcher
and a Listener; often it is He who has to wait patiently until we voice
our genuine appeals for help which come up to Him from the depths.
THE pilgrim could never have been on his feet at all if God's righteous
love had not offered him hope of forgiveness. Mercifully there is forgiveness
with Him. No son of Adam could have any standing before a holy God if the
black marks of sin had not been cleansed away by the blood of Jesus. The
psalmist knew that his feet would still have been embedded in the mire apart
from redemption. He could never had stood upright, let alone walked or climbed
up to Zion.
IT is wonderful how God enables the sinner to appeal for grace, and then
discloses that this is what is already fully provided by redemption. Here
is another of those great Scriptural "buts" -- "But there is forgiveness
with thee, that thou mayest be feared". As I have said, a deep appreciation
of the sweetness of forgiveness is a sure sign of growing maturity.
WHAT is the effect of forgiveness? The psalmist tells us that it produces
a humble devotion in those concerned, a filial fear. He then elaborates this
by twice alluding to the eager longing expectation in the heart of the forgiven
one, who yearns for the Lord's presence more than those who have spent long
hours in a dark night longing for the morning.
I know a little of this waiting for the dawn. When I travelled in a dugout
canoe in the Amazon region, we sometimes had to set out on our journey while
it was still dark. We knew that the day could not be far away but at times
it seemed a long, long time in coming. On such occasions the one absorbing
concern in my mind was as to whether the dawn would ever break. How I longed
for it! Of course eventually it always came. There is nothing more certain
in this uncertain world than that day will surely follow night. We find it
hard to wait but we are fully justified in doing so, for His Coming is more
certain than the dawn.
THE wonder is that we can fearlessly await that Coming. "With the Lord
there is mercy, and with him is abundant redemption". I am told that the
relevant word means "multiplied" redemption. Our trials are added; His grace
is multiplied. Every time we cry to Him from some new depths, we find that
He has fresh resources of grace to provide amply for us.
WE must encourage one another to hope in Him. He will surely carry through
our redemption to its fullest realisation. Our Saviour has been exalted to
great heights but we can always call up to Him -- even from the most profound
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London
WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454