The Life of David (8)
David's Preparations for God's House
(Continued from page 238)
The Preparations (2). 1 Chronicles 22:14
How can afflictions enable materials to be collected to build a house for God? The afflictions that David experienced through his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) did not provide any valuable materials for the building, but the afflictions and cares that David encountered in his wars did produce a rich harvest of gold, silver and other materials. David was a courageous warrior and his life was largely spent in fighting Israel's enemies. In these wars he was greatly helped by the Lord. The dangers he endured and the energy he expended were amply rewarded by his victories which brought to his successful army large amounts of booty. He shared the dangers and hardships of his soldiers, and on one occasion he would have died but for the intervention of one of his leaders (2 Sam. 21:15-17). David was no stranger to affliction (1 Kings 2:26, Ps. 132:1). David recovered all the spoil that the Amalekites had taken at Ziklag and no doubt he returned victorious with more than had been lost (1 Sam. 30:18-20, 26). David defeated the Moabites, who gave him gifts (2 Sam. 8:2). The Syrians were smitten by David and they also brought him gifts (2 Sam. 8:6). By his many triumphs David secured gold, silver and bronze and dedicated them to Jehovah (2 Sam. 8:7-11). More gold was acquired by defeating the Ammonites. (2 Sam. 12:30 — David took no part in this fighting). It is a solemn lesson that David's great virtues were prior to his adultery with Bathsheba. Sin in any form weakens the resolve to fight for the interests of the Lord, but God honoured the sincere repentance of His servant and enabled him to gather the necessary materials for the building of the temple.
That affliction is a valuable experience in relation to God dwelling with men is borne out by Isaiah 66:1-2: “Thus saith Jehovah: The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool: what is the house that ye will build unto Me? and what is the place of My rest? Even all these things hath My hand made, and all these things have been, saith Jehovah. But to this man will I look: to the afflicted and contrite in spirit, and who trembleth at My word.” The lesson is obvious. Afflictions bring one near to God and produce a deeper knowledge of Him in the soul. This is shown often in Holy Scripture. After the long years of slavery in the land of Egypt the children of Israel were delivered from their affliction. They departed from Egypt with an abundance of riches (Gen. 15:14 and Ex. 12:35-36). No doubt some of those riches would be used in the construction of the tabernacle where God said He would dwell (Ex. 25:8-9. Regrettably they would also be used in making the golden calf of idolatry. How foolish man is! After all the upheavals and sorrows which he experienced, Job was much better off at the end of his life (Job 42:12-17). He had arrived at a deeper knowledge of God (Job 42:2) and consequently a true appreciation of himself (Job 42:6). Jacob, the father of Joseph and Benjamin, was overwhelmed by the seeming calamities that had invaded his life. He said “All these things are against me”. How wrong he was! Everything was ordered for his blessing. Who would not covet an end like Jacob's? He blessed the two sons of Joseph, he blessed his own sons, he blessed Pharaoh, and he died a worshipper. His afflictions were well worthwhile. In Psalm 4:1 David said, “In pressure, Thou hast enlarged me”. He was under pressure because of Saul's enmity towards him. He was in the midst of pressure in the dangers of war. The rebellion of his sons Absalom and Adonijah were grievous pressures. All these sore burdens made him lean upon God and in so doing he grew in his knowledge and appreciation of God. For the unbeliever, suffering and affliction are enigmas. For the believer they are valuable teachers in the school of God.
Naturally, no one looks for affliction or asks for it, but when it is experienced in the pursuit of practical holiness or because of faithfulness to God and His interests it is used by God to bring blessing into the soul. As difficult times are gone through with God the believer emerges from them with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of God which leads to worship and praise (1 Peter 5:10-11). It would be wrong to close this section without a reference to the One who supremely was afflicted, the Lord Jesus Christ. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted” (Isa. 53:7). While the Lord Jesus endured much from the hands of evil men (Hebrews 12:3), His extreme sorrow was what He experienced from the hand of His God. As He became the sin-bearer He endured the unmitigated wrath of God in God's judgment of sin. Was it worthwhile? The millions upon earth who worship God will one day join the millions already in glory, and unitedly worship God and the Lamb (Revelation). “He shall see of the fruit of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11) and “the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10).
The Preparations (3). Power. 1 Chronicles 29:2
David was a man of boundless energy. His life, as recorded in Holy Scripture, was a life of vigour and achievement. It is sad to relate that when he had a time of relaxation it led him into temptation and grievous sin (2 Sam. 11:1-5). God had gifted David with great physical power and David used it unsparingly in his service for God. He would not be so foolish as to attribute to himself the power to prepare for the temple. He would remember the injunction of Moses, “But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, that it is He who giveth thee power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18). David acknowledged this in his prayer to God when he said, “In Thy hand is power and might; and in Thy hand it is to make all great and strong... for all is of Thee, and of that which is from Thy hand have we given Thee” (1 Chr. 29:12-14. See Ps. 62:11 and Ps. 68:35). Misdirected power can be destructive. Power directed by a good purpose can achieve noble things. David was not a deluded visionary. He was a man with a distinct purpose and he used his God-given power to put into effect the plan he had received from the Spirit. When the time came for Solomon to build the temple all that was necessary for the task would be available to him. The correct amounts of gold and silver etc. were amassed by David. His purpose guided him in the employment of his power. Not only did David use his power in an energetic and purposeful way but his power was used to achieve an object. What an object! “This palace is not to be for man, but for Jehovah Elohim” (1 Chr. 29:1). “The house that is to be built for Jehovah must be exceeding great in fame and in beauty in all lands” (1 Chr. 22:5). In David's heart and mind the greatest and most glorious Person, God, deserved the best that he could give and every activity of his power was expended to that end.
It is important to distinguish between the temple that Solomon built and the spiritual dwelling place of God as described in the New Testament. Solomon's temple was reared in Jerusalem and was built with a variety of materials. In it priests functioned with distinctive garments and offered to God material sacrifices. Incense and music accompanied their functions. All the furniture connected with the temple was made of gold or bronze.
In the Christian dispensation all is spiritual except the two rites of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. Peter in his first letter wrote: “Yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, (consisting of all believers) to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Christians everywhere on earth at any given time constitute the house of God and they increase day by day into a holy temple which will be completed when the last believer is secured (Eph. 2:20-21). The people in Corinth who were converted through Paul's preaching were described by Paul as the temple of God (Acts 18:8-11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16). The temple of God today consists of living persons indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).
The features of David's power (energy, purpose and object) can be fulfilled in every Christian in the power of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit's power every Christian can build with gold, silver and precious stones, figurative of enduring spiritual qualities. (1 Cor. 3:12).
The Greek words energia, energeo and energees, from which the English word energy is derived, are found in the New Testament. An examination of a few references will show from where the New Testament believer obtains energy:
1) Ephesians 1:19. God.
2) Ephesians 4:16; Colossians 1:29. Christ.
3) 1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 3:20. The Holy Spirit.
4) 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12. The Holy Scriptures.
There is no excuse for a Christian to be lethargic. The Divine resources are ample for every exercise in relation to the support of Divine interests. Proverbs 24:30-34 is a sad picture of inertia in the things of the Lord.
If God deigns to dwell amongst His people it is important that there should be purpose of heart on the part of those who are so honoured. Each believer, brother and sister, can contribute to such a marvellous blessing. Not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together must be high in the agenda of purpose (Heb. 10:25). Who would want to deliberately absent themselves from the opportunity to be in the presence of God? Not simply congregating in a hall or chapel, but entering into the presence of God with self-judged spirits. A simple prayer at home prepares the heart for greater things when gathered to the Lord's Name. 1 Corinthians 11:28 is important before partaking of the Supper and is applicable to all gatherings of the saints. If this important exercise were followed more often it would greatly affect the spiritual atmosphere of the gatherings. Holiness of life as a fixed purpose is an essential exercise in preparing for God's presence. It is one thing to rejoice in the blessing of holiness that belongs to every believer in Christ. It is another thing to be in practical consistency with it (Heb. 12:14; Ps. 93:5). Love for each other guarantees the abiding presence of God (1 John 4:12). These are only a few of the things that could be followed with a fixed purpose, which would provide much that would contribute to the known presence of God in His house. God Himself is the great Object to engage the affections and the allegiance of His people. It is the knowledge of God and the believer's relationship to Him that governs their worship and service towards Him. The total commitment of Romans 12:1-2 would secure for God the kind of service that David so loyally rendered to God in his generation (Acts 13:36). Paul's exhortation is particularly appropriate for days of easy-going Christian profession: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassion of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God”.
Such commitment would inevitably lead to the worship of God, the highest and most dignified service Godward (John 4:24). Also, there would be no difficulty or hesitation in rendering “unto God the things that are God's” (Matt. 22:21). “Whatever ye do, do all things to God's glory”, seems to sum up the matter concisely (1 Cor. 10:31). Worship God — Render unto God — Do all for His glory. The Object is well worthy of such devoted service.
The Preparations (4). The Affections. 1 Chronicles 29:3
“Love never fails”, said Paul (1 Cor. 13:8). David was an excellent expression of that statement. He gathered immense amounts of materials for the house of his God and he could have been content with that. But he was ready and willing to give what belonged to him, his own property, to augment what had already been gathered. An admirable exercise and one that proved beyond all doubt the depth of his affections for his God and His house. David had in the past exhibited this principle of personal sacrifice (2 Sam. 24:24). “Neither will I offer up to Jehovah my God burnt offerings without cost”. A brother is reported to have said that he was never free in his spirit to recommend a gift from the assembly purse unless he had helped privately himself. It is easy to be generous with suggestions from the assembly purse and niggardly with one's own possessions. In Psalm 26:8 David said: “Jehovah, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth”. His was no empty profession of love. He proved his love by his generous giving for God's house. Love gives; love sacrifices. John the apostle wrote: “Children, let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). David's example had a great effect. The chief fathers and the people followed his example and gave willingly for the house of God. Love expressed in a practical way can be infectious. The giving of the Macedonians shamed the Laodiceans (2 Cor. 8:2; Rev. 3:17). The giving of Ananias and Sapphira is to be avoided (Acts 5:1-10).
The wide range of David's preparations for the house of God is seen in chapters 23-27. The precise arrangements that he made assured the order and continuity of the service of God. There was variety in unity, a most important feature.
A final word. All that was seen so attractively in David was expressed in perfection in the Person of the Son of God. His Divine Workmanship, consequent upon His spotless life, redeeming death, glorious resurrection and triumphant ascension to God's right hand in glory, secured for God (and Himself) a building that would resist every attack of Satan, and preserve for God every response worthy of His Name. “I will build My assembly, and hades' gates shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:13-18).
(Further articles in this series are to follow, if the Lord will).
Divine Care (6)
The Mutual Care of the Members of the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:25
In the previous article in this series we considered the care that Timothy had for the saints, and some of the ways in which his care for them was shown. We might rightly say that he was an apostle's delegate, which we are not, and was gifted in a way which we may not be. He could show care for the saints in ways that we are not fitted to do. This is true. Nevertheless, we are still responsible to care for one another. There are a great many passages which bear upon this subject, quite apart from those where the word “care” occurs. However, because of the constraints of space, we must limit ourselves here to a consideration of 1 Corinthians 12:25 in the immediate and wider context of the epistle.
We know that the saints at Corinth were enriched “in all utterance, and in all knowledge”, and that they came “behind in no gift” (1 Cor. 1:5, 7). These were very great benefits, bestowed upon them by the grace of God. They were intended for the profit of the whole company (1 Cor. 12:7). Sadly, some were misusing what God had given, in order to exalt themselves. Others, giving their support to one or another, helped on a party spirit (1 Cor. 1:12-13; 1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22-23; 1 Cor. 4:6; 1 Cor. 11:18-19). This had led to envying, strife and division — characteristics of man in the flesh rather than of those “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 3:3; 1:2). At the beginning of the epistle Paul had shown that the cross of Christ has cut off the flesh, and everything in which man after the flesh might glory (1 Cor. 1:18-2:8; Col. 2:11). Here in chapter 12 he shows how inconsistent their behaviour was with the inter-dependence of the members of the body of Christ. He illustrates his point from the human body (1 Cor. 12:14-26). There is both a diversity of members, “For the body is not one member, but many”, and an essential unity, “But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Cor. 12:14, 20). In writing that “the members should have the same care one for another”, Paul clearly had the divided state of the Corinthians in view. Instead of self exaltation and partiality, an understanding and appreciation of the fact that “There is one body” would stimulate this mutual care (Eph. 4:4). It would be shown as each one functioned properly in their assigned place in the body (1 Cor. 12:18). While some were more prominent than others there was to be the “effectual working” of every part (Eph. 4:16). The contribution that each has to make was to be neither under or overestimated (1 Cor 12:15-17, 21-22). Paul writes that they were “(the) body of Christ” in Corinth, and it was Christ who was to be manifested in them, not the features of the old man (1 Cor. 12:27). They were to have the same care for one another that Christ had for them.
The range of gifts given is wide, as Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 show. We are told in 2 Timothy 3:1 that “in the last days difficult times shall be there” (J.N.D. trans.). Where the eye is not single and steadfastly fixed upon Christ, these difficulties can lead to discouragement and despondency. Remembering that “unto every one of us is given grace (gift)”, perhaps like Timothy we sometimes need to “stir up the gift of God” which is in us (Eph. 4:7; 2 Tim. 1:6). All the difficulties of the last days have been foreseen by God, and ample provision has been made to meet them. Innovation will not strengthen the testimony of God, but wholehearted obedience to God's Word, in first love for Christ, will. As the gifts given are exercised under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in submission to the authority and Headship of the Lord Jesus, so (and only thus) will the body of Christ be built up.
While there was scope for the Corinthians to show care and mutual consideration in most of the other areas that Paul touched upon in the course of the first epistle, there were several matters in particular where this was called for.
In chapter 6 Paul writes: “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another” (1 Cor. 6:7). Some were doing wrong, defrauding (robbing) their brethren. While theirs was the greater guilt, those that were wronged were taking matters to court, with little thought of the dishonour thus brought upon the Lord's Name and testimony. Genuine care for the people of God would rather have suffered the loss, trusting to the Lord to set matters right, and seeking to gain the brother or sister concerned (1 Cor. 6:7; Matt. 18:15).
Paul turns to financial matters again towards the end of the epistle. While anxious to suffer no personal loss, and despite their apparent affluence, the Corinthians were slow to minister to the needs of others. In chapter 16 he directs them as to the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, and in the second epistle exhorts them to the doing of it (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:11). The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is pressed — “that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). What a reproach it was to the Corinthians that others, much less well off than they, were far more forward in this matter. Paul writes of the deep poverty of the Macedonian believers, and how this “abounded unto the riches of their liberality”. They prayed “us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Cor. 8:4).
The Corinthians had also been slow to supply the material needs of Paul and those who with him had sown to them in spiritual things (1 Cor. 9:11). While “the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”, Paul had not pressed this claim (1 Cor. 9:14). Others sent to him in his need, but not the Corinthian assembly as such (1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 11:8-9). It seems that even had such support been proffered Paul would have refused it because of their low spiritual condition (2 Cor. 11:10-12).
Such passages may well challenge our own hearts today. The subject of giving is frequently taken up in the New Testament, both by the Lord Himself in the Gospels, and elsewhere. In Luke 16 faithfulness “in the unrighteous mammon” is faithfulness “in that which is another man's” (Luke 16:11-12). The money that passes through our hands is not ours but the Lord's and we are responsible to Him as to how we dispose of it. The Scripture: “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?”, would indicate that there is a very definite link between Christian giving and progress in spiritual things — the things which are our “own”. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). “Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Gal. 6:6). “But to do good, and to communicate, forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16). These Scriptures show the large and important place that giving has in the sight of God and it is a responsibility that we cannot escape.
There was another area where there was ample scope for this care and consideration to be shown. In chapter 8 Paul writes at length about “the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols” (1 Cor. 8:4). Some, having knowledge that the idol in itself is nothing, were so bold that they not only ate what was offered, but they did so in the very precincts of the idol's temple. In eating there, they were compromising the holy Christian fellowship into which they were called and provoking the Lord to jealousy (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Cor. 10:19-22). In eating the sacrifices at all they were disregarding the consciences of their weaker brethren, who might be made bold to do the same thing: “with conscience of the idol... as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled” (1 Cor. 8:7). Paul uses very strong language in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 8: “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ”. He is said to be “the... brother... for whom Christ died”, and will not perish in the eternal sense, but a brother whose conscience was so offended might be lost to the Christian testimony. How at all costs care for the saints would avoid such an outcome. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:13). There is to be consideration for all who might be involved in such an action: “But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not, for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof” (1 Cor. 10:28, 32-33). We are not to make a show of our own liberty, or to seek our own profit, but the edification of others (1 Cor. 10:23-24).
The whole of Romans chapter 14 deals with similar matters, though things offered to idols are not in question there. The principles enunciated are capable of wide application. We are to regard the consciences of others, and bear with those who may not yet enjoy full Christian liberty. Where fundamental Christian teaching is not involved, and where holy Christian living is not compromised, we are not to judge one another. Each one has his personal responsibility to his Lord and Master, and this is stressed (Rom. 14:4, 6-9). At the judgment seat of Christ it is our own conduct and service that we will have to give account for, and not that of others (Rom. 14:10, 12).
Before concluding this series of articles let us recall some of the verses from 1 Corinthians 13: “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth...” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a). Behind all Divine care there is Divine love. In some of these verses Paul has to write of things that Divine love is not, or does not do. Sadly, these negative things were seen amongst the Corinthians. May we rather give place to this love, and the care for one another that it would put into our hearts. Then what was seen in perfection in Christ in care for His people, may be seen in a measure in each one of us today.
God's Remedy for Our Problems
Reflections on 2 Corinthians 2:14 - 7:1
A few introductory remarks may prove helpful to better understand the reasons for writing on this subject at this time. As we are all aware there are many problems facing the Lord's people today. New ones arise before old ones are cleared away. Being firmly persuaded that the Word of God furnishes the answers to help in every situation I have asked myself the question, how is it that God's people can be so divided on so many issues? Would obedience to God's Word and dependence upon the Lord not unite us together? I found the answer in Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. They too were divided, because they were occupied with the wrong man (1 Cor. 1:11-12). Until they had learned what Isaiah 2:22 states: “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?”, they were powerless to cope with the problems. In 2 Corinthians we are given God's answer, the solution to the difficulties.
The two epistles of Paul to the Corinthians are wilderness epistles. The saints are viewed as having been set apart from this world by a divine call (1 Cor 1:2). This world, which to the eye of faith has become a wilderness, furnishes nothing to sustain that faith. And the Christian passing through this world must live a life of complete dependence and obedience to the Lord. Failure to do so is the root cause of all the break-ups and break-downs in the family as well as in the assembly testimony.
God allows this time of testing in the wilderness in order that we might learn what is in our hearts. But what is of much greater value is to learn what is in the heart of God, and that is Christ. Then, as we learn this, we turn away from ourselves to find in Christ what answers every need.
The Root Cause of Problems
In reflecting on this portion of Scripture we must bear in mind the great object the apostle had before him. He longed to see the Corinthian saints lifted up out of their low spiritual condition as he had described it in the first epistle. Please note 1 Corinthians 3:1: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal”. This carnal condition had led to worldliness and moral laxity, which further opened the door to assembly disorder and doctrinal error. And this left them with little spiritual discernment and no spiritual strength to cope with their problems. This is much of what we are facing today.
This condition, exposed in the first epistle, is addressed in the second epistle. There we are shown God's way of transforming us into the moral likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. As this is being accomplished by the Spirit working out in us subjectively what God has purposed for us objectively in Christ, problems are solved in a God honouring way. Self is set aside.
It is not intended that we be occupied with difficulties and problems, but rather that we see God's remedy for them. That does not mean that we try to avoid the problems, for we all know that none of us can run away from them. But we need to see God's provision to meet every need; and that provision is in Christ.
Change is Possible
The apostle Paul himself had been in such stressful situations as are described in 2 Cor. 1:8-9; 2 Cor. 4:8-9: “... pressed out of measure, above strength... despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves”. In spite of these outward dangers, Paul does not faint or become discouraged. Instead he sees himself identified in testimony with a victorious Christ (2:14-15). And by his conduct and preaching, a sweet fragrance of Christ rises up to God. Paul, who called himself the chief of sinners, is now the greatest vessel God has raised up for the shining forth of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Only God could bring about such a change in the life of any person.
Now, what God did in Paul, He is also doing in each one of us who have believed. God by His Spirit is writing Christ upon our hearts (2 Cor. 3:3). The law could not do that. It could only tell man what he ought to do and what is expected of him, but it could not change him (Rom. 8:3-4). But the Christian has received new life (Christ), and a new nature that delights in what is of God. The Holy Spirit now dwelling in the believer, occupies us with Christ where He is in the very presence of God. As I am occupied with the Man Christ Jesus where He is now, a transformation will take place in me, a moral change, making me more and more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).
One Great Hindrance
Now the greatest hindrance to the work of the Spirit in the believer is self. Good self or bad self is still self. Self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, self-love, are at best occupation with the wrong man, the very man whom God has set aside and condemned in the death of Christ. God is not attempting to improve man in the flesh. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The question might now be asked, how does this teaching help solve problems? First of all, we have to admit that: “... in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing...” (Rom. 7:18; John 6:63). The problems which cause us so much trouble, in our individual lives, in our families, and in the assemblies, find their source in our flesh. So if we don't learn from God's Word that the flesh profits nothing, God teaches us this by our own failures. But how sad if we have to learn it in this way. Yet what is even more sad is that we have grieved the Holy Spirit, and that every failure or sin necessitated those unfathomable sufferings of Christ on the cross. Then, as I learn how wretched the flesh is in me, I turn the eye of faith away from self and find in Christ an Object of supreme delight, One in whom God finds eternal joy and satisfaction.
It Begins in Me
Having experienced how wretched the flesh is in me (not in my brother), the second thing is to accept the teaching God has given in this, as in many other portions of Scripture. He is teaching us to look away from self to Christ and, in so doing, we take on the moral features of Christ. Some of these are obedience and dependence upon God, patience, meekness and self-control. Many others are seen in Galatians 5:22-23. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who works this out practically in the life of each believer. In chapter 4:7 Paul explains that our bodies, which he calls “earthen vessels”, contain this treasure which is Christ dwelling in the believer. And as the vessel is broken up the light that is within shines out.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, the apostle Paul reminds us that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Everything we have done in our lifetime will be manifested in the light of His holy presence. Our motives, our self-seeking, even if it was mixed in with our service for the Lord, will be manifested. What was done in secret or in public, at the work place or at home, in private counselling or in public preaching, all will be laid bare. O how searching this is! But remember, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, the sinful nature in which we sinned is no longer in us. We will then be with and like Christ and will rejoice in that our old selfish, sinful nature is once and forever done with. Only what is of Christ remains forever.
Christ Really is the Remedy
If we like Paul lived our lives in the light of that day, what a difference it would make. It is far easier to sing, “Nothing but Christ, as on we tread”, than to live it. For to live it means that it will govern what I wear, how I spend my money, where I take my holidays, how I speak to my wife or husband and my attitude towards my children, etc. Moreover, it will affect relationships in the home, at the workplace, and in the world. But what is most important, it will bring an atmosphere into the assembly which is Christ-honouring. This is really the mind of Christ, and having that mind equips us to face all dangers. It enables us to make the right spiritual decisions. We will then understand with whom we can have fellowship and when associations are defiling. True separation and holy living is found only then, when it is coupled with affection for Christ and obedience to His Word (2 Cor. 6:17-18). Then the question is never asked, “What's wrong with this or that?” but, “What is pleasing to Christ?”
Paul then concludes this section (2 Cor. 7:1) by giving a word of encouragement: “Having therefore these promises”. If we allow God to work this out in our lives we will experience the deep peace and joy of fellowship with the Father. This will make all suffering or sorrow which we pass through well worth while. Faith looks beyond the present and evaluates everything in the light of eternity (2 Cor. 4:17-18). It is my earnest prayer that these reflections may lead to deeper exercise in all who read them, so that Christ may be reflected in a greater measure.
From Our Archive
The Primitive Church (3)
(An address given in Lowestoft in 1960)
The verses I have read have a very distinct connection with what has engaged us previously. Two nights ago, from Acts chapter four, I pointed out the features that marked the church in Jerusalem, in its primitive simplicity. Last evening I mentioned that what we haven't got in Acts chapter four is the Gentiles as yet called into the church. For that reason we travelled on to Acts chapter eleven, where we saw the beginning of this remarkable work at Antioch. When we come to the gospel we step outside Jewish circumstances, and Jewish exclusiveness, and we contemplate God gathering out of the Nations, “A people for His Name”.
Here in Acts chapter twenty we are listening to a man who in those days was most used of God in accomplishing this. And we are instructed as to how he did it. There are three things that marked the ministry of the apostle Paul. Of course, he was tremendously antagonised by the Jews. If he wrote, as I think he must have done, the epistle to the Hebrews, instead of incorporating Gentile converts into Jewish circumstances he had to end his epistle by saying in effect, “Now you who are Christians from among the Hebrews, go forth to the rejected Saviour, without the camp”. What was it that God used in the earliest days in the accomplishment of His purpose? There are many things in the verses I have read and I can only attempt to speak on a few, but I notice the apostle speaks of his ministry; of the manner of it, the method and then of the themes that he ministered.
You might say to me, “Look here, you are preaching tonight and you've got to pay attention to the manner in which the apostle Paul exercised his ministry”. If you say that, I admit you are quite right. Let everyone of us who, in our small way today, seeks grace to preach or minister the Word of God, be guided by the spirit that marked the apostle. He said, “Ye know... after what manner I have been with you at all seasons”. It wasn't a case of very hot today and very cold tomorrow. There were no fluctuations but steady, constant ministry, in humility and in trial and difficulty, such as the temptations or testings that he had by the lying in wait of the Jews. And then, not only did he declare things by word of mouth, but he showed them. Twice he said that in the verses I have read, I “have shewed you”. In other words he exemplified in practice the things that he preached. It was what he did, how he behaved himself.
But what did he declare? Firstly, at the end of verse twenty four, he spoke of, “...the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God”. That is where all began, and where everything begins today. It is no use advancing further until that is established. The foundation is laid in the gospel. Here it is not the gospel of the Kingdom, which we read about, for instance, in the Gospels. There were glad tidings for the Jew because at last here was the Messiah, the expected King. But they did not recognise Him. Alas, He was not received, save by a very few. But now there goes out, consequent upon the death and resurrection and glorification of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the gospel of the grace of God. This is the epoch which is characterised by grace. Never forget that. Grace is in contrast with anything like merit. Merit thinks I deserve something but Paul said, “I obtained mercy”, not, “I obtained merit”. I think we might notice what that meant practically when he came to what I might call our side of the matter. He said, “I... have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ”. I don't know whether I am right, though I've met other people who have the same impression, that preachers of the gospel of God, ourselves included, haven't made the need of repentance toward God quite plain enough. The deeper the conviction in the soul of any convert, the deeper the conviction of sin and de-merit, the more stable and satisfactory the conversion that results. So often repentance is shallow and then the sense of grace is not deep and the Christian might afterwards be rather shallow as a consequence.
But Paul didn't stop there. In the next verse he mentions the second thing that he so ably ministered. He speaks of the gospel of the grace of God and then he says, “And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the Kingdom of God, shall see my face no more”. Let me emphasise that little word, “ye” — you, all of you. Paul then preached the Kingdom of God among the saints. Paul said in effect, “Look, grace has reached you in the gospel, but it brought you under divine authority; you have been translated from the authority of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of God's dear Son”. God's Kingdom is established in the hearts of His people as they are brought into happy subjection to Jesus, who has become their Lord and their Head. Wherever Paul went he brought the truth of God to bear upon the consciences, the hearts and the lives of those who received the gospel. The apostle never contented himself with merely expounding truth. Of course, you have to begin with the doctrine, the unfolding of God's truth, but Paul never stopped there. Take the epistle to the Romans, and the wonderful unfolding of the gospel that we have there. We all have to take our place as guilty men and women in the presence of God. There must be repentance towards God. As we read on in the epistle we have the grace of God in all its fulness; justification, reconciliation, our standing in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit bestowed, and the whole effect of sin countermanded. Then there are the three chapters that settle the questions that arise in some people's minds as to whether this has in any way set aside what God had promised previously to Israel nationally. But when we come to chapter twelve you get, “I beseech you therefore, brethren...”. In the light of the truths that he had opened out to them he besought them to present their bodies to God. My body is that which, in my unconverted days, expressed my sinful thoughts and desires. It was all for self. But a Christian ought to present his or her body a living sacrifice. A sacrifice is that which is devoted to God in His service. We do it in a living way, and our bodies are to be under divine control. We are to prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. The apostle didn't stop with expounding all the wonders of the earlier part of the epistle. He applied what he had been teaching to the consciences of the saints. Presently he says that we're brought into the Kingdom of God. It isn't meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The epistle to the Ephesians unfolds the truth concerning the church; what God is doing today according to His own gracious counsel and thought. But Paul doesn't stop there. If you turn to about the middle of chapter four you find he suddenly says in effect, “Look, you're not going to do as these Gentiles do in the vanity of their minds. If the things I have been writing are true, and they are, see what it means in practical Christian living. You are to put on the new man. The old man has been dispossessed. You have been brought under divine authority.” Although the word Kingdom is not mentioned, what it infers is. We are brought under divine authority that the desires of our hearts, the words of our lips, the actions of our lives, may be controlled here. Everywhere Paul went he made that manifest. He was not a mere kind of theological professor, propounding all kinds of wonderful ideas, but leaving it there, with no one at all exercised as to any light which these ideas shed upon their practical behaviour. No, if truth is revealed, it is revealed in order that it may exert its control upon our lives as brought under divine domination. Wherever Paul went he preached among believers, “The Kingdom of God”.
He goes on to say, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”. The counsel of God is very fully unfolded in the epistle to the Ephesians. Beyond that which meets our need is that which God has desired according to His own thought. In the course of that epistle the expression, “according to”, occurs again and again. We are shown that God has blessed us, not merely according to our need, but according to His own thoughts, purpose and counsel. These were formed even before the foundation of the world. Paul made that manifest. He says, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God”. Why should he have shunned doing so? We might have thought there would be only delight on Paul's part in expounding such wonderful truths. But it was precisely that which brought upon him the wrath of the orthodox Jew. Why were his footsteps dogged in every place? Why was he treated as he was? Because he did not shun to declare all the counsel of God. This lifts the Christian into heavenly blessings beyond anything made known in connection with the Jew and the blessing which the Jew will have in the coming age.
Let us remember these three things and be careful not to get lopsided. We need all three: the gospel of grace, the Kingdom of authority and the counsel of the purpose of God. That was what wrought in the apostle's ministry. Then he tells them that there were two dangers ahead. The one is a more obviously a movement of the enemy than the other. He spoke of grievous wolves getting in among the saints and not sparing the flock. That was going to mark the whole course of the Christian testimony until the end. As they are spoken of as wolves I think we can say that they are not true Christians at all, but they gain an entrance into Christian circles and what they propagate is destructive of the truth. But Paul indicated a second danger which I venture to think is for us even more urgent. Paul says that in addition to this, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”. Paul was addressing those who in a particular way were responsible, because the Holy Spirit had made them overseers or elders, exercising a measure of spiritual oversight or authority. Mr Darby's translation gives, “speaking perverted things”. There is an element of truth in it but by a dextrous twist it is perverted. That again and again has taken place in the history of the church. Even with men who may be elders, if self comes in and a desire of pre-eminence, there is a tendency to teach something very novel with a little twist and presently he becomes a leader of a kind of party in the church of God. An exalted somebody who is supposed to be a little bit above the average servant of God. A leader gathering the saints around himself. Let us remember that these were the warnings issued so that we may be kept very clear of that kind of thing ourselves.
In the light of these dangers Paul shows the source of preservation and blessing. Presently he says, “I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace”. He couldn't say, “I commend you to the elders”. He was talking to the elders. Elders are no safeguard in themselves. But Paul does say, “I commend you to God”. We each are put in touch with God and are to keep in touch with Him. If we have God before us we shall be living a life where there will be an element of prayer and dependence. The best servant and the most usable is the servant who is in touch with God. It is God who has blessed us, it is God who has been revealed in Christ, and it is God with whom we have to do. We are prayerfully to keep in touch with Him. But there is another thing beside this. We are commended to God, “and to the Word of His grace”. It is not the Word of His law. That was very important in its place. There is nothing more effective in producing conviction of sin. The law entered that sin might abound, not as a matter of fact, but in its potency in the consciences of those who were under the law. But now we have the Word of His grace. If you ask me, it lays great stress on the New Testament. The Old Testament is the Word of His law, if I may be allowed to speak in a broad and general way, but the New Testament gives us the Word of His grace. The Old Testament does give us shadows of the good things to come, but as the epistle to the Hebrews tells us, “not the very image of the things”. The shadow gives me the outline, and I can deduce certain things from it, but it doesn't give the very image of the thing. I think we can see the typical shadow in the garden of Eden when animals were slain to provide the guilty pair with coats of skin. But now we have the plain revelation of things and let us remember what a preservation we have in the Word of His grace. I am afraid we do not read God's Word as much as we should. There are so many other things to distract us and occupy our time. But depend upon it, if I am going to have to do with God, and with the Word of His grace, it certainly needs the careful, prayerful reading of the New Testament, and of the Old Testament in the light of the New. So it has been through the centuries when God has wrought in reviving power. It has been through the Word of His grace. When centuries passed and then came what we speak of as the Reformation, not half a century or so previously printing was invented and the Bible began to be let loose in that way. Instead of being locked up in monasteries and smothered by the priests, the Word of God's grace was let loose and blessing resulted. So it has been since the beginning. It is when our souls are brought under the mighty and gracious influence of His Word that our souls are preserved and taught. We are carried outside of man, even the best of men, and fitted for the service of God. We may go into the very presence of God and speak to Him, and on the other hand He speaks to us in His Word.
F. B. Hole.
In putting this material into a form suitable for publication it has been necessary to edit some of Mr. Hole's remarks. The three addresses in the series are available on two cassette tapes from Mr. B. T. Wolfe, 2 Grafton Bank, Yetholm, Kelso, Roxburghshire, TD5 8SB, price £1.00 each, plus postage.
Psalm 119 (7)
(Continued from page 247)
4. DALETH — DOOR
This word means “door” in the Hebrew, and appears to have been the most ancient form of the letter. Its numerical value is four, which speaks of universality. The spiritual significance of the letter seems to be that of “entrance”, “giving entrance”, or “opening up the way” — something which includes and excludes. The way we are in seems blocked. We are at a “dead-end”, and emotionally we may be at our “wit's end”, deeply depressed and discouraged. “Daleth” will help us discover the way to being quickened, restored and encouraged.
Verses 25-48. Strength for the Weary
Section Four. Verses 25-32: “God's Word Quickens and Restores”
Verse 25: DAH-VAK... “...clings...”
“My soul cleaveth unto the dust...”. What a discovery to make! Indeed, how much value do we attach to the things of this earth? Do we “theorise” about the Christian life, and yet live for this earth, rather than for the Lord Jesus? What are our priorities? Do we “cling” to some kind of idol that we cannot let go? We have tried so hard to get free from this thing, this particular weakness or temptation, but to no avail. We are depressed about it. Romans 7:18 is right when it says: “...for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not”. Well might we echo the cry: “...quicken Thou me...” That quickening is in the life of Christ, lived out in us. Have we come to Him, have we surrendered to Him?
2. Confession First!
Verse 26: DEH-RECHI... “...my way...”
“I have declared my ways...”. Have we told Him all? Our failures, our vain efforts? Our struggles and defeats? Have we left anything unconfessed? Are we willing to judge the root-cause of our defeat? Confession is not only that I tell the Lord my faults, but that I accept myself as I really am, without any pretence and without any excuses.
This is a necessary lesson we must learn: “...teach me...”, continues our verse. Teach me the plague of my own heart. He “...is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
3. We must be taught and understand before we can talk to others
Verse 27: DEH-RECH... “...the way of (Thy precepts)...”
In verse 26 the Psalmist asks to be “taught” because he is conscious of his ignorance. He lacks experience of many things. Now he asks: “Make me to understand...”. To be taught is not enough, we must also grasp and understand what we have been taught, otherwise our knowledge is simply theoretical. We can have an intellectual grasp of the Bible, have knowledge, but lack the wisdom (that comes from experience) to be able to impart that knowledge to others.
In order to be able to: “...talk of Thy wondrous works”, we must have inwardly digested the truths of God's Word. Too many assume they are teachers because they possess a certain amount of Bible knowledge. But there is something lacking in their talk, their teaching. Before what I say to others can grip them, it must first have gripped me. Paul says to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them...” (2 Tim. 3:14).
4. Beware of self-occupation
Verse 28: DAH-LAPH... “...drops (melteth)...”
There is nothing more disheartening and discouraging than to be occupied with oneself. Our spirits will begin to wilt and droop. Something has happened to us, and we wonder: “Why me?” We cannot understand why the Lord has allowed this. We begin to sulk. We become depressed and burdened with heaviness. In Romans chapter seven the personal pronouns I, me, myself, are repeated 47 times. I ask you, with whom is the man in that chapter occupied? The capital letter “I” is repeated 28 times! There is your answer. He is occupied with “self”.
Let us then follow the Psalmist in his prayer: “strengthen Thou me according unto Thy Word”. Occupation with Christ, with the word of Christ, will get us out of our depressions!
5. Beware of hypocrisy
Verse 29: DEH-RECH... “...the way (of lying)...”
Of course, I can refuse the truth about myself! But that is a form of dishonesty before the Lord, as well as before others. Have you never felt like a hypocrite when you have talked about your spiritual experience with others and that same day you had been unfaithful to the Lord? We can hide our own spiritual destitution from others, but why try to hide it from Him?
The Psalmist appeals to the law. But we know that the law can only condemn me and make me see even more my own wretchedness. But no, it is grace we need: “...and grant me Thy law graciously”. It may seem strange to find these two here joined together: law-grace! The literal Hebrew rendering is: “and favour me with Thy law”. If Jehovah favoured His people by giving them a written revelation of Himself in the law, how much more we have been favoured in Christ by being shown God's wonderful grace of forgiveness of all our transgressions and grace to do His will!
If the law shows me what I am by nature apart from grace, then grace shows me what I have become in Christ: “accepted”. So then, it is no longer I, but Christ. Let us then be occupied with Him!
Verse 30: DEH-RECH... “...the way (of Thy truth)...”
It is up to us now! There must be a choice! God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves! We can stay in our depression and keep on sulking and murmuring and get more and more depressed. But we need not. “I have chosen the way of truth...” is his decision! Spiritual advance and growth is not automatic! It demands our co-operation, an action of our will. “Wilt thou be made whole?” The prodigal son said: “I will arise and go to my father...”.
Here is the conviction that God's Word shall govern our lives: “Thy judgments have I laid before me”. We have that same expression of determination in Psalm 16:8: “I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved”. Have you made that decision yet?
Verse 31: DAH-VAKT... “I have clung...”
What a wonderful contrast with verse 25! There he was clinging to the dust. Here in verse 31 the same verb is used, “dahvak”, but now he is seen clinging to the Word: that which testifies of what God is and what we should be. Here is true devotion: clinging to the Lord. That is what Barnabas exhorted the believers at Antioch to do, he: “...exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). The determination of verse 30 is here continued in!
“...O Lord, put me not to shame”, need never be the prayer of the New Testament believer. We are assured that “...whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:33).
Verse 32: DEH-RECH... “...the way (of Thy commands)...”
The Authorised Version here makes us think that the Psalmist is “striking a bargain” with the Lord: “I will... when Thou...”. But a better rendering is: “...I will run the way of Thy commands for Thou shalt enlarge my heart”. Here we have the Lord's enabling! Everything depends upon Him strengthening us! How dependent indeed we are upon Him for our daily walk. What a wonderful change in his soul has been wrought since verse 25, where we saw him cleaving to the dust, so terribly earthbound. But now he is soaring! He is able to run, because his heart has been enlarged — given increased capacity. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). May our prayer be: “...Draw me, we will run after Thee...”.
Psalm 119 — Correspondence
A careful reader of this magazine has written to the editors regarding an apparent contradiction in the first of the series of articles on Psalm 119. In the March/April 1993 issue Mr. Bruins listed all the verses in the Psalm which have a reference to the Word or one of its synonyms. One of these synonyms is the Hebrew word mish-paht. On page 36 of that issue it was stated that the word mish-paht occurs in verse 132, but lower down on the same page the verse was said to be one of only three in the Psalm to have no direct reference to the law (Word) or any of its synonyms. In the King James and J. N. Darby translations verse 132 is rendered as follows: “Look Thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as Thou usest to do unto those that love Thy Name” (KJV), “Turn unto me, and be gracious unto me, as Thou art wont to do unto those that love Thy Name” (JND). The word mish-paht does occur in verse 132, and has been translated by the words in bold type. Mr. Bruins writes as follows:
“Mish-paht is translated “judgment” in the Hebrew concordance. However, in verse 132 it is scarcely admissible as a term for the Word. It is really a description of a particular attitude taken towards someone. The KJV has in the according to the custom toward” and this is the meaning of the word in verse 132. It describes the manner in which God acts towards someone. I conclude then that in the case of verse 132 we cannot really maintain that mish-paht is another synonym for the Word, so this still leaves verses 90, 122 and 132 as having no direct reference to the Word or any of its synonyms.”
Mr. Bruins suggested that the editors consult someone else who knows Hebrew, and the following reply has been received from Mr. John Eaton, of Birmingham University:
“Psalm 119 is a very systematically built Psalm, but with some surprising deviations from the system, some of which are picked up in the discussion you have sent me. (Only the first part of the series on the Psalm was sent to Mr. Eaton — Ed.).
It is certain that varying forms of the Psalm did exist, since a large part of one in Hebrew has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalm Scroll, New York, 1967), and the Greek, Syriac, Targum and Latin Versions all witness to texts with variations of detail.
Internal logic suggests that the original poet had in verse 90 'mrtk, “Thy promise”, instead of the present 'mntk, “Thy faithfulness”; and in verse 122 dbrk, “Thy Word”, instead of 'bdk, “Thy servant”; but there happens to be no external evidence for these particular possibilities.
As regards verse 132, the deviation from the pattern may not be as definite as first appears. Admittedly, mishpat lacks the suffix denoting “Thy” (generally characteristic throughout this Psalm), and its occasional meaning “custom” seems suitable here. However, “Thy” may here be understood, covered by the “Thy” attached to “Thy Name”, which would be doing double duty. And there need be no doubt that the poet has chosen the term mishpat as part of his usual scheme — he will have been thinking of “judgment” in the sense of gracious decision and promise uttered by the Lord.
The fact is that all the synonyms for the Lord's Word used in the Psalm are capable of wide and flexible meaning. The poet nowhere specifies what “law/word” he has in mind, nor mentions any detail of a “law”. “The Law” (as an absolute expression, hattora) never occurs. The suffix for “Thy” is always added, and all verses from verse 4 on (except 115) address God. So the weight falls on communion with God, sustained in praise and entreaty by a great flow of references to His gracious Word. The numerous expressions for this would show its richness and many-sidedness — guidance, warning, promise, salvation, etc.
An especially wonderful aspect of the Psalm is what it shows about the stages on the way of communion. Attention to the Lord's teaching, full attention, leads at last to encounter with the Lord Himself, a breath-taking revelation.
I hope these reflections will be of assistance.”
Textural criticism is not an area with which many are familiar and the editors are certainly aware that these matters are beyond their own depth. Nevertheless, they have found Mr. Eaton's remarks helpful and for this reason have included them here.
The next part in the series on “The Sermon on the Mount”, by Mr. Arend Remmers, will follow in the next issue, if the Lord will
“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26).
The divine record does not tell us what hymn (or psalm) they sang on this solemn occasion, although some think that it was Psalm 118. This was usually sung at the Passover supper, and would have been most applicable to One who, having been presented as “He that cometh in the Name of the Lord,” was now to be bound “with cords, even unto the horns of the altar”. Whatever it was that they sang, this brief reference is sufficient warrant for the practice, later enjoined by the apostle Paul, of singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”.
While no mention of music is made in the outline of the gatherings of the newly-formed church in Acts 2:42, it becomes evident from Acts 16:25 and 1 Corinthians 14:15 that singing was a normal outlet for the individual Christian as well as the gathered companies. It has been estimated that since the foundation of the church on the day of Pentecost, more than a million hymns have been written, in many tongues, on many subjects, and varying in spiritual and poetical quality.
An interesting factor in the Christian church, with all its divisions, is the Christian hymnal. The Roman Catholic, the Anglican, the Non-conformist, the missioner, have all at least some hymns in common. When we sing a hymn, we do not often stop to think who wrote it. The author's sentiments are ours, and on this common ground we swell the note of praise to our glorious Lord.
Some of the hymns that we sing are very old, almost as old as the Christian church. “Shepherd of tender youth,” for instance, was written by Clement of Alexandria, who was born about the year 160 and died in 217. Another hymn that we often sing, “A shameful death He dies,” was written by an unknown author in the ninth century and translated by W. J. Blew from the Latin. Others, like “Lord Jesus, think on me,” were written much earlier. That hymn is attributed to Synesius (375-430), and was translated from the Greek. “Saviour, the very thought of Thee,” and “O Head once full of bruises,” were written in Latin, and are evidently from the pen of Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived from 1091 to 1153. Much later many German hymns were translated by John Wesley, who, with his brother Charles, composed many hymns as well. About the same time Isaac Watts, not satisfied with singing only Psalms, composed a prolific number of hymns, which we still sing. He lived from 1674 to 1748. In the last century there was an awakening in France, and many hymns were written during that time. César Malan and Henri Rossier are two of the best-known authors of this period, and some of their hymns have been translated into English and other languages. In England John Nelson Darby and Sir Edward Denny composed many hymns that we still enjoy singing. During the last century the “gospel hymn” came into being. Some of these are still favourites, although many are sentimental, and not always spiritually sound. This century has also developed a slightly different form of “song”. Some of the recent compositions are based wholly on verses of Scripture, which is certainly commendable, although the practice in some quarters of singing the same words over and over again detracts from the appreciation of the text.
It is significant that the first song recorded in the Bible was sung by Moses and the children of Israel when they saw their enemies drowned in the Red Sea. The significant theme of this song, “The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation”, is taken up again in Psalm 118. It will also be sung in a future day, when the faithful remnant will be delivered through the great tribulation, as we read in Isaiah 12. “In that day” they will be able to rejoice that the Holy One of Israel is in their midst. Do we not have a song to sing as we come together to the Name of the Lord, since He has promised to be in our midst? Elihu spoke of “God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night”. This reminds us of Paul and Silas, beaten with many stripes, chained in the inner dungeon, who were yet able to sing praises to God — and the other prisoners listened to them. Who knows how many people listen when we gather together and sing our Saviour's praises?
The last book in the Bible contains in its first chapter a song that we still sing unto Him that loves us, and has washed us from our sins. Later on, in the fifth chapter, we are introduced to the “new song,” often anticipated in the Psalms (Ps. 33:3; Ps. 40:3; Ps. 96:1; Ps. 144:9; Ps. 149:1). We can even now sing: “O Lord, the glad new song is ours e'en here to sing.” Let our tongues not be silent. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me” (Ps. 50:23).
R. E. A. Retallick.
News from the Field
“...We are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: Not boasting of things without our measure... To preach the gospel in the regions beyond...” (2 Cor 10:14-16).
I would like to give some further news about the work of the Lord in Malawi, Central Africa. Dr. Albert Nanninga and his wife Hennie are full time missionaries, based for the time being in the north of the country in the city of Mzuzu. In the south, near Blantyre at Ngludi, live Dr. Bert Nanninga and his wife Mathilde and their little children. He is employed as a doctor in a local hospital and seeks to reach souls in his spare time. I had the privilege of visiting them in October past. I flew to Malawi via Harare, Zimbabwe. During the long journey I wondered how things had developed since Hilvert Wijnholds and I were there last in 1992. The political situation had began to change so I was interested to know if this had had any effect. The two week visit then was far too brief to assess things well. Now that the Nanningas had been there for many weeks, what had been their experiences to date? How had our African friends fared? Had the literature been effective in reaching and edifying souls?
Ngludi is not far from Masuku, where last year we visited a little meeting, but up to my visit Bert had been unable to find the believers there. We hoped during my visit to locate them in the poorly charted countryside. The O S map proved very inadequate and alas, we were not able to find the Christians Hilvert and I met in 1992. This was a very great disappointment. I learnt subsequently that Bert's father (Dr. Albert) had met up with the Masuku believers and spent time with them. He has since sent a pen sketch of the countryside to Bert and local contact has been made. This highlights one of the difficulties in Africa, where so few have a street address. Dwellings are scattered in simple villages miles away from made up roads. Savannah provides so few notable land marks that every locality looks alike. The stay in Ngludi nevertheless provided the opportunity to talk together over the Lord's interests in Malawi and back in Europe. After a few days I flew up to Mzuzu where brother Albert was waiting for me. The temperature was in the 30's. Mzuzu is 1,000 metres above sea level and the hot weather is modified by a very pleasant breeze. We eventually obtained a taxi and set off through the town via the bookshop, to where the Nanningas live. I spent most of my time discussing things with them. In the months that they had already spent there Albert and Hennie had gained a very good knowledge of the local situation. Their assessment actually confirmed very definitely the initial impressions Hilvert and I had gleaned over a year before. The ground needs to be ploughed and well prepared before any fruitful yields can be harvested. The need for simple Bible study is urgent but the appetite is very limited. The complacent opinion of the folk in Mzuzu is that it is enough to have secured a bookshop and a missionary. Their Bible knowledge is exceedingly poor, and for them the Bible is largely a closed book. Their comprehension of the gospel is also most deficient. So you will understand that there is a great deal to do before any testimony could even begin to be recognised, or considered for mutual fellowship. Of course new contacts are constantly being made. Albert and I had the joy of speaking with quite a number on the street who desired to know more about the truth of the gospel. Two men who had just left the bookshop, followed us down the road. One was clearly converted but the other was not a believer, though troubled about eternal matters. As we spoke with these two, another man began eavesdropping on our conversation. Finally, he interrupted: “Excuse me, but you are talking about Christ. That is a subject that deeply interests me — will you come to my work-place and provide some answers to my questions?” We were only too delighted to go in search of him later and to tell him the way of salvation. So you see that amidst discouragement on the one hand there is definite encouragement on the other, for which we praise the Lord. Elsewhere in the country contacts are being visited and assessed. Some demonstrate their deep desire to be taught, but others imagine they have enough knowledge (thereby showing they are either not sincere or self-deluded).
A little news of the literature work in Malawi should also be brought to your attention in order that your prayers may be informed. Chapter Two and the Book of Books Foundation have purchased over $1,100 worth of Bibles in the Chichewa and Tumbuka languages. These have been distributed to various contacts but most were conveyed to Mzuzu. Hundreds of books have also been sent there from London and Frohnhausen (Germany) together with a very large quantity of tracts in English and local vernaculars. Since August the bookshop has been operating with heavy subsidies (for rent and subsistence). Numerous customers have purchased books and calendars. The need to consolidate the contacts is not appreciated and so opportunities to spread the gospel and other truths are frequently missed. Plans are in hand to ensure that the literature work is established on a right basis with specific aims. A week or two before I arrived the Nanningas had called on the local branch of the National Library Service. They arranged for some books and Bibles to be given for local use. When I was taken to the same library all 15 titles were out on loan. Discussion with the librarian indicated a vast need and upon my return to London a letter was written to the Senior Librarian in Lilongwe offering some stock free of charge and other items at local prices. We have also made good contact with the Christian Literature Alliance in Malawi and propose sending substantial quantities in due course. It is our considered opinion that a literature work based in the capital would be best for nationwide distribution and follow-up. This could also provide a base for the supply of English and Portuguese literature throughout southern Africa. The potential is enormous and we need to proceed in dependence upon the Lord. There is also the need to publish more material in local vernaculars once reliable translators can be found. If the Lord so direct we would be very encouraged to see the literature work set up on a proper foundation in the year ahead. There was ample opportunity to discuss details of these proposals and aspirations. The walk to the centre of Mzuzu took about 45 minutes. So almost every day we could converse on our way to and from the meetings or the market. The long walk in the hot summer sun over unmade terrain could be quite exhausting but conversations made the distances seem shorter. The final day came, and a taxi was called to help with getting the baggage to the little airport. It was 32oC when I left Malawi, and a cold blast of 0oC greeted me when I emerged in London some 9 hours later. Africa was behind me but not forgotten. Do join us in prayer and thanksgiving with regard to these labours in the Lord's vineyard in Central Africa. He alone can give the increase.
E. N. Cross.