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

Robbers of God!

(Alexander Smellie, “The Secret Place” 1907)

“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me!” Malachi 3:8

Other things I withhold from God, besides the tithes and offerings that are His due.

Do I not rob Him of my thoughts? He is a theme of study and meditation that need never become monotonous or wearisome — He has so many wondrous aspects to His nature and works. His self-existence, His holiness, His saving grace, His sympathy and friendship — here are worlds to roam over, which I cannot exhaust!

But it is only at rare intervals that I turn to Him, and then I am content with the briefest interview. I do not practice His presence in earnest thought.

Do I not rob Him of my reverence? Our age has to a great degree lost the reverence that marked former generations — and I am too entirely the child of our age. I have forgotten the humble habit of walking softly before the Lord. He has ceased to be so sacred, so awe-inspiring, so glorious in majesty — as He used to be to me. I seldom feel myself in a holy shrine where I must tread quietly, and must shut my lips, and must lay myself in the dust before Him. I am merry where I should be serious — and flippant when I should tremble. I do not reverence God as I should.

Do I not rob Him of my love? It matters to Him if I refuse Him . . .
the love of gratitude,
the love of trust,
the love of adoration,
the love of obedience,
the love of delight.
Have I considered the wrong I inflict on Him, when I do not love Him as He deserves?

Do I not rob Him of my speech? It is astonishing that what is every man’s chief concern — should be no man’s conversation. Amidst the crowding words that are continually crossing the threshold of my lips — how rarely do I interpose a sentence on behalf of God, or in praise of Him whom I call my Savior and my Master, or in commendation of His great salvation! It is most sinful to be so tongue-tied.

And do I not rob Him of my life?
He requires the prayers of my life.
He requires the endeavors of my life.
He requires the totality of my life!
But how little of my life is undeniably His!

What can I do, but claim the mercy which Christ gave to the robber on the tree?

   ~  ~  ~  ~

Solomon’s Sin

Solomon’s Sin

1 Kings 11

J. R. Miller, 1910

The religion of Solomon has been much discussed. It has been generally supposed that he was not as good a man as David. Yet David was not ideal in his religious character. He had grave defects. The often quoted saying, that he was a man after God’s own heart, probably had chief reference to his conduct as a king—rather than to his personal moral life.

The name of Solomon was not stained by such crimes and cruelties as was David’s. He began his life worthily, showing a sincere desire to please God. He delighted in the worship of God. In building the temple he showed devoutness. His prayer at the dedication of the temple ranks among the most remarkable “devotional utterances to be found in pre-Christian devotional literature.”

Just when Solomon’s apostasy began, we do not know. “When he was old” is the only indication of the time in the Scripture. The nature and extent of his departure from the Lord are not definitely defined. It is said that his wives turned away his heart after other gods. He loved many foreign wives—and these drew him from his loyalty to Jehovah.

A good wife is a great blessing to a man. Many a man owes everything to his wife. Many great men who have risen to honor and power and to noble character, have said that they owed it all to their wives. But Solomon made two mistakes:

First, he had too many wives. Any plural number is too many. One wife is “a good thing,” if she is a faithful and true woman; but more than one brings a curse, and not a blessing. Solomon had many wives, and it is no wonder that they turned both his head and his heart.

The other mistake was that his wives were not godly women. He did not follow God’s counsel in choosing his wives—but married heathen women. They did not convert to the faith of Solomon’s house—but remained heathen in the holy city. They must have chapels and priests for their different gods, and in the very shadow of the temple, the smoke arose from many a heathen altar.

At first Solomon only permitted these ceremonies, tolerating all religions; but later, as he grew older, he attended upon the rites, and his heart was turned away after heathen deities. These foreign wives were from the very tribes which the Israelites had been commanded to destroy utterly. “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned hisheart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” 1 Kings 11:1-4

Thus his religious life was wrecked! The lesson has its solemn warning for all young people, not to form intimate relations with those who are wicked. To do so almost surely leads to apostasy from God and to ruin in the end. It is pathetic to note that it was in his old age that Solomon was thus led away. Many men stand through their middle life and past it, and then in their advanced years depart from God and fall into sin.

His heart was turned away after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God. The trouble was in his heart. It was his heart that was turned away—not his head. It was not a change of theological views or opinions that led to his defection. His heart was not perfect in its loyalty. The lifefollows the heart wherever it leads. The heart determines the character; the heart is the character, as God sees it. It is the heart, therefore, that needs keeping with all diligence.

Solomon’s heart wholly devoted in its aim and motive to God and His service. None but Christ was ever perfect in character. David’s heart is here referred to as perfect. Yet he was not free from sin. He was perfect in his loyalty to God. He never turned away after any other gods. He fell once into sad sin—but his deep penitence afterwards shows how true was the cleaving of his life to God. David had an undivided heart for God; Solomon had a corner in his heart for the Lord, and then other corners for the gods of all the other nations.

The Master said: “You can not serve God—and mammon.” No one can serve the Lord—and any other god. We need to be on our guard against this Solomonian religion. There is plenty of it all about us. It is very broad Church, and liberal. It abhors the preaching of the severe truths of God’s Word about sin and damnation, and about holiness. It sends well-nigh everybody to heaven, and regards hell as a mere fable. It calls strict Christians puritanic or strait-laced, and finds no use for such psalms as the Fifty-first. It is not hard to see in this verse, however, which of the two kinds of religion pleases God the better and which leads to the better end. If what his religion did for Solomon is a fair sample of the outcome of that sort of religion—it does not appear to be quite satisfactory.

The turning of Solomon from the Lord was very serious. It was not negative merely. It did not end with a change of opinion. “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.” 1 Kings 11:5-8.

His apostasy was complete. He seems to have abandoned the temple which he had built for the Lord. At least he built chapels and shrines for all the gods of his wives and worshiped in them, degrading Jehovah to the level of the idols of the heathen nations!

No wonder that Solomon lost the favor of the true God. All God’s promises to him were conditioned upon his obedience and faithfulness. “The Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the Lord.” We must not forget God’s uncompromising hatred of sin, and His inflexible justice—while we extol His mercy and love. It is utterly impossible for us to turn away from Him, and yet have Him remain near to us in His gracious, favoring presence. We can not leave His ways—and hope to have Him walk with us. Holiness of heart and life is the unvarying condition of divine blessing. God does not withdraw His love from His children when they sin—but He does withdraw His approving smile, without which life withers; and the blessedness of His favor can be restored only when we come back to Him from our wanderings with penitence and renewed consecration to obedience and holy living.

The fact that the Lord had graciously appeared twice to Solomon is noted as an element of aggravation in his sin. Matthew Henry says: “God keeps account of the gracious visits He makes us, whether we do or no; knows how often He has appeared to us and for us, and will remember it against us if we turn from Him.” Every such gracious visit to us, adds to our responsibility for obedience and holy service. The more we know of God and the greater the favor He shows us—the sorer is our sin if we forsake Him and go back to sin.

A sculptor had a vision of Christ, which he reproduced in stone. He believed that he had seen the Christ in his vision, and that the form he had chiseled in the marble, was the very image of the glorious Person who had appeared to him. He grew famous afterwards and was asked to make statues of certain heathen deities. But he refused, saying: “A man who has seen the Christ would commit sacrilege, if he were to employ his art in the carving of a pagan goddess. My art is henceforth a consecrated thing.”

When Solomon had seen the Lord in vision—not once only—but twice —he should have been forever a consecrated man. The eyes that looked upon the Lord, should never have lusted after earth’s pleasures. The hands that had fashioned a glorious temple for God, should never have built chapels and altars for heathen deities. Solomon’s sins were far greater because of the special favors God had granted to him. Have we seen Christ? Has He appeared to us in His Word, or in prayer, or at the holy table? Let us not forget that having seen Christ, should set us apart forever for His service and for holy living.

The Lord appeared again to Solomon in some way; at least He spoke to him in solemn warning: “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my laws, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants.” God will not leave His work in the hands of those who will not obey Him. The vessels that He employs must be clean. He tries men with trusts. If they prove faithful He continues the trusts in their hands, and adds others. If they prove unfaithful and unworthy, He takes from them the things He has committed to them.

It is personal obedience that is here made the test. Solomon may still have been a wise king, a good administrator—but he was no longer a godly man. His heart was not right, his life was not holy, he was disobedient to God’s commands; and it was on account of this personal unholiness, that the kingdom was to be torn from him.

In these days there is a great deal of talk about public and private character in men who aspire to office. Some contend that the people have no right to inquire into a man’s personal moral character; that they have to do only with the questions of his statesmanship and general ability for government. Very clearly, it was Solomon’s private and personal character, that brought upon him the divine wrath. God wants men with pure hearts and clean lives to represent Him in places of power and authority.

The Lord was still gracious to Solomon. He would rend the kingdom from him—but not until his life was completed. ” But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son.” Lives are woven together, and the influence of one falls upon another. A godly man transmits blessings to his children, and one who turns away from God robs his children of blessings that ought to be theirs. David’s godly life kept from Solomon the visitation of the full consequence of his sin.

There are many of us enjoying blessings on our thoughtless, reckless lives, because we had pious parents who walked in the ways of God and pleased Him. Their prayers form a shelter over our heads that shields us from the consequences of our own sins. But there are many people who, just like Solomon, live so as to rob their own children of the honors and privileges that they might and ought to transmit to them. Solomon’s son did not receive the kingdom of all Israel, getting but a fragment of it—and it was Solomon’s fault! The man who, by drunkenness or gambling, or indolence or extravagance, wastes the fortune God has given him and transmits beggary to his children—is guilty of like sin. Many children suffer sorely for the sins of their fathers!

Untrained, unlopped, unpruned, uncultured!

(John MacDuff, “Ripples in the Twilight” 1885)

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life!” Proverbs 4:23

Leave the heart to itself — untrained, unlopped, unpruned, uncultured — and you will soon have a wild wilderness — an aggregate of distorted ugliness — the home and haunt of all venomous things! We must lay the axe to the root of every evil habit and debasing passion!

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry!” Colossians 3:5

   ~  ~  ~  ~

God’s Sovereignty and Prayer

By John Sale


Our seeking for revival always should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge that God is not only the source of revival, but He also is the sovereign God: He is the One who is in the heavens and does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Revival is not something that human hands or wills can produce; it is something that only God can provide, according to His own good pleasure.

      All Good Things Come From God


When King David led God covenant people in bring together the gift and resources required to build a temple, he praise God with these words:

      “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chr 29:10-12).
If this is true of physical things, how much more it is true of spiritual blessings? When the Christian prays, he is asking and thanking God for things, which are at the disposal of someone else. We pray because we recognize that God is the author and source of everything we have or hope to have. J. I. Packer summarizes it like this:

      “The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependance. When we are on our knees, we know that it is not we who control the world; it is in our own power, therefore, to supply our need by our independent efforts; every good thing that we desire for ourselves and for others must be sought from god, and will come, if it comes at all, as a gift from His hands” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p 11).


God is in Control


When the church asks, “Why should we pray, if God is in control, and knows all things anyway?” it is enough to answer by simply pointing to the explicit and various commands in Scripture for God’s people to pray. That alone is sufficient! Yet, there is wonderful provision for the church to understand this great truth, and thereby, be immensely encouraged to pursue God in the great task and privilege of praying, and more specifically, praying for revival. Furthermore, it is important to carefully examine our views concerning prayer and revival to be sure that they are in harmony with the teaching of scripture.

      A common idea seems to be that I come to God and ask Him for something I want, and that I expect Him to give me whatever I ask. If I pray earnestly and in faith, He must answer. Someone has aptly said that this kind of approach “…is most dishonoring and degrading, making God our cosmic bellboy: doing our bidding, performing our pleasure and granting our desires.”

      Rather, prayer is coming to God, pouring out our hearts in fervent desire and faith, expressing our need, committing our way to Him, and leaving the outcome to the Lord as He most wisely and lovingly sees best. Even Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane being deeply grieved and distressed: “My Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39)

      There are two primary elements of prayer that will help us appreciate why we pray to the Sovereign God.

      Prayer Acknowledges Our Helplessness and Dependence


First, the one who prays focuses upon himself. In a single word, we recognize that we are “important.” The true child of God whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God to see what the natural man cannot see, begins to understand that as mankind, we are mere creatures, while God is the creator and source of all things. Paul the Apostle reminds the church at Rome of God’s word to Jeremiah the prophet, declaring: “He is the potter and we are the clay” (Romans 9:21). Jesus teaches His disciples that, “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Continue reading

Spiritual Nurses

 

By A.W. Pink


From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: October, 1939

      “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children” (1 Thess. 2:7).

What a delightful figure did the Apostle here employ, and how blessedly it depicts the ditties of the minister’s office in connection with one section of those who are committed to his charge. Unto those who are but babes in Christ he sustains the relationship of a nurse. What wisdom, what tenderness, what patience this calls for. His infantile charges are to be fed with the pure milk of the Word. Care has to be taken that they get plenty of rest, and not pressed into “service” for which they are utterly unfit. How beautifully this is brought out in Isaiah 40:11, where we behold the Good Shepherd carrying the “lambs” in His arms. What a lesson is there pointed for all His undershepherds to deal with the little ones as such, nourishing and tending to them.

      But there comes a time when we outgrow the need for nurses, and it is just as harmful for those reaching the age of adolescence to be treated as though they were still in the nursery, as it would be if infants were forced to attempt tasks suited only to adults. We never tire of calling attention to some of the many ways in which the natural adumbrates the spiritual, for simple and obvious though this is, yet it is surprising how often the lessons to be learned therefrom are overlooked. During the first few months of our earthly existence we were entirely dependent upon the ministrations of others, being quite incapable of doing anything for ourselves. Even when learning to walk, other hands had to support us. But would it not be pathetic if such were the case with us now?

      It is lamentable when a boy in his teens is still tied to his mother’s apron strings; yet is it not equally deplorable for those who have been Christians many years to be tied to their minister’s apron strings? Yet how often we witness this very thing. There is a certain class who seem to be afraid, or at any rate unwilling, to think for themselves–to search the Scriptures for themselves, and act accordingly–and we suspect that in many cases the preacher is as much to be blamed as they are. It is true that he is their teacher, and as such he should possess a wider and deeper knowledge of spiritual things than they have. Yet is it not his duty to instruct them–to familiarize themselves with God’s Word, and thus become qualified to “Prove all things: hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21)? In other words, the preacher is not to be a nurse unto them all their lives.

      It has long been our conviction that the preacher who is really of greatest service to his people is the one who makes them most independent of creature help and casts them back directly upon God Himself. For souls to run to their pastor every time they are in trouble, or look to him to solve all their spiritual problems, is virtually to give him the same place in their lives as the deluded Papists accord their “priests.” This is not only to rob God of His glory, but also retards their spiritual progress. It is with God Himself I most need to deal, and any man who comes between me and the Lord is really a hindrance, no matter how good his intentions may be. Moreover, the preacher is human, and therefore liable to err: but God is omniscient and never misdirects. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).

      Some time ago we had a letter from one of our readers to say she was much perturbed over the matter of baptism, and asking us to communicate our own views thereon. We answered by saying that while we rejoiced to learn she was exercised upon this important ordinance, yet we were disappointed that our opinion had been asked for. We stated that if we gave it, it could not be of any real value to her: that she had the same Bible to consult that we had, and urged her to prayerfully study the New Testament and act thereon–taking no man’s word or advice. We knew that what we had said would be a real test, and that if she belonged to that hyper-sensitive class which is so numerous today, she would be offended. But committing the matter to the Lord, we counted upon Him to be so overruling that He would be glorified and she satisfied.

Our inquirer thanked us for our letter, saying, “I absolutely concur with you that it would not help me for you to answer my question regarding immersion. I must search the Word prayerfully, and be entirely obedient to that light God gives me . . . You must agree it is hard for a young Christian to know what the Word teaches (humanly speaking) when one spiritual man of God teaches that it says one thing, and another apparently equally spiritually-minded man teaches from the Word the opposite.” To which we replied, “Yes, my dear friend, I freely grant that it is far from easy to ascertain what God’s Word teaches while we practically shut ourselves up to hearing or reading what is now being given out by those claiming to be ‘Bible Teachers’; yea, I go so far as to say that it is impossible–nothing but confusion can be the result.”

      Sooner or later there comes a time in the lives of most real Christians when those words, “Cease ye from man” (Isa. 2:22) are applied to their hearts in Divine power. This will not mean that they now refuse to hear God’s servants or read their writings, but that they will no longer place the same blind confidence in their teachers as the Papists do in their priests. Instead, they will emulate the Bereans, who did not mechanically accept what they heard even from the lips of the Apostles, but “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). This is what our young friend did, and in her last letter she was able to tell us that the Lord had made clear her duty and she had been Scripturally baptized. How happy she was that her faith stood not “in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). She added, “I can perceive well how the man who throws me back upon the Lord Himself helps me the most.” Spiritual nurses have their place, but they become a snare when we fail to outgrow their need.–A.W.P.

 

High Time To Awake Out Of Sleep


 

By Robert Murray McCheyne


IN THESE WORDS, Paul tells believers that it is waking time; and I would just tell you, dear friends, the same. It is high time for you to awake out of sleep. There is a condition among Christians which may be called sleeping; like the ten virgins, they slumber and sleep. Ah! I fear there are many sleeping Christians among you. It is waking time, believer. Do you know what time it is? You do not seem to know how near sunrise it is.

      I will now show you what it is to be sleeping Christians. It is to be one that has come to Christ, yet has fallen asleep in sin. Like the church at Ephesus, they have left their first love: They do not retain that realization of Christ’s preciousness-that freshness of believing. They have forgotten the fresh grasp of a Savior. So it is with some among yourselves. You may have seen your sins; yet you have lost that fresh conviction of sin you once felt so deeply. You do not see such a beauty in Jesus. The more we look at Him, just the more we would look again. Earthly things pall upon the taste; but it is not so with things divine-they grow sweeter the more often you use them. So every time you look at Jesus, He grows more precious. The rose is sweet, yet it loses its smell; but the lovely Rose of Sharon grows sweeter and sweeter. Earthly apples lose their taste; but the apple tree does not so-“Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.” Sleepy Christians, you have lost taste for the apples. Oh! it is not time for you to sleep any longer. Believer, if you sleep on, you will soon doubt if ever you have come to Christ at all.

      To awake out of sleep, then, is to see that divine things are realities. When you are half asleep, you see things imperfectly. Ah! you are not affected by divine realities. Now, what is it to awake out of sleep? To awake out of sleep is to see sin as it is-your heart as it is-Christ as He is-and the love of God in Christ Jesus. And you can see all this by looking to Calvary’s Cross. O! it is an awful thing to look to the Cross and not be affected, nor feel conviction of sin-nor feel drawn to Christ. O! I do not know a more sad state than this. O! pray that you may be wide awake. Dear friends, our life is like a river, and we are like a boat sailing down that river. We are drawing nearer and nearer to the shores of eternity. Some may have believed for forty years. Ah! your salvation is nearer than when you first believed. Your redemption draws nigh-the redemption of your whole soul-your complete redemption. And the time is coming when we will get it-you will be saved, and then the last stone will be put on with shoutings of “Grace! grace! unto it.” Then will the crown be put upon your heads, for you will be more than conquerors.

      Dear friends, I do not know how far the day is spent. This is a dark, dark time; but the day is breaking-the shadows are fleeing away. The river Euphrates is drying up-that shows the day is breaking. The Jews, God’s ancient people, are bringing in, and that shows the day is far spent.

      And it is also high time for unconverted men to awake out of sleep. O, sinners! you are fast asleep, you are lying dormant-dead. O, sleepy souls, it is high time you should awake. Do you know what angels said when they went to and fro upon the earth? They told the Lord, “Behold, all the earth sitteth still and is at rest.” Ali! you are fast asleep. God has given you the spirit of slumber. Do you not remember the message to Amos-“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion?” And that is the case with many of you. When you come to this house, you are in a place where Jesus has called sleepy souls, and where He has been found of very many. O, sleeping souls; it is high time for you to awake. You are living in a dream. Every Christless man will find at last that he has been dreaming. Ah! the time is coming when you shall find that your following after gold is but a golden dream. And is there no pleasure in a dream? Who has not felt that there is pleasure even in dreams. But, ah! you must awake. Like a man condemned to die (and many of you are condemned already), he dreams of home, of his wife and children, of freedom and pleasure; but, ah! he awakes by the toll of the death-bell, and he finds that-behold it was but a dream!

Continue reading

THE GOINGS OF GOD

Image result for bible wallpaper free exodus

THE GOINGS OF GOD

(Studies in the book of Exodus)

J. Alec Motyer

1. THE PERSEVERING GOD (1:1 to 7:7)

IN its care for our spiritual welfare the Bible deals with real situations. A more exact way of saying this is to point out that our Caring God wrote the Bible for us in this way so that through His holy Word He may exercise His own pastoral care over His Church here on earth. We are reminded that the people of God are in this world: “They went down into the land of Egypt” (1:1). The opening two chapters of the book deal with marriage, birth and death; for the people of God have to face the realities of life here. There is hostility — Pharaoh stirring up his servants and all his people against the people of God. There is also good fortune — Moses is unexpectedly taken into the household of the king, to be brought up as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. And there is also failure — Moses, seeking to exploit the opportunities involved in his special situation, blunders badly. All this is to be found in two chapters.

We notice also that the people of God are presented in their totality and their individuality. We begin with the names of every man who came with Jacob and then we are told that “all that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls”. The people of God, total and individual, are found to be deeply embroiled in world affairs, affected by its politics, preoccupied with its cares, hard hit by its hostilities and subject to various degrees of fortune, and in it all they are remembered by God. You may wonder how I can even suggest that God could be capable of forgetting, but the words are: “God heard their groaning and God remembered” (2:24). It is part of the attractiveness of Holy Scripture that it has a delightfully human way of speaking about God. We can only understand this sudden reviving of memory against a background of forgetfulness. As Moses came to write up the story, he looked back and saw that at this point a line was drawn across the history of God’s people: this was the day when God began to act. In retrospect it seemed to him so dramatic and so to involve a change in God’s feelings, that he could only describe it by saying: “That was the day when God remembered us”. Nevertheless, as he wrote up everything that happened before that date, he had to call the people’s attention to the fact that God had never forgotten them. This, then, is the first lesson of these opening chapters of Exodus, namely the persevering ways of God with His chosen people.

God’s Ways With His People

The sheer numerical quantity of the people of God struck terror into the Egyptian rulers. They felt that here was a danger within their borders which they must take steps to contain. The new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph was not bound by any obligation to God’s people, so he took steps to deal with what he felt was a threat to his kingdom. It was then that he began to discover that this is a people which cannot be destroyed. The narrative from 1:1 to 2:22 shows us:

1. Providential Care

Humanly speaking everything was bent on their destruction yet “the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied, and the more [103/104] they spread abroad” (1:12). This is in accordance with so much else in the Scriptures which is summed up for us in the words of the Lord Jesus: “No one shall pluck them out of my hands”. Pharaoh was great and his taskmasters many and strong but no efforts of theirs could ever set aside God’s providential care of His chosen people. It is interesting to contrast the two similar phrases: “lest they multiply” (v.10) and “the more they multiplied” (v.12). The king of the world may have been bent on destruction but the King of Heaven overruled with supernatural preservation.

2. Timely Aid

We learn here what is said in another New Testament scripture: “All things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose”. Pharaoh had a second plan. If he could not crush this people by general oppression he would call the midwives to his aid and attempt to wipe out the men of Israel at birth. His policy of infanticide was, however, set aside by God who in His marvellous wisdom saw to it that the plan was committed to the very people who would frustrate it: “The midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them”. So the midwives came under the blessing of God (v.20) and instead of perishing, “the people multiplied and waxed mighty”. The Sovereign God saw to it that His own timely aid met the enemy in ways that he never expected and could not cope with.

What was true of the totality of the people of God was equally true for individuals. The individual is in the care of God, as we find when meeting for the first time Moses, the man who is to dominate the remainder of the first five books of the Bible. Here, however, he is not introduced to us in the light of his subsequent greatness but simply as an object lesson on how God looks after the individual among His people. In Moses’ case there was special care in relation to divine purpose, but this is not mentioned here. We simply see that the same God who caters for all His people with providential care is also careful to shelter the individual under His preserving grace.

God covered Moses protectively from every threat. His parents married and the child was born at that very time when the royal edict commanded that he must be put into the river. In due time he was put into the river, but the river could not claim this child. As he was lying there, watched by the loving eye of Miriam, who should come along but Pharaoh’s daughter! This was no ordinary Egyptian, but a princess from the royal house. The contest was being brought to a particular point: it was the royal house which decreed infanticide and yet it was the royal house which intervened to save the infant. The princess asked for the box which was floating in the river to be brought to her, and when the box was opened the child started crying. In a remarkable act of providence God produced a tender-hearted princess from that savage royal house. Out of the palace which did not hesitate to murder infants on a big scale there came one girl whose heart was moved by a crying baby. By the clever intervention of Miriam, the baby was given back to his parents to be brought up. Right there, in the midst of the Egyptian people whose king had decreed his destruction, the child grew up whom nobody dared touch. “Take this child away and nurse it for me,” the princess had said. The preserving providence of God had so surrounded this child’s life that no matter how much hostility the neighbours felt and no matter how greatly they detested the Hebrew people, they could not and dare not touch this child. Our God is a God of timely aid.

3. Purposeful Care

We soon find that God’s providential care is also a purposeful care. The next thing we are told about this man shows how conscious he was of his vocation. He saw an Egyptian striking an Hebrew and he could not keep his hands off the aggressor. There was that in Moses which automatically reacted violently against helplessness and injustice. He was rather like his adoptive royal mother who had championed his cause in his infancy. Moses needed that kind of heart, for this was part of God’s preparation for the man who was to suffer for the rest of his life with a cantankerous and ungrateful people without ever losing heart compassion for them. We see the purposefulness of God with Moses from the very beginning, how He started with this man as He intended to go on with him through his long life of service.

A further incident in the life of Moses shows that he is at it again, leaping to the defence of the helpless: “The shepherds came and drove the daughters of Jethro away, but Moses stood [104/105] up and helped them” (2:17). This involvement in Jethro’s household meant that Moses settled down there and spent forty years in caring for another man’s sheep. This is a story of apparent failure, but not even failure can take Moses out of the purposes of God who sovereignly presided over it all in order to bring those purposes to pass. So for forty years Moses tended another man’s sheep until the day came when God was ready to say: “I will lead My sheep, My people, like a flock by the hand of Moses”.

4. The Resource of Prayer

If chapter one shows that God’s people cannot be destroyed by any human agency, chapter two makes it very clear that neither can they be delivered by a mere human agency. If Pharaoh cannot destroy them, neither can Moses deliver them. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” was a lesson learned long ago in the land of Egypt. For all his capacity and for all his authority, Moses was quite unable to be the deliverer of God’s people. They could not be destroyed by man and they could not be saved by man. Mercifully, however, the people possessed a spiritual resource as we learn in the closing verses of this chapter. “It came to pass in the course of many days … the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried” (2:23). Relief was not found in the passage of time, though many days passed. The Christian never says that time is the great healer. No, the passage of time did not bring relief; it only brought continued bondage. What brought relief was the place and practice of prayer; “and their cry came up unto God by reason of their bondage”. The repetition of this last phrase shows that their cry to God originated from a deeply felt sense of need and was also the explanation of God’s answer: “their cry came up unto God by reason of their bondage “. The motive for the cry from earth was bondage and the motive for prayer being heard in heaven was also bondage. Our very necessities are in themselves an appeal to God and a guarantee that He will hear us.

The next two verses give a four-fold explanation of why such prayer is efficacious. It is because God hears. Then it is because God remembers. He remembers His covenant, which simply means that God had made a solemn promise. He had said that He would be a God to Abraham and to his children after him, and He actually went on oath to that effect. Pharaoh challenged Him, saying: “These are my people and I will destroy them”, but God could not allow this, for they were His people and He was pledged to them. God always remembers His promises and never departs from them. We are then told that God saw. We should notice that though the covenant was associated with Jacob, God saw them as Israel. He always looks at His people in the light of what He has done for them by grace. He does not see them in connection with their sinful inheritance in Jacob but in connection with their inheritance of grace in Israel. God always looks upon His people through the spectrum of grace.

Fourthly we are told that God took knowledge of them. Scripture says crisply and abruptly: “God knew”. This means that God knew all about it. He looked down on their situation and He knew what it was; not just that He had information about it but that He deeply felt its agonies. The needs of God’s people and their circumstances go right through to His heart. For those Israelites there was One on the throne touched with the pangs of their sufferings, and that was why prayer proved effective.

We now turn to the steps which God took to answer these agonised prayers, and as we move into chapter three we leave the consideration of God’s persevering ways with the totality of His people to be concerned with one man and what God did for him.

God’s Ways With His Servant

The whole section from 3:1 to 7:7 works according to a pattern. Firstly there is the sequence of Vision, Reassurance and Failure. The same pattern is repeated with one significant difference, for this time it is Vision, Reassurance and Success. Such sequences lead us to ask what is meant by Vision and what turns Failure to Success.

The answer to this first question is that the essential preparation of an individual for service consists in his knowing God by reason of dealings in the secret place between God and his soul. This is not put forward as a suggestion but what is clearly shown in the times when God came to Moses as a solitary individual and spoke to him in secret. Moses’ preparation for service had its point of origin and its most effective lessons there in the secret place, where he came to know God through His revealing action. It [105/106] was not a case of the cleverness of Moses but the revelatory action of God. God took away the veil and showed Himself to Moses; that is where service begins. The second question relates to the difference between the failure the first time round and the success at the end of the second pattern. What was it that made the key difference? The vision was the same; the reassurance was the same; in the first case Moses failed, whereas in the second he triumphed. Let us investigate further.

Continue reading

“He Made it Again”

“He Made it Again”
by T. Austin-Sparks

“He made it again” (Jeremiah 18:4).


It was a crisis in the history of the clay. The Potter had been forced to the necessity of reducing it to a shapeless mass. After long and patient effort, working and painstaking He had been compelled to take a sad and painful decision. The clay must be broken and go into a period in which it will seem – only seem – that the Potter has discarded it. During that time the clay – because it is not mere inanimate and insentient matter, but self and God-conscious humanity – will have the occasion for considering its condition in the light of the past, and coming to see why this tragedy has overtaken it.

Into this crisis of the Potter’s House we have to read both the history of Israel and the history of many a piece of work which God undertook, either in the Church or in individual lives. There are two or three aspects of this crisis.

Firstly, the clay – the material of the vessel – was selected, chosen. Not because it was better clay than any other. It was all-of-a-piece with the mass of humanity. There was everything on the positive side to justify it being left in its abandoned state, and no merit to command its consideration. It was all that it should not be and nothing of what it should be to satisfy God’s requirement. Its selection was all of grace.

“Love to the loveless (unlovely) shown”. 
But in the mystery of grace and the potency of grace it was taken, separated, and brought onto the wheel of Divine purpose. It was spoken to, with promise and covenant; with comfort and exhortation; with instruction and warning; with entreaty and love. Not only in words, but in works; strange and mystifying, deep and painful, gracious and kindly. The combining of word and deed constituted the Potter’s aim to produce “a vessel unto honour, meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work”.

From time to time a warning shadow crept into the Potter’s face, and it implied that all was not well with the clay. There was something inconsistent with His object. His sensitive fingers met some foreign and unyielding substance. He added a little more pressure of pain, of warning, of instruction, of exhortation; but that propensity, that adhesion persisted.

At last, after long and thorough endeavour, the Potter had to say ‘I cannot go on, the only hope lies along a course of confusion, suspense, and breaking down’.

In that state the clay was driven to much heart-searching, in which, like David after his great mistake in the Philistine cart, the reasons were sought.

As these reasons were sought in heartbrokenness, the Potter, at length, began to speak again to the clay.

Some of the things that He said were these.

1. ‘The fact that I chose you in sovereign grace, and therein took the initiative in bringing you into relation with My great purpose, was never intended to exonerate you from being responsible and co-operative substance. Rather did it involve you in the obligation of responsive love and self-abandoning gratitude. My very mercy and kindness, to say nothing of the immense glory that was to be the end, was meant to inculcate in you My own nature of grace and selflessness. But you have viewed it all objectively and acted as though you had little or nothing to do to “make your calling and election sure”.’

2. ‘Then, you have failed to give sufficient heed to another very vital factor. I have given you much light and truth. My servants have risen up early and prayed late to obtain for you that truth that could minister to the “conformity to the image” that I have in view. Over a long period you have been receiving and receiving until you can hardly bear to have more. But you have not given heed to the fact that it is not sufficient to have light and truth without walking in it, and having it “in the inward parts”. You have failed to remember that the greatest tragedies are those which have had most light and have not turned it into life and character. You have the truth in abundance but it is not yourself. There is a gap between what you know in theory and what you are in being’.

3. ‘Further, again, the greatness of My selecting grace, the patience of My longsuffering mercy, and the lavishness of My giving of light have only added up to make you spiritually proud, conceited, and superior. You have become self-centred and straitened. In all My thought and work regarding you I have had a vessel in mind, and a vessel not as a mere ornament on a pedestal, but for use. A great world-vocation has dominated all with Me, but you have fed your own souls and not enough cherished and valued the great honour and responsibility of having a ministry to all the world. These are some things that I cannot go on with, hence the crisis of frustration, confusion, and suspense’. (It will be recognised that these were some of the things which constituted God’s controversy with Israel and which led to the crisis of the exile, when the clay was set aside awhile. They are tendencies at all times amongst the people of God.)

The Potter waits. Is there recognition, repentance, remorse, and yielding? If so – “He made it again”.

God does not finally abandon an undertaking or purpose. Even His most drastic dealings in this life are in hope. He is “the God of hope”.

We open the Bible with the earth in a sad state of chaos, but “He made it again”. We see the human race in terrible desolation through Adam’s sin, but “In Christ there is a new creation”. “He made it again”.

Israel in Egypt is in a sad and devastated plight, but “He made it again”. Israel in Babylon is the clay cast off and – for the time – rejected; but “He made it again”. Peter was pealed, scattered and desolated by his denial of his Master; but “He made it again”.

John Mark no doubt had many heart-burning and self-reproaching hours after deserting from the work; but “He made it again”. This is the history, story, and – thank God – the testimony of much “Broken Earthenware”. “He made it again… as seemed good to the potter”.

As we move into this new year 1960, and maybe are all aware of how we have failed and disappointed earlier hopes and expectations, let us focus upon – not “it was marred in the hand of the potter”, but – “He made it again, another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it”. The end of all God’s work is, “It is very good.”

First published as an editorial in “A Witness and A Testimony” magazine, Jan-Feb 1960, Vol 38-1

 

ONE BODY IN CHRIST

 

 

By Watchman Nee


Before we pass on to our last important subject we will review some of the ground we have covered and summarize the steps taken. We have sought to make things simple, and to explain clearly some of the experiences which Christians commonly pass through. But it is clear that the new discoveries that we make as we walk with the Lord are many, and we must be careful to avoid the temptation to over-simplify the work of God. To do so may lead us into serious confusion.

      There are children of God who believe that all our salvation, in which they would include the matter of leading a holy life, lies in an appreciation of the value of the precious Blood. They rightly emphasize the importance of keeping short accounts with God over known specific sins, and the continual efficacy of the Blood to deal with sins committed, but they think of the Blood as doing everything. They believe in a holiness which in fact means only separation of the man from his past; that, through the up-todate blotting out of what he has done on the ground of the shed Blood, God separates a man out of the world to be His, and that is holiness ; and they stop there. Thus they stop short of God’s basic demands, and so of the full provision He has made. I think we have by now seen clearly the inadequacy of this. Then there are those who go further and see that God has included them in the death of His Son on the Cross, in order to deliver them from sin and the Law by dealing with the old man. These are they who really exercise faith in the Lord, for they glory in Christ Jesus and have ceased to put confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3. 3). In them God has a clear foundation on which to build. And from this as starting-point, many have gone further still and recognized that consecration (using that word in the right sense) means giving themselves without reserve into His hands and following Him. All these are first steps, and starting from them we have already touched upon other phases of experience set before us by God and enjoyed by many. It is always essential for us to remember that, while each of them is a precious fragment of truth, no single one of them is by itself the whole of truth. All come to us as the fruit of the work of Christ on the Cross, and we cannot afford to ignore any.

      A GATE AND A PATH

      Recognizing a number of such phases in the life and experience of a believer, we note now a further fact, namely that, though these phases do not necessarily occur always in a fixed and precise order, they seem to be marked by certain recurring steps or features. What are these steps? First there is revelation. As we have seen, this always precedes faith and experience. Through His Word God opens our eyes to the truth of some fact concerning His Son, and then only, as in faith we accept that fact for ourselves, does it become actual as experience in our lives. Thus we have:

      1. Revelation (Objective). 2. Experience (Subjective).

      Then further, we note that such experience usually takes the two-fold form of a crisis leading to a continuous process. It is most helpful to think of this in terms of John Bunyan’s ‘wicket gate’ through which Christian entered upon a’ narrow path’. Our Lord Jesus spoke of such a gate and a path leading unto life (Matt. 7. 14), and experience accords with this. So now we have:

      1. Revelation. 2. Experience: (a) A wicket gate (Crisis) (b) A narrow path (Process).

      Now let us take some of the subjects we have been dealing with and see how this helps us to understand them. We will take first our justification and new birth. This begins with a revelation of the Lord Jesus in His atoning work for our sins on the Cross; there follows the crisis of repentance and faith (the wicket gate), whereby we are initially ” made nigh ” to God (Eph. 2.13); and this leads us into a walk of maintained fellowship with Him (the narrow path), for which the ground of our day-to-day access is still the precious Blood (Heb. 10. 19, 22). When we come to deliverance from sin, we again have three steps: the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation, or ‘knowing’ (Rom. 6. 6); the crisis of faith, or ‘reckoning’ (Rom. 6. 11) ; and the continuing process of consecration, or ‘presenting ourselves’ to God (Rom. 6. 13) on the basis of a walk in newness of life. Consider next the gift of the Holy Spirit. This too begins with a new ‘seeing’ of the Lord Jesus as exalted to the throne, which issues in the dual experience of the Spirit outpoured and the Spirit indwelling. Going a stage further, to the matter of pleasing God, we find again the need for spiritual illumination, that we may see the values of the Cross in regard to ‘the flesh’-the entire self- life of man. Our acceptance of this by faith leads at once to a ‘ wicket gate’ experience (Rom. 7. 25), in which we initially cease from’ doing’ and accept by faith the mighty working of the life of Christ to satisfy God’s practical demands in us. This in turn leads us into the ‘narrow path’ of a walk in obedience to the Spirit (Rom. 8. 4).

Continue reading

GIFTS IN THE CHURCH

GIFTS IN THE CHURCH

Alan G. Nute

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12

THIS is an important subject which is very meaningful to us all. In our considerations we must be careful to take the Scriptures as our sole guide. Fortunately they are explicit on the matter, and extensive teaching is supplied by the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

The Nature of Spiritual Gifts

First of all we find that in this chapter the nature of spiritual gifts is defined. This is done by means of two words, the first of which is ‘gift’ (vv.4, 9, 30, 31). This is a precise translation of the Greek word here used. A gift is not something purchased or otherwise acquired; it is not something achieved or obtained as of right. It is bestowed quite gratuitously, a fact which we can plainly recognise when we notice its use in connection with the subject of eternal life. Death is a wage paid by sin, whereas eternal life is the free gift of God (Romans 6:23). The actual text says “the gift of God”, but people often insert the word ‘free’, and this is a legitimate amplification and rightly stresses the point. It would apply equally to the subject we are now considering and may help us to realise from the first that spiritual gifts are a free gift of God.

The second word gives further definition, for it is the word ‘spiritual’. The actual phrase in verse 1 is “spiritual gifts” but in certain versions the word ‘gifts’ is in italics. This denotes that it is absent in the original text and has only been inserted to complete the sense to English readers. For us the word is an adjective, but here it is allowed to stand on its own and thus to do service as a noun. By this means emphasis is laid on the fact that such gifts are essentially spiritual. And no wonder; for they originate with the Spirit, are operated in the power of the Spirit, and have as their object the spiritual benefit of the Church. That their essential nature is spiritual is further indicated by the fact that their exercise is described as ‘the manifestation of the Spirit’ (v.7). It may be concluded therefore that gifts are divinely and gratuitously bestowed and are essentially spiritual in character.

The question is frequently raised as to the relation of a spiritual gift to a natural ability. The two may not be equated; frequently, however, they are closely related. In bestowing His gifts God does not do despite to the individuality of the recipient, imposing on His children that which will rob them of that which is vital to their character. In any case, it needs to be borne in mind that all our natural endowments are divinely bestowed and to a Christian they are all gifts of God’s grace. For as long as natural ability is used in the power of the flesh and for personal ends it remains just that; but when it is surrendered to God, set apart for His purpose and used truly in the power of the Spirit, it may well be constituted a spiritual gift. Both Jeremiah and Paul speak of having been under the eye and hand of God from their very birth, and Ephesians 2:10 possibly gives us a hint that this is how God deals with us all. But of course there will always be certain spiritual gifts which are additional to and independent of any natural talents or qualifications which might be possessed.

Not only are spiritual gifts defined in this chapter, they are listed . Several such lists are to be found in the New Testament (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4). It is doubtful whether these were ever intended as formal lists and they are certainly not exhaustive ones. The differences in the catalogues found in the passages referred to would indicate that it is a mistake to regard them as an inventory of gifts always to be found in each local assembly of Christians. Perhaps it would be better to take them as samples of the gifts which were in evidence at that time, having been given by God to meet needs then current. We may well believe that certain gifts will be given to answer situations which may arise in different places and at different times.

Continue reading

The Excellency of Prayer

 

(By William Huntington, in a letter to a friend.)

Prayer is the blessed means which God has appointed to bring every grace from Christ to the believer. The believer is to let his requests be made known unto God, and for his encouragement God says that the prayer of the upright is His delight. Yes, He says that He loves to hear it. “Let Me hear your voice, let Me see your face! For your voice is pleasant, and you are lovely!”

Prayer is the casting of our cares and burdens on the Lord. It is the pouring out of the soul before Him, the presenting of our troubles to Him. Prayer is communing and corresponding with Christ—and receiving grace from His fullness to help in every time of need. It is keeping open the communion between the Lord and His people. Prayer is their way of paying morning and evening visits to the King of kings and Lord of lords! It is their means of cultivating and keeping up perfect friendship with a Friend who loves at all times—and therefore it should never be neglected.

Prayer is pouring out the soul unto God and placing before Him our troubles. It is “casting all our cares upon Him who cares for us.”—and our burdens upon Him in whom we have “righteousness and strength.” Prayer is opening the heart, the mind, and the mouth to Him who has said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble! I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” It is besieging the everlasting kingdom, moving the throne of grace and knocking importunately at the door of mercy—encouraged by the promise, “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

Continue reading