Some Features of True Worship
“Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26)
It is always very helpful to see when and in what context a certain saying is first mentioned in Scripture, particularly so in Genesis, which in many respects is the “book of beginnings”. The expression “to call upon the Name of the Lord” first occurs at the close of Genesis 4, after the birth of Enosh, the son of Seth. In contrast with the offspring of Cain, mentioned earlier in this chapter, who had gone out from the presence of the Lord, we find here the family of Seth and perhaps also other descendants of Adam and Eve who desired to seek God's presence.
So here we have the children of God distinguished from the children of this world who tried to manage without God. Cain was the first builder of a city, and his descendants were the founders of civilization. However, they had no relationship with God, which is the special feature that marked the offspring of Seth. In the midst of a world without God the children of Seth called on the Name of the Lord and honoured Him, knowing that they could not live without Him. They realized that they needed His help from day to day.
God noticed this and had it written down. Here we have the beginning of regular worship. They started to serve the Lord and to call on His Name, and this was no individual but a collective matter. “Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord”. Abel was the first man to bring an offering that was pleasing in God's eyes, and he did so alone (as far as we can gather from the beginning of Genesis 4). But Seth, the one who had come in the place of the deceased Abel, and his offspring did it collectively. In Seth we see a picture of the risen Lord praising the Father together with His own, and singing God's praises in the midst of the assembly (cf. Gen. 4:25; Ps. 22:22; John 20:17-20; Heb. 2:10-13; Heb. 12:24).
When did Seth and his children start doing this? It was after the birth of Enosh, whose name speaks of man's weakness and mortality (cf. Job 7:16; Ps. 8:4; Ps. 90:3). They began to call on the Name of the Lord in the awareness of their own weakness and helplessness. They realized that in themselves they were no more than a breath and so they called upon Him who lives for ever, the LORD, the eternal I AM. They acknowledged Him as both the Source and the Sustainer of life. While Cain's offspring were marked by pride and self-glorification (if we may interpret Genesis 4:23-24 this way), the descendants of Seth were marked by humility and self-abasement.
They called on the Name of the Lord. God's Name indicates who He is and what we can know about Him. It reveals His relationship with men. The patriarchs knew Him especially as the Almighty, and Israel knew Him as Yahweh, the great I AM. Believers in the church period, the dispensation of God's grace, know Him as their Father in Christ. In the future dispensation of the Kingdom of peace He will be known and honoured more especially as the Most High who possesses heaven and earth.
God is the God of Shem, as we are told in Genesis 9:26, and Shem means “name”. God is the God of those who know His Name and who have a relationship with Him. Thus, later on in the history of Israel we find that the Angel in whom the Name of the LORD was (Ex. 23:20-21) went with God's people. We also find that God's Name was put on the children of Israel in order to bless them (Num. 6:27). That Name was their refuge: “The Name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Prov. 18:10). This indicates how strong the ties are between God and the people which has been called after His Name. This goes for us too, who may now call on God as our Father (John 4:23; Rom. 8:15; 1 Peter 1:17). The Son has declared the Father, and the Spirit leads us to worship the Father (Gal. 4:6).
We do not know exactly how the family of Seth arranged their worship and called on the Name of the Lord. Genesis 4 does not give any details. Perhaps this indicates that it was done in all simplicity, without ceremony, or in the words of our Lord when He spoke with the Samaritan woman: “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). This would mean that they worshipped with sincere hearts, fully aware of their own littleness and of God's mercy and truth. It would mean that they worshipped in the power of the Spirit of God, without impressive liturgies. This is how we as Christians ought to call on the Name of the Lord. “Calling on” Him means looking away from ourselves and our weakness and expressing what we have found in Him. It means worshipping Him for all that He has done and for what He is. It implies that we realize His greatness and bow down before Him in adoration.
Perhaps the only thing the family of Seth had was an altar. It was the case later on in the book of Genesis (Gen. 12:8; Gen. 13:4; Gen. 26:25). Abraham and Isaac called on the Name of the Lord by their altars, and we may assume that Seth did the same. With their sacrifices they drew near to God and offered them on the altar, following the example of Abel, whose offering was pleasing to God. The altar was the centre of worship, the place where man met God in order to worship Him. This is also confirmed by the history of Israel. The altar of burnt offering by God's sanctuary was the most appropriate place to call on the Name of the Lord, for there He chose to make His Name abide in the midst of His people (cf. Deut. 12 ff.).
In the New Testament, calling on the Name of the Lord is not restricted to a certain geographical place (it is quite remarkable that even in Genesis 4 no such place is mentioned!). Yet we do have an “altar” in our midst, in the spiritual sense of the word. Our “altar” is Christ Himself, in whose Name we gather and through whom we offer the sacrifice of praise to God (Matt. 18:20; Heb. 13:10, 15). Christ is the centre and the basis of our worship. If we have anything to offer up to God — voluntary offerings, sacrifices of thanksgiving — it can be only acceptable to God by Him.
When we as Christians call on the Name of the Lord, this should be in agreement with God's full revelation in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not call upon God as Yahweh, the eternal I AM, as the children of Israel did. We worship Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Father is seeking such to worship Him. This is true Christian worship. And we also call on Christ as our Lord, as we find it for example in the first epistle to the Corinthians: “ … with all who in every place call on the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
Calling on Him as Lord means that we recognize His authority as our Head and are guided by His Spirit, rather than by rules and commandments of men. In times of decline and decay this also implies that “every one that nameth the Name of Christ” departs from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19). We must reject all practices that contradict the rights of the Lord. If we would be vessels to honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, both outward and inward separation from evil is necessary. We should pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace together with those who “call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
May these few, yet significant words at the end of Genesis 4 encourage us to call on the Name of the Lord in all simplicity, and in spirit and truth. Let this be our testimony in a world that does not know God and has turned its back on Him. Let us honour and glorify Him, both personally and collectively, “in the presence of all His people” (Ps. 116:14, 18). Let us do so because of all the benefits He has bestowed on us, but most of all, because of all the excellences of His Name!
The Old Paths
“Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16).
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (2 Tim. 3:14)
We live in the last days and the perilous times are manifest to any who walk with God. Ignorance and disobedience, not always wilful, rob many of the great blessing of assembly privileges. Where saints do that which is right in their own eyes there is inevitably neglect of the testimony entrusted to the assembly on earth and with it the loss of the Lord's hand in blessing and enrichment (Judges 21:25; 1 Tim. 3:15).
These few lines remind us of some of the things which we have learned, and are written with the desire that they may lead us to walk together in the old paths for the rest of our souls and the joy of Christ.
1. The Authority of the Word of God
The inspired Word is the complete expression of God's thoughts. It has absolute authority. It is the rule of personal Christian life as well as of assembly life. It is the Word of God's grace, through which God builds us up (Acts 20:32).
Obedience to the Word is the only path to blessing. While one formal Scripture may not give the answer to a particular circumstance, the mind of the Lord is always learned through the heart and conscience, in submission to His Word (Prov. 2:10).
2. The Believer and the Two Natures
Every human creature born in this world is a lost sinner (Rom. 5:12; Ps. 51:5). The evil is neither in the matter itself nor in the human nature (and its faculties) as such. Coming from the hand of the Creator it was pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31). However, in man, as a descendant of Adam fallen, all is misery and defilement (Isa. 1:6; Rom. 3:10-18). God has declared this state as hopeless (Isa. 2:22; Eph. 2:12).
Through faith in Christ and His work, the believer receives from God the gift of eternal life, Christ Himself (1 John 5:11, 20). Having put off the old man, the believer puts on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). He becomes a child of God, and as such is brought into the Father's family (John 1:12). From that moment the believer (spirit, soul and body), with all his faculties, becomes the dwelling place of two natures: one which is “spirit” and the other which is “flesh” (John 3:6).
The coexistence of these two natures in the believer results in an inner conflict between flesh and Spirit. A negligent believer may produce “the works of the flesh”, rather than “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:19, 23).
3. The House of God on Earth and the Body of Christ
Every believer (born again and sealed by the Holy Spirit) is a living stone in the house of God on earth, and also a member of the body of Christ (1 Peter 2:5; Rom. 12:5). The body of Christ is not subject to failure or breakdown. In contrast to this, God's initial thoughts concerning His house on earth have been lost through man's unfaithfulness. Christendom has become a great house where only “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).
The first characteristic of God's house, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is holiness (1 Cor. 3:16; Ps. 93:5; 1 Peter 1:15-16). Now, that which is holy will not take away uncleanness, and uncleanness will always defile that which is holy (Haggai 2:12-13). Leaven (a type of moral or doctrinal evil) corrupts the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9).
Therefore, Christians who desire to be faithful to their Lord are called upon, not only to go forth unto Him without the camp, but also to separate themselves from vessels to dishonour (Heb. 13:13; 2 Tim. 2:19-22). As well as separation from evil teachers, this also involves separation from those who are defiled by association with them. Those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart will then find themselves together, with His promise to be in the midst of them (Matt. 18:20).
4. The Local Assembly; its Nature and Responsibilities
In a locality those Christians (two or three or more) separated from iniquity and gathered to the Lord's Name, are (if they realize God's thoughts relative to His assembly) the local expression of the assembly, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, 27). Such gatherings of believers are not independent of each other: their unity is that of Christ's body, represented locally by each one of these gatherings.
Christ is the source of all life and activity of the saints, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, for the edification of the body, the assembly. All believers are members one of another and are exhorted to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
The local assembly is the sphere of the collective life of the saints. There, the Father is worshipped, and there the prayer of the assembly is presented. There also Christ's spiritual food for His body is received (through the gifts). No activity carried on in a spirit of independence with regard to the assembly will bring lasting blessing, although it may seem useful for a time.
The assembly is also entrusted with the prerogative of binding and loosing on earth (Matt. 18:18). An assembly decision, taken in the Lord's Name in one place by those gathered to His Name, is ratified in heaven. All assemblies representing Christ's body prima facie acknowledge it. This consistency of practice on the part of the assemblies is an essential truth. It proceeds from their very existence.
5. The Two Ministries of the Gospel and of the Assembly
During the present period of grace, God is taking out of the world a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). Christ's purpose is to build up His body. To this end, every member (each one) has received grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (Eph. 4:7). In particular there are the evangelists, who bring souls into the assembly, and pastors and teachers who work for the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:11-12). And finally there is the self-building up of the body in love (Eph. 4:16 — J.N.D. trans.).
The apostle Paul was a minister of the gospel and a minister of the assembly (Col. 1:23, 25). His two ministries were accomplished in harmony to fulfil God's purpose. Now, we are invited to co-operate together in the twofold aspect of this work, “according to the effectual working in the measure of every part” (Eph. 4:16).
6. Discipline in the Assembly
Assembly responsibility is exercised in the sphere called “within” by the Word, where the Lord's rights are effectively acknowledged (1 Cor. 5:12). The solemn authority entrusted by the Lord to His assembly on earth must be exercised with fear, searching the Lord's mind and with the deep conviction of His approval.
The assembly is not infallible and a decision, even taken “of many”, may be wrong (2 Cor. 2:6). He who believes he is wrongly treated should commit his way in confidence to the Lord (Ps. 37:5-6). Humility, patience and a spirit of meekness are necessary in all. The Lord cannot fail to answer after our obedience is fulfilled (2 Cor. 10:6).
An assembly which refuses to judge evil (through discipline) would lose its character as an assembly of God. On the other hand, grace only may win souls and raise up again from a fall; and discipline (which always has as its purpose the healing of wounds) is precisely the prerogative of love.
The Word directs us to be moderate in our judgments. In so far as a believer is concerned, the term “wicked person” is only used for one who persists in a serious moral or doctrinal evil. The table of devils characterises idolatry and cannot be applied to any Christian gathering (1 Cor. 10:21). The expression is used by the apostle (about things sacrificed to idols) to illustrate an important general principle: to participate in a table establishes fellowship with all that which is in relation with this table. Thus, many godly believers are ecclesiastically identified with errors, without presenting the character of wicked persons, and even less of participating in a table of devils. Nevertheless, we cannot have fellowship with them at the Lord's table.
7. The Lord's Supper and the Table of the Lord
The Lord's supper is the precious memorial of His death for the time of His absence (1 Cor. 11:26). Every believer's heart should answer to the touching invitation of his Saviour. At the same time, to partake of the one loaf (an image of Christ's death, as a man, in His body given for us) is the expression on earth of the unity of the (spiritual) body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17).
The Lord's supper (the remembrance) and the Lord's table (the communion) are distinguished by the Scriptures, although they are inseparably linked. Answering the Lord's desire (by partaking of His supper) implies the acknowledgement of His rights over the believer's personal life (1 Cor. 11:27-32), and in the assembly (at the Lord's table). There, the believers are subject to assembly discipline in its various forms; in practice, they submit “one to another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21).
8. The Lord's Table and the Unity of the Spirit
To take part at the Lord's supper while gathered at His table is a collective act, accomplished by saints gathered in assembly, realizing consciously that they are a local expression of the whole body of Christ.
The Lord therefore invites us to receive at His table every believer who is sound in his walk and in the doctrine of Christ. He who desires to break bread should, however, be conscious of the path he embarks upon and of the character of the collective testimony. By breaking bread he enters the sphere of assembly discipline.
This same truth of the unity of the body has other practical consequences:
(a) No believer may partake of the Lord's supper on the basis of his individual responsibility alone, as if he were the sole judge of his state. He is not free to break bread independently, with any Christian company of his choice. One brother, on his own, does not have the authority to decide about who are those who may partake at the Lord's supper.
(b) A local gathering must decide with great care, whether or not to receive a believer occasionally at the Lord's table, in the deep conviction of involving the conscience of the whole assembly. It may never be the deliberate sanction of a state of independence in someone who desires to have liberty to go where he pleases.
(c) Finally, an assembly gathered in the Lord's Name cannot receive a person to the breaking of bread who presents himself on his own testimony. The letter of commendation is the Scriptural means to maintain practically the fellowship between assemblies (2 Cor. 3:1).
9. The Well-being of the Lord's Flock
In times of spiritual decline, separation from evil remains the divine principle of unity realised around Christ. There was need for gates as well as walls around the city of Jerusalem in the time of Nehemiah. The watchmen were upon the walls (Isa. 62:6). But while endeavouring to realise this separation with sorrow and humiliation, let us think about the well-being of the Lord's flock. May we preach grace, which brings our hearts near to Christ, and directs the desire of our souls to Him, in the expectation of His return.
10. A Call to our Hearts
Beloved brethren, the Lord has revealed His thoughts to us, not only concerning the heavenly destiny of His church, but also as to the walk and testimony of the church on earth. We are charged together with the keeping of these truths (2 Tim. 1:14). Despite what was expressed at the time of the prophet Malachi, it is not vain to serve God in fearing Him and in walking mournfully before Him (Mal. 3:14).
Have we left our “first love” for Christ (Rev. 2:4)? He calls us to repent, in order to “strengthen the things which remain”, in keeping His Word and not denying His Name (Rev. 3:2, 8).
Together, let us hearken to His voice, with a tender heart, and with a broken and contrite heart (2 Chr. 34:27; Ps. 51:17). Let us be confident in the resources of the Lord's grace and in the all-sufficiency of His Name.
“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28).
“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3).
The Life of David (8)
David's Preparations for God's House
God dwelling in the midst of His redeemed people is one of the great truths of the Bible. The book of Exodus is occupied with the details involved in this great and wonderful blessing (Ex. 25-40). After the nation of Israel was delivered from its tyrant Pharaoh, God gave directions to the nation through Moses, the man of God, concerning the Sanctuary. He desired to dwell in the midst of His redeemed and covenanted people. The pattern was given to Moses by God, and Moses obediently directed the building of the Tabernacle according to that pattern. When the Tabernacle was completed according to God's will, His glory filled the beautiful structure. From out of the Tabernacle God gave instructions how He was to be approached in worship, etc. (Lev. 1:1). God was worshipped and the people were blessed.
After the 40 years journey through the wilderness, and the many years of history in the land of promise, wear and tear would have taken their toll of the Tabernacle. Perhaps it was this that prompted David in his desire to build a house for God. We know he wanted a permanent house for God rather than a tent, a temporary arrangement (2 Sam. 7). God refused the generous offer of His servant and commended him for it, but He promised David that his son, Solomon, would build a house for Him (1 Kings 8:18-19). David humbly accepted God's discipline and arrangement, and at the close of his eventful life prepared enormous amounts of material which enabled his son, Solomon, to build the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem. A few remarks may be useful before considering David's preparations.
The Prophecy of the House
In the song of triumph in Exodus 15:17 refers to Israel being brought into the mountain of God's inheritance. In that inheritance (Canaan) God would have a place and in it would be His dwelling, His sanctuary. This prophetic utterance looks forward to the Land, the Place and the Dwelling.
The Place for the House
The book of Deuteronomy provides God's instructions for His people, Israel, when they take possession of the Land of Promise. In the book there are many references to the Place where God would cause His Name to dwell. (Deut. 12:5, 11, 18, 21, 26; Deut. 14:23-24, 25; Deut. 15:20; Deut. 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; Deut. 17:8, 10; Deut. 18:6; Deut. 31:11). The reference in chapter 12:5 is particularly important. It is the only one of the references that refers to God's habitation. As it is the first reference, it contains important features of Jehovah's Name and His presence. The actual place is unidentified in the book of Deuteronomy.
The Place Identified and Purchased.
1 Chronicles 21:21-30; 1 Chronicles 22:1; 2 Chronicles 3:1
“The Place” is identified as a result of God's mercy to David and Israel, and on the basis of David offering a sacrifice to Jehovah. David had made a serious mistake in numbering the nation of Israel. Pride led him astray. Because of his failure the nation came under God's chastening hand. David confessed his sin and failure and obeyed the angelic command to go to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and rear an altar there. He was afraid to go to Gibeon and offer a sacrifice to God where the Tabernacle was. David purchased the site from Araunah and his oxen too. A sacrifice was made by slaughtering the oxen and using Araunah's wooden implements to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings to Jehovah. God, in His great mercy, stopped the plague that affected Israel in such a severe manner. It was on Mount Moriah that David offered his sacrifice to Jehovah, and it was there that the Temple was built by Solomon (2 Chr. 3:1. See Genesis 22:2). David then said these solemn words: “This is the house of Jehovah Elohim, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel” (1 Chr. 22:1). The Place in the Land and the Dwelling Place were now specified. All that remained to be done was the building of the Temple.
All this is most interesting as far as Israel is concerned, but it illustrates profound truths connected with the Lord Jesus Christ and believers in Him. The shed blood of the paschal lamb is a type of the blood of Christ which shelters the believer from God's wrath against sin and sins. The triumph of the Red Sea is a type of Christ's death and resurrection. This great victory, redemption by power, is so necessary for the believer as he passes through the wilderness of this evil world. The enemy's power was broken. The believer will share in the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ over the earth, not on the earth. Believers in Him do not give any allegiance to an earthly centre whether it be Canterbury, Westminster, Jerusalem, Rome or any other centre revered on each. The gathering centre is Christ (Matt. 18:20). In all things He must have the pre-eminence, and as He is the Head of the body He is quite competent to direct His own affairs without human aid, though He may use those who are subject to His leading through the Holy Spirit (Col. 1:18). In the dispensation of grace believers do not look upon a material building as God's house. A building may be used exclusively for God's interests but this does not qualify it for the dignified honour of being called God's house. All true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ constitute God's dwelling place in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). The spiritual Temple will be complete when the last believer is added to the true church (Eph. 2:21). The material has been superseded by the spiritual.
The Pattern. 1 Chronicles 28:11-19
Before a house of any size or shape is built an architect prepares a plan for the varied workmen who are to do the building. When the plan is followed, orderly progress is assured and confusion is avoided. A Divine Architect, the Holy Spirit, provided David with the plan which would enable Solomon to build the Temple. The plans left nothing to the imagination of the builders. As Moses received from Jehovah the pattern of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:8-9), and was obedient in following the Divine directions, so David relied on the Spirit's complete instructions for the rearing of the Temple. Apart from the fact of Divine revelation it is obvious that Divine directions must always be superior even to the best that the human mind can conceive. There is an important lesson to be learned from this.
Is it not strange that in the Old Testament there are many occasions when mere mortal, feeble man, sought to improve or change Divine arrangements? Leviticus 10:1-2, Numbers 16:1-3, 1 Samuel 6:1-7, 1 Kings 12:26-33, 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 are sufficient to prove the assertion. Regrettably, the history of Christendom has manifested the same features of failure. The Christian profession has introduced many features that have no place in Divine revelation. “The Two Babylons” by Alexander Hislop, reveals how features of Judaism and Paganism corrupted simple obedience to the pure instructions of the New Testament, resulting in the present confusion and infidelity. “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:33). Unrestrained flesh, not subject to the Spirit or obedient to the Word of God, is another cause of confusion. Whenever the Word of God is set aside and human ideas substituted for it, the result is confusion and failure. Some may say: “If the Word of God does not prohibit what we are recommending it is permissible to adopt it”. “No”, answer those who desire to be faithful to the Word of God, “if Scripture does not sanction the change or suggestion, it has no validity for the believer”. Of course, a great deal of latitude can be found in the practical day by day affairs of an assembly, such as times of meetings, arrangements for the care of the hall, etc. The great confusion is much more serious when the appointment of Popes, Archbishops, and Priests as distinct from the laity, is considered. The simple instructions the Lord Jesus gave for His remembrance have been changed into the elaborate ritual of the Mass. Church and State connections, distinctive garments, incense and music, are with the other things mentioned foreign to New Testament teaching. The teaching of the New Testament concerning church or assembly order is that members of Christ's body meet together as such. The New Testament knows no other membership. The members derive directions from their glorious, living Head at God's right hand, the Lord Jesus Christ. Their power is derived from the presence and service of the Holy Spirit. The authority for their functions is found in the New Testament teachings regarding the assembly, the called out ones. To say this is now unworkable is to say that believers have been misled by the Divine instructions, which is blasphemy.
The Preparations (1). 1 Chronicles 22:2-5
“David prepared abundantly before his death”. Obviously he could not prepare after his death. David was assured of the Divine will and he did not hesitate to be obedient to it. There was work to be done and there wasn't a great deal of time left for him to do it. The most important service of his life had still to be accomplished. With diligence and method he began to accumulate the vast amount of material that was necessary to erect the house of God. There are lessons to be learned from David's activity in the closing years of his life. It has been well said that, whether the present time is bad or good, it is the only time that we have, and we are responsible to use it wisely for God. Tomorrow belongs to God, never to us, and age is no excuse to do nothing. Mnason was an old disciple and he showed hospitality to Paul and his companions (Acts 21:16). Anna was a very old woman but she was active in fastings, prayers and testimony (Luke 2:36-38). Abraham was aged when he demonstrated his great faith in God by offering up Isaac his son (Gen. 22:1-14). Jacob's best days were when he was old. He blessed the sons of Joseph, blessed his own sons and died a worshipper (Gen. 47:7; Gen. 48:13-16; Gen. 47:31; Heb. 11:21). Every feature of service contributes to the service of God in His house. Psalm 92:13-14 is an encouragement to all who are elderly: “Those that are planted in the house of Jehovah shall flourish in the courts of our God: They are still vigorous in old age, they are full of sap and green”. The young and middle-aged can also contribute to the spiritual substance of God's house.
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
“The Sermon on the Mount” (5)
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7)
Solomon had already written in his proverbs: “He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Proverbs 14:21). In His fifth beatitude the Lord uses similar words, but He adds a promise: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”.
Mercy and Grace
Mercy is the emotion of the soul in the face of misery or distress, and the aid resulting from this inner emotion. Mercy is not the same as grace. Grace is rather undeserved favour granted to someone who has become a guilty offender. In Scripture a clear difference is made between these two words. In the Old Testament God had said to Moses “ … The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious … ”, and in the New Testament we read repeatedly expressions such as “ … Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father … ” (Ex. 34:6; 1 Tim. 1:2. See 2 Tim. 1:2; Heb. 4:16; 2 John 3).
In the book of Ruth we have a moving example of godly mercy shown to a poor heathen woman, and the prophet Jonah had to recognise God's mercy for the inhabitants of Nineveh.
GOD'S MERCY BRINGS LIFE
God shows the greatness of His mercy to all those who believe in our Lord Jesus on the basis of His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. The greatest misery of man is that he is spiritually dead in his sins and therefore completely unable to help himself. To those who are dead to Him, God in His mercy gives life, and He alone is able to do so.
In 1 Timothy 1:13 and 16 Paul remembers the mercy he himself had obtained as an example for all those who believe on the Lord Jesus to everlasting life. In the epistle to the Ephesians he writes: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ … ” (Eph. 2:4-5). In Titus 3:4-5 it is said that God has saved us “ … according to His mercy … by the … Holy Spirit … ”. Finally, Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope … ” (1 Peter 1:3).
“blessed are the Merciful … ”
When the Lord Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful … ”, He means those who have experienced this mercy of God and who now, as disciples of their Lord and Master, follow His example. How often we read in the Gospels that He was moved with compassion! Full of mercy and full of heartfelt sympathy, He healed the sick, gave food to the hungry and gave back her son alive to a mourning mother. Yes, He was the true merciful Samaritan, who could say to the scribe who had come to try Him, at the end of His parable, “ … Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
So here as well the word has a voice for us: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus … ” (Phil. 2:5). In our case mercy involves the passing on of what we have learnt from the Lord Jesus, as to both the spiritual and material realms. If we are continually in the good of what the Lord has done for us we will have the right feelings for the sorrows, miseries and needs of others — not only our brother's and sister's in Christ — and we will also give practical proof that we are really merciful. The Lord wants to open our hearts and strengthen our hands in order that we may show His mercy.
It is a solemn lesson indeed which He gives in the parable in Matthew 18:23-35. The unmerciful servant who owed his king 10,000 talents1 had his fellow servant who owed him 100 pence,2 cast into prison. Let us ask ourselves whether we are conscious of the great salvation which we have received, and whether we act accordingly. If we open our hearts and eyes we will find many opportunities to show sympathy and mercy, e.g. visiting those who are sick, shopping for others, driving, etc.
But let us not, in wrong narrow-mindedness, think only of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul writes to the Galatians: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). The power of our testimony for the Lord depends more on our actions than on our words! The world may not study Scripture, but often it knows how to judge our behaviour. How many a soul has been broken down, not only by the pure gospel, clearly presented, but also by the mercy shown!
Yet in many ways the teaching of the New Testament has been degraded to something merely earthly and social. Instead of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, only charity is preached, and this often with a political flavour. This, however, is not the meaning of the “Sermon on the Mount” or the gospel of the grace of God! On the other hand it is no testimony to the grace and mercy of our God if one thinks that preaching the gospel is the only task of a Christian with regard to the world. As our Lord Himself helped those in their different needs to whom He presented the good tidings, we too can tell our neighbours of Him and at the same time show them the power and blessing of our faith practically.
1The value of the 10,000 talents has been variously estimated. Whether talents of silver or of gold are referred to, it would have been a vast sum, running to many millions of pounds (£) at today's prices.
2A penny was the usual daily wage of a working man. 100 pence would have been the wages for 100 days.
Wisdom is necessary for showing mercy, — as it is for everything. In cases of material need, quick action is very often required. But there are also occasions when we can not show our mercy immediately. When somebody has sinned it is not always appropriate to show mercy at once. It may be necessary to wait for some time in order that a true, thorough restoration of the soul may be reached. A beautiful example is the behaviour of Joseph toward his brethren. Only during their third meeting did he reveal himself to them and granted the mercy of forgiveness to their burdened souls.
“ … for they shall obtain mercy”
When we thus follow the steps of our Lord we will be more conscious of His mercy on our path of faith day by day. 1 Timothy 1:2, Hebrews 4:16 and 2 John 3 show this. Particularly beautiful are the words in Hebrews 4:16 which show that we will obtain mercy and find grace for seasonable help when we approach the throne of grace in prayer. The Lord Jesus is there as our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17). Thus He accompanies us, in His mercy, throughout our lives, until He comes to take us to the Father's house. Jude connects even His coming with mercy when he writes: “ … looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21). Yet not only He will show mercy to us, but on our way we will also receive mercy from fellow-pilgrims, for “ … whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
The last opportunity to obtain the mercy of our Lord will be when we shall appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The apostle Paul prayed for his brother Onesiphorus that “ … he may find mercy of the Lord in that day” (2 Tim. 1:18). Many might be surprised to hear of mercy in this connection. Mercy here has nothing to do with eternal salvation. Rather, it refers to service for the Lord here on earth. Even when every man will have praise of God, His mercy will exult and triumph.
Psalm 119 (6)
(Continued from page 189)
3. GIMEL — CAMEL
In Phoenician monuments, on the coins of the Maccabees, and in the Aethiopic alphabet, its figure bears a resemblance to the neck of a camel. The root idea of this letter/word is “to give, to do, or to show to any one”, or “to carry”. In Arabic it is a cognate of “hamala”, meaning to be carried on a camel. It also has the meaning of “to be kind”. We find this meaning in the name Gamaliel which means “the kindness of El”. The numerical value of Gimel is three. Taking its meaning as “to show any one”, it gives us an indication of God's revelation given to us in His Word, the precious Bible. All the spiritual supplies and refreshment we need for our wilderness journey are found in that precious living Word.
Section Three: verses 17-24: “Trials of the Wilderness”
A. Prayers for:
1. Abundant Life
Verse 17: GAH-MAL … “Deal bountifully … ”
The Christian pilgrim has started his wilderness journey (verses 1-8), and has asked many questions (verses 9-16). He has understood that as he continues in the way of the Lord he will undoubtedly meet with difficulties and problems that must be dealt with. He realises therefore his deep need of help from the Lord and His divine guidance for his path. The Lord Jesus has said that He Himself is “the way” for us (John 14:6), and in John 10:10 He says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. The Psalmist can only pray that Jehovah will deal bountifully with him, so that he might live. As Christians we can thank our Father for having blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ. We have all that God could give in Christ. What wonderful resources! What abundant life!
In verses 9-16 we see a young man, still rather inexperienced, and with overwhelming needs. In verses 17-24 he realises he is a pilgrim (v. 19) and needs to be shown the way. James tells us, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). In order to be able to “keep” His Word, we must know the enablement of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 18: GAH-LAH … “Open! (Reveal!) … ” (an imperative).
Here is an earnest pleading with the Lord to give insight and spiritual illumination: “Open Thou mine eyes … ”. In Mark 8:22-26 we read about a blind man near Bethsaida whom Jesus healed. But the process of the healing is very interesting and instructive. After the first act of the Lord He asks him whether he can see, and the man answers: “I see men as trees, walking”. Obviously he had sight now, and he could see. But his seeing was far from what it should be. So a further act of Christ was necessary. The man was given the power of sight, then the power to use his sight in order to distinguish one object from another. This suggests the progressive manner in which the truths of Scripture are perceived.
“ … that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law”.
The gospel opens the eyes to the knowledge of spiritual things, but in order to apprehend the spiritual blessings we have in Christ it is necessary that the eyes of the heart also be enlightened. Are we discovering wondrous truths in the Scriptures day by day? Never approach the reading or study of the Bible without this prayer: “Open Thou mine eyes … ”.
Verse 19: GEHR … “A stranger (I am) … ”
One of the precious truths we shall discover when studying the Bible is the fact that we are strangers on the earth. Some questions will be asked as we study:
1. Who am I?
2. Where do I come from?
3. What is the purpose for my being here on earth?
4. Where am I going?
5. Am I ready for my eternal destiny?
Once, when still in our sins, we were “ … aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now, in Christ Jesus, (we) ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). Now here is a prayer that the Christian never needs to pray: “ … hide not Thy commandments from me”, because there are no longer any hidden “mysteries” for the believer today! The apostle Paul writes: “How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; ( … Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ;) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; … to make all men see, what is the fellowship of the mystery, … that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God … ” (Ephesians 3:3-10).
The Spirit of God delights to make known to every believer what was in the heart of God from before the foundation of the world. We see that in verse 18 there is the prayer for eyes that are open and in verse 19 there is the desire for an open Bible, i.e. to be illuminated by the Holy Spirit. This is how the Christian progresses in the way through this world.
Verse 20: GAH-RAS … “(My soul) breaketh for (is crushed) … ”
The word Gahras signifies to crush or to break in pieces, and so we have this strong expression: “My soul breaketh for the longing … ”. It is a deep desire after the Word of God and the will of God. Paul expresses such a desire after Christ: “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death … ” (Phil. 3:10). “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1). This is not just an emotional moment, it is a constant longing: “ … at all times”. It is sometimes said: “You are what you long for”. What is it we must long for? “ … Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word … hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:39, 42).
B. The Proud:
1. A Rebuke
Verse 21: GAH-GART … “Thou hast rebuked … ”
There are some elements which are directly opposed to that which is spiritual. These are elements that would rather deceive and lead astray. Pride, self-sufficiency and independence of God are arch-enemies of spiritual progress and understanding. The Lord Jesus gives this direction: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29).
Of all moral sins the Lord Jesus considered pride one of the worst and most hateful. There may be the pride of race, or the pride of face, or the pride of place, but the worst is the pride of grace. To have a superior attitude towards other Christians and pretend to be more spiritual than they, perhaps because of more light and understanding of the Scriptures. There is a danger in much knowledge, even in much Bible knowledge. The apostle Paul warns against this: “ … we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth” (1 Cor. 8:1). Actually, proud persons are very miserable persons because no one loves them since they keep themselves so aloof. Never forget that pride was at the root of Satan's fall: “ … lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).
2. A Reproach
Verse 22: GAH-LAL … “Remove (or roll away) … ”
The apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”. Today it is not easy for the believer to be faithful in this sin-sick world. To believe in God, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the only way of salvation, brings much scorn and reproach. There must therefore be:
a. A definite choice and decision of heart: “ … all that will live godly … ” (a life that pleases God).
b. No surprise that we “ … shall suffer persecution”.
c. The knowledge that all our resources to remain faithful are
“ … in Christ Jesus … ”.
If we are treated with contempt, let us not meet the “flesh” with the “flesh” and retaliate. Let us rather turn to the Lord and lay our case at His feet and then be positively occupied with His will and Word and leave our defence with Him. It may not be that He will remove the trying circumstance, but He will surely give grace to bear it.
1. Ignoble Nobles
Verse 23: GAM … “Also (Princes did sit) … ”
Look at the contrast in this verse. There are the princes and there is the servant. Which of the two are more noble? Both are occupied: the princes in speaking evil, and the servant in meditating upon God's statutes. The princes of this world have sat in judgment on the Son of God: “ … the wisdom of God (is Christ: see 1 Corinthians 1:24) … Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). The unbelieving world has treated our Lord Jesus Christ like this. Will they treat His followers differently? Are we willing to be known as His disciples? Think of the attitude of the disciples in the Acts: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word” (Acts 4:29). This is no prayer for deliverance from their enemies, but a prayer that the Lord might give them even more zeal to continue their positive Christian service in witness for Him.
2. Humble Counsellors
Verse 24: GAM … “Also (Thy testimonies) … ”
The positive attitude is continued in this verse with this conjunction of determination, “Gam (Also)!!” The believer is undaunted and fearless, because strengthened and encouraged by the Lord. But let us remember what we read in 1 John 2:13 about the young men who were able to overcome the wicked one. It was because they abode in the Word, and the Word abode in them, that they were strong and able to stand and resist.
This section ends with this positive thought: “Thy testimonies also are my delight, and my counsellors”. Verse 16 spoke of this same attitude. He will keep me, as I keep myself in the love of God!
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
From Our Archive
The Primitive Church (2)
Acts 11:19-26; 15:1-11, 28-29
(An address given in Lowestoft in 1960)
We have previously considered the picture of the primitive church at Jerusalem which is given in Acts 4:23-5:6; 5:11-14. But one very prominent detail connected with God's present work in calling out the church is lacking in those verses. In writing to the Ephesians, in chapter two of his epistle, Paul reminded the believers there that God has abolished in the flesh of our Lord Jesus, through death, the breach that there was between Jew and Gentile. At the present time He is making of the twain one new man. The word for make, “for to make in Himself of twain one new man”, is actually the word to create. The same word is used earlier in the chapter, in verse 10, were we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works … ”. Both Jew and Gentile are brought on equal terms, and in the same way, into a new position which God creates, and this is as valid today, near the end of the church's history, as it was when Paul wrote those words, very near the beginning of the church's history. An election from the Gentiles is brought into this new position equally, and exactly on the same footing, as an election which God is making from the Jews. That, of course, was absent in the fourth chapter of Acts. God began the work in the midst of Israel. The masses who were gathered on the day of Pentecost were Jews, with perhaps a sprinkling of proselytes as they would have been called; people who were Gentiles originally in origin, but who had attached themselves to the Jewish synagogue. The gospel was preached and three thousand souls were converted. No doubt these too had got busy for the Lord, and then the apostles had been apprehended and other troubles had come to pass. Then we read that lovely account of the assembly in Jerusalem. I suppose that if we had been there at that time, and had examined the thousands who were found in “their own company”, we would have found them practically to a man and a woman to be of Jewish extraction. The book of Acts gives us what we sometimes call the transition period. God doesn't do things in a hurry. No, quietly, the Divine thought was worked out. That is why I have read these verses about the work at Antioch. It was at Antioch that God began this remarkable work, in a very obvious way, of gathering out from the Gentiles a people for His Name.
I began reading at the point where many went forth, scattered abroad because of the persecution that arose after Stephen was martyred. The majority of them still had the Jews only in their thoughts. They preached the Messiah, crucified and risen from the dead, and they preached Him to Jews only. But there were some who went beyond that. These men of Cyprus and Cyrene spoke to the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:20), and the hand of the Lord was with them (Acts 11:21), and a great number turned to the Lord (Acts 11:21), and much people was added unto the Lord (Acts 11:24). There was then a very powerful work among the Gentiles at Antioch, and the Lordship of Christ was evidently very much pressed and made plain. When Peter was talking to Cornelius he said: “The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all: )”. He is Lord, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. Certainly His Messiahship more particularly applied to the Jew, who had got the holy writings, the prophetic announcements of the coming of the Messiah. But when we consider Him from the point of view of His Lordship, then all other distinctions vanish. He is Lord of the Jew, but He is equally Lord of the Gentile. They preached the Lord Jesus, and people turned to the Lord. If I turn to the Lord I shall at once admit myself to be under His authority. My place is subjection beneath His mighty Word. There was therefore a very remarkable work among the Gentiles in Antioch, almost parallel to that work which had taken place among the Jews on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
When Barnabas came down he saw the grace of God and was glad. He was a good man. He saw how greatly God had blessed the labours of someone else, and though it didn't cast any credit on Barnabas, he was glad because he saw that the Lord was being exalted. He “exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord”. We couldn't have much better advice than that. Let there be a living link between my soul and the Lord, and your soul and the Lord, and don't let anything come in to divert you from the Lord. “Cleave”, says this good man Barnabas, “cleave unto the Lord”. He came amongst them and it gave further impetus to the conversion work because the next verse, verse 24, says: “and much people was added unto the Lord”. Then Barnabas went away and found Paul, and brought him to Antioch, and for a whole year they were there, ministering and teaching.
The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. What do you think they were called in Jewish circles? We find the answer to that in Acts 24. There comes this Tertullus, and he accuses Paul in the presence of the Roman power. He says of Paul, “ … we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. There were the Pharisees, who were terrific sticklers for the law and rather full of themselves. There were the Sadducees, who were very analytical and critical and didn't believe this and didn't believe that. And there were the Herodians, who didn't bother their heads so much about these things, but who went along with the ruling power because they knew it would be profitable for them in worldly things if they did so. The Jews had these sects among them and they were saying: “Now we've got the Nazarenes, the followers of this remarkable Person, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified”. But another thing now arrives. Here where there was this work among the Gentiles, those who were converted owned the authority of the Lord over their hearts and lives and it put the stamp of Christ upon them. Others looking at these believers said, “We can't talk about them with a long rigmarole of explanation, we shall have to have something short and to the point. Well, they are Christ's ones, they are Christians”. It has often been pointed out that that word only occurs three times in the New Testament. Agrippa knew it (Acts 26:28). The name Christian had clearly travelled into high circles. Agrippa didn't say, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Nazarene”, but, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian”. And it is endorsed by the Holy Spirit of God because in the first epistle of Peter you have the Spirit of God saying, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:16). The Spirit of God, so to speak, accepts this name as a very good definition of those who are swept into this new and mighty work of His.
Here then we see God working among the Gentiles, and gathering out of them a people for His Name. Then the adversary gets busy. There were those, we sometimes speak of them as Judaising teachers, who wished to make all things, especially the Gentiles, conform to a certain Jewish pattern. That is why I turned on to chapter fifteen. Some of these teachers came down to Antioch and said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Circumcision was something that, “after the manner of Moses”, or according to the law, attached the circumcised person to Judaism. In proposing this these teachers were seeking to bring in the middle wall of partition which God had broken down. There is no such partition in the church, and we who form part of it are on a new basis altogether, because whether Jew or Gentile we're made one new man. We are brought together, and the adversary, of course, is out to mar the work of God. So these men came down and they said in effect, “You will have to make these people kind of second rate Jews. You'll have to incorporate them into our legal system, or they'll never be saved.” If you read chapter fifteen carefully you will notice that there was a good deal of disputation. It doesn't mean that they were all flying at each other's throats and arguing in a very noisy way, but the whole matter was being thrashed out in discussion. Peter rose up and said: “Ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe”. When was that? When he went to the house of Cornelius. Three times God gave him a special vision, to deliver him from preconceived notions that would only hinder him, and at last Peter went. It is a remarkable thing that not only do we have the divinely inspired account of it by Luke the historian, in Acts chapter ten, but in the next chapter it is repeated again, though from a somewhat different angle. When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was challenged about what had happened, and we have an account of it in chapter eleven from the lips of Peter, though recorded of course by Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. Now for the third time, here in chapter fifteen, Cornelius is referred to. It was an epoch making event. The Pharisees were very particular about the washing of this and the washing of that, but they didn't bother much about their hearts. Peter said as it were: “My dear brethren, look what happened when God made choice among us that by my mouth the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles. Why, the Holy Spirit decided the question. You say they are unclean Gentiles, but their hearts were purified by faith. God has purified their hearts, and He who knows the heart gave them the Holy Spirit, even as He did unto us.” If you read the tenth chapter of Acts you may be struck by the fact that no word was said as to their being baptised until they had received the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter two, in answer to the question “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”, Peter said: “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Baptism has a very special place in connection with the Jew. If I was asked to give in one word its great significance I should give the word disconnection, though it has a new association in view. In the context of Acts chapter two it is cutting the link with the Nation that had rejected the Messiah. Peter says as it were: “Cut your links with the Nation that has killed the Messiah; stand out from it. Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” And they were baptised; they cut their links with, there was disconnection from, the apostate nation of that time. But when you read Acts chapter ten you find that while Peter was preaching the word that pointed them to the risen Christ, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard. Has there ever been again an occasion like that? Many of them were doubtless God-fearing, pious persons, but not really converted. You start with all that were there unconverted, apart from Peter and those who went with him, and one hundred per cent they're converted. The Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the Word. Cornelius, soldiers, friends and family. And Peter had to say: “How can we refuse to baptise these people? Let them cut the links with the old life, and come amongst us as Christians.” God had settled it. That's what they say later in chapter fifteen: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us … ”. The Holy Spirit decided the question of the reception of the Gentiles by falling on them just as they were, as the light of the gospel dawned in their hearts. On the day of Pentecost there were three thousand, but here there was only a room full, but they were “by one Spirit … all baptized into one body”. Here we see things taking shape according to what was later unfolded doctrinally in the epistle to the Ephesians, God's present work in calling out of the Nations a people for His Name. It started in a very remarkable way in the case of Cornelius and his household, and continued in Antioch by the labours of these humble people. They were not great preachers; just men of Cyprus and Cyrene. What their names were we are not told, though I hope we shall be permitted to know in the coming day when the Lord assesses all His servants and rewards them for what they have done for Him. These humble and unknown individuals who were driven abroad by the persecution that arose about Stephen and had, perhaps, to flee for their lives, they began talking to these Gentiles. And, as it was the purpose of God to go out to the Gentiles (He had made that perfectly plain at the outset to the apostles), of course the hand of the Lord was with them. A great number believed and turned to the Lord, and were brought into the church of God.
When you come right to the end of the book of Acts you find the apostle in Rome, a prisoner. He gathers the Jews together and it seems that a few believed, but alas the great mass were rejecting the gospel testimony. To them Paul had to say a very solemn thing, after quoting some verses from Isaiah chapter six, “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it”. There is no doubt that through this long age in which our lot is cast, while still God works and gathers out of the Jewish circle, the main work has been the out-gathering from the Gentiles. Hence we get the Scripture that “in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus”. The word “exceeding” might be translated “surpassing”. Something that surpasses everything else. The grace of God that is working today, and gathering out of the nations a people for His Name, and bringing them into this wonderful position of nearness and favour and ultimately of glory in association with Christ, it is a surpassing display of the grace of God.
F. B. Hole.
The Little Lamb?
At page 114 of the July/August 1993 issue of the magazine Mr. Frank Wallace made the following statements:
“Who is able to confront the trinity of evil and the other enemies of the remnant? A little Lamb1. The little Lamb is none other than the “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14)… … The little Lamb, by divine power, has triumphed over the assembled Gentile powers and the little remnant has been delivered.”
The footnote reads:
“1There is a footnote to Revelation 5:6 in some editions of J. N. Darby's translation which reads “Arnion: a diminutive, used throughout Revelation: as John 21:15”. The reference in John is “Feed My lambs”.”
A correspondent has drawn our attention to some comments of Mr. W. E. Vine in his “Expository Dictionary Of Bible Words”:
“Note: The contrast between arnion and amnos (both translated lamb or lambs in the New Testament — Ed.) does not lie in the diminutive character of the former as compared with the later. As has been pointed out under No. 2, arnion lost its diminutive force. The contrast lies in the manner in which Christ is presented in the two respects. The use of amnos points directly to the fact, the nature and character of His sacrifice; arnion (only in the Apocalypse) presents Him, on the ground, indeed, of His sacrifice, but in His acquired majesty, dignity, honour, authority and power.
In the Sept. arnion is used in Ps. 114:4, 6; in Jer. 11:19, with the adjective akakos, innocent; in Jer. 27:45, “lambs.” There is nothing in these passages to suggest a contrast between a lamb in the general sense of the term and the diminutive; the contrast is between lambs and sheep. Elsewhere in the Sept. amnos is in general used some 100 times in connection with lambs for sacrifice.”
Neither of the editors of this magazine know Greek. The substance of what follows was the result of a prayerful consideration of the matter. It was subsequently passed to three brethren who do know Greek, for their critical review. One of these was involved in the translation of the New Testament into Dutch. Each of these brethren have indicated that what follows is acceptable to them.
Mr. Vine implies that the distinction between arnion and amnos is determined by the context in which the words are used. If “the general tendency in the vernacular was to use nouns in -ion freely, apart from their diminutive significance”, was the Holy Spirit bound by this general tendency? In the case of agapao and phileo Mr Vine nevertheless believes in the possibility that the use of words in Scripture might differ from their use in secular Greek; so why exclude this possibility in the case of amnos and arnion?
Perhaps our first enquiry ought to be how the two words are used in the New Testament. There are four references to amnos in John's Gospel, Acts and 1 Peter (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). With one exception all the references to arnion are in Revelation (John 21:15; Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9-10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8, 11; 14:1, 4 (x2), 10; 15:3; 17:14 (x2); 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3). It is used 30 times in the New Testament, 29 of these being in the book of Revelation. All the references in Revelation refer to Christ, with the exception of Revelation 13:11, where it is anti-Christ. If there is no significant difference between the meaning of the two words, and context alone determines particular points of emphasis, why has the Holy Spirit used both words in the New Testament, but only arnion in the book of Revelation? Why not use only amnos or arnion in the New Testament, and let context decide throughout? The diminutive force would seem admirably suited in the book of Revelation. How full that book is of great things. Not only great things connected with God, but things great in their pretension and opposition to Him. There is a great red dragon who, when cast out of heaven, has great wrath (Rev. 12:3, 9, 12). He gives great authority to the first beast of Revelation 13, and a mouth speaking great things (Rev. 13:2, 5). The second beast in Revelation 13 does great wonders, causing both small and great to receive his mark (Rev. 13:13, 16). There is a great city, where also our Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8). And another great city, Babylon the great, where there sits a great whore (Rev. 14:8; Rev. 16:19; Rev. 17:1, 5, 18; Rev. 18:2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21; Rev. 19:2). There is the judgment of the small and great when they stand before God (Rev. 20:12). There are other references beside these (e.g. Rev. 8:8, 10; Rev. 19:18, etc.). Who can and does deal with all these opposers? Is it not a little lamb? One who is morally, in every way, the complete opposite of those who vaunt their supposed greatness, only to be brought crashing down. What a wonderful meditation this opens out. The great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ was here in humility. He made Himself of no reputation. He humbled Himself. He was the perfect anti-type of the manna, which was “a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground”.
The editors have found Vine's Dictionary of Bible Words very helpful, and refer to it frequently. Readers will find that it is often quoted in this magazine. This does not mean that they agree with all his comments. As with all uninspired works it is necessary to read critically, comparing what is written with Scripture.
News from the Field
Republic of Lithuania
The southernmost of the Baltic States was until recently part of the USSR. It has a population of nearly 4 million. The capital, Vilnius, has about half a million inhabitants.
The Roman Catholic church plays a dominant role in the country. But gospel campaigns in the late 1980's were blessed of the Lord and numerous younger persons were converted to Christ and several house groups were formed.
Up to the late 1930's there were two localities where brethren met. They could be found in Memel-Budsargen and Schmelz. Then came the war and in its wake communism. The destructive forces then at work removed all trace of these two little testimonies.
The recent circumstances have allowed the gospel of the grace of God to go forth into this dark land. We pray that the truth of God's true ground of assembling around the Lord Jesus as Head of His body might be known.
Until the great political changes in the Soviet Union our contacts in Baltic countries were confined to Scandinavian lands. Correspondence is now received from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. We rejoice to have such contacts with the believers. Man has so long sought to close the door but we believe God has set before us the opened door. The following letter has been received from Lithuania from a dear friend who is desiring to answer to what he and his household find in the Scriptures.
“Thank you very much for your remembrance of us. We receive Truth & Testimony regularly and like this magazine. We have now begun to publish a periodical. Starting this was rather difficult but thanks to our Lord, He helps us. You will know a little of our plans. We have very little good Christian literature in Lithuanian. We have arranged to translate and prepare tracts and books on computer here and they will be published in Germany by brethren in Dillenburg. Assemblies in Lithuania are rather young and small. The roots of Catholicism and atheism are very deep. The Roman church tries to usurp power and be the spiritual leader. We thank God that He knows the needs of the nation. We feel led to prepare literature which exposes the Roman errors to our people. We also dream about having the Good Seed gospel calendar in Lithuanian. We pray that the Lord will enable such a calendar to be published. The Boys' & Girls' calendar would also be worth consideration.
The Synopsis of the books of the Bible by J. N. Darby would be much appreciated. I have asked you for this set earlier but you answered that there were then none left. We are sorry we cannot pay for these books. We live in a very poor country. The economic situation is a little better now than last spring but we can only dream about expensive books. We remember the words of the Lord Jesus that it is better to give than to take (Acts 20:35) and seek to give as much as we can. Our God is so kind, He gives us abundantly. Only a few months ago we had great problems but our hearts were being prepared for blessing. Our Lord used you to help us. It was an unbelievable miracle to get the cheque for £50 from you. This helped us very much in the most difficult moment for our family.
In the past year many things have taken place. In April our third child was born. When the baby was only 12 days old, brother Neil Short and his wife Edith visited us for a few days. We had very blessed meetings. In August some young brethren from Germany came. In September a tract, “What does the New Testament teach?”, was distributed in relation to the Roman Pope's visit. The distribution was very successful. October brought closer links with the publishing work in Germany.
Well, what about you? We read something in Truth & Testimony of visits seeking to strengthen the believers in Norway and Malawi. For this we thank the Lord. May He bless you and also brother Neil in India.”