|Vol. 6, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1977
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
SEEDTIME SORROWS AND HARVEST JOYS
"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Psalm 126:5)
HOW much easier it is to reap than to sow! The singers of Psalm 126 who
so enthusiastically celebrated the miraculous release from captivity of God's
people did well to wonder at the Lord's grace and to be glad about the great
things that He had done for them. It was a reaping time. Even the onlookers
from the nations could appreciate with what rejoicing God's people sang
of His delivering power. The psalm, however, reminds us that such reaping
was only possible because there had been a sowing, and a very costly sowing
at that. So the song ends on a note of realism. In the midst of their effervescent
excitement at the great deeds of God, they needed to be reminded of the
travail which had made it all possible. To use the words of the Lord Jesus:
"Others have laboured, and ye are entered into their labours".
SOME SOW AND OTHERS REAP
Who was it that foretold this release from captivity? Who was the man
whose glowing words told how the ransomed of the Lord should return and come
with singing to Zion, how a way should be made in the wilderness, and how
the Lord would shepherd His captive people back to the land, carrying the
infants in His arms and tenderly watching over the expectant mothers as He
did so? Who was it that called the Lord's remembrancers to take no rest and
give Him no rest till He established Jerusalem and made it again a praise
in the earth? It was Isaiah, the prophet who had first had the bitter experience
of informing Hezekiah that everything would be carried captive to Babylon
and nothing left. So far as we know, the latter part of Isaiah's life was
lived under the shadow of Manasseh's cruel persecution and quite possibly
he was the man "sawn asunder" for his faith (Hebrews 11:37). His was the
painful task of sowing, a task which was later taken up by Jeremiah, the
man whose soul travail was fully rewarded by Cyrus's release of the captives.
He was certainly a man who "sowed in tears" and moreover who sowed in faith
without ever knowing the joys of harvest.
Contemporary with Jeremiah there was Ezekiel, another of the suffering
servants of God, who sowed for a day yet to come, a day which he did not
himself witness. His beloved wife, the "desire of his eyes", was taken away
with a stroke as part of his ministry to rebellious Israel, and he was not
even allowed to weep but made to bear his sorrow without even the relief
of tears. Among the captives, too, there was Daniel. Daniel of the lions'
den! Daniel, who mourned for three whole weeks, and whose fasting, confession
and agonising in prayer brought the promise of the re-building of Jerusalem.
He was surely a man who sowed in faith. It is true that he did live to see
the day of the return to the land, but he had no personal share in that return
of the captivity which left the Israelites with their mouth filled with laughter
and their tongue with singing. The day came when the Lord did great things
for His people and made them very glad; but their harvest joys were the direct
result of the costly and painful work of sowing which had been done by others.
It is always like this. So it was that the Lord Jesus called His disciples
to the world harvest with a reminder that they were about to reap where they
had not sown. "Others have laboured," He affirmed. One wonders just whom
He had in mind. Perhaps He was expressing some appreciation of the spade-work
for the gospel which had been done by John the Baptist. John was to go out
in total eclipse. He was to be left to languish in prison and then, apparently,
to be abandoned to the headman's axe without any token of divine concern.
No harvest joys for John: only the painfulness of sowing. Yet the very first
labours of the disciples brought an immediate harvest, and they came back
to Jesus jubilant at the sensational results of their service (Luke 10:17).
The cause was not far to seek. They were only harvesting what others had
sown. For this reason they needed not to modify their [1/2]
joy, but to adjust their minds in humility about the success. This seems
to be one of the immediate applications of Christ's use of the true saying:
"One soweth and another reapeth" (John 4:37). We are so apt to become conceited
if God uses us, as though some credit were due to us for what has happened.
In actual fact, though, it is usually true that we are only reaping where
others have sown, that this is by far the easier part of the whole operation
and that in any case -- as Paul reminds us -- it is God who gives the increase.
Another implication of Christ's use of the old adage is to inspire us
to fresh endeavour. The very fact that others have sown should get us busy
in the work of reaping. The Lord Jesus admitted of no delay, but rather urged
His disciples to get on with their part in the great scheme of harvesting
(John 4:35). It would be a poor state of affairs if no one had been ready
to pay the price of sowing, but what shall we say of the sad possibility
that when others had so sown, the reapers should be tardy in getting to their
Pentecost was a great reaping time. The early Church resounded with the
joy of the harvest. But now we must ask: If they reaped with joy, who was
it who sowed with tears? The answer is clear enough. Go to the garden of
Gethsemane and see the Saviour weeping tears and dropping sweat as it were
of blood. Go to the cross of Calvary and hear His heart-rending cry of abandonment
by His God. And as we do this, we realise that it was He Himself who was the
precious Seed of this sowing. He had already explained to His disciples that
it would be like this, telling them that He would be the 'grain of wheat',
falling into the ground and so bearing much fruit (John 12:24). So it was
that although at Calvary He went on His way weeping to sow the precious seed,
He came again rejoicing at Pentecost, bringing His sheaves with Him.
SOME BOTH SOW AND REAP
This brings us to the realisation that men may both sow and reap. The
apostle to the Gentiles had to do this, for he was a true pioneer. "I planted,"
he reminded the Corinthians; but he could also claim that he had also reaped:
"Are ye not my work in the Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1). This, however, does
not minimise the need for travail, but rather confirms it, for Paul literally
wept many tears over the Corinthian believers. At one stage of his labours
in that city, he seems to have become so disheartened that he was ready to
go away and leave most of the harvest still not gathered in. At least this
is the obvious explanation of the night vision when the Lord appeared to
him, saying: "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am
with thee ...: for I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:9). It may be
that this reference to the as-yet hidden 'much people' can be attributed to
that mysterious truth of predestination. Even if that is true, it still emphasises
the Lord's call for Paul to keep on with the work of reaping. May it be,
though, that what the Lord Jesus meant was that Paul's sowing there had not
been in vain? He saw the seed working in men's hearts; He knew that patient
persistence would ensure a harvest, and sought to encourage the man who had
sowed in tears not to give up prematurely before the full harvest had been
gathered in. Luke informs us that as a result of this divine vision Paul
stayed on in Corinth for a further year and six months -- which was quite
a long time for Paul. It is most important that we should not lose heart
because of the costliness of the work of sowing, for perhaps we are also
appointed of God to be the ones who gather in the harvest. Our great weakness
is that we always want quick results. This experience of Paul's not only
enabled him to see the work through at Corinth but gave him authority in
his ministry of exhortation, for it was out of personal proving of God's faithfulness
that he was able to write: "for in due season we shall reap, if we faint
not" (Galatians 6:9). Perhaps the 'weeping' is not only the costliness of
sowing but the painfulness of waiting. Whatever it be, the divine assurance
is that those concerned will doubtless come again with joy, bringing
their sheaves with them.
Such sowing is not always deliberate. When Paul went to Lystra to preach
the gospel he was nearly murdered by the infuriated Jews who stoned him and
left him for dead. When he returned there a few years later he found a promising
young convert, named Timothy, who was part of the fruit of that first visit
when the apostle sowed in tears. Timothy had been fully aware not only of
Paul's teaching at Lystra but also of the sufferings which befell him there
(2 Timothy 3:10-11); it seems, therefore, that he was part of the promised
harvest. Paul certainly [2/3] reaped him with joy
and found much pleasure in his loyal helpfulness right through to the end.
Who knows but what Timothy might never have been such a harvest to Paul if
the apostle had not first sown himself in suffering for Christ's sake in
Lystra. So we do not always know what we are sowing, and perhaps we even
reap with joy unaware that we ourselves sowed the seed in the first place.
One thing is certain, and that is that there must be a sowing if there is
to be the joy of harvest.
SOWING IN FAITH
One aspect of the costliness of sowing is that it has to be done in faith.
The one concerned has to do clearing and ploughing, as well as the actual
insertion of the seed, and this involves disciplined perseverance, with nothing
to show for one's labours. It is true that the Lord began by promising His
disciples that they should reap where others had previously done the sowing,
but it is also true that He led them on to a more mature attitude towards
service for God, which demanded readiness to sow at great personal cost
in sheer faith of a future harvest.
As always, He offered Himself as the great example. The occasion was
one of great superficial enthusiasm when the crowds accompanied Him up to
Jerusalem. It offered a cheap and easy harvest, this action of the excited
crowds as they hailed Him as God's chosen, casting their garments before
Him and waving palm leaves in loud acclamation. The world was ready to welcome
Jesus. His bitterest enemies could not deny this fact; indeed it was they
who dejectedly remarked to one another: "Behold how ye prevail nothing;
lo, the world is gone after him" (John 12:19). So, friend and foe alike
perceived that Jesus could reap a universal popularity if He so wished.
Just at that very moment certain Greeks searched out Philip and made to
him the sincere and earnest request: "Sir, we would see Jesus". So, Jew
and Gentile were united in wishing to pay homage to our Lord. It was a moment
of infinite significance. In words uttered very soon afterwards, the Lord
Jesus spoke pointedly about "the prince of this world", a phrase which suggests
to us that He was aware of the immense spiritual pressure being put upon
Him, as though once again Satan was repeating the wilderness temptation
to receive all the kingdoms of the world and their glory without going the
way of the cross.
So, with powers seen and unseen urging Him to by-pass the suffering,
He turned His back on them all, proclaiming that the Son of man's way of
glory was to be the self-sowing of the cross: "Verily, verily, I say unto
you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself
alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit" (John 12:24). His repeated 'Verily',
which was really a double Amen, expressed His determination to surprise (and
even delight) His enemies, to sacrifice His popularity with the masses, and
even to disappoint those Greek admirers, by going right on to the death.
Christ was the Sower of the Word of God but, more than that, He was the Sower
of His own self, ready to accept great personal suffering and await an eternally
fruitful harvest by resurrection.
All of us will have agreed with this choice of His, for we glory in the
sacrifice of His cross; but we must continue to listen to Him as now, without
a moment's pause, He confronts His disciples with the same choice. "If any
man serve me," He added, "let him follow me." How can we follow Him? Clearly
by acting on this same principle of the sown seed, being ready to "fall into
the earth and die" in pursuit of fruitfulness. Men must take up their cross
daily if they are to follow Him. There is a sense in which we can opt for
a cheap and quick harvest. Indeed, it is one of the commonest frailties of
all of us that we crave for quick results in God's service. Our carnal hearts
find it so difficult to sow in faith, to sow in tears, and to be ready to
leave the matter of the ensuing harvest to God. Jesus insisted, however,
that this principle of the cross must operate in all genuine service for
Him, adding an allusion to the harvest joys by assuring us that the Father
will be sure to honour those who so follow and serve.
Once again we need to remind ourselves that whether our activities consist
in sowing the word or in sowing by prayer, they inevitably call for a self-sowing
which entails fellowship with Christ in His cross. If we consider Him we
can see in His case that 'sowing' meant always taking the lower place. He
described it as "falling into the earth", as though to emphasise the constant
need for coming lower and being willing to accept the humbling experiences
which will come to all of us if we are truly consecrated to God. All our
[3/4] instincts are for self-preservation; we want to hold on to
our rights, to better our position, to increase our possessions, to reap
all the advantages that we possibly can. This is natural to us but it can
only make for the solitary spiritual barrenness implied by Christ's expression:
"it abideth by itself alone". If our lives are to be spiritually fruitful
-- and the expression which He used was 'much fruit' -- it can only
be by forsaking our natural selfish instincts and accepting circumstances
and experiences which empty us even as He emptied Himself. This is not a
matter of mystic dreaming but of very practical behaviour in daily living.
When we look at a grain of wheat we note that it has already been reduced
from its natural conditions. It has lost its leaves and its protective husk
and is exposed as a bare grain. But this is not enough. Death has to work
more thoroughly and painfully upon it, so that even its wholesome state suffers
further disintegration. Its burial in the earth means the stripping from
it of all covering and comfort until nothing but the essential life remains.
Perhaps some readers will recognise that this is precisely what has been
happening to us under the hand of God. In consecration to Christ we were
willing to accept the need for being reduced to a bare grain, to being stripped
of the perishable dross of comfortable life, but now we are discovering that
the call to follow Christ goes even deeper than that. It means accepting
the loss of what may be most dear for His sake. All this is the price of
sowing. It involves burying our spiritual pride, sacrificing our ease, accepting
joyfully the hurts and disappointments which naturally we would be quick
to resent; it obliges us to forsake natural ambitions in a willingness to
be humbled or set aside, to let go of strongly-held opinions if by doing
so we may let the Lord have more glory.
THE CERTAINTY OF HARVEST
The passage in John shows that this matter of the costliness of self-sowing
precipitated in the soul of Jesus a question as to whether or not He should
ask the Father to excuse Him from such supreme sacrifice. 'What shall I pray?'
He enquired, and then answered His own question by praying that the Father
would glorify His own name. There was an immediate response from heaven,
given not because Jesus needed it but for our sakes (John 12:30). There is
always a response from heaven to such a prayer. To take this road of seeking
only the glory of God may mean, as it did in Christ's case, apparent capitulation
to our enemies and deep disappointment to our friends, but one thing is
certain, and that is that it will bring pleasure to the heart of our heavenly
Father. "Him will the Father honour," Jesus declared, confident that those
who share His cross will also share His glory.
In the Authorised Version we have a word which is not so much a translation
as an implication. It is the word, 'doubtless'. There may be much in this
life which is open to doubt, even in this realm of a visible harvest, but
when we consider the matter in the light of eternity, then there can be no
uncertainty. The harvest is quite sure. We need to remember this because
even when we have seen much of God's present working, there are always new
needs which call for fresh sowing. These Israelites who were so deliriously
happy at their release from captivity were soon reminded that much more needed
to be done, so that they had to pray that once again God would turn their
captivity (verse 4). It was in the light of the future as well as of the past
that their attention was drawn to the divine principle of seedtime and harvest,
of sowing in tears in order to reap in joy. However much we can praise we
must still go on praying. God's people are always ready to join in harvest
joys. Confront them with some new movement of blessing, with some obviously
fruitful ministry, and they will flock to it enthusiastically to share in
the joys of harvest. Issue, however, a call to prayer. In the Lord's name
call them to take the lonelier path of the drudgery of apparently unrewarded
service. Invite them to be ready to fall into the earth and die. Alas, such
a prospect does not appeal to our carnal hearts.
This, however, is our calling. This is the Christlike travail which in
eternity will be rewarded with divine glory. We know that our blessed Lord
who went forth weeping, bearing His precious seed for sowing, will most
certainly come again with rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with Him, but
what about us? We must reap what He has sown. Perhaps we may reap what others
have sown. We may sow and reap or perhaps we may sow for others to reap.
In any case Christ's promise must surely encourage us: "that he that soweth
and he that reapeth may rejoice together" (John 4:36). [4/5]
BUILDING WITH GOD
(Studies in the book of Nehemiah)
J. Alec Motyer
1. LAYING FOUNDATIONS (1:1 TO 3:32)
NEHEMIAH comes before us in the Bible as the man who began, continued
and completed. I think that this will be one of the main lessons which will
come to us from our study of this book. He set his hand to the work of God
and he brought that work of God right through to the end.
The story begins in 1:3: "They said to me, The remnant which are left
of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach.
The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down and the gates thereof are burned
with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down
and wept and mourned." The vision of the need dawned upon Nehemiah and seemed
to be impressed upon his heart by the Spirit of God. He persevered in considering
the possibility that this was the work of God for him, and so presently carried
the matter over from vision to inception. "Then I said to them, You see
the evil case that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste and the gates thereof
are burned with fire; come, let us build up the wall of Jerusalem" (2:17).
The vision of what God might want him to do began to pass over to that point
where he sought to actualise what God had required. So he continued the
work with perseverance, later inserting a little progress report for us:
"And we built the wall, and all the wall was joined together unto half the
height thereof" (4:6), reporting thankfully that the work was half done.
A further progress report stated that the wall was complete: "... I had builded
the wall and there was no breach left therein, though even unto that time
I had not set up the doors of the gates ..." (6:1). All the ruins had been
built up and it only remained for the gates to be set in place. The completion
is quietly and beautifully recorded in those lovely words: "The wall was
So we see how he began, continued and completed. The book of Nehemiah
is a challenge to 'Stop-Go', or perhaps more accurately, 'Go-Stop' Christians.
At every point, whether we consider building up ourselves in our most holy
faith (an expression which we find in Jude), or whether we consider the building
up of the Church of God (an expression found in many places, notably in
the Epistle to the Ephesians), the example is given to us of a man who set
his hand to the task and finished it. It was not easy, but he persevered
against all odds and somehow the work of God was brought to completion. Sadly
enough, the story of our own inner life is that of an attempt to lay a foundation
and then a failure to build thereon. So often, in relation to the Church
of God, our tale is one of broken promises, of inadequate endeavours, of
something attempted but nothing accomplished. Not so in the case of Nehemiah.
This first study tells us how it all began and is entitled: Laying Foundations.
How are foundations laid? Is there some way of making a beginning which is
so well done and so effectively established as to guarantee that the work
will be carried through to the end? It seems to me that in these first three
chapters we can clearly find four principles of foundation laying. I have
called the first Individuality.
It is of supreme importance that the individual should have a clear call
from God, test it to prove that it really is a personal call, and then set
his hand to the work as a consequence. It was so with Nehemiah. "I asked
them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity,
and concerning Jerusalem." Notice, "I asked them!" They did not come and tell
me; they were not bursting with anxiety; they had been on some sort of trip
or pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but returned with no special sense of anxiety
or concern to share their news. I asked them. And they told me: "The remnant
... there in the province are in great affliction and reproach; the wall
of Jerusalem also is broken down ...". In a nutshell the position was this:
Over a hundred years before the time of Nehemiah (586 B.C.) Jerusalem
had been [5/6] destroyed by the Babylonians and the
people of God taken away from their land and city to captivity in Babylon.
In 539 a new empire came to power, Babylonia being superseded by Persia;
and the first Persian emperor, Cyrus, made the startling decision that all
the captive peoples in his empire should return to their original homelands
if they so wished. We read in the book of Ezra, chapters 1 to 6, of how in
539 or 538 the first company of returning captives, few in number compared
with the total of the people in exile, came back to Jerusalem. The next news
that we have of that returned community is in the time of Ezra himself, whose
story is told in his book from chapter 7 onwards. Ezra came back to Jerusalem
on a spiritual mission, as an accredited teacher of the law of Moses; he came
back with an official mandate to teach the people of God in Jerusalem. It
is rather an uncertain time of history, but it seems very likely that some
of the enthusiasm engendered by the mission of Ezra took a political or nationalistic
direction; enthusiasm was so roused that it began to flow out into an unauthorised
rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Some of the enemies of God's people
in the area reported this matter back to the then emperor, a man named Artaxerxes,
and he commanded that the building work should cease. The enemies of God
capitalised on this by going up to Jerusalem with the royal mandate in their
hands, causing the work to cease, and tearing down the city walls. It is
very likely that it was the news of this action which came to Nehemiah, for
it is hardly likely that he would have been so tremendously exercised by
a calamity which had happened over a hundred years earlier and with which
he was already very familiar. Now, however, news came that what had seemed
to be something of a new start for the people of God had petered out, Jerusalem
again lying in ruins. It was the vision of the ruination of the city of God
and the reproach of the people of God which took hold upon this man, becoming,
as it were, his personal responsibility.
"It came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and I wept
and mourned for some days, continually fasting and praying before the God
of heaven" (1:4). Nehemiah was gripped with concern. This did not seem to
have happened to the tourists from Jerusalem, although they had actually
seen the ruins, but only to the man who heard their story. Nehemiah stands
before us as the individual who was gripped by concern for the welfare of
the people and the work of God. The individual concern continues into chapter
2. We read, for example: "I said unto them", that is, the people who lived
in Jerusalem, "you see the evil case that we are in" (2:17). Well, to be
frank, that was the very thing which they had not seen. They were quite content
to live among the ruins; they did not seem to be worried by the rubbish,
they were not exercised about it and were not doing a hand's turn to alter
it. Nehemiah had to come as the one person who was moved by divine concern
to meet this needy people and share his vision with them.
It seems obvious that right at the start of this book we are confronted
by the principle of the need for an individual to be gripped by concern for
the work of God, and to hear His call in a personal way. As your mind runs
through the Bible you will see that this is not unique to Nehemiah. Moses
felt the individual pressure of the call of God and said: "Who am I, that
I should go?", only to receive the reassurance: "Surely, I will be with
thee" (the individual is always the individual plus One). There was Jonathan,
who said to his armour-bearer: "Come, let us go over against these Philistines,
these uncircumcised", being the one person in the armies of Israel who was
concerned to take up his sword against the enemies of the people of God.
He went out and tested the reality of God's call: "If they say to us, Come
up, we will go up; if they say, Wait, we will wait. For assuredly then the
Lord will have delivered them into our hands" (1 Samuel 14:10). Out of that
one man's concern there came a great victory for the people of God and a
trembling and a shaking which ran right through the whole army of the Philistines.
So it was with Gideon, with Elijah, with every one of the prophets. Now concern
began to dawn upon Nehemiah. He tested the reality of the will of God in
this matter. Was it God who was calling him? And all the time in his heart
there was a basic readiness to say, 'Yes! It could be me! ,
Now individual responsibility can so easily become an irresponsible individualism,
leading one to run off with what is no more than a personal whim or fancy.
So we must move on from the first principle, the principle of individuality,
to consider the ways in which God sanctifies and controls individuality so
that it does not become an unsanctified individualism. As we proceed with
the story of Nehemiah we shall see [6/7] how God
surrounds His call to the individual with great and specific safeguards.
We come, therefore, to the second principle of foundation laying. Is there
a way in which to begin which itself guarantees that the work will carry forward
Yes, there is the principle of prayer. "It came to pass, when I heard
these words, that I sat down and wept and mourned for some days, meanwhile
continuing in fasting and praying before the God of heaven" (1:4). As concern
gripped Nehemiah, his reaction was to weep and mourn, and his counter-action
was to pray. At once he began to attack the problem, but he did so in the
place of prayer. Notice, please, that his resort to prayer was immediate;
"... when I heard those words ...". There was no gap between the hearing and
the praying. Notice also that his resort to prayer was his total reaction:
"... I sat down ...". He had no other plans than to give himself to concerned
praying. Notice further that his prayer was the expression of deep personal
concern: "I sat down and wept and mourned ...". In the English there is very
little distinction between those two words, but you would agree that there
is a real distinction between being moved and being grieved, and this is the
force of the two words in the original. He was 'moved' by the picture of
the plight of the people of God, but he was also 'grieved' by it. It came
home to him almost with the pangs of personal bereavement, for the word which
is translated 'mourned' is used in the Old Testament in contexts of bereavement.
Nehemiah was both moved and grieved, and he made sure of expressing his deep
sorrow in the place of prayer. His prayer was continuous. In the English version
it says: "I fasted and prayed", but please take my word for it that the Hebrew
verbs employed are both continuous verbs, and very markedly so, signifying:
'I continued in fasting and praying'. So there he was, locking himself into
the task of intercession. He sat down and he continued. In fasting he detached
himself from other preoccupations. This is the very heart of the biblical
idea of fasting -- detachment from other claims and preoccupations, in order
to give priority and exclusive attention to waiting upon God. He detached
himself for prayer and then -- note this -- "I prayed". That is to say, he
put his prayer into actual words. He did not just compose a prayer list,
confusing the possession of such a list with the definite practice of prayer,
but he verbalised his inner burden. The conviction that prayer is the way
forward; an urgency of personal concern; a discipline of perseverance; a
practice of detachment and a verbalisation of the need -- all this comprises
the principle of prayer. Nehemiah had to go on praying for three months.
He started in the month Chislev, the ninth month of the year, and he prayed
on to the month Nisan, which was the first of the following year. In between
those two dates (1:1 & 2:1), Nehemiah frequented the place of prayer,
making this the one and only expression of his deep concern.
Now I want you to notice most particularly that it was God who kept and
held him in the place of prayer. It was not just a case of knowing that prayer
is the way forward, but specifically the fact that God's will allowed of
nothing else. In giving us a sample of his praying in 1:11, Nehemiah tells
us that he kept saying: "Prosper, I pray Thee Thy servant this day
...". So far as Nehemiah was concerned he did not want to wait. His prayer
was: "... this day". The first day on which he entered the place of prayer,
he said: 'O Lord, today ...' The second day of his praying he again said:
'O Lord, today ...' And so for from three to four months he went on saying:
'O Lord, today ...". The Lord, however, kept on answering: 'No, not today'.
It was God who kept Nehemiah in the place of extended prayer. We see here
therefore that it is according to the will of God that if His work is to be
founded in such a way that it will be carried right through to successful
completion, it must be based on believing prayer. God kept Nehemiah praying.
So far as He is concerned, it is a fixed principle with God that, because
He is a prayer-answering God, a work which is founded on prayer will go forward
to completion, whereas that which lacks such a prayer basis will not prosper.
We may be aware that Nehemiah is noted for what are often called his
'telegraph prayers'. In a moment of crisis he knew how to shoot up a prayer
to God (2:4). We should notice, though, that this is placed in the context
of what we might call 'telephoning to God', that is, conversing with Him
regularly and in a prolonged fashion. In chapter 1 we are given a sample
prayer. It is as though Nehemiah wished us to know that prayer is not casual
or haphazard, but of a certain kind. It is not enough merely to be in the
place of prayer; we must get the prayer itself [7/8]
right. So the inspired word gives us a demonstration of the sort of praying
which God looks for as His people get involved in the foundation of His work.
It may help us if we look at this prayer under three headings. First he concentrated
on the nature of God. If we are to pray 'in the name', we must be clear about
the God who bears that name. The root of prayer is the character of God.
Then his prayer found its root in the Word of God. That is to say, effective
prayer must ask for those things which are in accordance with God's Word,
with what He has already promised to give. And the third element is the will
of God. Prayer finds its strength in a submissive readiness to do whatever
God says or requires.
Prayer must be rooted in the nature of God (1:5-7). We must ask for things
which are suitable to the divine character.
(1) God is addressed in His own Person
In the first place Nehemiah spoke to God personally: "I beseech thee,
O LORD". Since these four letters in the word LORD are capital letters, we
know that the word stands for the divine Name, the name 'Jahweh' or 'Jehovah'.
This is God's 'Christian name' -- the name by which He is known within the
family, the name by which He is addressed by His intimates. He told us the
meaning of His name, Jahweh, at the Exodus time, saying that it speaks of
a God who saves His people and overthrows His enemies. He is a God with this
double-sided nature, of mercy that reaches out in salvation and of wrath
that reaches out in judgment. God is addressed in His own Person. Here, for
His people, is the certainty of hearing, because they are praying to a God
of infinite mercy, who is concerned for His needy and helpless people.
(2) God is addressed as the God of heaven
God is appealed to in His sovereign rule. This title of 'the God of heaven',
is used four times in the book of Nehemiah, and twice in this passage which
we are now considering (vv.4 and 5). Nehemiah was facing circumstances beyond
all human power, and so he addressed himself to the One who is supreme over
all earthly circumstances, the God of heaven. "Then the king said unto me,
For what are you making your request?" (2:4). To this Nehemiah responded
with one of his telegraphed prayers: "So I prayed to the God of heaven" --
that is to say, to the God in whose governance is even the heart of kings.
Nehemiah wished to turn the heart of an emperor, and so he appealed from him
to the heavenly Emperor, the God in heaven. We find the fourth reference in
2:20. On this occasion Nehemiah was faced by those inveterate enemies, Sanballat,
Tobiah and Geshem the Arabian, with their ill-minded determination to stop
the work of God. There was only one way of answering them, and that was to
refer them to the God of heaven. In the face of earthly foes there is a God
who is sufficient. If earthly circumstances, earthly power and earthly opponents
are brought in prayer to God as supreme over all the earth in His sovereign
rule, then victory over them is sure.
(3) God is addressed in His dignity
"... the great and terrible God." The word 'great' expresses the objective
reality -- in any case He is a great God. The word 'terrible' implies a subjective
sense that this is so, the overwhelming consciousness, the feeling of how
great He is. To Nehemiah God is not only great in some high and remote sense,
but His greatness is immanent, awe-inspiring, striking the heart even of
His servant with terror. To know the objective reality and to feel the subjective
sense of God's infinite greatness is to be armed for the conflict of every
day. The person who has been in the place of prayer has been in the presence
of true greatness. He has also been in the place of true fearfulness. He
is then equipped to face any terror that may confront him, because it is
nothing like the greatness and terror which reside in his God. We need to
know God in His dignity.
(4) God is addressed in His moral mercies
Nehemiah knew God as the One: "that keepeth covenant and mercy with them
that love him and keep his commandments". Firstly there is that to which
God has committed Himself; He keeps covenant and mercy. A covenant is a promise.
If you wish to give special support to your church you can make out a Deed
of Covenant, by which you promise to make payment of certain gifts. And when
God covenants with His people, He states unconditionally, upon oath, what
He will do for them. The great covenant promise is: "I will be your God
and you shall be My people". In every situation or circumstance, therefore,
however dreadful they [8/9] may be, God's covenant
stands. He has said: 'You are My child, now, and I am your God. I am committed
to you by covenant promises.' There is a special feature about these covenant
saving promises, that is the fact that they are accompanied by mercy. Now
the word 'mercy' in the older translations is a particularly unhelpful one,
even though it is very beautiful. The more modern translation, 'steadfast
love' (RSV) catches the meaning exactly. God has undeviating love for His
people, and it is this love which is pledged to them in covenant. One commentator
writes: 'It is that quality of character and behaviour which honours a covenant
through thick and thin'. That is what God commits Himself to, but now we
must note to whom this God commits Himself: "those who love Him and keep His
commandments". The mercies of God are moral mercies. He does not permit us
to become an undisciplined people and yet still to expect the outflow of
His mercy. He gives us unconditional promises for conditional enjoyment. The
outflow of His faithful mercies is for the enjoyment of the loving and obedient.
There needs to be a subjective response of love for the covenant God who
loved us even to the blood of the Lamb; there is also to be an objective response
of obedience to His wishes.
(5) God is addressed in His loving concern
"Let thine ear be attentive." Once again the verb is continuous: 'Let
Thine ear continue to be attentive ...". What a lovely verse! Here is the
attention required: 'that Thine ear continue to be attentive and Thine eye
continue open'. Here is the attention paid: 'to the prayer of Thy servant
which I pray ... day and night'. And here is the attention claimed: 'for the
children of Israel who are your servants'. He claims the attention of God
because he prays for the people of God. So there is an open ear and an open
eye on God's side and ever-open lips of intercession on the human side, with
its claim upon God on behalf of His redeemed ones. What a privileged status
is given to us as intercessors! We can go to God and ask Him to hear us for
Jesus' sake. We can also go to Him and ask that He hear us for His promise's
sake. And furthermore we can say to Him: 'Lord, hear us for our sake, because
we are Your servants'.
(6) God is addressed in His holiness
Notice the way in which the prayer flows out quite naturally in an unbroken
sequence into confession of sins: "... while I confess the sins of the children
of Israel". Sin is corporate -- "we have sinned". Sin is individual -- "I
... have sinned". Sin is progressive -- "... and my father's house ...".
Sin offends God in His own Person -- "We have dealt very corruptly against
thee". Sin offends God in His requirements -- "We have not kept the commandments
...". Prayer of this kind exposes the reality of the situation, for the grim
fact is not just the broken down wall of Jerusalem but the sin of the people
which has destroyed the city of God. Sin is always the hinge on which things
turn, so the Bible tells us. We read that the city of Jerusalem fell because
of the sins of Manasseh. The whole of Bible narrative exists to tell us
that history turns upon the hinge of sinfulness and not on the hinge of
After this Nehemiah moved on to prayer and the Word of God. Prayer must
be rooted in God's promises. "Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou
commandest thy servant Moses", he said, making it plain that he had come
into the place of prayer on the basis of God's own Word. What did God say
to Moses? Well, He had said that if His people sinned, He would scatter them.
True,' argued Nehemiah, 'but that was not all that You said to Moses. Fair
enough, we did trespass and You did scatter us. But remember also that You
said to Moses: "But if you return unto me, and keep my commandments and do
them, though your outcasts were in the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will
I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have
chosen to cause my name to dwell there". You said that we must return and
keep Your commandments.' Returning is not the same as keeping the commandments;
they are two distinct things. To return is to practice repentance; to keep
God's commandments is deliberately to accept the law of God as the rule of
life and then to put this into practice. There must be a coming back to God;
there must be a change of heart, a returning, a saying 'Yes' to the law of
God in daily life; and there must be a doing of what God requires. Nehemiah
argued that God had said that if His people returned and said, 'Yes' to His
law and began the practice of obedience, then two things would follow:
(1) An Irresistible Regathering. Even though Your outcasts were
in the uttermost part of heaven, nothing would hinder You from bringing
them back again. [9/10]
(2) A Total Reconciliation. You would bring Your people back to
the very place where You have set Your name. You would not leave them on
the outskirts of the city, but would bring them right into the place where
You are, acting in the reality of Your divine mercy as Jahweh, the God who
saves His people. Nehemiah went on to establish Scripturally the claims of
the people of God to such promised mercies: "Now these are thy servants"
(1:10). It is not only that there are promised mercies, but the people for
whom prayer is being made are the very ones who have a right to them.
In the third place, Nehemiah introduced the element of the will of God,
not only praying along the line of the Word of God but bringing his prayer
to a conclusion in relation to the will of God (1:11). 'O Sovereign One,'
he prayed (notice that in your Bible the word 'Lord' has only a capital 'L'
and three small letters, which means 'Sovereign' or 'King'). 'O Sovereign
One, I beseech Thee, let now Thine ear continue to be attentive to the prayer
of Thy servant and to the prayer of Thy servants who delight to fear Thy
name.' There is no hesitation on our side. We have pleaded what You are; we
have pleaded what You have said in Your Word. Now we come to You with a delight
to fear Your name -- a readiness to do whatever You will say to us. In the
long run the essence of prayer is summed up in this: 'May Your name be hallowed;
may Your kingdom come; and may Your will be done. That is what we ourselves
want above all else.'
3. DIVINE LEADERSHIP
"There was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel"
(2:10). Nehemiah has said that he prayed: 'This day'. He was ready there
and then to get out on to the road. He finishes chapter 1 by stating that
he was the king's cupbearer, which seems to suggest that he had a daily
opportunity to get things moving had he so wished. Both the desire and the
opportunity were there together. Every time the king had a glass of wine,
it was Nehemiah who took it to him. He was in daily, hand-to-hand communication
with Artaxerxes. Daily the king spoke to him, and daily he spoke to the
king. Nehemiah was always in attendance. But still he must wait for God.
At last the moment came. "It came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth
year of Artaxerxes, the king, when wine was before him, I took up the wine
and gave it to the king." Your Bible will read on: "Now I had not been beforetime
sad in his presence", but it seems to me that it should read: 'Now I was
not sad in his presence', for you will note that the word 'beforetime' is
in italics, which simply means that it is not there in the Hebrew. Honestly,
if it is not in the original, I question the right of the translators to
insert it. According to the Hebrew, all that Nehemiah said is: 'I wasn't
sad before him. I wasn't!' Can we not let Nehemiah tell his own story? 'There
was I! I took up the wine and gave it to the king. I wasn't sad in his presence.
So far as I know I was carrying no heaviness of spirit at that moment. I was
not aware of heaviness of countenance. It was an ordinary day, and I was
doing my ordinary duties in an unexceptional way. And then it was that the
king said to me: Why is your countenance sad, seeing you are not sick?' All
unknown to Nehemiah, God had printed concern upon his face. The whole impetus
from which this final movement of the story proceeded was not humanly engendered
at all, but was stamped into the situation by the act of God. It appears
that Nehemiah was taken by surprise, and it was an awkward movement, for
when the king declared: "This is nothing else but sorrow of heart", he implied
that it was a matter of malice aforethought. 'You have got some hidden evil
design against my welfare. You have dropped some poison into my cup. Out
with it man! You have something wrong you are trying to hide!' "Then I was
very sore afraid", reports Nehemiah, and he had every reason so to be. He
could have feared for his life, and he could have feared for the whole future
of the vision which God had given him. And he could have been afraid, now
that the whole thing was coming out into the open, lest he might put a foot
wrong and spoil everything. After patiently waiting for three months of prayer,
he now had to act immediately. He had to speak up at once. Let him hesitate
at all now, and the king would be confirmed in his worst suspicions of treachery.
In spite of his acute fear, however, Nehemiah could only bring his concern
out into the open. The king's question: "For what dost thou make request",
was probably due not so much to impatience as to incomprehension -- 'Whatever
are you asking for?'. It was then that Nehemiah had just the necessary moment
to send up his telegraphic prayer: "So I prayed to the God of heaven". He
saw that at last God had given him his opportunity, but he still needed the
right words to say. The God who gave him the opportunity, gave him those
words [10/11] and also gave him such boldness that
he was able to capitalise on the situation and ask for letters of authority
for the governors beyond the river and a letter of mandate to the king's
forester for timber and equipment.
What is more, the God who gave him boldness to ask, gave him favour and
success: " And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God
upon me" (2:8). To crown it all, God gave Nehemiah the extra for which he
had not even asked, namely captains of the army and horsemen. How abundantly
worthwhile it had been to wait for God's right moment! How easy it would have
been for unsanctified irresponsibility to rush off at once, claiming that
God had spoken to him, God had put a burden on his heart, God expected him
to act at once. Happily Nehemiah did none of these things but allowed God
to sanctify and discipline him in the place of prayer, so that he could honour
the principle of divine leadership and wait for those months until God's
The fourth element in the work of laying foundations is that of fellowship
or association. This is a divine principle, to establish the fellowship through
which the vision can be realised, for though the vision is granted to an
individual, its fulfilment is achieved corporately. Nehemiah, the individual,
accepted responsibility for the building of the wall, but it took the whole
of a united company to accomplish the work. We shall deal with this in a further
Chapter 2 makes it clear that there is a fellowship to be excluded as
well as a fellowship to be cherished. Sanballat and his company must not
be allowed any place in this task. As Nehemiah said: "You have no portion,
nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem". So far as chapter 2 is concerned,
that is the last word. God had not given these people a place in His city.
They had no portion. They had no right, that is to say, no claim that would
stand up to examination. They had no memorial. They had never been or done
anything there which would justify Nehemiah in accepting their assistance
at this stage. They had left no record of goodwill. There is a fellowship
to be cut out, for it has no true part in the ongoing work of the people of
God. Thank ,God, though, that there is a fellowship to be cherished, a fellowship
of those who have a shared concern, a shared testimony, a shared status and
a shared commitment. We find them in chapter 3, all working together under
the hand of God. There were those dear Tekoites, who were not discouraged
when their nobles put not their necks to the work. There was that wise man,
Shallum, who mobilised his daughters to help. There was Baruch, of whom it
is said: "he earnestly repaired". One can picture him out there, with his
spectacles on, scrutinising everything and attending to each little detail
as he "earnestly repaired". There was also Zadok who worked (wise man!) opposite
his own house, and Meshullam, who only had one room, but he built the wall
opposite his own chamber. And there were the priests and goldsmiths and apothecaries
-- they were all there! But they were all there because they had a divine
calling and a heart concern. They had the same testimony, and they had a shared
status and rank within the city of God. Each one was a unique personality,
but the many individuals were alike in this, that they were wholly committed
to the work of building with God.
These are all foundational matters -- Individuality, Prayer, Divine Leadership
and Association. Given these, then there can be building for God and building
(To be continued)
PURPOSE AND PATTERN
(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)
John H. Paterson
2. A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
IN the first of these studies I suggested that it might be necessary
to reconsider what has become, over the years, a traditional view of Paul's
Epistle to the Ephesians. Most of us have become accustomed to the idea that
this epistle contains some of the greatest and most profound spiritual truths
to be found anywhere in the apostle's letters -- particularly those about
the [11/12] Church as the Body of Christ -- and that
it was Paul's object in writing this letter to share these great truths with
his readers. We take it for granted that the epistle's object was to disclose
a Mystery of God's purpose previously unknown (3:3-5).
Certainly, all these elements are present -- revelation, purpose, truth.
But have you ever noticed how incidentally -- one might almost say accidentally
-- they find a place in the text? They appear, for the most part, in Paul's
asides or, putting it as a teacher of grammar might put it, they all appear
in the subordinate clauses rather than in the main sentences! There are,
for example, two principal references to God's eternal purpose in Ephesians.
One of them occurs as an item in a list of blessings (1:9-10): among other
things, says Paul, God has blessed us with a knowledge of His purpose, which
happens to be (he then adds) that of summing up all things in Christ. The
other reference occurs in Chapter 3, in the middle of a long parenthesis,
in which Paul is explaining his own calling and commitment to preaching the
unsearchable riches of Christ. In each case the references are incidental
rather than central to an argument which moves on past them.
THIS main argument is that, as God's people, as members of the Body of
Christ, we are involved in His purpose and that involvement demands of us
a very special kind of living -- or , to use Paul's phrase (4:1), a "worthy
walk". But, in order to strengthen this appeal to his Christian readers,
Paul evidently decided that it was necessary to fill in some of the background
to it. He was going to come, later on, to the practicalities of the worthy
walk -- do this, and don't do that! But we all learned when we were young
how easy it is to 'switch off' and let the exhortations rollover us: 'You
musn't steal' (4:28), or 'It is wrong to tell lies' (4:25). After a while,
they lose their impact.
To strengthen that impact, Paul decided to put the subject in a proper
perspective. He asked himself, "How can I impress on them that the way they
live -- the detail of their lives -- is really important? His answer seems
to have been, 'If only I can make them see how much depends on them
-- and on what they do -- nothing less than the whole eternal purpose of
God. Surely then they will pay attention!'
But how could that, in turn, be done? One way would be by showing them
how much God had done, and what great pains He had already gone to, in order
to bring them into His purpose. And that would appear if they could
see in its proper perspective the enormous contrast between their present
position in Christ and their former condition without Him. If God had really
gone to the trouble of making that tremendous transformation possible, then
what He had in mind must be very important indeed!
This device of perspective or contrast is known to every artist or designer;
indeed, to anybody who has ever used a box camera to take family photographs.
We open our newspaper to find a picture of some giant airliner and the caption,
'The size of the machine can be judged by noticing the man standing beside
the left wheel'. The man, in other words, gives us a yardstick by which to
measure just how gigantic is 'giant'. Painters put figures in the
foreground of their landscapes, and offset areas of light and shadow against
each other. Fast and slow movements follow each other in music. And by such
contrasts our appreciation of quality is heightened: light appears
lighter, the giant more gigantic.
IT is on these lines that Paul constructed the first three chapters of
Ephesians, chapters that lead up to that dramatic 'therefore' at the start
of the fourth chapter: "I therefore beseech you". The perspective
he chose to use was to lead his readers in thought up to the sublime heights
of their present experience, "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly
places in Christ" (1:3), and from there to look down to where they used
to be -- "dead in trespasses and sins" (2:1). As they look across that immense
gap that divides their old world from the new, it is Paul's hope and prayer
(1:15-23) that they will be moved to a new measure of appreciation; firstly,
of the "exceeding greatness of his power" which has made such a transformation
possible and, secondly, of the importance which He must attach to this act
of calling into being a Church to be the Body of Christ. So Paul does not
pray for faith or obedience or courage for these young Christians but for
understanding -- for appreciation of the dimensions of this
deliverance from death into life.
There is a very simple geographical parallel which illuminates Paul's
use of this device for giving perspective to his point. Within the 48
[12/13] states which make up the main block of the United States,
it so happens that the highest and the lowest points are very close to one
another, in California. Mount Whitney, at nearly 14,500 feet, is the highest
peak while a few miles away lies Death Valley, which is nearly 300 feet
below sea level. So where would one go to gain the strongest impression
of the mountain's height? Not to a neighbouring peak, or on to the shoulder
of the mountain itself, but down to the floor of Death Valley -- to the place
where the contrast in height is the greatest. And which view of the valley
would most dramatically reveal the depth of this torrid gash in the desert
floor? It would be a view from up amid the snow on the top of the mountain.
In the first two chapters of Ephesians Paul places them side by side
-- his mountain view and his Death Valley: "you ... were dead in trespasses
and sins ... by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who
is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, hath quickened
us ... and hath raised us up ... and made us sit together in heavenly places
in Christ Jesus." And so the force of the contrast begins to dawn upon us.
If God did all that for people like ourselves, He must have had in mind a
very good reason indeed!
ACTUALLY, as Paul pointed out, this is by no means the full extent of
the contrast. That transfer to the mountain top from the floor of Death Valley
might describe what God had done for the Jews, but these readers were Gentiles.
All mankind lay under the shadow of God's judgment on sin but, insofar as
He had committed Himself to any man, insofar as He had made
promises or given revelations, it was to the Jews that He had done so. But
to the Gentiles He owed nothing: no covenants, no promises, no grace. And
so Paul pauses to remind his readers: you were not merely in Death Valley
at ground level -- you were in the deepest dungeon there! "Wherefore remember,
that ye being in time past Gentiles ... were without Christ, being aliens
from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise,
having no hope, and without God in the world" (2:11-12). Inch by inch he
is stretching out the contrast between past and present, death and life,
hopelessness and blessing. And all the time he has lying in wait for them
that "therefore": I therefore beseech you ...
May God give us all, by His Holy Spirit, a truer perspective on the greatness
of His grace and a fuller appreciation of all that is involved in His calling
to a walk worthy of our vocation!
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
(It has been a joy to have newly converted readers added to our mailing
list. For their sakes -- and for the benefit of us all -- we have felt guided
to print extracts from a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans recently
published in Danish by our beloved friend, Mr. Poul Madsen, who has a widespread
ministry throughout Scandinavia. - Editor)
1. THE GREETING (Chapter 1:1-7)
THE short greeting with which Paul introduces this letter is magnificent
and overwhelming, even as is the gospel which it unfolds. It was usual in
the ancient world to commence a letter with a short, formal greeting, but
Paul is in all respects 'an emigrant from the usual' (to use an expression
from S. Kierkegaard), and so he lifts his introduction far above the usual,
changing it into a tremendous trumpet fanfare.
Paul is evidently dictating his letter. He is in the house of Gaius in
Corinth (16:23) and is presumably walking to and fro in his room while he
dictates to his secretary, Tertius, who is writing the letter down. It is
the year 57 or 58 A.D., perhaps at Eastertime. Paul can look back on ten
years of intensive evangelism right from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:19).
He has planted the gospel in the most important cities of the eastern part
of the world empire; now he is going to Jerusalem with a gift of money which
he has collected in Macedonia and Achaia. When that has been delivered, he
intends to break up fallow ground for the gospel, going to unevangelised
[13/14] areas and even concerned to travel as far
as Spain (15:28). He has not yet visited the world capital, but has for some
time increasingly felt that he ought to do so (Acts 19:21). Now his plans
are made: first to Jerusalem with the collected gift, then to Rome on a shorter
visit, and from there on to Spain, his new field of labour. Full of these
plans he walks to and fro while he dictates. He opens his heart to the church
in Rome, so that they may come to know thoroughly both himself and his message.
We do not know with certainty how the church in Rome began, but we learn
that among the crowd who heard Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost, there
were some who came from that city (Acts 2:10). It is not specifically stated
whether any of these were among the three thousand who believed, but if that
was the case, they must have formed the origins of the church in Rome. It
is clear that Paul knew several of its members personally. We recognise Prisca
and Aquila (16:3) with whom he had stayed in Corinth during his second missionary
journey, and we should like to know for certain whether Rufus (16:13) was
the son of the Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross. Many of the people
mentioned by Paul in chapter 16 had obviously been saved in places other
than Rome and had afterwards settled down in the world capital, the city
to which all roads converged.
We now consider the greeting which Paul began to dictate to Tertius.
The reader is immediately introduced to the writer of the letter in these
terms: "a servant (slave) of Jesus Christ" (1:1). Paul emphasises that he
has not offered himself for this service, nor chosen it of his own free
will, but on the contrary, he has been "called to be an apostle", that is,
called by God, even as he has been "separated unto the gospel of God". The
fact that he is a servant of Jesus Christ is not due to himself, but is
wholly and entirely the work of God. Paul came to realise that from his birth
he had been separated, set apart, to preach the gospel. It was God who had
equipped him with rich gifts for this purpose, who had caused him to come
under the government of the law, who had made it possible for him to sit
at the feet of Gamaliel and receive the best education then available concerning
the Old Testament Scriptures, and who had then finally revealed Himself to
Saul on the way to Damascus and made him a new man in Christ Jesus.
Even as his apostolic work and service were not the result of his own
free choice, neither was the message which he preached the product of his
own thoughts or opinions. It was that gospel of God which had already been
promised in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament. The gospel is written
in the law and the prophets, and represents their real content. It is therefore
not a new religion, but the fulfilment of God's, Word of the Old Testament.
Paul understood this, he stressed that his gospel proclaimed facts which were
"according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) and made it plain that
this gospel which God had promised through His Old Testament prophets is
the gospel "concerning his Son" (verse 3), the divine message as to who Jesus
is and what He has done.
As to His human descent, He was "born of the seed of David" (v.3). He
appeared as a man; was born into a certain family, a family which in the
past history of the nation had occupied the throne, but now lived in poverty
and obscurity. It was clearly prophesied in the Holy Scriptures that the
Messiah would come from the seed of David, but when He came in obscurity,
without any earthly splendour, there were only a few of His contemporaries
who understood that He was the Son of David in the sense of being the Saviour.
This became clear when He was raised from the dead, and what is more, by
the resurrection of the dead He was "declared to be the Son of God with power"
In this matter Paul expresses himself differently from what we might
expect. He writes that literally "Jesus was declared to be the Son of God
with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection
of the dead ...". The expression: "resurrection of the dead", reveals
the apostle's line of thought. It springs from his clear understanding of
the basic experience which all Christians share, namely that they have their
spiritual life in association with their Lord. They cannot know this life
on their own, in isolation from Christ. They and their Lord are one, and
that so literally that His experiences are also theirs -- they are members
of His body. Paul, therefore, does not speak about the resurrection of Jesus
from among the dead, but about the resurrection of the dead. It is, of course,
the personal resurrection of the crucified Jesus on Easter morning that he
has in mind, but he does not find it possible to disassociate that from the
resurrection of all believers. He is the Head of [14/15]
that body of which they are members. When He arose, they, in principle,
were raised with Him. The same line of thought is expressed in the apostle's
bold argument: "For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been
raised" (1 Corinthians 15:16), a reasoning which to us seems to be quite
the wrong way round. We would say: 'If Christ has not been raised, neither
will the dead be raised', which is quite true; but the opposite argument
propounded by the apostle is just as true. He was not, of course, thinking
in terms of all men in their unregenerate state, but only of that oneness
with the Saviour experienced by those who are born again. For this reason
he makes no apology for asserting that if we are not raised, then Christ
has not been raised either.
It is through Him, Jesus Christ our Lord, that "we received grace and
apostleship" (v.5). Just as the grace was unmerited so was the apostleship;
both were God's free gifts. When Paul preached the gospel under incredible
hardships, it was nothing about which he could boast. It was not something
which he did of his own accord and for which he could claim credit, but it
was a gracious privilege bestowed upon him, a stewardship entrusted to him
(1 Corinthians 9:16-18). He never ceased to marvel that God in His love had
chosen him, His worst enemy, to be His servant and to preach His gospel. He
describes his task thus: "to bring unto obedience of faith among all nations
for His name's sake" (Danish: 'For the honour of His name'). The basic
motive in his service was the honour of the Lord. This must not be understood
coldly, as if he had no heart for the need and misery of the lost (an attitude
all too possible for the theologian), but as an expression of how highly
he loved His Lord and Saviour. Just as Jesus glorified the Father and brought
Him honour by accomplishing the work among men which the Father had given
Him to do, so Paul wished to honour the Son by bringing in the obedience of
faith among the nations. In other words, he kept the Lord always in view as
he worked. In this way he was kept in his first love for Him, and did not
-- as many others do -- become swallowed up in his work for God at
the expense of love to Him.
The crux of his job was to bring "the obedience of faith among all the
nations". This expression can be misunderstood and lead people to return
to the law. Later in this letter Paul shows that where the law governs, there
sin always reigns, regardless of man's attempt to be obedient. This obedience
of faith of which he speaks must therefore be understood as something which
belongs to the gospel and not to the law. The best explanation of what he
means is given in his own statement about Israel: "But they did not all
obey the gospel; for Isaiah saith, Lord, who hath believed
our report" (Romans 10:16). According to the apostle's line of thought,
to obey the gospel is the same as to believe what is preached in the gospel.
The Jews wanted to produce their own righteousness by obeying God's commandments;
for that very reason they did not obey the gospel. The 'obedience of faith',
then, is to obey the gospel, that is to receive by faith what is freely given
to us by grace. The evangelical idea of obedience is therefore quite different
from that which applies under the law. We must not allow a mixture of grace
and law in the obedience of faith, as though God first gives us faith and
afterwards expects us to contribute the obedience. No, faith is obedience
to the gospel, and works through the Word.
This obedience of faith to the Lord's glory was found in the Roman Christians
whom Paul addresses with these beautiful words: "called to be Jesus Christ's
... beloved of God, called to be saints" (verses 6-7). The Greek is more
concise: 'called Jesus Christ's ... called saints'. In the same way as the
Lord had called Paul to be His apostle, He had called the Christians at Rome
to belong to Him as His saints. We must not understand the apostle's words
to mean that they were called with a view to becoming saints, but had not
yet become saints. To be called saints means that God had called them out
to be on His side. And they were on His side, regardless of how far they had
come along the road of practical sanctification.
They were "the beloved of God" in Rome. Now God loves the whole world,
and therefore also everybody else in Rome, but the members of the church
there were the object not only of His pity and general grace, but of His
special saving grace. That is why they are called His beloved. To them he
promised: "grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ".
By this Paul means something higher than a certain inner sense of tranquility.
He is thinking of the fact that God has reconciled us to Himself through
Jesus Christ, and that our relationship to the living God has been put wholly
and completely in order. The gospel imparts what it promises -- grace and
THE CROWN OF THE INCORRUPTIBLE
"An inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not
reserved in heaven for you ..." (1 Peter 1:4)
THE verdict of the long run, that is, what abides as incorruptible when
all else has passed, is the verdict upon life and work. How much will be
found afterwards to the praise and glory of God? That word 'incorruptible',
then, is the word which governs all, is the standard of all.
GLORY THE CROWN OF THE INCORRUPTIBLE
The crown of the incorruptible is glory. That is the verdict upon the
life of the Lord Jesus. John says, many years afterwards: "we beheld his
glory" (John 1:14). That was the issue. Neither John nor any of his fellow-apostles
was very much alive to it while the Lord was with them; nevertheless He was
gaining on them all the time, He was overtaking them. Eventually they were
left with one deep and indelible impression which stood the test of many
years, many experiences, many trials, much suffering; and at last, at the
end of that particular phase, the apostolic age, John, the one lonely remaining
apostle of the whole group, wrote the verdict: "We beheld his glory" -- the
glory of the incorruptible.
Peter also, at the end of his life, when he was saying that he was about
to be offered up, recorded the same verdict. Referring to that wonderful
experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, he wrote: "We were eye-witnesses
of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory" (2 Peter
1:16-17) -- the verdict of the incorruptible.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, whom I always suspect as being
Paul, said: "We behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels,
even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour"
(Hebrews 2:9). Whether that was Paul or not, it was someone who passed the
same verdict; but Paul did join in with the words: "Now unto the King eternal,
incorruptible ... be honour and glory". The verdict of the incorruptible
We have been seeing that the glory of Christ was due to certain incorruptible
characteristics. First, His union with His Father; something so deep, so
real, so unshakeable, as to abide all tests and go right through, in spite
of all the efforts of man and demons and the very Devil himself to part the
Two, to come between them. That union with the Father was uninterrupted; it
went through. And we said that the Lord Jesus made it perfectly clear that
such a union as existed between Him and His Father could exist between us
and Himself, and with the Father; not in Deity, but in real, living organic
oneness and fellowship; by being born of God. That union is the basis of glory.
It is something incorruptible.
MAN MADE FOR GLORY
'O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A final Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
'O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.'
Paul it is who calls Jesus "the second man", "the last Adam". Our hymn-writer
made a little slip, and so we correct; not a second Adam but a last
Adam. A second man, a last Adam. Paul indicates that God takes
another step in a second man, and a final and inclusive step in a last Adam.
Christ is God's next move and Christ is God's final move, but Christ comes
into the place which the first Adam held as representing the intention of
God concerning man. As we are thrown back, by this way in which Paul speaks
of Him, to the first man Adam, we are shown by the Scriptures that God's intention
for man was that he was to be glorified, to be "crowned with glory" (Hebrews
2:7). He was made for glory. That is the definite statement of Scripture.
But that glory was conditioned upon life, a peculiar life, the particular
life of God. The glory was contingent upon man having that life,
[16/17] because the glory was the very essence of that life; that
particular divine life held all the nature and potentiality of glory. So
the glory depended upon his having that life, and that life was dependent
upon faith and obedience -- upon whether man would believe God to be true,
to be honest, to be faithful, that God meant what He said: and so believing,
would act accordingly, that is be obedient to God. The life was contingent
or dependent upon that.
MAN'S FALLING SHORT OF GOD'S GLORY
But we know that man did not believe God, did not trust God, did not
take the attitude that God was to be trusted. He disbelieved, and acted
accordingly; he disobeyed. The result was that he brought into his own being,
and into all his seed, first corruption and then death. A state of corruption
entered into his moral being, and that corruption led to death. Thus, for
that man, the prospect of glory ended, the intention of his being came to
a full-stop. No glory for that man. Heaven is closed, the glory departs;
man is excluded.
But man strangely did not accept that divine verdict. This thing had
become such a positive factor in his being, this corruption was so active,
that he refused to accept the verdict, and set out upon a course of making
his own glory, getting glory for himself. The history of man is the history
of an effort to get glory without getting it from God. That covers a very
great deal. It started very early in the Bible story, and we see it going
all the way through; but the glory of man, as we have said earlier, always
ends in corruption. However much glory he draws to himself, however much
he achieves of that which is called 'the glory of man " it ends in corruption.
We who are at the end of the history of this world -- as it now is -- are
seeing how the glory of man is bringing his own undoing, the most universal
corruption. That is the glory of man. Is that glory? He cannot help himself,
he is energised by another power, he is not his own master. He calls it
glory and the thing which is so strange is the blindness of man all the
time. He wages a war and calls it 'a war to end war', and he wages a worse
war and thinks and believes that this surely is the end of war, and on he
goes and still it gets worse and worse; and now it is true that we are in
sight of the disintegration of humanity, and the possibility of the wiping
out of the human race. We understand today, more than ever it could possibly
have been understood before, the meaning of our Lord's words: "except those
days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved" (Matthew 24:22).
Is that not true? That is our present condition -- corruption with false
CHRISTIANITY A SYSTEM OF GLORY
But another Adam came. There are three statements made regarding Him.
"The Word was made flesh" -- that is the Incarnation. "In him was life" --
that is the incorruption. "We beheld his glory" -- that is the effect of
the life. Glory works out from the life, and thus final Adam, this last Adam,
retrieves the loss of the first: He secures a life that was missed, secures
the incorruptibility that was never known, and secures the glory. That is
the story of Christ in three words -- life, incorruptibility, glory. In those
three words He comes to us, and says: 'Have faith in Me, believe in Me, and
life, that life, is for you' and through that life offers us incorruptibility
and glory. From one point of view Christianity may be described as a system
of glory. God is called "the God of glory" (Acts 7:2). Christianity is a
family and its Father called: "The Father of glory". Paul spoke of: "the
God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory" (Ephesians 1:17). Christ,
who brought Christianity into being, is called: "the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians
2:8). The Holy Spirit, the energy of this whole heavenly system, is called
"the Spirit of glory" (1 Peter 4:14). So the three Persons of the divine Trinity
are all related to glory, all interested in glory.
The Father produces the whole system of glory; it emanates from Him as
Father. The Son, as the Lord of glory, is governing everything in relation
to glory. What a glorious statement that is, how much is gathered into it
-- the Lord of glory. So we have in our Bible a whole book containing the
record of the activities of the Lord of glory. Situations and positions
seem at first sight all the work of the Devil, all the work of devil-inspired
and energised people -- situations so difficult that they look hopeless.
And that book contains the verdict of the long run, that every one of those
situations was turned to glory, something glorious came out of every hopeless
and impossible situation. The Lord of glory was seeing to that.
The Spirit of glory, so called by Peter in a context when believers are
passing through fiery trial; they are persecuted, they are misunderstood,
they are slandered, they are misrepresented. And Peter says: 'It is all right,
if you take this humbly, if you take this without bitterness; the Spirit
of glory will rest upon you'; that is, in adversity believers find that right
in the midst of persecution and opposition, something of inexplicable joy
rises up, a deep and wonderful peace, The persecutors hurl their stones,
or whatever else they may do, and somehow there is a glory in the heart. That
is the story of many a martyr, of many a murdered servant of God -- the Spirit
of glory. Glory is not some place to which we are going presently, although
glory may be a sphere in which everything is glorious: glory is for now.
It is a part of the very life that we have now received. It is the essence
of Christ in us, as the hope of glory. It is the very nature of what we have
received through faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord wants us to have a life
and to live according to that life, which will produce more and more glory
in us. It will again be only as we live according to that incorruptible life
that the glory will be manifested.
CHRIST THE PATTERN
So we have to look again at the One who has set for us the pattern, indicated
the principles of the incorruptible which result in glory; to look at what
was true of Him, as this incorruptible One, that resulted in God giving Him
glory. One or two things I will indicate because they are very important.
Firstly, it was His inward separation from sin. There was a great gap between
Him and sin. It is said of Him that He "knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21),
that He was "separated from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). That is, that in His
nature He was separate from the rest of men, there was an inward separation.
Now, we are not constituted as He was, as sinless, but we are told and made
to understand in the New Testament that that inward separation which was
so true of Him, can be made true in us. Paul has a way of putting it. He calls
it: "the circumcision of Christ" (Colossians 2:11), and he says that it is
a thing of the heart, an inward separating between what we are in ourselves
and what we are in Christ, the putting of a gap between the two. And then
the New Testament says that by the Holy Spirit's enablement, by the Holy
Spirit's power, you need not live on the ground of what you are in yourself,
you can live on the ground of Christ, and living on the ground of Christ you
need not be the slave of yourself and your sinfulness, you are delivered.
There is something that has separated inside, and if you live on the ground
of what Christ is and not on the ground of what you are in yourself, you are
on the ground of the incorruptible and you are on the ground of the glory.
That sounds very technical, I know, but it is very practical. We know
it very well. We who are Christians know that a cleavage has been made in
us, and that we are now two people. There is that side which is our new life,
our new relationship, which is our Christ-connection. There is that other
side which is still our old relationship with the old Adam. It is there:
it is not cauterised, it is not annihilated; and we know now that it is for
us to take continually the power of the Holy Spirit, in virtue of that separating
cross, to keep on the Christ side, on the new side; and if we do, we know
that it is glory. Very often we know more of the meaning of the glory by
a touch of the other. Step over on to the other side and give way to the
old Adam, and you know quite well there is no glory there.
Now that thing existed perfectly, fully and finally in the case of the
Lord Jesus; but the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of that glory has come into
us to make the divide, and the Christian who has the most glory is the Christian
who is walking most on the Christ side of the line. There was the divine
in Him, of course; there were no two natures, there was no need for dividing
between a sinful nature and a divine nature in Him; but there was a constant
gap between Him and sinful man. The enemy, the great enemy of the glory,
was ever seeking to contaminate Him, involve Him, pollute Him, corrupt Him.
Do not let us think that He never had to resist anything, that He never had
to say 'No' to another. That matter of how a sinless Man could be tempted
is of course an old theological problem, but there is no doubt about it that
He fought our battle in all reality. So that is the first thing -- an inward
separation, a divide, and on the one side the new life, the ground of the
incorruptible, which is the ground of glory. "This mystery," says Paul, "which
is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
OUTWARD SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD
The inward separation had its outward effect or outworking in separation
from the world, and no one will think for a moment that I mean physical separation
from the world. No, He was here right in it, in its throng and press, in
its affairs, with everything pressing upon Him; never seeking to live the
life of a hermit, detached from the world, but right in it -- and yet while
rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the world, having all the contacts of this
world in every form, there was a distinctiveness about Him. He was not a
part of it, but apart from it, a wonderful outward separation. While being
able to talk with the grossest and the most defiled and the people most involved
in this world, He was yet by no means a part of their system, their order,
their way of life, but outwardly separate from the world. The most unhappy
people in this world are Christians who try to have both worlds. It is my
experience that if you want to find a miserable Christian, you must find
what is called 'a worldly Christian', one in whom a constant civil war goes
on between two kingdoms. Yes, a Christian in this world, trying to get something
out of this world is a miserable creature. I used to illustrate it by the
old Border battles between Scotland and England. The people who lived in
the Border country never had a day's rest all their lives. One day it would
be the overrunning from one side, the next day from the other side, and these
poor people on the Border line had the most miserable existence possible.
It is like that. You try to live on a border-line or border-land Christian
life and you will be a miserable person, without rest or peace or joy or
anything else. You will never know exactly where you are, who is your master,
which way you are going, to whom you belong. It is a miserable existence.
The Lord Jesus was not like that. He was on one side and absolutely on
one side. The border line was a very wide one for Him. Indeed, there was
no border line. He was attached to heaven, and He maintained that attachment.
You and I, if we are going to know glory now and glory afterward, will have
to be on the same ground as He was in this matter -- no compromise with
the world; in it, having to do our work here, having to meet people here,
having to be friendly in a way, yet not one with their nature, their realm,
their way. It is a difficult thing -- not as easy to do as to say -- it
works out in many practical ways. The point is that Christ was wholly for
God, and because of that, His Father was the Father of glory, and the Spirit
of glory rested upon Him, and the Father could give Him glory.
CHRIST'S HUMANITY WAS GLORIFIABLE
Christ's humanity was a glorifiable humanity. Not all humanity, indeed
no other humanity, is glorifiable. His was a unique humanity, capable of
being glorified, and it was glorified. Paul speaks of His body as a glorified
body. He said that we are to be "conformed to the body of his glory" (Philippians
3:21). He was capable of being glorified, and that actually took place on
the Mount of Transfiguration. He had fought through all those tests and trials,
all those efforts to compromise Him, to make Him let go and become involved.
He had fought them right through to the pinnacle of that mount. There was
nothing more for Him to do, so far as He was concerned; anything more was
for us. At that point He had proved Himself worthy of being glorified, and
as Peter says, on that mount God gave Him glory. In the transfiguration of
the Lord Jesus, God is showing in a representative Man what He intends for
you and for all -- that we shall be transfigured, glorified, made like Him.
His was a glorifiable humanity. His humanity as glorified is the standard
in heaven to which God is working for every believer in Jesus Christ. It
is a Man in glory glorified, and He is there as the last Adam, the second
Man. Those very titles have no significance apart from other men of the same
kind. What does 'Adam' mean? What does 'man' mean, if it is not an inclusive
and comprehensive and representative designation? The Scripture states that
quite clearly: "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). This is
what He was to be, as many other Scriptures confirm.
I believe that was the secret of the apostle Paul's life, from the very
first day of his conversion, right up to the end when, after so many years,
and after seeing and knowing so much, he was still found aspiring, still
stretched out. He had seen Jesus of Nazareth glorified, and he said: 'That
is the on-high calling!' This is so much in keeping with what we have read
in the letter to the Hebrews. We read: "We behold ... Jesus ... crowned with
glory and honour" and then we read on: "Wherefore, holy brethren,
[19/20] partakers of a heavenly calling ..." (Hebrews 3:1). What
is this heavenly calling? It is Jesus crowned with glory, as the Man according
to God's eternal intention for man. Christ in a glorified humanity is the
model, the pattern, the representation of God's intention for all who believe
in the Lord Jesus.
So then, if we have received that eternal life, if Christ is in us, dwelling
in our hearts through faith, this is our destiny. We have the basis of an
incorruptible life, which will eventually emerge in the fullness of that
glory which He, as our Representative, now knows. Faith not only believes
for the forgiveness of sins, not only for pardon, not only for justification
and redemption. Faith in Jesus Christ apprehends Him as the very humanity
to which we are to be conformed. Faith takes hold of Him as He is now, and
says: 'He is as He is because God wants me to be like that'; and, if we did
but know, the Spirit of glory is operating for us on that basis every day,
to make us like Him, to transform us that we may be transfigured, to conform
us to His image. All the meaning of the activities and methods of the Spirit
of God in our lives is to lay a foundation for glory.
And it is on these principles of the incorruptible. May the Lord teach
us how to keep clear of this corrupted world, how to keep clear of that
wretched, corrupt old man. You remember that magnificent, though so simple,
picture that Bunyan has given us of the man with the muck rake who has a
crown of glory over his head, who is so occupied with his rake and so obsessed
with what is down in the mud, that he does not see the glory but misses
it all. That muck is our old man, and we are always turning him over to
see if we can find something good in him, some glory. We are seemingly incapable
of learning this one lesson, that there is no glory in that realm. We should
finish all these investigations and lift up our eyes to the Lord of glory.
This is how we will find the way of glory. Let us keep on the glory line.
A STUDY GUIDE
to Watchman Nee's
THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE
by Harry Foster
The Normal Christian Life has become a Christian classic with
world-wide sales in more than twenty languages. It has been used of God
to change lives -- and churches.
Here is a guide to help both the individual and groups in using it as
a study book. It introduces each chapter and suggests questions to provoke
thought and discussion.
Obtainable from all Christian Booksellers. Price 40p
Published by VICTORY PRESS [20/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (5)
"(for the tomb was nigh at hand)" (John 19:42)
HOW marvellous are the providential ways of God! Joseph of Arimathea
had looked around for a suitable burying place where his mortal remains
might ultimately be laid to rest in a manner befitting his status in life.
Somehow or other his attention had been drawn to a certain garden where
a recess in the rock could be adapted to make an imposing tomb. He had made
the purchase and ordered the work to be put into effect. Matthew tells us
that it was his own tomb. Mark and Luke report that it was a grave which
had never yet been used. And now John provides the information that the tomb
was situated in a garden quite near to Calvary.
WHEN Joseph bought that land and hewed out that rock, Calvary could have
meant nothing at all to him. In His infinite wisdom, however, God induced
him to prepare this virgin tomb so that there would be a suitable resting
place for the crucified body of His Son just when it was needed. God's providential
ways are marvellous. Yet this miracle of divine foresight is as nothing compared
with the wonder of the prophet's words, spoken over seven hundred years
earlier: "He was with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). Jesus was never
with the rich in His lifetime, unless it was to correct Nicodemus and to
send the young ruler sorrowfully away. The company He kept was the poor of
this world. His enemies plotted that He should not only be buried in poverty
but in shame: "They made his grave with the wicked". They planned to do
this, but Joseph's faith and Pilate's capricious decision foiled all their
schemes, so that in the end, as Isaiah had foretold: "He was with the rich
in his death". He occupied a rich man's tomb.
OUR attention is therefore drawn to the fact that right in the very vicinity
of Christ's crucifixion, God had provided a special grave which was first
destined to give refuge to the body of His Son and then to receive fame as
'The Empty Tomb'. God had spoken of this burial centuries before it took
place. Some time before the crucifixion Joseph had unwittingly ordered it
to be dug out of the rock. We do not know when this was done and wonder whether
perhaps it was only just completed in time. What we do know is that the Holy
Spirit ordered John to be sure to tell us that right at the place where men
and devils had done their utmost to destroy His Son, the Father had arranged
for a dignified tomb from whence that Son could be raised from the dead.
THIS is the fifth occasion which we have considered when the flow of
John's Gospel narrative was interrupted by an urge to insert a parenthesis.
As he went over those terrible hours in his mind, did John remember that
even while Jesus was dying, he himself was worrying as to where or how His
body would be buried? He and his adopted mother, Mary, were quite helpless
to intervene in this matter; it may well have seemed to them a major problem
how a tomb could be available or even permitted. But they had no need to
be anxious. The Father, ever fully committed to care for the interests of
His Son, had watched over this need too, and ensured that right at that very
place the right kind of grave had been provided. As John inserted this parenthesis,
he must have worshipped God for such a miracle and perhaps he intended to
remind us that we may leave all our cares with our heavenly Father who so
perfectly cares for us. His provision is always 'nigh at hand'.
"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
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