The Consequences of the Fall
“And he died” (Genesis 5:5 ff.)
Such is the sad refrain repeated throughout this chapter: “And he died”. Because of his sin man is subject to death, although he received the breath of life from God. Can one think of any greater contrast than that between life and death? Reading the Bible, we find that life did not come into being just by itself or by mere chance, but that it originated from God. There is a divine Maker behind the things we see. He made everything with wisdom, and His eternal power and divinity can be seen both in great and small things, both in the enormous galaxies and in the secrets of the atom. The Bible tells us that since the creation of the world, God's invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood through the things that are made (Rom. 1:20). Any intelligent person cannot but conclude that creation originates from the hands of an almighty Creator. The living God is the Source of all life. One word of His was sufficient to call those things which did not exist as though they did. “For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9). He said, “Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).
How then was it possible that death could mar God's beautiful creation? If God is the Source of life, then where does death come from? Or should we perhaps regard death as a natural thing which happens to be part of the cycle of life? Is death a friend rather than an enemy? These are all very important questions, and it is necessary to find the right answers to them. If we consider that death is the very opposite of life, it is obvious that God, the Source of life, cannot be the source of death at the same time. Death is something which is completely contrary to God's nature as the Originator of life. This is a fundamental contrast, comparable with that between light and darkness, and between good and evil. Those who try to argue away these differences are deceiving themselves, as they turn away from reality in order to create a make-believe world where life is as meaningless as death.
The Word of God, however, teaches us something different. Death is the domain of God's great adversary, Satan, who “had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Because the first man was deceived by his craftiness, death could enter our world: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom. 5:12). Death, one of the other apostles says, is the last link in the chain of evil that begins with the desires of our sinful hearts (James 1:13-15). And as not Adam and Eve only, but all their descendants were sinners, death spread to all men.
Now Satan does not have the last word, for Someone stronger than he has come. He has bound him and plundered his house. The coming of this mighty Man of valour had been announced by God immediately after man's fall. Someone born of a woman was going to bruise the head of the serpent. Christ was the Seed who was to come, and to overcome the devil. But at the same time this meant the end of His life here on earth, for the serpent was to bruise His heel (Gen. 3:15). He is the counterpart of Adam, the divine answer to all the consequences of Adam's sin, through whom death entered the world. Christ is the second Man and the last Adam, the Victor over Satan, sin, and death (Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15).
For this reason it is of the utmost importance to notice that the verse from Hebrews 2, already referred to, is written in the past tense! The devil had the power of death, but he was dethroned by Christ. He overcame the devil and annulled death and brought life and incorruptibility to light (2 Tim. 1:10). On the island that is called Patmos, John saw Him as the risen Lord: the One who had the keys, i.e., the power of hades and of death (Rev. 1:18).
Christ rose again the third day, God having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by its power (Acts 2:24). And as the risen Lord He is the Head of a new generation. He gives eternal life to all those who believe in Him. He has destroyed him who had the power of death and released those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14-15). Death cannot frighten them anymore. They know Christ as the Resurrection, and the Life, and they share His life (John 11:25).
Therefore the iron rule “and he died” does not apply to Christians. Even in Genesis 5 this is indicated by the only exception we find there, namely in the life of Enoch who walked with God and was taken away without seeing death (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5).
This is also the Christian's hope, as we wait for God's Son from heaven. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” At His coming the Lord Jesus Christ will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body. “The dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”, in His Father's house (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:51; Phil. 1:23; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:15-18).
And when a Christian dies before the Lord's return, he does not fear death as the last enemy. He considers death as his “servant”, to carry him into Paradise. To be there with Christ is far better than to remain in the flesh (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23-24). It is a place of unspeakable joy (2 Cor. 12:4). But it is sure that the Lord Himself will come to call His own, dead or alive, and bring them to glory.
To this end, however, it is absolutely necessary to hear His voice now, and to receive eternal life in Christ. Have you heard His voice? If you hearken to Him, then a new day will dawn for you. This is a reality even now, during this life here on earth. For Christ will be your Light. He will illuminate your way and lead you in the paths of righteousness.
If you are still unconverted, you should realise that you are a child of death, sunk down into a deep spiritual sleep. Or, as the Bible puts it, you are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). You must wake up. Listen to Christ's mighty voice! He once called Lazarus out of the grave, and He is the same today. He calls you from the “grave” of your sins and your guilt. So if you hear His voice, do not resist but rise and go to Him who wants to receive you with open arms. The one who comes to Him He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).
Do not forget that Christ is the Lord of both life and death. If you are not willing to accept Him as your Saviour now, you will meet Him someday as your Judge. All authority has been given to Him and He is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5). Those who have been raised with Him to new life have nothing to fear, but those who remain in their spiritual sleep (the sleep of death) He will cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20:11-15). From then on, the expression “and he died” will be an irrevocable reality as there is no escape from the second death. Therefore, take your refuge with Christ, the Originator and the Giver of life, before it is too late. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
Psalm 119 (8)
(Continued from page 281)
5. HE — WINDOW
The significance of this letter is not certain but many scholars think it means “Window” or “Lattice”. In any case it carries the meaning of “letting in the light”. Its numerical value is five. The number five suggests man's weakness, because a man with only one hand, that is with only five fingers, cannot do much. But a further thought is of grace meeting this weakness. The letter “He” occurs twice in Jhwh (= Jehovah), and this helps us to understand that God in His grace is meeting, and has met, man's utter inability and helplessness. In Arabic the letter “He” is used in asking a question: “Hal?”.
Verses 25-48. Strength for the Weary
Section Five. Verses 33-40: “God's Word Meets Our Weakness”
Here then is a desperate need! Only God can meet our need! But we must go to Him and trust Him implicitly, and let Him do the work that we cannot do. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
1. My need: To be teachable
Verse 33: HAYAHRANNI … “Teach me … ”
Man is totally ignorant of his true and desperate condition as a sinner. That is why the Holy Spirit must convict of sin, and open our eyes so that we may see our need!
The first thing required of a sinner is his total capitulation, his recognition that he is lost and helpless. The Holy Spirit insists upon the surrender of our self-will. The capacity to will, to make decisions, remains, but must from now on be under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Notice the five-fold prayer from a man who is conscious of his helplessness (Remember that the letter He is the fifth letter of the alphabet):
1. Verse 33 “Teach … and I shall keep it … ”
2. Verse 34 “Give me understanding … and I shall keep … ”
3. Verse 35 “Make me to go … I delight.”
4. Verse 36 “Incline my heart … ”
5. Verse 38 “Stablish Thy word unto Thy servant … ”
All these verses express his desire to be taught, to receive light and illumination from the Lord. Let us therefore not be wise in our own eyes, or think we know better than the Lord, but repeat with the Psalmist, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes … ”
2. My need: A contrite spirit
Verse 34: HA-BEENI … “Make me understand … ”
The desire to be teachable goes together with a contrite spirit! We should take a humble position before the Lord. Our intellect is certainly not to be set aside. The Holy Spirit's activity is to renew our understanding and our mind (Rom. 12:2). Even though our intellect must be engaged, yet we must realise that the heart must be involved first of all. In spiritual matters the Bible tells us that we think not with our brains (intellect), but with our heart as the centre of our total being. This is figurative language of course. So when our human, sanctified spirit is taught, our whole heart becomes engaged in the observing. Putting teaching we have received into practice is a question of the heart and the will. And notice it is the whole heart that is engaged in this: “ … yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart”.
This emphasises concentration. The Holy Spirit is our divine Teacher: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things”, “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 2:20; 1 John 5:20).
3. My need: Concentration
Verse 35: HA-DAREKNI … “Cause me … ”
The need for concentration has been noticed in the previous verse. Here this thought is continued: “Make me to go in the path … ”. It is my duty to keep yielding myself to the teaching of the Spirit, and present my members as instruments of righteousness unto Him. We are not robots programmed to go through certain motions automatically. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). There is always God's side first but also most definitely man's side and responsibility. If He is going to “Make me to go … ”, I must make it my delight to do His bidding!
4. My need: A yielded heart
Verse 36: HAT-LEBI … “Bow (or incline) my heart … ”
Are we really sincere and determined about following the Lord, doing His will, obeying His Word? By nature we are all rebels, only thinking of ourselves and doing our own will. That is the reason why he prays: “not to covetousness”. Now that we are born of God and have His Spirit dwelling within, we need to be re-schooled, i.e. to be taught His will. Now we can see the need for this prayer: “Incline my heart … ”
5. My need: A single eye
Verse 37: HA-GAH-VAR … “Turn away … ”
“The heart is often led astray by the eye”, is no understatement! If in verse 36 we have a positive request (“Incline my heart … ”), in this verse we have a negative request: “Turn away mine eyes … ”. How quickly we are defiled by a look! How quickly we are distracted by what our eyes observe, how quickly deviated from the Lord's way for us: “ … quicken Thou me in Thy way”. Here again, the Lord will not do for us what we must do for ourselves. The apostle Paul tells us: “ … make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14). Someone has said that it is the “second look” that is sin! He meant, that when you walk in the street and you see an unclean thing, a pornographic picture, you cannot help that. But when you stop, or turn to look again, that is deliberate! By turning, or stopping to look again, we are actually making provision for the flesh.
6. My need: Stability
Verse 38: HA-KOOM … “Make rise … (or establish, confirm)”
There must be a fixity of purpose in our hearts. “For he that wavereth, is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive … ” (Eph. 4:14). The more we are “rooted and grounded” in the Word of God the less vulnerable we shall be to deception. There is no excuse for ignorance of the Word. The Lord Jesus clearly said that we must “watch and pray” lest we be deceived. It is therefore the responsibility of every believer to read and study the Word, so that he might be well-grounded and well-established in the Word of God.
“Thy servant, who is devoted to Thy fear”, is the motivation for seeking to be established in the Word of God. We do not want to grieve the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit. And the fear of the Lord also means that if we disobey then we should certainly fear the discipline that must inevitably follow, because we are children of our Father.
7. My need: To fear the Lord only
Verse 39: HA-GAH-VAR … “Turn away … ”
If we fear His Word, that is, respect it and obey it, we need not fear anyone or anything else. He will be with us. No doubt, those who do not fear God and deny even His existence, will ridicule us and mock us and reproach us! It is not easy nor pleasant for the believer to realise that if he wants to be faithful he may not be popular. There is definite reproach attached to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. This may be a healthy fear! It may be he asks here that he might not suffer reproach for adhering to the Word of God. But reproaches for righteousness sake are to be rejoiced in. The literal rendering from the Hebrew is: “Turn away my shame which I fear … ”. The Psalmist may have thought of the possibility that he might commit some evil act, some unfaithfulness, that would bring shame upon the Name of the Lord as well as to himself, and so he beseeches the Lord to keep him from this. A similar thought is expressed by the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:20: “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body … ”. What Paul feared was that because of the pressures put upon him by the enemies of the Lord, he might in some measure deny the Lord's claims — dishonour the Lord. This is indeed a prayer we would do well to pray daily!
8. My need: To realise my nothingness
Verse 40: HIN-NEH … “Behold … !”
This whole section of eight verses has brought before us our own nothingness and helplessness. This should not be a temporary and emotional feeling, but our constant realisation! In this verse we have the sense of need expressed again: “ … quicken me in Thy righteousness”. This is a confession of conscious weakness, and the need for being quickened and strengthened with might by His Spirit in our inner man. To have said: “I have longed after Thy promises … ”, would be quite human, but he says: “I have longed after Thy precepts … ”. We remember from the introduction that the significance of the word “precept” is: a charge given to us by God for which we are responsible. We must always remember that privileges are inseparable from responsibilities. We have committed unto us a charge from the Lord, like Timothy, to whom Paul says: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). It is the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness and helplessness, to strengthen us in order to walk in obedience to the Word of God.
Power, Yet Veiled
In the Spirit of God is living energy and activity that produces marvellous results. This is seen magnificently in the first reference to Him in Scripture, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light. And there was light” (Gen. 1:2-3). Here is great power in sustained movement, for light must travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. And this is a picture of the working of the Spirit of God in bringing to repentance and faith one who has before been in the darkness of sin and unbelief. Light dawns upon his soul, with its living, vibrant energy of sustained movement.
But the Spirit is not seen: it is the light that is seen, for light is both revealed and revealing. In the light everything is manifested as it really is. And natural light is beautifully symbolical of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Therefore, in Christ we see God revealed as He really is, and the light of His face fully reveals us also. Such is the first great work of the Spirit of God with our souls, in the marvel of our being brought from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the living God.
This corresponds to John 3:8: “The wind blows where it will, and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it comes and where it goes: thus is every one that is born of the Spirit”. A mighty work has taken place by an unseen Person — one is born again by the Spirit of God, who remains the very energy of the new and eternal life implanted in the soul.
This power is real, but the Spirit of God does not draw attention to His own work within the soul. Rather, His work is to attract souls to the blessed Person and work of the Lord Jesus, as He Himself told His disciples, “He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine and shall announce it to you” (John 16:14).
His New Work in the Dispensation of Grace
But as well as the great work of the Spirit in new birth and eternal life (which was taking place before our present dispensation), there is a work now in which He is engaged that was never known before the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). For now the Spirit of God Himself has come to indwell the church of God. The beginning of this is seen in Acts 2; and since the Spirit of God has come, He has remained in every believer individually, and in the entire church of God collectively. “Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19). This was said even to the Corinthians, who were called “carnal” and “babes in Christ” and needed serious reproof (1 Cor. 3:1). Each individual believer was indwelt by the Spirit, though he was not manifesting this properly. Also, they were asked, “Do ye not know that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). This is not individual but rather, unitedly, the church is the temple of God, and the Spirit dwells in the church.
This reminder was urged upon the Corinthians, not to make them glory in the fact of their having the Spirit, but to stir their exercise of heart in building up the church of God. We are to act consistently with the Spirit's working in the entire body of Christ, or as it is called here, “the temple of God”, the sphere where the glory of God is displayed in the world today. It is good, solid, vital work that the Spirit does, though He Himself is veiled as it were behind the scenes.
“Filled with the Spirit”: What Does it Mean?
If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, such concern for the eternal blessing of souls and for the building up of God's church will deeply affect us. For though the Spirit of God dwells in the church, this does not mean that the church is “filled with the Spirit”. And though all believers have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, none can dare to say that they are always filled with the Spirit. If so, we should not need the exhortation, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and chanting with melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). Notice, we are told to be filled with the Spirit, not to claim to be.
To be filled with the Spirit does not mean having more of the Spirit, for He is a living Person, not merely an influence. But it does mean to allow Him full control in every department of our lives, so that Christ Himself is the one precious Object set before our eyes, so delighting our hearts that all else is nothing in comparison.
John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), his mother Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), and his father Zacharias (Luke 1:67), are spoken of as being filled with the Spirit before the day of Pentecost: all of them speaking of Christ. And this same blessed testimony is true too when the expression is used in Acts 2:4. The disciples were with one accord in one place and when the Spirit of God came in His great power to introduce the new dispensation of the church of God, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave to them to speak forth”.
The object of this was by no means their own personal enjoyment. In fact, those of many nationalities were present and heard them speak in their own tongues “the wonderful works of God”. The disciples were given power to speak their own thoughts in bearing witness to the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ, but in a language they had never learned. They knew what they were saying, for they were witnesses. And they spoke that which was intended for the true, pure blessing of all who heard it.
Beware of Imitations
Many since then have sought to imitate this great miracle. But these disciples were not seeking any such thing as speaking in tongues. This was the spontaneous, real work of God by His Spirit and the speaking in tongues was a precious sign that the gospel of Christ was to be available for every nation under heaven, not only for Israel. It signifies that in the church there would now be a precious understanding brought about among believers of all nations, and it was therefore a sign to promote blessed unity.
If one claims this gift in such a way as to draw attention to oneself, this is false. If one speaks in a so-called tongue, not understanding what he is saying, this is a dangerous imitation, for it does not even edify himself, let alone edify others, which is the proper object of all gift. The Spirit of God does not work in a disorderly way. He does not give sensational experiences that tend to exalt men. He draws attention to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was true at Pentecost, and it is true now. When Stephen's face appeared like that of an angel (because he was certainly filled with the Spirit of God), he did not speak in another tongue, for it was Jews he addressed. But he spoke the precious, solid truth of God, focusing the attention of his hearers on the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus now at the right hand of God (Acts 6:15-7:56).
Peter, in Acts 4:8, filled with the Holy Spirit, faithfully spoke to the rulers of Israel of Christ crucified and risen (Acts 4:8-12). In the same chapter (verse 31) the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the Word of God with boldness. Paul (Acts 13:9-11), filled with the Holy Ghost, gave a solemn sentence of judgment to Elymas the sorcerer for his perverting the right ways of the Lord.
Of all these occasions where the filling of the Spirit is mentioned, only one of them tells us of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4), and that because it was an occasion of specially outstanding importance, which will never be repeated.
But to be filled with the Spirit remains a precious privilege available to every believer, if he will willingly set Christ as the one absorbing Object before his soul. And this necessarily involves the honest self-judgment that does not allow the flesh to take any place of importance. How greatly blessed we shall be if we genuinely allow the Spirit of God to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in personal and assembly life.
L. M. Grant.
“The Sermon on the Mount” (6)
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)
The sixth of the so-called beatitudes shows very clearly that the “Sermon on the Mount” is not a social or political programme. Sad to say, within some parts of Christendom it is thus understood and explained. Neither does the Lord Jesus here address the multitudes following Him as if they were unbelievers, far from Himself. He does not call them to repentance and faith, even when He speaks to them apart from the disciples. They all belonged to Israel, the earthly people of God, who were waiting for their Messiah, the King promised by God. In the first place, these principles of the Kingdom of heaven are intended for them. But they are also meant for the Lord's disciples at all times. “Disciple” really means “pupil, apprentice”. A good pupil will always endeavour to learn as much as possible from his teacher, in order to put it into practice himself. At the same time he will willingly subject himself to his teacher and thus accept his authority. The followers of the Lord Jesus on earth were first called disciples (and not only the twelve apostles, see Luke 6:13). We frequently come across the word “disciples” in Acts too. It was obviously a common name for Christians in the beginning. In contrast to other names like “children of God”, “saints” and “brethren”, which occur very often in the epistles of the New Testament and emphasise our blessings, “disciple” rather expresses our subjection and our following after, i.e. our responsibility.
The word “disciple” is therefore a very suitable expression of the relationship of the believer with the Lord in the Kingdom of God. A merely outward or forced submission as “subjects” is not enough. Acknowledgement of the Lord and willing subjection to His authority must be coupled with faith and devotion. Even though little can be seen here below on earth of the acknowledgement of the dominion of Christ over man — rather the contrary seems the case — perhaps very soon the Kingdom of God will be visible for everyone. In the “Sermon on the Mount” the Lord now points out the characteristics that should mark His disciples, His pupils, His apprentices. But He also shows what immediate blessing as well as future reward is connected with this.
When the Lord here speaks of those who are pure in heart He does not say how man's heart can be purified. The Word of God shows this in other passages, as for example in Acts 15:9 where Peter says that God purifies the hearts of men by faith (cf. Heb. 10:22; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:22). The Lord simply says, “Blessed are the pure in heart … ”. He thus speaks of those whose hearts have already been purified.
In Scripture the heart is the centre of the thoughts, the affections and the will (Matt. 9:4; 12:34; 24:48), that is, the inner “switchboard” of man. This is why the writer of the Proverbs had already said, “Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). This is an important warning!
By nature nobody possesses a pure heart, not even a child. God had already said in Genesis 8:21, “ … for the thought of Man's heart is evil from his youth” (J.N.D. Trans.). In order that man may see God the wicked human heart must be completely purified.
Now the Lord Jesus says “blessed” to those who have purified their hearts by faith in Him and who keep them pure practically: “Blessed are the pure in heart”. This is the first lesson of this verse. Just as a heart can only be purified before the Holy God by believing in the Lord Jesus and His work, there is practical pureness of heart only in His presence.
One might object, “But does not this deal with the fact that those whose hearts have been purified by faith in Christ's work of salvation will one day see God in glory? If only those will see God whose hearts are always pure practically, who could then hope to see God?”. Thanks be to God that our hope is not based on our often weak and sinful behaviour, but only on God. But let us take care not to separate these two aspects. The fact that, with regard to eternity, we are once and for all perfectly purified must consequently create the practical desire in our daily life to have a pure heart permanently.
Some comments regarding this practical purification are appropriate. When the Lord Jesus was about to wash the feet of His disciples, Peter would not have Him do so. The Lord answers, “Unless I wash thee, thou hast not part with Me”. Then Peter wanted to have his head and hands washed as well. Again the Lord answers, “He that is washed all over needs not to wash save his feet, but is wholly clean; and ye are clean” (John 13:8-10). Here the Lord makes a clear distinction between the initial purification and the repeated one. He also clearly teaches that repeated washing of the feet is necessary!
Only in the presence of our Lord do the true motives of our hearts become obvious, and only here are we led to judge them if necessary. Only here is the desire created and sustained, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). How important therefore are the moments of quietness for our life of faith, the times when we are alone in the presence of God! This does not mean that we cannot have any fellowship with Him in our daily occupations. But for the examination and purification of our hearts we need to be alone in His presence. Only thus can we preserve the right relationship with Him and with our brothers and sisters. It is not by chance that Paul asks Timothy to seek fellowship with such believers who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart, and that Peter calls upon Christians to love one another with a pure heart fervently (or, incessantly, persistently. 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22). A pure heart will therefore be a happy heart as well, desiring the glory of God and the well-being of fellow Christians.
The Lord adds here a wonderful promise to His “blessed”: “ … for they shall see God”. At the present time we live and walk by faith, not by sight. But very soon the moment will come when all whose hearts have been purified by faith will see God. 1 Timothy 6:16 does not contradict this, where it is said that God dwells in unapproachable light, and that no man has seen or is able to see Him. God in His nature is a spirit and invisible. This is clearly said in different passages of the Word of God (John 4:24; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17). But in Colossians 1:15 it is added that the eternal Son of God is the image of the invisible God. He is also the effulgence of His glory and the expression of His substance (Heb. 1:3). He is the Word of God (John 1:1-18). These passages show that the Son, who Himself is God, is the perfect image of the triune God and His nature. When He became Man, God was manifested in flesh (1 Tim. 3:16). We shall see Him who is the Son of God, who became Man to manifest God, and in whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. We shall see Him in perfect and undisturbed glory, and will worship Him eternally. We will not only be with Him eternally, but see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
The words, “ … for they shall see God” have a special meaning for the Jews who in those days believed on the Lord Jesus, as well as for those who will soon see Him as their Messiah. In Psalm 24:3 the question was asked, “Who shall ascend into the mount of Jehovah? and who shall stand in His holy place?”. The answer is, “He that hath blameless hands and a pure heart … ”. In Isaiah 33:14-16 similar questions are asked and also answered. But then verse 17 says, “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the land that is far off”.
What moments they will be for all the different believers, to see the Son of God as their Saviour or Messiah for the first time and then to contemplate Him for ever!
From Our Archive
The Scriptural Way of Gathering in the Present Day (1)
(Being the substance of ministry at the Chicago Conference, November 22-24, 1951)
The Lord Himself the Centre of Gathering.
1 Samuel 22:1-2, 23
The Lord has promised His presence to those who gather out to Him alone: “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). No matter how great the ruin and no matter how few they be who gather to Him in the midst of this general ruin, His presence is with them. The verses we have read give us a beautiful illustration of this.
David was the man of God's choice to be head over all things to His people. The people were living in a time of departure from God's established order. They were following a man of their own choice while the one of God's choice was in a place of rejection outside of it all. We read of some who had a relationship with David that they valued more than other ties, so “they went down thither to Him”. There were some also who were in distress, and they likewise went to him. Others were discontented; they had not found satisfaction under Saul, the man of the people's choice. All these “gathered themselves unto him,” the man God had chosen to be the head over His people. They were only a small group in the midst of the general declension but they were gathered around him. He became their captain. He was everything to them. Their whole reason for being so gathered was David himself.
How could those with such varied past history and backgrounds ever get along in peace together? The answer is simple. They had one common object for their hearts and one common head or captain. Thus they were not only kept together, but many became mighty men under his leadership. So it is today when saints gather to the Lord alone, in obedience to His Word, and keep their eyes fixed upon Him, learning of Him, and walking under His orders. They are kept together, and under His leadership gifts are developed for the blessing of all. It is only when they get their eyes on one another and occupied with personalities instead of Him, that troubles come in.
There is much similarity today with David's time. Many of God's people are following the man, or order, of their choice. But Christ is still God's choice — the God-given Centre and Head around whom His people should gather. And those, however few they may be who find it in their heart to gather out to Him, will have the full blessing of His presence in their midst. And the Lord's Word to them is the same as David's of old to one who came out to him, “Abide thou with me, fear not … with me thou shalt be in safeguard”.
What is a Sect and is there a Non-sectarian Ground of Gathering?
The Greek word translated sect is derived from a root meaning to take for oneself, to choose or prefer. It is used to denote a body of men who have chosen for themselves a system of teaching or practice that differs from that course which is proper and correct. It bears with it a sting of reproach because it implies self-will and self-reliance in action, or at least ignorance. A course is chosen which deviates from, or is in opposition to, the true and Scriptural course.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders: “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). And so it happened. That fair church that began with such a demonstration of unity and love was soon broken up into factions and sects, each contending for and seeking to build up their own party.
The question then arises, why do we gather as we do? Have we Scripture for it or have we become sectarian, following traditions and human interpretations of the Scriptures? Is there a Scriptural way of gathering that would guard us from sectarianism?
We must have a Scriptural basis for our doctrines and practices if we are to be kept from sectarianism. It clearly would not be sectarian to gather in accordance with the truth of the Scriptures, in subjection to Christ as Lord over all things in His house.
It is clear from Scripture that the early church gathered as Christians. They were known everywhere as Christians and all the Christians were one body (1 Cor. 12:13). Wherever they were they all belonged to that one company (1 Cor. 1:2; Acts 11:26). If a Christian was identified with the Christians in one place, he or she was regarded as one with them everywhere, no matter where he or she might go. This we see from the above references and many others, such as Acts 15; 16:4-5, etc.
There was no thought of any local gathering being a self-governed and self-contained group, gathering independently of others. If in the early church a local group had gathered as a self-contained unit claiming the right to legislate for itself alone, receiving into their midst or putting away with reference to themselves only, without respect to the one body, it would clearly have been a sect. They would then have been acting as an independent group or body, instead of acting in accordance with the truth that they were an integral part of the one body on earth. The truth is, there is only one body on earth, comprised of all believers, and wherever believers gathered as members of the one body, they were the church of God in that place; they represented locally the one body. Their action in reception and discipline was an act of the one body. If they should act as a self-contained unit with reference to themselves only, it would clearly be not acting as members of the one body and therefore would be sectarian.
The same thing is true if two or more gatherings should associate themselves together, receiving those who come as into membership with themselves, as is done in the denominations today and in various groups of independent churches. They would then not be acting as members of the one body but as a party with members of its own. This would be sectarian.
This should be clear to anyone acquainted with the New Testament. We do not have time to examine the many Scriptures bearing on this subject, but the above mentioned passages should be sufficient to show that the early church was regarded as a whole, and each local assembly formed an integral, or representative, part.
Paul was led by divine inspiration to write to the Corinthian assembly in order to set them right as to many things among them. But all through the epistle we see passages that prove the apostle never considered it an independent self-contained unit but a responsible and representative part of the whole church of God on earth. In chapter 1 verse 2 he addresses his epistle “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth … with all that in every place call upon the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord”. So that what is addressed to the church at Corinth is addressed to all Christians everywhere, and what concerns them locally concerns all. The same teaching, and the same principles of action that applied to them, applied to all. They were all viewed as one body. This we see also in chapter 4 verse 17, “I sent unto you Timotheus … who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church”. They were the same in every church. And in 7:17, “So ordain I in all churches”. Also in 11:16, “We have no such custom, neither the churches of God”. And in 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace as in all churches of the saints”. What applies to one applies to all.
The word “church” (or assembly, for the Greek word translated church in the A.V. means assembly) is sometimes used to embrace all the saints on earth as one body, and sometimes of the members of that one body gathered in a given locality. The above references show its local use and in Ephesians 1:22-23 where we read, “The church, Which is His body”, we see it used to embrace all the saints on earth viewed as one body. See also Ephesians 3:10, 21; 5:23, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18, 24, etc. The way in which the Spirit thus uses the word church or assembly, to embrace the whole body of saints on earth in some passages and in other passages to embrace the saints gathered in a given locality, goes to show that the local gatherings are looked at as an integral and representative part of the one body of Christ on earth. That is, the local gathering was viewed as the church of God in that place. They were the members of the one body on earth residing in that locality. This is clearly brought out in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body”, etc. There he is speaking of all the saints on earth but when in verse 27 he turns to the Corinthian saints viewed locally he says, “Now ye are the body of Christ”, or literally translated, “Ye are body of Christ”. Not “a body of Christ”, as though there were many other such bodies of Christ, nor yet “the body of Christ”, as though they only were the body of Christ, but “ye are body of Christ”. According to the Greek construction here the term “body of Christ” without the article is characteristic. They were viewed as having the same quality or relation as the whole of which they were a part; they were the representative part of the one body in that locality.
Every believer is a member of the body of Christ. “For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). This body is not something that one can join at will or disassociate oneself from. The Spirit baptised us all — all believers — into this one body. He united us in a living union with Christ, the Head, and with one another as members of this body.
When a soul was saved and gave evidence of that fact, he was recognised as a member of the body of Christ and so became publicly identified with the body wherever its members gathered together. He was not received into fellowship with a local assembly as forming part of a local group, but was recognised as a member of the one body, the body of Christ, of which they who gathered locally formed a part. This recognition or admission into fellowship by the local gathering was not a receiving of one into membership with themselves as a local gathering, but a simple recognition of the fact that God had by His Spirit placed him as a member in the body of Christ. This was the simple ground upon which the church met in the beginning. There was no other basis or ground of fellowship in the early church but membership in the body of Christ.
This is illustrated by the case of Saul when he came to Jerusalem and assayed to associate himself with the disciples there. They knew his past and so “they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the Name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:26-29). It was no question of receiving him into membership with them, but simply, upon the evidence in his conduct that proved him to be a true disciple, he was recognised as such and had full liberty to come in and go out as one with the disciples. This is not sectarianism. It is God's divine order for His church.
It is well to note here that it was in the breaking of bread together at the Lord's table that expression was given to the fellowship of the one body. It was in the act of all partaking of that one bread that they symbolically set forth the fact that they were one in Christ. “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).
But as time went on we read of “false brethren unawares brought in”, so that as a result the circle became larger than that of the true members of the body of Christ (Gal. 2:4; Jude 4). And then we read of evil breaking out within. One Christian at Corinth fell into fornication of the worst kind. How were these evils to be met? The Lord gave instruction through His apostle to “put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:4, 13). If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, they were not to keep company with such a one, no not to eat, no matter what claims he made of being a brother. In view of the evil that came in the emphasis is put now, not upon membership in the body of Christ, of being called a brother, as a basis for fellowship, but upon the Lordship of Christ. That is, His authority and rights as Lord in the midst of those gathered together in His Name, are now also insisted on and not only membership in His body.
It is well to note that this epistle, dealing as it does with the evil that had come in, puts the emphasis all the way through on the Lordship of Christ. His title as Lord is mentioned 69 times in it, and almost every time His name is mentioned His title as Lord is attached. Another thing to notice is that the church is not mentioned under the symbol of the body of Christ in the first part of this epistle where discipline is enjoined, but as the “temple of God”, in virtue of the indwelling Spirit of God (l Cor. 3:16). Holiness and subjection to authority become the house of God.
Just as Pharaoh, the supreme ruler, said to Joseph of old, “Thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy commandment shall all my people regulate themselves” (Gen. 41:40, J.N.D. Trans.), so God has made Christ Lord over all things in His house. Now the Lord commands by His apostle that those gathered to His Name put away from their midst a brother, even though he be a member of His body, who is living in sin contrary to His commandments. So we have now the fellowship of those gathered to the Lord's Name limited by Christ our Lord to a smaller circle than that of His body. The practical fellowship of the house of God is limited, now that evil has come in, to those who recognise in a practical way the Lordship of Christ in their life and walk and associations. This is the second great principle of gathering to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in the early church.
To knowingly embrace in our fellowship those whom the Lord in His Word demands be excluded would be sectarian, because it would be setting arbitrary limits of fellowship that are not the true and correct limits prescribed by the Lord Himself in His Word.
Thus we have these two important principles that governed the early church in its fellowship, and these are the only principles set forth in the Word of God. Anything else, therefore, would be sectarian.
Let us briefly state again these two principles:
Membership of the body of Christ accredited by sufficient evidence gave one recognition as a member of the body, and this was the basis of their fellowship. All such members of the body were recognised as being one with the members of the body everywhere, wherever they gathered together. There was no man-made organisation that they had to join or arbitrary conditions of fellowship prescribed that had to be bowed to anywhere.
After evil came into the church the second great principle restricting the limits of fellowship was practical submission to the Lordship of Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:19-22). Any who showed practical insubjection to the Lord in their conduct, by continuing in sin, were by the authority of the Lord to be excluded from their midst regardless of any claim to being a member of the body of Christ.
Failure to apply this last principle among the saints led to a more serious development of evil in the early church. As Paul had forewarned wolves came to scatter the flock and men from among the disciples rose up, teaching perverse things and drawing away disciples after them (see Acts 20:29-30). False professors were brought in in great numbers, and the professing church became like a great house, having a mixture of vessels to honour and to dishonour (see 1 Tim. 1:3, 19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18, etc.). In the midst of the great confusion only God knew those who were His. Nevertheless the abiding responsibility of all who named the Name of the Lord was to “depart from iniquity” and “follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”. Calling Him Lord, they were to mean Lord in their hearts, and acknowledge His Lordship in a whole-hearted and practical way (See 2 Tim. 2:19-22, J.N.D. Trans.).
So here is an important principle that is a prerequisite to any church fellowship now that the professing church has become a mixed mass of vessels to honour and dishonour. Where necessary there is to be separation, by purging oneself out from what dishonours the Lord, and then a gathering to His Name alone with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart, following righteousness (submission to the Lord), faith (dependence upon Him alone), love (the activity of that characteristic trait of the divine nature, see 1 John 3:10-19; 4:7-8), and peace (the practical result of these three things). In other words those who separated themselves from what dishonours the Lord were to return to the two great principles that governed the fellowship of the church in the beginning. There is to be membership of the body of Christ, evidenced by divine life in activity, and a practical submission to the Lordship of Christ, in owning Him as Lord over all things that pertain to the house of God and over our own lives. Anything else would be sectarian with arbitrary conditions or limits imposed as a rule of fellowship.
The Word of God does not reveal, and history does not give us any evidence, that this important prerequisite for church fellowship was ever carried out then. But that does not change its divine authority and abiding application as long as Christ leaves the members of His body on earth.
A little over a century ago, however, many godly Christians saw this simple truth of the unity of the body of Christ. Through studying the Word of God they found that the many factions and denominations of Christendom were only sects that had built up each for themselves a system of tenets and practices that were often far removed from the simple truth of the Scriptures. And seeing also their responsibility to give the Lord His proper place in the midst of His own, they separated from these various sects of Christendom and gathered out to His Name alone.
But alas, as is well known, failure has come in as it did also in the early church. We must accept the humbling fact that man is the same in this twentieth century as he was in the first century. He has shown himself a failure in whatever position he is placed. Yet this does not change the truth that God has formed by His Spirit here on earth one body, of which every believer who has received the Spirit is a member. Nor does it change the responsibility of all those who profess to be members of that one body to act accordingly. The truth of the one body and the Lordship of Christ that governed the church in the beginning will remain so long as the Lord leaves His own on earth.
The failure that has come in should keep us humble and dependent upon God, but it should in no wise be made an excuse to give up God's truth. Failure does not change the truth of God. As long as we profess to gather to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are responsible before God to gather on the ground of the one body. This involves subjection to the Lordship of Christ and a walk in separation from all sectarian principles that would prescribe another ground or limits for our fellowship than what is set forth by the Lord Himself in His Word. Only as we do so can we avoid being sectarian.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
The Epistle to Philemon (1)
This epistle may be ranked with the pastoral epistles, first so called in 1703 by the commentator D. N. Berdot. It could, perhaps, better be regarded as an appendix to the Colossian epistle. On no account however should it be considered inferior. The arrival of the letter with its bearer, Onesimus, must have quite startled the recipient at first, but it and the Colossian epistle were from Paul. Any qualms Philemon (and the assembly) might have had were soon settled as Paul's letters were read.
Onesimus had been an unfaithful bondslave and had run away. Now he returns, doubtless with some concern himself as to the reception he might receive. But he brings with him Paul's commendation now he is “a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” (Col. 4:9). Tychicus accompanied Onesimus and had been an encouragement to him in returning after the domestic crisis and long absence. Of course, it would not only be a test for a returning runaway, but also for the household that had suffered some disruption. How did Philemon react to this letter when he first received it and contemplated its contents? This fine little book demonstrates the grace of Christ in daily life. Under the law of Moses one was not permitted to “deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master”. “He shall dwell with thee”, and further, “thou shalt not oppress him” (Deut. 23:15-16). Paul undoubtedly knew this law, but under grace we shall see righteousness and peace kissing each other (Ps. 85:10). The abundant reservoirs of the riches of God's grace are for us to draw on and use in the daily circumstances of life. The cross condemned sin in the flesh more deeply than ever the law was capable of doing. Yet the cross has brought God's grace to us in our wretched and low condition. God's grace has elevated us up on high. The grace of God that can work to reconcile a fugitive with his master has in a deeper way conciliated the lost sinner with God through the work of redemption in Christ Jesus.
Outline of Philemon
1. Introduction: 1-7 a) 1-3: Salutation
b) 4-7: Thanksgiving
2. Request: 8-21 a) 8-14: Paul's personal interest in Onesimus
b) 15-21: Paul's plea for Onesimus
3. Conclusion: 22-25 a) 22: Proposed visit
b) 23-25: Greetings
Paul is a prisoner at Rome. He writes in this personal communication not as an apostle but as a captive. It was his being in the service of Christ that had led to this present imprisonment. This fact would lend strength to the appeal he was about to make. He had forfeited his liberty for Christ's sake and the gospel's. He is able to appeal not as one who knows nothing of sacrifice but as one fully familiar with the cost involved. In his pastoral work he is one whose own circumstances and history are relevant.
“Unto Philemon our dearly beloved.” It is not unusual for Paul to write in such a warm way about his spiritual children. He had real affection for Philemon and he was not ashamed to express it.
“Our … fellow-labourer, And … our fellow-soldier” (verses 1 and 2)
Philemon was counted among Paul's co-workers, and Archippus as a fellow soldier. These terms are not used lightly. That would be unbecoming of the dignity of the apostle. Paul puts their respective ministries alongside his own. They were united in common service for Christ. They had known toil and conflict in the same field, in the cause of Christ.
Sister Apphia (verse 2)
I assume this sister was the wife of Philemon. She would have much to do with the practical management of the home. She would be concerned more than her husband about keeping house. This was her God-given role and the Christian woman is not to be denied her service in this sphere. A runaway slave would certainly inconvenience the mistress of the household. She would have to be addressed and her concerns dealt with before Onesimus would enjoy restoration to the domestic scene. Archippus is mentioned in Colossians 4:17 where he is encouraged to fulfil a service now unknown to us. It seems to me that since his name appears here in the letter, we may regard him as a close relation of Philemon, and perhaps an elder son. Paul gives the three sincere tributes and so opens to our view what this little family meant to him personally.
“The assembly which is in thine house”
There are fourteen such assemblies referred to in the New Testament and nine of these references are outside the book of Acts. It would appear that the use of domestic buildings for assembly meetings persisted for a long time. Nowhere in the New Testament are special buildings for Christian worship called for. An apparently incidental remark in our second verse shows how much has changed in relation to the present testimony.
“Grace … and peace” (verse 3)
Paul again uses that grand Christian word, grace (karis). The root of the word means to cause joy. In the Septuagint this same Greek word translates a Hebrew word which denotes the favour and blessedness received from one greater than oneself. The word “peace” is evidently equivalent to “Shalom” of the Old Testament. This peace is the healthy condition of soul enjoyed by those who experience God's grace. The source of these blessings is God. They are enjoyed by the believer as he has communion with the Father and the Son.
“My God … at my prayers” (verse 4)
Paul's use of the word “my” discloses to us something of the character of the relationship he was privileged to enjoy in communion. The use of the possessive elsewhere in his letters shows clearly that Paul knew his God personally. For him prayer was not a formalised reading out of a book or committing to memory a few suited, well thought-up lines. Prayer was the vital experience of fellowship with his God and Saviour. The phrase “at my prayers” suggests a decided and definite and daily routine. They were not occasional requests uttered when a contingency arose. Paul like the other apostles gave himself up to prayer (Acts 6:4).
The news of Philemon's continuance in love and faith was the cause of deep thanksgiving to God. How it encouraged the apostle when saints continued in divine things. We often see a bright start but then a fitful walk that leads to a discontinuation altogether. Paul owns with thanksgiving what God had done in Philemon's life, but he also prays that Philemon's faith might be manifested in practical power.
“Towards” occurs twice in this verse, both in the New Translation of J.N.D. and the A.V., but there is a difference in the original wording. A change of preposition occurs. The first is “pros”, towards, indicating an object. The second is “eis”, unto. The use of the two words emphasises the difference in relationship. Philemon's response to Christ reaches out through Him to his fellow believers. It was not an ordinary love but it had its origin in faith in Christ. Of course Philemon had an enlarged heart — his affections went out to all saints.
Paul desires that the fellowship of faith might be manifested in the reality of the power of new creation. The good things in Philemon came not from the natural heart. We cannot and should not be occupied with “natural graces”. It is the power of the indwelling Spirit that makes good Christ in us.
“We have great thankfulness and encouragement through thy love” (verse 7)
This is a splendid verse. We can learn much from it. Paul and Timothy are in prison, but joy and consolation are their portion because Philemon has shown them brotherly love. Philadelphian features are prominent in this man; he would keep Christ's Word and not be inconsistent with His Name. How often we are discouraged and feel the need to be lifted up from surrounding circumstances. We see here that even the apostle Paul could be in the gain of much encouragement. Philemon had chosen the more excellent way (12:31; 1 Cor. 13:13). It was this that gave such cheer to Paul. The display of love was practical, and it was refreshing. It was not mere benevolence, but a display of the Spirit's fruit.
Today we give little thought to refreshing the affections. Instead we find the saints harangued for a variety of faults and failings, imagined or otherwise. We are all aliens here, in a wilderness. The saints need a ministry which refreshes and invigorates. A presentation of Christ will get us saying, “It was good we were at the meeting”. It is good for brethren to be occupied with Christ and not themselves. Philemon did not spend his time rebuking or correcting the saints. He loved them and showed it. He gave them what was best and good.
The Shepherd of Psalm 23 leads His sheep beside still waters and into green pastures. Yet we see the sheep of His pasture at times treated like asses and brought to thermal springs (Gen. 36:24). Hot bubbling presentations are quite unsuitable for Christians. The beautiful flock of the Shepherd is now so scattered and famished. The hireling principle has been at work and done great injury. It is grievous in Christ's eyes, and should it not be grievous in our eyes who love both Him and His flock? Let us learn to impart refreshment to those for whom Christ died — wherever they may be found1. I believe there is a distinctly attractive power in ministering Christ Jesus to those of His flock.
The last word in verse 7 is not to be passed by: “Brother”. Here as elsewhere (cf. Acts 9:17) Scripture shows the dignity of using the term. Had not Christ said, “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren”? (Matt. 23:8). Besides, He is not ashamed to call us brethren. I do not want to be misunderstood in what I now write, but want only to stress the elevated simplicity that attaches to this beautiful word. Since there will only be brethren in the Father's house, let us be only brethren down here.
E. N. C.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
1In what pit of Christendom will you not find a straying lamb of Christ's?
The Life of David (9)
David, Having Died, He Yet Speaks
The words concerning Abel are borrowed to present the enormous influence of David which extended over many centuries after his death (Heb. 11:4). When most men die their influence comes to an end. It remains for a few that their influence continues to succeeding generations. History abounds with such men in the realms of government, philosophy, the arts, war and education.
Apart from the divine and perfect influence of the Son of God, a benign and effectual influence which has brought blessing into the lives of millions of people in every corner of the world, two men in the Old Testament stand out above all others as continuing influences for good long after their death. They are Moses the lawgiver and David the warrior king of Israel. To them could be added the commanding personality in the New Testament, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Our interest will be centred on David. After his death his name continues to occur both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. An examination of most of these references will throw into bright relief the amazing variety of influences that his life, character, and writings had upon others. It will be impossible to write at length on every mention of David. Let it be said that the value of a good man's influence after his death is a tribute to the uprightness of his life and the evidence that God was with him and inspired his utterances.
The Influence of a Father.
1 Chronicles 22:6-16; 1 Chronicles 28:9-10, 20-21; Proverbs 3:4-9
Before David died he showed great wisdom in seeking to guide his son, Solomon, into the right paths for God. A very important lesson for fathers who have sons. Hear the words of a man of God: “Keep the law of Jehovah thy God. Then shalt thou prosper, if thou takest heed to perform the statutes and ordinances which Jehovah commanded Moses for Israel” (1 Chr. 22:12-13). “Serve Him (Jehovah) with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Jehovah searches all hearts, and discerns all the imaginations of the thoughts. If thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cut thee off forever” (1 Chr. 28:9). “He will not leave thee, neither forsake thee, until all the work for the service of the house of Jehovah is finished” (1 Chr. 28:20). In simple language — be obedient to God's Word — God judges motives as well as acts — be valiant for God — God's righteous government accompanies sin — depend upon God for His lasting support in His work. These were wise, solemn and encouraging words from a father to a son. Did Solomon pay any attention to his father? Yes, he did. Listen to his words: “For I was a son unto my father, tender and an only one in the sight of my mother. And he (David) taught me, and said unto me, Let thy heart retain my words; keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom, get intelligence: forget it not” (Proverbs 4:3-5). In completing the building of the Temple Solomon adhered closely to his father's directions and God's glory filled the completed structure (1 Kings 8:11). Unfortunately, he didn't continue in his father's godly influence and example and incurred the wrath of God (1 Kings 11:9).
The Influence of a Worshipper. 1 Chronicles 29:10-22
David was a reverential worshipper of the God whom he knew so well. He had proved his God through the varied experiences of life. His psalms were written under various trials and pressures and through them he learned a great deal about the majesty, greatness and loving-kindness of his God. His outburst of praise to God indicates how deeply he had imbibed a knowledge of God: “Thine, Jehovah, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the splendour, and the majesty; — Thou art exalted as Head above all; and riches and glory are of Thee, and Thou rulest over everything; and in Thy hand is power and might”. When David had finished blessing God he exhorted the congregation to follow his example which they did willingly. How true the statement, “Example is better than precept”. Like David, Christians can influence each other in the way they worship the Father and the Son. Not in imitating each other, but in reverence and sincerity. In our worship there should not be any platitudes that roll easily off the tongue but lack sincerity or depth. The knowledge of the Father and the Son in the Spirit's power is the real substance of worship. The knowledge is objective and can be gained from the Scriptures. It should also be subjective — what is learned of them in daily experience.
The Restraining Influence of David. 2 Chronicles 8:11
What is described in 1 Kings 11:1-8 was contrary to the warning of Deuteronomy 17:14-17. Solomon was led astray after idols through the many Gentile women he married. Foremost among them was a princess of Egypt, a daughter of Pharaoh. His many marriages to women of other nations was wilful disobedience. God had said plainly, “Thou shalt make no marriage with them”, i.e. the nations (Deut. 7:3). Also he had forgotten or ignored God's Word when He said, “Or the wife of thy bosom … entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods … thou shalt not consent” (Deut. 13:6-9). Misplaced affections soon affect loyalty to God and His interests. Solomon built a house for the daughter of Pharaoh. There was nothing unusual about that. It was the normal responsibility of a husband towards his wife. But what was the motive behind building this particular house? Here we discover the influence of David. “My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy to which the ark of Jehovah has come”. Is Solomon virtually saying, “My father would not approve of an Egyptian, albeit a princess, in close proximity to the Ark of Jehovah”. Had David told Solomon about the solemn story of Uzzah? (1 Chronicles 13:6-14). Solomon's conscience restrained him and no doubt it was the memory of his father's reverence for the Ark of Jehovah that was the restraining influence. A most important lesson here. Sons! Remember with affection the godly reverence and behaviour of your fathers. Let them be a guiding influence in your life. A conscience enlightened by truth is a safe guide. A conscience governed by self-seeking is like a ship without a rudder or compass.
David's Precise Arrangements Influence His Son Solomon. 2 Chronicles 8:14-16
When David made his great preparations for the building of the Temple by his son, Solomon, he also made precise arrangements for the people who would serve in the Temple. A magnificent structure was one thing. The response to God was quite another. In chapters 23 to 27 of 1 Chronicles a precise account of people, their names and service, is given. It is to Solomon's credit that he adhered to his father's instruction regarding the pattern of the Temple and also, to the people who would serve in relation to the Temple. In this at least Solomon could exhort others, “My son, observe thy father's commandment” (Proverbs 6:20). The Bible has numerous histories of sons who did not follow the example and influence of their fathers. At the dawn of history Cain ignored the example that God had shown to Adam his father. What sad consequences followed! The forgiveness of the father in receiving his returned lost son as portrayed in Luke 15 is in sharp contrast to the intransigence and boorishness of his self-righteous son. The example of Jesus is worthwhile to recount in this context: “I do always the things that are pleasing to Him” (the Father — John 8:29). May the legacy left by worthy fathers influence their sons to be of use for the Christian testimony.
They Walked in the Way of David and Solomon. 2 Chronicles 11:16-17
For three years a remnant of Israel came to God's centre, Jerusalem, to seek Jehovah and to sacrifice to Him. Three years! Not a long time but it was something recovered out of the wreckage of a disastrous division. The period of three years was a time of strength to the kingdom of Judah where the throne of David was. David's influence was all around them. He captured the city from the Jebusites. The Temple was a standing witness to his affection for his God. His compositions would be sung in the Temple of worship. Such influences would greatly affect them in their behaviour and the testimony of Scripture is that they walked in the way of David. Division among believers is always a test of faithfulness to God. Where there is humility of spirit because of the disgrace brought on the Name of the Lord there will be some measure of recovery. Where there is arrogance and bitterness worse follows. Faithfulness in weakness brings blessing. Unfaithfulness and wilfulness breeds more strife and heart-break. As we read the Holy Scriptures we are confronted with the perfect walk of the Son of God and the walk of those who were faithful to Him. When we read the histories of the Christian testimony we are encouraged by the lives of noble men and women. In our life-time we have looked on the lives of devoted Christians. How does all this affect us? May it be said of us that we walked as Jesus walked, and we imitated the faith of those who spoke the Word of God to us (1 John 2:6; Heb. 13:7).
(To be continued, if the Lord will).