The Broken Fence


 

Sermon 3381 – The Broken Fence

By C.H. Spurgeon


      A sermon

      (No. 3381)

      published on Thursday, November 20th 1913.

      Delivered by C. H. Spurgeon

      at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

      “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and to, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down, Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it and received instruction.”–Proverbs 24:30-32.

      This slothful man did no hurt to his fellow-men: he was not a thief, nor a ruffian, nor a meddler in anybody else’s business. He did not trouble himself about other men’s concerns for he did not even attend to his own–it required too much exertion. He was not grossly vicious; he had not energy enough to care for that. He was one who liked to take things easily. He always let well alone, and for the matter of that, he let ill alone too, as the nettles and the thistles in his garden plainly proved. What was the use of disturbing himself? It would be all the same a hundred years hence, and so he took things just as they came. He was not a bad man, so some said of him; and yet perhaps it will be found at last that there is no worse man in the world than the man who is not good, for in some respects he is not good enough to be bad; he has not enough force of character about him to serve either God or Baal. He simply serves himself, worshipping his own ease and adoring his own comfort. Yet he always meant to be right. He was not going to sleep much longer; he would only have forty winks more and then he would be at his work and show you what he could do. One of these days he meant to be thoroughly in earnest, and make up for lost time. The time never actually came for him to begin, but it was always coming. He always meant to repent, but he went on in his sin. He meant to believe, but he died an unbeliever. He meant to be a Christian, but he lived without Christ. He halted between two opinions because he could not trouble himself to make up his mind; and so he perished of delay.

      This picture of the slothful man and his garden and field overgrown with nettles and weeds represents many a man who has professed to be a Christian, but who has become slothful in the things of God. Spiritual life has withered in him. He has backslidden; he has come down from the condition of healthy spiritual energy into one of listlessness and indifference to the things of God; and while things have gone wrong within his heart and all sorts of mischiefs have come into him and grown up and seeded themselves in him, mischief is also taking place externally in his daily conduct. The stone wall which guarded his character is broken down, and he lies open to all evil. Upon this point we will now meditate. “The stone wall thereof was broken down.”

      Come then, let us take a walk with Solomon and stand with him and consider and learn instruction while we look at this broken-down fence. When we have examined it, let us consider the consequences of broken-down walls; and then in the last place, let us try to rouse up this sluggard that his wall may yet be repaired. If this slothful person should be one of ourselves, may God’s infinite mercy rouse us up before this ruined wall has let in a herd of prowling vices.

      I. First, let us take a look at this broken fence. You will see that in the beginning it was a very good fence, for it was a stone wall. Fields are often surrounded with wooden palings which soon decay, or with hedges which may very easily have gaps made in them; but this was a stone wall. Such walls are very usual in the East, and are also common in some of our own counties where stone is plentiful. It was a substantial protection to begin with, and well shut in the pretty little estate which had fallen into such bad hands. The man had a field for agricultural purposes and another strip of land for a vineyard or a garden. It was fertile soil, for it produced thorns and nettles in abundance, and where these flourish better things can be produced; yet the idler took no care of his property, but allowed the wall to get into bad repair and in many places to be quite broken down.

 Let me mention some of the stone walls that men permit to be broken down when they backslide. In many cases sound principles were instilled in youth, but these are forgotten. What a blessing is Christian education! Our parents, both by persuasion and example, taught many of us the things that are pure and honest and of good repute. We saw in their lives how to live. They also opened the Word of God before us, and they taught us the ways of right both toward God and toward men. They prayed for us and they prayed with us till the things of God were placed round about us and shut us in as with a stone wall. We have never been able to get rid of our early impressions. Even in times of wandering, before we knew the Lord savingly, these things had a healthy power over us; we were checked when we would have done evil, we were assisted when we were struggling towards Christ. It is very sad when people permit these first principles to be shaken and to be removed like stones which fall from a boundary wall. Young persons begin at first to talk lightly of the old-fashioned ways of their parents. By-and-by it is not merely the old-fashionedness of the ways, but the ways themselves that they despise. They seek other company, and from that other company they learn nothing but evil. They seek pleasure in places which it horrifies their parents to consider. This leads to worse, and if theft do not bring their fathers’ grey hairs with sorrow to the grave, it is no virtue of theirs. I have known young men who really were Christians sadly backslide through being induced to modify, conceal, or alter those holy principles in which they were trained from their mother’s knee. It is a great calamity when professedly converted men become unfixed, unstable, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. It shows great faultiness of mind and unsoundness of heart when we can trifle with those grave and solemn truths which have been sanctified by a mother’s tears, and by a father’s earnest life. “I am thy servant,” said David, “and the son of thy handmaid”: he felt it to be a high honor, and at the same time a sacred bond which bound him to God, that he was the son of one who could be called God’s handmaid. Take care you who have had Christian training, that you do not trifle with it. “My son, keep thy father’s commandment and forsake not the law of thy mother: bind them continually upon thine heart and tie them about thy neck.”

      Protection to character is also found in the fact that solid doctrines have been learned. This is a fine stone wall. Many among us have been taught the gospel of the grace of God and have learned it well, so that they are able to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Happy are they who have a religion that is grounded upon a clear knowledge of eternal verities. A religion which is all excitement and has little instruction in it may serve for transient use, but for permanent life-purposes there must be a knowledge of those great doctrines which are fundamental to the gospel system. I tremble when I hear of a man’s giving up, one by one, the vital principles of the gospel and boasting of his liberality. I hear him say, “These are my views, but others have a right to their views also.” That is a very proper expression in reference to mere “views,” but we may not thus speak of truth itself as revealed by God; that is one and unalterable, and all are bound to receive it. It is not your view of truth, for that is a dim thing; but the very truth itself which will save you if your faith embraces it. I will readily yield my way of stating a doctrine, but not the doctrine itself. One man may put it in this way, and one in another; but the truth itself must never be given up. The spirit of the Broad School robs us of everything like certainty. I should like to ask some great men of that order whether they believe that anything is taught in the Scriptures which it would be worth while for a person to die for, and whether the martyrs were not great fools for laying down their lives for mere opinions which might be right or might be wrong. This broad-churchism is a breaking down of stone walls, and it will let in the devil and all his crew, and do infinite harm to the church of God if it be not stopped. A loose state of belief does great damage to any man’s mind.

      We are not bigots, but we should be none the worse if we so lived that men called us so. I met a man the other day who was accused of bigotry, and I said, “Give me your hand, old fellow. I like to meet with bigots now and then for the fine old creatures are getting scarce, and the stuff they are made of is so good that if there were more of it, we might see a few men among us again and fewer mollusks.” Lately we have seen few men with backbone; the most have been of the jelly-fish order. I have lived in times in which I should have said, “Be liberal, and shake off all narrowness”; but now I am obliged to alter my tone and cry “Be steadfast in the truth.” The faith once delivered to the saints is now all the more attractive to me because it is called narrow, for I am weary of that breadth which comes of broken hedges. There are fixed points of truth and definite certainties of creed, and woe to you if you allow these stone walls to crumble down. I fear me that the slothful are a numerous band, and that ages to come may have to deplore the laxity which has been applauded by this negligent generation.

      Another fence which is too often neglected is that of godly habits which had been formed; the sluggard allows this wall to be broken down. I will mention some valuable guards of life and character. One is the habit of secret prayer. Private prayer should be regularly offered, at least in the morning and in the evening. We cannot do without set seasons for drawing near to God. To look into the face of man without having first seen the face of God is very dangerous: to go out into the world without locking up the heart and giving God the key is to leave it open to all sorts of spiritual vagrants. At night, again, to go to your rest as the swine roll into their sty without thanking God for the mercies of the day is shameful. The evening sacrifice should be devoutly offered as surely as we have enjoyed the evening fireside: we should thus put ourselves under the wings of the Preserver of men. It may be said, “We can pray at all times.” I know we can; but I fear that those who do not pray at stated hours seldom pray at all. Those who pray in season are the most likely persons to pray at all seasons. Spiritual life does not care for a cast-iron regulation, but since life casts itself into some mold or other, I would have you careful of its external habit as well as its internal power. Never allow great gaps in the wall of your habitual private prayer.

      I go a step farther, I believe that there is a great guardian power about family prayer, and I feel greatly distressed because I know that very many Christian families neglect it. Romanism at one time could do nothing in England because it could offer nothing but the shadow of what Christian men already had in substance. “Do you hear that bell tinkling in the morning! What is that for! …. To go to church to pray.” “Indeed,” said the Puritan, “I have no need to go there to pray. I have had my children together and we have read a passage of Scripture, and prayed, and sang the praises of God, and we have a church in our house.” Ah! there goes that bell again in the evening. What is that for? Why, it is the vesper bell. The good man answered that he had no need to trudge a mile or two for that, for his holy vespers had been said and sung around his own table, of which the big Bible was the chief ornament. They told him that there could be no service without a priest, but he replied that every godly man should be a priest in his own house. Thus have the saints defied the overtures of priestcraft, and kept the faith from generation to generation. Household devotion and the pulpit are, under God, the stone walls of Protestantism, and my prayer is that these may not be broken down.

      Another fence to protect piety is found in weeknight services. I notice that when people forsake weeknight meetings, firm power of their religion evaporates. I do not speak of those lawfully detained to watch the sick, and attend to farm-work and other business, or as domestic servants and the like; there are exceptions to all rules: but I mean those who could attend if they had a mind to do so. When people say, “It is quite enough for me to be wearied with the sermons of the Sunday; I do not want to go out to prayer-meetings and lectures and so forth”–then it is clear that they have no appetite for the Word, and surely this is a bad sign. If you have a bit of wall built to protect the Sunday, and then six times the distance left without a fence, I believe that Satan’s cattle will get in and do no end of mischief.

      Take care also of the stone wall of Bible reading and of speaking often one to another concerning the things of God. Associate with the godly and commune with God, and you will thus by the blessing of God’s Spirit keep up a good fence against temptations, which otherwise will get into the fields of your soul and devour all goodly fruits.

Continue reading

The Battle For Life by T. Austin-Sparks

The Battle For Life
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 – The Cross in Relation to the Issue of Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-20; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelation 1:18; Philippians 3:10.

The matter which we now have before us is the relationship of the Cross to the manifesting of life. It is very important for us to be clear as to what that relationship is. One thing is patent, and that is that life, in this Divine sense, in this spiritual sense, this life called eternal life, is only to be had as the result of the Cross of Jesus Christ. On the ground of His death and by His resurrection this eternal life is given to them that believe. We sometimes speak of this as simple faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus. In the reception of that life there may be no sense of battle, nor conflict; there may be no knowledge whatever of this fuller realm where the battle for life goes on. That is because, in the matter of the gift of eternal life, the Lord Jesus Himself fought the battle in His Cross, and we receive the free gift by faith’s acceptance of what He did in order that we might have the life.

That is one aspect of the Cross and the issue of life. That is to say, by the objective apprehension of the Cross we receive eternal life. All that the Lord Jesus did for us in His Cross in order that we might pass from death unto life, appropriated, apprehended by faith, results in our having life.

But there is another side. The Cross of the Lord Jesus subjectively wrought out results in our having life more abundant. His own words are: “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I believe that the first half of that statement relates to the simple faith-appropriation of the objective work of the Cross – what He didfor us – but the second part of the statement carries us further. Life more abundant requires that what He did for us shall be made good in us. May we put it in this way: In His Cross He dealt with our sins, and on the ground of His having so dealt with them, and of our believing in His atoning work for our sins, we receive the gift of eternal life. He also dealt with ourselves, but that is something which has to be made good progressively, and it is as we ourselves are dealt with in the power of the Cross that the way is made for that life to express itself in ever deepening fullness. The fact is that it is self which is in the way of the life and its full expression. It is the natural life which obstructs the course of the Divine life. Thus what has been done for us has to be done in us, and as it is done in us that life becomes more than a deposit, more than a simple, though glorious possession; it becomes a deepening, growing power, a fullness of expression.

A STATE OF DISORDER IN THE CREATION

Let us seek to set forth the position. In the first place there is in the creation a state of disorder with which God is not united. We can all grasp that. There is nothing very profound about it except as the fact breaks upon us, and we realize that there is this state of disorder in the creation of which we are a part, and that God is not united with that state, with the creation in that condition. It is not according to His mind. It has ceased to express His thought. It is contrary to His intention and therefore He is not linked with it.

DEATH AND SATAN POSITIVELY ASSOCIATED WITH THAT STATE

Secondly, there is a positive association of death and Satan with that state. It is not just a passive mass, in confusion, in chaos, in disorder. There are active elements in it. We might say that it is a seething mass. There are forces at work in it and those forces are not the forces of life, but of death. Death is working, and Satan is associated with that state.

A NEED ARISES

In the third place, we see that a need arises, and a need along various lines. Firstly, there must be a judicial setting aside of that creation. We mean by ‘a judicial setting aside’ that a judgment must be passed upon it, and under that judgment it must be put away out of God’s sight. It must come to the place where in its entirety it is under the Divine ban and not one part of it can come into acceptance with Him: that is, it must be judicially dealt with, and judicially set aside. That becomes necessary as a preliminary step to anything which God will do after a new order. God has dealt thus with the creation in the Cross of Christ.

Secondly, an actual and a potential destroying of that power of death and Satan must take place. Let us watch our words – an actual, and a potential, destroying of that power of death and Satan. Well, God did that in actuality in the Person of the Lord Jesus. He destroyed death and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. In Christ it is actually done. Christ at God’s right hand represents and declares that this has been accomplished. Death is swallowed up victoriously. Satan too has been destroyed. That word ‘destroyed’, translated in the Revised Version ‘bring to naught’, does not mean what some people take it to mean. There are times, when speaking of destroying, we think of going the whole length of utterly obliterating, putting out of existence. This word does not mean that. Bringing to naught means, in the intention of God, to render utterly abortive, to render incapable of ultimate success. Do not forget that, so far as the Lord Jesus is concerned at God’s right hand, Satan is defeated. He cannot touch Him personally, and he knows it. The only way in which he can touch Him is through His members. Satan no longer has any power to touch Christ directly with death, or with any other weapon. “Through death he has destroyed him that had the power of death.” It is actually done in Christ.

We have used another word – potential. That potential destroying of death and Satan was on behalf of the saints. That is something which is secured and, though not yet fully entered into in experience, can be entered into by faith and known in a progressive way. It cannot be said that you and I at present in the entirety of our being find that death and Satan have no power. So far as we are concerned it is not an actual fact that Satan is inoperative. But this has been secured for us potentially in Christ, that we may become those who more and more experience what Christ has wrought for us, and come progressively into the good of that work which was potentially done on our behalf. In Christ, then, we see that destruction to be accomplished in actuality; in the saints, potentially.

Continue reading

“You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3

EVENING THOUGHTS, or
DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Octavius Winslow, 1858

“Let my prayer be set forth before you as
incense; and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.”  Psalm 141:2

 

“You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts.” James 4:3

A believer may urge a request that is in itself wrong. The mother of Zebedee’s children did so, when she asked the Lord that her two sons might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on the left, in His kingdom. Who does not mark the self that appears in this petition? Although it was a mother’s love that prompted it, and, as such, presents a picture of inimitable beauty, and one exquisitely touching to the feelings, yet it teaches us that a parent, betrayed by his love for his child, may ask that of God which is really wrong in itself. He may ask worldly distinction, honor, influence, wealth for his child, which a godly parent should never do; and this may be a wrong request, which God, in His infinite wisdom and love, withholds. This was the petition of the mother, which our Lord saw fit to deny. Her views of the kingdom of Christ were those of earthly glory. To see her children sharing in that glory was her high ambition; which Jesus promptly but gently rebuked. Let a Christian mother ask for spiritual blessings for her children, and whatever else is needful the Lord will grant. Let converting, sanctifying, restraining grace be one and the constant petition presented at the footstool of mercy, and then she cannot ask too much, or press her suit too frequently or too fervently.

To allude to another illustration of our remark it was wrong in Job to ask the Lord that he might die. “Oh that I might have my request ” (are his words), “and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that He would let loose His hand, and cut me off!” It was an unwise and sinful petition, which the Lord in great mercy and wisdom denied him. Truly “we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” What a mercy that there is One who knows!

A child of God may ask for a wise and good thing in a wrong way. There may be no faith in asking, and no sense of God’s freeness in bestowing. No filial approach—going as a child—as one pardoned—”accepted in the Beloved,”—as one dear to the heart of God. There may be no honoring of the Father in Himself—no honoring of Him in the Son—no honoring of the Blessed Spirit. There may be no resting upon the cross—no pleading of the atoning blood—no washing in the fountain—no humble, grateful recognition of the “new and living way” of access. There may be a want of lowliness in the mind—brokenness in the spirit—sincerity in the heart—reverence in the manner—sobriety in the words. There may be no confession of sin—no acknowledgment of past mercies—no faith in the promised blessing. How much there may be in the prayer of a dear child of God that operates as a blight upon his request, that seems to close the ear and the heart of God! But oh, to go to Him with filial confidence—sweet faith—love flowing from a broken heart—to go to Him as the people of His choice—dear to Him as the apple of His eye—viewed each moment in His Son—and who would, for the love He bears us, undeify Himself, if that would be for our real good, and His own glory. Did He not once empty Himself of His glory—did He not become poor—did He not humble Himself—did He not take upon Him human nature, all for the love He bore His people? That was approaching so near, in appearance, the cessation of Deity, that, as we gaze upon the spectacle, we wonder what another step might have produced! We seem to think He could not have gone further without ceasing to be God. Behold the broad basis, then, on which a child of God may approach Him in prayer. His love, oh how immense! it is past finding out!

Collected Works of Watchman Nee

Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 02: The Word of the Cross,by Watchman Nee

A transforming knowledge

A transforming knowledge

(Thomas Brooks, “Heaven on Earth” 1667)

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s
glory, are being transformed into His likeness with
ever-increasing glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Saving knowledge is a transforming knowledge, which
metamorphoses the soul. Divine light beating on the heart,
warms it and betters it; transforms and changes it; moulds
and fashions it into the very likeness of Christ!

The naturalists observe that the pearl, by the often
beating of the sunbeams upon it, becomes radiant.
Just so, the often beating and shining of the Sun of
righteousness, with His divine beams, upon the saints,
causes them to glisten and shine in . . .
holiness,
righteousness,
heavenly-mindedness,
humbleness, etc.
Divine light casts a general beauty and glory upon
the soul; it transforms a man more and more into
the glorious image of Christ!

Look! as the child receives his features from his parents;
just so, the beams of divine light and knowledge shining
into the soul, stamp the living image of Christ upon the soul.

Mere notional knowledge may make a man excellent at
praising
the glorious and worthy acts and virtues of Christ;
but that transforming knowledge which accompanies
salvation, will work a man divinely to imitate the glorious
acts and virtues of Christ.

When a beam of divine light shined from heaven upon Paul, ah,
how did it change and metamorphose him! How did it alter and
transform him! It made his rebellious soul, obedient: “Lord, what
will You have me to do?” Acts 9:6. Divine light lays upon a man
a happy necessity of obeying God.
Divine light makes . . .
this lion–into a lamb,
this persecutor–into a preacher,
this destroyer of the saints–into a strengthener of the saints,
this tormenter–into a comforter,
this monster–into an angel,
this notorious blasphemer–into a very great admirer of God,
and the actings of His free grace.

Just so, when a spark of this heavenly fire fell upon the heart of
Mary Magdalene, oh what a change, what a transformation does
it make in her! Now she loves much, and believes much, and
repents much, and weeps much. Oh what a change did divine
light make in Zacchaeus, and in the jailor!

Truly, if your light, your Biblical knowledge does not better you,
if it does not change and transform you, if, under all your light
and knowledge you remain as vile and base as ever; your light,
your knowledge, your notions, your speculations, will be like fire!
That knowledge which is not a transforming knowledge–will
torment a man at last more than all the devils in hell; it will be . . .
a sword to cut him,
a rod to lash him,
a serpent to bite him,
a scorpion to sting him, and
a vulture, a worm eternally gnawing him!

God at last will own no knowledge, but that which leaves
the stamp of Christ, the print of Christ, the image of Christ
upon the heart; but that which changes and transforms the
soul, which makes a man a new man, another man than
what he was before divine light shined upon him.

Sovereign Intercession

 

Sovereign Intercession
by T. Austin-Sparks

Prayer in the Holy Ghost comes spontaneously out of the work and power of the cross.
(Abbreviated Notes of an address.)

Luke 3:21: “…having been baptised and praying the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended.”

Here is the cross because the baptism was significant of death and resurrection. The Lord having in the Spirit in faith established at the commencement of everything His death, burial and resurrection, His first recorded action is praying, prayer arising out of the cross in all its meaning. It was out of that fellowship with God that He went out to battle in the wilderness, meeting and vanquishing the prince of this world.

1 Pet. 2:9: “Ye are a royal priesthood.” This is mediation linked with sovereignty, a sovereign intercession. Priesthood applies to all who are members of the body of Christ, all who are in Christ in this age, a priesthood of all born again believers.

Priesthood is representative (1) before God for man, (2) before man for God. Your business in Christ is to stand before man in behalf of God to make known the mind and will of God to man, and to lay before God the needs of man. The classic illustration of this in all scripture is John 17, which is full of “Father, these, these, these,” revealing the thoughts and intentions of God concerning them. “Royal priesthood” suggests the cross and mediation, and links with John 17.

The effectiveness of the cross is in a threefold realm.

(1) It deals with the world, Gal. 6:14, which has to be ruled out before you can pray in that way or dominate world situations.

(2) It deals with the flesh, which is the life principle of the entire nature of man as he is joined to his first parent Adam. When God said, “He has become flesh” it was to say that he was no longer pre-eminently spirit. God being spirit, only spirit can get in to worship God,  “in me – my natural life – dwelleth no good thing.” The cross deals with all that natural life. There is no effective prayer until we get clear through and operate in the spirit.

(3) It deals with the devil. Prayer that is based on the cross has its application there.

All this was anticipated in the Old Testament. God’s principles are the same in all ages, e.g., the truth of the body of Christ underlies the whole Word of God. Paul only gives full illumination and explanation of what lies in the earlier scriptures – the tabernacle, the temple building, the truth set forth in John 6 and 15 – Paul brings these types and parables with their hidden meaning, before us as now spiritual realities.

Continue reading

Dead things never grow!

Dead things never grow!

(John Angell James, “Christian Progress” 1853)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes
so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2

Why is it that so many professing Christians make
no spiritual progress, and indeed make no efforts
to grow in grace? Why? Because they care nothing
about it! To take up a ‘mere profession’ is all they
desire; but to proceed from one degree of piety to
another; to grow in grace–is no part of their desire.

What! No solicitude to have more . . .
experimental knowledge of truth,
faith in Christ,
likeness to God,
fitness for heaven!

No desire to advance in such things! Is it possible
to be a Christian and yet destitute of this desire
to grow in grace? No, it is not! I tell you, it is not!

If you have no concern to grow in grace
there is no grace in you!

You are a piece of dead wood
–and not a living branch!

You are a spiritual corpse
–and not a living man!

In this state there can be no growth
–for dead things never grow!

We have published several more
practical sermons by J. A. James:

Declension in Religion

Work of the Spirit

The Benediction

The best Physician!

The best Physician!

(Thomas Watson)

Christ is the best Physician.

Christ  is the most skillful Physician. There is no disease too hard for Him. “Who heals all your diseases.” Psalm 103:3. He can cure the gangrene of sin–even when it comes to the heart. He can melt a heart of stone, and wash away black sins in His crimson blood! There are no desperate cases with Christ. He has those salves, oils, and balsams which can cure the worst diseases.

Christ is the cheapest Physician. Sickness is not only a consumption to the body–but the purse! (Luke 8:43). Physicians charge fees–but Jesus Christ gives us our cures freely. He takes no fee. “Come without money and without price!” Isaiah 55:1. He desires us to bring nothing to Him but broken hearts. And when He has cured us, He desires us to bestow nothing upon Him but our love–and one would think that was very reasonable.

Christ heals with more ease than any other. Other physicians apply pills, potions, or remedies. Christ cures with more ease. Christ made the devil go out with a word (Mark 9:25). So when the soul is spiritually possessed, Christ can heal with a word, nay, He can cure with a look. When Peter had fallen into a relapse, Christ looked on Peter–and he wept. Christ’s look melted Peter into repentance–it was a healing look.

Other physicians can only cure those who are sick–but Christ cures those who are dead. “You has He quickened, who weredead in trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:1

Christ cures not only our diseases–but our deformities! The physician can make the sick man well; but if he is deformed, he cannot make him lovely. Christ gives not only health–but beauty. Sin has made us ugly and misshapen. Christ’s medicines do not only take away our sickness–but our blemishes. He not only makes us whole–but lovely. Christ not only heals–but adorns.

Last, Christ is the most bountiful Physician. Other patients enrich their physicians–but here the Physician enriches the patient! Christ advances all His patients. He not only cures them–but crowns them! (Revelation 2:10). Christ not only raises from the sick-bed–but to the throne! He gives the sick man not only health–but Heaven!

Oh, the love of this heavenly Physician! Christ Himself drank that bitter cup which we should have drunk, and by His taking the bitter potion–we are healed and saved! Thus Christ has shown more love than any physician ever did to the patient.

   ~  ~  ~  ~

We have published George Everard’s insightful article, “The Great Physician and His Patients!

The Lord’s Attitude To His Children In Adversity

header7

The Lord’s Attitude To His Children In Adversity
by T. Austin-Sparks

“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).

The first clause of that verse is what will occupy us for a few minutes, and it will be as in the more correct translation that some of you will find in the margin of your Bibles. While there is some authority for the ordinary translation of the words here, the actual language of the original reads thus – “In all their adversity He was no adversary.” You can choose between the translations which you like best, and you will not be in error if you prefer one to the other; but this alternative translation to the usual text conveys a message of its own which I think should be of very great help, encouragement and strength to us.

The Fact Of Adversity

First of all, we note that adversity amongst the people of God is recognised and accepted – that is, it is taken for granted. It is unnecessary to say that, amongst the people of God, adversity is a fact. None of us requires to be told that. Here the word of God takes note of the fact that the Lord’s people do know and suffer adversity, and their adversity is under His eye. That is only said lest anybody should think that adversity signifies that things have gone wrong. Perhaps at times we do feel that because of severe and continuous adversity there must be something wrong. While there may be a realm in which the adversity is the result of some wrong-doing, the enemy having rightful ground, nevertheless that is not the thing that is referred to here. In the first instance, it was not adversity because of evil and wrong; it was the adversity which is the common experience of the Lord’s people who are moving with Him; and when it is like that, as we shall see in a moment, there is nothing wrong about it at all. So much by the way for the fact of adversity.
Continue reading

“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Hebrews 11:25.

EVENING THOUGHTS, or
DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Octavius Winslow, 1858

“Let my prayer be set forth before you as
incense; and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.”  Psalm 141:2
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Hebrews 11:25.

THE believer should never fail to remember that the present is, by the appointment of God, the afflicted state to him. It is God’s ordained, revealed will, that His covenant children here should be in an afflicted condition. When called by grace, they should never take into their account any other state. They become the disciples of the religion of the cross—they become the followers of a crucified Lord—they put on a yoke, and assume a burden: they must, then, expect the cross inward and the cross outward. To escape it is impossible. To pass to glory without it, is to go by another way than God’s ordering, and in the end to fail of arriving there. The gate is strait, and the way is narrow, which leads unto life; and a man must become nothing, if he would enter and be saved. He must deny himself—he must become a fool that he may be wise—he must receive the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself. The wise man must cease to glory in his wisdom, the mighty man must cease to glory in his might, the rich man must cease to glory in his riches, and their only ground of glory in themselves must be their insufficiency, infirmity, poverty, and weakness; and their only ground of glory out of themselves must be, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The believer in Jesus, then, must not forget that if the path he treads is rough and thorny, if the sky is wintry, if the storm is severe, and the cross He bears is heavy, that yet this is the road to heaven. He is but in the wilderness, why should He expect more than belongs to the wilderness state? He is on a journey, why should he look for more than a traveler’s fare? He is far from home, why should He murmur and repine that he has not all the rest, the comfort, and the luxuries of his Father’s house? If your covenant God and Father has allotted to you poverty, be satisfied that it should be your state, yes, rejoice in it. If bitter adversity, if deep affliction, if the daily and the heavy cross, be your portion, yet, breathe not one murmur, but rather rejoice that you are led into the path that Jesus Himself walked in, to “go forth by the footsteps of the flock,” and that you are counted worthy thus to be one in circumstance with Christ and his people.

 

GOD’S NEW ISRAEL

 

GOD’S NEW ISRAEL

3. THE FOUNDATION LAW OF GOD’S NEW ISRAEL

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face; and God talked with him, [3/4] saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, And as for thee, thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; every male among you shall be circumcised “ (Genesis 17:1-10).

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28, 29).

“In whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11, 12).

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died, and he died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

THE COVENANT OF SEPARATION AND DISTINCTIVENESS

WE ought to add other Scriptures to those, for there are many more which are of the same nature, but these are sufficient to bring us to the point of our consideration, which is the foundation law of God’s Israel, the law of God’s covenant, and that covenant is symbolized in circumcision. The sign of the covenant with Abraham was circumcision. In the Old Testament it was literal and material. In the New Testament it is spiritual, but the meaning is the same. It is a spiritual law of God’s Israel, and that law is separation and distinctiveness. It lays down the law that God’s Israel is a separate people, separate from all other people, and different from all other people — clearly distinguished from all other people. Did you notice, as we read those Scriptures, that God said to Abraham that He would make many nations out of his seed? Now God is taking out of the nations a people for His Name, something in the nations, but separate from the nations, and that law of separation and difference is the foundation of God’s Israel.

We can see God keeping to that law in the Old Testament. It is written that “the God of glory appeared unto … Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out!” (Acts 7:2). Later, Moses was in Egypt, and God just sovereignly took him out before He did anything else. Moses had to beout of Egypt first, and that was a very thorough thing, as you would think if you were out in a wilderness for forty years! Then the Lord sent Moses back into Egypt to get the people out, and the Word is: “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (Matthew 2:15). God could not proceed with His purpose until He had got His people out, for there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will not fulfil it anywhere else. I would like you to put a lot of lines under that statement, for I think it is the key to everything. Let me say it again: there is a place where God will fulfil His purpose, and He will do it nowhere else. God means business. He is a God of purpose, and He is very serious about His purpose, which is a purpose of blessing. To Abram He said: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee … and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). God’s purpose is a purpose of blessing; blessing to the instrument that He will use and to the people to whom He uses that instrument. “I will bless thee … and thou shalt be a blessing.” That is the purpose of God, and I say it with a strong voice, because I know that some will say: ‘If we are going this way it is going to be a very difficult way. We are going to have to give up everything!’ Well, wait a little while — we have not finished yet!

We make this statement: God’s purpose is to bless and to make a blessing, but it demands a position. The blessing and the vocation depend upon where we are. Of course, in the Old Testament it was literal. Abraham was in Ur of the Chaldees, and God said: ‘You must get out of this city. I am [4/5] not going to do anything here! I must have you somewhere else.’ In the New Testament it is spiritual. Where do you live? In Bern, in Zurich, in New York, in London, in Paris, or in some other city? God is not saying to you: ‘Get out of Paris!’ or any of these cities, but He is saying, just as forcefully: ‘Get out!’ You may be living in your body in a city, but you may not find your life there. You may have been born there, physically, but now, as a true Israelite, you were never born there. You were born from above.

God’s covenant is bound up with this spiritual position, and we must really take serious notice of this. God has made a covenant with His Israel, but that covenant demands that they are out of somewhere and in somewhere else, and for us that means a different spiritual position. God’s covenant is a covenant of blessing, of life, of service — that is, Divine vocation — but all that blessing, that life and that vocation are bound up with this matter of spiritual position. Spiritually we are out and we are different. That first Israel is not now in blessing, nor in life, nor is it in the Divine vocation. It is where the Lord Jesus said it would be if it rejected Him — in outer darkness, where there would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and for these many centuries the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem has fulfilled that prophecy! Why is that? There is one little fragment of Scripture which is tremendous but it has a terrible statement in it: “The covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which my covenant they brake ” (Jeremiah 31:32). Israel broke the covenant of separation and distinctiveness.

A CIRCUMCISED HEART

Now we come to this matter of circumcision. I can only touch it very lightly, for it is a very delicate matter.

We have seen that in the Old Testament circumcision is a type, or symbol, for in the New Testament it is stated that circumcision is of the heart — not in the flesh, but in the spirit — and it just means this: a heart that is whollydevoted to the Lord. By that symbol the seed of Abraham became God’s exclusive people for the time being, and everything that we have in the Old Testament about God’s wish for this people shows us how jealous He was over those people. God called Himself their husband (Jeremiah 31:32), and there was never a more jealous husband than He! Let Israel have anything to do with any other husband and you will hear the thunder, and the weeping, of the Prophets! God was so jealous for Israel.

Now see what Paul says about the covenant seed of Abraham. He heads this whole thing up into Christ: “Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew (or an Israelite), which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit.” So Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham, and Paul speaks of the circumcision of Christ.

Let me ask you a question: Has there ever lived on this earth a person more utterly committed to God than the Lord Jesus? He was indeed separated unto God, and different from all others. No one has ever borne the marks of spiritual circumcision more than the Lord Jesus. He was the Man of the undivided heart.

Continue reading

The Spirit of Service

The Spirit of Service
by T. Austin-Sparks

Transcribed from a message given by T. Austin-Sparks in April 1959.
The spoken form has been retained verbatim.

The book of Exodus chapter 32 and verse 32: “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin-; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written”.And in the letter to the Romans chapter 9 and verse 3: “For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh”.
I think, dear friends, in these two utterances are two outstanding – perhaps the two most outstanding servants of God – in the two dispensations, the old and the new: Moses and Paul. We have the very highest point of service to the Lord represented.We are all concerned with this matter of being of service to the Lord and we are ever seeking to know how that service can be best fulfilled and how we may rise to the highest possible level of service to Him. And I repeat, that this statement, this prayer by Moses (and if you look at the margin of Paul’s words you will see that that also was a prayer, the word ‘wish’ is really ‘prayer’ or ‘pray’: “I could pray…”) these two prayers of these two outstanding servants of God do represent the highest degree of service to the Lord. And that is because there is nothing beyond these statements, nothing whatever beyond them in the matter of selflessness. You can’t go beyond this: “Blot me out of the book which Thou hast written”; “accursed from Christ”. There is no degree beyond that.  The utterness of selflessness is in those prayers. They represent a greater concern for the people of God than, not only personal blessing or personal vindication or position or reputation, but life itself. It is only another way in which these men were saying, “Well, my life begins and ends with the people of God and I have nothing beyond that. And if they should lose or suffer, and I in any way could have prevented it, then I have missed the whole purpose of life and the very purpose of my own salvation. That is the sum and the end of everything.” What a devotion! What a devotion. That is service.
There were certain things that Paul and Moses had in common which are headed up in these prayers as you see the context of the passages; you see the sin of the Lord’s people. This thirty second chapter of Exodus follows the story of that terrible breakdown under Aaron’s leadership and the setting up of the idol and the worshipping of it and turning away from God and saying “These be thy gods oh Israel”; the awful sin of the Lord’s people. And then as for Paul’s context, it’s in the context of what Israel had done to his Lord, in the killing of Christ.
This devotion… the point is this devotion was not to a people who drew it out by reason of their goodness, the fineness of their substance, the lovableness of their nature. It’stremendously strengthened, this devotion, by recognizing the kind of people to whom these hearts so utterly went out. It’s a rebuke to us in our service. It’s so easy for us to give and to devote ourselves to labour for those who give a return and who show kindness and who are nice people, we think are worthwhile people… And here, a love to the uttermost for people who were so utterly unworthy of it at all. That, Paul and Moses had in common. But further, they had this in common: that they themselves were objects of those people’s reproach and persecution. There had been times when Moses was seeking to bring the people out of Egypt when they turned on him, they turned on him and blamed him for their difficulties and situations. And we know that even after this incident many times they railed on Moses, they laid at his door all their troubles. And as for Paul, what a time he had at the hands of Israel! The Judaizers and all the rest, what a time he had! They denounced him as a traitor. And yet, although these men themselves were personally the objects of the opposition of those to whom they had given their lives, this was their spirit and their attitude: Forgive! If Thou wilt forgive… and he breaks off, he doesn’t finish that part, “If Thou wilt… but if You don’t, if not, blot me out of the book which Thou hast written”. “I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren’s sake.” What a spirit of service!

Continue reading

“YE ARE MY FRIENDS”

 

gracegems

“YE ARE MY FRIENDS”

AMONG the various titles by which Christians were called in the New Testament surely the most wonderful is that given by the Lord Jesus — “Ye are my friends”:

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends: for all things that I heard from my Father I nave made Known unto you. Ye did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:13-16).

It is indeed a very wonderful and beautiful thing that the Son of God called such as the disciples were, and such as we are, His friends. I do not think there is a greater or more beautiful word in all our language than that word ‘friend’. It is the most intimate title in all human relationships. Every other [41/42] relationship that we can think of may exist without this. Perhaps we think that the marriage relationship is the most intimate, but it is possible for that relationship to exist without friendship. Happy indeed is the man whose wife is his friend, and happy is the wife whose husband is her friend. It is a very close relationship between children and parents and parents and children, but it is a great thing when the father can call his son his friend, and when he can say, not ‘my son’, but ‘my friend’. And, again, it is a great thing when a child can say, not only ‘my father’, but ‘my friend’: ‘my father is my friend’ — ‘my mother is my friend’. It is something extra in relationship. We may admire a person and have a lot of association with them: we may think that we know them and could say: ‘Well, I know so-and-so very well’, but, even so, there may not be friendship. Friendship is always just that bit extra.

When Jesus said: “Ye are my friends”, He was going beyond ‘Ye are My disciples’ and ‘Ye are My followers’. He could have called them by many other names, but when He said: “Ye are my friends” He went beyond anything else. And I think that the Lord Jesus found the most complete satisfaction of His heart in this word. To say “Ye are my friends” was as far as anybody could possibly go. Really, there is nothing beyond it. You reach the end of all relationships when you really come to friendship. How rich and how precious, then, is this title!

In the picture of the new Jerusalem which we have at the end of the Bible it says: “The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones” (Revelation 21:19). The foundation of that city was that which was most precious, and I think the most precious foundation of life is friendship. The new Jerusalem itself will be built upon the foundation of the friendship between the Lord Jesus and His own.

Well, that is just a little about friendship. But what is the nature of friendship? We have it here in John 15: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth, but I have called you friends: for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you.” Friendship is that position which makes it possible to open the heart fully, to keep nothing back; and to have such confidence that you can trust the other person with all that is in your heart. Jesus said: ‘All that the Father has shown Me I have shown you. I have kept nothing back from you. I have put perfect confidence in you. I have had no suspicions of you and have not been afraid to say just what was in My heart.’

You know, that is very wonderful. Go back again in this Gospel by John and in chapter two you will find: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, during the feast, many believed on his name, beholding his signs which he did. But Jesus did not trust himself unto them, for that he knew all men, and because he needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).

Jesus knew all men, and because of that He did not commit Himself to them … “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus” (John 3:1), and what follows shows that Jesus knew Nicodemus and He did not commit Himself to him. Nicodemus was not in the position of a friend, at least, not at this time. How much he was before the end we do not know. He did act like a friend in the burial of Jesus, for something had happened to him by that time. But at this time he was amongst those men to whom Jesus did not commit Himself. He simply said, in effect: ‘Before I can commit Myself to you, you must be born again.’

That is the beginning of this friendship. Yes, Jesus has told us that the real nature of friendship is that He can just commit Himself to His friends. He said many things to other people, but He did not put Himself into their hands. And that is all the difference. You may have a lot of fellowship, say a lot of things, and they may be quite true things, but that is not putting yourself into the hands of those people. There is all the difference between conversation and fellowship and committal. Friendship means that you have committed yourselves to one another — you have really put yourself into the hands of the other person. That is what Jesus said friendship means: “All things that I heard from my Father I have made known unto you.” ‘I have had no reserves where you are concerned.’

I am sure you are feeling that this is a very wonderful thing and are wondering more and more at it as we go on. Just think that the Son of God should do that — that He should be willing to commit Himself to some people!

And these were not empty words. He went on to show that He would prove His friendship. What is the proof of friendship? Well, of course, it is firstly, as we have said, committing yourself to the other.

But then Jesus said this: “Greater love hath no man than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is the proof of friendship. How much are you prepared to sacrifice, to suffer and to put up with? “A man lay down his life for his friends.” Now, of course, you are thinking of one thing — of dying in some way for your friends. But there are a thousand ways of laying down your life for your friends. It is a matter of laying downour lives all [42/43] the time — not just some big act of dying for our friends, but every day laying down our lives, letting something of ourselves go, letting some personal interest go and just saying: ‘That does not matter — it is for my friend. That is not so important — it is for my friend.’ Friendship makes everything else unimportant. If there is real friendship we do not stay to say: ‘Well, now, must I do that? Am I really obliged to do that? Can I not get out of it in some way? Really, is there any harm in my doing this?’

You know, that is the attitude of a lot of Christians. ‘Why may I not do this? Is there any harm in it? A lot of other people do it so why should I not do it? I even know Christians who do it. Must I really not do this?’ Supposing Jesus had taken that attitude! No, friendship puts all that kind of thing away and never talks about ‘Must I?’ ‘Is there no other way?’ This is a laying down of the life for a friend.

So I say that there are many ways of laying down our life. What is laying down our life? It is just holding that nothing is too valuable or important to be kept from our friend. It does not matter what it costs, or how painful it is — friendship makes it possible.

We have the great illustration in the Bible. There is only one man in all the Bible who was called God’s friend: “Abraham … the friend of God” (James 2:23). What a wonderful thing to be said of any man — “Abraham, my friend”, said God (Isaiah 41:8). It is God speaking about a man, and He is saying “My friend”! How could God call Abraham His friend? What made Abraham a friend of God? “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest … and offer him” (Genesis 22:2). What did Abraham say? ‘You have asked too much. Isaac is too precious. He is everything to me. Oh, no, I cannot offer him!’? No, Abraham did not talk like that. I think it is most wonderful when it says: “And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and he clave the wood for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:3). I venture to suggest to you that if you were faced with that you would not get up early that morning! You would be staying in bed just as long as you could and putting it off as long as possible. But it says: “Abraham rose early in the morning .” What was he about to do? He was about to enter right into the heart of God in giving his only begotten son, and enter right into fellowship with the passion of God’s heart. “God so loved … that He gave Hisonly begotten Son.” It was because of that that Abraham was God’s friend. He had entered right into the heart of God and counted nothing too precious for the friendship of God.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, and in offering Isaac Abraham indeed laid down his life. “Abraham, my friend.” That is the nature of friendship. And Jesus proved His friendship. This is the proof — that He has laid down His life.

Then we go on to ask another question: What is the basis of this friendship? Jesus knew what was going to happen in the near future, for it was getting very near to the day when they would all forsake Him, and yet, knowing all that, He said: “Ye are my friends.” There must be some basis which is more than just this present time. Jesus was looking beyond the Cross, and He was seeing that the day would come when these men would stand strongly on the ground of the Cross. We now have the full story. Oh, yes, not so long after this they were letting everything in this world go for Him. The Cross had truly entered into their hearts. The spirit of the Cross had truly taken possession of them and they were standing firmly upon that ground. And Jesus knew that that was how it would be. He knew what was going to happen in the next few days, but He was always speaking to them about afterward, that human failure was not the last thing and was not going to be the end of everything. To that poor, failing Peter He said this: “And do thou, when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). ‘You are going to have a terrible fall, but that is not going to be the end. You will turn again and you will have a great ministry afterward.’

Jesus was always looking beyond the Cross, and He saw that these men would stand upon the ground of the Cross. The Cross means that you do not hold anything for yourself, but only for your friend, and that was true of these men.

Continue reading

Suffering Saints


 

By A.W. Pink


From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: September, 1939

      “Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). As the nature of fallen man is very backward to do good, so likewise to suffer evil; and hence it is there are so many exhortations in the Word both to the one and to the other. There is not a little in this Epistle on the subject of “suffering” (which has prime reference to opposition from the world), and many are the inducements advanced for the bearing of it in a God-honouring way. Varied indeed are the grounds for patience mentioned and the streams of comfort therein opened to the persecuted people of God–read through the Epistle with that particular thought in mind. Limiting ourselves to the more immediate context: the Christian is not to be unduly perplexed at his troublous lot (v. 12), rather is he to rejoice because it brings him into fellowship with Christ (vv. 13, 14). Yet we must carefully see to it that our afflictions are not incurred through our own wickedness or folly (vv. 15, 16). Vastly different is the end of a Christian from that of the wicked (vv. 17, 18).

      “Wherefore–in view of all the reasons and encouragements given in the context–let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” In different ways and in various degrees the Christian is bound to meet with trying opposition: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). No matter where they reside, the saints live among those who cannot but cause them suffering: and as Scripture makes abundantly clear, our worst afflictions are to be expected from those who profess to be our brethren and sisters in Christ. Moreover, there is much within the saint himself which cannot but be the cause and occasion of suffering: indwelling corruptions which ever resist the actings of grace, lusts which have to be mortified, a conscience which accuses us when we displease God.

      But the grand thing in which we are here to take to heart is the fact that the suffering of saints is “according to the will of God.” Those oppositions he encounters, the injuries done to him are not fortuitous: they are not the result of blind chance or fickle fortune, but are according to Divine ordination and ordering. How inexpressibly blessed to be assured of that! Does it not at once remove the bitterest ingredient from our cup of trouble? The saint never suffers except by the will of God. He who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind is the One who mixes the medicine and hands it to us. If only we could always realize this, how many rebellious repinings would be silenced, and the rod meekly borne. True, we do not suffer all the time, for God tempers the wind according as our case requires, and graciously grants us brief respites.

      Now in view of the fact that suffering is inevitable as long as we are on earth, and particularly because it is “according to the will of God,” our gracious Father, what is the Christian’s duty in connection therewith? To commit the keeping of his soul to Him in well doing. The manner of this committal is “in well doing.” And this, first, before suffering comes upon us. When some worker of iniquity afflicts a child of God, what a comfort it is if he has the testimony of a good conscience that he is suffering for “well doing” and not because he has wronged his persecutor. How watchful we should be in seeing to it that none can justly speak evil of us and that we do nothing to warrant our enemies hurting us. Then let us follow a course of “well doing” continually. Second, in the suffering itself. No matter how unprovoked the opposition, we must carry ourselves rightly under persecution: so far from harbouring a spirit of retaliation, we are required to do good unto those who do us evil.

Continue reading

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

EVENING THOUGHTS, or
DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Octavius Winslow, 1858

“Let my prayer be set forth before you as
incense; and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.”  Psalm 141:2
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

PERHAPS to some whose tearful eye may glance on these pages, the most touching and endearing chapter in our Lord’s life of varied and affecting incident is that which portrays Him in Bethany’s house of mourning, and bending over the grave of Lazarus—thus illustrating His peculiar sympathy with the bereaved. It would seem as if Jesus loved to visit the haunts of human woe. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died,” were words bursting from the lips of the two bereaved sisters, which seemed to chide the delay of an interposition, which might have averted their sad calamity. And why that delay? Would it not seem as if one reason was, that the cup of woe was not yet brimmed, and thus the time for the richest display of His human sympathy and Divine power had not yet come? But when death had invaded that happy circle, had cast its shadow over the sunny home, and the sorrow of bereavement was now bursting each heart—lo! Jesus appears, gently lifts the latch, and enters. And who has passed within that dark abode of grief? The Creator of all worlds, the Lord of angels and of men, robed in a real, a suffering, and a sympathizing humanity, to mingle with the daughters of sorrow.

Returning from the house of mourning, we follow Him to the grave. Groaning in spirit, He asks, “Where have you laid him?” And then it is written—and oh, never were words more full of meaning—”Jesus wept!” The incarnate God in tears! Oh marvelous sympathy! such as earth never before saw, and such as heaven in astonishment looked down to see. But why did Jesus weep? Was such an expression of sensibility in keeping with the occasion? Was He not about to recall His friend to life again? And did He not know, that before the sun had declined an hour, He should have robbed death of his victim, and the grave of its prey, restoring gladness to those bereaved sisters, and the sunshine of joy to that desolate home? Most assuredly. And yet “Jesus wept!” Oh, it was sympathy! Those tears were the outgushing of a sensibility He could not repress, nor wished to conceal. Moved by His own loss, He was yet more deeply moved with the loss of Martha and Mary. He stood at that grave, as though He were the chief mourner, upon whom the brunt of the calamity had fallen; and there were no tears flowing at that moment like His. He wept, because He was human—He wept, because He was bereaved—He wept, because others wept. It was a sympathetic emotion, that now agitated to its center his whole soul. Behold Him who makes His people’s sorrows all His own!

Bereaved one! that speaking, weeping Brother was born for your adversity! Though now in glory, where no tears are shed, He still sympathizes with the sorrows of the bereaved on earth—yes, sympathizes with yours. Into all the circumstances of your present calamity—the irreparable loss it has entailed, the deep void it has created, the profound grief it has awakened, the painful changes it involves, the sable gloom with which, to your bedimmed eye, it enshrouds all the future of life—He fully enters. And though, when the storm-cloud of Divine vengeance was darkling above His head, Gethsemane and Calvary full in view, not a nerve quivered, nor a tear fell—yet, lo! He comes and weeps with you, and breathes the soothing balmy influence, of a human sympathy over the scene and the sadness of your sorrow. Christian mourner! the weeping One of Bethany is near you! Christ is with you, Christ is in your sorrow.

 

GOD DEALETH WITH YOU AS WITH SONS

GOD DEALETH WITH YOU AS WITH SONS

[Harry Foster]

Reading: 1 Kings 1:1-37.

WHO is to be the heir? Who will be given the throne? These were the questions in everybody’s minds during the dying moments of David’s earthly life. One man felt confident that he knew the answer, and that man was Adonijah. In those days of uncertainty and confusion it probably seemed good to find a man with the qualities of initiative and resolution which were so desirable. Adonijah had much to commend him. “I will be king”, he affirmed, and for the moment it seemed likely that he would be.

ADONIJAH’S CLAIM

He had the means. He must have been a wealthy man already. He had chariots, horsemen, and a large bodyguard all at his disposal. He is also described as “a very goodly man”, which suggests that he had an excellent appearance and presence, he had the regal carriage and the easy manners which were so suitable for David’s heir. More than that, he had the seniority. Absalom, at one time a pretender to the throne, was now dead and Adonijah was next in the succession to him. Perhaps for this very reason Joab and Abiathar, who had remained loyal at the time of Absalom’s insurrection now backed Adonijah and were ready to co-operate in setting him on the throne. With the backing of such eminent civil and religious leaders the matter appeared to be as good as settled. He was the central figure of a great banquet where he was being toasted as the new king.

SOLOMON’S ANOINTING

It was at this juncture that David acted. He was not dead — not yet — and he was the one man who could give an authoritative decision. It may be felt that he had left it rather late, but it was not too late. By his decree Adonijah was set aside and Solomon anointed king.

We may questions the reason for this decision, since Solomon was certainly junior to Adonijah. He seems to have made no claim for himself, his cause being taken up by Nathan, who was later helped by Bath-sheba. At that stage Solomon seems to have been a silent young man and when later he talked to God he confessed: “I am but a little child” (1 Kings 3:7). He neither had Adonijah’s self confidence, nor did he seem to have his wealth. No mention is made of his chariots and horses, but only that he was to be caused to ride on David’s mule.

Yet it was he who was chosen to inherit the kingdom. David was most emphatic about this choice and ordered that Solomon should be anointed forthwith. Of course, it could be possible that David was mistaken, but the choice was not primarily his, but God’s. As Benaiah so aptly commented: “Amen; the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say so too!” But why? The answer is not far to seek. In the course of the description given of Adonijah the illuminating remark is made — “And his father had not displeased him all his life in saying, Why hast thou done so?” He had always had his own way. Because Adonijah had never been chastened he was quite unfit to inherit his father’s throne. And Solomon? Well, it was he who passed on the excellent counsel quoted in Hebrews 12:5 and 6: “My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

THE TRAINING OF SONS

Solomon ultimately, by God’s grace, became a man of very great wisdom, and among other things he came to appreciate the value of his strict upbringing. The quotation is from the book of his Proverbs which on a number of occasions gives quite clear directions as to how children should be educated. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). There are a number of similar adages. They are, of course, in direct contrast with modern educational theories, but there seems no doubt that in Solomon’s case it resulted in a son who could safely be entrusted with his father’s kingdom. Although he deteriorated later — as all types must do — he became for a time the ideal king. And he was made an inspired writer to record truths which surely are as much entitled to acceptance as other books of the Word of God.

Continue reading

Why the Strange Ways of God?

 

Why the Strange Ways of God?
by T. Austin-Sparks

“But arise, and stand upon thy feet: for to this end have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16).

“But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” “…if so be I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12).

It is not my intention to speak at length on these passages, but to take out of them some things that are implied or embodied in them as principles. They resolve themselves into a matter of cause and effect. “For to this end have I appeared unto thee…” “I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). “…that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.” “…that for which…”: “…to this end…”

Sovereign Purpose Governs Our Salvation

The first aspect of that is clearly one of sovereign purpose. Purpose is the positive and governing aspect of salvation. It is that unto which we are saved. Of course, it would not be wholly right to say that that from which we are saved is the negative aspect of salvation, but it is the negative aspect compared with this other. It is not the ‘from’ but the ‘unto’ or the ‘for’ which is really the positive thing in salvation. Stagnation had no place even in the unfallen creation. God did not just make everything and put man in charge and set fixed bounds to the possibilities of man and creation. The potentialities were immense; and when Adam failed, he lost not only what was, but also what could have been. It is said that Adam was “a figure of him that was to come”. (Rom. 5:14). Figures are always less than that which they represent. Adam was intended for something more than he was. Christ is that something more – infinitely more – and when Christ redeemed, He not only redeemed what was before Adam sinned, but also all that Adam never possessed or inherited but which was intended for him. Purpose governed creation, and we know, as a part of the very gospel itself, that the purpose of God was missed by Adam, and is missed by the Adam race. Moreover, the whole purpose of God is never possessed and entered into in experience the moment we are born again.

I said that stagnation is no feature of God’s creation even when it is unfallen; but for any to be born again, and thus to begin to know the good of redemption, and then to fail to recognize that they are saved not only from something, but unto something immense, means that stagnation sets in and they are always dating everything by the past; whereas those who have apprehended the fact of purpose are always occupied with the future, with something beyond.

Continue reading

THE WAR IN HEAVEN


 

Westminster Sermons, 21 – THE WAR IN HEAVEN

By Charles Kingsley


REV. XIX. 11-16.

      And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

      Let me ask you to consider seriously this noble passage. It was never more worth men’s while to consider it than now, when various selfish and sentimental religions–call them rather superstitions–have made men altogether forget the awful reality of Christ’s kingdom; the awful fact that Christ reigns, and will reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet.

      Who, then, is He of whom the text speaks? Who is this personage, who appears eternally in heaven as a warrior, with His garments stained with blood, the leader of armies, smiting the nations, and ruling them with a rod of iron?

      St John tells us that He had one name which none knew save Himself. But he tells us that He was called Faithful and True; and he tells us, too, that He had another name which St John did know; and that is, “The Word of God.”

      Now who the Word of God is, all are bound to know who call themselves Christians; even Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose again the third day, ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God.

      He it is who makes everlasting war as King of kings and Lord of lords. But against what does He make war? His name tells us that. For it is–Faithful and True; and therefore He makes war against all things and beings who are unfaithful and false. He Himself is full of chivalry, full of fidelity; and therefore all that is unchivalrous and treacherous is hateful in His eyes; and that which He hates, He is both able and willing to destroy.

      Moreover, He makes war in righteousness. And therefore all men and things which are unrighteous and unjust are on the opposite side to Him; His enemies, which He will trample under His feet. The only hope for them, and indeed for all mankind, is that He does make war in righteousness, and that He Himself is faithful and true, whoever else is not; that He is always just, always fair, always honourable and courteous; that He always keeps His word; and governs according to fixed and certain laws, which men may observe and calculate upon, and shape their conduct accordingly, sure that Christ’s laws will not change for any soul on earth or in heaven. But, within those honourable and courteous conditions, He will, as often as He sees fit, smite the nations, and rule them with a rod of iron; and tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

      And if any say–as too many in these luxurious unbelieving days will say–What words are these? Threatening, terrible, cruel? My answer is,–The words are not mine. I did not put them into the Bible. I find them there, and thousands like them, in the New Testament as well as in the Old, in the Gospels and Epistles as well as in the Revelation of St John. If you do not like them, your quarrel must be, not with me, but with the whole Bible, and especially with St John the Apostle, who said–“Little children, love one another;” and who therefore was likely to have as much love and pity in his heart as any philanthropic, or sentimental, or superstitious, or bigoted, personage of modern days.

Continue reading

The Christian in Complete Armour

 The Christian in Complete Armour;

A Treatise

Of the Saints’ War against the Devil:

Wherein a Discovery is made of that grand Enemy of God and his People, in his Policies,
Power, Seat of his Empire, Wickedness, and chief design he hath against the Saings.

A Magazine Opened,

From whence the Christian is furnished with Spiritual Arms for the Battle, helped on with his Armour,
and taught the use of his Weapon: together with the happy issue of the whole War.

By William Gurnall, M.A.,

Of Emanuel College, Pastor of the Church of Christ, Lavenham, Suffolk.

ACCURATELY REPRINTED FROM THE AUTHOR’S OWN EDITIONS.

With a Biographical Introduction,

By the Rev. J. C. Ryle, B.A.


Volume 1 Volume 2
gurnal01a.htm pdf gurnal01b.htm pdf
gurnal02a.htm pdf gurnal02b.htm pdf
gurnal03a.htm pdf gurnal03b.htm pdf
gurnal04a.htm pdf gurnal04b.htm pdf
gurnal05a.htm pdf gurnal05b.htm pdf
gurnal06a.htm pdf gurnal06b.htm pdf
gurnal07a.htm pdf gurnal07b.htm
gurnal08a.htm pdf gurnal08b.htm
gurnal09a.htm pdf
gurnal10a.htm pdf

Also available in PDF format: Volume 1Volume 2

http://www.ccel.org/g/gurnall/armour/home.htm

 

“They are without fault before the throne of God.” Rev. 14:4

EVENING THOUGHTS, or
DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Octavius Winslow, 1858

“Let my prayer be set forth before you as
incense; and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.”  Psalm 141:2

“They are without fault before the throne of God.” Rev. 14:4

A STILL higher element of future glory will be perfect holiness. The very utterance of the thought seems to awaken music in the soul. Seeing Christ as He is, and knowing Him as we are known, we also shall be like Him. Perfected in holiness! Oh, what a conception! what a thought! No more elements of evil working like leaven in the soul. No more traces and fetters of corruption. No more evil heart of unbelief, perpetually departing from God. No more desperate depravity. No more sin warring within, and no more temptation assailing from without. All is perfect holiness now! The outline of the Divine image is complete, for the believer has awakened in the finished likeness of his Lord. The spirit of the just man is made perfect. Is there not enough in this anticipation to make us long to be there? What now shades your spirit, and embitters your joy; suffuses your eyes with tears, and inflicts the keenest pang? Not adversity, nor sickness; not changed affection, nor blighted hopes; not the shaded landscape of life, nor the hollow falling of the earth as the grave closes from your view the heart’s precious treasure. Oh, no, not these! It is the sin that dwells in us! Extirpate all sin, and you have erased all sorrow. Complete the grace, and you have perfected the glory. You then have chased all sadness from the heart, and have dried all tears from the eye. That glory will be the glory of unsullied purity. Nothing of sin remains save its recollection, and that recollection but heightens our conception of the preciousness of the blood that shall have effaced every stain, and of the greatness and sovereignty of that grace which shall have brought its there. “Let the saints be joyful in glory,” for their battle with sin is over. “These are they which follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”

“We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” We wait the Bridegroom’s coming. We wait the descent of the chariot. We wait the Father’s summons to our home. We wait the Master’s call to our rest. We wait the uncaging of the spirit, that it may fly. The desire to depart is ardent, but patient. The longing to be with Christ is deep, but submissive. For the full realization of a hope so sublime, so precious, and so sure, we can patiently wait. The theater of suffering is the school of patience; “And patience works experience, and experience hope;” and hope, in the depth of the trial and in the heat of the battle, looks forward to the joy of deliverance and to the spoils of victory. It is well remarked by Calvin, that “God never calls His children to a triumph, until He has exercised them in the warfare of suffering.” Thus all who shall eventually wear this palm must now wield the sword. For the consummation of this hope, then, let us diligently labor, meekly suffer, and patiently wait. Living beneath the cross, looking unto Jesus, toiling for Jesus, testifying for Jesus, and cultivating conformity to Jesus, let us be always ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us; and be always ready to enter into the joy and fruition of that hope, the substance and security of which is—”Christ in you the hope of glory.”

“Partakers of the heavenly calling.” Heb. 3:1

EVENING THOUGHTS, or
DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Octavius Winslow, 1858

“Let my prayer be set forth before you as
incense; and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.”  Psalm 141:2

“Partakers of the heavenly calling.” Heb. 3:1

WHAT are some of the attributes of this calling? It is holy. “Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling.” They who are the subjects of this call desire to be holy. Their direst evil is sin. It is, in their experience, not a silken chain, but a galling fetter, beneath whose weight they mourn, and from whose bondage they sigh to be delivered. It is a high and heavenly calling. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” “Partakers of the heavenly calling.” How does this calling elevate a man—his principles, his character, his aims, his hopes! It is emphatically a “high vocation.” So heavenly is it, too, it brings something of heaven into the soul. It imparts heavenly affections, heavenly joys, and heavenly aspirations. It leads to heaven. Could he look within the veil, each called saint would see a prepared mansion, a vacant throne, a jeweled crown, a robe, and a palm, all ready for the wearing and the waving, awaiting him in glory. Thus it is a call from heaven, and to heaven. It is an irrevocable calling. “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God has never for a moment repented that He chose, nor has the Savior repented that He redeemed, nor has the Spirit repented that He called any of His people. Not all their wanderings, nor failures, nor unfruitfulness have ever awakened one regret in the heart of God that He has called them to be saints. “I knew that You would deal very treacherously.” “Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him; nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” “Faithful is He that calls you.”

Nor must we overlook the Divine sovereignty, which appears so illustrious in this especial calling. All ground of human boasting is removed, and God has secured to Himself, from eternity, the entire glory of His people’s salvation. So conspicuously appears the sovereignty of God in this effectual calling, that all foundation of creature-glory is annihilated. And if it be asked by the disputers of this truth, why one is called and another is left?—why Jacob, and not Esau?—why David, and not Saul?—why Cornelius the Gentile, and not Tertullus the Jew?—why the poor beggars in the highway, and not the bidden guests? why the woman who washed with her tears the Savior’s feet, and not Simon, in whose house the grateful act was performed?—the answer is, “He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy.”

To this acquiescence in the sovereignty of the Divine will our Lord was brought, when He beheld the mysteries of the Gospel veiled from the wise of this world: “I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Your sight.” To this precious truth let us bow; and if the efficacious grace of God has reached our hearts, let us ascribe its discriminating choice to the sovereign pleasure of that Divine and supreme will, which rules over the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth, and to which no creature dare say, “What do you?”

 

Ten thousand are destroyed by its smiles!

(Thomas Brooks)

Where one thousand are destroyed by the world’s frownsten thousand are destroyed by its smiles!

A little of this world will serve a man who is strong in grace.
Much of this world will serve a man who is weak in grace.
But nothing will serve a man who is void of grace!

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever!” 1 John 2:15-17

   ~  ~  ~  ~

HIS NAME IS WONDERFUL

 

HIS NAME IS WONDERFUL

Arthur E. Gove

Reading: John 6:1-14

THERE are seven sign-miracles in the main body of John’s Gospel. This, being the fourth, is the central wonder and is itself a seven-fold wonder, as I hope now to demonstrate. Firstly, however, it should be noted that the Lord has given special emphasis to this miracle by causing it to be recorded in all four Gospels. In this it stands alone. From the first John has told us that the purpose of Christ’s miracles was to manifest His glory (2:11) so that we may well expect that [4/5] this central and unique sign is calculated to give us a special revelation of the glory of the One whose name is indeed Wonderful.

One of the special points stressed by John is that from the first Jesus Himself knew what He would do (v.6). It does not say He knew what He would try to do! His purposes are not experiments; even before we see them they are established facts. While Philip was working away at his arithmetic and Andrew arguing about the inadequacy of their resources, Jesus already knew just what would fully meet the situation. He knows it all. The Gospel has already revealed this. He knew Nathanael’s heart-searchings (1:48), He knew what was in man (2:25) and He knew all about the woman of Samaria (4:29). He knew about the people’s hunger, He knew about the lad, and most of all, He knew just how to meet human need — theirs and ours!

The Lord Jesus has the answer for all our needs in Himself. He is the Sympathiser, “moved with compassion” (Matthew 14:14). He is the Supplier , “He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down” (John 6:11). He is the Sustainer, “lest they faint by the way” (Mark 8:3). He is the Satisfier, “they did all eat and were filled” (Matthew 14:20). How wonderful it is to know Him! How sad is the plight of those who try to face life’s problems without Him!

In a sense this story is full of miracles. I have discovered at least seven wonders indicated by it. Perhaps if we consider them we can have some fuller realisation of His glory and so enter into new depths of faith in Him.

1. It was wonderful that among all those people there was just one lad with something to eat.

We are never given his name. We do not know where he came from. Until John wrote this last Gospel we were not even informed of his existence. But there he was, a miraculous provision of God’s providence; the right lad in the right place at the right time. He could so easily have wandered away. He might well have eaten his meagre lunch long before this. The fact that he was there just when he was needed represents a powerful instance of the overruling providence of God.

What was true of that boy is true also of us. God takes a detailed interest in our lives, takes care of everything in them, and loves to have us just in the right place at the right time. From one point of view we are of little or no importance, but this lad teaches us that we can have a key part in the glorifying of Christ among men. So easily we kick at our circumstances, question why things happen to us as they do, and fail to realise what great things the Lord can do with our littleness. To the believer there is no such thing as chance. In a thousand ways God orders even the details of his life. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

2. It was wonderful that among that crowd of over five thousand, this lad was noticed by one of the disciples.

With his little lunch of five biscuits and two sardines, the boy can have had no idea that the Lord wanted to use him, and even if he had, how could he be singled out from such a huge crowd of people? This is the problem which arises in many cases where those concerned wish to serve the Lord. Nobody pays attention to them; they are lost in the crowd, unnoticed and never given a chance. No, this is never the case. Our wonderful Lord will know just where to find us if we quietly commit our cause to Him. There is no need for self-advertisement in the work of Christ. There is no fear of a man with a gift, however small, being left in ineffective obscurity. If we are ready for the Lord when He needs us, then He will know just how to bring us to the front when His time comes.

Continue reading

“BLESSED IS THE MAN …”

“BLESSED IS THE MAN …”

Message given at the conference in Switzerland in September 1968

[W. E. Thompson]

“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also doth not wither; and whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3).

WE have been hearing how the New Testament is constructed on a spiritual basis rather than on a chronological one, and that is also true of the Old Testament, particularly the books of the Psalms. As we read the Old Testament, and the Psalms, I believe we need to do so from this standpoint. If you have good Bibles you will find that the Psalms are divided into five books, and I think you will find that these five books of the Psalms correspond to the five books of Moses.

The first book of Moses is Genesis, the book of beginnings, the book of man. Throughout that book we read of God’s dealings with man, and the main content is a man; and the first book of Psalms (1 – 41) deals with the blessed man. That is what we are now going to consider. But, for your interest, if you read the second book of the Psalms, 42 – 73, you will find that they correspond to the book of Exodus, for they are the Psalms of deliverance. Then what is the next step after deliverance? It is not service, but worship — the sanctuary. “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary” (Psalm 77:13). That is the book of Leviticus — and you will find a lot about the sanctuary in Psalms 73 – 89. Next we have the book of journeyings — the book of Numbers, and if you read that fourth book of [38/39] Psalms (90 to 106) you will find much about wanderings and wilderness experiences. Then, of course, the fifth book of Moses, the book of Deuteronomy, has the land in sight.

We have also seen this week how God’s history is bound up in the history of a man, and the Psalms are the reflections of God’s dealings with a man, for we will find here almost every experience that we can possibly know. It is said of David that he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and he was also a man after God’s head, for it says: “He shall do all my will.” Thus we find in the Psalms the answer to our needs and our problems.

This first Psalm begins with a very important word — “Blessed”: “ Blessed is the man …”.

WHAT ARE BLESSINGS?

Now what are blessings? We use the word a great deal. We pray for God to bless us, to bless this one and that one, and I think perhaps it is true to say that we have come to Aeschi for a blessing. Now I believe that there are some Christians who consider that God is like a supermarket. All they have to do is to get their baskets and pick a blessing here and a blessing there; they go to the conference section and think that they can just fill their baskets with this kind of blessing.

No, blessings are not like that. We just cannot go round and collect them. These blessings are to be found only in Christ, and we shall find that we shall be blessed only in the measure that we are ourselves truly in Him and really share in a practical way His blessed life. “Blessed is the man …”. Well, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ is the first and the primary blessed Man, and it is the purpose and intention of God to bring us into these blessings of Christ. ‘Blessed’ is the first word used in the earliest recorded discourse of our Lord Jesus Christ — “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). God put Adam in the garden of Eden for a blessing, and the blessings that he lost are only regained in our Lord Jesus Christ. That is why His ministry has so much of this very important word. We want, and we need, a blessing. so that Lord says: “Blessed …”.

Another translation of this word helps us to understand what it means — ‘happy’. We can talk about the blessed man as a happy man. But then I would like to ask another question. What really makes us happy? What is it that really constitutes true, deep happiness? I think it is the word ‘satisfied’. We can take this word ‘blessed’ away and put ‘satisfied’ in and it would be quite correct.

Now this kind of satisfaction is not a cheap and easy thing, but is something that goes right, deep down into our very innermost being, because it is deep in the heart of God Himself. It is the very meaning of the Gospel. If you look at 1 Timothy 1:11 you will read a verse that will alter your whole idea about the Gospel. It is “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God”, or “ satisfied God”. Is that not wonderful? That makes a difference to what you mean when you talk about a ‘Gospel meeting’, when you are supposed to preach some kind of formula which is the answer to people’s needs! No, this Gospel that we have been brought into is the gospel of a God who is absolutely satisfied. Why is He satisfied? Because He has found the way by which He can reclaim man and bring Him back to Himself. After He had created Adam He said: ‘It is good!’ I do not think that God was finally satisfied after creating Adam, but He was certainly satisfied at the coming into the world of the final Adam — “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And God is satisfied because of those sons who have been brought to glory. That is why He is a blessed God, and the only basis of our true blessing is as we experience that in which God is well pleased; and that depends upon the measure in which the Lord Jesus Christ reigns within us.

THE LOSS OF BLESSEDNESS

Now we find in this first Psalm how the devil tries to rob this blessed man of the enjoyment of his blessings. The first verse, with its three negatives, gives us an idea of how the devil tries to rob us of what God has given us. The blessed man ‘walks not in the counsel of the ungodly; he stands not in the way of sinners; he sits not in the seat of the scornful’. There are three nouns and three verbs in that verse, and they are very important. The ungodly: that represents everyone who does not acknowledge God. The sinners: that represents those who actively do evil. The scornful: those who are directly opposed to God. You will notice that there is a decline in these three kinds of persons.

Continue reading

COMING DOWN FROM GOD OUT OF HEAVEN

COMING DOWN FROM GOD OUT OF HEAVEN

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW JERUSALEM

T. Austin-Sparks

Reading: Revelation 21 & 22

THE next great event in God’s calendar is the return in glory of His Son Jesus Christ. It is the consummation of that coming and the final revelation of the glory of Christ which is shown to us in the form of this heavenly city, “coming down from God out of heaven”. This bridal city represents the sum of God’s working through the ages. Its many symbols display the features of His Son as they have been wrought into the people whom He has taken out of the nations for His name, a marvellous union of Christ and His Church which has a timeless task of ministering life to the universe. The nations are to walk in its light, and they are to find the maintenance of their health from the leaves of its tree; kings are to bring their treasure into this city, and God’s glory will provide its radiance.

John twice affirms that the city was shown to him by God — “He showed me …”. Perhaps as we humbly read and meditate God will show us something of its significance and importance, and by means of its symbols give us a clearer idea of the unseen and eternal things which we are to keep in view so that “our light affliction” may work for us “more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

THE STREET

The Authorised Version makes a break between the first two verses of Revelation 22 which is misleading. The Revised Version indicates that the river is in the midst of the street of this holy city. The single street is central; a river runs down the middle of the street, and the tree of life grows on either side of the river. Nothing is in the plural, not even this tree, though it is found on both sides of the river. Up to this point things have been in the plural. Life has many ways of expressing itself, as the many trees of Ezekiel’s river show (Ezekiel 47:4). At the end, however, everything is gathered up into an absolute unity: one city, one street, one river and one tree. It is a symbolic reminder that at the last all will be summed up into a perfect oneness, the oneness of Christ. [53/54]

Such unity can only be realised in the fellowship of the Spirit, but this is surely not only for the future but for today. The city is being spiritually formed now, and the work is going on now in preparation for the great consummation which it reveals; if the Church is to be God’s metropolis with an eternal vocation at the centre of the universe, then here and now it must learn oneness with and in Christ. One street! This oneness, right down at the very core of the Church, is basic to its present witness as well as to its eternal vocation. The one street has one river, which means that from the inner realm of fellowship with Christ there is an outflow of life. The city is, of course, the ultimate goal to which the Holy Spirit is moving, but the same law holds good for all time. Our vocation on this earth here and now is not primarily to engage in a number of good works, but to provide a way by which the life of Christ may flow out to others. How can this happen finally if it is not beginning now? How can we enthuse about ultimate unity if we are not giving diligence here and now to keep the unity of the Spirit?

Continue reading

The Apostles Imprisoned


 

Devotional Hours with the Bible, Volume 8: Chapter 7 – The Apostles Imprisoned

By J.R. Miller


Acts 5:17-32

      The sin of Ananias and Sapphira and the swift judgment that followed, did not check the progress of the Church. “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” Every one of us casts a shadow of influence on other wherever he goes.

      But the bitterness of the rulers was not allayed by the judgment. They grew more and more fierce. The narrative goes on: “The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him. … and they were filled with jealousy.” The word “jealousy” gives us the key to this whole incident. The apostles were received with favor by the people. Multitudes were thronging about them with their sick, brought to be healed. It was the wonderful success of the gospel that so enraged the high priest and his party. There are some people who cannot bear to see other people succeed or to hear other people praised. Even in churches are sometimes found those who are embittered and aroused to jealousy by the prosperity of other churches. Instead of rejoicing that souls are saved, that the poor are helped, that evil spirits are cast our, that good is done–they criticize, talk bitterly, and oppose the efforts which are so manifestly of God.

      A godly Christian minister put it down at the end of a year, as one of the year’s lessons that he had learned to rejoice in the prosperity of others. No lesson is harder to learn, and none is more beautiful in life. We are all too apt to be jealous of those who are more honored in life and work, than ourselves.

      The rulers had not yet learned that walls do not make a secure prison for Christ’s friends. “They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.” There is no use trying to fight against God. He who sits in heaven laughs when rulers take counsel against His anointed.

      Joseph’s brothers thought they had got the boy out of the way when they had sold him as a slave–but the Lord only laughed at their plot and took him into His own hands, making a mighty man of him.

      The princes chuckled when they got Daniel into the lion’s den–but the laugh was turned when he came out unhurt and they themselves were cast to the hungry beasts!

      There was fiendish glee in certain quarters when the three Hebrew youths were cast into a fiery furnace. Their stiff knees would be limbered now. But that laugh was turned too, before the end came.

      Haman chucked when he got the gallows built for Mordecai. He would soon be rid of the old Jew who had been in his way so long. But he fell into his own trap!

      The rulers crucified Jesus and sealed the stone and set a guard about His grave. But they only brought derision upon themselves; while by their act they exalted Jesus to a place of highest honor and glory.

      Just so here, the rulers cast the apostles into prison, bolted the doors, and set their guard–but an angel came quietly by night, took the prisoners out, and left the keeper standing guard over an empty prison! Wicked men do not have all things their way in this world. There is a God who is just and true, who keeps His hand upon all the affairs of the earth, who takes care of His own and guards them as the apple of His eye. This is one of the most precious truths of the Bible, for the suffering and imperiled servants of God. They are absolutely safe in the hands of God!

      The angel who brought the apostles out their prison had a message and a commission for them: “Go, stand in the temple courts, and tell the people the full message of this new life.” The angel did not tell the apostles to flee away and hide from the rulers. That is what escaping prisoners usually do. But these men were set free, not to go away from danger–but to continue their work. Then, they were not to go and talk about their trials and hardships, to excite sympathy among the people. They were not to say a word about themselves at all–but were to declare the words of “this new life,” eternal life, the way of salvation. They were not to go and speak in quiet places, away from danger–but were to stand in the temple, the most public place in all he city. They were to speak to the people–that is, to all the people, poor as well as rich, ignorant as well as learned. It is a suggestive name, by which the gospel is here called, “Life”–this Life. Jesus Christ came that we might have life and that we might have it abundantly. The apostles were prompt and eager to obey the angel’s bidding. They hastened to the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Continue reading

The LORD Coming to His Temple

 

 

Sermon 4: The LORD Coming to His Temple

By John Newton


Malachi 3:1-3 The LORD , whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple; even the messenger of the covenant in whom ye delight: Behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like a fuller’s soap, — and he shall purify the sons of Levi — that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.

      Whereunto shall we liken the people of this generation? and to what are they like? (Luke 7:31) . I represent to myself a number of persons of various characters, involved in one common charge of high treason. They are already in a state of confinement, but not yet brought to trial. The facts, however, are so plain, and the evidence against them so strong and pointed, that there is not the least doubt of their guilt being fully proved, and that nothing but a pardon can preserve them from punishment. In this situation, it would be their wisdom, to avail themselves of every expedient in their power for obtaining mercy. But they are entirely regardless [negligent; heedless] of their danger, and wholly taken up with contriving methods of amusing themselves, that they must pass away the term of their imprisonment with as much cheerfulness as possible. Among other resources, they call in the assistance of music. And amidst a great variety of subjects in this way, they are particularly pleased with one. They choose to make the solemnities of their impending trial, the character of the judge, the methods of his procedure, and the awful sentence to which they are exposed, the ground-work of a musical entertainment. And, as if they were quite unconcerned in the event, their attention is chiefly fixed upon the skill of the composer, in adapting the style of his music to the very solemn language and subject with which they are trifling. The king, however, out of his great clemency and compassion towards those who have no pity for themselves, prevents them with his goodness. Undesired by them, he sends them a gracious message. He assures them that he is unwilling they should suffer: he requires, yea, he entreats them to submit. He points out a way in which their confession and submission shall be certainly accepted; and in this way, which he condescends to prescribe, he offers them a free and full pardon. But instead of taking a single step towards a compliance with his goodness, they set his message likewise to music; and this, together with a description of their present state, and of the fearful doom awaiting them if they continue obstinate, is sung for their diversion, accompanied with the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of instruments (Daniel 3:5) . Surely, if such a case as I have supposed could be found in real life, though I might admire the musical taste of these people, I should commiserate their insensibility!

      But is not this case more than a supposition? Is it not in the most serious sense actually realized amongst ourselves? I should insult your understandings, if I judged a long application necessary. I know my supposition must already have led your thoughts to the subject of the Messiah [Oratorio], and to the spirit and temper of at least the greater part of the performers, and of the audiences The holy Scripture concludes all mankind under sin (Romans 3:9, 10). It charges them all with treason and rebellion against the great sovereign Lawgiver and Benefactor; and declares the misery to which, as sinners, we are obnoxious. But God is long-suffering, and waits to be gracious. The stroke of death, which would instantly place us before His awful tribunal, is still suspended. In the meantime He affords us His Gospel, by which He assures us there is forgiveness with Him. He informs us of a Saviour, and that of His great love to sinners, He has given His only Son to be an Atonement and Mediator, in favour of all who shall sue for mercy in His name. The character of this Saviour, His unspeakable love, His dreadful sufferings, the agony He endured in Gethsemane, and upon the cross, are made known to us. And as His past humiliation, so His present glory, and His invitation to come to Him for pardon and eternal life, are largely declared. These are the principal points expressed in the passages of the Messiah [Oratorio]. Mr. Handel, who set them to music, has been commemorated and praised, many years after his death, in a place professedly devoted to the praise and worship of God; yea, (if I am not misinformed) the stated worship of God, in that place, was suspended for a considerable time, that it might be duly prepared for the commemoration of Mr. Handel. But, alas! how few are disposed to praise and commemorate MESSIAH Himself! The same great truths, divested of the music, when delivered from the pulpit, are heard by many admirers of the Oratorio with indifference, too often with contempt.

Continue reading

LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES

 

LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES

(The Epistle to the Ephesians)

Life In The Heavenlies (1)

Life In The Heavenlies (2)

Life In The Heavenlies (3)

Life In The Heavenlies (4)

Life In The Heavenlies (5)

Life In The Heavenlies (6)

Life In The Heavenlies (7)

Harry Foster

INTRODUCTION

MOST devout students agree that Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians reaches the highest height of spiritual excellence. This is the only place where the apostle uses the expression ‘in the heavenlies’, and he does so five times. It would be quite impossible for me to begin to expound this whole Letter, but I hope to be able to comment helpfully on the references to the heavenlies which are found in it.

In some notable ways the Letter is different from others written by Paul. Apart from the bearer, Tychicus, it makes no personal references, in spite of the fact that the apostle had spent much longer than usual in the city of Ephesus and had taken a tearful farewell of its leaders (Acts 20:37). Neither does it deal with special problems or needs as most of the other Epistles do. It is, in fact, a more general statement of [15/16] spiritual truths and is sometimes considered to have been a kind of Circular Letter, equally applicable to a number of churches. We are told that the oldest MSS do not contain a specific reference to Ephesus and there is a conjecture that it might also have been sent to the neighbouring Laodicea, especially as Paul does indicate that Tychicus carried a Letter to that city as well as to Colosse (Colossians 4:15-16). May we perhaps be permitted to think that it was written to both Ephesus and Laodicea, so that the opening verse could read: “To the saints which are at …”, leaving the names to be filled in as required.

This is only conjecture, but it is a fascinating suggestion, since Ephesus and Laodicea were the first and seventh churches to whom the risen Christ sent Letters through His servant John (Revelation 2 & 3). Both were badly at fault and threatened with repudiation by their Lord. Ephesus offended in a departure from personal love to Christ and Laodicea did so in departing from the basis of grace. Since grace and love form the great themes of this Letter, it is sad to note that in some twenty or thirty years these churches had degenerated in this serious way, yet are these not precisely the twin perils of the passage of time? Many churches and individuals still become so involved with Christian work and orthodoxy that they move away from simple devotion to the Lord Jesus and leave the first love of their original preoccupation with Him. Furthermore, many churches and individuals can become so prosperous and successful that grace is no longer to them the charming sound that it used to be and they tend so to imagine themselves superior that they make the Lord feel sick.

These are the perils which the passing of time brings to all. Could it be that it was because the Lord foresaw them that He inspired Paul to put down the great facts of spiritual reality which never change and to which we must ever return? If by John’s Revelation the Ephesians were shocked into reconsidering their spiritual state (and we are right to believe that perhaps they were), then where better could they find recovery to the first things than by reading again this famous apostolic Epistle? And if (as we may surely hope) the Laodiceans heeded John’s warnings, whence could they obtain the refined gold of spiritual reality and the eyesalve of spiritual discernment if not by turning back to this Epistle of earlier days? Thank God for a Saviour who foresees our weaknesses and failings and provides accordingly.

Is it possible that our love for Christ and for His people has grown somewhat stale, in spite of our many praiseworthy activities? May it be that all unintentionally we have moved from the ground of grace, even though we sing and speak of it; that we imagine ourselves now to be somebodies when in fact we are still nobodies? That is a feature of deceitful legalism (Galatians 6:3). It could be! It could easily be! The Corinthian, Galatian, Colossian and Thessalonian churches needed warnings and corrections; their Epistles provide these and will warn and correct us. The Ephesian Letter has rather a different emphasis: it stresses for us the great spiritual truths of the Church of the first born ones whose names are written in heaven and, in the course of this statement, employs five times over that rather mysterious phrase, “in the heavenlies.” This will surely repay closer examination.

We know from the context that the words do not refer to that timeless experience of God’s glory which will be our eternal home and which we call Heaven. No, while they were ‘in the heavenlies’ these saints were still in Ephesus, facing life’s daily challenges and wrestling with spiritual opposition. There is a “world which is to come” (1:21) and there is there [in that world] the employers’ Master who will one day call us all to account (6:9), but that is a different matter. We are dealing now not with ‘heaven’ but with ‘heavenly places’, though in fact the word ‘places’ was never employed by Paul for he was not dealing with a locality for our future but a present experience for us now. The best description that I have been able to find is that given by John Stott who tells us that the matter under consideration is ‘the unseen world of spiritual reality’ (The Bible Speaks Today ).

Continue reading

The Parables of the Kingdom

The Parables of the Kingdom
by T. Austin-Sparks

In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel by Matthew, which we may have open before us by way of reminder, we find the operation of the Kingdom illustrated in a sevenfold way.

THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM

I do not propose to attempt an exposition of that sevenfold way, but will simply lift out from the chapter the salient features of the operation of the sovereign rule of God. We have here that operation illustrated, in what have come to be called ‘the parables of the Kingdom’. That is the title which men have given to them, but it is well to remember that the title which the Lord Jesus gave to them was ‘the mysteries of the Kingdom’.

THE KEY TO THE PARABLES

These parables, or mysteries, of the Kingdom of Heaven are really impossible of understanding, except in the light of the definition of the Kingdom which we have just given – that is, as the sovereign rule of God. If you interpret them as indicating primarily a realm or nature, then you have gone beyond their warrant, and you will most certainly get into confusion. Few parts of the New Testament have been more subject to controversy than these parables. The various interpretations that have been given to them have divided students and teachers into irreconcilable schools. We shall see something of that as we go along. It is therefore necessary to discover the key to the parables, in order to be saved from this confusion and contradiction; and that key undoubtedly lies in the definition of the Kingdom as THE SOVEREIGN RULE OF GOD. Let me repeat: I am not embarking upon an exposition of these parables, but seeking to get at something of very great importance and value to ourselves at this time.

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER

The first is what is called the parable of the sower (vv. 18-23). The Lord Jesus said that the seed is the word of the Kingdom. “When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom”, He said. Now re-translate that as ‘the word of the sovereign rule’. The word of the sovereign rule has gone forth. What is the result? Very largely failure. The success in the positive sense is very limited, cornparatively – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundredfold. You see how impossible it is to impart to the Kingdom the idea of a realm or a nature. That would imply that within the realm where God rules you have very largely failure. But that is not the teaching of the parable. The teaching of the parable is this. The word of the sovereign rule is sent forth, like seed; and, no matter if there is a large failure in response and reaction to that word, God is successful in the end with a body that is productive of that which is implicit in the Word.

Yes, man may fail. He may receive apparently with gladness, and then it may all come to nothing. He may respond in a way, and seem to be going to turn out all right – and then, because of difficulties and adversities, just fade out. But let there be failure, disappointment, breakdown: no matter – God gets something in His sovereignty. There is something that this sovereign government of God secures. You see, this is a tremendous word of the sovereignty for labourers. You labour, you scatter, you give, you work, you travail; but, if it is the word of the sovereign rule in very truth, it cannot ultimately fail. There may be much disappointment, but there will be an issue which answers to the intention of the One who gave it. Very simple: but you see how important it is to recognise the all-governing law of the sovereign rule which cannot, fully and finally, ultimately be defeated. A great deal may seem to argue that the labour is in vain; but the Lord is saying here in this parable: ‘No! When it is a word of the rule of God, it cannot ultimately return wholly void; there will be something resulting from it.’ The sovereignty is governing.

THE WHEAT AND THE TARES

The next is that commonly called the parable of the wheat and the tares – the darnel (vv. 23-30). Here from the word the thought passes to persons. It is not the word that is now sown – it is persons that are sown. Children of the Kingdom are sown in the earth, and then by night the enemy comes and sows his own children, children of his kingdom. They are the children of the Devil. His method is suitable to his object. His object being completely to nullify what is of God, his method is to imitate it. That is a wile of that evil wisdom of Satan – imitation children of God mixed in with the true children of God in order to nullify. The workers are represented as coming to the owner of the field and telling him what they have found there, and he says, ‘Ah, an enemy has done this.’ And they say, ‘What would you have us do? Shall we pluck up this other thing?’

He replies: ‘No – let the sovereignty have its way! Let them both grow together, and the sovereignty, the rule of Heaven, will progressively make very clear which is which, and the end will be an easy and a safe course. If you start doing that now, you have not got the wisdom of Heaven to discriminate. It is not your business, and you have not the faculty or capacity, to disentangle this deep work of the Devil, by trying to mark out what is true and what is an imitation. That is not your job, and you are not qualified to do it. Only Heaven can do that. So let it go on, and the sovereign rule will make manifest what is of itself, and what is otherwise.’

It is the sovereign rule that is going to solve and settle this whole problem. You cannot say that the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God is like that which is pictured in this parable – an awful mixture. It is not. The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is one thing, and only the sovereign rule of God can bring out into clearness what is of God.

But that will happen as we go on. We can trust the sovereign rule. That is very practical: it works like this. There are those who are truly of God, of Heaven; and then there are those who come in – who perhaps sing the hymns, use the phraseology, carry on the same way, associate with those of the Kingdom; but there is a difference. Deep down, they are really “not of us”. They are just imitations; they are not real, not the genuine thing. We may discern, as these men discerned, that there is something here that is not the same thing, something that is foreign, that is alien and strange. What are we going to do? Had we better turn them out, tell them to go?

No, no! Go on long enough, and they will go of themselves. The two things will be self-manifested, and it will be quite easy in the long run. “They went out from us”, said John, “…that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). This is a heavenly principle, you see – there is a manifestation. It is difficult to endure patiently those people who you sense have not, as we say, the root of the matter in them – who are just camp-followers. But, as with the mixed multitude that left Egypt with Israel, time and testing will find them out. This is the way if the Kingdom, the sovereignty, operates, and it calls for much faith, and much patience.

THE MUSTARD SEED

The parable of the mustard seed (vv. 31, 32) is one of the most difficult of all, and one that has perhaps been the occasion of some of the worst interpretations and teachings.“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches.” Do you really believe, in the light of all these other parables and of His whole teaching, that the Lord Jesus said, ‘This is the Kingdom of Heaven – the Kingdom of Heaven is like that’? If the common and popular interpretation is to be accepted, then we are involved in some real difficulties. Admittedly, the parable does seem to mean that Christianity, or “the kingdom of heaven”, has very small beginnings and then grows to very great dimensions. There may be an element of truth in that. The beginnings in Jerusalem WERE small, and in the course of the centuries Christianity has become worldwide. But is that just what the Lord meant by the parable?

There are at least three things that would pull us up and make us think again, and think more energetically.

One is that at other times the Lord definitely used terms of strict and severe limitation in relation to salvation, the way and the issue. So much was this so, that His disciples were startled into ejaculating: “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 12:23). He spoke of the way to life being straitened, and few finding or accepting it: of the gate being narrow, and few entering thereby (Matt. 7:13,14). He called His disciples (representatives of His Church) the “little flock” to whom it would be the Father’s good pleasure to give THE KINGDOM (Luke 12:32). There are contrasting ideas between “wide” and “narrow”, “broad” and “straitened”, big and little, popular and unpopular. All this does not agree with the usual superficial interpretation of this parable.

Then what about the “fowls of the air”? Did He use this metaphor in a contradictory way? In the parable of the sower He had spoken of these in a bad sense: is He employing the same terms in a right and proper sense here? This violates the principle of consistency in inspiration.

Thirdly, is it COMMONLY true that the “mustard seed”, the smallest of all, grows into a tree so great as is here depicted? No, it is positively not true. If our Lord saw such a thing – and He may have done – and drew attention to it, He was drawing attention to something abnormal and not natural. It was sufficiently abnormal and unnatural to attract attention.

This brings us to the factor that is common to ALL the parables and all the teaching of Jesus, and of the Apostles subsequently. In all these parables there is a selective, discriminating, contrasting, comparative, good-and-bad element. The Kingdom of Heaven is like that: the sovereign rule is all-comprehending, but it is very particular, selective, and judicial. Consistency in every direction demands that we interpret this “tree” of Christianity as an abnormal, unnatural development, capable of housing many things that are not in keeping with the true NATURE of the Kingdom. These “fowls” are NOT the born-from-above people who alone can see or enter the kingdom (John 3). They are all the accretions, the camp-followers, the parasites, the various kinds of people and things that take advantages of Christianity, and use its cover, but are not of its nature.

Continue reading

THE GRACE OF GOD

THE GRACE OF GOD

[Harry Foster]

“Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters and to be well-pleasing to them in all things not gainsaying: not purloining but showing all good fidelity: that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:9-11).

“The word of the truth of the gospel which is come unto you even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing, as it doth in you also, since the day we heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:5-6).

“He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

MY grace is sufficient for thee.” For the Apostle that solved a very great problem in his life, and met a need in such a remarkable way that he was still in the good of it fourteen years afterwards. You notice that he does not say so. He is speaking as if the Lord were continually saying this word to him, as if it were a present experience. In a sense he does not speak of it in the past, as something finished and over and written in history, but it is that past experience which still comes right up to the present moment and stands good today. “He hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.”

Now the grace of God, I believe, is, so far as we are concerned, one of the biggest and most vital truths of Divine reality, and the real burden of what I wish to say to you in the Lord’s Name is something after this fashion. The grace of God — yes it does express that loving, kind, considerate, thoughtful sympathy of the Lord for us. For the sinner it means that, though God might be angry with him, He is not; that, though He has every reason for hating him, hurling him into the abyss, and feeling an implacable resentment toward him, He does not. His feelings toward the sinner are those of kindness, of desire, of sympathy, of compassion. If you are tempted to wonder whether you have ever known the Lord or not, or if you are tempted to feel that God is against you, those temptations are of the devil, though he may be masquerading as an angel of light. There is a sphere, a realm, into which, in God’s infinite mercy, we have been brought, and that means that His attitude toward us is one of grace. In the general sense that may even be said of those who do not know God, for, today being the day of grace, God is not, in the first place, angry with men except as they harden their hearts and refuse His grace.

So, as we touch every realm of human need in our lives as Christians, we are again touching a realm where the grace of God becomes such a precious thing, and in the hour of trial and of deep tribulation, of testing or of perplexity, of loneliness, or whatever be the peculiar trouble and difficulty of any one child of God, it is still true that the Lord has that attitude and sympathy and comes near with His own blessed presence as a balm and a comfort. In that sense (and it is in that sense that [29/30] these words are usually applied), “My grace is sufficient for thee”.

GRACE MORE THAN COMFORT

I have said all that because it is very true and very precious, but there is something more that I feel we need to know, for the grace of God is much more than that kindly, comforting, sympathetic love. It is the mighty power of God for the fulfilment of His will in our lives. I believe it is a need that may be found in many of us to know the Lord saying — not just: ‘I will comfort you, I will cheer you up; I will pity you, I will assure you of My love!’, but: ‘There is no need for the experience through which you are passing! There is no need for your failure, nor for those experiences of which you are ashamed and for which you are sorry, and which you feel need to be covered and hidden! All that sad story of failure is not necessary!’ ‘Well,’ you begin to say, ‘look at the circumstances in which I am! Look at those people with whom I have to do! Look at my upbringing and my handicap, my circumstances, myself!’ The Lord knows them far better than you do! Nevertheless, He does not accept that any one of them, nor all of them together, are the real explanation of your failure, of your wandering, of your place of difficulty, or of your experience of defeat. None of these things is the true reason why you do not know the will of God being fulfilled in your life. What, then, is the reason? It is that you do not know the grace of God. You may object to that, but I say it again. You do not know the grace of God, and that is your difficulty.

The Apostle Paul, under the peculiarly acute trial which came upon him, was also in danger of failing and fainting, and to his cries to the Lord he received an answer, which was: “My grace is sufficient for thee!” The Lord did not mean: ‘It is all right, Paul! You have this trial and this suffering, and it is all very bitter and very hard, but I will just comfort you and give you the grace to bear it quietly!’ The Lord did not only mean that. He was saying: ‘Paul, in spite of this thing, you will reach the goal. The heavenly vision will be realized. My grace is sufficient, not just to comfort you, but to get you through. Paul was feeling: ‘This thing is like a great stake that holds me to the ground. It is driven in by the devil, and here I am down here when I would be up there. Now, if the Lord, in His sovereign power, would rebuke the devil and remove the stake, then I could get busy climbing up there!’ But the Lord said: ‘No, you do not get there that way. Let the devil drive in his stake that cripples you, handicaps you, and makes you, as you have never been before, aware of your own utter helplessness, but My answer is not to remove the handicap. My answer is that there is a spiritual power which I call My grace that will, in spite of everything, in spite of your own more conscious weakness, disability, inability, yet bring you to that heavenly goal. My grace is sufficient!’ That was the Lord’s word to the Apostle, and it is His word to us.

GRACE FOR SERVICE

Is My grace sufficient for ministry? When the Apostle had that vision, it was not of himself with the Lord in glory. That is some people’s idea of heaven, but it is not the Lord’s idea, for it would not be very glorious to Him, and does not represent His purpose one little bit. No, the vision was of a great Company of redeemed souls brought right through to glory in spite of their own hopelessness, of the tremendous pull of the world, of the power of sin, of the antagonism of the devil, and of sin and shame on their side. Paul saw that vision and his heart was moved with a great desire to serve the Lord in that. He longed to pour out all that he had and all that he ever could be in order that that might be realized, not just in him, but that he might serve the Lord in bringing others there, and then, doubtless just when he was most full of hope as to the glory and blessedness of this ministry, and he left all for the Lord to do that, he was smitten down. Some of us know something of what that means: the bitter disappointment of not being able to fulfil our ministry. And that is how it came to Paul. From a human point of view he was out of the ministry and it was Satan’s work. That was a very bitter thought to Paul, but the Lord came to him after his third appeal, when he was really desperate, and assured him that, far from being out of the ministry, he was now coming into it, and that this experience was a part of it. ‘Paul, you shall fulfil a ministry with this suffering, this disability, such as you could never have fulfilled by any other way, but it will not be you. My grace is sufficient for you!’

I have said this in order that we may catch something of the thought of God’s grace being a tremendous power, and a practical power, in the life.

GRACE FOR CHARACTER AND CONDUCT

When we turn to Titus, that is just exactly what Paul says. The Apostle, in writing to this younger brother, had gone to some length to set out the kind of life that the Lord’s people should live, summing up the whole matter of our duty and life here in the [30/31] world in one beautiful phrase in which he speaks of our “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things”. Then immediately he comes to the practical power that produces practical holiness, and what is it? “For the grace of God hath appeared.” There is the secret of Christian conduct. We do not want to be neglectful of or indifferent to the whole matter of living here on earth lives that are a credit to the Lord and having nothing to be ashamed of before Him and before men, but what is the secret of that? It is the grace of God, and you will notice how the Apostle passes into one or two spheres in which the grace of God becomes a working, effective power.

First of all, “the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men”, and I take it that this thought of salvation refers in the first instance to the inward life. The grace of God is sufficient for our inward life. It comes in the power of salvation for deliverance, and the sphere in which we need deliverance is inside, and not outside. Let us be quite sure about that. You would never dispute it in relation to anyone, man or woman, who does not know the Saviour. You know that, when you begin to speak to them of the Christian life, they will always say that in their circumstances, just where they are, it is not possible to live a Christian life. And the attitude of the natural man is always that it is the outward realm that needs changing, but we all know that it is not there. What we need is deliverance inwardly, and if we are free there, then we will be all right wherever we are.

Now, it is the grace of God which, appearing, brings salvation to all men. The Authorized Version says: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men”, but that cannot be the meaning, for it is not true. Of course, the problem arises: Does the grace of God bring salvation to all men? Surely this is what it means: the grace of God has appeared and it is a grace which is capable of saving all men, of bringing salvation to every kind of man. There is none so weak or so handicapped that the grace of God is not sufficient for them, nor is there anyone so strong or so good that the grace of God is not their only sufficiency. It is for all men, and it does not matter where the word of the Lord finds you. There is only one solution to your problem, and that is the grace of God. There are so many realms in which we may need deliverance, but the grace of God comes bringing salvation. “The grace of God hath appeared”, has been made manifest. The whole effort of the Spirit of God is to make us believe that this is something that God has in hand — and that is so true of the whole Christian life. Your problem may be (and perhaps in this very thing you do not know the grace of God) that you have not yet realized how utterly and completely the whole matter of the Christian life is God’s concern. It is His responsibility, and it is from His side. How do you know the grace of God? Well, God appears to you with it. You cannot say more than that!

Continue reading