Proving God's Will
If we are to know the will of God, nothing can compare with considering the blessed Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He could say in perfect truth, “I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9). Is it possible for God's will to be done on earth when everywhere men's wills are set in bold defiance of God, with rebellion, confusion and corruption gaining the ascendancy in every nation? The answer is beautifully seen in the lowly Man of sorrows. He was faithful, obedient and devoted to the will of God in every detail of His life of simple, steadfast faith. This was shown supremely in His offering Himself in sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, that God might be glorified in the salvation of innumerable sinners. What an object to draw the heart of every believer to be deeply desirous of doing the will of God in his own short life on earth!
His Will in the Greatest Things
Can we know the will of God? In many things, yes; but we can only know this absolutely as it is revealed in the Word of God. For instance, we can know absolutely that every true believer has been predestinated to the great blessing of sonship, “according to the good pleasure of His (God's) will” (Eph. 1:5). Also, concerning the church of God, “now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” (1 Cor. 12:18). His Word declares this and therefore we may know it as being absolutely the will of God. Similarly, many other great blessings of God are declared in His Word as given to believers. He has revealed that it is His own will that has decreed such great blessing for us. We rightly rejoice in the majestic glory and grace and beauty of a will so full of goodness.
His Will as to Our Conduct
On the other hand, God has expressed His will in His Word as to many things that have to do with our practical daily lives. Do we rejoice in His expressed will as to what our conduct should be? We may know these things absolutely also, as for instance, “this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (1 Thess 4:3). Many other Scriptures show us clearly what kind of conduct is right and becoming. Let us be well acquainted with these portions through reading and meditation. Certainly in all of these things we may know what the will of God is, for God has declared it.
The Lord Jesus knew the will of God, but more than that, He did the will of God. We need therefore a word from His own lips, “If any man will do His (God's) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). If we desire to know the will of God let us first seriously test ourselves as to why. Do we want to find out whether it is acceptable to us or not? Or do we really desire to practise God's will? Of course God knows our motives. When the remnant of Israel came to Jeremiah to ask him to enquire of God, they told him they would without fail obey God's Word when it was given them (Jer. 42:5-6); but God knew that they dissembled in their hearts (v. 20) and only intended to obey if it suited their thoughts. If we do not have the honest intention of doing the will of God, or at least of being willing to do it, then we shall never be given the firm conviction of the teaching of God's Word. If we desire to do His will we shall know of the doctrine, that is, the teaching: it will be vital and real to us.
His Will as to Personal Experiences
There is an area in which God has not specifically expressed His will in Scripture and which is yet a matter of concern to every believer. This has to do with our experience — not questions of moral right or wrong but rather of what to do in relation to particular matters: whether to buy or rent a house, whether to move to another place, whether to visit a certain place or certain people, whether to buy a certain car, whether or how to help a certain person in need, and many other such things. There are some who are often very positive in regard to these things, saying, for instance, that they know it is God's will that they go to a certain place. But if Scripture does not say so they do not know this beforehand. Why should they tell others they know it? This is only pride in their supposed powers of discernment. We are warned in James 4:13 that all such boasting as this is evil. Time will prove whether it was God's will or not.
Romans 12:2 is most helpful in giving us a right perception of the will of God: “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Which is better, to know the will of God or to prove it in experience? Certainly the latter! But how may we prove it? On the negative side, by not conforming to the world: on the positive side, by being transformed by the renewing of the mind. The world's principles as to wise action are always those of expediency, material benefit, and present comfort. If one is offered an attractive job with good salary a long distance from an assembly, he will likely accept it quickly if he is conformed to the world. If he is transformed, he will honestly put the Lord's interests first, for his renewed mind is reasoning from the Lord's viewpoint. Then he will prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. This is the vital principle. If our minds are in this way renewed we shall be accustoming ourselves to learning the Word of God. When learning the will of God in greater things, these lesser things will also find us more discerning as to His will. As we read it, God's Word will often be seen to apply in certain cases of concern, for our instruction and encouragement, especially as our hearts are exercised to learn.
If we must make a rapid decision as to the “yes” or “no” of a certain matter it is wise to judge ourselves thoroughly so as to be content with either answer. Then lay the matter before the Lord. He may be fully depended on to give calm peace in regard to the decision to be made. He may in fact give no peace whatever in regard to the opposite decision. Yet even then we should not say we know what the will of the Lord is in reference to the matter; but we may have confidence in Him that He will see that we prove His will in experience.
If a matter gives exercise for some time, the Lord may allow this to keep our souls stirred with some real sense of dependence on His mercy. This calls for constant prayer as well as reading His Word with the matter of exercise in mind. In many cases certain things in the Word will be so impressed on the heart as to indicate what the will of the Lord may be; and one may therefore be at rest in the calm confidence that the Lord will definitely lead. It is the servant's place of childlike faith.
Let the believer always have this simplicity of confidence that the Lord may be fully depended on to lead him rightly. This is far from bold self-confidence, just as it is far from the impatience that acts as in a panic. For God is calm and deliberate in the carrying out of His will and faith in Him will give quiet calmness too.
If we desire to know the will of God, let us much more desire to do it, and therefore prove the preciousness of it in daily experience.
L. M. Grant.
In Romans 8:28 there is the following statement: “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God … ” For a long time I wondered exactly what “all things work together for good” might mean. In recent years I have realised that the “all things” are not only the pleasant events that occur in our lives but also those things which become a burden or trial. We feel it is a blessing when the burden is gone, and we can look back and review what has happened and appreciate how the Lord has brought us through. But there is also great blessing to be gained if in those same situations we put the burden or trial into the hands of the Lord and leave it there for Him to deal with. It is with these thoughts in mind that I would like to consider several Scriptures which highlight some aspects of the value of prayer and indicate how committed and energetic we need to be in our prayer life.
In Acts 2:42 we have a familiar verse: “they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” I would like to view the verse as giving four equal foundation stones. With these and the confidence that Romans 8:28 would produce there is a basis that will enable us to prove day by day that “all things work together for good to them that love God … ” In the midst of difficulties we are sometimes unable to see the good and need faith to believe what the Word of God says. In such circumstances the prayer foundation stone needs to be in constant use. With the above in mind I would like to consider the subject under the following headings:
Our role model
The pattern for prayer
The need for public and private prayer
Does prayer work?
How much effort do I need to make?
Who to pray for?
What about my burdens?
Our Role Model
There are many Scriptures which bring the Lord Jesus before us as a dependent Man. We read of Him rising up a great while before day in order to go out and pray (Mark 1:35). We read of Him on a mountain, continuing all night in prayer (Luke 6:12). On another occasion, having cast out the demon which the disciples were unable to cast out, He taught them that mighty works are only achieved through prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21).
In John 17 we learn something of the quality of the prayer life of the Lord Jesus. It was the Man who was here who prays while at the same time the chapter shows that this Man is the Son. In verse 9 He says: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine.” If we study the word “pray” in this verse we will see that it has the force of someone desiring or demanding something of another who is His equal. In the prayer of this chapter we are listening to a Divine Person, the Son, addressing the Father. Here the Lord is interested solely in His own, those who also belong to the Father, and not in the world in general.
In verse 15 the same intense desire is expressed in the prayer that His own be kept from evil — that which is the character of the world. The Lord does not ask that His own may be taken out of the world, but that they might be kept safe from its evil. In referring to “this present evil world” Paul also reminds us that this is its character (Gal. 1:4). I wonder if we sometimes forget what this world is really like, our spiritual senses being dulled. We become friendly with the world, which is something James warns us against very strongly: “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). If we live as the Lord desires, this will not hinder but rather enhance the impact of our gospel preaching. A separate life-style is a vital dimension of the witness to the truth of the gospel. The gospel of the grace of God saves eternally and for the remainder of our lifetime in this world.
Finally, from verse 20 we learn that it was not only the apostles that the Lord had in mind but you and me as well. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.” Here in this powerful, demanding prayer to the Father, the Lord also looks down through the years to you and me. What a blessed thought that we were in the mind of the Lord long before we were saved. His desire is that we might be preserved until He comes for us.
As we think of the need to pray for the preservation of the saints today, of the scope of our prayers and the strong intensity in which effective prayer is to be made, could we have a better role model than our Lord Jesus Christ? We will see later on from other Scriptures how this example was lived out in the lives of saints. If the Lord Jesus Christ was in this matter an example for them, He is no less such for ourselves today. Let us follow the example given and be a praying people.
The Pattern for Prayer
In Matthew 6:9-13 we have a pattern for prayer. This portion is not only well known amongst the saints but also in the world by those who have a religious interest, even though there may be no reality. When the Lord gave this example He was not asking His own to repeat the prayer parrot-fashion. The Lord guards against this in verse 7 by saying that we should not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. There are many religionists in the world (so-called Christians and non Christians) who do this very thing.
What can we learn from this pattern for prayer? In verse 9 we surely get a strong indication that when we address Divine Persons there must be an appropriate recognition of this fact, reflected in the language that we use. Scripture shows that there is a distinctive way of addressing a Divine Person which is entirely different to the trend of this world. The world attempts to remove all distinctions by treating everyone, including God, like the person next door. Regardless of how near we have been brought to God there is still an infinite difference and there will be even in heaven, where the saints will cast their crowns down at the Lord's feet. The pattern here in Matthew 6 brings before us the need for reverence.
Verse 10 reminds us of the need to be interested in what God is going to bring about in this world and of the vital importance of being obedient to His will.
Verse 11 reminds us of the importance of being thankful for what God provides for us day by day. This can be testing, especially when we need to give thanks in the canteen at work or in other public places, and have no other Christian support! However, I would not limit our thankfulness to the daily provision of food. Every step of the pathway is an opportunity to be thankful.
Verse 12 shows the need to keep in touch with the throne of grace.
Verse 13 is another opportunity to be thankful as we seek to be preserved. This reminds us of the prayer in John 17 already mentioned. Additionally we are brought to consider the One to whom we pray, touching upon His rights, His greatness, His power and His ability. This pattern for prayer is true whether we are praying to God, the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Need for Public and Private Prayer
Before we leave Matthew 6 let us consider verse 6. Here the Lord indicates that there are occasions when secret private prayer is required. In the setting of the chapter it is contrasted with those who performed public prayer to impress others. The pattern outlined in verses 9-13 was being totally ignored. But we need to be alone in prayer in order to bring our individual exercises and concerns to the One who can answer our prayers. Secret prayer may also be a shared exercise, involving husband and wife or a family, but what is prayed for in secret may not necessarily be suitable for articulation in the public prayer meeting.
If we turn to Acts 16:13 we find there a place “where prayer was wont to be made.” This was obviously public prayer. Godly Jews gathered for prayer on the banks of the river. Everyone would know about it, including those people of the city who possibly went to the riverside to wash their clothes. If you had asked in the city where the prayer meeting was you would have been told to go down to the river on such and such a day. How is your local prayer meeting? The people of your area may or may not be aware when prayer meeting night is but are we aware and a supporter of it? Let us not be uncommitted to the local public prayer meeting or where prayer is made in the open air just before the preaching commences, or on any other occasion.
D. G. Pulman.
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
In the Old Testament many names are used to speak of the Lord Jesus: The Holy One, My Servant, etc. In Isaiah 4:2-6 we find another name for this blessed Person who was to come to the nation of Israel: “The Branch of the Lord.” This description is very different from that which we find in Isaiah 53, “ … despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Here we read of One who is beautiful and glorious and excellent and comely. He is portrayed as a Redeemer for His people Israel, as we find so plainly described in Matthew's Gospel. In that Gospel we read of His rights to the throne of David. The first chapter establishes His rights to that throne and the angel was able to tell Joseph that He would save His people from their sins. Although He was despised and rejected by His own people, the Lord Jesus could still promise His disciples that they would have a part in His future kingdom. Although the Nation as a whole rejected our blessed Lord, there were those that could look on to the day when they would have high positions in His future kingdom. In Jeremiah 23:5-6 we read more about the future kingdom of the righteous Branch who would reign and prosper and also execute judgment in the earth. The Lord Jesus warned His disciples to be watchful and spoke in many parables of the future judgment which has been delivered into His hands. Although the disciples must have been staggered when they saw their Master taken captive and crucified, their sorrow was turned into joy when they saw Him in resurrection and received the commission to teach and preach in His Name.
In Zechariah 3:8 we read again of the Branch. He is there called “My Servant, the Branch.” This is fulfilled as Mark describes the faithful service of the Lord Jesus. In the first chapter we read: “Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face,” and John the Baptist prepared the way for Him as “One mightier than I … the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose” (Mark 1:2, 7). As we know, Mark writes in detail of the works, the miracles and healings of our blessed Lord, the Perfect Servant of Jehovah. His ministry began with the voice from heaven: “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The divine record finishes with the fitting climax: “He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
In Zechariah 6:12 we read: “Behold the Man whose Name is the Branch … and He shall build the temple of the Lord … He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” This reminds us of the sacred record of our Lord's perfect manhood as described in the Gospel according to Luke. There we have the details of His birth and His childhood, including the words spoken to His mother: “wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” (Luke 2:49). There too we read of His appearance in resurrection to His disciples. He is building a spiritual house today but the prophecy of Zechariah will be fulfilled in Him in a future day (Matt. 16:18; 1 Peter 2:5).
In Jeremiah 33:15 we read: “In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land.” The name given to the Branch here has its fulfilment in the Gospel of John — Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “the Lord our righteousness.” “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not,” John tells us (John 1:10). In the midst of the hypocrisy all around Him, He was ever faithful and true. In the midst of moral darkness He was the true light. The Lord Jesus Himself said: “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Later on He says: “The Father … hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man” (John 5:26-27).
From Our Archive
The Revelation of the Father (3)
John 14:1-9, 23; John 15:9-11; John 16:5-7
(Continued from page 96)
The main part of what I have in mind to say this evening is connected with a concept which is absolutely central to all the writings of John but particularly it is central to this upper room discourse. It is the concept which centres in the one original word which in these chapters is translated by the four English words, abide, dwell, continue and remain. Just as we are considering how the Lord Jesus, the only begotten Son, came from that realm inaccessible to all human powers, the eternal dwelling place of the Father and the Son, so the things that John deals with in his writings and above all the things that the Lord Jesus speaks to us about in this discourse, they are the things that remain, the things that abide, the things that last, the things that continue. The dwelling place that is put before us is a dwelling place that is not a temporary dwelling place but a dwelling place of perfect love and light and glory for all eternity.
Nobody has ever surpassed the thinkers of the Greek world that preceded John, in the powers of the mind of man alone, and they were ceaselessly questing for something permanent under the ever changing flux of the things on the surface. They said, truly there must be something real, that is the real essence of true existence, and the test was that it should be something that is lasting. It is against a background like this, of hopeless aspirations of a glimmer of a possibility, with no realisation at all of a fulfilment, that the Lord Jesus Christ speaks in these chapters to the disciples and to us. The apostle emphasises again and again that the things about which he writes are the things that remain. These are the things that are lasting. This is a permanent dwelling place of love and light and glory. Is not that a glorious concept to underlie all that he has to say?
Now two of the passages before us have two separate aspects, or perhaps three, depending on the way you look at it, of this idea of the permanence of the things of the Spirit, the things of God. But before coming to this main theme I would like to say a word or two about a statement in John 13:8. The remonstration with which the Lord Jesus Christ deals is the protestation of Simon Peter against his feet being washed. Without spending time going into the detail about feet washing I want to emphasise this statement: “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” For the time being I do not want to think of this in the negative sense; the circumstances in which he would have no part with Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was washing his feet and the Lord Jesus Christ will wash our feet if we permit Him to do so. He is our Advocate with the Father and one of the great results of that work is that we might have part with Him. What meaning does your heart put into that expression that this took place that Simon Peter and the others might have part with Him? What was His part? What was that which was really His joy, the delight of His heart and from which His spirit was never absent? It was His fellowship with the Father. It was His oneness with the Father. It was His rejoicing in the Father. The Father was His portion just as Jehovah was said to be the portion of the psalmist in Psalm 16. And it is that we might have part with Him that He performs this feet washing act. How very important it is that we should be brought ourselves to the reading of God's Word with the express purpose of putting our hearts, spirits and minds, into the hand of the Saviour that we might be cleansed by that Word day by day. He knows far better than we what we need. He can take that Word and apply it to us and the purpose of it is that we might have part with Him. No one could doubt that to have part with Him in the setting of these chapters is to be brought into the greater knowledge of the Father and the Father's Name.
What impresses me very strongly indeed about the passage in John 14 is that we have been thinking about that region, inaccessible to all human powers, which is the eternal home of the Father and the Son. The Son ever dwelt in the bosom of the Father and He was the One therefore who could declare Him. That region inaccessible to man has been made accessible by the knowledge that has been brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Is it not wonderful to hear the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ that this is the home of the Father and the Son? “In My Father's house are many permanent abiding places.” Is it not something which is wonderful beyond all expression that we are not talking about some abstraction of profound and difficult meaning? All that is contained in the idea of the Father's house, the Father's home, is here. As much as to say, “there is a special room for each one of you and if it had not been true, I would have told you.” No wonder that the Lord Jesus Christ says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Faith in God, faith in Me, would bring you to this knowledge that there is a home in heaven where the Father dwells and the Son dwells and I am going to prepare a place for you. There is very little said in this discourse about the sacrifice of Calvary and that precious blood by which we are being prepared for that home. But let us never forget that, as far as I read it, this supper was continuous with the supper of the Synoptic Gospels, when the Lord Jesus Christ took the loaf and the cup which spoke of His body given and His blood shed. All this is sure and settled ground when the Lord Jesus comes to speak to them like this and they therefore understand that they themselves are being prepared. Unworthy though they be in themselves and sinful, they are being prepared for that home. The Lord Jesus Christ has gone to that home to prepare that place for them and it is His presence there as a Man in heaven that is preparing the place, the permanent abiding place for every one of His own. It is our everlasting dwelling place because it is the Father's home, and the Lord Jesus Christ says, “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Now that is not given to comfort us in the face of death but it was given to comfort the disciples who had a towering missionary enterprise in front of them — to go out into the world and turn the world upside down. It was life and service and strife that was before them and they could go out to this from the upper room. It was the place where their hearts were forever founded in absolute certainty of their oneness with the Son and of being found in the Father's home. Now when it says here in verse 2, “In My Father's house are many mansions,” that is one of the few cases where the word that I have explained to you as having different translations in English, is given a translation outside of the four that I have mentioned. It really is a dwelling or abiding place. “In My Father's house are many dwelling places.” It rather looks as though what the Saviour had in mind as the picture was the temple, which strangely to our ears sometimes He called His Father's house, although it had to be cleansed by Him. He said: “Make not My Father's house an house of merchandise.” In His Father's house here in John 14 the dwelling places have the quality of permanence. It is dwelling with the Father and the Son and the love, light, joy, and glory of which these chapters speak.
Now by contrast with this and alongside it, is it not very wonderful to come down to verse 23: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words.” He will treasure and guard them in his heart and let nothing rob him of these words, for in them is eternal life. But the Lord Jesus Christ said, “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.” We are comforted by the knowledge that we are going onward with certainty to the Father's house. That is verse 2. But the Lord Jesus Christ says, in the meantime, if you love Me and keep My words, My Father and I will come and dwell with you. We will make Our dwelling place with you. This is not something that is done regardless of our behaviour, but only if we keep His words. What could surpass this? Sometimes young people say, “This is doctrine. We don't want doctrine, we want practice.” My dear brethren, old and young, if we have driven a wedge between doctrine and practice, it is not a wedge that is found in holy Scripture. The closeness of our hearts to God the Father and the realisation of His love for us is something that gives us the strength through which the disciples did such great things for God. This should make us seek with all earnestness to keep the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not wasted time to pour over these words and try by the Spirit of God to understand them so that we may keep them. We love Him, we keep His words and the Father and the Son make their dwelling place with us.
In between verses 2 and 23 we have this very striking statement where Philip makes a request in verse 8. “Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” There was more he wanted to see and to know and to experience but in the meantime he was quite certain of one thing: that to know the Father would suffice. He felt he had not got there. He wanted to grasp the Saviour's words and to get there because he realised that when he did get there it would suffice him. It is really the full knowledge of the Son because we shall never, never fully know the Son until we reach the point towards which He seeks to bring us and that is to know the Father. To see the Father, to realise the Father, to know the fact that He has loved us and made us one with His Son. This will and does suffice us.
In chapter 15 there is another aspect of this thought of the permanence of the things that belong to the Father and the Son. John 15:9 says, “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love.” Now it is a very strange thing that the translators have changed the word there. It does not much matter whether we make it the one or the other but it will help us to understand it if we make it the same. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: live ye in My love.” Live in it. Remain in it. Grow in it. “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall live in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and live in His love.” Here you see there is a certain sense in which this is tracking the theme to its source. I cannot possibly dwell upon what the chapter teaches about fruit bearing but there is one cardinal fact about the right understanding of this. That is that bearing fruit and keeping His commandments are the same thing. There is no other way of keeping His commandments except it comes as fruit. That does not mean it comes so naturally we do not need to care about it. We all know that if the ground is left to itself it does not bear the fruit we want. Fruit bearing demands the greatest diligence and care in the nurture of that plant. Now in this chapter the Father is the husbandman and He does certain things in order that we might bear more fruit. Then it goes on to speak about keeping His commandments, and bearing fruit is the same thing. I will illustrate this by the well-known passage about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). The fruit of the Spirit is love, therefore love is a fruit. But the Lord Jesus Christ says, “This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” and therefore love is a commandment. Here the Lord Jesus Christ is explaining how He lives in the love of the Father. “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall live in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and live in His love.” The Lord Jesus kept His Father's commandments. He lived His life in obedience to God the Father and He lived in His love. Now He says, If you keep My commandments you will live in My love. One of the great purposes of this upper room discourse and the prayer that follows is to establish the disciples in the fact that the place that He occupied on earth as the sent One of the Father is the same as the disciples place relative to Him who had sent them. As the Father loved Him so He loves us. As He kept His Father's commandments and lived in His love so we, if we keep His commandments, will live in His love. That is another aspect of this permanence of the dwelling place that we have for our spirits and our hearts. While we are living here in this evil world we can live in the Father's love and we do it by keeping His commandments.
Now in closing I will say a word or two on John 16. In John 7 the Lord said, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent Me. Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come.” There is indicated the most deadly doom for those who opposed Him: “Where I am, thither ye cannot come.” In John 13 almost the same thing is repeated to the disciples and they found it something very difficult to understand: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.” But when it comes to Peter in John 13, He says: “Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.” Now in John 16:5 the Lord says, “Now I go My way to Him that sent Me.” He was going away to the Father and the fact that He was going away to the Father was the answer to the mystery that surrounded these words. “And none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?” In these verses there are three words used for “going away.” It is another case where a very close study is helpful. But the word in that verse is the mere fact that He was going to depart, He was removing His presence from them. “Now I go My way to Him that sent Me; and none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.” Because you are imperfectly informed about the truth of the situation, you regard My going away as loss. You regard My going away with sadness. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away.” The point about that going away is that it is expedient to you that I rob you of the absolute benefits of My presence with you. “For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come.” The word there for “go … away” means that He is going away with an object. He is going away to do something that is a complete answer to their present problems. And therefore it was expedient that He went away to the Father because the greater blessing of the coming of the Comforter and all that He would do for the disciples would be theirs because He went away.
We have touched two or three principle themes out of these chapters concerning what they say for us about the declaration of the Father's Name and the great purpose is that we might have part with the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that more and more, on the one hand we will read His Word so that it might be the means of the Saviour's cleansing us from daily defilement, that we might be fitted for His Word and His presence, and on the other hand that we might treasure these wonderful words spoken in the inner circle of that upper room so that we might have part with Him.
J. S. Blackburn.
“The Sermon on the Mount” (12)
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18)
The teaching and works of the Lord Jesus were so entirely different from those of the scribes and Pharisees that some of His audience might have thought He would put an end to everything they had known as Jews. The Lord counters these thoughts in this passage of the “sermon on the mount,” only recorded in Matthew's Gospel, in which He speaks about the law (Matt. 5:17-48).
THE LAW OF SINAI
Before entering upon the contents of these verses, I want to occupy you briefly with the term “law,” which often occurs in the Old as well as in the New Testament. Apart from meaning “human rules or orders” (Dan. 6:8; Rom. 7:1-2) the word “law” occurs in the New Testament meaning “the legal principle” (Rom. 7:21; Rom. 8:2). Also, in view of the divine law in the Old Testament, there are differences in meaning.
1. The law of Sinai (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:17).
2. The five books of Moses (the Torah), according to an old division, the first of the three parts of the Old Testament (Luke 24:44).
3. The entire Old Testament (John 10:34), several times also called the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17; Matt. 7:12; Matt. 11:13).
God gave the Sinaitic law to His people Israel after their liberation from Egypt. With its juridical, ceremonial and moral commandments it was from the beginning meant for that people only (Deut. 4:8; Rom. 9:4), just as the Old Covenant was only made with Israel. Christians often overlook this fact.
The law of Sinai was a God-given system of claims on, and promises for, His earthly people. The moral laws were, so to speak, God's minimal claims on natural, unregenerate men. The ceremonial laws regulated the worship and service of the people and were at the same time a shadow of things to come which became reality in Christ (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1).
Since the law was from God, it was holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12). If the Israelites had been able to keep it, it would have led them to life and righteousness (Lev. 18:5; Deut. 5:29). But this was impossible since natural man lacks the power to fulfil God's claims. Thus the law could only bring knowledge of sin without imparting the power to overcome it (Rom. 3:20). It revealed sin and this led to death and condemnation (Rom. 7:10; 8:3).
The Lord Jesus took upon Himself the curse of the law when He died upon the cross. In this way He has redeemed from its curse all those who believe in Him. Every believing Jew is therefore no longer under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13), and he is also free from the law because Christ is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 6:14; Rom. 7:4; Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24-25).
It is contrary to God's revealed will if Christians put themselves under the law. Usually they do not mean the whole law including its judicial and ceremonial orders, but only its moral commandments, i.e. the 10 commandments. For the observance of these the reason given is that a Christian is not allowed to kill, steal, etc. But a believer will avoid these and all other sins, not because he observes the law, but because he has received a new life and possesses the Holy Spirit as a source of strength which enables him to go beyond the minimal requirements of the law.1
Yet again and again it is taught in Christendom that although the law was given to the people of Israel, it is still valid for all peoples and therefore also for Christians, since God would not operate a double standard for mankind. Apart from Matthew 5:17-48, Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 4:5-8, Isaiah 2:2-3 and Romans 3:19 are quoted as reason, but, among other things, history and prophecy are being mixed up. God is unchangeable in His nature but His relationships to men are not at all times and in all circumstances the same.
DESTROY — FULFIL
In Matthew 5:17 the Lord Jesus spoke to those belonging to the earthly people of God. His disciples and the multitudes of men surrounding Him were Jews. The kingdom of heaven had been promised to the “sons of the kingdom.” Therefore He first turned only to this people (Matt. 15:24). As we saw when considering the beatitudes, we can apply His words also to the present time of “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” But we must not forget that the Lord Jesus first of all addressed only His own people, to whom God had once, at Sinai, given His law.
“Think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfil” (Matt. 5:17). The preaching of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and his call to repentance, as well as the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, announced something completely new. But this did not mean that everything that preceeded this had become invalid. The law and the prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) were not destroyed by Christ. Quite the opposite, He was come to fulfil them. “Fulfilling” does not only mean obedience to the Word of God, because this could only have referred to the law, and not to the prophets. “Fulfilling” therefore means here “to confirm” and “to bring to fulfilment.” The entire Old Testament testified of Christ and He was its fulfilment (John 5:39).
1The fact that the literal fulfilment of the fourth commandment, which demands the observance of the Sabbath, is not required, is a peculiar inconsistency of Christian supporters of the law. This shows that one does not want to put oneself completely under the system of the law, but in this point resorts to the grace of God.
IOTA AND TITTLE
“For verily I say unto you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all come to pass” (Matt. 5:18; cf. Luke 16:17). In this verse the Lord Jesus speaks only of the law. This does not, as in verse 17, mean the five books of Moses, but the commandments of the law of Sinai.
Heaven and earth will pass away after the end of the thousand-year reign of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:11). Then there will be a new creation with new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). But before this, during the millennium, Israel as a people will be accepted again by God on the ground of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-35; Ezek. 36:24-27). God will put His law into their inward parts and write it on their hearts, and Israel, in contrast to previous times as well as today, will be happy to observe it. Also the instructions for the feasts and the sacrifices will again be followed. But instead of being apart and separated from the nations, as previously, Israel will be the centre and model for all peoples (Isa. 2:2-4; Zech. 14:16).
The iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (like the yod in Hebrew), and the tittle is a hook-shaped mark which in Hebrew distinguishes various letters which would otherwise be the same. If according to the words of our Lord not even the smallest parts of the written law will pass away, how much less the instructions once given by God! What a testimony to the verbal inspiration of this part of the Word of God, the Bible! Nothing of the law will pass away until it has been fulfilled in the millennium in a way that has never before been the case in the history of Israel. The words “till all be fulfilled” (cf. Luke 21:32) point to the future time of the glorious reign of Christ as King, in which all the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled and all the words of the law will be observed.
If the Lord will, the next part of the series on Psalm 119 will appear in the next issue
The Tongues of Men and of Angels
1 Corinthians 13:1
The languages of men are many. Most, but not all, have the Word of God translated into their own tongue. How did all these languages come into existence? They are the consequence of God's judgment at Babel when “the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them … ” (Gen. 11:9). In Genesis 10:5 we read: “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue … ” It is here that the word “tongue” first occurs in the Bible. The Hebrew word used is “lah-shohn” (Strongs No. 3956) and is translated tongue and language. The words used refer to ordinary speech.
But what about angels — what language do they speak? If we suppose that they have a separate tongue, as some have deduced from 1 Corinthians 13:1, we may be sure that they would have only one language. Which of the angels were judged by God at the plain of Shinar? It was only fallen mankind who could conceive the notion of building “a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; … lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). Clearly, angels did not need to reach unto heaven and neither were they judged with confusion of their tongue! But are we sure they do not speak another language? Reflect a little on their purpose. The word ev-angel-ist has at its root the word angel, meaning messenger. Angels are messengers. Their task was to bring messages from God to men and women.
A brief review of some Biblical examples will demonstrate this point clearly. Read Genesis 16, where an Angel1 spoke with Hagar. What language was used? Of course it was one Hagar understood. In Exodus 3 the Angel of Jehovah spoke with Moses from the midst of the burning bush. He had no trouble in understanding what was being said to him. Now read Judges 13:1-5. When Manoah and his wife were told of the birth of their son Samson, what language did the Angel use? Was His exalted message readily understood by this rural couple? Of course it was. The narrative shows they spoke together with the Angel. In 2 Kings 1:3 Elijah is addressed by an angel. The words he used are recorded and we can understand with our rational faculties what was said. An angel also spoke with the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 1:9ff.). These Old Testament conversations were evidently all conducted in Hebrew and were comprehensible conversations when normal human language was used. We read of no mutterings or incomprehensible gibberish coming forth from the lips of angels. If you turn to Isaiah 8:19 you will find a very dubious group chirping and muttering. Scripture records that there is no light in them. In the New Testament angels are again found bringing their glorious messages to surprised but comprehending hearers. We have no alternative but to conclude that they were spoken to in Aramaic or Greek. Zechariah, Joseph and Mary well understood the holy communications that reached their ears in Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1 and 2. Acts 8:26 furnishes another example in Philip being told to go toward the south, to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Cornelius presumably was addressed in Greek by the angel (Acts 10:3). In Acts 12:7 the sleeping captive, Peter, is spoken to by an angel.
1It would seem that the Angel of Jehovah in Genesis 16, Exodus 3 and Judges 13 is Jehovah Himself. In Mr. Darby's translation the “A” of “Angel” is capitalised.
In none of these instances, nor in any others in the Bible, will you find angels uttering ecstatic, unintelligible sounds. How does this all square-up with what is found in the modern charismatic movement? Apart from Satan having the power to mimic real languages, it appears to me that the generality of tongues speakers are deceived by some phenomena found in ecstatic religious ceremonies. Of course Satan is behind the deception, for he is the father of lies (John 8:44). Claims to apostolic power and gifts arose in the church at Ephesus, evidently at the turn of the first century. The apostles had nearly all been called home and perhaps only John was then alive. The Lord commended the Ephesian assembly in their correct judgment of these pseudo-apostles. “Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2).
The renowned researcher into religious cults, A. J. Pollock, threw out a challenge that there should be a reliable test made of the reality or otherwise of the claims of the Pentecostal systems. He suggested “that a number of able Christian linguists should be invited to listen to these tongues. In the main, we believe, they are gibberish. They are not real languages at all. We have been told that in some cases where real languages are spoken, the persons speaking have rolled out floods of obscenity. In that case the tongue is clearly Satanic, for the Scriptures repeatedly speak of unclean spirits.” (from “Modern Pentecostalism, Foursquare Gospel, Healings and Tongues: are they of God?” published by Central Bible Truth Depot, London 1945). His suggested test has been proposed to various “angel” tongue speakers but none have accepted the challenge for fear of demonstrating that their so-called tongue has no linguistic structure at all and a marked lack of complex creatorial order found with true language.
My conclusion is that the modern claims are generally false but if a known tongue is uttered the evidence I have been able to evaluate is that it would not be from the Holy Spirit but an unclean demon. Far from having the tongues of God's angels we see men deluded by fallen angels. Since the revelatory gifts have ceased,2 we may regard modern tongues speakers as false prophets. This is also consistent with our other conclusions.
If you have fallen into the trap, it will be best to repudiate the false gift and confess the matter to God without delay. The unclean spirits will not merely deceive but will also defile those persons who have spiritual fellowship with them. The danger is great and we must not underestimate the powers of darkness to intrude even among those professing to be outside the religious world.
2cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8 and James 1:25 to see the use of “perfect” in relation to the Word of God. See also Hebrews 2:3-4 to confirm the interpretation of Mark 16:17-18, that the special sign gifts were to confirm that the new dispensation being introduced was of God.
“Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.” (Proverbs 25:14)
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
The Life of David (10)
David's Influence in the New Testament
(Continued from page 73)
The Entry into Jerusalem of Jesus, the Son of David, the King of Israel.
Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44
It has been calculated that the period from the time when Nehemiah requested from king Artaxerxes the freedom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed city and its walls, until the entry of Jesus, the Son of David, into Jerusalem, covers 69 weeks1 of Daniel's prophetic vision (Neh. 2:1-8; Dan. 9:25). “Messiah the Prince” of Daniel 9 is the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 21. The prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-17 was partially fulfilled in the lowly way that He entered into the city. (Note the difference in Revelation 19 when He comes riding upon a white horse). It was not fulfilled in its entirety because Zechariah's prophecy foretells the blessing of Israel and the Gentile nations and the judgment of the opposers of God. Note in Zechariah 9:9 that salvation is mentioned. That is omitted in the quotation in Matthew 21. The time for Israel's salvation had not yet come.
Outwardly it appeared to be a triumphant entry. A great crowd rapturously welcomed the prophet from Nazareth. The enthusiasm reached a very high pitch. Clothes and tree branches were strewn in the path of the Son of David. Expectancy was rife among the people. “Blessed be the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10). The time of release had come. The Roman yoke would be broken and Israel would be free. The glowing prophecies of their prophets were about to be fulfilled. Hosanna (Save now) was the cry to Jesus. Alas, the time had not yet arrived. Daniel's prophecy indicated that Messiah would be cut off (a sacrificial expression) and have nothing. This was fulfilled when Jesus was rejected by the leaders of the Nation and crucified. Thus Jesus' reign over Israel and that Nation's blessing were put in abeyance. David, the son of Jesse, knew the joy and dignity of being anointed king of Israel. He also knew the bitterness of rejection by the people he was anointed to govern before he exercised the power of an undisputed monarch. His greater Son knew that in a fuller way than David ever did. But eventually, like David, his greater Son will subdue all His enemies and be undisputed ruler of the whole earth.
1 69 weeks of years — 69x7=483 years
While Jesus is described as meek in Matthew 21 there are features of power exhibited by Him. Creatorial power is seen in Him sitting on an unbroken colt (Mark 11:2, 7). Kingly power is expressed in ridding the Temple precincts of evil practices, and just judgment on a fruitless Nation is figuratively seen in the cursing of the fig tree. Note too how Jesus quoted David's Psalm 8:2. “Yes; have ye never read,” was a rebuke to the chief priests and scribes. Of all the people they should have known what David wrote. Empty religion often neglects the sources of its faith but Jesus appreciated what the children said. It was in stark contrast to the silence of the leaders except in objections. Children's appreciation of Jesus, the Son of David, should never be despised.
If Therefore David Call Him (the Christ) Lord,
How is He his Son?
Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44
The Pharisees were unable to answer the hard question that the Lord Jesus put to them. They agreed that the Christ (the Anointed) was of David's seed. They also agreed that Psalm 110 is a Messianic Psalm and that in verse 1 David had referred to the Lord as his Lord. How then was the Christ David's son and at the same time his Lord? The two statements appeared to be contradictory. It was an enigma to them. They could not answer the question and Jesus did not enlighten them. The answer was standing before them but they did not have faith to perceive it. Perhaps they would agree that Jesus was the Son of David. That was easily established. He was the son of Joseph who was a son of David (Matt. 1:20; Luke 3:23). They could not understand and would not believe that Jesus was the Lord referred to in Psalm 110:1. The truth of the matter lay in the incarnation of the Son of God who was the Anointed of God (Acts 10:38; Matt. 3:16). The Anointed was standing before them, come of David's seed according to flesh (Rom. 1:3; John 7:42). Jesus was David's Lord, an affirmation of the Deity of Jesus. He was also a Son of David, an indication of His true humanity. Note that Jesus never suggested that He was not of David's seed. He knew that He was. The question that He submitted to the Pharisees was a test and they failed the test. The time was future when Jesus would be seated at God's right hand in glory. This incident in Matthew 22 reveals David's influence. His psalm was used by the Lord Jesus to silence the proud Pharisees. The Lord Jesus credits David with speaking by the Holy Spirit's power and inspiration (Mark 12:36). He was among the many writers in the Old Testament who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:11; 2 Peter 1:21).
David was one of the five persons who spoke of Jesus as “My Lord.” The others were Elizabeth, Mary of Magdala, Thomas the apostle and Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Luke 1:43; John 20:13; John 20:28; Phil. 3:8). Praise God that we who are believers in Jesus can say along with Paul, “To us there is … one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6).
Bethlehem (House of Bread), the City of David.
Luke 2:4, 11
Two places in the Bible are called David's city: Jerusalem and Bethlehem. David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and the stronghold of Zion was called David's city (1 Chr. 11:4-9). When David died he was buried in his city (1 Kings 2:10). There are numerous references in the books of Kings and Chronicles to Jerusalem the city of David, but it is upon a small town called Bethlehem that our attention is focused.
Bethlehem in Judah was a favoured town. It was honoured by being known as David's city. It was marked out for specific honour in the prophecy of Micah 5:2: “And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall He come forth unto Me who is to be Ruler in Israel: whose goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity.” The Ruler of Israel (not David or any other merely human king), the Eternal God become flesh (come of David's seed), was to be born there. Great cities are mentioned in the Bible: Ur of the Chaldees, Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem, Rome, and many others, but they were all passed by. The little town of Bethlehem was chosen for the coming into the world of God's beloved Son.
Bethlehem was important in the life of David, the son of Jesse. His great-grandfather Boaz, his grandfather Obed, his father Jesse and he were all born there (Ruth 2:4, 11; Ruth 4:17; 1 Sam. 16:1; 20:6). It was there that Samuel the prophet and judge of Israel anointed him to be king in the place of the unfaithful and rejected king Saul (1 Sam. 16:1-13). That was high honour for David. It was in his own town that David looked after his father's sheep and did his duties faithfully (1 Sam. 17:15, 34-35). This remarkable blend of royal dignity and lowly service in David was later seen in divine perfection in the Son of God. The incident involving David's three mighty men enacted at Bethlehem expressed the devotion they had towards him. When David expressed a desire to have a drink of water from the well in Bethlehem, his men broke through the ranks of the enemies, the Philistines, and brought the water to their leader and king. David, greatly touched by their courage and devotion, would not drink the precious water, but poured it out to Jehovah as a drink offering. A dangerous mission successfully accomplished was finalised by an offering to Jehovah (1 Chr. 11:15-19).
The greatest thing that ever happened in Bethlehem was one of the most astounding events in the history of time. The prophecy of Micah 5:2 was fulfilled when Emmanuel (God with us) was born there. It is impossible for the human mind to understand the wonder of the incarnation of the Son of God. The believing and reverent soul accepts the plain but profound statements of Holy Scripture. Reasoning gives way to worship. The Word became flesh (John 1:14). The fulness of the time was come and God sent forth His Son (Gal. 4:4).
Throughout the world numerous places have plaques fixed to houses or walls announcing to any who are interested that great persons, famous or infamous, were born there. See Psalm 87:4-6. Those who have visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem will remember that in the grotto where it is claimed Jesus was born there is a silver star on the marble floor. On the star is the inscription “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST” (Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born). However interesting that may be, the intelligent believer in the Lord Jesus bows in worship because the incarnation of the Son of God commenced a series of events which culminated in His atoning death on Golgotha's hill in Jerusalem. David's city, celebrated in song and prose, will always be remembered as the place where Jesus, the Son of David, was born.
The birth of Jesus did not go unnoticed (Luke 2:1-20). Just as David had done many centuries before, shepherds were caring for their flocks. Suddenly all was bright with glory and an angel of the Lord announced to the frightened shepherds a most wonderful message. A Saviour had been born to Israel in David's city. He is Christ the Lord. The sign for them to see was a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The sign of Isaiah 7:14 was now fulfilled — Emmanuel had arrived. After the angelic message was delivered a multitude of heavenly beings made heaven ring with praises and glory to God. The shepherds immediately made their way to the city of David to see what had been made known to them from the Lord (Jehovah). They found the Lord of Glory as a little babe. He was lying in a manger: strange place for the Creator of the universe. His parents, Joseph and Mary, affectionately caring for the infant Jesus, were also seen by the shepherds. The shepherds were uniquely blessed to have seen such a sight. Their witness of what they saw created wonderment that has never ceased. The shepherds glorified and praised God. That too has never ceased.
About two years after this great event wise men from the east, presumably Gentiles, were guided by a divine arrangement to a house where Jesus was with His mother. The crowds of people that were in Bethlehem for registration in the census had gone (Luke 2:1-3). Now there was accommodation available for Jesus and His mother. The wise men came with their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Perhaps they represented the riches of their countries. The figurative meanings of the gifts is certainly significant — gold representing the Deity of Jesus; frankincense, the sweet odour to God of His perfect pathway; myrrh, the sufferings of the cross. Whatever meanings we attach to these gifts, one thing is evident: they were worthy gifts from Gentiles to the One who was born King of the Jews. The evil king Herod and the proud religionists made no effort to seek out the King that was born, to worship Him. Herod did want to know where He was but in order to kill Him. The religionists were indifferent. They knew their Scriptures but they had no heart for their Messiah.
The ways of God are past finding out (Rom. 11:33). A Roman emperor gives a decree for a census to be held in his empire (Luke 2:1-2). Joseph, a son of David, takes his pregnant wife Mary to the city of David to be registered (Matt. 1:20; Luke 2:3-5). Mary gives birth to a baby boy (Luke 2:6-7). Micah 5:2 is fulfilled and Isaiah 7:14 also.
(Further articles in this series to follow, if the Lord will)
Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (2)
(Continued from page 56)
(2) “The faithful and true witness”
The way the Lord presents Himself to John in Revelation 1 encompasses His different attributes and glories as Priest, King and Judge, referred to again in the seven epistles of chapters 2 and 3. But in the last two letters, especially in verses 7 and 14, we find several new elements. This shows that despite all the public failure, it pleases the Lord near the end of the history of the church here on earth to present Himself to His people in a special way. He desires to draw their attention to Himself and to His own character.
If we had visited Laodicea we might have been struck by the material prosperity apparent in the magnificent and highly organised church services. Perhaps there were eloquent speakers, wonderful seminars and big audiences — in short, something for everyone. However, what was essential was missing. The Lord was outside of it all and they didn't even know it! Should the church not be in the scene where her Beloved is rejected, for the delight and satisfaction of her Bridegroom and Master, and under the approval of God's eye?
When the church here on earth has failed to be a faithful and true witness, the Lord Himself draws the attention of the church to its unfaithfulness. The Lord Jesus is the true Master of the house and He likes to delegate many tasks to His disciples. When they follow His instructions the servants have fellowship with Him in these various forms of service. Thinking of faithful witnesses, the Greek word can be translated “martyrs” as well. Many saints come to mind: men like Stephen (Acts 7), Paul (Acts 20), Timothy and the long list in Romans 16. However, even in their days there were believers who forsook the true veterans of God's testimony. There is no difference today. But when these believers fail, attention is drawn to the Lord. He will never compromise, whereas the church is guilty of this. He will never negotiate truth, neither be misled by outward appearance (compare 1 Sam. 16). He was always ready to pay the price for His faithfulness.
The need for reality
God wants to see truth in the inward parts (Ps. 51:6), as well as reality in our words and actions. This was no longer the case in the assembly at Laodicea in John's days and neither is it in our days. The Lord is the true Witness. We could connect this also with what we saw in regard to His Name “Amen.” God is looking for truth in His children, not only on Lord's day, but in all the different areas of our lives. Why? In order that they may be His representatives in this world, as was the case with the Lord Jesus when He was walking here. This truth should also come out in our relationships and activities within the context of God's assembly. It would lead too far away from this study to go into the many passages which speak of this point (of truthfulness, reality, faithfulness). Let us conclude for now that despite the failure in the public testimony as it has been entrusted to the hands of men, the Lord Jesus always maintains what is needed for the glory of God. Again, how great He is!
Faithful and true
The first qualification, “faithful” (connected in the Greek with the word faith1 or belief, and also with obedience), reminds us that the Lord is a reliable witness. He exercises His present function as Witness in true dependence upon and in communion with God. Did He not do this also in His walk and in the race of faith on this earth? (Heb. 12:1-3). Is it not because of a lack of faith and of dependence that the church has failed?
The other qualification, “true,” emphasizes His personal integrity as well as His loyalty to the truth of God, as Romans 15:8 explains in such a marvelous way. Psalm 45:7 confirms that He did it because of His love for God's rights: there we find His motive. Thus our Lord Jesus was prepared to become the true Bondman down here for the truth of God (Phil. 2). Another passage which comes to mind is Luke 22:24-27. The church on earth has failed but our Lord in heaven remains a true Servant. He maintains the glory of God in testimony in His people here on earth, as He did this during His walk through this world. This is what we find in the epistle to Laodicea.
1It is striking to see that Moses said of his generation that they lacked faithfulness, Deut. 32:20; the word amen (see above) is used in this context!
It is remarkable to see how the New Testament writers were prepared to take the place of bondservants of God and of Christ. This character of bond-service is entirely lost in Laodicea. They want to rule instead of serving (compare 1 Cor. 4:8). How appropriate then to be brought back to the true Bondservant who presents Himself in all His glories to attract our hearts and to challenge our consciences. Are we willing to take the place of a bondman as well?
The Lord's and God's faithfulness2
2About 600 verses in the New Testament contain a noun or a verb linked with our word faith or believe. Such features in God should be seen in the believer today. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for truth is often translated with faithful(-ness).
The New Testament puts special emphasis on the faithfulness of God. In view of the needs of God's people in the wilderness, 1 Corinthians 1:9 links the present fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord with the faithful God who called us. Against the background of a failing and unfaithful people our attention is drawn to the One who controls all circumstances and leads us through trials (1 Cor. 10:13). During the riot at Ephesus Paul experienced God's compassions and after this he could again write to the Corinthians about God's faithfulness (2 Corinthians 1:18; “true” in King James Translation). Thus we could trace God's faithfulness through the New Testament: He is faithful (Heb. 10:23; Heb. 11:11) and abides faithful (2 Tim. 2:13).
It is especially to be noticed that our Lord in His walk on this earth was characterised by faithfulness. Revelation 1:5 speaks of Him as “the faithful witness,” referring to His walk on earth, whereas at present He is “the firstborn from the dead,” and in a soon coming day he will be seen as “the prince of the kings of the earth.”3
3In Revelation very often things are composites of three, e.g.: past, present, future; features of the Divine Trinity; glories of the Lord in three categories.
Today in the glory (2 Tim. 2:13) and as presenting Himself to John and to us (Rev. 3:14), He is faithful. Not only a faithful High Priest (Heb. 2:17), or Servant (Heb. 3:5; 8:1f), or Advocate (1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1f), but also as this great Witness today (Rev. 3:14), in contrast to the condition of the Christian profession. Of course, His people on earth should be faithful, as Timothy was (1 Cor. 4:17), and so many others have been through the grace of God. The suffering church in Smyrna is challenged to be faithful (Rev. 2:10). In the deviation in Pergamos, Antipas remained faithful (Rev. 2:11). In the future, when appearing to this world, the Lord will be seen as the Faithful and True (Rev. 19:11). What a privilege then for believers today to follow Him in faithfulness!4
4 See also the seven references about the faithful in the book of Proverbs: Prov. 11:13; Prov. 13:17; Prov. 14:15; Prov. 20:6; Prov. 25:13; Prov. 27:6; Prov. 28:20.
A. E. Bouter
(To be continued, if the Lord will)
News from the Field
"Many, O LORD my God, are Thy wonderful works which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee: If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered" (Psalm 40:5)
That verse reflects some of our feelings and gratitude for what the Lord has done during the three months we were able to spend in Nigeria, a country with more than one hundred million inhabitants. Approximately forty percent are Moslem and the rest bear the name of Christians. In the south where most of our assemblies are located, the Christian population is in the majority. Denominationalism is one of the tools used by the enemy to blind eyes to the all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus. But we are thankful that the Lord has His people there and that the light of the gospel and the testimony unto the Name of the Lord Jesus continue to shine forth in a country full of violence and corruption.
The love of our dear brethren which we experienced was heart warming. The fellowship with God's people living in very difficult circumstances has brought us to a deeper understanding of the verse in 2 Corinthians 4:17: "… our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." How wonderful to let the light of the coming day shine upon our present pathway.
The Lord provided a comfortable room for us in the Guest House of a local college in Yaba, Lagos. The location was used as our base and provided the opportunity to receive many brothers and sisters for counselling and fellowship. A brother from one of the assemblies functioned as our driver in his own vehicle. This enabled us to visit the assemblies almost every night of the week, in the five assemblies in Lagos and in the new assembly in Akute near Lagos, in Ogun State. We were happy to see that all the assemblies are continuing to grow not only in number but also in depth. Of course, much teaching and practical admonition is needed.
In this large city of 12 million people the fields are white to harvest. Our brethren are active in open air gospel preaching and tract distribution. We were able to help exercised brothers and sisters in starting children's work in several assemblies. The teaching material we were able to bring from Canada was well received. It was a pleasure to see so many children come under the sound of the gospel. One assembly was able to rent a store to be used as a meeting hall. Until January of this year they had come together in the home of a brother and sister — a one room apartment. The new assembly in Akute was also able to rent a room (partly furnished) which will be made suitable for assembly purposes.
In February we had the joy of welcoming brother and sister David and Ruth Campbell. Their visit was short but very encouraging. They were only three full days in Nigeria but we were still able to arrange two extra meetings and the brethren were happy to meet the Campbells and to enjoy the ministry of our brother.
March 4 was another memorable date. We could hold our first "National Conference." Brothers and sisters from all eight of the assemblies in Nigeria were able to attend. Approximately 275 people came together. Ministry was given on "How … to behave … in the house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). We were thankful for the good response, as many expressed their appreciation for the practical teaching. May the Lord give the increase.
From March 25 to April 7 we had the visit of brother Siegfried Nick. He had visited Nigeria several times in the past and his experience as a missionary in Africa was very helpful. We were able to visit believers in the Afam, Port Harcourt area and in Calabar twice. Both times we travelled by air to the nearest airport and then by road to the homes of the saints. On each occasion a Nigerian brother accompanied us. Brother Nick could travel with us on our last trip. Further, we could visit the saints in Abuja, the new capital of Nigeria. A little group of about 15 believers come together for prayer, Bible Study and ministry. Three of the believers came into fellowship in Lagos, which is about a one hour flight from Abuja. At this time they have not started the breaking of bread in Abuja. With brother Nick we also visited Kaduna, where brother David Fasanya resides. We have been in contact with the literature work of "Word of Truth" and the assembly there since 1976. The Lord has not opened the way for practical assembly fellowship. However, we were given the opportunity to minister the Word one evening at a special meeting, to which a large number of people came to hear the Word of God.
The final weeks were spent in Lagos. In spite of the heat, the frequent blackouts and water shortages, the Lord sustained us and gave us good health and daily strength to carry out our task. To Him be the glory!
We thank you all for your support in prayer and in practical fellowship. It is because of this that we were able to make this visit, which was our fourth to Nigeria. For the last two visits we were able to travel together. To be there as a couple proved to be very beneficial in the contacts with brothers and sisters. We developed a deep love and affection for the dear people of God in that country. It seems that we have obtained a large Nigerian family besides our own children and grand-children in North America.
We were touched to see approximately 20 brothers and sisters at the airport who came to say goodbye on the evening of our departure. They begged us to return soon. This we leave with the Lord. Please continue to pray for the Lord's people in Nigeria. The Lord preserved us from harm and sickness, even though an attempt was made to overthrow the military regime during our stay. It failed, but many were executed without a trial as a result.
On the way home we made a stopover in Holland to visit relatives and to make contact with several brethren interested in the work of the Lord abroad. How good it was to meet the brethren of our home assembly, who have supported us and were with us in prayer. To God be all the glory!
With warm love and greetings in the Lord Jesus, Klaas and Helga Rot .