|Vol. 11, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1982
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
AUTHORITY IN PRAYER
Reading: Psalm 46
THIS is a very wonderful psalm and its greatest moment is surely found
in the words: "He uttered his voice ..." (v.6). This was the voice of supreme
authority, the voice which brought about the defeat of God's enemies and
the deliverance of His harassed people. It was universal in its range: "He
maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth" (v.9). We rightly think of
God's utterances as coming down from heaven, but in this case there is a suggestion
that the heavenly voice came through the city which is the central theme
of the psalm.
Some think that this psalm may be attributed to the occasion of the severe
siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians in Hezekiah's day, when Isaiah urged
the king and the people to be strong in faith and rely on God's presence in
their midst. The turning point then, is described in striking terms: "Then
Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the
God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib the king
of Assyria, I have heard thee" (2 Kings 19:20). We know that Isaiah himself
also prayed at this time (Isaiah 37:5). Can we not say, then, that their prayers
were more than mere entreaties for help but also gave some voice in power
to the authority of the name of the Lord?
In both 2 Kings and Isaiah we are given the dramatic story of how the
prophet's words were fulfilled as God uttered His voice to announce the complete
destruction of the whole invading army. The Lord of hosts was certainly with
them on that occasion and so effectively routed the enemy that it would have
been apt for Isaiah to have used the words of this psalm: "Behold the works
of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth ... he breaketh the
bow ..." (vv.8-9). It was as though the flower of the Assyrian army had been
permitted by God to come out and try conclusions with Jerusalem only to find
that, instead of encountering a few feeble Jews they had met Almighty God,
and were destroyed by the power of His presence.
A NOTABLE feature of that event seems to have been that it marked the
beginning of the end of that proud empire of Assyria. This is referred to
at the end of 2 Kings and Isaiah 37 and may have influenced Hezekiah in his
foolish welcome of the ambassadors of the new empire of Babylon which was
to emerge. Was God's voice uttered to such an effect that it brought about
this collapse? We may perhaps find a New Testament parallel to this phenomenon
in Acts 12 where the prayers of the church first brought Peter out of his
prison and then led on to Herod's miserable end. Is it too much to suggest
that there are times when God allows His people to be put under pressure
in order that their consequent prayer in His mighty name shall be the key
to fresh expressions of His victory? If so, ours is indeed a high and holy
There is no doubt about the provocation to Satan which is provided by
the simplest and weakest group of Christians who correspond to a spiritual
Zion, and we may at times wonder why there should be such antagonism and
why God permits it. We need to recognise that He has a purpose in so doing.
He does not gather His people together in church life in order that they
may be admired or admire themselves: His purpose is so to dwell among them
that He may utter His voice of power from among them. Though weak in themselves,
they are mighty when the Lord is in the midst of them (see v.5). He has entrusted
to them the honour of standing in faith for the honour and exaltation of
I do not attempt to argue the parallel between Zion and the Church. When
Luther read this psalm and wrote his great hymn, he had no doubts about such
an identification. He was painfully aware of the convulsive threats which
are so graphically described in verses 2 and 3. Is the same true today? Well,
there must be many Christians in our modern world who feel that the earth
is being changed, the mountains moved in the heart of the seas while "the
waters roar and are troubled" (v.3). It may or it may not be happening to
us personally, but it would be callous and even sinful if we were unmoved
by the sufferings of the Church worldwide just because things are not so
difficult for us here at home. The Church is one. The Church is not located
in special countries: it is scattered [81/82] throughout
the whole earth. And it is under constant attack.
WHEN the Lord Jesus embodied the kingdom of God here on earth, He became
the focus of spiritual attacks. All Hell was mobilised against Him, especially
at the cross, but only to its own destruction. It is the Church which now
embodies the kingdom of God on earth and, as the Lord indicated, the gates
of Hell do their utmost to prevail against it. Thank God that Christ's Church
is founded on the Rock, so that "God is in the midst of her; she shall not
be moved" (v.5). I suggest, though, that it is not enough that God's voice
should be heard by Zion; it must also be heard through her.
When I say that God's purpose is to have a people through whom He can
utter His voice, I do not only mean the dissemination of the Scriptures.
Nor do I only mean preaching and witnessing. I mean an effective spiritual
utterance, in the energy of the Holy Spirit, which will express His authority
over all the unruly forces of evil. We want to be able to cope with more
than trivialities, however important these may be. We are challenged by a
problem as big as the world and as mighty as Hell. We all feel most acutely
that men cannot handle this. Only God is big enough to cope. 'Ah', we sigh,
'if only He would utter His voice!' Perhaps God, too, is sighing and longing
for His Church to take up the challenge in prayer. "God is in the midst of
her." When Israel was in a good condition, God was known in Zion. She was
the city of the great king.
Jerusalem lost its glory when God no longer dwelt there. The people of
God have no justification for their existence unless it can truly be said
that God is made known through them. This was the glory of the sons of Jacob,
in spite of their natural unworthiness; it was this which distinguished them
from all other peoples. They were made different from all others, not only
by bearing the personal outward mark of circumcision, nor because they were
especially sincere or devout. All these were valuable features, but they
were secondary. The one supreme and unique characteristic which marked them
off from the rest was that God was in the midst of them. If you visited them,
you met God.
DARE we measure ourselves, or our own church or assembly, by this criterion?
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, seeking to get them into right spiritual
order, he told them that the proper effect of the life of fellowship together
is that, even a stranger, coming in, would exclaim: "God is among you indeed!"
It is sometimes asked where, in our day, can the voice of God be heard by
His people. We may rightly ask ourselves, 'Where is the people through whom
God can utter His voice by means of their believing prayer?'
This psalm points on to a great spiritual fact -- the fact of the city
of God, "the Jerusalem that is above". This is not just a convenient analogy
or a fanciful interpretation of the Jewish capital. Zion is a great and abiding
spiritual reality, the corporate entity of a people vitally related to Christ,
the greater David and the eternal King. The psalm is prophetical, as witness
its assertion: "There is a river" (v.4). Unlike so many other great cities,
Jerusalem does not stand on the bank of any river. Spiritually, however,
this is already true, "There is a river".
Ezekiel, speaking firstly of the recovery and restoration of the earthly
Jerusalem, passed far beyond time and space in his visions, and spoke of
this spiritual Zion, stressing the fact of the flowing river which came from
the sanctuary. It was of this house and city, filled with the glory of the
Lord, that the prophet received the explanation from the Lord: "Son of man,
this is the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet" (Ezekiel
43:7). We who are glad to be Zion's citizens, and glad to know God as our
very present help, are meant to provide on earth a place for His heavenly
throne. "God is in the midst of her."
IN this psalm two inspiring statements are made as to the character of
the Lord in the midst. The second of them relates to His grace: "The God
of Jacob is our refuge" (vv.7 and 11). It is very important here that stress
should be laid on the fact that He is Jacob's God, for we must never
for one moment forget that though we are "the Israel of God", we are only
that through divine grace. It would be fatal to our spiritual effectiveness
if we should ever think of ourselves as involved in the power of the name
and the throne by reason of any attainment or superiority on our part. It
has sometimes been the tragedy of teaching concerning spiritual authority
and prayer warfare that those concerned have fallen into the snare of assuming
that they were something special. In this way it is possible not only to
[82/83] lose effectiveness in prayer but also to bring
the truth of God into disrepute. No, it is the God of Jacob who provides
the stronghold for this conflict.
The first of the two titles is "The Lord of hosts" -- He is the One who
is with us (even while the earth seems to be rocking!) So far as I can determine,
the first association of this kind is definitely military, for it was as
"Captain of the Lord's host" that God met Joshua before Jericho (Joshua 5:14-15).
It is right that we should give proper heed to this feature, for it is usually
stressed when the city of God is brought into prominence. God has gone out
to war to subdue and destroy those elements which dispute His authority and
hold men in bondage. Zion is not just on the defensive; its sieges can be
turned into overwhelming triumphs. The opening verse of our psalm speaks
of a refuge, and the word used refers to a hiding place, a safe shelter. We
needed that when we first came to Jesus, and we shall always need it. This
latter word in verses 7 and 11 is different and is translated, 'fortress'.
We are not cowering in fear, waiting for the All-Clear to be sounded, but
in the turret or observation post, waiting like sentries for the victory
that will come "at the dawn of the morning" (v.5 margin). May the Lord ever
strengthen us for the spiritual battle!
I find it most interesting and illuminating, however, that the next reference
to the Lord of hosts after Joshua is in a domestic and social setting. Samuel's
father went up to worship "the Lord of hosts" and Samuel's mother made her
prayer to Him also (1 Samuel 1:3 and 11). I am told that in the Hebrew there
is no 'of', no possessive, but that the Lord's own character is being described
as what we might call, "A host in Himself". The stress here seems to be on
the fulness of His resources, the absolutely unfailing ability which He
has to provide for every eventuality. We come to prayer with the assurance
that this Lord of hosts is with us, not necessarily in some aggressive or
pugnacious sense but in quiet conviction that He can cope. Hence the injunction,
"Be still, and know that I am God" (v.10).
O brothers, stand as men that wait;
The dawn is purpling in the east,
And banners wave from heaven's high gate;
The conflict now, but soon the feast!
HOW THE EARLY CHURCH GREW
J. Alec Motyer
IF we consider some statistics on the matter of Church growth as described
in the Acts of the Apostles, we note that on six occasions Church growth
was related to the quality of spiritual life and on seven occasions to incidents
of supernatural actions of God, but we find that on twenty-four occasions
such growth was related to ministry of the Word of God. We even find the
expression that "The Word of God grew and multiplied" (12:24). This does not
mean that the Bible got bigger but that through the Bible it was the Church
which got bigger. You use the same Bible year after year and it remains the
same size; it increases in depth but it does not increase in length. In the
Acts, the Holy Spirit suggests that the growth of the Church and the Bible
are so interwoven that you can state the one and imply the other.
Among the many references, I choose one as a suitable key verse. The
scene is the Council at Jerusalem and is found in the contribution made
by Peter. "When there had been much deliberation, Peter rose up and said
to them, Brethren, you know that in the old days God made choice among you
that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe"
(15:7). What I find so exciting, satisfying and stimulating in this verse
is that the choice of God covers four things. God chooses the preacher, He
chooses the congregation, He chooses the message and He also chooses the
results that should follow.
This last matter of believing hearers is not an optional extra; it is
not stated as something that may or may not happen. It belongs with the choice
of God in exactly the same way as the speaker, the hearers and the message.
The Greek makes it plain that this last verb is suspended, as all the others
are, on the great truth of the divine choice. It can be isolated, to read,
"You know that in the old days God made choice that [83/84]
they should believe". In the mind of God, as the preacher, the hearers
and the message are His choice, so is the consequent fruitfulness. I find
this most satisfying.
It has already been said that, in the Acts, Church growth is linked twenty-four
times with the ministry of the Word of God, six times with the quality of
Church life and seven times with supernatural evidences. I bring these statistics
to you not in any way to denigrate the two smaller categories for, in one
sense, they are co-equal with the ministry of the Word. There are three outstanding
means of growth. Nevertheless the figures serve to underline that, in the
Acts of the Apostles, overwhelming importance is attached to the Word of
God. The Bible not only provides us with the truth but calls us to recognise
the balance of truth. I believe that this stress in the Acts is faithful
to the pattern and priority of things as can be found throughout the whole
The Word and the Holy Spirit
As we watch the Church growing in the Acts of the Apostles we note particularly
the marked relationship between the Word of God and the Spirit of God. For
example, at the first Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit: "They ... began
to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (2:4); "How
hear we every man in our own language wherein we were born ... Cretans
and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our own tongues the mighty works
of God" (2:8-11). Pentecostal outpouring was to this end -- the intelligible
communication of the Word of God. This gift of intelligible communication
is the great gift of Pentecost.
This is what is called 'prophecy'. "Your sons and your daughters shall
prophesy ... yes, on my bondmen and on my bondwomen I will pour forth of
my Spirit and they shall prophesy" (vv.17-18). Whether they are men or women,
the gift of the Holy Spirit will enable them to give an intelligible communication
of the Word of God, so that people can hear the wonderful works of God in
their own tongues.
The book is full of this. A typical example is given in 4:8: "Then Peter,
filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them ... be it known unto you and unto
all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom
ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand
here before you whole". Do you catch the quality of preaching in that? Peter
was filled with the Holy Spirit in order to do that. Another occasion is
in the same chapter: "... they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they
began (or 'continued', for it is a continuous verb) speaking the Word of
God with boldness" (v.31). There is a beautiful nexus between the Spirit
of God and the Word of God. Time and time again right throughout the book,
we find the Spirit leaping into a situation with the particular purpose in
mind, to implement a powerful testimony to the Lord Jesus. There can be no
doubt that the preached Word is God's appointed means of growth.
The Work of the Preacher
Our key verse says, "God made choice among you that by my mouth
..." (15:7). Let us now consider the work of the preacher by isolating
that little factor of the mouth. If we did not have the Acts of the Apostles
to guide us, we might well interpret this in terms of some enormous evangelistic
campaign, with posters advertising Peter, with coach parties and land-lines
and that kind of approach. If we do this, we may well try to opt out of
it, feeling that such an activity does not apply to us. We cannot do that,
for Peter makes this beautifully simple reminder that in fact he was talking
to a housegroup! He went into the house of Cornelius, who had invited some
interested friends to his home. So we must not identify 'preaching' with
great set-piece occasions, for all we are talking about is communicating
the good news about the Lord Jesus, sharing the truth about Him wherever
and whenever there is opportunity.
You may be surprised to know that as I worked through the Acts for this
study, I discovered 26 different verbs describing preaching. There is an
amazing wealth of expressions in the New Testament descriptions of the task
of preaching. It may be helpful to mention some of the 26 different ways of
dealing with the subject here in the Acts.
1. laleo. The most frequently used verbs are verbs of simple communication
and the most used of all, used over 60 times, is simply the verb 'to speak',
'to chatter'. It is the ordinary word for holding a conversation, when one
person speaks to another. "Go and stand and speak in the temple" (5:20).
The angel uses it as he directs [84/85] the apostles
to get back to the work of communication. It is the ordinary word for holding
2. martureo. The verb 'to assert the truth', 'to bear witness
to the truth' is often translated 'testify' and here we need to be a bit
careful, for we are inclined to isolate the word 'testimony' to people sharing
their own experiences, whereas in the New Testament it does not mean that
at all. It does not mean a matter of sharing one's own experience, but sharing
that which is objectively true, sharing the facts. It is a case of bearing
a testimony to the facts and not to our experience of the facts.
3. didasko. Sixteen times the word 'to teach' is used. It conveys
the didactic intent, the longing to share information and bring it home meaningfully.
4. kerusso. This is the word which signifies 'to herald', 'to
act as a town-crier'. This gives an emphasis on clarity and also on authority.
You ask the town-crier, 'Why are you shouting that?' and his answer is, 'Because
he told me to'. So this verb 'to herald' expresses authority, but it also
brings an emphasis on clarity -- we want people to know about this matter.
5. euaggelizo. This verb is employed 12 times and it means 'to
preach the gospel', or 'to share the good news'. There is a beneficial content
to this message which is to be shared.
6. parrhesiazomai. This is a lovely verb. It means 'to speak with
'boldness' as: "Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and narrated
with them how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus"
(9:27). Paul spoke courageously but he did more, for this verb not only has
the meaning of boldness but also of freeness of speech. The verb is used
of those who could exercise a liberty of speech over the whole field in which
they were communicating. They spoke boldly and they spoke freely.
7. ekdiegeomai. This is a beautiful word which is equivalent almost
to our usage today, 'to spell out'. When something is spelled out, you know
what it is. A truth might be hard to grasp, but when it is broken up into
small bits and parcelled out piece by piece until the total picture is built
up, then the whole truth becomes clear. A useful illustration can be found
in 13:41: "Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish, for I work a work
in your day, a work which ye will in no wise believe if one spell it out
to you". It is for us to 'spell out' the truth. It is not our job so
much to sway the hearts of the hearers as to tell the truth clearly and
leave it to work.
8. parakaleo. On the other hand, it is a heart matter, as is indicated
by this word 'to exhort' shows. It is used 19 times in the Acts. For the
apostolic preachers, the men and women in the Acts, the truth was not an academic
thing to be shared in cold logic, but was also something that so burned them
up with love that they longed that others would believe it as well, and have
their hearts moved. This is a lovely verb; it blends together comfort, encouragement
and exhortation. May I say, beloved friends, that exhorting is not beating
the saints about the ears! There is no comfort in doing that and therefore
it cannot be Biblical exhortation. There are some preachers concerning whom
I confess that I would as soon go into the ring with a prize fighter as sit
and listen to them preach because, for Bible exhortation, they have substituted
the beating of their hearers about the head. This Biblical verb is associated
with the 'paraklete' whom we know as the Comforter. Biblical exhortation
is full of the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
I hope that this vocabularic hunt may open up for you a seam of enquiry
into the Word of God. If you feel that your Greek has gone rusty beyond remedy,
or if it was never your privilege to have any, may I introduce you to a
very dear friend of mine? He is long since in glory and I never knew him
personally, but live daily in the benefits of his companionship. His name
is Dr. Robert Young and he compiled an Analytical Concordance!
The Message and the Outcome
Now may I share two more things with you? We have been studying the work
of the preacher; we must now consider the matter of what he is to preach.
What was it that they preached in the Book of the Acts? Many times -- indeed
I would venture to say most times -- what they preached is vague. They preached
the Word. They shared the Good News. What I wish to stress is that their
message always centred on Jesus. They preached Him.
There are crowds of references, but we will concentrate on just one.
It is found in the dramatic story described in 8:35. Philip found an
[85/86] Ethiopian official busy reading Isaiah. He was a model
of a determined Bible reader, for he was going along a badly paved road
in an unsprung chariot, reading in Greek and not understanding what he read
-- but he went on! What a picture of a determined Bible reader! To that sort
of man, one who was persistent in the Word of God, the Lord sent an interpreter.
The interpreter's name was Philip. In true humility, the Ethiopian asked
Philip to explain to whom the prophet was speaking. "Philip opened his mouth,
and beginning from this scripture, told him the Good News of Jesus." That's
it! Always focus on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second point relates to the divine intention in the ministry of the
Word. Peter assures us that the intention of God is fulfilled when a response
of faith takes place. "God made choice that by my mouth the Gentiles should
hear the word of the gospel and believe!" God made the choice that
belief would follow. In the eternal counsels of God, He said 'I will set
up a mechanism. I will appoint hearers. And I will guarantee results'. And
truly enough, the results followed. There is a great variety and rich vocabulary
of response in the Acts of the Apostles, but supremely the response is one
of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What I want to share with you, though, is not how they responded but
the fact that they did respond and that, behind that human response, there
was the guaranteeing act of God. This is very dramatically seen in the Cornelius
incident in chapter 10:44: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost
fell upon them who were hearing the word ...". God just could not wait to
bring home His Word with power. No doubt Peter had many points to his sermon,
but before he could get to, "... tenthly, and lastly, my brethren ...",
God broke in halfway, while he was still on the fifth point, saying, 'That
will do. I want to get on with My business!' What a thrill! God made choice
that they should believe. The Holy Spirit attests His word, not only to
empower the preacher with the gift of intelligible communication, but also
to empower the hearers to respond with faith to the spoken word. So in He
comes, leaping in with all His grace and falling on those who were hearing
the word. The whole thing is bracketed around with the word 'preached' and
the word 'heard', but at the centre there is God guaranteeing the response.
What was so dramatically true in the case of Cornelius is universally
true when anyone comes to faith in the Lord Jesus. I think that God uses
this book of the Acts to give us dramatic illustrations of abiding truths,
even though those truths do not always come to pass in the same striking way.
Look, for example, at 16:14. Paul had arrived at Philippi and went out to
where he thought prayer was being made, finding there a congregation which,
by the sound of it, was a group of middle-aged ladies. He rejoiced to share
the Word with them, and what happened? "A certain woman ... was listening,
whose heart the Lord opened". There was nothing dramatic, no sudden inrushing
of the Holy Spirit, no falling, nothing dramatic -- God just made her ready
to hear and to understand. Is it not in that faith that we should be ready,
as God helps us, to take the glorious Good News of Christ to people young
and old, male and female, confident that God will make hearts ready to receive
DOERS OF THE WORD
"He that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and
so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that
worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing." James 1:25
OUR question is: What does the Lord mean by the call to be a doer of
the word, and how can we be one. Let me ask another question: 'Can you do
what the law says?' Perhaps you feel that you can. Saul of Tarsus felt like
that, but he found that he did not fulfil the law by doing what the letter
of the law said. It is possible to do what the law says without fulfilling
it. For [86/87] example, we are commanded to show
hospitality. Yes, of course you can do that. If, however, you do it unwillingly
or grudgingly, from fear of punishment or to win a reward, this is not the
true fulfilment of that law. To be a doer of the Word is to be a person who
is blessed in his doing. When Christians do the right things but
without their hearts being in what they do, then that cannot be pleasing
to God. It savours of pharisaism.
We must look, then, into the mirror of the Word and continue doing so,
so that we do not forget what we are like. We forget so quickly because
we look so seldom, and in this way have a higher opinion of ourselves than
we should. How important that we should keep looking into the Word, for
otherwise it is easy for me to take for granted that I am superior because
I am doing the right thing, yet I can be as right as rain outwardly and
yet out of tune with the Spirit of Christ.
Does anyone really think that He who died on the cross can be served
by those who have a bad spirit? Does anyone imagine that he is doing the
Lord's will when he only does so to avoid unpleasant consequences or to
gain a reward? Is that evangelical Christianity? No, and nor is it really
being a doer of the Word. We need to take another look into the perfect
law of liberty.
In Romans it is called the law of faith, and this law excludes all glorying.
We have our righteousness in the Lord Jesus, and in Him alone. We can add
nothing to that righteousness, for it is perfect. If we focus on our beloved
Saviour and His life, He is seen in His greatness and we cannot lose sight
of what we are and what we are like. Paul constantly did this and so realised
that he was "the chief of sinners", with no good thing in his flesh. He never
forgot that. He knew that he had not reached perfection. But on the other
hand, Jesus was everything to him, the perfect and wonderful Lord. He never
let this be a matter of course, but contemplated the glory of Jesus Christ
and continued to do so. That is the perfect law of liberty, and that sets
a man free in the truest sense.
When a person is entirely free from guilt because Jesus Christ is His
perfect righteousness, then he never does anything just to obtain a benefit,
for he has all that can possibly be obtained in Christ. In a marriage it would
be very sad if the partners were good to each other out of fear; it would
take all the radiance away if the man was afraid of what his wife would say,
or she were afraid of him. What a degrading basis for doing the right thing!
True freedom is surely to be governed solely by the constraint of love.
The gospel sets us completely free to serve God without any ulterior
motives, not forgetting what we are in ourselves and being paralysed by
our inadequacy, but liberated because we keep our eyes on Christ's glory.
He has given us a new nature that we may not just do right things but
be doers of His will. That is why James does not just say, "Do what is
written" but rather "be ye doers of the word".
The boundary between law and gospel is not in the Bible but in our own
hearts. If we are beholding Christ, then we are really free and everything
is gospel. If we are not beholding Him, then everything is law. Even the
command to believe becomes a law. So we struggle to believe, and this becomes
a new performance. If, however, we look into the perfect law of liberty and
see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, our spirit is released
from prison and pressure and we delight in what is good. We discover how
blessed it is to do His will.
It is true that for all of us there are battles, for we have not yet
reached perfection. But the battles are won by looking more and more at
Christ, by devoting ourselves to His wonderful Word; life and service are
no longer two separate departments, as if service was something I do and
life is something else. The whole is blessed. James, who is sometimes accused
of legalism, gives us the richest gospel truth concerning being liberated
to be a doer of the word. When the people of God are blessed in their living,
they are quite different from those dominated by religious piety and tensions;
they have a radiance that needs no stimulants and the joy of being His and
Him being theirs in a union of love.
This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said: "If the Son shall make
you free, you shall be free indeed". This is an inner freedom. Evangelical
Christianity is just this: that because fear which springs from guilt is
taken away and replaced by love and gratitude, our actions are not governed
by fear of punishment or hope of reward but by the liberty of the Spirit
In one sense we are back in Paradise. For why did Adam work there? It
was not to become righteous, nor was it in order to gain reward -- he worked
in true liberty. God said, "Do this", and he did it; in those days he was
a doer of the word. We might call this living spontaneously, but this
is an expression which could be misunderstood because of our faulty natures.
So when we fail, we have to turn back again to the perfect law of liberty,
for even this does not function mechanically. The deepest secret of the life
of faith is to abide in Him and to abide with Him.
There were two sisters at Bethany. Martha was not blessed in her work,
though she was doing right things, and therefore she complained. Mary remained
seated and devoted herself to her Lord. If only Martha had sat down beside
her and done the same, surely the moment would have come when Jesus would
have risen and said, "Now let us do the work together". Then the right thing
would have been done in the right way, and the sisters would have been blessed
in their work.
The gospel is a mystery and remains so. To be a doer of the word is more
than just doing it and being content with the act. The decisive factor is
within us. As we look into the perfect law of liberty and enjoy what Christ
has done for us, we cannot but love Him more and be free to serve Him in
the Spirit. Never think that what you do makes you more righteous. Such an
idea is an affront to the gospel. When we do His will, it is not in order
to become righteous, but to express the joy and liberty of having perfect
righteousness in the Lamb of God and the privilege of following Him.
Daily life will be different and church life will be different if we
receive with meekness the implanted word and so focus on Christ that we
become doers. This is the way of blessing in the work of the Lord. All disputes
and tensions disappear for, whether it seems the meanest task or the greatest,
it is all work for Him, done blessedly and freely, with no thought of praise
or fear of blame, but just a love response to the One who so loves us. The
gospel is the good news of the deep well of salvation from which we need
never stop drawing the blessings of love, joy, peace and good works. It makes
us true doers of the word.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF LEADERSHIP
(Illustrated by five kings of Judah)
4. KING HEZEKIAH. 2 Chronicles 29 to 32
AS we read these four chapters we may well think that the chronicler
takes special pleasure in the story of Hezekiah, for there is no-one quite
like him in the whole series, going right back to the days of David and
Solomon. That is not to say that the writer does not show us where Hezekiah's
faults lay. Though the narrative is full of praise for this king, it is
by no means uncritical. The Holy Spirit does not whitewash anybody!
This is one of the passages in which it is particularly interesting to
compare the account with the one in 2 Kings, where the emphasises are quite
different. For instance, the chronicler amplifies into three whole chapters
what is briefly described in 2 Kings 18:3-6. We are thus impressed with
the importance of this part of Hezekiah's story. Conversely, the story of
the attack on Jerusalem which occupies from 2 Kings 18:9 to the end of chapter
19 is reduced to just over twenty verses in 2 Chronicles 32. We may ask
ourselves why there is this difference and no doubt can provide some interesting
answers. Here in 2 Chronicles there are matters which are described at some
length, so obviously they are important to us in our present study. Other
matters which are treated at some length in 2 Kings are just mentioned briefly
at the end of this passage which we are now studying.
This does not mean that such matters are unimportant. In our last study
we emphasised the significance of the simple statement that Uzziah captured
and rebuilt the port of Eloth, and we must therefore be prepared to give
full [88/89] weight to the important things so briefly
alluded to at the end of chapter 32. Instead of leaving them out altogether,
he mentions them to be remembered, as though saying: 'This as well' and 'That
as well'. There are things which the chronicler does not even mention, so
perhaps they are taken for granted. The background to the whole story can
be expressed in the theme, 'Crisis for the people of God'.
The Crisis Threatens
Hezekiah is presented to us as a pastor facing a great crisis. This was
not one of those day-to-day upsets, and for a time it is not mentioned at
all, but at that period everything in the story of Judah has this black background
of extreme peril. Before Hezekiah came to the throne his father, Ahaz, had
found himself in great trouble. He was oppressed by his neighbours, the
king of Israel and the king of Syria, and so threatened by them that it
seemed wise to him (though we know that it was very foolish) to appeal over
their heads to a much greater king. He therefore asked the king of Assyria
for help (28:16). Behind those troubles of Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, there
was the general turmoil of the Middle East in those days and petty states
of the Mediterranean seaboard were all menacing the kingdom of Judah. The
real heart of the general trouble of those little states was, however, the
increasing spread of the power of the empire of Assyria moving Westward.
That was why the Syrians and the Northern kingdom of Israel got together.
It was not in their interest to have someone not absolutely in line with
them in such proximity, so they tried to whip Judah into line, as it were,
so that a united front could be formed to stem the Assyrians in time.
In one of his 'Case Books', the Australian doctor enlarges on the fearfulness
of these Assyrians. They were ruthless fighting men and they always killed.
They were notorious for the torture, pain and cruelty which they used and
I will not sicken you with descriptions of their procedures. Theirs was an
empire based on fear and cruelty. So that explains why I said that this was
no mere day-to-day trouble which we all pass through from time to time, but
a major crisis. And we will agree that the Church of Christ has an even worse
enemy and greater challenge so that we often find ourselves in a time of
Sometimes there are periods of Church history when this seems far from
obvious, times when things seem to be proceeding happily and all is well.
Even then we need to remember that Satan is our great adversary and we need
to be thoroughly equipped against him even when there is little sense of
crisis. On the other hand there are times in history when we are all conscious
that Satan's enmity is being exercised in fierce and horrific attacks. At
this present time, some of us wonder whether the spiritual powers of evil
are not increasing in an alarming way. We feel that perhaps we will have
to work in a time of greater crisis than our fathers and grandfathers ever
knew. How shall we face it?
Facing the Crisis
Hezekiah's story can help us. I think that as he grew up and came to
the throne in his middle twenties, he must have reacted against his father's
actions in those previous years. Ahaz had really gone too far. It seems, therefore,
that when Hezekiah came to the throne he determined to carry through a thorough-going
reform. But his behaviour is not only explained by a reaction against his
father's wicked ways but, taking the longer view, a realisation as to the
real situation and an appreciation of the great crisis which loomed on the
horizon. He saw things as they were and he faced the challenge. He found,
as we too will find in such a time, that the crisis itself, by its very nature,
will concentrate our minds wonderfully and make us brace ourselves to meet
i. By looking up.
Hezekiah rose to the situation by consciously returning to the Golden
Age of his people. Chapters 29 and 30 have many allusions to the age of David
and Solomon. This was not just a question of reminiscences but of deliberately
setting himself to recreate the condition of those days. So we read how
the Temple which Solomon built was cleansed and reconsecrated, how the music
of the Temple was resurrected and its ritual restored. Great nationwide assemblies
were held to call the people back to God to recover the spiritual life of
those palmy days of David and Solomon. Of the twelve kings who had reigned
since then, Hezekiah was the first of whom it could be said: "He did that
which was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his
father had done" (29:2). Many a king before him had acted according to what
his father had [89/90] done. Uzziah did what
Ahaz had done. Jehoshaphat did according to what Asa had done. Hezekiah,
however, did what David had done. He went right back to the springs of life
and worship, making David his ideal. That meant that first and foremost he
looked up to God.
That is our first and foremost means of answering the challenge of the
enemy -- We must put God first. We are told how it was done. First of all
"he opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (v.3).
God's house had to be sanctified and, when all was put in order, Hezekiah
and all his leaders took their place in the Lord's house, the ritual began
again, not just as ritual but as true worship from the heart.
Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offerings, symbols of the people's
total consecration, should be offered on the altar and then praise began
again. There is so much spiritual truth in that statement, "When the burnt
offering began, the song of the Lord began also" (v.27). The two things
went together. It was not just ritual, but it was a ritual of worship which
expressed the response of the people's hearts. "And Hezekiah rejoiced, and
all the people ..." (v.36). There is always joy in the heart when once we
are right with God.
The fascinating thing about this is that it was the last thing that the
Assyrians would have expected. No doubt they knew all that was happening
by reason of their spy system, but they would take no notice of it and relegated
it to an inch paragraph on the back page of the Nineveh Times, as Dr. Hurcot
says. What had they to do with some religious festival in a far corner of
the earth? It meant nothing to them. They had not the faintest conception,
these men of the world, that this was the first step of the people of God
coming to terms with the approaching crisis by getting right with God.
Another thing which Dr. Hurcot pointed out in his lively little book
is that the reaction in Nineveh would have been very different if Hezekiah
had taken any natural precautions against the threat. Suppose he had issued
a general mobilisation command as the first step to resistance against Assyria
and suppose that the Assyrians had got wind of it. That was the kind of language
they understood and would promptly have risen to -- and that would have
been the end! Happily Hezekiah reacted in a spiritual way by first looking
up to God.
It is an awesome consideration for, as you know already in your own church
sphere, it is all too easy that the immediate response to a time of crisis
is to react in terms of that crisis; in other words, to try to meet the world
on its own terms. There is a shortage of money, so all we think about is
money. There is a problem of the impact of the Church on the world -- or
the lack of it -- so the first thing we begin to think about is the world,
whether we can talk its language or do something to attract its interest.
How wrong this is! Always the first thing to do is to be sure to be right
Is the Temple of the Lord open and its doors repaired? Are the sacrifices
being offered? Is the heart of the people full of worship and praise? Once
that is true, everybody knows it to be so marvellous because it is the gift
of God. "Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, because of that which the
Lord had done" (v.36). But the chapter is all about what they had
been doing! It was a time of planning and acting in relation to God's House.
Yet, so far as they were concerned, it was an occasion for great rejoicing
of what God had done, for it was God who had put it into their hearts
to seek Him first.
ii. By looking round in the Church.
Having looked up to God, this far-sighted king Hezekiah responded to
the crisis by looking round at the Church. That was how he faced the enormous
challenge of Assyria. Of the many stirring things in 2 Chronicles, one of
the most thrilling is found in 30:1: "Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah,
and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to
the house of the Lord at Jerusalem." So much of this book has been concerned
with a divided kingdom and by this time Samaria had been overthrown and the
people of the Northern Kingdom deported, leaving the whole area devastated,
with few folk left here and there. Hezekiah grasped the opportunity of the
crisis to say that now was the time for them all to reunite. He urged that
once more they should, as far as possible, be one whole people in the Lord.
What a thrill! He sent his couriers, not just half the way, but all the way
as far as Dan (v.5), "so the posts went with the letters from the king", though
[90/91] I am afraid that on the whole they received
a very dusty response. A few men humbled themselves and came but many scoffed.
But in any case Hezekiah had had the right vision. He did his best to look
at the whole Church and urge them to "keep the passover unto the Lord, the
God of Israel" (30:1).
The Passover was the central act of worship. God's people remembered
by means of it that they had been redeemed. I need hardly say what is its
parallel in our day or what the meaning of that parallel is, namely, the
cross of Christ. So Hezekiah's call speaks to us of a circumference to include
the whole people of God and the centre the great truth of the cross. The
king first made it his business to put God first and then to urge the people
to get together and come right back to the cross.
Their hearts were united to seek God in this way (v.19). Many of them
had not cleansed themselves and yet they ate with the rest. Tut! Tut! Was
this not completely out of order? Well, Hezekiah had prayed about this matter
and realised that although strictly speaking the "purification of the sanctuary"
was not being observed, the Lord was great enough to pardon this breach of
the letter of the law in the case of those who were whole-hearted in seeking
His face. The important thing was to have their hearts right, with God and
with one another.
They kept it in the second month (v.13). The correct time was, of course,
the first month, but provision had been made in the law for this change under
certain conditions (Numbers 9:9-11). Those conditions concerned those who
were defiled or who were a long way away. This was certainly true then: many
were defiled and they had gone very far away, but now they came together
at the cross. God's blessing was so evident that they decided to repeat their
worship for a further seven days and they did so with gladness (v.23). So
we have the picture of the whole Church getting together around the Lord,
praising Him for the greatness of His redeeming love. And all this in the
context of terrible crisis with the Assyrian battle machine only thirty miles
away! Reason would say, fancy wasting time like this, fussing with services
and hymn-singing! Why don't they do something? Surely what is needed
here is practical action not a holy huddle!
iii. By looking into the heart.
Hezekiah's further procedure is most interesting. For this we leave 31:1,
which is really the outworking and fulfilling of the previous chapter and
we start a new section with verse 2. There we find Hezekiah looking into
his own heart and into the heart of the people as the rest of the chapter
enlarges on their readiness to pay the price of devotion to God's House. The
king gave his own contribution (v.3) and commanded the people to give theirs
(v.4), as if saying: 'We want a ministry to the Lord again and we are fully
prepared to support it'. "The children of Israel gave in abundance ... of
all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in
There is a parallel to this in the New Testament in the story of Antioch
where the founding of a new church was immediately followed by the arrival
of prophets from Jerusalem to announce the fact that a famine was coming
there. It is not by chance that Acts 11:27 follows the previous verses: "Now
in those days there came down prophets ...". The sequence is not merely
historical but spiritual. The Christians at Antioch were confronted by the
challenge to express their faith in a practical way. Individual Gentiles
had already been won for Christ, but this was the first Gentile church. Some
might ask sincere questions as to whether there could be a church composed
entirely of those who had never been Israelites in any sense. The Lord Himself
applied a simple test, and every question was silenced. "The disciples, every
man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren
that dwelt in Judah" (Acts 11:29).
The Christians at Antioch rose to the challenge. So here in 2 Chronicles
31 we see the people of God rising to the challenge in the same practical
way. A time of crisis is a time in which to show that we mean business in
the things of God. This matter of finance is often God's chosen way of testing
His people's consecration to Him. They were prepared to provide for a full-time
ministry in His House, and to do it abundantly. This is a good Old Testament
principle and equally applicable in New Testament times. It is as though
Hezekiah was again harking back to the days of David. This same Temple was
founded on the fact that David would not accept the site as a gift, but said:
"I will not offer [91/92] burnt offerings unto the
Lord my God which cost me nothing ... I will verily buy it for the full price"
(1 Chronicles 21:24). We know that later on he provided for the work out
of his own private purse as well as calling the people to bring their gifts.
Triumph in the Crisis
This long description of the spiritual triumphs in the hearts of Hezekiah
and the people is summed up in the words: "Thus did Hezekiah ... he wrought
that which was good and faithful before the Lord his God ... he did it with
all his heart and prospered" (31:20-21) and then come the fatal words: "After
these things ... Sennacherib came ..." (32:1). Now Hezekiah was ready to
look out to the enemy. The time had come for the Assyrian king to invade Judah.
God had restrained him up to that time, for He knew that His people were
not ready. For fourteen years God had held the enemy off, so that His own
people could confidently face their fury. All that time the crisis was looming
up, but in His mercy God gave Hezekiah respite to ensure the spiritual readiness
of the people. When they were ready (in 701 B.C.) Sennacherib arrived and
what followed is recounted in this highly dramatic chapter. The siege was
on, and Sennacherib's messengers came and said all sorts of rude things, but
the rude things they said were all about God, this God whom the people had
learned to trust and worship.
Really that is the key to it all. How do you look out on the enemy? How
will you face hard times? The key lies not in our attitude to them but to
God. The Assyrians were so ignorant. They didn't know what they were talking
about. They accused Hezekiah of "taking away his high places and his altars"
and demanded to know how the Israelites thought that this God would defend
them. Behind those panic-stricken faces on the wall of Jerusalem there must
have been some healthy titters at this crass ignorance, for they had shared
the glories of the one altar in God's holy House.
One senses the pain in the voice of the chronicler as he reported the
blasphemies found in verses 16 to 19. They dared to speak with contempt of
the One who is Lord of all; they even compared Him with the other tinpot
little gods of other people. This must have put an entirely different complexion
on things when they found men talking in this way about their glorious God.
It nerved them against the foe. It put steel into their hearts and sinews
into their souls. So when Isaiah cried to heaven about this, the whole crisis
was ended by a divine intervention which brought shame to Sennacherib and
exaltation to Hezekiah.
Three Additional Comments
The chapter does not end with this triumph. It proceeds to point out
three features of this shepherd of God's people who found his resources
The first, which is given a whole chapter in Kings and also described
by Isaiah, is the matter of Hezekiah's personal problem. "He was sick even
unto death" (v.24). Every man has his own hidden crises. This was not a world
crisis but an occasion of intimate personal need. Happily he followed the
lesson he had already learned, turning again to the Lord in prayer and receiving
a sign from God as he practised fellowship with Isaiah.
The second matter is less happy. Hezekiah was not grateful but "his heart
was lifted up" (v.25). Probably the chronicler is referring to the matter
of the envoys from Babylon which is recorded in 2 Kings 20:12-17. Babylon
was a rising power and was doubtless seeking an alliance of smaller states
against Assyria. Hezekiah used his own ideas, without consulting the Lord
or His prophet Isaiah, welcoming these envoys and showing them his resources.
Once more Isaiah was at his elbow, rebuking him for this wrong action and
reminding him that in the matter of his sickness he had prayed and done what
was right but in the matter of these messengers from Babylon he had done
the wrong thing, and would suffer for it.
The third point closes the story on a happier note: "This same Hezekiah
also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them straight
down the west side of the city of David" (v.30). To me this gives point to
one of the most potent Scriptural images I know. It refers to the tunnel
of Hezekiah by which Hezekiah ensured that, even in a time of siege, there
would be a sure source of water conducted through the tunnel to the pool of
Siloam. It was a masterly piece of engineering but it was more than that,
for it has a deep spiritual connotation. [92/93]
I imagine that Hezekiah recalled what Isaiah had said about this matter
in the previous reign, in those sad days when his father, Ahaz, was finding
his resources in the wrong place. In those days the king of Judah was trying
to get an alliance with the Assyrians against his nearer enemies, Israel
and Syria, and Isaiah rebuked him for refusing the waters of Shiloah that
go softly (Isaiah 8:6). There was a quiet little stream which could be run
right into the heart of Jerusalem. I like to think that Hezekiah heeded this
divine message and concentrated on making the tunnel which would carry water
into Siloam while he had the respite which God provided. Of course it ran
softly. There was nothing spectacular about these waters, and did not appear
to be very much of them, but the great thing was that they would never fail.
Hezekiah heeded the Word of the Lord through Isaiah. He did not look
to the world's resources but faced the greatest challenge of this time of
crisis by maintaining the divine contact. God's supplies are the waters
of Shiloah that run softly. They do not commend themselves to those who
can only be satisfied with the spectacular, but they quietly go on running
and never fail. Let this be the last word about this great king of Judah.
"This same Hezekiah" prospered because he kept humble and vital contact with
the living God.
(To be concluded)
FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS (4)
John H. Paterson
The Use and Misuse of History
THE Children of Israel spent many wasted years in the wilderness. But
we have seen in these studies that, although they were far away from the
centre of God's will, they still had a place in His purpose. Throughout their
wanderings He was teaching them some important lessons. One of these, as
we saw last time, was the importance of a life together and the mortal dangers
of isolation. Another was the lesson of courage and the third, the one about
which He seemed most insistent, was the lesson of holiness.
All these were what we might call positive lessons; they represented
things to do, or character to develop. But running alongside these we find
another note in God's word to His people, a note no less insistent but different
in nature. This was His persistent emphasis on memory -- on remembering
the past. Indeed, if we take account of the balance of scripture, then
one entire book -- Deuteronomy -- is nothing but a history lesson; it is
a book in which very little that was fresh happened, but eleven times over
Moses told Israel to remember events in the past about which he was telling
Long after Moses' time, Mr. Henry Ford expressed the opinion that 'history
is bunk', and our own memories of schooldays, while not necessarily confirming
us in the same opinion, at least may well have left us doubting that history
is actually any use to anybody. Yet here is God insisting on the importance
of knowing what happened in the past: of holding on even to our memories!
Evidently, then, history does have its uses.
Indeed it does, though some of them are better termed mis-uses. As a
matter of fact, the Children of Israel had long, but selective, memories.
"We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers,
and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic" (Numbers
11:5). It sounds like a modern-day tourist just back from his first visit
to the Costa Brava! Not a word about their memories of slavery, beatings,
injustice, bricks without straw. And of course this kind of memory simply
unsettled them; it made them discontented with mere manna (11:6), and it
made God very angry with them (11:33).
It is, in other words, what you use your history for that counts. Clearly,
God was not calling on His people -- and does not now do so -- to remember
the past in order to make them discontented with the present. Any average
citizen of over 40 will tell you that things are not what they used to be,
and that the country is going to the dogs! [93/94]
And saying so really helps nobody; on the contrary, it has a stultifying
effect. There is in the spiritual sphere a way of remembering the past which
says, in effect, that God is not what He used to be; that His great
days lie in the past and that, in the present, He is a sore disappointment
to us. Why was there sweeping revival ten, or twenty, or a hundred years
ago, but there is no revival here, now? Why, to recall times of blessing,
must we delve back in our memories to some golden past? Assuredly, things
are not what they used to be!
No: far from serving any useful purpose, memories that merely make us
regret that the past is gone do us a disservice. Whether our regrets, as
believers, are for great time that we once knew ('Wasn't it wonderful when
Billy Graham first came ...?') or for mistakes and failures in our own history
('If only I had listened to the Lord and not taken that step ...') -- whether,
in other words, they are good memories or bad memories -- they only distract
us from today's decisions and today's battles. God Himself, after all, has
a selective memory! Remember the terms of that New Covenant which superseded
the Old, with its endless sacrifices in endless recognition of past sins
and failure: remember the wonderful, liberating words, "Their sins and their
iniquities will I remember no more".
Not all history, then, is useful history. What God wanted His people
to remember was not so much what they had done as what He had done
to them or for them. So far as they were concerned, History centred upon
Him: "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee
these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble thee, to prove
thee, to know what was in thine heart" (Deuteronomy 8:2). For all His dealings
with them had been constructive. He had been making something of them. What
history, after all, does a race of slaves possess? Without Him, they had
no history -- nothing to record, and nothing to remember, except what
they had had for supper, and that is exactly what, as we know, they remembered
So the focus of interest was indeed the way in which the Lord had led
them. For this was an unfinished history: it was a history still in the making,
because He was still leading them. And of this kind of history they could
make use; they could actually benefit from it -- "Thou shalt remember the
Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy
The Usefulness of History
Let us now try to apply these lessons of history to our own lives as
believers. How are we supposed to make use of our memory, our knowledge,
of what God has done in our lives? The scriptures make it clear that the
dynamic of the Christian life is supplied by two things, knowledge and faith.
The two are very closely linked -- just how closely we shall see in a moment.
The relationship of the two is this: that faith is based on knowledge
(I think that we can substitute the word experience without altering
any part of the argument if we wish), and grows out of it. In practice, therefore,
the more knowledge or experience I possess, the more ground I have on which
faith can build. But I need this ground of knowledge because, if
there is none, then faith is unsupported, and quickly becomes unstable or
We make progress in the spiritual walk by capitalising upon past experiences
of what the Lord has done -- by saying, in effect, 'On the basis of what
I know, or have experienced, I have faith in Him for this next step'. We all
know that, at least as a general principle. But what I want to stress is
the close connection between the two things, and the impossibility of faith
advancing without the solid backing of knowledge.
Let us take a simple illustration. Let us imagine two experienced mountaineers
who have decided to tackle a difficult climb. As a precaution against falling,
they rope themselves together, and they then set off. One of them goes in
front; the other follows a rope's length behind. Each is secured by the other,
but at no time can they be further than a rope's length apart. If the leading
climber decided that his companion lower down is too slow for him, he may
decide to cast off the rope and 'go it alone', but that is the most perilous
folly, for now he has no safeguard against falling, and the anchor effect
of his companion on the rope is lost. Their safety together depends on the
leader leading, and finding the way, but without ever advancing more than
a rope's length beyond his companion. [94/95]
The illustration is probably a familiar one. The leading climber on the
Christian path is Faith. Faith must always be out in front of Knowledge or
Experience, otherwise faith is not faith; no new experience will ever be
gained, and so no progress will be made. Faith is always ahead of knowledge,
but not too far ahead. If faith rushes on in advance, it soon becomes
top-heavy. If, on the other hand, knowledge sits down at the bottom of the
rock face and declines to make any effort, then faith is forever limited on
the lower reaches. The usefulness of history is that, as it accumulates in
our memories, it forms the basis for faith's progress.
The Limits of Faith
There are, I think, two lessons here -- one about faith and one about
knowledge. The lesson about faith is that it is limited by knowledge and
that this is perfectly proper and understandable. Supposing that a fellow-Christian
comes to me and tells me that, if only I will believe, I shall see God save
all the quarter-million people who live in my city. Supposing that he quotes
to me those familiar words, "According to your faith be it unto you", and
implies that only my lack of faith stands in the way of sweeping revival.
What am I to reply? Surely this: that never in my experience -- or anybody
else's, for that matter -- has a whole city been converted by the preaching
of the gospel (though I might allow an exception for Nineveh!) While God undoubtedly
could cause a quarter of a million people to turn to Him, nothing
in my own experience or the history of my dealings with Him provides a basis
in knowledge for that kind of leap of faith.
But let me start at the other end: God saved me, and therefore He can
save any other individual. Therefore I can pray in faith for the salvation
of one other soul -- maybe even two! If God answers those prayers, my faith
is equipped with a basis in experience to move ahead again -- to another two,
or even four! But faith and experience are never more than a rope's length
apart and faith, if it is to be real faith, must bear that close relationship
to knowledge at all times.
No-one understood this better than that great man of prayer and faith,
James Fraser of Lisuland, whose biography by Mrs. Howard Taylor appeared
under the title Behind The Ranges. Here is Fraser writing to his prayer
supporters on exactly this topic:
'It is possible "to bite off", even in prayer, more than we can chew.
... Faith is like muscle which grows stronger and stronger with use, rather
than indiarubber which can be stretched to almost any desired length. Over-strained
faith is not pure faith; there is a mixture of the carnal element in it.
'In my own case, I have definitely asked the Lord for several hundred families
of Lisu believers. There are upwards of two thousand Lisu families in the
district altogether. It might be said, "Why do you not ask for a thousand?"
I answer quite frankly, because I have not faith for a thousand. I have faith
... for more than one hundred families, but not for a thousand. So I accept
the limits the Lord has, I believe, given me. Perhaps God will give me a
thousand ... We must not overload faith: we must be sane and practical.'
That the limits of our faith are so low, so confining, is indeed something
to grieve over. But that there are such limits is not a matter so much for
grief as for sensible acceptance. And if we want those limits raised then
perhaps we should pray, not so much as the disciples did, "Lord, increase
our faith" as 'Lord, increase our experience', for only so is increased faith
The Value of Remembering
The lesson about knowledge follows from this. If knowledge plays this
vital part in making possible the increase of faith, then history to the
believer is not simply a disconnected series of happenings, much less is
it 'bunk', but it is all building material, and none of it is to be wasted.
When God told Israel, over and over again, to remember their past, His purpose
was not sentimental but practical; He wanted to build their confidence in
Him -- their faith -- up to the point necessary for the supreme test of faith
-- the entry into the land, the land which years before they had been too
scared to enter.
It was said of certain kings of France that they had forgotten nothing
and learned nothing. This is probably true, alas, of many companies of God's
people. They have minute books full of the records of church meetings, and
they can tell you down to the last hymn or cup of tea 'how we've always done
it', but they are getting no value from their history. They are not
asking [95/96] themselves, 'What is the lesson to
be learned? What does all this show us of the goings of God?' And so, to
return to our mountain climbers, Knowledge is sitting at the bottom of the
rock face admiring the scenery while Faith, having climbed as far as he can,
is feebly tugging on the rope, trying to make Knowledge get a move on!
For the believer, the past is not for regretting, but for putting to
use. It is not a pile of rubble but a stack of building bricks, and the
higher it rises the further faith can leap. Let us waste none of it!
NOTES ON 2 CORINTHIANS
12. A FATHER'S LOVE
WE concluded our last section with Paul's ironic request for forgiveness
for the "wrong" of not accepting financial support from the Corinthians.
He now announces that he expects to pay them a third visit but does not intend
to act differently in the matter: "I will not be a burden to you" (v.14).
He still hopes that they will give generously to the poor in Jerusalem (chapters
8 and 9), but his father-love prevents him from receiving assistance from
them for his personal needs. It was not their possessions which he sought
but the people themselves.
He certainly had the right to be financially helped by them, but he would
not exercise that right for, if he did so, he would not 'possess' them as
a father does his children. By this he does not mean that he wanted to possess
them for himself, but only "in Christ", and he maintained that this
could only happen when they turned away from all that the false apostles
had brainwashed them with and returned to receive without reserve the teachings
he had brought to them in the Lord's name.
He was their father in the gospel and he acted as a father naturally
would, "laying up" for the good of his children but not expecting that those
children would "lay up" for him. And as a good father does not shrink from
any sacrifice which would profit his children, so Paul would gladly bring
sacrifices -- indeed be himself a sacrifice -- for their souls. Love cannot
go further. It went all the way to Calvary, and it was the same Calvary
love which filled the heart of the apostle. Should he then be loved the
less? (v.15). The answer is self-evident in theory but often not true in
practice. The highest love is more often overlooked or even despised. At
any rate in his case they had misinterpreted his love as craftiness. They
openly accused him of appearing as one who was free from money in order
more easily to appropriate the money which had been collected for Jerusalem
at his instigation. The accusation also included his co-workers, who were
judged to be conspirators in the plot.
As I mentioned before, a church can excel in the grotesque, even while
it persuades itself that it only wants the truth and is acting in love.
To know Paul and yet to accuse him of embezzlement and fraud, proves that
the Corinthians were taking a completely opposite course from that which
they had followed under his ministry. They had fallen into a state which
was unworthy and absurd.
He rejected their accusations (vv.17-18). He did not begin to supply
a proof of his innocence or that of his colleagues, but just asked them
to think over what they already knew of himself and Titus. Not that he would
defend himself (v.19). If they insisted that he was a deceiver, then the
relationship between them and him would be spoilt and the false prophets
would have accomplished their ruin as a church. His concern, however, was
that they should not be ruined but edified, and in this connection he addressed
them still as 'beloved'. He must have been tempted to bitterness; it must
have hurt him exceedingly that, instead of defending him, they had listened
[96/97] to the accusations and even accepted them.
But a father's love for his children cannot ever be shaken, even though they
caused him great pain, so his love for the Corinthians had neither cooled
nor weakened. What he said now was in the sight of God in Christ, and was
wholly for their good.
Some of his words had been very sharp indeed, and some had contained
an element of foolishness and madness, but it was all to the same purpose
of edifying them, which in this case meant saving them from destructive
criticism. If they were guided by him, it would have a profitable effect
but if not, the process of disintegration which had begun among them would
continue and destroy the church. He feared (and wrote to avoid it happening)
that he would be humbled to come among them and find that process going
on (vv.20-21). If the influence of the false apostles were continued, it
would result in a church characterised by strife (mutual strife and strife
against Paul), jealousy (in a context of claims to spiritual superiority),
wraths and factions (the very opposite of love), backbitings and whisperings
(puffed-up opinions on spiritual questions) and tumults (the reverse of spiritual
PAUL was afraid that God would humble him before them -- as on his first
visit. The influence of the false apostles would, he feared, cause them to
return to their old sexual sins, for the mechanism of righteousness by the
law which was now being taught, awakes and produces the very practice of
the sins which it disallows. If it did happen, it would be God who humbled
him. It would be the permissive will of God which allowed a further slap in
the face by Satan's messenger to keep him lowly in heart.
This brings us back to the matter of apostolic weakness, recognising
the principle that the apostle has to be a representative of the Crucified
One, even to the point of personal humiliation and weakness. If it happened,
he would accept it as God's deliberate allowing of His servant to seem unsuccessful
and judged a failure in the eyes of men.
Perhaps there is even more significance in his words. He says that God
would humble him. What could be more humiliating to Paul than that the behaviour
of the Corinthians should seem to give ground for his accuser's claim that
he taught that men can sin in order that grace might the more abound? There
in Corinth Paul had purposed not to know anything but Jesus Christ and Him
crucified; in other words, he had preached the gospel of grace without restriction
as he had in Galatia. If the Corinthians changed the gospel of grace into
the teaching that "all things are lawful to me" (1 Corinthians 6:12), and
if now they continued sinning without repenting of their laxity and immorality,
it would seem to prove his opponents right!
That was what he feared but, even if it should be so, he would humble
himself under the mighty hand of God, for it would be God who permitted the
humbling; but even so, this did not mean that he would be passive towards
them and just let things take their course. Far from it!
(To be concluded)
A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD
"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
and what doth the Lord require of thee ...
to walk humbly with thy God." Micah 6:8
4. JACOB. Walking with a Limp
"SO Jacob called the place Peniel ... and he was limping because of his
hip" (Genesis 32:30-31). Jacob can hardly be said to have been walking with
God before he was crippled. He never did claim to have done so, but modestly
told Joseph that the God before whom his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, had
walked was the One who had always been his Shepherd (48:15).
[97/98] Nevertheless Peniel marked a great crisis for him and when
later he limped into the presence of Pharaoh he did so with great spiritual
authority: "Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh;
and Jacob blessed Pharaoh" and yet again: "Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went
out from the presence of Pharaoh" (Genesis 47:7 and 10).
The scene was a remarkable one. To any onlooker it must have seemed incredible
that a crippled old farmer should be in a position to confer a blessing on
the greatest monarch of his day. But the wonder was made even greater by
the personal factor, for Jacob is often depicted as a doubtful or even despicable
character. That he, of all people, should have become a man with a ministry
of blessing, both willing and able to convey to others a divine benefit
in the name of his Lord, is an indication of the great crisis of Peniel
and its outcome. It marked him for ever as a man with a limp, but it was
a new milestone on his experience of a closer walk with God.
The double mention of his blessing Pharaoh was no isolated act. Seventeen
years later he was able to bless the two sons of Joseph (48:20), and the
story makes it clear that his pronouncements over the two lads were not merely
human expressions of goodwill, but words uttered under divine inspiration
and even contrary to Joseph's natural ideas. Subsequently Jacob pronounced
individual blessings on the twelve sons who would form the tribes of Israel
(49:1-28). We can understand the great Moses being competent to bless the
twelve tribes, for we would expect him to be such a man of God that he would
have power to do so, but we find it indeed remarkable that a man like Jacob
should have such an exalted ministry.
THE man who walks with God is a blessing to others. This, in a sense,
is the criterion for spiritual life, and by this will the earthly history
of each one of us be judged. Was that man an instrument for bringing God's
blessing into the lives of others? Was that woman one who had a ministry
of blessing? This is the ultimate question. It may take years of God's instruction
and discipline to make this possible in our case, as it did in the case of
Jacob, but the verdict on our lives will be as to whether God was able to
communicate His blessing through us to others. By this standard we can certainly
say that this man who walked with a limp had a fulfilled life. In his case,
God's patience over many years had prevailed. This was a point of real attainment
-- "Jacob blessed Pharaoh". Not until seventeen years later did Jacob, in
his final act of worship, reach the great climax of his faith as he worshipped
God "leaning upon the top of his staff" (Hebrews 11:21), but the fact that
he did so attain is a marvellous tribute to the power of the grace of God.
That it was grace is shown by the fact that the patriarch regarded himself
as having no importance: he did not feel the dignity and authority
which he displayed but was painfully aware of his own shortcomings. "Few
and evil have been the days of the years of my life", he confessed to Pharaoh,
"and they have not attained ..." (47:9). In his body he was a cripple; in
his self-judgment he felt acutely insufficient and unworthy to be compared
with others who had walked with God, yet this was the one man who could stand
before Pharaoh and, in spite of his weakness, confer a benefit on the great
Ruler. When Jacob had thought himself clever and successful, he had no blessing
to give; it was now that he was so painfully aware of his own inadequacy
that his real spiritual ministry was made possible. It is always like that.
God constantly has to work with us to cripple our natural strength, and He
does so with the one purpose in view of dealing with us so that out of our
nothingness may come a flow of His blessing to others.
An outstanding feature of this new phase of Jacob's career was that he
was no longer a man grasping at possessions, but one who took pleasure in
the grace of giving. All his life had been occupied with the matter of divine
blessing. He had always realised that this is the most important factor in
life, as indeed it is. But in those earlier years he had been intent on
getting rather than giving the blessing. The blessing seemed so important
to him that he felt that he had to grasp at it with all his might, indifferent
to the effect of his action on others and only intent on getting and holding
all he could.
A BIG change took place. Sometimes you may read of the change of name
from Jacob to Israel and wonder if anything had really changed in the man
except the name. It had, though the out-working of the change seems sadly
slow. It [98/99] was as Jacob that he blessed Pharaoh
but it was as Israel that he decided to join his son Joseph (45:28) and it
was as Israel that he took the journey (46:1). Consider how the old Jacob
would have entered Egypt. Think of how he would have planned to exploit this
unexpected prominence of his son. Self-interest would have led him to seek
every advantage and look for every opportunity to make selfish use of the
great influence which Joseph now had in Egypt. The extent of the transformation
in Jacob can be measured by the fact that he seems to have had no such desires,
but only to have been intent on giving. He asked Pharaoh for nothing: he gave
him the best that he had, a blessing from God.
In this he anticipated the words of the Lord Jesus Himself who said:
"It is more blessed to give than to receive". (Acts 20:35). We do not know
when He actually uttered the words. It does not matter. The great thing
is that He lived them out every day of His earthly life. All too sadly,
many of us have to confess that while we accept the idea, we often fail
to put it into practice. We are reminded of Peter's words to the lame man:
"That which I have, I give thee" (Acts 3:6). We would expect that from Spirit-filled
apostles of Christ. The miracle here is that Jacob himself was becoming a
Christlike man, for surely that is what is implicit in the new name, Israel.
As we have said, Jacob felt himself to be a weak and unworthy man. In
this lay the secret of his power with God and men. If we ask how it was that
he first began to feel weak in this way, the answer is that it began when
his natural strength was broken under the hand of God as he struggled all
night at Jabbok (32:25). Before that occasion he had passed through twenty
years of trial and discipline. In his relative, Laban, he encountered a
man who was hard enough and sufficiently like himself to cause him endless
distress. Those were twenty years of hardship, yet there is no indication
that the suffering had made any change in Jacob. It is quite a mistaken idea
to imagine that suffering, in itself, has any power to mature us spiritually.
No, even after those twenty years, Jacob was still Jacob, as he had to confess
to the angel who wrestled with him. Whether or not he had been prepared for
this encounter with God by the things he had passed through is not stated.
Perhaps he had. What he needed at that stage, however, was not suffering but
a personal meeting with God from which he would emerge a truly broken man.
That is what happened at Jabbok. When he had made all his plans and put them
into execution, and lingered in his loneliness, God met him and wrestled
with him. I know little about wrestling but gather that the purpose is that
one man should yield to his opponent. That Jacob would never do, even if
the opponent were an angel from heaven. He had to be lamed in order to bring
it about. He became a weakened man who was no longer scheming or fighting
for the blessing but clinging to the Lord for it. When it came, the blessing
was greater than he could ever have imagined, it was bound up with a new
AT times one has imagined that the complete transformation took place
in a moment, as if from that encounter the old Jacob ceased and an entirely
new man called Israel took his place. As the narrative proceeds, it is made
clear that this was not the case. Not only can one detect traces of the old
nature still in operation but it is evident that the writer wished to record
the fact that this had not happened for, under the Spirit's inspiration, he
constantly changes from the name Jacob to Israel, and then back to Jacob again.
No, there had not been an instantaneous change at Jabbok, though what happened
proved to be radical in its outworking. The experience marked a new beginning
for Jacob. In a sense, this was when he began to walk with God. Peniel marked
the dawning of a new day for this man who was now committed to God so that
the work of transformation could proceed.
For this reason he still had to suffer. After his new position of yieldedness
one might imagine that his sufferings would be over. Here again, we find
that God's ways with His servants are not what we think they should be. For
the next period of more than twenty years, Jacob passed through a succession
of much deeper trials until at last he exclaimed, almost in despair: "All
these things are against me" (42:36). They were not, of course. Even as he
spoke in this way Joseph was ruling in Egypt and planning to provide comfort
and a home for his old father. This was hidden from Jacob's eyes. The future
usually is hidden from us. All we know is what Jacob felt, that one trial
succeeds another, making life more difficult, since we capitulated to the
absolute [99/100] mastery of the Lord, than ever it
was before we had so yielded.
After Jabbok Jacob had to suffer from the bad behaviour of his sons (34),
from the sad loss of Rachel, a loss which left a scar to the very end of
his life (48) and from the disgraceful conduct of Reuben (35). Finally came
the worst blow of all when he heard of the apparent death of Joseph and believed
it. All this may seem to us hard and unnecessary for a man now called Israel
yet, in reading the story, one has a sense of a new mildness and submissiveness
in the patriarch's spirit. The old Jacob would surely have reacted in a much
more violent way to those sons of his! Perhaps the transformation was going
on all the time, and most of all when he was least conscious of it.
What had happened at Jabbok needed to become a more inward experience,
a brokenness which is the real secret of spiritual transformation. So it
is with us all. We are not made 'Israels' in a moment, however sacred and
significant that moment of encounter with the Lord may be. That is only the
beginning. From then onwards we must be led through circumstances of testing
and disappointment in order that in the end we may emerge as those whose
whole life is a benediction, a means of blessing to others.
JACOB'S last movement was made in humility as well as joy, and the Lord
was with him. When he agreed to go down into Egypt to be with Joseph he made
a significant pause before actually leaving the land of promise. He got
as far as Beer-sheba and there he called a halt. It is clear from God's words
to him that he was halted by very real fears. He may well have wondered whether
it was right to go down into Egypt under any circumstances. Abraham had
been a greater and a better man than he, and yet it had been manifestly wrong
for him to go there. What should he do? Joseph was there, and he longed to
see his favourite son. Transport had been provided, and it seemed so right
and reasonable to proceed. Moreover there was famine in Canaan. But it was
famine which had governed Abraham's decision, so this may have made Jacob
hesitate. It could be that, after he had impulsively set off, taking it for
granted that God would be with him in his going, [as] we often do, that he
felt impelled to reconsider the matter. It is dangerous to take the presence
and blessing of God for granted. Was it because he realised this that Jacob
made the whole party pause for a while at Beer-sheba while he had new dealings
with God over the enterprise?
So he set up an altar. We do not know what he offered, but we know from
the rest of Scripture that the pattern of such an offering was that it should
be a "whole burnt offering". He had to put all on the altar, and show
in this symbolic way, that everything belonged to God, and was so held in
trust for Him. Jacob wanted to go into Egypt. In fact it was the only thing
on earth now that he did want. But he needed to test his wishes against the
will of God, so on that altar he handed back to God his own ideas and his
own desires, and waited to see what the Lord's response would be.
It does not seem that he had to wait long. Was it on the following night
that God spoke to him? Or did he have to wait for some days after making
his offering? We are not told. But we are told that in the night when God
spoke to him, He called him by his old name, and even repeated it for emphasis:
"Jacob, Jacob ... fear not to go down into Egypt ..." (46:2-3). "You are
such a lame man now that you have to be carried in a wagon, but I will go
down with you and we will walk together until I myself bring you back again
into the company of your fathers" (See 49:29).
To walk with God means to learn to wait for Him. And this is what this
majestic cripple did. It was as Israel that he took his journey (46:1) and
it was as Israel that God spoke to him, and yet He still called him Jacob
(46:2). So it was that he stood in the presence of Pharaoh and conveyed
God's blessing on the king. He was a weak man. He was a broken man. He was
a deeply dependent man. But God had sent him, and God was with him. He may
have limped but he had learned to walk humbly with his God.
(To be continued) [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
SPIRITUAL PARENTHESES (38)
"(but thou art rich)" Revelation 2:9
THIS is one of the briefest of all the parenthetical phrases and is one
of the most thrilling. For a harassed, deprived and insignificant group like
the church in Smyrna, it must have been overwhelmingly wonderful to know
that Christ considered them the richest of all the Asian assemblies.
THE Laodiceans mistakenly imagined themselves affluent to a degree: "Thou
sayest I am rich ... and have need of nothing" remarked the Risen Lord, and
then added, almost pityingly, "You don't know how destitute and beggarly
you really are." This very contrast highlights the difference between what
God values and what is prized by the world. The sickeningly wealthy Laodiceans
were roundly condemned by the Lord of glory, whereas the despised, down-trodden
saints of Smyrna were highly approved by Him. And He has the eyes like a
flame of fire and can assay true values.
WE do well to ask ourselves what constituted this parenthetical verdict
concerning true wealth. Do we consider ourselves rich when all the time we
are miserably poor, or do we perhaps know ourselves to be very poor and yet
reckoned by Christ to be among heaven's millionaires? How can we know?
THE believers in Smyrna were obviously suffering for Christ's sake. It
may well be that they had rejected opportunities for personal enrichment,
and chosen rather to be poor in their faithfulness to Him. They were rich,
then, because they had treasure in heaven. Here on earth the Lord Jesus
had exhorted His disciples to lay up treasure in heaven; now from heaven
He confirmed that the crown of life was awaiting those who heeded His exhortation.
THE whole letter carries with it the atmosphere of resurrection realities.
The Author is the One who was dead but now lives again. The overcoming readers
are promised "the crown of life" and immunity from the second death, which
means a part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6). This, then, is
the supreme feature of spiritual wealth -- it is vital and eternal.
THE parenthesis is, however, phrased in the present tense. Clearly they
not only could expect treasure in heaven but were rich there and then. In
contrast to their own conscious trial and need, Christ tells them that in
fact they are truly rich. Rich because He was watching over their experiences,
numbering the days of their trials and planning a glorious termination to
their earthly lives. How much richer can any of us be? To have Him so near
and so sympathetic in this life and then to have a share in His eternal kingdom
in the next. This is to be rich indeed.
SO let not them -- nor us -- listen to the voice of circumstances or
enemies; let us not pay too much attention to our own emotions; but rather
let us have ears to hear what the Saviour is saying to us. He counters it
all with His divine "But". Happy indeed can we be if we hear Him say to us:
"But thou art rich!" "Son, thou art ever with me; and all that
I have is thine."
THIS BOOK OF THE LAW SHALL NOT DEPART OUT OF THY MOUTH,
BUT THOU SHALT MEDITATE THEREIN DAY AND NIGHT, THAT
THOU MAYEST OBSERVE TO DO ALL THAT IS WRITTEN THEREIN:
FOR THEN THOU SHALT MAKE THY WAY PROSPEROUS,
AND THEN THOU SHALT HAVE GOOD SUCCESS.
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