The Incarnation of the Son
There is no more profound subject than that of the incarnation; yet though unfathomable to the wisest, nothing is more enthralling to the affections of the Lord's people. The wonderful truth is that One who is God Himself, while never ceasing to be God, became a real man, living amongst men on earth. The Holy Spirit has given us four accounts of that immaculate life. No creature could have thought up such unimaginable details: a perfect human life, yet with glimpses of the glory of His Person shining through the veil.1 If any human intellect tries to add anything from its own thoughts, how hollow and confused it sounds! — as the spurious gospel of Thomas demonstrates.
Though the incarnation is beyond our reasoning powers, there are certain truths about it which we can confidently affirm, because they are firmly based upon the Holy Spirit's own account in the Scriptures.
(1) TRUE GOD
The Eternal Son of God became Man, yet He never ceased to be the Infinite Creator. He emptied Himself of His reputation.2 His Manhood veiled His glory so that He did not receive the universal obeisance that was His due; yet He never ceased in His Person to be omniscient,3 omnipotent,4 and omnipresent,5 upholding all things by the Word of His power.
(2) PERFECT MAN
He became a Man, entirely untainted by the fall. His Manhood was the same, in essence, as unfallen Adam's,6 though, of course, there were differences. The main one was that His Manhood, though truly human, was joined to Deity in His Person, and therefore vastly glorified. Also Adam was innocent; that is to say he had no knowledge of good or evil. The Lord was not innocent, but He was holy. The Lord was in the midst of evil, but wholly undefiled by it.
(3) REAL MAN
He became a real Man, body, soul and spirit. When God created Adam, He breathed into him the breath (spirit) of life and he became a living soul.7 The animals were also living souls,8 but they did not have life by receiving spirit from God. As well as being a living soul, Adam had a spirit. In his soul he had physical life and emotions; in his spirit he had reason and awareness of himself and God. He could have rational communion with God and give God pleasure by his fellowship. For this he was created. The subject of soul and spirit is a study in itself, and cannot be more than touched upon here.
The Lord took body, soul and spirit to Himself. He had a real body, visible and tangible,9 made of flesh and blood,10 capable of pain and suffering, but not partaking of the consequences of the fall. He was not subject to death as an inevitable event. He died by His own power.11 The ageing process, which is a result of the fall,12 was not in Him. His body was perfect. Also, as having a soul,13 He had real human emotions but without any sinful tendency. In His spirit14 He had real human thoughts by which He could have, even as Man, perfect fellowship with His Father.
(4) ONE PERSON
The Son of God is One Person. The Son of God is the same Person as the Son of Man. Now we are beginning to come up against the inscrutable mystery. Men will argue that body, soul and spirit make a person. This is correct. Therefore (they say) the Son of God and the Son of Man are two persons in unity. No, certainly not! The Scriptures are dead against such an idea. The Person who is in the form of God at the beginning of the sublime sentence in Philippians 2 verse 6, is the same Person who was obedient to the death of the cross in verse 8. The subject of the sentence is the same throughout. There is no change of Person halfway.
We may shrink from saying baldly, “God died”. How can God die who has immortality and is the Source of life?15 The bare statement, “God died”, needs important qualification. Firstly, the One who died was God the Son, not the Father or the Holy Spirit. Secondly, He did not die as God, but in the Manhood He had taken. However, to qualify a statement is not to deny it. To say it was the Son of Man and not God who died, is to divide His Person and make Him two Persons. The fact is that God the Son became a Man for this very purpose, that He might die.16 He did not cease to be God when He died. The blood that He shed was human blood, but it was the blood that He had taken as His own.17 The Son of God shed His blood,18 and experienced death.19 He who is God laid down His life for us.20 It is the infinitude of His Person that produces the infinite atonement.
This is the marvellous thing that takes our breath away. A divine Person has been through human experience from birth to death. He who is God, remembers His human experiences from birth to death, and sympathises with us in our infirmities. One who is both God and Man feels for us for He has felt the same. What a great High Priest He is!21
(5) TWO DISTINCT NATURES
The opposite error to saying that He is two persons is to say that His two natures have combined into one. It was an ancient heresy that the two natures, Manhood and Deity, merged together. For this reason the writer does not like the expression the “God-man”. It implies to him (though not to many orthodox Christians) that He is half man and half God. Such an idea must be resisted. He is wholly Man and wholly God. He possesses all the attributes and properties of real, unfallen, holy Manhood, and at the same time possesses all the infinite attributes and properties of Deity. The unity consists, not in the amalgamation of essence, but in the Oneness of His Person.
If we suppose an archangel becoming incarnate, a creature tremendously powerful but still finite, and by becoming incarnate having two finite natures (but natures very different), we would say, rightly, that such a situation was impossible. Here would be a baby, unable to do anything except to cry and suck, with no ability to talk, unable to understand a word his parents were saying; at the same time that person would be an archangel with tremendous power, not only able to understand the parents but knowing far more than they did. We would say, quite correctly, that it would be impossible for such things to be true in one person at the same time. Our finite judgment would be competent to come to such a conclusion. We would say that the archangel was only pretending to be a baby.
Of course, it is not an archangel but an infinite Person who has become incarnate. When we are facing the infinite it is right beyond our ken. We can make no judgment. Mathematicians tell us that both opposites and parallels meet in infinity. We cannot understand, and never will understand it, for we will never have infinite minds. But God has revealed it to us, and so we believe it.
The Lord grew in wisdom,22 yet was always omniscient, as we have seen. He said He did not know, and yet He knew all things.23 Yet it is very important to see that He could not make a mistake in what He said in Manhood; it would have been God who had spoken falsely and that would be a moral impossibility. To take human limitations is grace, but to take human fallibility would be to compromise God's holy nature.
Lastly, let us consider Matthew 11:27: “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him”. Here we see that it is possible for a man to know the Father if the Son reveals Him to him, but, without exception, it is not possible for a man to know the Son. Why then, is the Son unknowable, but not the Father? It is not the inscrutability of Deity, for that would apply equally to both Father and Son. Nor is it the inscrutability of divine relationships for if the relationship of the Son to the Father is unknowable, so would be the equivalent relationship of the Father to the Son. Clearly, it is the Incarnate Son who is unknowable. The Father, Himself, cannot explain this to us, for to understand the incarnation we would need to have the infinite understanding of the Father Himself.
1. John 1:14
2. Philippians 2:7
3. John 2:24-25; 21:17
4. Matthew 8:27
5. John 3:13; Matthew 18:20; 28:20
6. That is to say, He had body, soul and spirit
7. Genesis 2:7
8. Genesis 1:21 & 24. (The word “creature” in the King James translation-Nephesh-should be translated “soul” as elsewhere).
9. 1 John 1:1-2
10. Hebrews 2:14
11. John 10:18
12. The Lord grew to maturity but this was not ageing in the sense meant here.
13. Matthew 26:38; John 12:27
14. Mark 2:8; 8:12; Luke 23:46; John 19:30 (dismissed His spirit).
15. 1 Timothy 6:16
16. Hebrews 2:9
17. Acts 20:28. (I believe the King James translation and most other translations are correct here).
18. 1 John 1:7
19. Romans 5:10
20. 1 John 3:16
21. Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16
22. Luke 2:52
23. Mark 13:32
The Peace Offering
by Muriel J. Flett (1922-1987)
Father, by Thy Spirit, tell me
Of Thy love for Thy blest Son:
He Who brought Thee all the glory
By the work that He has done.
Show me how He lived to serve Thee
Faithful every step He went,
E'er revealing in His pathway
He was by the Father sent.
What devotion ever marked Him!
What obedience to Thy will!
In that life of deep dependence,
All Thy pleasure to fulfil.
Men could see no beauty in Him,
Blind to all His comeliness;
Hid their very faces from Him,
Could not bear His righteousness.
When the light of His blest presence,
Showed the darkness of their hearts,
And the evil of their actions
They, with Him, would have no part.
Israel would not receive Him,
His own whom He came to save,
All they were prepared to give Him
Was a cross and felon's grave.
Meek and lowly Jesus, taking
Little children on His knee;
Mighty God, Lord of creation,
Calms the boistrous wind and sea.
See Him too at Cana's marriage
Changing water into wine!
Master of each situation,
Showing power and love divine.
“I have meat to eat ye know not,”
His disciples He did tell,
When they found the Saviour, talking
To the woman at the well:
When he gave her living water,
Set her thirsty spirit free,
Taught her, Father, Thou art seeking
Souls, to come and worship Thee.
Weeping with the sorrowing sisters,
Giving sight to one born blind,
Healing all who came unto Him
Sick in body and in mind:
Feeding the five thousand persons
With but five small loaves of bread
Son of God, yet Son of Man, Who
Had not where to lay His head!
While the ever growing shadow
Of the cross loomed o'er His soul,
Still was He in blessed communion
With His Father and His God.
Is not this a wondrous privilege
We can hear Him pray to Thee?
Learning in His loving utterance
All His care for such as we.
Now He crosses the brook Cedron,
Moving to Gethsemane,
Goes through Calv'rys bitter suff'ring
In an agony He prays there,
“Not My will, but Thine, be done”:
Then they come to apprehend Him,
Lead away Thy blessed Son.
What a precious meditation
Is that grief-acquainted One;
Man of Sorrows, yet 'twas for us
He was scorned and spit upon.
Wounded for all our transgressions,
Bruised for our iniquity,
Bore our chastisement upon Him,
When He hung upon the tree.
Seated now in brightest glory,
Thou hast placed Him at Thy side,
Waiting there till come the moment
He will claim His spotless bride.
What an answer to the suff'ring,
Of the cross on which He died;
He will see of His soul's travail,
And His heart be satisfied.
Father, tell us by Thy Spirit,
More of Thy beloved Son;
Occupy our hearts' affections
With the object of Thine own;
Till those hearts are overflowing,
Pouring out in praise to Thee,
Worshipping Thee, God and Father,
As we shall eternally.
The Life of David (7)
The Throne of David
(Continued from page 168)
The Prophecies (2). Isaiah 9:6-7
THE PRINCE OF PEACE
what an elusive thing peace is. Since sin came in there has never been settled peace in the world. Individuals seek for it in vain. Households are ruined because they lack peace. Communities live in fear because of organised violence. Nations spend enormous amounts of money in order to arm themselves because of the fear of invasion, and perhaps with war-like intentions against others. After the first world war the League of Nations was formed in the hope that it would be able to curb aggressive nations. It failed. The United Nations was formed after the second world war. Surely this time common sense and earnest collective endeavour would save the world from devastating wars and ensure a settled time of peace. The subsequent years have shown that this was a forlorn hope too. Is there no remedy for the continual strife that exists at all levels? Yes, the remedy is Christ. One day, perhaps very soon, the Prince of Peace will sit upon the throne of David and wars and strife will cease. At the present moment the Lord Jesus sits upon His Father's throne (Rev. 3:21). In the coming day He will sit upon His own throne and will reign over the earth, its undisputed Monarch. The church, His body and bride, and others, will reign with Him (Rev. 20:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:12). One great contributing fact that will make for peace on earth is that the great fermentor of trouble, Satan, will be shut up during the thousand years' reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3). But the main guarantee that peace will be a paramount feature of the Kingdom of Christ is because He will be in power and in supreme control when He sits on His father David's throne.
When the Lord Jesus was rejected by Israel and crucified by the power of Rome, both being equally guilty of the death of Jesus, Barabbas was preferred by Israel to the Son of God. Barabbas was a robber, an insurrectionist, a murderer and a notable rogue. The righteous Man was refused. The evil man was pardoned. Since that awful and solemn judgment by the world it has had its just recompense: violent and carefully organised robberies, insurrection, political, religious and industrial strife, murders for every conceivable reason, perpetrated by notable people as well as by insignificant criminals. What a story of “mans inhumanity to man”, and more than that, of mans rebellion against God and His wise laws for mankind. Praise God that there is hope. It is centred in the Man of Calvary. He was rejected by the world, as attested by the superscription that was placed on His cross. It was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, being the language of the religious, intellectual and political world respectively. The whole world stands condemned, and Satan, its ruler, too (John 12:31).
Psalm 72:7 looks on to the day when, in the world to come, the peace secured will be universal, and not limited to any particular country or region. There will be an abundance of peace. This is emphasised in Micah 5:1-5. The ruler in Israel, Jehovah's Fellow, shall be great even unto the ends of the earth, and this Man shall be the peace. “He shall be the stability of thy times” (Isa. 33:6 — J.N.D.). What a glorious prospect for a world that is drenched in the blood of innumerable victims of violence, beginning with the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:10). What a triumph for the Man of Golgotha, who secured peace for all who now, and in the future, trust in Him. Peace of soul and conscience now antedate the reign of peace to come (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14, 17; Col. 1:20).
There are many passages about peace in the Holy Scriptures. Two will suffice to show what Scripture foretells for Israel and the nations: “But it shall come to pass in the end of days (an expression which means the Kingdom on earth under the Messiah. See Mr. Darby's footnote to Isaiah 2:2) that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and the peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and Jehovah's Word from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many peoples, and reprove strong nations, even afar off; and they shall forge their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-knives: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. And they shall sit every one under his vine, and under his fig tree; and there shall be none to make them afraid: for the mouth of Jehovah of hosts hath spoken it” (Micah 4:1-4, J.N.D. trans.). “And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even My Servant David: He shall feed them, and He shall be their Shepherd. And I Jehovah will be their God, and My Servant David a Prince in their midst: I Jehovah have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause evil beasts to cease out of the land; and they shall dwell in safety in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in its season: there shall be showers of blessing” (Ezek. 34:23-26, J.N.D. trans.). Note the references to “I will”. It is the language of Deity, making the accomplishment of the statements a certainty.
The government is to be on the shoulder of David's greater Son (Isa. 9:6). We are often reminded that both of the Shepherd's shoulders were required to carry the lost sheep to safety (Luke 15:5). For the Lord Jesus Christ one shoulder is sufficient to carry the burden of the government of the universe. But what a shoulder! On the most shameful day in the world's sad history it carried a cross, the instrument of an agonising and humiliating death. At Calvary the Lord Jesus bore the burden of God's wrath against sin when He was the sin offering (1 Peter 2:24). The burden of the government of the universe will not be as heavy as that awful burden. Because the Lamb of God prevailed on that solemn day He has the title to rule the universe (Rev. 5:9-12).
The universal Kingdom of David's Seed will be upheld by the exercise of judgment and righteousness. Judgment will cleanse the earth of all the accumulated filth and guilt. He will take out of His Kingdom all the things that are an offence to Him and to God (Matt. 13:41-43). Righteousness, the first principle of the Kingdom, will reign, and will guarantee a Kingdom pleasing to God and beneficial to all concerned. (Look up the following Scriptures for the importance of righteousness — Matt. 6:33; Rom. 14:17; 2 Tim. 2:22; Isa. 32:1, 16-17). Righteousness has been described by Mr. Darby as “consistency with every relationship in which God has placed us”. If this truth were obeyed today it would renew the Christian profession and revolutionise society. It is much more than honesty in financial matters, although it involves that. It is right living according to God's standards as laid down in His holy Word. It regulates the life of the individual as well as the home life of husband, wife and children. It is a blueprint for right relations between employer and employee. National and local government would be just and obedience to their laws would ensure peaceful and happy living. Relationships between nations wouldn't be strained by demands that cause tension and wars. The shameful divisions and dissensions of the Christian testimony would be healed. Why is the virtue of righteousness not extolled? Alas, the answer is “sin”. It will not be until the Lord Jesus is reigning in righteousness that the world will learn what a valuable feature it is (Isa. 32:1). In the eternal state righteousness shall dwell, not for a thousand years, but for ever and ever (2 Peter 3:13). See Proverbs 10 for the blessings that attend a righteous man or woman.
The Person. Luke 1:30-35
The promise, the psalm and the prophecies all point to one Person. And what a Person! The virgin Mary received the most marvellous news ever given to a woman. She was to give birth to a son. His Name would be called Jesus (Jehovah the Saviour). He would be great. The One to be born was the Son of the Highest, who would sit on the throne of His father David. His Kingdom would have no end. The Holy Thing that was to be born would be called the Son of God. No human generation would be involved in this conception. It would be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. This was a miracle which surpassed human comprehension. This marvellous message from heaven guarantees that the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled to the letter. Sadly, the Gospel narrative ends in the rejection and death of the Son of David. But God's purposes for the earth were not frustrated, and He had other purposes too which are to be fulfilled. The rejected Saviour ascended to God's right hand after rising from among the dead. From that exalted position the Holy Spirit was sent down into the hearts of those who believed in Jesus. The church, the assembly, was formed of the called out ones and the church period began. It has lasted almost two thousand years. Soon, perhaps very soon, the church period will end as described in 1 Thessalonians 4 verses 13-18. From that moment God will resume direct intervention in the worlds affairs. From Revelation 6 to 18 there is a preview of what will happen on earth after the church is caught up to be with Christ. This period culminates with Christ coming in judgment to establish His Kingdom as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19).
As Christ is indispensable to God for the fulfilling of God's eternal purpose concerning the church and heavenly blessing, so He will be indispensable to God for the fulfilling of God's purpose relating to Israel and the nations. Note again the wonderful Names of the One who will sit on David's throne:
Jesus — Jehovah the Saviour Salvation received.
Son of the Highest (Most High) Government received.
Son of God (Deity) God's will secured.
Hasten that glorious day when God's great thoughts for His servant David will be fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of David, Son of the Highest, Son of God.
(Further articles in this series are to follow, if the Lord will).
Grace, Mercy, and Peace
This threefold cord is wonderfully strong when each of its strands is woven rightly with the others. The first is doubtless most wonderful of all, in many respects, but the child of God does well to cultivate deeply his appreciation of all of these precious endowments of a loving God and Father.
A concordance will show us that peace is spoken of in Scripture far more often than the others. Both peace and mercy have a much larger place in the Old Testament than in the New, while grace holds the largest place in the New Testament. This has much to teach us.
Is it not peace for which man naturally yearns the most deeply? Does not the Old Testament, in all its testings of human nature, lay bare to us the painful struggle through which man grasps for the peace that constantly eludes him? Doubtless the word is used frequently in the Old Testament in reference to man's temporal relationships with man, and in connection with earthly circumstances. The entire history bears its depressing witness to the fact that settled, stable peace of this kind is a mere idealistic vision, hopeless of being reached on earth until the blessed Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, establishes His own Kingdom. But how much higher and sweeter is that peace which has been made by the blood of the cross of Christ (Col. 1:20). The believer is the eternal possessor of this peace: “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). No longer does he grasp for it: he has it.
Yet this peace from God and with God would be impossible apart from the mercy of God. Why is there no peace on earth? Because of man's sin. It is this that makes him more and more miserable, more self-centred, more grasping, more intolerant of others, more hard and stubborn. Not until he is brought down (though by means of his troubles) to take the place of the publican who prayed honestly, “God be merciful to me a sinner”, (Luke 18:13), will he know true peace; for this is the peace of God's forgiving mercy.
Little as one may realise it at first, this wonderful transaction of the soul with God involves more than mercy and peace. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ...” (Eph. 2:4-5). Let us observe here that God's rich mercy is because of His great love. Love is His very nature, and love acts in mercy toward a wretched sinner, even when dead in sins, moving God's heart to work in the most helpful way possible. Mercy is that tender compassion of God toward the deep need of the soul in its circumstances of misery or of guilt. Mercy can forgive, and delights to do so.
However, immediately the apostle speaks of our being quickened together with Christ, he adds, “(by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. If in mercy God has looked upon us and given life when we were dead in sins, His grace has gone further still, conferring upon us favour that lifts us far above all our former circumstances, saving us, bringing into a realm of perfect joy and peace and circumstances of heavenly blessing in Christ. This is more than compassionate mercy. For a mere humanitarian could show mercy to another who was in dire circumstances, clothe him, feed him, perhaps give him work, but to take him to his own home, as his own son, and invest him with his own wealth, would be a far different matter. This is what grace does. It not only forgives: it provides abundant blessing on a far higher level than the circumstances out of which it delivers.
Is this not the reason why grace is much more markedly a subject of the New Testament than of the Old? For the Old Testament regards man as on an earthly level, no doubt in need of peace, in need of mercy, but never knowing the grace that is the marvellous result of the death of Christ for sinners. The New Testament reveals the fulness of the heart of God and His wondrous desire to have guilty sinners not only redeemed from their bitter bondage and misery, but brought in peace into the very circumstances of heaven, the immediate presence of God, known as Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In an absolute and full sense then the believer knows God's grace, mercy, and peace as his eternal possession by virtue of the death of Christ on his behalf. Yet Paul, in greeting Timothy, his child in the faith, wishes him “Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2). Does it not teach us that the believer has constant need of appropriating in practice those things that are truly his in principle? If, for instance, we know the preciousness of peace with God, this does not guarantee our constant enjoyment of “the peace of God”. For this our hearts must be set on the proper Object, and our souls must be in that lowly state where we receive from Himself our daily supply for our daily need; for it means the tranquillity of soul that rests, with thankfulness, in calm submission to the will of God. Does the Lord Jesus not speak of this when He says, “My peace I give unto you”? (John 14:27). This was a peace that could meet circumstances of unutterable sorrow, of cruel injustice from ungodly men, yet with calm, unshaken confidence and holy submission. May our souls know this far more than we do!
How is this possible for ourselves, in our present state, without the mercy of God? Indeed, we need this compassion of His heart constantly: compassion that comforts, helps, and encourages us when pressures increase and tend to cast down our souls. Is it not wonderful to know the sympathising, tender care of our “merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God”? (Heb. 2:17). We must seek this daily, if our souls are to derive comfort from it, or rather we must seek Him, and thus learn the sweet, pure blessedness of His sympathy and care.
As we have seen however, grace is higher yet. Grace is the active, energetic favour of God which delights to fill our cup to overflowing, “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Now if we have known it in principle, we ought also to know it in daily practice, and by this we should be lifted above our circumstances. Grace is a power which Paul found sufficient to strengthen his soul to bear infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ's sake, and to do so most gladly (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Grace enabled him to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ”, and to serve God acceptably (Eph. 3:8, Heb. 12:28). It is the active, positive power for good, for having brought salvation, it also teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12). Let us think then of grace, not merely as an attitude of kindness on God's part, but as His great, active favour in furnishing us with every provision for our good.
It is well that every one of us should linger long and drink deeply of the fresh fountain of “the grace of God”, with its fulness of provision; “the tender mercy of our God,” bearing its sweetness of comfort, and “the peace of God” with its quietness of contentment.
L. M. Grant.
Reconstructionism, or Dominion Theology
One of the basic premises of what is called Reconstructionism or Dominion Theology is that the present day church is “The Israel of God”. What does that mean? To put this doctrine in simple terms it means that Israel has been permanently set aside, since the Old Testament curses have been applied to the Jews, and the blessings applied to the church.
These are tragic mistakes, which were first introduced into the church in the days of Constantine the Great (4th century AD.) and in general were adopted by the Reformers too. It is this kind of error that ultimately resulted in persecution of the Jews and the perpetration of the holocaust. We notice today among so-called evangelical Christians a similar thinking, sometimes the result of a shift from dispensationalism to a charismatic position.
A lack of accuracy in interpreting Scripture leads to error. For example, some people find repetition of a certain expression in the Bible and automatically think it must always have the same meaning. While we accept, for example, that the mystery of Ephesians 3 refers to the church, to conclude that everywhere “the mystery” is mentioned the church is the subject, would be wrong. The mystery of God in Revelation 10 has little in common with the mystery of 1 Corinthians 15, or with the one of Ephesians 3. Nevertheless, this is what we find in the kind of theology we are faced with today.
A similar lack of accuracy is found in connection with the covenants. Do we have anything to do with the new covenant? Yes, the church enjoys the spiritual blessings of the new covenant, though not the literal, physical blessings, since they will be enjoyed in the millennium. Paul calls himself and those ministering with him, “ministers of the new covenant”. Does this mean that the church is literally and formally part of or in the new covenant? In Ephesians 2 and 3 we find nothing of that nature, though respected theologians of newer and older generations sincerely thought, and still think, that the believing Jews and Gentiles have been introduced into the new covenant.
Another common misunderstanding is the failure to see the difference between the blessings of Abraham (which belong to all believers) and the new order of blessings the Lord introduced with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
THE PRETERITE INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY.
The Dominion school of thinking is linked with the so-called preterite interpretation of the books of Hebrews and Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse. Although there are variations in their positions, the preterites teach that the prophecies have been fulfilled in the destruction of the temple and that the millennium started in the year 70 AD! Of course, we have to bear with our brothers and sisters in the faith, but it is important to see the consequences of these and similar erroneous teachings, especially when these views are not privately held, but are imposed on everyone.
One of the arguments we hear quite often is that Mr Darby received his ideas about the rapture through a prophetess or medium in the school of Mr Irving. It is clear that Mr Darby was used by the Lord to teach the imminent coming of the Lord and that believers should live in a daily expectancy of His coming, with all its practical and moral consequences.
HEAVENLY OR EARTHLY CALLING.
It is no wonder that these teachers concentrate so much on this earth and this world, since they have lost sight of the heavenly nature of the church's calling. According to them the millennium (1000 year reign) has already been here for 1923 years! Of course, the believer has obligations and responsibilities as to his walk through this world. However, when we teach that we are already in the millennium, we forget that the church has a very special position and relationship with Christ in the glory (see Eph. 1:23), enjoying with Him all spiritual blessings, during the time of His rejection in this scene.
Based on the belief that all prophecies were fulfilled around the year 70, the reconstructionists deny what we already see in our day, that the messianic Jews will return to the old shadows. Nevertheless, the temple will be rebuilt, and the services re-instituted by a remnant who will be recognised by God, and He will consider this temple as His temple (2 Thess. 2:4). The majority of the nation will be apostates, together with the masses of the Christian profession left here after the rapture. These Jews will act according to the light they will have and will not be part of the church.
Firstly, the dominion theologians say that there is a fundamental difference between the Kingdom our Lord preached and the one the apostles preached (in view of the destruction of the temple). In reality, the Kingdom preached by the Lord and the apostles is the same, though it adopted a different character when the Lord was rejected by the nation (Matt. 11-13) and during His absence (Luke 19:11-27). It will be seen in glory again in a different character, but it is the same Kingdom.
Secondly, the dispensationalists are accused of making a puzzle book out of the Bible. One of the charges brought is that they teach that God interrupted His ways when He introduced the church age. Of course, there is no interruption in God's ways, though the church does have a parenthetical character (see the vision of the sheet in Acts 10 and Paul's ministry in Ephesians 3 as examples). On the other hand, in a certain sense it replaces Israel as a testimony here on earth, although only for the time being (Rom. 9-11).
Thirdly, a favourite verse to deny the coming millennial reign is Genesis 49:10: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes”! But this is simply a wrong conclusion. The verse does not say that the sceptre would depart. This is the way the reconstructionists read the verse, in order to defend their claims that we are already in the millennium. The word could be translated with, “to Whom it belongs”. Without wanting to be dogmatic (there is no way to be certain about its meaning, but the old rabbis interpreted it with regard to the Messiah), I compare this with the crown God will give “to Whom it belongs” (Ezek. 21:27). It is interesting that both the antichrist and the true Christ are from Judah!
Fourthly, one more example. A very strange interpretation is given of Hebrews 10:37: “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry”. We are told that the coming one would refer to the antichrist, or his spirit, and the destruction of the temple signals an end of his reign!
ABRAHAM AND GOD'S PROMISES.
These theologians accuse God of being unjust, i.e., if we accept the “dispensational” interpretation of Scripture, namely that He would deceive His own in giving promises, but not fulfilling them. This is important enough to discuss in more detail. The final fulfilment of the blessings of Genesis 12 is still future, but this does not imply or mean that God was as it were purposely deceiving Abraham when He gave him these promises. Abraham responded to God's glory and walked by faith, though he also failed here and there as we, his sons, do. When living in the land of God's promise he did not receive the promises, but remained a stranger there and learned that God had prepared something better for him (see Heb. 11). Does this mean that all God's promises for Israel have been set aside or have been fulfilled in the church? What then about the curses? On the contrary, Romans 9-11 teaches something quite different. God's calling is without repentance and His promises will be fulfilled, after the rapture of the church and the coming judgments.
DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH.
We will find some mistakes in Scofield's outlines as well as in the writings of other dispensationalists. We may learn from covenant theologians, as far as certain areas are concerned, but to adopt their entire school of thought and set aside dispensationalism would go much too far. We should not be too dogmatic, e.g., as to the “gap” theory and similar things. We ought to realise the limitations of a system of teaching. Here indeed we should be balanced, as we need to be in so many different areas: earthly/heavenly blessings; God's purpose/man's responsibility, and so on.
Some dispensationalists have been too pessimistic and have neglected their responsibility, but I would feel ashamed to have my Jewish friends read the articles and books of the reconstructionists! They often refer to the Old Testament church, and this is one of the errors typical of this school of thinking.
The Old Testament church, if you want to use that word as Stephen does in Acts 7:38, has little to do with the New Testament church (the Lord refers to it in Matthew 16 and we find its birthday in history in Acts 2: l ff), except for the fact that both have life from God and are found in a certain relationship with God.
In conclusion I suggest that there are elements that both Israel and the church have in common. This is sometimes not noticed enough by dispensationalists. On the other hand there are great differences between Israel and the church, which are simply denied by the dominionists, in making Israel the church of God or vice versa. Let us not forget that this consideration also has to do with the Person of our blessed Lord and what He means to our hearts and lives, as expressed in this well-known verse: “And we have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed (as to a lamp shining in an obscure place) until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 — J.N.D.).
A. E. Bouter.
From Our Archive
The Primitive Church (1)
Acts 4:23-5:6; Acts 5:11-14
(An address given in Lowestoft in 1960)
Here is a picture of the church in Jerusalem as it was at the outset. There are some very interesting and striking features to be noted as having marked these early saints. The picture shows us what was God's mind when, for the moment, the power of the indwelling Spirit of God was very powerfully felt.
The first point I would like you to notice is this, that being let go Peter and John went to their own company. They had been hauled up before the authorities, but they were let go. We are told in the earlier verses of the chapter that they found “nothing how they might punish them” (Acts 4:21). They found that what had happened was really beyond their criticism and reluctantly, having given them a beating, they had to let them go, and being let go they went to their own company. There was to be found in Jerusalem at that time a number of people who formed a company, so that the apostles, released by the antagonistic authorities, knew where to go. The church of God is a company distinct from the world. That has been forgotten. Through the years the object of the adversary has been to mingle the church with the world. If possible, to swamp what is of God in worldly circumstances, and all too often he has succeeded in that kind of thing. But before there was any very widespread failure we see there was a distinct line drawn between the church and the world. That line still exists today and you and I have to recognise it. The church is not a part of the world's religious system. The church is a called out company. That is what the word translated church, or assembly by Mr. Darby, really means. The Greek word has been brought in to our language, albeit as an adjective. You might go to London and find the offices of the ecclesiastical commission: people who have to do with church affairs. The Greek word ekklesia comes from “ek”, meaning “out of”, and “klesis”, from “kaleo”, meaning “to call”. It simply means the called out people. That has always been God's way. He calls out His own, and we notice it right in the beginning of the Bible. If you read those early chapters in Genesis you find that after the flood, when perhaps a century had passed and they were beginning to multiply once more, they said, “Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven” (Gen. 11:4). They said in effect, “we can't achieve what we want as individuals, we must achieve it together. We must have something collective and not merely individual”. In the Darby translation, rather more homely and striking, it is rendered, “Come on”. The world is saying, “Come on, let's all come together. You can accomplish a lot more if you come and join us, and give a kind of Christian push to what we're doing”. That's what they were saying when they started to build the tower of Babel. One man couldn't do it but all of them together could, and they started to do it. Against that background God said to Abraham, “Get thee out...” (Gen. 12:1). The thought of calling out has marked God's work all through. He called Israel out to make them a distinct nation. That is why the word “ekklesia” is used in connection with that nation in Acts 7:38: “This is that Moses which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness, with the angel which spake to him in the Mount Sina, and with our fathers...” It was a people called out of Egypt. We belong to the ekklesia, the church, the called out family. Immediately after Pentecost this became manifest in Jerusalem, and Peter and John “went to their own company”.
What marked this company? The first thing I notice is that they were familiar with the Word of God, and their thoughts were governed by the Word of God. In this emergency, brought face to face with the opposition of the powerful religious leaders, they found light and direction in the Word of God. They didn't have the New Testament Scriptures, but they had the Old Testament and they went back to what David had written in the second Psalm. Here's a remarkable case of how Scripture often has a double fulfilment. There is a preliminary fulfilment, before the complete fulfilment comes. When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost he said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). If you read the prophet Joel you will see he is predicting what will happen on a greater scale at the opening of the millennial age. Peter was saying that the outpouring of the Spirit and the speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost was a kind of sample of what is yet to be. So it is here in connection with the quotation from Psalm 2. When the climax of the age is reached, and the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing, and the anti-Christian powers are all apparently at the top of their form, God will intervene, and He will set His anointed on His holy hill of Zion. They only quote this part, “Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ”. Exactly what was predicted then had happened. Jew and Gentile had crucified the Messiah, but they had only done what “Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done”. Although they didn't know it, they had only succeeded in accomplishing what had been predicted concerning the suffering of the Christ. But what fortified the early church was the knowledge and the counsel and direction of the Word of God. That is equally true for us who belong to the church of God today. The Word of God should be the governing factor.
There was also prayer. They were in touch with God. They didn't appeal to the ruling powers or try to cultivate things with the men of the world. No, they cast themselves wholly on God, and there is no doubt that when saints do that there is sure to be a gracious answer. They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and what did they ask? They didn't complain about the antagonism of the rulers or the difficult time they were having. They certainly didn't ask God to judge or to stop them. They viewed things from what we might call the divine standpoint. They said, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings”, but also, “and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word” (Ch 4:29). They asked God to stretch forth His hand and make His power felt, so that they might be able to do what they knew they were commissioned to do. They were to go and preach repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47). It was as if the Lord said: “You are going to begin at the most difficult place of all, the place where sin has reached its climax”, because there never was a sin before, and never could be again, like the rejection and death of the gracious Messiah. It was the supreme sin of humanity and it was perpetrated at Jerusalem, the city that had slain the prophets. When our Lord wept at the graveside of Lazarus with the sisters, the word translated “wept”* means to shed tears silently. When He wept over Jerusalem the word used for “wept” means loud lamentation. He knew what lay before the city (Luke 19:41-44). Yet the gospel was first to be preached in this very city, and there its mighty power and efficacy were first to be shown. Knowing what their commission was, and not thinking for the moment of the nations, they prayed for boldness in speaking the Word of the Lord, and that is exactly what they did. We're told that “they spake the Word of God with boldness” and “with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Ch. 4:31, 33).
* This is the only time that the word is used in the New Testament.
Consequent upon prayer there was the working of the Holy Spirit in their midst. That is one of the great marks of the primitive church. The Holy Spirit is come and the power is His. Let us not forget that. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes the work of God. We are living in an age when man is thought to be very great and his thoughts and doings are around us on all sides. We may forget that power doesn't lie in human abilities but in the Holy Spirit of God. That is made very clear in a doctrinal way in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. It is the Holy Spirit of God who, by His power, operates in the assembly of God. People may sometimes be inclined to say of so-called “brethren” meetings that they appear to be a kind of democratic institution where any brother can get up and speak. We should say that no one can get up and speak, except under the gracious power and direction of the Spirit of God. I do not deny that it is difficult to practise. I feel it often when I sit in a meeting. Should I be right in perhaps rising to my feet to give thanks or to speak or to pray. We have to be exercised. I may make mistakes and others may make mistakes, but it is better to do the right thing even imperfectly than the wrong thing in a first class style.
Alas, Christendom has largely drifted away from the simplicity of the primitive church, which was marked by the power of the Spirit and consequently by great oneness of heart. Do we see that today? All too often we do not. In the beginning they were “of one heart and of one soul” (Ch. 4:32). The divergence that we see today tells us how little we have known of the controlling power of the Spirit of God. There was great oneness of heart amongst the saints and there was powerful testimony to the world. These two things, the oneness inside and the testimony flowing to the outside, are more intimately connected than sometimes we imagine. The oneness of heart meant care for the saints. People have often spoken about this remarkable outburst of generosity. We must remember that the saints were an outcast people. Nevertheless, there was a great outflow of divine care and compassion. This generosity wasn't something laid on them as a divine demand. Peter said to Ananias: “Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” (Acts 5:4). He was under no compunction. He might have sold it and kept the money, not pretending anything, but he came acting a lie. Poor Sapphira told one. When “as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet”, Ananias brought money pretending it was the full price, but keeping back a part of it. It is often the way, when that kind of sin comes into the circle of the saints, at the outset you see a very drastic exhibition of holy discipline.
The church is a place of discipline. It was shown in the primitive company when the first outbreak of selfishness came. There was pretension and unreality. It was lying to the Holy Spirit, as if the Spirit of God didn't know the truth of the case. He was powerfully active in the church and manifested His power in holy discipline. He illumined the mind of Peter so that he was able to speak as he did and Ananias died. He had been behaving as though you can deceive the Spirit of God, and you can't. Often, at the beginning of an epoch, God gives a very drastic exhibition of power and of disciplinary judgment. Some will remember the case of Achan, when the children of Israel were entering the land. It is important to learn this lesson. The church of God in its primitive state was not only marked by the features we have already considered, but also by holy discipline. The church is the house of God and God dwells there by His Spirit. Here was something that no ordinary person could have detected, but the Holy Spirit knew about it, and He proved the reality of His dwelling in the church, the house of God, by acting in this way. Peter simply spoke the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to speak and both Ananias and Sapphira died. The fact that God dealt with them shows that they were His saints. God doesn't deal with the world in that way. That is the great thing in Psalm 73. The poor psalmist says, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:2-3). He was troubled and plagued and chastened every morning while the people of the world were doing things and seemed to be unchecked. But when the psalmist went into the sanctuary, then he understood their end. He saw things from God's standpoint. The people of the world may appear to get away with many things in this life, but then they plunge into a lost eternity. The child of God doesn't get away with it. One has often seen that. A child of God has done something that isn't right, and God has allowed it to be found out. You may say that that thing has been done again and again by other people in that place and they've got away with it. A Christian does it and is caught. Why? Because God deals with the Christian. If a saint dishonours the Lord he's pulled up. That is what happened here in Acts 5. Such discipline having come in, it had a restricting effect. In the first place, “great fear came upon all the church” (Acts 5:11). They were reminded that God doesn't want the believer to do the kind of things that the world does. They were committed to a life of holiness. As saints of God we are committed to a life of another order that isn't marked by the ways of the world. The eye of our Lord is upon us.
Then there was something else. This fear came upon “as many as heard these things”. God's power was manifested through the apostles and “of the rest durst no man join himself to them” (Acts 5:12-13). There may have been those who were impressed with the generosity of the saints, who would have joined themselves to them, while being no true members of Christ and only sources of trouble and weakness. This disciplinary action hindered the inrush of mere outward professors, but it didn't stop the true work of God. “Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). That is what we ought to see. Believers brought under the Lordship of Christ. Such become a source of real help and joy.
F. B. Hole
(Two other addresses in this series are to follow, if the Lord will)
The Testimony in the Home
1 Chronicles 13:14; 16:38
It is worthy of note that we find in the epistle to the Ephesians, in chapters 5 and 6, the fullest exposition of the responsibilities and privileges of the Christian family. This would indicate to us that we must view the Christian home and family in connection with the deepest truth and in association with the mystery in all its fulness. The Christian home needs to support the testimony of God today more than ever before, no matter what its composition may be. It may range from a number of people in a large house, down to one brother or sister in a bed-sit, but the Lord Jesus must be honoured there, with a definite commitment to the maintenance of His testimony. Then there will be blessing and a re-establishment of a wider testimony. We see a picture of this in the case of Obed-edom. Although he originated from Gath and had obvious association of old with Edom, his other name, Obed, means “worshipper”. Perhaps this feature was known to his neighbours when David sought an abode for the ark following the breach upon Uzzah. They would recommend him to David as a suitable candidate for receiving the ark into his home.
This would have been a great relief to David after the tragedy with Uzzah. In our day any similar attempts to maintain the testimony by copying the world with its “new cart” will only come to grief.
What a privilege for Obed-edom to open his home to the ark. Likewise, what a privilege for Christian households to have Christ in their home today. The ark typifies the Lord Jesus as God manifest in flesh. It is often referred to as the ark of the testimony (e.g. Ex. 25:22; Ex. 40:21; Num. 4:5; Joshua 4:16). It is in this aspect that it can be applied to the house of Obed-edom and to us today. Obed-edom faithfully maintained the testimony in his day and God blessed him for it. When David heard about this he went and brought up the ark with joy (2 Sam. 6:12). We read in 1 Chronicles 15 of the orderly way in which this was done, based upon the Scripture in Numbers 4.
About 160 years ago it pleased God to raise up a testimony to the truth of the one body of Christ, with Him its Head in heaven. Since then a few believers have sought grace from the Lord to act in the light of this precious truth. They do not claim to be the body of Christ, but humbly seek to give expression to it, albeit in weakness, yet counting on our faithful Head. They recognise that while all truly born again believers form the assembly of Christ which is His body (Eph. 1:22-23), that assembly is God's house which holiness becomes. Hence the need to maintain in the assembly conditions which are in accordance with God's holiness and honour.
It is sometimes suggested today that it is no longer possible to act on the truth of the one body and maintain links between local gatherings. It is sometimes said that we can freely receive whom we will at the Lord's supper, without any reference to the fact that some are known to be in association with error. Revelation 3:20 is brought forward to support the claim that it is an individual pathway today. To this we say that God does not change His holy principles to fit in with our ideas. Those who open the door to the Lord Jesus are not left on their own. They can be found among those in Philadelphia, who keep His Word and do not deny His Name.
No one Scripture contradicts another. They complement one another. Revelation 3:20 does not set aside the necessity for believers today to purge themselves out from vessels unto dishonour and follow after righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Tim. 2:21-22).
1 Chronicles 16, verse 38, shows that Obed-edom's faithfulness was not forgotten. He shared with Hosah the privilege of doorkeeping. How necessary to have faithfulness, wisdom and love, in allowing those to approach who were suited to do so and refusing any who were not (1 Thess. 5:21-22; 1 John 4:1). It is also not without significance that two were sent by the Lord to prepare for the passover supper on the night that He was betrayed (Mark 14:13; Luke 22:8).
Because of the inclusion of other material, it has not been possible to carry the next part in the series on Psalm 119 by Mr. Cor Bruins, in this issue. This will follow in the next issue, if the Lord will.
“The Sermon on the Mount” (4)
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6)
In Luke 6, where the Lord addresses His disciples personally, He says in a general way: “Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled” (verse 21). The fourth of the nine “beatitudes” in Matthew 5 speaks of a particular hunger and thirst — a hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Hunger and thirst involve an intensive desire for what is vital to the preservation of life. They indicate that one has to manage without these objects of desire, or that they are not at one's disposal.
Was there no righteousness on earth at that time? When God gave the law to His people at Sinai, He said: “...in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev. 19:15). But what did this people do with the Lord Jesus, the only just One? Peter had to say to the Jews: “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life...” (Acts 3:14-15). The Romans who occupied Palestine at that time were proud of their ancient law. It still serves as a basis for laws on the statute books of many of the European states, and hence the standard of Roman righteousness continues with us to this day. However, when the Lord Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, Pilate said: “I am innocent of the blood of this just person...” (Matt. 27:24). Yet he had Him scourged, and delivered Him to be crucified, because of the demand of the inflamed crowd. The unrighteousness of the world cannot be expressed more clearly than by the treatment of the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour.
Generally speaking, righteousness today is thought of as a principle of conduct that provides the same rights for everyone. In Scripture however, God Himself is always the source as well as the object of righteousness. He is the perfectly righteous One who always deals righteously, i.e., in accordance with Himself. God deals with mankind for the benefit and blessing of all, yet many do not understand the basis of these dealings, and therefore imagine that God is unjust. Of course, God is not unjust (see Romans 3:5; Hebrews 6:10). God's righteousness requires that He punish sin which is, as we know, mainly directed against Himself. The perfection of God's righteousness is seen at the cross of Calvary. There the Man Christ Jesus was punished in the place of sinful people so that God might give His righteousness to those who accept this work of Christ.
True righteousness will only begin to be experienced when we accept this by faith. Man, equipped by God with intellect and a sense of responsibility, knows human righteousness, and endeavours to practise it, but because of the sin that is in him, he is unable to fulfil even this righteousness in the different areas of life to which it applies. Quite apart from this inability, there is often an unwillingness to attempt to meet these human standards. We are living at a time when the demands of human righteousness are clearer than ever before. Think of the demands of tax and social legislation. Think of the international attempts to even out the differences between industrial nations and developing countries. Protestant churches support and motivate these endeavours, and some of these pursue this objective by becoming active politically. Yet the “Sermon on the Mount” contains no instructions to improve the condition of the world, and it is not a political programme. Rather, it describes the characteristics and the future lot of all those who, by believing, have part in the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of heaven). This is meant particularly for the believing remnant of the Jewish people, as well as for the believers from among the nations in the coming tribulation. They will experience the unrighteousness of the world at its peak, in the person of the antichrist (2 Thess. 2:10; Isa. 51:1, 6). They, like their Lord before them, will be unjustly persecuted and attacked. Their renewed hearts will be filled with a deep and longing desire for righteousness, and this desire will have its answer when the Lord comes at the beginning of the millennium.
“Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment” (Isa. 32:1). When God, under the rule of Christ, lays judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, all those will be filled who earlier hungered and thirsted after righteousness (Isa. 28:17).
Yet this is not the case at the present time. We must realise that in this world perfect righteousness will exist only when the Lord Jesus Himself introduces it in the millennium. Is not the ardent longing of mankind for righteousness (and for peace which is the work of righteousness — Isa. 32:17), a sign that this period is soon to come? This longed-for aim will not be achieved by the efforts of those who seek it for the world, but only through the righteousness and peace of God.
This verse speaks to us as Christians too. As children of God we realise how much unrighteousness there is among the people of the world. We see that some believers have to suffer unjustly, not only because of their faith in the Lord Jesus, but simply because of their righteous conduct. And, sad to say, is there not sometimes unrighteousness even among true Christians?
How many a child of God sighs because he feels unjustly treated. The desire for righteousness in these cases is understandable. Yet this hunger and thirst will be satisfied for us all, eternally and perfectly. According to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). In the millennium, the Lord Jesus will reign in righteousness, yet in the new creation righteousness will abide eternally. Then the aim of God's ways with man will be achieved.
Can we not say that our hunger and thirst after righteousness are stilled already in many respects? Has not God counted our faith for righteousness (Rom. 4:5, 22)? Are we not the living proofs of the righteousness of God, because we believe in Him, whom He has made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)? Can we not rejoice already in the moral characteristics of the Kingdom of God: “For the Kingdom of God is... righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17)? Yet we should not only rejoice in these things, but also put them into practice in our lives among our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the world. In Matthew 6:33 the Lord says to His disciples: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. Are not these words a worthy motto for Christians who desire to be faithful disciples of their Lord?
Divine Care (5)
Timothy's Care. Philippians 2:19-21
Both as to his calling and his service, the place occupied by Paul was unique1 (See footnote on next page. Acts 9:1-16; Acts 22:3-15; Acts 26:8-20; 1 Cor. 15:8; Eph. 3:1-12; Col. 1:21-29). Though a man of like passions to us, his obedience, energy, and spiritual intelligence, as well as his deep love for the saints, made him a vessel through which divine care could be exercised. Doubtless in this, as in all things, he was “...in nothing... behind those who are in surpassing degree apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5, J.N.D.). But what of the working of this care in those who are not apostles? Here in Philippians 2, Timothy is brought before us. Verses 5-11 present the One who, beyond all comparison, looked “not... on his own things, but... on the things of others” (verse 4). Though He was and is God, His mind was to serve in humility and obedience, even unto death. While there must ever be an infinite distance between the Creator and the creature, was not the same mind seen in Paul? He exhorted the Philippians to “Let this mind” be in them, “which was also in Christ Jesus”, and who among the servants of Christ was more marked by that mind than he? Yet Paul says of Timothy in verse 20, “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state”. The trend in that day, as in this, was evidently in the opposite direction. Instead of looking on the things of others, all sought their own, “not the things which are Jesus Christ's” (verse 21). In marked contrast to this selfishness there was on Timothy's part genuine feeling as to how the saints got on (Verse 20: J.N.D. trans.).
In what way was Timothy's care for the saints manifested? Many of the references to him in the New Testament help to answer this question. He was marked out for a particular service and fitted for it, and his own brethren happily identified themselves with him in the matter (1 Tim. 1:18; matter (1 Tim. 4:14). Paul speaks of him as his “...beloved and faithful child in the Lord”, and these qualities manifested themselves during the years that Timothy was with him (1 Cor. 4:17 — J.N.D.).
1This is not to deny that there are in his calling, elements common to the calling of every Christian, and in his service, governing principles that ought to be seen in the service of every Christian.
Paul first took Timothy with him during his so-called second missionary journey (Acts 15:41-16:3). In the course of it they came to Thessalonica. Having spent three sabbath days there, with evident blessing to many, it had been necessary to depart (Acts 17:1-10). Paul, Silas and Timothy had gone to Berea, and Paul moved on at once to Athens, where Silas and Timothy joined him again (Acts 17:10-15). In his concern for the Thessalonians Paul sent Timothy back to them to establish and to comfort them (1 Thess. 3:1-2, 6). Timothy had a real care for these new converts and the necessary wisdom to meet them in their difficulties.
Here in Philippians Paul proposes to send Timothy, that he might be of good comfort, when he knew their state (Phil. 2:19). Timothy had a heart for these brethren too. They were not new converts, but spiritually mature. They had fellowship in the gospel with Paul and his co-workers (Phil 1:4-7). Like Timothy, they had Paul in their hearts (Phil. 4:10-18; Phil. 2:17).
Serving the Lord among the Thessalonians and Philippians was no doubt a happy task, whatever the opposition from without. However, Timothy was sent to other assemblies too. Paul would not go to Corinth because of their low spiritual condition. Had he gone it would have been necessary for him to exercise divine discipline (1 Cor. 4:18-21; 2 Cor. 1:23). Instead, Paul sent Timothy to them. As his beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and his companion and fellow labourer, Timothy was able to remind the Corinthians of Paul's ways and teaching. How different they were to much that was seen and taught in the assembly at Corinth! (1 Cor. 4:17). This was not an easy task. There were those there who strongly opposed Paul. (1 Cor. 9:1-12; 1 Cor. 15:12; 2 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Cor. 11:1-15). It would seem that Timothy was naturally more sensitive than Paul, and he would have felt the weight of his task. The Corinthians were to see to it that he was without fear among them (1 Cor. 16:10). The first epistle brought about the repentance that was necessary and it is probable that, in the faithful discharge of his service, Timothy helped to bring about this result (2 Cor. 7:8-12).
Later, when Paul was going to Macedonia, he besought Timothy to abide still at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). In the history given in Acts Paul went from there to Macedonia twice (Acts 16:8-11; 20:1). Timothy accompanied him on the first occasion, and on the second went in advance of the apostle (Acts 17:1-15; 1 Thess. 3:1-6; Acts 19:22; Acts 20:1-5). It is probable that 1 Timothy 1:3 refers to an occasion between Paul's first and second imprison-ment at Rome2.
The saints at Ephesus had been favoured with an extended stay amongst them by the apostle, and by an epistle which sets out in remarkable fulness the purpose and counsel of God (Acts 20:31). Timothy was to watch over what was taught, that this might be sound. There were not wanting those that would teach other doctrines and the law (1 Tim. 1:1-7). Godly order was to be maintained and Timothy had a particular responsibility in this matter. No doubt he felt the difficulty, as a younger man, of having to deal with those who were older than himself (1 Tim. 5:1-2). He was to give no occasion to any to despise his youth, but rather to be a model believer (1 Tim. 4:12).
Timothy's care for the saints would have entailed his feeling more keenly the turning away from Paul of “... all they which are in Asia” (2 Tim. 1:15). If Timothy's ministry at Corinth helped to turn the tide there, at Ephesus it was apparently not so. Paul was aware that his young fellow labourer might become discouraged, and pressed his responsibility to the Lord (1 Tim. 1:18-20; 1 Tim. 5:21; 1 Tim. 6:13-16). In the second epistle he reminds him that all is secure “in Christ Jesus”, and of the unfailing resources we have in Him to meet the difficulties of the last days.
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
2The following extract from the “New and Concise Bible Dictionary” may be helpful here: “The history of Paul is... given in the Acts of the Apostles, but there are intimations in the later epistles that after two years at Rome he was liberated. His movements from that time are not definitely recorded; apparently he visited Ephesus and Macedonia, 1 Timothy 1:3; wrote the first epistle to Timothy; visited Crete, Titus 1:5; and Nicopolis, Titus 3:12; wrote the epistle to Titus (the early writers say that he went to Spain, which we know he desired to do, Romans 15:24, 28); visited Troas and Miletus, 2 Timothy 4:13, 20; wrote the epistle to the Hebrews; and when a prisoner at Rome the second time, wrote the second epistle to Timothy, when expecting his death”.