The following article is the first part of an address that was given some years ago on the book of Job. The attention of one of the editors was drawn to it and we gladly reproduce it here with our brother's kind permission. It has only been necessary to edit the material lightly.
(Job 1:1, 6-22; Job 2:1-13; Job 19:23-27; Job 42:1-6).
“Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:11)
The theme I have before me is the lesson, I think this one great lesson, of the book of Job, and it is epitamised in these two phrases from James chapter five: the patience of Job and the end of the Lord. I am convinced that the saints should frequently return again to pour over this unique book which deals in the most fundamental way with the sufferings of the saints. It doesn't by any means tell the whole story. It doesn't say anything at all about the wonderful change that the coming of the Saviour and His death and resurrection has made. The principles of godliness never change. There is nothing dispensational inherently about the principles of godliness. The book of Psalms is a great textbook of godliness, and the suffering of the saints is a very important aspect of godliness. There is suffering connected with our possessions. There are all kinds of disappointments which might be disappointments that are really in the line of godliness. Disappointments relative to our progress in earthly things, or our plans in earthly things in which we have sought the guidance and the blessing of God. When these are suddenly cut off there is a disappointment and there are many who are feeling sorrow of this kind relative to earthly things. There is the sorrow of bereavement and amongst the saints there will be those who have recently experienced bereavement and some who years and years afterwards haven't lost the pain that came to them when their loved one or loved ones were suddenly taken away. There is the suffering of bodily pain. There are many believers who are living day by day with pain. Pain is something that is never very far from us. Now the message of God regarding the suffering of the saints is something which is the same for every kind of pain. These are exactly the things that Job suffered and we can easily see the divine wisdom that selected these three things to be representative of the whole range of human suffering. Firstly, the sudden loss of all his possessions. Then the total loss of his family and then there was the terrible bodily pain that he suffered.
Job was a saint who must have lived somewhere in the patriarchal times, because of the length of his life perhaps towards the end of the patriarchal times. In the first chapter of the book we find that he was a man “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). We may say that none of us is perfect but it isn't just that kind of perfection that the Holy Scripture means when it talks about a man being perfect, even in the Old Testament. It means a man of integrity. When a believer's path is set in the way of obedience to God, that is an integrity. When a man of godly integrity sins it doesn't destroy his integrity because he goes to God in confession and self judgment as David did, who in spite of his sins was a man after God's heart. Job was a man of integrity in that sense of the word. There are other indications that Job was a saint in another sense, because he was a man of faith. When his trial began to be bitterly felt and expressed by him he said “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). He was a man who in spite of his suffering was entirely in subjection to the will of God. He complained that he didn't understand, he complained that he wanted to know the reason, he even thought that God was unjust to him, but he didn't give up his integrity, his devotion to God. Perhaps the clearest pointer to his being a saint is his confession in chapter nineteen when he says with the words driven out of him by his sufferings “Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though, after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:23-27). The only way to knowledge in a matter like this is faith in the testimony of God. We have no idea how the testimony of these truths came to Job, but they did come to him and he believed them. When he said “I know that my Redeemer liveth” it was a rudimentary statement about his knowledge of the Saviour who was then to come, but it is a very wonderful one. He might have said “the Redeemer liveth” but in this difficult passage there is nothing more certain than the personal pronoun “my”. We can see that there was not the slightest question of a doubt regarding his future. It was the present that was Job's trouble and it might be like that with us. We are quite certain of our future but O how sufferings can distress us at the present time. Job knew of his own link with his Redeemer by the use of the pronoun “my”. Job knew that he himself was going to see Him. There has been a great deal of learned argument and discussion about the very difficult question of the text and translation at this point. I sometimes think that perhaps the translators always make out a sentence to be a perfectly grammatical whole and wonder why we cannot see here a succession of sobs. “My Redeemer liveth … He shall stand at last upon the earth … after my skin … destroy this body … in my flesh I shall see God”. Though you miss out the intervening words the certainty is as clear as ever. Job is going to see God in resurrection and this has been the hope of the righteous from the dawn of history. We may rejoice that although our knowledge of the Saviour is so much fuller than Job's was and there has been brought to us the fulness of the truth that surrounds Him where He is at the right hand of God in heavenly glory, yet in the end Job's faith was such that he was brought through to a true prosperity.
In coming back to read the book of Job there are two things that have struck me very strongly. The first is that right to the very end of the book Job never knew about that interview between God and Satan that began it all. Job wanted to understand and in the end he was given the understanding that was necessary, “ … now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). The real origin of the calamities that came upon him he never knew. Neither is there any promise that we shall know the origins of the distresses that come upon us. The purpose of them we might know but when you read the story it is a staggering fact that Job never knew that it was all started by God when Satan came into His presence among the sons of God. The other very striking thing is when, in the end, all the cloud of words had died away and Jehovah answers Job out of the whirlwind. What will He say? How will He explain the things that Job's friends have failed to explain? How will He complete the explanations that were begun by Elihu? He didn't do it! Not one word of explanation of Himself did God utter. Not one word to answer the questions that Job had asked. His words were entirely concerned with the things of this earth and nature. The Lord spoke of the inanimate things, the sea and the earth and the storm, and then the animate things, the beasts and the birds. Then, right at the end, He speaks about Leviathan. There was not one word of a spiritual kind but the presence of God was in the word and it brought Job to know himself. That was the end of the Lord, to bring Job through to true prosperity by realising the presence of the Lord. The real problem for Job had been that although he was a saint, although he could say “I know that my Redeemer liveth” he was not really habituated to the effect of the presence of God. Think of statements made in Old Testament days by those who realised the presence of God. Isaiah: “ … Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Think of Elijah and the still small voice and the voice that said to him “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). In the presence of God he realised that he had to condemn himself and get back to the work that God had given him to do. We have so many examples and Job is one of the clearest.
There is a great desire amongst us to read the works of the brethren and I am fully in support of this, but there is one almost ceaselessly mentioned matter in those writings and that is self judgment. Earlier writers knew self judgment, to take every sentence of the Word of God as it comes to us and to use it to judge ourselves. Think of what the Lord Jesus Christ said to those who had come to be His disciples, “… let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34). It is not simply confessing that I have done wrong. It is judging self. It is only when we've come to do that that we've come to respond as we ought to respond to the high and deep truth that has come to us. Only in doing this will we be kept by the Word of God in those paths of humility, righteousness and response to Him that are pleasing to God.
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
Divine Care (1)
God's Care. 1 Peter 5:7
In this article and those that are to follow, God willing, I would like to look into this wonderful subject. In this issue of the magazine God's care is considered, while in future issues, space permitting, we may consider the care of the Father (Matthew 6:19-34), the care of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:30-37), the care of an apostle (2 Cor. 11:16-28), the care of Timothy (Phil. 2:19-21), and the mutual care that the members of the body of Christ should have for one another (1 Cor. 12:25).
We know that the believers to whom Peter was writing were suffering. The word suffering is used in connection with them ten times in the epistle1 and because of these many trials they were in heaviness and distress (1 Peter 1:6). In chapter four we read of the fire of persecution that had come upon them (1 Peter 4:12). They were being persecuted by their Jewish brethren according to the flesh and by the unbelieving Gentiles. They were being persecuted by the power of Rome and it would seem from 1 Peter 2:18-20 that some were being persecuted by harsh and unreasonable employers. We can understand, therefore, how many cares they would be carrying. The first word for care in 1 Peter 5:7 signifies anxious, distracting, care. In his “Expository Dictionary of Bible Words” W.E.Vine says that it is probably connected with a word that means to draw in different directions. Who has not known something of this kind of care, this kind of anxiety? It is care that robs of quietness and sleep. The divine direction is that this care, not in part but the whole, is to be cast upon God. The reason for our doing so is then given “..for He careth for you” and here a different word for care is used. This is care of forethought and interest. It is demonstrated throughout the epistle and a consideration of some of the references to God will show this.
We can understand why they were the objects of this care. Firstly, by the work of Christ upon the cross, these believers had been brought to God (1 Peter 3:18). They, and not their unbelieving Jewish brethren, were the true people of God (1 Peter 2:10). They were the servants of God and as such could be sure of His care for them (1 Peter 2:16; 1 Cor. 9:9-10).
1 1 Peter 2:19-20; 1 Peter 3:14, 17; 1 Peter 4:1, 13, 15, 19; 1 Peter 5:9-10. In the King James translation the word suffering appears in 1 Peter 4:16 in italics but doesn't appear in the underlying Greek text. The word translated affliction in 1 Peter 5:9 is translated suffering on each of the other occassions where it occurs in the epistle. There are seven references to the sufferings of Christ in the epistle — 1 Peter 1:11; 1 Peter 2:21, 23; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1, 13; 1 Peter 5:1.
This care was shown in other ways too. The Christianity into which they had been brought and in which they stood was the “true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12). If there was the hostility of the world there was also the unchanging favour of the “God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). He was a faithful creator to whom they could commit themselves with confidence, whatever the extremity of their difficulties (1 Peter 4:19). He was a God who was altogether for them and they were kept by His power (1 Peter 1:5). This power had already been seen in the raising of Christ from among the dead, Christ who had died for them and for their sins (1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 2:21, 24; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1). The resurrection of Christ and His appearing and kingdom are referred to repeatedly in the epistle2 in order that faith and hope might be stimulated.
How real and wonderful is this care. May we have an abiding sense of it in our souls till the Lord comes and everything that would give rise to anxious care is left behind.
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
2In connection with the resurrection see 1 Peter 1:3, 21; 1 Peter 3:18, 22. In connection with the appearing and kingdom see 1 Peter 1:4, 7, 13; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1, 4.
The Life of David (5)
To write about the failures of a man of God would appear to be an unseemly and unprofitable occupation. Especially when one is very conscious of one's own many failures. However, David in his Psalms does not hide his failures. He exposes his soul to God and in so doing exposes it to his readers. David was not a hypocrite. Psalms 32 and 51 are outstanding examples of David's confessions to God. There are many other Psalms which contain his expressions of regret for his failures. There can never be open confession to men before there has been sincere confession to God.
In looking at David's failures as recorded in Holy Scripture we are reminded that, great man of God that he was, he was only a man of God. Therefore his experiences are valuable lessons for lesser mortals than he. If David's temptations and failures help us to recognise temptation we may be enabled to be vigilant and avoid the pitfalls that David fell into.
The Failure of Faith. 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 27:1
When God rejected Saul as king of Israel and instructed Samuel to anoint David to be king in Saul's stead it was obvious that God had a great purpose for David. But the path to the throne was not an easy one and David, after his victory over Goliath and the praise that followed the victory, was made to feel the bitterness of opposition and hatred. After a very trying period of insult and hatred from Saul David felt that Saul would one day conquer him and kill him. No doubt he had many reasons for believing this. But were his fears faith? Had he forgotten his anointing? Had he forgotten Jonathan's belief that one day David would become king? Had he forgotten how God had enabled him to overcome the giant warrior Goliath? It would appear that he had forgotten the many testimonies to God's power and God's purpose for him. When circumstances are difficult and trials seem to be insurmountable it is easy to be discouraged, lose heart and allow faith to lapse. John the Baptist fell into this snare when he was in prison. In bright days he gave a wonderful testimony to Jesus, the on of God (John 3:27-34). But in prison he doubted (Matt. 11:2-6). Regrettably, David's failure in faith led him into circumstances that were far beneath his dignity as the Lord's anointed. To link himself to the Philistines, Israel's enemies, was a sad and degrading episode in David's career (1 Sam. 27-30). As a result he was in danger of stoning from his own people (1 Sam. 30:6). After this he strengthened himself in God and recovered his faith, courage and energy. David's faith failed but it didn't expire. The failure and recovery of the Man of God provides hope and blessing for tried believers today.
David Strengthened Himself in Jehovah His God
David Enquired of Jehovah
David Pursued-David Recovered All-David had Great Spoil. 1 Sam. 30:6-20
Is this story familiar to us? To most exercised Christians it will be. The initial experience of God's favour in Christ in conversion and forgiveness can suddenly end. The new nature is soon in conflict with all that the old nature delights in. The world, sin and the flesh arise as enemies to be combated and the battle experience is not pleasant. Indeed, at the outset, it seems too difficult and faith begins to fail. Help is not found in better circumstances. Help is found when the believer is made to feel his utter helplessness and turns in faith and complete dependence to God. Then there is renewed energy for the battle.
These are lessons learned from David's failure:
We are not to forget God's purpose. The enemy of our souls cannot defeat that. It is secure in Christ at God's right hand.
The enjoyment of God's purpose should have a corresponding behaviour in faith. Read Romans 4:19-21.
We ought never to take a place in the world that is beneath the dignity of being a Christian.
We should remember the words of the Lord Jesus to Peter in Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
The Failure of Impetuous Anger. 1 Samuel 25:1-38
David was angry. He was furious. He and his men had been insulted by a hard and selfish man called Nabal. David and his men had protected Nabal's flocks and servants over a period of time. When David requested some help from Nabal he had shown base ingratitude for all the help and protection his interests had been given by David and his men. Nabal dismissed David's men with utter contempt. David's reaction was understandable. He ordered his men to gird on their swords and follow him. He determined to teach Nabal a salutary lesson. It was well that Nabal had a wise wife. When one of Nabal's servants told Abigail, Nabal's wife, what had happened, and that David was on the warpath, Abigail took immediate steps to remedy the situation. To refer the matter to Nabal would have been a waste of time. Without referring to her husband she prepared a substantial supply of good food for David and his men and went to meet him before David could avenge himself on her husband. Abigail was wise. Her attitude to David was in stark contrast to her husband's behaviour. She was humble. She didn't take the credit for what she was doing. She attributed it to Jehovah. It was He who had restrained David and prevented him from shedding Nabal's blood in revenge. David had been in grave danger of violating a commandment of Jehovah, “Thou shalt not avenge thyself, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). David, she said, had been chosen to fight the enemies of Israel; to fight the battles of Jehovah. By this statement she had rightly inferred that he was wasting valuable time in seeking to avenge himself because of an insult from one of his own people. The Lord in His mercy had prevented David from staining his hands with the blood of an Israelite. David readily acknowledged that what he had intended doing was wrong and blessed God for His intervention through Abigail. The story ends with God's judgment against selfish and obdurate Nabal. Jehovah smote him. God's ways are always best.
There are lessons to be learned from this incident in David's life:
The Bible says:
“Be not hasty in thy spirit to be vexed (angry); for vexation (anger) resteth in the bosom of fools” (Eccl. 7:9).
“Fury is cruel, and anger is outrageous” (Prov. 27:4).
“He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly” (Prov. 14:17).
“He that is slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Prov. 15:18).
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty” (Prov. 16:32).
“The discretion of a man maketh him slow to anger” (Prov. 19:11).
The Lord Jesus said “But I say unto you, that every one that is lightly angry with his brother shall be subject to the judgment” (Matt. 5:22).
Paul said “Be angry, and do not sin; let not the sun set upon your wrath, neither give room for the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27) and also “Let all bitterness, and heat of passion, and wrath, and clamour, and injurious language, be removed from you, with all malice; and be to one another kind, compassionate, forgiving one another, so as God also in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32. See also Col. 3:8).
Paul's exhortation in Romans 12:19 is relevant to David's anger “Not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengence belongs to Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.”
It is easy to quote at length many Scriptures which warn against the sin of anger. But the flesh in David which caused his anger is the same fallen nature that all Christians possess. They can, and do, fall into the same snare. This is very sad and a dishonour to the Lord and His interests. Christians are better equipped to deal with anger than David was. They have eternal life in the Son of God and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. He is the power which enables believers in Christ to express the new life. What hinders the new life being expressed? The flesh. It cannot bear to be insulted or thwarted in any way. It cannot humble itself or be subject to God.
Moses was righteously angry. Not because he was insulted and offended, but because Pharaoh was obstinate in refusing God's claims upon him (Ex. 11:8). The Lord Jesus was angry, not because of opposition to Him but because of hard hearted religionists (Mark: 3:5). May the Lord help us to ignore personal attacks of any kind and reserve our anger and resentment for attacks on the Person and interests of Christ.
The Failure of Overlooking God's Word
It was a sad day in Israel's history when the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines. The uncircumcised enemies of Israel and God were allowed by God to defeat Israel in battle and lay their unhallowed hands on the Ark. Israel's moral condition before God was bad. The glory had departed from Israel (1 Sam. 4). But God was not defeated. The Ark had been placed in the house of Dagon, the fish god. God would not tolerate His throne (Jehovah sitteth between the cherubim — Ps. 99:1) to be placed beside an idol so He destroyed the image and brought disease and trouble among the Philistines. They were glad to be rid of the cause of their sorrow. A new cart was made and a tresspass offering of golden objects placed on it beside the Ark. Two milch kine were harnessed to the cart and it was sent into the fields of Beth-shemesh where it was received with joy. The joy turned to sorrow when some men of Beth-shemesh were slain because they looked into the Ark. Typically, we are reminded of the danger of peering into the inscrutable mystery of the Person of Christ. No one knows the Son but the Father (Matt. 11:27).
After some years elapse the Philistines, the inveterate enemies of Israel, are defeated by David, the warrior king (2 Sam. 6). David desired to have the Ark of God removed from the house of Abinadab and brought to Jerusalem. How was it to be moved? They made a new cart (2 Sam. 6:3). It is understandable that they would say “We don't want a Philistine cart, but it was a good idea and we will make a new one ourselves.” The Philistine cart had been used for a burnt offering to Jehovah (1 Sam. 6:14-15). There is another possibility, not often noted, which may have had an influence upon the Israelites making a cart. In Numbers 7:1-8 the princes of Israel gave to the Levites six waggons and oxen to help the Gershonites and the Merarites in their work in relation to the Tabernacle. Notice that in verse 9 it specifically mentions the way in which the Kohathites were to carry their burdens on their shoulders. That was the due order for carrying the Ark. The Hebrew word which is translated cart and waggon is the same in each case.
Whether David was influenced by the Philistines or by the princes of Israel is immaterial. His good intentions came to ruin. Uzzah lost his life and it was evident that God was displeased with the whole affair. Was David willfully wrong? That doesn't fit in with his known character as a man after God's heart. It is just possible that he was ignorant of the due order. For a long time Israel's spiritual condition had been at a low ebb. It was beginning to emerge from the darkness and defeat of many years. And it wasn't that David was apathetic. Far from it. He wanted the Ark to be in Jerusalem for the good of the nation, not just in a private home. It is to David's credit that eventually he discovered his mistake and took steps to rectify it. David ordered the Levites to carry the Ark as God had commanded (Num. 4:1-6; 7:9). The due order was discovered and followed. God helped those who carried the Ark. God honours those who are faithful to His Word. When the Ark was carried according to the due order worship, praise and blessing followed (1 Chr. 15:1-29 and 1 Chr.16. See also Psalm 132).
What lessons can we learn from this story?
We should not be ignorant of God's Word and especially when it relates to the Person of the Son.
The notions of the world (the Philistine cart) should have no place in the service of God. “For what amongst men is highly thought of is an abomination before God” (Luke 16:15). What pertains to one form of service for God (the wagons for Gershon and Merari) is not necessarily suitable for other service (the Kohathites. See Gal.6:4; 1 Cor. 12:5).
The revealed will of God, the due order, should be followed at all cost. God is a God of order and not of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). God is wiser than man.
Any deviation from God's order produces confusion and spiritual death. Where God's order is followed in sincerity there will be a suitable response to God and blessing for His people.
God, by His wrath, showed to the Philistines, the men of Beth-shemesh and to David through Uzzah's death, that the Ark of the Covenant was to be revered. Typically, this reminds us of God's Centre, Christ. Where Christ is the Centre of the saints, not theoretically but sincerely and in spiritual exercise, there will be a time of response to God and blessing among the saints.
David's Serious Moral Failure. 2 Samuel 11 & 12
David's grievous failure in his adulterous association with Bathsheba, followed by his shameful and treacherous behaviour towards her husband Uriah, present the blackest spot in David's life. His fall was the fall of Eve in the Garden of Eden. She saw; she coveted; she took. David saw the beautiful woman; he coveted her; he invited her into his house and seduced her. When Bathsheba eventually confided to David that she was pregnant he acted in the most despicable manner towards Uriah. He arranged for Uriah to come home hoping that his love for his wife would result in David's child being attributed to Uriah. This failed because Uriah was an upright and loyal soldier. David tried to get Uriah drunk that Uriah might go to Bathsheba. That failed too. David decided on extreme measures. When Uriah returned to the battle that was being waged, Joab, David's general, was ordered to place him where the fighting was most dangerous. Joab obeyed and as David hoped and anticipated Uriah was slain. David was an accessory to murder. David, when he received news of Uriah's death, took Bathsheba for his wife after her period of mourning for her husband had been completed. All was well. Uriah was dead and Bathsheba was David's wife. But was all well? David had cunningly and heartlessly achieved his evil purposes but he had forgotten one important consideration — God! What David had done was evil in the sight of Jehovah.
Nathan the prophet was sent by God to David and by telling him a simple story of selfishness and unfeeling greed he was able to convict David of his sinful behaviour. “Thou art the man”struck right into the heart of David's conscience. David immediately confessed his awful guilt. Nathan was able to tell David that God had forgiven him but governmental consequences would result because of his gross failure. David had despised Jehovah and the enemies of Jehovah had been given an opportunity to blaspheme Him. David was to feel God's government in his own house and the child that would be born to Bathsheba would die. The sins were forgiven, but the consequences of them would follow nevertheless.
This is a sordid story and has many grave lessons to teach:
Wherever we go and whatever we do Hebrews 4:13 is a good guideline “And there is not a creature unapparent before Him; but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes, with whom we have to do.”
A man of God is not immune from temptation. Vigilance is necessary at all times.
The lust of the eye is a feature of Satan's world (1 John 2:16). In this connection Job's statement is important “I made a covenant with mine eyes; and how should I fix my regard upon a maid?” (Job 31:1).
Laziness in the Lord's interests can lead to activity in sin.
Deceit, lies and hypocrisy add to sin when they are used to cover up any failure.
Such serious sin by the head of a house can have dire effects upon his family.
Failure in Discernment
David made a promise to his covenant friend Jonathan that he would endeavour to show kindness to Jonathan's relatives (1 Sam. 20:15-17). The time came when David was able to fulfil his promise. After Saul, the king of Israel and his son Jonathan were slain on mount Gilboa it was obvious that David, God's anointed, would become king over Israel. Jonathan had a son named Mephibosheth. He was five years old when the news came to Mephibosheth's nurse that Saul and Jonathan had been killed. She presumed that David would avenge himself on Saul's relatives. In her haste to protect the young boy she let him fall as she hurried away to safety. Mephibosheth became a permanent cripple because of the injuries to his legs (2 Sam. 4:4). After a few years David became the undisputed ruler over all Israel and it was laid upon his heart to fulfil his promise to Jonathan. David made enquiries to see if any of Saul's family were alive. A relative of Saul's, Ziba by name, informed David about Mephibosheth. David sent for him, allayed his fears and gave instructions to Ziba that all the property belonging to Saul was to be given to Mephibosheth, and Ziba and his family were to serve Mephibosheth. Ziba declared his obedience to the king's command. Mephibosheth was given a place of honour at the king's table where he was to eat continually. He was in fellowship with the king. We might say “so far, so good” but “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” and David entered into a painful and humiliating experience. His son, Absalom, rebelled against him (would David remember Nathan's message from God?) and David fled from Jerusalem. The crafty Ziba took David's discomfiture as an opportunity to ingratiate himself with David. He took a substantial amount of food to David and misrepresented Mephibosheth to the king. He told lies about Mephibosheth. David accepted Ziba's story and never made any enquiries as to its truth or otherwise.
David's troubles were overcome and he was restored to his rightful place in Jerusalem. When Mephibosheth went to meet David he was in a neglected condition. He had deliberately neglected his person and clothing as a sign of mourning for the absence of the rightful king. He told David that Ziba had lied to him as well as to the king. David curtly dismissed Mephibosheth's explanation and answered that he and Ziba should share all. David failed in enquiry and discernment and showed no appreciation of faithful Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 19:24-30). It is to David's credit that later he spared Mephibosheth's life (2 Sam. 21:7).
What lessons can be learned from David's failure in this case?
If someone slanders another believer do we have the courage to say to the slanderer that we will contact the slandered person to ascertain the truth? David didn't follow the commandment of Deuteronomy 19:15 “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, and for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established.” See Matthew 18:16.
Lies are destructive. They accomplish Satan's work (Titus 2:3. The word translated “false accusers” in the King James translation and “slanderers” in the J.N.D. translation is the Greek word diabolos, usually translated “devil”). Lies are usually to destroy someone that another may be exalted. “Put off falsehood” wrote Paul (Eph. 4:25). Not only speaking lies but acting lies, which is hypocrisy.
May the Lord give us a discerning spirit so that we may detect error and avoid making hasty decisions which cause sorrow and damage to souls.
The Failure of Pride
When God gave instructions for the numbering of the children of Israel in Exodus 30:11-16 it was for a specific purpose. It was to obtain silver for the construction of the Tabernacle. Each man from 20 years old and upward had to give a half shekel of silver. This was a heave offering to Jehovah. The rich could not give more; the poor could not give less. All the silver collected was for the service of the Tabernacle and was to be a memorial of the children of Israel before Jehovah. According to Exodus 38:25-28 the silver that was accumulated was sufficient to provide the bases for the boards of the Tabernacle, the bases for the pillars which supported the veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place and the hooks and connecting rods of the pillars that surrounded the court of the Tabernacle. The numbering of the people in Exodus 30:11-16 created an exercise which provided the silver, an essential metal for the construction of God's House. The offering the children of Israel gave was acceptable to God and was an atonement for their souls.
When David's desire to number the people of Israel is considered there is no motive given which indicated he was thinking about God or His interests. The fact is he was thinking about himself. His pride was active. He wanted to know the extent of his army. Joab, his general, realized David's motive and tried to persuade his king not to proceed with the numbering. David was adamant and Joab had to obey. David didn't consider Joab's objection. Sometimes when objections are raised about a wrong purpose the objections stregthen the resolve of the wrong doer. It is to David's credit that he soon saw that he was wrong and confessed it to God. But self will, although confessed and forgiven, has sad consequences. The greater the man, the more serious the sin. It is a sad story when a leader's failure creates havoc amongst the people of God. There may have been moral reasons why God used Satan to tempt David. Compare 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. But David was the instigator of the failure that brought sorrow and death upon Israel. God hates pride and those who sow discord amongst brethren (Prov. 6:16-19). David requested God to punish him for his failure but it was too late. The angel of God in devastating judgment chastised the people. Eventually the judgment was finished and blessing was secured. Burnt offerings and peace offerings were made to God and later Solomon, David's son by Bathsheba, erected the Temple on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (2 Chr. 3:1. Typically, the judgment had to fall upon Christ before the church could be built. See Matthew 16:18, 21).
Can we glean helpful warnings and lessons from this failure?
We should not ignore the considered advice of experienced believers.
We should examine carefully the motives that govern our actions.
We should consider carefully how others might be affected by our actions.
We should ask the question “Am I acting for God's glory or to glorify myself?”
We do well to remember Nebuchadnezzar's testimony and experience that “Those that walk in pride He is able to abase” (Dan. 4:37).
“God sets Himself against the proud” (James 4:6).
“A man's pride bringeth him low; but the humble in spirit shall obtain honour” (Prov. 29:23).
It is questionable if God intended there should be further numberings of the people as described in Exodus 30:11-16. In Numbers 1:1-4 there is a numbering of males for warfare but there is no reference there to a half shekel of silver being levied.
These notes are not a denegration of David. Indeed, they bring out a character that every Christian would do well to follow, that is, David's readiness to admit his failures and to rectify them.
(Further articles in this series are to follow, if the Lord will).
Why? Because God has chosen Israel as a great object lesson for all the nations. He has seen fit to display her as a sample of mankind. She is no better and no worse than all others, for she comes from the same root as we all do. If one should desire to test the water in a newly dug well it is necessary only to draw up a bucket of the water and test this. If this should prove to be bad one can expect no succeeding bucket to be any different. Israel is the sample bucket of water. Her history proves precisely what is the character of all the nations.
God's divine wisdom chose and fitted Abraham, a man of outstanding faith, to be the father of this favoured nation. Stephen, in his masterful address to the Jewish council recorded in Acts chapter seven, reminds them of this great beginning of their distinctive history: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham” (Acts 7:2). Here was a great man, separated from his own family, brought into a different land but having no possession in it, yet promised that it would be given to the nation that came from him. Then when one hundred years of age he received the son through whom this promise was to be fulfilled (Genesis 21:5). This and other succeeding events in Israel's history illustrate the sovereign and miraculous power of God in conclusive proof of His choice of that nation for His own wise purpose.
Then Isaac had two sons, but God set aside the older and designated Jacob as His choice to be the immediate father of the nation Israel, and gave him the name Israel. Twelve sons were born to Jacob and these were destined to be the heads of the twelve tribes of which the nation was formed.
Did these twelve men prove to be the most exemplary and upright people? Far from it! As early as this in Israel's history we see indications of what great evils would later take place. “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt” (Acts 7:9). This cruel rejection of their own brother tells us that from the beginning that nation was no better than any others. Just as the fathers of the nation cast out their brother because of envy, so has the nation cast out their promised Messiah when He came in grace, they too being moved by envy and hatred.
Then when Joseph was exalted in Egypt the brothers were virtually forced by circumstances to meet him there, unaware of who he was at first, but he revealing himself in unexpected kindness and grace.
The family of Jacob, moving to Egypt, then grew into a great nation, not by any means being assimilated into the Egyptian nation, as would be expected, but maintaining a marked distinction, and subjected to slavery by the Egyptians for centuries. Here is another great mark of God's sovereign working in that nation. Now too, since the crucifixion of their Messiah, Israel has for all these centuries maintained its distinct identity, though having been scattered among many nations and been virtual servants to those nations.
Again, God's sovereign power was seen in His raising up Moses at a time that was most unlikely, for Egypt had decreed the death of every boy born to the Israelites. Yet God had ordered matters so that this future leader was brought up in the palace of Egypt's king (Acts 7:19-22). However, his heart was with his own people and the time came when he went out to defend them against the oppression of the Egyptians. The next day he sought to be a peacemaker between two quarrelling Israelites. This only incurred the enmity of the aggressor, who demanded “Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” (Acts 7:23-28). Here again is the same character that Joseph's brothers manifested against him. When one is sent from God who can truly help them they show only hostility and resentment. Yet Moses was the one by whom God later delivered Israel. The blessed Lord Jesus Christ too, who has been thrust away by His own people, will yet be their great Deliverer.
In view of all Israel's history can the Jews sustain the boast that they are better than the nations? They have said concerning Christ “His blood be on us, and on our children”, and their suffering this self imposed sentence has been dreadful for centuries (Matthew 27:25). God has brought them down to a place of deep shame and reproach, where there can be no boasting.
Can the Gentiles boast that they are better than the Jews? Not in the slightest. For as we have seen their history is only a sample history of all mankind. Given the same circumstances we would prove just the same. In Israel's deep failure we see our own failure. Israel's law was given, not only to stop the mouths of Jews, but “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).
In spite of this guilt Israel will yet be restored and blessed marvellously by the pure mercy of God when they, in broken repentance, receive Jesus as their Messiah at the time of His coming in power and glory (See Zechariah 12:10-14; Romans 11:26-29). Those Gentiles who learn from Israel's history that they themselves are also sinners, who need the grace of this same blessed and holy Lord of glory, will even now be received on the basis of His precious sacrifice at Calvary.
Some today who claim to be Christians have adopted the teaching that Israel's sin is so great that the nation can never be restored. However, these have not learned the most important lesson of Israel's history. For if Israel cannot be restored then guilty sinners of the Gentiles can never be saved. Nor could backsliding Christians ever be restored. Nevertheless, the same great power and grace of God that will be required to restore Israel is the same power and grace that is necessary in the salvation of every sinful soul and necessary in the restoring of Christians whose lives have been sadly marred by failure and disobedience.
“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32). This humbling, yet becoming conclusion of the ways of God in regard to Israel causes the apostle Paul to exclaim from an adoring heart “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).
The Olive Tree, Fig Tree, Vine and Bramble
In the book of Judges we read an interesting story told by Jotham, Gideon's son. As far as I know it is the first “parable” in the Bible. He spoke of the trees choosing a king and in his story four trees in succession were asked to become king; the olive, fig tree, vine and bramble (Judges 9:8-15). It was the bramble who accepted the position, but on his terms. It was a picture of the wilful Abimelech, who seized the power and came to a bad end.
The Olive Tree
The first tree, the olive tree, is mentioned many times in the Bible. You remember no doubt how the dove returned to Noah in the ark with an olive leaf in her mouth. Even in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, we find the two witnesses referred to as “the two olive trees” (Revelation 11:4). We usually think of oil when we hear of olives and indeed this was very important in Bible times. Kings and priests were anointed with oil and one tree can give as much as fifteen gallons. When the Bible speaks of medicine, or ointment, the word used is “olive oil” since this was the base of most healing balms. The berries were good to eat and the Jews made butter of the oil as well as using it for light. Jotham spoke of the olive's fatness being used to honour God and man, which we can understand to refer to royal and priestly anointings. Besides this, pure olive oil was used for the lamps in the Holy Place of both the tabernacle and the temple. It is interesting to see that in the temple of Solomon there were not only doors of olive wood, but even very large cherubim of the same material, facing outwards from the sanctuary.
Zechariah saw a vision of a lamp stand with an olive tree on either side, from which pipes supplied the oil to keep the lamps burning. The divine explanation for this was “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Those that trust in the Lord Jesus receive an anointing, as John calls it, that is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. Butter, ointment, candles and soap are some of the products of the olive tree. So the Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual nourishment, since He uses the Christian's daily Bible reading to his profit and growth in grace. He constantly intercedes for the believer and restores him when bruised by the enemy. He is the source of light and maintains the Christian's witness, as in the case of the lamps seen by Zechariah. He applies the Word of God to keep us clean and to remove the defilement of the world that may cling to us.
In Paul's epistle to the Romans he likens Israel to a true olive tree, while the Gentiles are compared to a branch of a wild olive that has been grafted into the original tree. The history of Israel is a solemn warning to all and Paul warns us not to be boastful of the place that we have as a result of God's grace. Let us rather take up David's words “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever” (Psalm 52:8).
The Fig Tree
The second tree in Jotham's parable was the fig tree. When asked to reign over the trees the fig tree said “Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?” (Judges 9:11). Again we may go back to the beginning of the Bible to read of this tree. When our first parents had disobeyed God's commandment, they sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness. We know that this could not cover them adequately and the Lord God, we read, clothed them with the skins of animals for this purpose. Perhaps figs were among the fruits that Cain brought for an offering to the Lord, but this again was not acceptable. Abel had learned the lesson: another had to die to enable him to approach God. Of course these events were but shadows of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who would give His life as a ransom for all that would trust in Him.
When Moses was describing the land to which the children of Israel were journeying, he described it as a land of “vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates”, that is, very fruitful (Deuteronomy 8:8). No wonder that the fig tree is often used in the Bible as a picture of the nation of Israel. Hosea says that God “saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time” (Hosea 9:10). But Israel failed to bring forth fruit for God. The fig tree in the land of Israel brings forth fruit three times each year and it is said that the early ripe spring figs are the greatest delicacy. Perhaps that is what our Lord was looking for when He was near Jerusalem and found that the tree bore nothing but leaves. He cursed it and it was quickly withered up. This was, no doubt, a warning to the nation that had been so highly favoured and yet was about to crucify the very Son of God. In His parable of the fig tree in Luke 13 the Lord Jesus spoke of the care that He had taken of His people and yet, after all, there was no fruit. It is easy for us to go along with Christian people and use the right language, sing the hymns and quote texts, and yet not to be sincere. We are told to beware of hypocrisy.
In another parable the Lord Jesus told His disciples to “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees” (Luke 21:29). He drew their, and our, attention to the revival of the nation (which we have been able to see in recent years), and to know that the day of grace is coming to an end, to usher in a day of terrible judgment. In Revelation 6:13 we read of those coming events, when the very stars of heaven will fall to earth as “a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind”. We need to remind ourselves that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Some of the prophets foretold a time of peace and prosperity when “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (Micah 4:4). When they kept their feast of tabernacles the people of Israel looked on to this time, which will really come to pass after the judgments of which we have spoken. One man who seemed to be anticipating this was Nathanael who, we read, was under the fig tree when Philip called him and brought him to the Lord Jesus (John 1:48). He was recognised by the Lord Jesus as a sincere, godly man and he was numbered among His followers. Perhaps he could say, like Habakkuk “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, … Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
In Jotham's parable, when the fig tree had refused to be king over the trees, they asked the vine. The answer of this tree is remarkable “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?” (Judges 9:13). In Psalm 104 we read of “wine that maketh glad the heart of man”, but surely God does not need to be cheered by the fruit of the vine! (Psalm 104:15). But if we read the various references to the vine we see again that the creator, who found everything “very good” that He had made, also took pleasure in the nation that He had chosen because of Abraham's trust in Him. Again and again He refers to Israel as His vine, which He had taken out of Egypt, which should be to His praise and glory among the nations. Sadly He had to remind them that a vine was worthless if it did not bear fruit (Ezekiel 15). It was only fit to burn.
Even the vine comes into the early chapters of the Bible. Noah planted a vineyard after the flood and became drunk with the wine that came from it. Lot, too, was guilty of drunkenness, with disastrous results, not only for himself but for his descendants for centuries to come. The book of Proverbs is full of good advice on this subject and ought to be read by all young people and older ones too. In the butler's dream there was a vine and he pressed ripe grapes into Pharaoh's cup.
Anyone in Israel who took a vow as a Nazarite was not to drink anything that came from the vine. His will was subject to the Lord and his own appetites and pleasures were not to be indulged. This is true of the believer, who has been bought with a price and is no longer to please himself but the one who has redeemed him. Most striking are the words in Ephesians 5:18 “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit”.
The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, just before He went to the cross, “I am the true Vine” and “I am the Vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:1, 5). Although Israel as a nation had failed, the blessed Son of God glorified His Father in all that He did, even in laying down His life and shedding His precious blood. It is fitting that He gave to His own the simple emblems of bread and wine to remind their hearts, while waiting for His return, of His love, even unto death. Wonderful too were His words to the disciples in the upper room, when He was giving them this precious symbol “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25). Then, I take it, the words of Jotham will be fulfilled and the Lord Himself will be made glad when He sees the fruit of the travail of His soul.
The last of the trees in Jotham's parable was the bramble. This seems to have been a specially thorny tree and by some is thought to have been the sort of tree from which the crown of thorns was made. If this is so, the spikes would have been long and terribly sharp. This tree is pictured as saying “come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon” (Judges 9:15). We remember that thorns and thistles came into the world as a result of Adam's sin. God drove him out of the beautiful garden of Eden and the ground would be cursed for his sake and would bring forth thorns and thistles. Many times in the Bible thorns are used to picture wicked people and, just as thorns are burned in the fire, so the prophets spoke of the wicked being punished by a righteous God. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples “every tree is known by his own fruit: for of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes” (Luke 6:44). On another occasion He told them that “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). If we foster wrong and unkind thoughts sooner or later they will become wrong and unkind words and deeds. If, on the other hand, we treasure the words and teaching of our blessed Lord, we shall speak kind words and act in kindness and love as He did.
The men of Israel were called on to make a choice. In their case it was Jotham or Abimelech. Centuries later it was Jesus or Barabbas. Today, too, we must choose. Are we going to serve the Lord Jesus or Satan? “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
Psalm 119 (2)
(Continued from page 37)
The Law could not produce in men the obedience that it required. Only the cross, if looked at and believed in, shows the complete condemnation of sin and hence deliverance from it. Now, by the new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the very principle of obedience is implanted in us. In Psalm 118 Israel acknowledge the mercy of Jehovah and Him as their Messiah. This is still in the future. The day is to come when the Law will be written on their hearts according to the promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Here in Psalm 119 we have an EIGHTFOLD alphabet. The number eight signifies what is NEW in contrast to what is OLD. We have therefore throughout this Psalm too a continual allusion to the NEW COVENANT. Every letter of man's language is now taken up to express the praise of that which was but an intolerable yoke and burden before.
“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” (Romans 8:3-4). It is with this sure knowledge that real Christians, those who have been born again and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, can now, on earth, taste and enjoy NEW COVENANT blessings. The book of Psalms is not about the church but mainly expresses the thoughts and feelings of a persecuted JEWISH REMNANT. The position, hopes and future of the church are not found in the Psalms though there is very much in them that is for our INSTRUCTION and comfort.
ANALYSIS OF PSALM 119
A. Verses 1-24: Plentiful resources for the pilgrim.
1. Aleph Verses 1-8. ALL blessedness comes through Christ.
2. Beth Verses 9-16. God's Word gives power for a holy life.
3. Gimel Verses 17-24. God's Word provides resources for trial along the way.
B. Verses 25-48: Strength for the weary.
4. Daleth Verses 25-32. God's Word quickens and restores.
5. He Verses 33-40. God's Word meets our weakness.
6. Vau Verses 41-48. God's Word leads to victory.
C. Verses 49-72: Our immense spiritual riches.
7. Zain Verses 49-56. God's Word reveals our spiritual assets.
8. Cheth Verses 57-64. God's Word transforms into His image.
9. Teth Verses 65-72. God's Word strengthens in adversity.
D. Verses 73-96: Spiritual maturity through daily meditation.
10. Yod Verses 73-80. God's Word shows us our responsibility.
11. Kaph Verses 81-88. God's Word for our security.
12. Lamed Verses 89-96. God's Word helps us mature spiritually.
E. Verses 97-120: The importance of daily Bible study.
13. Mem Verses 97-104. God's Word is living water.
14. Nun Verses 105-112. God's Word directs us.
15. Samech Verses 113-120. God's Word for our support.
F. Verses 121-144: In the school of God.
16. Ain Verses 121-128. God's Word is a well of refreshment.
17. Pe Verses 129-136. God's Word gives power for testimony.
18. Tsaddi Verses 137-144. God's Word brings us near to Him.
G. Verses 145-168: The need for spiritual renewal.
19. Qoph Verses 145-152. God's Word is the basis for prayer.
20. Resh Verses 153-160. God's Word teaches us His Lordship.
21. Sin/Shin Verses 161-168. God's Word for power and peace in persecution.
H. Verses 169-176: Continuous revival.
22. Tau Verses 169-176. Appendix.
This eighth section divides into four plus four. The first four verses speak of perseverance and the last four of prayer or a plea for salvation. In the first place this “appendix” speaks prophetically of Israel in the tribulation of the last days. This will be the time of her birth as a nation for Jehovah, when they come into the New Covenant (the 8th). Christians already taste its blessings now!
I have studied this Psalm with the aim of gleaning from it such help as it may yield for the Christian. I would heartily encourage the readers of this magazine to study it with me and to get the blessing that comes from doing so. I am leaving aside comments with reference to Israel but hope to point out the essential difference between the author of Psalm 119 and the way he sees things, and the view point of the Christian.
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
In the January/February issue of the magazine, at page 26, a mistake was made in the printing of W.Kelly's hymn. The first line of the fifth verse should be “Lord, 'tis the virtue of Thy blood,” and not “Lords, 'tis the … ”. When the proofs were returned by the printers there was a page and a half still to fill and the introduction and hymn were included. Because of the publishing deadline there was no opportunity to call for proofs of the hymn and the transpositional error crept in. As a matter of interest that particular issue of the magazine, excluding the cover, contained 59322 characters. We very much value the prayers of the magazine's readers that in the future we will get them in the correct order, with no additions or omissions!
From Our Archive
A Gospel Preaching (2)
(Delivered at Pembroke Street Hall, London,
on Lord's Day September 8th, 1880)
“The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come” (Isaiah 21:11-12)
(Continued from page 55)
Rest assured there is not a soul here tonight, not an eye that twinkles or a heart that throbs, but must spend an eternity either in the bright regions of bliss or in the dark regions of woe. Should you hesitate for a moment? What then are you to say of Him? “Blessed Lord Jesus, Precious Lord Jesus, He died for me, the chief of sinners.” O yes, dearly beloved, He died for me, the chief of sinners. By His blood my sins are washed away — not will be. There would be no good in that, but by His blood my sins are washed away. That blood makes the soul purer than the unsullied light of heaven. This is faith in Christ. It is not faith to become a little more religious and to be a little more discrete in your ways, a little more attentive to your duties. This is all very good as to this life but what saves a soul is to come straight to Christ. No matter who or what the person may have been, no matter what their past history, their immediate privilege, their present privilege, is just to come as and where they are, to come at once and not to say “I hope”.
Do not come, beloved friends, with a trembling step. Come with all the authority of the Word of God. How did that poor woman venture into the house of Simon? She is a poor thing off the street, known to be a bad character and she goes into the house of one of the very chiefs of Israel. How could she go in there? Because the Lord Jesus says “Come unto Me”. It does not matter where I am, you come to Me wherever I am. If I am in the house of Simon, come to Me. If I am in the midst of the columns of the Temple, come to Me. If I am on the throne of My Father in Heaven, come to Me. He says “Come to Me”.
O what a fearful thought darkness is — not to see the light. Of course, very little of that would put us out of our minds. We would soon lose our senses if we were to be shut up in such a scene of perfect darkness. What an existence, and you can never die there. It is not eternal life either. Eternal life is only promised to those that believe. But there is such a thing as eternal existence. Eternal life is peculiar to them that believe and to them only. The angels have not eternal life. They have an eternal existence in happiness, but eternal life is the peculiar privilege of those that believe in Christ. Here you will see, beloved friends, the grace of the Lord even in this Idumaean haughty enquiry. The answer to this haughty Idumaean is, “if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come”. How beautiful this is. There is a morning of joy, there is a night of weeping, but the door is open. The door is open for the haughty Idumaean, the scornful sceptic. No matter who he is, the door is wide open. If thou wilt enquire, enquire now. If thou wilt come, come now. But it is “come now”. The night has not yet set in, the morning has not yet dawned. The door of repentance is wide open. Come now, come now. Now is it not beautiful to see the grace that accompanies these solemn warnings because, this my text tonight, is a most solemn warning, a solemn though brief expostulation. It is a solemn expostulation by the watchman to a kind of scornful or sceptical enquiry and O the grace that shines. “Enquire”, look into it and you will find that what I say is true and if you will come, come now. Hence you will see, beloved friends, that you have here in this gracious invitation all the beauty of those charming words in the New Testament “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". Come, come now. If thou wilt return, return thou. Return from your ways of distance from the Lord.
So there is no excuse for not coming even in this Old Testament reference to these things. Not that we understand the prophecies of Isaiah. I do not profess to do so, but still this is all very beautiful. There is a kind of scornful cry, as I suppose it is, on the part of the Idumaean to the watchman on Dumah's walls. “Well, what of the night, what is to come now?” The watchman says, “The morning cometh”. There will be a bright morning of joy, but there will also be a night as well. Nevertheless the door of repentance is open, the door for thy faith is open and you have only to come and to come now. This you see, dearly beloved, is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to those that hear Him and this is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to everyone that is here tonight without exception.
I think that if anything would induce you to come it would be the dreadfulness, the terribleness, the awfulness, of being lost, of being forever shut out from that scene of wondrous happiness. I believe those in hell will know perfectly well what they have lost. They will know perfectly well the reason and ground of having lost it. There will be no stupidity there, no misapprehension there. No, beloved friends, because Satan's snare will be gone. The mask will have been torn off. Satan will take no pains then to conceal the truth. I declare honestly, beloved friends, how astonishing I find it that any of you can sit there tonight and not be decided seeing that you have nothing but the most glorious Person to look to and nothing but the most glorious work to trust in and nothing but the most delightful happiness to look forward to. It is all immediate and perfect blessedness and you may have it before you rise from your seat. The work will not be more perfect tomorrow than at this moment and hence it is that where you sit I want you to look the Lord Jesus straight in the face and praise Him, bless Him, love Him, adore Him and worship Him. What for? He came down to die on the cross for you and He shed His blood that your sins might be washed away. Well then, love Him, adore Him, praise Him, bless Him and worship Him. This is the way to make even Christ rejoice. Why, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Did you ever hear the like of that? Why should those myriad hosts on high be so interested in the salvation of those who believe, it may be of some poor, neglected one here? How often one has seen such come into a meeting and being converted on the spot. Perhaps no person ever prayed or cared for them but they came, they heard the Word of God, and by the blessing of God they received Him into the chambers of their heart and they went away rejoicing. This has been often the case and often within these walls. Now I want to press decision. I have been speaking to you a good many times through the Lord's great mercy, more than I ever expected to do in this life, but I want to see more positive fruit of the preaching. I want to see more of that real true and proper decision of the heart for Christ. God has not left Himself without witness as to the power and truth of the preaching yet with a grieved and a broken heart I say that there are those here tonight, that there must be those here tonight, who have heard the gospel over and over again and yet know that if they were to die in their present condition they would be lost forever. Well, what a thought that is. None of us can tell what may happen next and what I want you to do now is to look Christ steadily in the face. It may be you are a prodigal. A young man came in here some time ago, induced by one of the young men standing outside, and he said that he had not been in a place of worship for about seven years. Well, supposing such a one as that has been running a prodigal's race most thoroughly for these seven years, let that one only look to the Lord Jesus and every sin that he has committed, the darkest sin under the cloud of night, the darkest blot on his soul, every sin, every blot, every stain, are all gone and gone forever in virtue of the precious blood of Christ. If that young man is here tonight why not be decided? He professed to be interested, he professed to be anxious, but why not be decided through the plain preaching and teaching of the gospel with reference to Christ. There is no other way. Supposing that young man had not been seven years but seventy years in that state it would have been all the same as to the efficacy of the blood of Christ. I once visited a poor old person that was in great distress about her soul and I asked her as she was now on her death bed what her hope was, what her expectation was. She said that she had been a poor hard working woman all her life but that she had nothing to do now and was in bed night and day. She did not sleep much but she prayed a good deal and she believed that she would be saved. I asked her what she thought would save her. “Well”, she said, “I am praying constantly by day and I am praying a great deal during the night”. I asked her if she thought her prayers would save her and she said “I trust the Lord has pardoned a great many of my sins already. If I am spared to go on praying I trust He will pardon them all”. I asked her how many sins she thought she had and she replied that she could not tell. I asked how old she was and she said she was seventy. I could not question much more but brought her straight before the face of the gospel, straight before the face of Christ. What struck her most was that she had nothing to do. “What, have I nothing to do?” I told her she had only to believe, and read several passages to her and marked them in a Testament which she had and which she wanted to read herself. She had been seventy years a careless woman, seventy years of sins for, as she said, she had never attended any meetings. I told her that was no matter for even if it were seventy times seventy the moment you look to the Lord Jesus your sins are all forgiven and your soul is saved. Then you are to praise Him. Prayer may come in but her chief work would be praise. She looked again and said “But have I nothing to do?”. O the difficulty in getting persons to see that they have nothing to do. This was the last thing she said to me as my hand was on the handle of the door to go out. She looked round with much anxiety but God, I was sure, was working in her soul. He had convinced her of her sin but still the anxious cry, the last echo that fell on my ear from those lips, was “And have I nothing to do?”. Her friend visited her afterwards and in a day or two she passed away, but passed away rejoicing in the truth. “Jesus has done it all, Jesus has done it all. I have nothing to do, I have nothing to do.” She kept repeating this until the scene closed and she opened her eyes on that scene of celestial brightness above. What a change for a poor old charwoman. Many such have I seen pass out of this scene, many sojourners in the wilderness.
May God help you to decide tonight. May I never see one of you on the left hand of the Judge, but may I see you through the Lords grace to your souls tonight as a happy, joyous company in those bright, bright scenes above. May God bless you all. Do not put it off another hour, another moment. While you sit there give your hearts to Christ and believe on Him that died for you and shed His blood to wash your sins away. Then you will go from this place rejoicing saying “Jesus died for me and His precious blood has washed all my sins away and now my bright hope and prospect is to be in that land of unmingled blessedness for ever and ever”.
A. Miller (1810-1883).
News from the Field
We are continually thankful for the prayers of our brothers and sisters, especially during my visit to Zaire with brother Nick and brother Laügt. We all experienced the Lord's grace. Both my wife and I realised that the particular strength He gave us during my absence was an answer to your prayers.
We solicit your prayers for continued direction as we serve the Lord. We realise more and more that the enemy is trying to harm this service by attacking a normal Christian family life. We need your prayers, especially for my wife when she is alone at home. Lord willing I'll visit Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea from April 24th to May 26th.
During the last few months I have received some letters from brothers in Cameroon and Malawi and I would like to share some items of prayer with you.
A young brother, Zeh Daniel, who married last year, has written that he is very thankful to the Lord for his happy marriage. He attends the meetings of the assembly in the village of Mebanga at a distance of a four hours walk from his own village! He recently took the decision to talk with local brothers of Mebanga about his desire to announce the death of the Lord. I was very glad to read this in his letter, because he could be very useful for the Lord in the little and feeble assembly at Mebanga. Please pray for this faithful young brother and his wife, who is expecting their child later in the year.
Our brother Akom Daudet, headmaster in Nko'emvon, asks for continued prayers for him and his family. The problems he has met with in Nko'emvon have not ceased.
One of the teachers, brother Onana Blaise, wrote to me about the blessed preaching of the gospel in schools and told his concern about the fact that we have no good opportunities to maintain contact with the pupils who leave our schools in order to attend secondary schools.
Brother Onguene Dieudonné at Ebolowa recently wrote to me that his local assembly continually pray that the Lord will help them in realising His presence in their midst and in obeying His Word. The weekly meditation of 1 Peter encourages the brothers and sisters in following the Lord, even in difficult circumstances.
It will be remembered that brother Edwin Cross and I visited this country last year. In the last few months political problems have disturbed the public peace in this country. Please pray for the brothers and sisters we met in the town of Mzuzu and other places.
Brother Howard Ngira from Mzuzu wrote saying that he was thankful for the birth of his first son. His letter proves a sense of responsibility for both the work at Mzuzu and in neighbouring places. He is looking forward to another visit to Malawi and we would value your prayers in order to know the Lord's will.
Brother Lucas Banda, living at Monkey Bay, continues his visits to many groups of believers in his area. The conditions of life are very difficult in this poor African country
Thank you for your interest in the Lord's work. In His strength we like to go on praying and working and leaving the results in the hands of the Lord whose life was marked by prayer and work.
Yours affectionately in the Lord,