Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885,
"Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be."
There is probably no scripture quoted more frequently than this, and certainly none more commonly used for comfort and encouragement to the feeble and aged; but the question has often been raised as to its application to the saints of this dispensation. More attention to its place and context would soon give the rightful answer. It occurs in the blessing of Asher, and it contains, therefore, for him — i.e., for the tribe — what it could not contain for us. But, like the infinite fulness of the word of God, it contains for us what it could not bestow on Asher. It runs, "Let Asher be blessed with children [i.e., Have a fruitful progeny]; let him be acceptable to his brethren [be in their favour or esteem], and let him dip his foot in oil" — a desire doubtless for his wealth in the produce of the olive. Then follows the promise at the head of these notes. Now it is precisely in this connection, between the last clause of verse 24 and verse 25, that the truth for Christians is to be found. Oil is a well-known type of the Holy Spirit. Taking it thus all is plain. Let the believer walk (dip his foot) in the power of the Holy Ghost, and then it may be said to him, "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be." So understood, the promise is exceedingly beautiful. It points out that the only power for walk is the Holy Spirit, and that His strength, however our natural powers may decline, will never fail. As thy days — long or short — so shall thy strength be, if thou dost but dip thy foot in oil. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Eph. 2:13.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 154.
A soul in communion with the mind of God will always have a deepening apprehension of the value of the precious blood of Christ. While this is ever true, it is important not to lose sight of any part of the truth of God. Now in prayer and thanksgivings the expression is often heard, that "we who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." A single glance at the above scripture will show that this is only a part of the truth, and that a most weighty part in this case has been omitted. "But now," says the apostle, "in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off," etc. It is not only, therefore, the efficacy of the blood to which reference is made, but also to the place of the Christian before God; viz., in Christ Jesus. There are the two things — our being in Christ, and the fact of being made nigh by His blood. Nor in the teaching of this epistle can these two things be dissevered, as "in Christ" is, if we may so term it, the keynote of the epistle. This is shown by Eph. 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." And this, we learn from the next verse, is in pursuance of God's eternal counsels; for it goes on to say, "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." From this we learn the necessity of holding fast to our being "in Christ;" for in truth we have now no other standing before God. If not "in Christ," our standing would be in Adam, in the flesh; and on that footing God could not have anything to say to us, except indeed in judgment. From all eternity, therefore — before the responsible man, Adam, appeared on the scene — He chose us in Christ, the man of His counsels, thus purposing for us a place of everlasting security and blessedness in His own presence. But if He would have us before Him in Christ, He would also have us in a condition suited to the place; and therefore He has determined that "we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." As seen in Eph. 1:3, every blessing is possessed in this epistle as being in Christ. It is thus in Him that we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins; in Him that we have obtained an inheritance, etc. (vv. 7-11.) How blessed then to know that before God we were always seen in Christ; that though, in the history of His ways, we were once in the flesh, Adam, as the expression of man in the flesh, has for ever found his end judicially in the cross of Christ. Our place, therefore, and our spiritual blessings, are now characterized by the position which Christ Himself occupies, as the glorified Man, in the presence of God.
It should be added, for the help of the reader, that "in Christ" has not the same meaning necessarily in all the epistles. The term must be interpreted according to its context, and according to the distinctive truth of the epistle in which it is found. To lose sight of this tends to obscure these characteristic differences, and thus to deprive the saints of some of the most blessed portions of their heritage. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Psalm 16:2-3.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 194.
The connection between these two verses, as rendered in our English version, is confessedly obscure. The Lord, in His pathway through this world, taking as He ever did, in the perfection of His life of faith as man, the place of entire dependence and obedience, says, "O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not unto thee;" and then the next verse proceeds, "But to the saints," etc., as if it meant, "My goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints," etc. Some years since a well-known servant of the Lord made a suggestion which, to most minds, cleared up the difficulty, besides throwing a flood of light upon the mind of the Spirit of Christ. Instead of reading, "But to the saints," etc., he pointed out, that to bring out the sense it might be thus taken, "I have said to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, In them is all my delight." This makes the parallelism also complete: "O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord … but I have said to the saints." And the spiritual mind will instantly perceive the beauty of the passage as thus explained. There is first the lowliness of our blessed Lord as man; and secondly, there is His identification with, and delight in, the saints on the earth.
While, however, many were feasting on this precious unfolding of the Word, it was said, by one who claims to have a large knowledge of the original, that the structure of the Hebrew made this rendering impossible. But, on turning to the Revised Version, we find it thus given: "I have said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord I have no good beyond thee. As for" (or "unto" in the margin) "the saints that are in the earth, they are the excellent in whom is all my delight." Thus learning contradicts learning, and justifies the explanation of one who was not without learning, but who used it only as a servant in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Lord's heart, then, was upon the saints. It was in them He had His delight; and this He showed when He identified Himself with the poor remnant who went out to be baptized of John. (Matt. 3.) He Himself was also baptized; and it was then, on His going up out of the water, that the heavens were opened, and, together with the Spirit of God descending upon Him, there was a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight." He found His delight in the saints, and the Father found His delight in Him. It is surely a lovely scene; and we may learn that the heart of God can only flow out to His people through Christ, and that they can only meet the heart of God in the heart of Christ.
The reader may compare Prov. 8:30-31 — "I was daily His delight … and my delights were with the sons of men." What wonders of grace, unfathomed and unfathomable, are contained in these few words. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Galatians 6:2.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 195.
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
The only question to be considered in this passage is as to the meaning of the law of Christ. It is generally said to be the law of love, and this is true; but is it not possible to be more precise? The preceding verse enjoins the spiritual to restore a fallen brother in the spirit of meekness, "considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." That is, as we understand, the spiritual man, remembering his own liability to fall, is to go in all gentleness to him who has been "overtaken in a fault" or offence, and in grace so identify himself with his condition as to take his burden of sin and sorrow upon himself, with a view to his succour and restoration. Now this is exactly what Christ Himself has done — only perfectly — both in life and in death. Thus the evangelist says, "He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (Matt. 8:1, 6, 17.) This was in His life, and concerning His death Peter says, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." (1 Peter 2:24.) He was thus, in life and death, the great burden-bearer; in life taking our infirmities and sicknesses in grace in order to remove them; in death bearing our sins in substitution, as made sin for us by God, when He endured for the glory of God all that was due to us on account of our sins, that He might take them away for ever. There is a great difference between His burden-bearing in life and in death; but still He was in both the burden-bearer. And this is the law of Christ: "Bear ye one another's burdens," and so fulfil the law of Him who was the pattern burden-bearer. Love was undoubtedly the motive of all; for, as the apostle says, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me;" and it is certain that we shall never go and take the burdens of our brethren on ourselves, unless we are under the constraint of the love of Christ. But this is motive, and the power, through the Holy Spirit, for fulfilling the law, rather than the law itself. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Rom. 8:4.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 212.
The Righteousness of the Law.
This expression, as many of our readers know, has been more exactly given as "the righteous requirement of the law." Taking it so, it has occasioned considerable difficulty from the place in which it is found. The connection shows that it is what is wrought out in the delivered soul — in those who have passed through the experience of Rom. 7, and have practically learned that there is now "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" has delivered them from the law of sin and death. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." But if we have been delivered from the law, and from efforts to fulfil it, why is it that we are told that the righteous requirement of the law is still fulfilled in us? It is not to be supposed for one moment that the work of the Holy Spirit in us, that the life of the Christian, is now limited by the legal standard; still it is mentioned. The reason for its introduction may be gathered from the preceding chapter. There the standard before the soul was obedience to the law. "The good I would" is simply this, the righteousness of the law; and hence, after showing the way of deliverance, the apostle points out that "the good," which could never be attained while under law, is now reached in a new and better way; that is, what the law required, but never obtained, is now produced in those who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. How much more besides he does not here say. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Matthew 8:18-26.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 213.
A striking contrast is given in verses 19 and 21. When Jesus was about to depart to "the other side," "a certain scribe came, and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." This man had been attracted by something in our blessed Lord, and desired to follow Him; but he saw no difficulties in the path, no refusal of self, and no cross, and besides this, he thought he could follow in his own strength wherever the Lord might go. He was instantly met by the presentation of the cross — of the character of the path, the rejection and loss it would entail. He disappears, is heard of no more. The second case is different. He did not shrink from the path, but he owned another claim. His heart was divided, and hence his request, "Suffer me first to go and bury my father." Affection for his father was drawing him back; but "whosoever loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." The Lord therefore claimed his immediate and whole-hearted allegiance by the word, "Follow thou Me; and let the dead bury their dead." He must learn that, if a disciple, neither the inclinations of his own heart, nor the impulse of the tenderest affections, but the will of his Lord, must henceforward govern his path.
After these instructions, "when He was entered into the ship, His disciples followed Him." He had, indeed, taught them how to follow; and this, gives the key to the connected incident. No sooner had they embarked than a great tempest arose, "insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves; but He was asleep." We are here shown the character of the disciple's path, that it is one "through waves and clouds and storms," and as such always attended with peril, because in it the disciple has to meet the full brunt and opposition of Satan's power. Besides this, it will often seem as if He were asleep, as if He were unacquainted with, not to say indifferent to, the peril of His followers. If, however, the danger of the path, and the temptation of the disciple are revealed, so also is his resource. "His disciples came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish." They cry unto Him in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses; for He intervened at once in answer to their cry, after chiding them for their timidity and their want of faith, and "rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm." He would have them learn, and us also, that He is all-sufficient for the dangers of the road, and that, however fierce may be the storm, all is under His control; and that the power therefore of Him who has called us to follow Him is more than equal to all our emergencies, and to conduct us safely through all trial and opposition to "the other side." Thus He glorifies Himself over every effort of the enemy, and confirms the faith of His disciples by the display of His omnipotent power. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Matthew 18:20.
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 248.
"Wherever two or three are gathered together unto (εἰς) my name, there am I in the midst." Clearly this is not a promise, but a simple statement of fact dependent upon the fulfilment of a condition. In other words, the Lord here says that He is ever in the midst of those who are gathered together unto His name. Everything, therefore, rests upon what this condition means. When the Lord was down here on the earth His name was Jesus (Matt. 1); but He was also the Christ. (John 1:41, etc.) After His death and resurrection He was made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36); and He still retains the name of Jesus. (Acts 7:59; Phil. 2:9-11, etc.) His full name for believers now (though He will have other names and titles by-and-by) is the Lord Jesus Christ. Now name in Scripture is the expression of the truth of what a person is; and so understanding it here, it will be the expression of all that Christ is as the Lord Jesus Christ. The term Lord signifies authority (see Luke 6:46); Jesus is His personal name (Luke 1:31); and inasmuch as He was made Christ after His death and resurrection, this term includes His work. When, then, we are truly gathered unto His name, we are gathered to the truth of His person, His work, and His authority; and these are the three things those gathered unto His name have to maintain. To surrender one only of these would be to give up Christianity — as to its public maintenance. Hence John says, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine — the doctrine of the Christ — receive him not into your house, nor bid him God-speed: for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds." (2 John 10, 11.) Such an one indeed has given up the truth of the work of Christ.
But to return. All three things must be held fast if the presence of the Lord is to be enjoyed. And observe that it does not follow that we are gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus Christ because we profess to be so. Moreover, it will not suffice to say that "we are on that ground;" for the question is, "Is the ground maintained?" For example, suppose a company of believers are careful to insist on the truth of the person and of the work of Christ, but are negligent as to His authority — systematically accept the authority of man — they would not be fulfilling the condition of our passage. It behoves us, on this account, carefully to ask ourselves whether, in the regulation and order of assemblies, we are permitting the authority or influence of man in anywise to conflict with the authority of the Lord as expressed in His word. On the other hand, wherever saints are seeking by the grace of God to fulfil this condition of being gathered unto His name, there the Lord is certainly in the midst of them. Into the question of maintaining discipline according to holiness, we do not here enter, as we now call attention only to that which gives the title to the Lord's presence.
Blessed is it for any company of saints to know that the Lord is in the midst of them. In the millennial day we read, "And the prince in the midst of them, when they go in (to worship), shall go in; and when they go forth, shall go forth." (Ezek. 46:10.) But it is open to us, in anticipation of the Jew, and in a higher and a better way, to have the Lord Jesus Christ in our midst when gathered unto His precious name. E. D.
Scripture Notes — Psalm 136
Christian Friend, vol. 12, 1885, p. 278.
This Psalm opens with what may be termed the refrain of Israel's national song — at least from the time of Solomon's temple (see 2 Chr. 5:13); and the song which proclaims that "His mercy endureth for ever" is surely a song for eternity. And it is exceedingly beautiful to notice how the Psalmist connects the mercy of the Lord with the whole of Israel's relationships and history. Thus in verses 2-4 it flows from what God is as the God of gods, the Lord of lords, and as the doer of great wonders; i.e. what God is in His absolute supremacy, and in His almighty power. From verses 5-9 God as Creator is celebrated, and for His mercy. Next it is as Redeemer. (vv. 10-15.) And whether it be in judgment upon Egypt, bringing Israel out with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm, or in the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, it is the thought of His enduring mercy that fills the hearts of His people, and produces their song. So in every subsequent stage of their history. Thus, in verse 16, the ascription is to Him who led His people through the wilderness; in verses 17-20, to Him who delivered them from their foes by the way; and then, in verses 21, 22, who put them in possession of their land. The One who had brought them out had also brought them in, for His mercy endureth for ever. The next two verses (23, 24) sum up all the past. God had remembered His people in their low estate (in Egypt), and had redeemed them from all their enemies, from that time until in the enjoyment of their heritage. And verse 25 looks onward to the millennium, and anticipates the supply of the need of all flesh, when mercy will be the theme of their song — as much then as now. The Psalm concludes with celebrating the God of heaven — God in the universal range of His power and authority. And still it is, "His mercy endureth for ever."
Thus from first to last, and during all the interval from first to last, in creation (and we can go further back still — even to God's purposes of grace in Christ before the foundation of the world), in our redemption, our guidance through the wilderness, our deliverance from our enemies, our being put into possession of all that God has secured for us in Christ, whether now, or when we are for ever with the Lord, it is and will be nothing but mercy, so that we may adopt Israel's song, and cry unceasingly, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever." E. D.