|Vol. 7, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1978
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
GOD'S SABBATH REST
"There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest"
IT is no accident that the wonderful words of invitation to find rest
in Christ are followed by a challenge to Him concerning the Sabbath. It is
not by chance that the chapter which concludes with the Saviour's offer of
perfect rest to the weary in heart should precede the incidents in Matthew
12:1-14 which reveal the emptiness of the pharisaical Sabbath of man's efforts.
The true Sabbath, as Hebrews 4 clearly shows, is not just a general kind
of rest but it is God's rest. When the writer affirms that believers do enter
into that rest, he clearly refers to the particular kind of rest
which is God's rest. Of course God did not need a Sabbath in which to rest.
Anyone who believes in a deity must agree that there can be no restlessness,
tension or warring elements in the Creator of the universe. The idea of the
Sabbath, however, was to express God's rest in relation to mankind. It was
on the seventh day that He gave Himself to heart rest in regard to man and
faced the happy prospect of sharing that rest of His with human beings.
At first, when the labours of creation were over and God's handiwork
pronounced very good, this whole earth of ours became a scene of indescribable
blessedness. It was God's Sabbath. To be in the world at all was to be in
the sphere of perfect rest. Anywhere within the whole of God's creation
on that first blessed seventh day there was a reign of peace; to come into
the world at all was, so to speak, to enter God's rest. Is this what Moses
meant when so many centuries later he enjoined the Israelites to "Remember
the Sabbath day" (Exodus 20:8)? None of the other commandments carried this
introduction, though it was just as important to remember to honour one's
parents and remember not to covet or lie. Nothing else had been mentioned
in God's Word about this seventh day until instructions were given concerning
the gathering of the manna, but we may conclude that godly men still commemorated
that first Sabbath by keeping a day apart for God. Was the Sabbath which
they were specially to remember that first marvellous day of harmony in the
whole realm of mankind?
Alas, it did not continue. The introduction of sin disturbed the relationship
of harmony between man and God; the rest no longer operated and God was obliged
to look forward to another rest. This time it was not for mankind generally
but for the people purchased by precious blood and it lay ahead of them
in the land of His promise. The good tidings or gospel of that promised rest
was preached to those redeemed Israelites (Hebrews 4:2) but they came short
of it and never entered in. They kept their own Sabbaths but they never
enjoyed God's Sabbath. We know, of course, that the next generation did
enter into that promised land, and therefore we may be somewhat surprised
to find the writer arguing that Joshua did not give them rest (v.8). Unbelief
still robbed them of what might have been and they could only remember that
first Sabbath without ever experiencing its bliss. Much later God was still
making His offer of rest as, through David, He appealed to His people not
to harden their hearts and so miss the promised rest. After so long a time,
then, God was still seeking a means of sharing His rest with men (v.7), and
we might have felt that at Jerusalem He had found it, for in another psalm
David wrote: "The Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for his habitation.
This is my resting place for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired
it" (Psalm 132:13-14). The sphere of rest had been narrowed down from the
earth to the land, and from the land to the temple. Still, however, men were
weary and heavy laden because of sin, so that it was not until Jesus the
Saviour came that God's perfect rest could be fully enjoyed. Jesus is the
true Sabbath and as such He made a violent contrast to the religious formalities
which so misrepresented God to the restless hearts of sinful men.
If we look back with wonder as we remember that first great Sabbath,
we may also look forward with glad expectation to the future inheritance
which awaits believers. "There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the
people of God. " The fullest interpretation of these words may well
[81/82] refer to eternal bliss, and we have no need to feel ashamed
of longings for that future paradise where sin can never enter and God's
beautiful Sabbath will never again be disturbed. We notice, though, that one
of the operative words of Hebrews 4 is "Today". Any day, any where, we may
know God's Sabbath rest, for it depends not on a time or place but upon a
Person, who still assures the heavy-hearted that they may find rest to their
souls if they will but come to Him. Indeed it is "Today" that this matter
is decided, for it is pitifully vain to wish or pray that any soul may "Rest
in Peace" in the hereafter unless it has first found forgiveness and peace
here in the present.
A thoughtful perusal of the Gospels will disclose that Christ did many
of His mightiest miracles on a Sabbath. Either He Himself chose the Sabbath
as the battleground on which He would meet His critics or else the Holy Spirit
picked out these special incidents to impress the importance of the Sabbath
on all who now read. In either case it is clear that we are meant to turn
away from mere observance of a day to think in terms of faith in a Person.
We no longer have the Sabbath of a seventh day. We do not even know which
is the seventh day, for the numbering of days is quite arbitrary and in
no way connected with Adam's first full day on earth. We have what we call
the first day, but it is not in any sense the Sabbath, but rather the Lord's
Day. Incidentally it is increasingly becoming the feature of our secular
society that calendars begin with Monday instead of Sunday nowadays! This
is most unacceptable to us, for the first day of our week is the Lord's Day.
So Christ is the first and the last: He is our resurrection life and He is
our Sabbath rest. We will never find rest in religious observance but only
in coming direct to Him.
There was something aggressively negative in the Pharisees' attitude
to the Sabbath. It was as though they made hard work out of their prohibitions
and restraints. They were intent on what they would not do and what others
must not do, so that the day inevitably became an occasion of tension. Any
such negative attitude on our part will have the same effect. True fellowship
with Christ means not repression but release. No doubt His invitation was
given to men who are "heavy laden" with sin, but it surely included the many
who found the legalistic burdens put upon them by Judaism hard to bear. To
come to Christ means to know blessed forgiveness but it should also mean
full deliverance from all other yokes but His, which is the kind and comforting
yoke of submission to His will. Here, then, is the promise of Sabbath rest.
The secret is to be found in coming to Jesus. If we ask what is meant by
the words "Come unto Me", we surely find the answer in the statement:
"We which have believed do enter into that rest" (Hebrews 4:3). It
focuses down into the matter of living faith.
FAITH IN GOD'S LOVE
To pursue this matter further, we are confronted with the call to have
faith in God's love. Why is this world such a restless, turbulent place?
Is it not because men have no conviction that God is love. One of the commonest
complaints about God is concerned with this very matter. "How can God be
a God of love?" men ask. If we remember the first Sabbath day we realise that
then that matter was not in question. Straight from the hands of his Maker,
man had no questions about the perfect love which surrounded him. It was
when the tempter raised questions about that love and when his insinuations
were listened to, that the human race began its long journey into restless
If we look at the incident recorded at the beginning of Matthew 12, we
find that the Pharisees mistakenly imagined that God would prefer to see
men hungry rather than that there should be risk of their breaking the Sabbath
by rubbing grains of corn in their hands to separate the wheat from the
chaff. There was no difficulty about the ownership of the plucked ears,
nor about the using of their jaws to munch the grain; it was the act of
plucking and separating that they condemned as "unlawful". Christ insisted
that His disciples were guiltless and that the reason behind the Pharisees'
harsh condemnation was that they misunderstand the God who wanted mercy
and shows mercy. In other words they may have had some theoretical knowledge
of divine things but they were far from being in harmony with God's nature
Had the controversy been continued, these religious leaders would possibly
have cited the experience of their ancestors when gathering manna. Indeed
we have the very first reference to the Sabbath in connection with the daily
fall of bread from heaven (Exodus 16:23). "There you are," the objectors
might have argued, "it was better for the people to go hungry on the
[82/83] Sabbath than to pick up the manna on that day," a specious
argument but a false one, for in fact there was no manna to be gathered.
In His bounty God had provided a double portion on the sixth day, so stressing
the fact that this heavenly bread was a free gift of God's love and not a
merely natural phenomenon which could be counted on automatically. It is
true that there were some hungry Israelites on the Sabbath in the desert,
but this was not because they kept the day but rather because they had ignored
its significance and refused to prepare for it as God had ordered. They did
not so much break the Sabbath, for there was no manna to be collected, as
miss the blessing of the Sabbath by mistrusting the love of God.
One of the Sabbath miracles of Jesus which most exhibited divine love
was the healing of the man at the pool of the five porches (John 5:1-9).
To my mind he seems to be the most unattractive of all those whom Christ
healed, as well as the most ungrateful. For thirty-eight years, that is,
for nearly two thousand Sabbaths, he had waited vainly in his paralysed condition,
with never a friendly hand to help him. On that Sabbath, however, the love
of God met him in the Person of Jesus Christ, and he walked away a free man.
Would the sabbatarians have condemned anybody who extended a hand of love
to this needy being? They were certainly quick to condemn the healed man
for daring to carry his bed instead of lying helpless on it. In due course
they were informed that the Jesus who had healed the cripple had also told
him to carry his bed, so they turned their spite on the Son of God.
These religious bigots, so intent on their exaggerated observance of
a day of rest, were prepared to murder Jesus for challenging their loveless
code. Religious bigotry usually carries the seeds of hatred within it; it
certainly knows little or nothing of divine love. Through the years a traditional
conception had been built up which made the Sabbath a matter for dread rather
than love. The Pharisees feared God's anger, and they feared their contemporaries'
condemnation. Christ showed that their fears were groundless -- at least
so far as God was concerned. He who had shared in the original Sabbath rest
of the Creator could rightly claim that He had always functioned in perfect
harmony with heaven: "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John
5:17). To Him it must have seemed pitifully tragic that men were prepared
to be so spiteful to Him and to their fellows over a day which had had as
its original basis God's rest of satisfied love.
In this case the Lord Jesus did an unusual thing. He sought out the healed
man and gave him some advice. This was surely to remind us all that God's
love is not open to presumption. Further sin would bring further -- and worse
-- calamity. The Sabbath is for liberty, not for licence: God's love calls
us to rest from self as well as sin.
FAITH IN GOD'S WISDOM
No doubt the Saviour's attitude to the Sabbath was a genuine puzzle to
the Pharisees. God's thoughts are often strange to man. They are both different
from and higher than all human ideas. If we try to reason spiritual matters
through, we inevitably get into a state of tension. The generation described
in Hebrews as those of whom God swore in His wrath: "They shall not
enter into my rest" (3:11) were rejected because they would not trust God's
leading. They accepted the evidence of their own eyes and the calculations
of their own minds, instead of humbly bowing to the superior wisdom of God.
No rest then for them, or for any others, who so react to God's Word!
The New Testament tells us of an occasion when the disciples were in
danger of the confusion which comes when human reasoning tries to grapple
with spiritual truths. On a certain Sabbath day they encountered a man who
had been born blind, and they tried to involve the Lord Jesus Himself in
their arguments as to the cause of this tragedy. The Lord soon silenced
that kind of mental ferment with a blunt statement that God had a purpose
in the man's condition and, what is more, had a cure for it. For the moment
human reasoning and disputations were silenced. They waited in submissive
patience for Christ to work the works of God, and as they waited, the true
power of the Sabbath brought healing and light to the darkened sufferer.
This happy man cheerfully admitted that there was much that he did not know
(John 9:25) and so he had no quarrel with God's wisdom. He could have reasoned.
He could have questioned the need for the clay. He could have logically denied
that washing it off would help his sightless eyes, or in any case that he
needed to go to Siloam for that purpose. He did none of [83/84]
these things. He trusted the word of the Saviour, he submitted to the wisdom
of God; and the result was a full recovery of sight. What a wonderful Sabbath
that must have been to him! It is always so when a man finds his rest in
complete submission to the will of God.
I think that it was the poet Milton who described the devil as 'Sabbathless
Satan'. When God questioned Satan as to his movements he reported that he
had been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it. When
later the Lord challenged him as to where he had come from, his reply again
was: "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in
it" (Job 2:2). There is no rest for those who dispute God's will. The Sabbath
peace on the earth was broken because questions about the Word and wisdom
of God were entertained by our first parents. They wanted to know. They thought
that they did know. They doubted the perfection of God's will. From then
on, man was excluded from the blessing of God's rest. There was no true Sabbath
until the second Man came, delighting in the will of God and prepared under
the fiercest test to make the choice: "Howbeit not what I will, but what
thou wilt", The secret of Sabbath rest is to be in active, intelligent, humble
co-operation with the will of God. God's rest is not idleness but the frictionless
harmony of submission to the mind of God.
It may seem strange that the Pharisees who were such ardent students
of the Word of God could so frequently clash with the Lord Jesus who is
central to it, yet is it not a fact that much of the disharmony and conflict
among Christians is associated with interpretations of that same Word of
God? Why is the true Sabbath rest so absent from the churches today? How
is it that there can be such acrimony among those who profess to honour
God's Word? Is it because we centre on ideas or procedures instead of having
Christ as our Centre? May it even be that, like the Pharisees, we are more
concerned with traditions and convictions of our own than with accepting
the yoke of the meek and lowly-hearted Saviour? Perhaps we are more afraid
of seeming to be wrong or of what we call 'compromise' when our first fear
should be "lest haply a promise being left of entering into his rest, anyone
of you would seem to have come short of it" (v.1). "Come unto me," said the
Lord Jesus. When we use our Bibles to do that we shall find rest, but if
we only treat them as a handbook we are in danger of controversial unrest.
FAITH IN GOD'S POWER
There can be no question of the importance of having implicit faith in
God's power. The repeated miracles which took place on the Sabbath Day stress
the fact. It is quite surprising to notice that a large proportion of the
Gospel miracles took place on the Sabbath. God rested from the actual work
of creation on that first Sabbath, but the quietness was not the hush of
inactivity but the irresistible manifestation of His power. Natural activities
were not suspended on that day; they functioned in effortless harmony. It
seems as if the Lord Jesus went out of His way to impress men with the marvellous
energy put forth when God is at rest.
There was the man with the withered hand. Nature could give him no aid.
Every effort he had made to stretch out that hand and grasp the gifts of
God had been completely ineffective. He was clearly a faithful attender at
the synagogue, but religion could not help him, for it was as powerless as
he was. Indeed the religious leaders would have hindered him if they could,
and they would have done this as part of their sabbath observance. The Lord
Jesus made the man stand out right in front of all (Mark 3:3). This was to
be no private affair between him and God but a public demonstration of divine
power. Then the Lord stressed what day it was -- if that were necessary --
and challenged the religious leaders on this very point. Did the wisdom of
God provide for a needy man to be helped or harmed on His special day of Sabbath
rest? Their hard-hearted unwillingness even to consider this point provoked
the gentle Saviour to real anger. They too were angered, but theirs was the
loveless anger of selfish bigotry, while His was the holy anger of divine
love. The crippled man evidently believed in God's power, for when Christ
told him to stretch out his hand, he obeyed. God's Sabbath did all that was
needed and his hand became as healthy as the other one.
Then there was the case of the woman who had been crippled with back
trouble for eighteen years. The comment that she could "in no wise lift
herself up" (Luke 13:11), suggests that she had exerted herself to the full
again and again during those long years, but had never been able to do anything
about it. She was powerless, [84/85] and she was therefore
a candidate for God's Sabbath power for "he that is entered into his rest
hath ceased from his own works ..." (Hebrews 4:10). The lesson is that for
all who will cease from their own struggling, cease also from unbelief about
Christ's power, and leave their case in His capable hands, there is the
experience of the fullness of God's Sabbath power. "There remaineth therefore
a rest for the people of God."
An extra factor which is mentioned in this case is the part which Satan
had played in this woman's sufferings. It was Satan's interference which
robbed earth and mankind of God's Sabbath rest. It was therefore unthinkable
that a redeeming God could observe one single day of non-activity until this
wrong had been righted. To the Lord Jesus it was not a question of man-made
procedures but of what ought to be in the face of this satanic challenge:
"Ought not this woman ... to have been loosed from this bond on the day of
the sabbath?" It is not right that any child of God should be subjected to
the pressures and confusion which Satan seeks to introduce into his life and
what is more, it need not be. Faith is the answer to all his attacks, faith
in God's love, God's wisdom and God's power.
When the Lord Jesus made His offer of soul rest to all who would come
to Him and accept His yoke, He added the injunction that we should learn
of Him. We need to read His story again and again in the Gospels. We need
to learn how possible it is to have heaven's peace in the heart and heaven's
power in the life even while we live and work in a hostile world. Best of
all, we need to allow the sharp, two-edged sword of His living Word to exercise
its discriminating power in our hearts, separating the natural ideas and
the soulish emotions from the truly spiritual leading of His Spirit. That
is why this passage ends with a reminder that we are not dealing with the
dead letter of the Book but with the ever-living Word, "the one with whom
we have to do" (v.13). If we allow Him to do so He will disclose the causes
of our lack of heart rest and draw us into an ever deeper experience of God's
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
13. DELIVERANCE (Chapter 7:1-25)
THIS chapter contains passages which are more difficult than all else
in the letter, perhaps even than anything else in the whole New Testament.
For the sake of clarity we will divide it into three sections: Dead to the
Law (1-6), The Law and Sin (7-13) and The Power of Sin in the Flesh (14-25).
DEAD TO THE LAW
IN chapter six the apostle has proclaimed the liberating truth that we
are set free from the dominion of sin and have become the servants of God.
We have died to sin (6:2). He has also said that we are no longer under
law but under grace, and that as a consequence sin shall not have dominion
over us (6:14). By this he has implied that in reality we are also dead
to the law. Can he really mean this?
We can understand that we have died to sin, but expect that the consequence
of this will surely be that we are alive to the law, which is really the
highest expression of the will of God. Can he really mean that the alternative
is to be under the law and therefore under sin, uncleanness and lawlessness
or under grace and therefore under obedience, righteousness and God? Can this
be Paul's gospel? Yes, this is what he preaches without apology. This is
his "bold" and unbelievable gospel, and it is the gospel of God. Although
the law was given by God, it cannot help us to take even one step along the
way of salvation. It contributed nothing to our justification, and equally
can contribute nothing at all to our sanctification. [85/86]
Some Christians may imagine their life to have this pattern:
According to this conception, the Christian has a direct relationship
to the law. Having been saved he is now put under an obligation to keep the
law which could not save him, with the comfort of knowing that if he does
not succeed Christ will intervene again and forgive his transgressions, but
will do so with the object of again placing him under an obligation to keep
The apostle's approach is quite different. He sees the relationship in
According to him, the Christian has no direct relationship to the law.
On the contrary, he is dead to the law, so it cannot come in between him
and his Saviour and Lord. Christ Himself is his righteousness and sanctification
and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). How is it possible that we have died
to the law? In the same way as it happened that we died to sin. When Christ
died, we died. This is a fact. This is the work of the cross which God has
done for us and with us.
In the first three verses Paul has emphasised that the law is only valid
for people while they are alive. Everyone knows that. The dead are outside
of law's dominion. A wife is bound to her husband only as long as he lives.
The law binds him to her and her to him, stamping her as an adulteress if
she joins another man while her husband is still alive. If her husband should
die, however, she is immediately freed from the law which bound her to him.
It seems that there are two possible ways of understanding Paul's illustration.
Some understand it thus: The first husband is our old man (6:16),
that lives in the flesh (7:5). The law is valid for him. So long as this
man -- in the illustration, the woman's first husband -- is alive, she is
legally bound to him. In other words, so long as we (the first husband) live
in the flesh, we (the wife) are bound under the law and thereby are under
the power of sin. But when he (the old man) dies, we (the wife) are free,
not only from him but also from the law which bound both him and her. The
death which set the wife free from her husband and the law, has taken place
in our case.
Others avoid the allegorical application and simply emphasise that the
only thing which Paul is saying is that death terminates the dominion of
the law. To make his point clear, the apostle has chosen the example of marriage,
not because it illustrates man's new relationship to Christ, but simply because
it provides an excellent example of how death ends the dominion of the law.
Could there be a better illustration of this fact?
Whether we regard the first idea of an allegory as the correct one or
whether we prefer the second explanation that it is simply a well-chosen
illustration, the result is the same. Paul's teaching is that the law cannot
extend its authority to those who are dead, so that the very fact that we
have died with Christ means that we are no longer within the law's sphere
of competence. The gospel clearly tells us that we do not belong to the law,
having died to it so that we might become joined to another, even Christ.
If we hold to the first allegorical interpretation, then we may say: "We have
been married to Christ", and as we do so we remember that according to the
biblical view of marriage that means that He has headship over us.
That we have died to the law is the liberating aspect of the gospel.
That we belong to the Lord is the positive and affirmative side. It is the
Lord "who was raised from the dead" (verse 4), who has made sin and death
powerless, He has all power in heaven and on earth. We belong to Him: He
is our Head. This fact makes it possible for us to bear fruit unto God.
Paul seems to teach that our first marriage (when we lived in the flesh
and belonged to the law) could not bear fruit unto God in sanctification.
"For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were through the
law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death" (verse 5). The
apostle is really saying that being under the law leads to the same result
as being under sin. "What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof
ye are now ashamed" he asks, "for the end of those things is death"
[86/87] (6:20-21)? Here in verse 5 he now affirms that when we were
in the flesh, the sinful passions which are awakened ( Danish) through
the law, wrought in our members to bring forth exactly the same fruit, namely,
death. To escape from the dominion of sin, therefore, we must escape from
the dominion of the law. How can we do that? Only by dying. That is the
only way, for as long as we are alive, we are under the rule of law. Its
validity covers all who are alive; it only fails to apply when men die.
But we have died. That is the liberating message of the gospel. "But
now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we
were holden" (v.6). We are not "married" to the law: we are "married" to
the risen Lord, and we have to do only with Him. This is a characteristic
Pauline expression, "wherein we were holden " which is translated in the
Danish: "that under which we were held prisoner". He is, of course, thinking
of slavery under the tyranny of sin, uncleanness and lawlessness, but he
includes the idea of slavery under God's law. He who is a slave under the
law is also a slave to lawlessness! This applies even when he thinks he is
serving God. Paul does not forget how zealously the law-abiding Saul of Tarsus
tried to serve God without realising that in fact he was serving lawlessness
and sin. He calls that activity "serving in oldness of the letter" and places
it in contrast with "serving in newness of the Spirit" (v.6).
Our old man (6:6) that lived "in the flesh" (7:5), was married to the
law and served in the oldness of the letter (v.6). This led to the law which
commanded us to do what we ought and forbad us to do what we ought not, awakening
in us all our sinful lusts through its very commands and prohibitions, with
the consequence that we bore fruit unto death. This "marriage" is dissolved
by death! We are now "married" to the risen Lord and Saviour. He is the Spirit
(2 Corinthians 3:17), and consequently we find ourselves new people in the
new service of the Spirit.
THE LAW AND SIN
FROM now on Paul uses a different form of presentation from that in most
of the letter by using the first person singular, the "I-form". He presumably
does this because he feels that if the great apostle describes himself in
this way, there can be no grounds for others thinking that they have any
superior position. The first person singular includes us all in itself. We
shall therefore regard this section as an autobiography of universal significance.
There can hardly be any doubt that the law was the greatest problem in
Paul's life, both before and after his conversion. Throughout his life he
was occupied with the meaning and place of the law. What he has just written
suggests that when it is in operation, the law always awakens sinful passions.
Does this mean that this will happen in the experience even of an apostle
if he allows the law to govern? Our Danish translators of the New Testament
so understood him, and consequently render the text: "when we were in the
flesh, the sinful passions which are awakened by the law, were active in
our members ..." (v.5). Since the law provokes sin, is it not then itself
sin? Are the law and sin really synonymous? Natural reasoning may so conclude,
but Paul emphatically rejects such a suggestion with his forceful "God forbid!".
Having put aside that argument he now turns to his use of the first person
to get to grips with the problem which he has gone into so thoroughly. "I
had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet: but
sin, finding occasion, wrought in me through the commandment all manner of
coveting ..." (vv.7-8). Although the law is not sin, but on the contrary
holy, the fact remains that sin can use it as a basis for its operations.
So long as the law had not said: "Thou shalt not covet", the matter of covetousness
does not arise, but when the command has been given, sin gets an opportunity,
which it duly utilises, to awaken "all manner of coveting". " Apart from
the law sin is dead".
The question has been raised as to whether Paul is really speaking of
himself. In his letter to the Philippians did he not claim that as a Pharisee
he was "as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless"?
How does this agree with his statement here that by the law sin awakened
all manner of coveting in him? In fact there is no contradiction in these
two statements as they applied to him before he became a Christian. The law
judged him from the outside and according to those righteous demands he was
blameless. Outwardly Saul of Tarsus never broke the law. But the real meaning
of the law was inward, so that God who looks beyond the outward to the inward,
found in [87/88] Saul a deceitful and a treacherous
heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and pronounced him a sinner and a transgressor.
It is striking that in this autobiography Paul singles out covetousness
as the hallmark of sin, for this corresponds with the Sermon on the Mount
where the stress is laid not only on the outer actions of the sinner but
on his inner desires. "When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died"
(v.9). Having previously repudiated the idea that the law was sin, he now
asks whether the holy law, with its commandment which is holy, righteous and
good, became death to him. Can we really lay the blame for our wretchedness
on the law? If so, it would be God who bears the blame, for He gave the law.
Once again the apostle will have none of this and answers the question with
a decided. "God forbid"! It was and is sin, and not the law, which became
death to me (v.13).
This is no odd, theoretical problem without practical significance. It
is a question which concerns us all. If we get the impression which some
hold, that if we are sinners it is God who is ultimately responsible for
our state, then we weaken both the seriousness of our sin and the grave fact
of our personal responsibility. If we are aware of our misfortune as sinners,
it is important to know the explanation of it all. What God's law did to
me was to show me how sinful I really am. By the help of the commandment
sin was made to show itself in its exceeding sinfulness (v.13). A power which
utilises God's holy and righteous law to bring death upon me is exceedingly
evil; it is devilish. Thank God there is one power which is superior -- the
grace of God (5:20-21). Only grace can destroy the dominion of sin.
THE POWER OF SIN IN THE FLESH
THIS part is even more difficult. Endless discussions have taken place
as to whether Paul is thinking of his condition before or after his conversion.
Some (including Augustine and Luther) affirm that Paul is here describing
the Christian, pointing out that he uses the present tense and places his
statements in the context of the Christian life. Others (including Evangelicals
from the 18th as well as our own century) insist that the apostle is describing
the unconverted person. They feel that such expressions as: "I am carnal,
sold under sin" (v.14) and: "O wretched man that I am" cannot apply to a
Christian. For them the difference between the atmosphere of defeat in chapter
7 and the enjoyment of victory in chapter 8 simply expresses the difference
between a non-Christian and a Christian.
In fact, however, the question of Christian or non-Christian hardly enters
into the apostle's line of argument. His problem is the relationship of law
and man, whether that man is a Christian or not. A Christian is certainly
not under the law, but should he turn back to it instead of remaining totally
dependent upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus, then he will find himself
just as helpless as a non-Christian and, like him, having nothing more to
rely upon than his own strength of character. So the tragedy repeats itself:
sin finds occasion through the commandment.
I have already pointed out that the Danish translation reads: "When we
were in the flesh, the sinful passions which are awakened through
the law, wrought in our members ..." (v.5). If a Christian falls back on
to legal ground -- which we are all in danger of doing -- then even an apostle
finds that in himself he has no defence or resistance against sinful passions.
These are always awakened by the law.
By his use of the first person (the I-form), Paul gives the greatest
possible emphasis to what he is saying. He means it very seriously. He wishes
to stress that in himself an apostle has no other resource than the
grace of God alone to keep him from the dominion of sin. His presentation
is passionate, for Paul feels very deeply about trying to use the law as
a way of salvation or sanctification. Everyone who treads that path is bound
to come under the power of sin, as Paul knows from his own experience. Hence
his hot words in his letter to the Galatians and his frank self-disclosure
here. He will shrink from nothing, however humiliating it may be for himself,
in his effort to insist that no one -- not even the chief apostle -- can so
attain as to be able to manage without the grace of God. Expressed in another
way, this means that however much spiritual experience we have, in ourselves
we are just as weak and prone to sin as ever we were. No one, then, can
have any grounds for self-confidence. If ever we regard grace as something
elementary which we have left behind, then our experience will correspond
with what Paul says of himself in this universal autobiography.
[88/89] It is sometimes asserted that in this section Paul is describing
the Christian life when the "I" is governing, whereas chapter 8 describes
that life when the Spirit is governing. It is pointed out that the words
"I", "me" and "my" appear frequently here with no mention of the Holy Spirit,
while it is just the opposite in chapter 8. If, however, we think in terms
of graduating out of chapter 7 into chapter 8, we miss the apostle's real
line of thought which is that as he is in himself (v.25) he will
always remain a wretched man, totally dependent upon the grace of God, since
in his flesh dwells no good thing. If, therefore, he departs from his dependent
relationship to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, he finds that he is still
what he was when he was first saved by grace -- a slave of sin.
Surprise has been expressed that Paul describes himself in the present
tense: "I am carnal, sold under sin" (v.14). How can the apostle say this
about himself after so many years of faithful service? Is this really his
experience? Does he not seem to be sanctioning a Christian life of constant
defeat? However surprised we may be, we must note that this is not the only
place where Paul speaks of himself in this way. Much later he writes: "Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy
1:15). He does not say that he was but that he still is the
chief of sinners. The truth is, of course, that after many years of service
accompanied by unbelievable hardships and sufferings he finds that he needs
the grace of God as much as ever. His old nature has not improved at all.
He is still completely dependent upon God's inexplicable and undeserved
This is difficult for us to receive. Man is always bound to the idea
of rewards for success. After some years as a Christian he tends to think
that now he is somebody and can do something -- almost that God can now
depend upon him. In this way he no longer thinks of himself as a sinner
saved by grace, but rather as a deserving and consecrated Christian who
can expect to receive from God some reward for his efforts. The moment he
does this, he again comes under the law, with the result that sinful passions
come to life again. He has to learn that a deserving Christian, a devoted
servant of the Lord, yes, even a great apostle, is no better than a wretched,
helpless sinner when he is left to himself and trusts in his own experiences.
In fact such a man has moved away from that gospel which is God's power
for full salvation.
Paul regarded bondage to the law as extremely dangerous. That is why
he fights against it uncompromisingly in his letter to the Galatians, and
why he concentrates on exposing its deceptive appeal in the Roman letter.
He says frankly that his flesh has not been improved nor tamed by his many
years of Christian experience. Every time he reverts to the thought of reward,
then -- but only then -- his flesh gets its opportunity and exposes itself
as incorrigibly sinful. This is most humiliating, but it is the realistic
We must be careful, though, not to read this section in a different spirit
from which it was written. Paul did not dictate these words when he was in
deep despair, gripped by hopelessness, but in a spirit of triumphant faith.
Nor does he want his readers to give way to despair when they hear his words.
Far from it! His purpose is to undercut any kind of self-confidence or idea
of merit. Instead of saying: "O wretched man that I am", he might just as
well have exclaimed: "O incorrigible man that I am! In myself, apart from
grace, I am hopeless!" That is what his words meant. They indicate that
there is no power in us and there never will be which can conquer covetousness,
lust, and their effects. Only one power exists which is superior to sin,
and that is the grace of God. It is the gospel of God which alone is the power
of God for us. Woe to anyone, whether he be a great apostle or an insignificant
"layman", who moves away from this fact and begins to think something of
his own powers, embarking in self-confidence upon attempts to fulfil the holy
law of God! Far from being a despondent man, Paul affirms that he knows the
answer: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (v.25), in other words:
"Thank God for full and constant deliverance by Christ".
He closes this autobiographical passage with a pithy summing-up of his
position, "as I am in myself" (Danish). So he has used all his apostolic
authority to disclose to us what is the liberating truth, and does so by
assuring us that in himself he is no better than anyone else. Let us note
that there is no apostolic authority for thinking that a Christian need remain
a servant of sin, one who must be content with wanting to do good and yet
being forced to do evil. God forbid! He will now go on to describe in chapter
8 what the Christian life is like for one who is not "in himself" but "in
Christ Jesus". There we can discover what in the apostle's view is the glorious
experience of full and constant deliverance [89/90]
which God has provided for us in the gospel of His Son.
The revealing autobiography of chapter 7 provides a radical emphasis
on the fact that the law is never any help in living the Christian life,
and it therefore acts as an introduction to the liberating preaching of
the gospel found in chapter 8. He gives us a warning against the peril of
imagining that the gospel should be understood as a divine means whereby
we are enabled to fulfil the law and so become righteous in ourselves. If
we understand the gospel in this way then we cannot avoid a direct confrontation
with the law, thinking that now, thanks to the power of God through the gospel,
we are able to fulfil it. This must bring failure, for everyone of us will
fail if we have a direct confrontation with the law. Paul experienced this
The gospel is God's own righteousness. In it is revealed the righteousness
of God or righteousness from God. It is not a means which we can use to become
righteous in ourselves, but it gives us righteousness from God by faith
and unto faith. In this way the law is fulfilled. The gospel, therefore,
does not confront us with the law, but with Christ. He who believes the gospel
is righteous before God for time and eternity. He has not first to win righteousness,
for he is fully righteous. He does not have to prove that he is fulfilling
the law, for God's righteousness needs no proofs. The law has no demands
to make on such a man; he is not living within its sphere and is not occupied
with its "Thou shalts" and its "Thou shalt nots", but is filled with the
love of God in Christ Jesus.
(To be continued)
A MATTER OF URGENCY
(Studies in John's Gospel. Chapters 13-17)
John H. Paterson
1. THE OCCASION
THE words of the Lord Jesus which are contained in the thirteenth to
seventeenth chapters of John were evidently spoken in a short time period
between supper one day and the arrest of Jesus later the same evening. Some
scholars have argued that it was not so: that John was never very concerned
about chronology, and that he merely brought together in these chapters
a collection of the Lord's sayings which may have been spoken over a long
period and on different occasions. There is, of course, no way of disproving
such an assertion. The best we can do is to try to understand these chapters,
and see whether their internal coherence is sufficiently striking to make
us feel that what we have is a more or less verbatim account of the Lord's
words on that memorable evening.
If we accept, for the moment, that everything happened in one short period,
immediately prior to Jesus' arrest and removal, then we are confronted with
a situation which it takes a little effort to imagine. The Lord Jesus had
been with His followers for three years. During that period He had been teaching
them, but they had proved to be dreadfully slow learners: they misunderstood
what He told them, and refused even to consider some of the possibilities
to which He tried to open their minds. At the end of these three years He
now had, let us suppose, three hours in which to round off His instructions
-- to tell them all the other things they needed to know in order to survive
in the future.
This would have been difficult enough if He had known that He would,
in some way, be available to them in the future as He had been in the past.
But the very first point which He had to get them to grasp was that He would
not be there: He was going away. Whatever could He do now to make
There is a rough contemporary parallel to which we can turn for understanding
of this dilemma. As I write this, the World Cup is under way in Argentina.
It appears that some of the teams involved have indeed been in training for
at least three years -- learning to work together; learning how to survive
on the road to the cup final. Now we can imagine that the coach or manager
has just a few minutes before his team takes the field. What is he to say
to them? [90/91] Should he start at the very beginning
and try to remind them of all that they have learned in those three years?
Or should he pick out one or two key factors and say, in effect, 'If you
forget everything else, at least remember this'? Should he give them
an elementary lesson in kicking a football?
I suggest that there hangs over these chapters the same kind of question
and the same sort of urgency, but with added dimension. For one thing, the
precious moments available to the Lord Jesus were further reduced by the
questions of His bewildered followers, some of which showed all too clearly
that they had little or no idea of what was going on. At least the team manager
in Argentina would not expect to be interrupted in his 'pep talk' before the
game by players asking to be reminded of the rules of football. The goalkeeper
would not interrupt to ask 'What is a goal?' or the captain to be
reminded how many players the team was allowed to field. Yet some of the questions
which His disciples asked Jesus were about the equivalent of these, in their
perception of what He was saying. What a waste of valuable time!
For another thing, when Jesus was preparing to leave His disciples He
knew -- indeed He predicted to them (13:37-38) -- that the very first thing
that would happen after He left them was to be a tragic defection. Peter
would deny Him. If we may use the trivial football analogy once again, this
was a team which, within seconds of taking the field, would have conceded
the simplest of goals. It would enter the competition not on level terms
but at an immediate disadvantage. How could it hope to succeed?
Under such stresses as these, most of us would become irritated, desperate
or strident. The Lord Jesus did not; on the contrary He turned the stupidest
questions to suit His purposes. But all these interruptions can only have
increased the sense of urgency. The hour had come and there were certain
things they had to understand.
His principal concern was to prepare them for the fact that they would
be without Him. His coming into their lives, three years before, had been
revolutionary: what would His leaving them be like? For they had come to
rely completely on Him. Not only were they reliant on Him in a material sense
-- had they not left their livelihoods behind to follow Him? -- but, much
more importantly, they relied on Him for their knowledge of God. He had taught
them things about a Father -- and that concept in itself was new -- which
their own teachers, the priests and rabbis, had evidently not even glimpsed.
More important still, He had provided for them a contact with the power
of God; through Him they had been able to do things which, within their
knowledge, only the very greatest figures in their nation's past had been
able to do: "Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in your name" (Luke
10:17). Through Him, they could actually see and feel God at work. And now
He told them, almost casually, that He, their vital link with God, would
not be available any more. They must have been stunned.
All this forms a minimal background for our understanding of these chapters:
the limited time available, the enormous changes about to take place, the
disciples scrabbling for a foothold in what must have seemed to them like
a mental earthquake. Through this situation there sounds out His calm, reassuring
message: everything has been foreseen and planned. Alternative arrangements
have been made. If only they will listen, He will explain.
The Lord Jesus used the remaining few moments to do four things: (1)
to give an example, (2) to offer an explanation, (3) to deliver
an exhortation, and (4) to pray. The first of these occupies
the well-known passage at the beginning of John 13: "I have given you an
example" (v.15). The fourth occupies the seventeenth chapter, in which the
Lord prayed both for Himself and for His disciples. The second and third --
explanation and exhortation -- occupy the central section of the chapters,
beginning with 13:12: "Do you know what I have done to you?"
It is these central sections, occupying chapters 14 to 16, on which critical
attention has been focused. They are rather fragmented; the line of thought
is not easy to trace, and several of the ideas are repeated two or three
times. It might therefore be concluded that we do indeed have here a collection
of Jesus' sayings, assembled by John from different times and places. What
I think is much more likely, however, is that they contain a single set of
explanations and instructions, interrupted repeatedly by the disciples' questions.
The Lord Jesus, with all the pressures of time against Him, patiently stopped,
responding to these questions, and then worked His way back again to restate
[91/92] His intended theme. The questions led Him
down a number of by-ways, and would probably have distracted anyone of us
to the point of complete frustration. But somehow He kept up the momentum
of His talk, returning to, and repeating, the point at which He had been distracted.
It is in this way, I suggest, that the repetitions are to be explained, and
it is a method which those of us who are teachers ourselves would probably
try to adopt in class, always providing that our patience did not run out
before the end of the period!
The key idea in the whole of the Lord's discourse is what I have referred
to as the 'alternative arrangements'. Over the three years which had elapsed
since they first met Him, the disciples had found an access to God, to both
His thoughts and His power, which neither they nor their contemporaries had
previously known. This lifeline to God ran through the Lord Jesus. If they
needed anything, they asked Him for it. If they had questions about what
God is like, He answered them. He told them what God was thinking, and what
He expected them to do. He explained the events that surrounded them from
God's point of view. They knew how empty and ignorant they had been without
Given all that, how could it possibly be true that there was some
better arrangement for the future? Yet that is precisely what He set
out to convince them of: "It is to your advantage that I go away" (16:7
RSV). The 'alternative arrangements' which involved His absence would be
preferable to the old system -- more truth; greater works; direct access
to the Father without need of a go-between or interpreter. All this and
much more would be theirs if only they could face the fact of His departure.
Let us try to visualise the magnitude of this change-over, so that we
may more fully sympathise with the disciples in their perplexity. In these
days of medical discovery and ecological concern, we have become familiar
with the idea of a 'life-support system'. We know about heart transplants,
about 'switching off the machine' and about astronauts who breathe an artificial
atmosphere all the way to the moon and back. All these are examples of 'alternative'
life-support systems. And it is not, perhaps, too far fetched to use the
medical analogy and see in these chapters of John's Gospel the first-ever
heart transplant. The disciples who had for three years enjoyed a life-support
system of which the Lord Jesus was the heart were going to undergo a kind
of transplant. He was going away, and the heart of the new system was to be
No wonder, then, that they felt a little confused!
(To be continued)
"A MAN IN CHRIST"
"I know a man in Christ" (2 Corinthians 12:2)
THE object of our consideration is manhood in relation to the Lord's
testimony, and for it we take a little phrase used by the apostle Paul about
himself: "I knew a man in Christ". To it may be linked a few other simple
"I JESUS have sent my angel to testify unto you ..." (Revelation
"I JOHN, your brother and partaker with you ..." (Revelation 1:9)
"Now I PAUL myself entreat you ..." (2 Corinthians 10:1)
"I DANIEL understood by the books ..." (Daniel 9:2)
These personal references were evidently inspired by the Holy Spirit,
and therefore carry their own significance. Humanity is a divine conception,
something taking its origin in the mind of God. Being, then, in the eternal
thought of God, it has come to stay. There is nothing in all the Scriptures
to indicate that God at some time, at some point, is going to finish that
order of beings and replace it with another -- angelic or otherwise. No, manhood
has come to stay. In [92/93] the divine thought, manhood
is a very noble thing with a very great and high destiny.
THE DIGNITY OF MAN IN GOD'S THOUGHT
In this article we may have largely to be occupied with the correcting
of faulty ideas in order to get at the true. Our ideas about man have become
somewhat confused. Evangelical Christianity has placed great emphasis upon
man's total depravity. I have nothing to take from that. We need to remember,
however, that every truth runs close to error. It is just as true to affirm
that man is a very wonderful creation, "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm
139:14). We are constantly discovering new realms within the human soul,
and it is the soul of man which is the very core of humanity. From time to
time we are surprised at what there is in us all of capability and capacity,
of unsuspected forces at work. There are two sides to this matter of humanity;
the one, which is perfectly true, of man's total depravity; the other, equally
true, of the dignity of the human idea in the mind of God. These two must
be properly balanced, or many evils may result. May we try to correct a
few faulty ideas so that we can understand more of God's real thought concerning
OUR INDIVIDUALITY IS NOT ANNIHILATED BY THE CROSS
Running closely alongside of what is so often our unbalanced conception
of man, there is our idea as to the meaning of the cross in his experience.
We place a great deal of emphasis upon that side of the cross which relates
to our identification with Christ in His death; not only the removal, by
that death, of our sins, but also of ourselves. The cross wholly and utterly
sets aside one kind of man. There is nothing to take from that, and nothing
to add to it: it is true. But our individuality is not annihilated by the
cross; the cross does not destroy our personal entity. It deals with the basis
of that humanity upon which we are now living because of Adam, but it does
not destroy us. We need to be very careful not to try to carry the cross
into realms where it is never supposed to operate. We must not think that
identification with Christ in death and burial somehow means that we cease
to function as sensible beings. The cross is never meant to create or minister
OUR INDIVIDUALITY IS NOT LOST IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
Another faulty conception is related to membership of the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is a great reality, a wonderful truth. We have nothing
to take from the fact that we have a related life in Christ as members of
His body. We must be careful, though, to avoid the false conception of the
Church as Christ's body which regards the individual distinctiveness of each
member as being destroyed so that all may be merged as it were into a general
lump. Paul is very careful to point out the importance of the personal form
of each member: "If the whole body were an eye ... If the whole were hearing
..." (1 Corinthians 12:17).
We have only to consider our own bodies, both inside and out, to know
that the smallest organ has its own distinctiveness. Each has a specific
form and a distinct function, and at times it is one of the effects of disease
that it destroys the distinctive function of some organ. If this is true physically,
it can be true spiritually. We must not confuse individualism with individuality.
That is a mistake. Yes, individualism is unacceptable but individuality is
of supreme importance.
The same truth obtains in the whole creation. One of the wonders of God's
creation is its endless variety. Yet the whole of the creation is interdependent:
every branch depends on another branch, the flower on the bee and the bee
on the flower. This is a divine principle found everywhere, each individual
living thing must have its own form, though being dependent on others for
the justification of its existence and the realisation of its destiny.
GOD'S IDEA IS A MAN
A further faulty idea is to think that God's work is performed by reason
of an office rather than with the person who bears that office. We think
of them under certain designations, such as 'ministers', 'missionaries', 'whole-time
workers' or 'preachers', but God thinks of them in their capacity as human
beings. They must not cease to be persons and become things. It is easy for
those concerned to regard themselves as something that belongs to a platform
or a class and so obscure the importance of personality. We may think of
sending out a missionary, but God talks of sending a man. It is the man not
the occupation which matters with Him, and we must not let any office obscure
the character of the person who holds it. [93/94]
GOD WANTS ORIGINALITY
Here is a very important point, this matter of originality. From one
point of view it may be argued that there is nothing in itself really original:
"There is nothing new under the sun" was what Solomon said. Nevertheless
God can do in us that which makes "all things new". Nothing should be copied
or mechanical in our life and ministry, but everything emerging from a first-hand
experience of God. This is the secret of spiritual authority. What made the
authority of the Lord Jesus greater than that of the scribes (Matthew 7:29)
was not that He had more academic information than they had, but that He
clearly spoke from His own experience, He spoke directly from God.
On our case, too, God demands a history behind what we say. His testimony
is not the mechanical propagation of truths but their living power as embodied
in human lives. We are not here just to stand as a kind of middle man, taking
up from a store and passing on in a mechanical way, but to communicate what
has become original spiritual truth in our own personal experience. Originality
is essential. Everything has got to begin with us before it can be given
to others with an effect or lasting value. We need to begin with personal
history. We cannot live on the experience of others, however real those experiences
were to them.
"I JESUS." Does not that impress you, coming right at the end of the
Bible and being the last utterance of the Lord to His churches? Notice that
He did not say, "I the Lord", but "I Jesus". All Bible students know that
in the New Testament the name 'Jesus' refers to the days of His earthly life.
After His exaltation they always added 'Lord' to His other titles and names,
and the apostles only used the name Jesus alone when they wished to emphasise
His perfect humanity. Used by itself the name refers back to His life of
humiliation when He took the form of a man. "He was found in fashion as a
man" (Philippians 2:7). The word 'fashion' means that in all outward appearance
He was like other men. Another word is used of what He was inside; that was
something other. But in this outward fashion as a man He took the name Jesus,
which was one of the most common names in Palestine then. So the name carries
us back to the day when He was going through all that which made spiritual
history in Himself -- tried, tested, tempted in all points like as we are
(Hebrews 4:15) and being "made perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10).
History was being made in His Humanity. As a Man, He was learning obedience
by the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). This in no way questions His
deity. It means that though God incarnate, Jesus was knowing all about human
life, making spiritual history in terms of manhood, with intrinsic values
which will be for the ages of the ages. Having done all that in terms of manhood,
He at last presents Himself to His churches, saying: "I Jesus".
Then there is the writer of the book who introduces himself with the
phrase, "I John". His experience was on so much smaller a scale, yet in
its measure it was true that what he wrote was not something which had come
mechanically to him but the result of vital experience. Of the Word he was
able to say: "That which we have heard, that which we have seen with our
eyes, and our hands handled ...". It has become a part of us. We have a
vital relationship with the truth as it is in Him. It follows that we are
now in a position to mention ourselves in relation to the testimony of Jesus.
Then Paul, who spoke of himself as "a man in Christ" was also allowed
to bring himself into view with the authority of one who had history behind
him: "Behold, I Paul say unto you ..." (Galatians 5:2). What Paul taught had
become the very substance of his being. He was not talking about abstract
truths but about things which had actually happened to him. Having had the
truth wrought into him he could affirm in the Spirit: "I Paul say unto you".
Was that not also true of Daniel? "O man greatly beloved" (Daniel
10:19). God did not say to him: "O prophet greatly beloved" or "O servant
of the Lord greatly beloved" but "O man ...". The man is a man of God, a
man in the Lord, and so there is great spiritual authority when he says: "I
Naturally woman is included, for God is concerned with humanity. He plans
to fulfil His will in human beings. Leaving aside our special reference to
Jesus, whom we know as a human being plus, we glory in the fact that
these servants of God were so essentially human. John was so human. Paul
was so human. Daniel was a human being. Through His Son God makes something
of Himself as a part of human life, and in doing so constitutes the testimony
God's great objective with you is not to make [94/95]
you a Bible teacher, a missionary, a Christian worker. These may emerge,
according to the form which your life may take, but they will not be eternal.
It is you as a man or a woman with whom God is taking such pains, He is more
concerned with our humanity than with anything else. You will misunderstand
His ways with you if you fail to recognise that. You will be tempted to worry
about your reputation, your job, your function, while God is supremely concerned
with the kind of man you will be in Christ. All else is of lesser importance.
The great thing is for God to find His eternal satisfaction in glorified
men -- men in Christ.
LEARNING FROM LEVITICUS
Arthur E. Gove
1. THE BURNT OFFERING
Reading: Leviticus 1:1-17
THE book of Leviticus may seem obscure and uninteresting to the superficial
reader, especially as its title suggests that it is concerned with the ministry
of the Levites. This is really a misnomer, for there is only one single reference
to the Levites in the whole book (25:32-33). In accordance with the Hebrew
procedure of calling these books by their first words, the real title of
this book is "And the Lord Called". This is most significant for in fact
it contains more of the very words that God spoke than any other book in
the Bible. Since it deals with the priesthood, the Tabernacle and the offerings,
it might be argued that there is no need to look at the shadows when we have
the New Testament substance, but there are good reasons and important issues
for God's redeemed people in the book, and therefore it merits close attention.
This much neglected book tells us:
(1) How God is to be approached and worshipped
(2) Of the holiness of God
(3) That even the redeemed may only approach God on the ground of sacrifice
and shed blood
(4) That the redeemed people are to live holy lives because their Redeemer
For these and other reasons, therefore, this may claim to be the most
remarkable book in the Old Testament. In Exodus we see God approaching man
in redemption, whereas in Leviticus we see man approaching God. In Exodus
God offers pardon; in Leviticus He calls the pardoned to purity. In Exodus
man is given union with God, but in Leviticus he is called to communion with
Him. In Exodus God speaks from the mount while in Leviticus He speaks "out
of the tabernacle of the congregation". It is so possible that Christians
who are truly grateful to the Lord for deliverance from the slavery of sin
are not so ready to enter into their privilege of communion with God. But
that is the divine intention in redemption and it is all possible through
Christ. In fact one old writer has said: "In the Old Testament economy God
was showing His people their letters." Now He teaches us how to put the letters
together and when this is done they spell out C H R I S T.
EACH of the five offerings show us some aspect of Christ's one offering,
and in each offering there are three elements: The Offering, the Priest and
the Offerer. Christ is to be seen in each one of these three. Our method
would naturally be to begin with the last of the five, the Trespass Offering,
for this is the one which deals with the putting away of our sins. God, however,
does the reverse for He begins with the Burnt Offering for it is this which
brings to our notice the Godward aspect of the cross. It is natural enough
for us to think of the wondrous cross which brings us forgiveness of our
sins, but how much more important it must be to understand what the death
of the Lord Jesus on the cross meant to His Father. This is the meaning of
the Burnt Offering.
The essential truth of the Burnt Offering is that it portrays Jesus in
His absolute devotion to the Father, delighting to do His will. For the
moment there is no question about the putting away of sin but everything
is focused upon Christ's unswerving dedication to the Father's good pleasure.
There were different grades in the offering, the bullock (v.5), the sheep
or goat (v.10) and the dove or pigeon (v.14), so that the sacrifice was available
for all classes of people according to their means, but in each case the supreme
feature of the Burnt Offering was that [95/96] ALL
was consumed upon the altar. Christ's fulfilment of this absolute devotion
to the will of God is described in Hebrews, where there is a quotation from
Psalm 40: "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written
of me) to do thy will, O God".
It is specifically stated that the Burnt Offering must be "without blemish"
(v.3). Only Christ could make such an offering to God. "Christ through the
eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God" (Hebrews 9:14). No one
had ever done that before. No one else could ever do it. Only the perfect
Christ could affirm that He had glorified the Father on the earth and finished
the work entrusted to Him. The offering was "before the Lord" (v.3) and "of
a sweet savour unto the Lord" (v.9). Only God Himself could fully estimate
the value of the person and work of Christ. It was an offering of the highest
order. The perfect Man Christ Jesus brought absolute satisfaction to God
in all His holiness. By the absolute devotedness which He showed in His life
and even to death, and by His complete obedience to the Father's will, He
brought deep joy and utter satisfaction to the heart of God. The supreme
feature of the death of Christ at Calvary was that it gave God His full portion
of devoted love. "Walk in love, as Christ ... hath given himself for us an
offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" (Ephesians 5:2).
WE are apt to think so much of the cross as the place where the sin question
was settled, where our guilt was atoned for and where Satan was vanquished.
All this is true, gloriously true. But it was also the place where the love
of the Lord Jesus was told in terms which only the Father could understand.
The Burnt Offering is described as "voluntary", for Jesus voluntarily took
the cup which the Father gave to Him and He did so with the conviction that
this would bring satisfying joy to the Father's heart: "Therefore doth the
Father love me, because I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:17-18).
God's glory is the supreme issue; Christ's love to us and our salvation in
Him could only be valid if they were founded upon the established glory of
The offerer was to put his hand upon the head of the offering and in
this way to be fully identified with it. In a sense Christ was both offerer
and offering, but in our human experience it is for us to be identified
with our great Burnt Offering, as it were to lay the hand of faith upon Him.
There is no acceptance without the offering, so that the person who is not
so identified with Christ is "still in his sins", unaccepted and unacceptable.
Those who are so identified with Christ, however, have the joy of knowing
that the question now is not what we are but what the sacrifice is, which
means that we have perfect acceptance with God through Jesus Christ. We ask,
Is it possible for me to bring God the devoted love which He deserves? The
answer is: "It shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him" (v.4).
Christ's unshakeable devotedness to God is accounted to the believer. On
our behalf Christ has provided perfect satisfaction for the heart of God.
The word "atonement" here implies "making satisfaction " and its fullness
and perfection can be measured by the perfect satisfaction which it brings
to the heart of God. How wonderful it is to be assured that as we claim Christ
as our whole Burnt Offering we are not only accepted but we bring complete
pleasure to the heart of God.
"He shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces" (v.6).
This is peculiar to the Burnt Offering, and is similar to the procedure with
the fowls when the priest was commanded to pluck away the crop with the
feathers (v.16). The removal of the skin of the animal was intended to reveal
its inward parts and to remind us that Christ was perfect inwardly as well
as outwardly. In His case there could be no question of a mere surface work;
the more exposed His inner life becomes, the more we see the utterness of
His devotion to the Father's will. So completely was He tested and tried for
our sakes that it was as though He were cut to pieces, but in all the severity
of His trials there was never revealed one single blemish in His holy love
for the Father.
IT was a feature of the Burnt Offering also that everything was for God:
"The priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar" (v.13),
and "the priest shall burn all on the altar" (v.9). From this sacrifice
there was nothing for the priest nor for any man; it was all for God. What
a defective understanding of the work of Christ upon the cross is that which
thinks only or first of the sinner's need! The supreme value of that sacrifice
is what it meant to God Himself. There is that in Calvary which only He can
know and appreciate. There were no especially strong points in the character
of Jesus because there were none which had any weakness. His character was
[96/97] perfectly balanced and symmetrical, and everything
He had and was, He gladly gave in utter devotion to the Father's will.
This, then, is the testimony which the Holy Spirit delights to bless,
the message of Christ's perfect acceptance with the Father on our behalf
and our consequent perfect acceptance in Him. The Godward aspect of the cross
should fill our hearts with worship and wonder, for it assures us of God's
complete satisfaction through Christ's death and reminds us that this is the
measure of our own standing before God; we are "accepted in the Beloved".
(To be continued)
WHY DON'T YOU LEAVE THEM ALONE?
"WHY don't you missionaries leave them alone? The Muslims have got their
own Faith, the Hindus have theirs, and the Buddhists theirs. Surely they
are all right as they are, with their own religions. Why do they need to be
converted to Christianity?"
From time to time a missionary on furlough will meet this sort of argument.
It would be easy to pass it by and avoid the real issue that the question
raises. What is our attitude to other religions and to the people who practise
This is not a new problem. It faced the early Church as it began to move
out of Judaism into the Gentile world. One of the clearest examples of contact
between emerging Christianity and contemporary religions is found in Acts
17:23-31, where Paul is brought to the Areopagus to speak to the philosophers
of Athens. Paul's subsequent speech furnishes us with some Biblical guidelines
concerning our attitude to those of other religions.
At the beginning of his address, Paul's attention is focused on the religious
devotion of the Athenians: "I perceive that in every way you are very religious"
(v.22). Right from the beginning Paul recognises that these people were religious,
and sincere in their Faith. For a Jew, brought up in a strong monotheism,
their idolatry must have horrified him. Yet he didn't scorn them for their
seemingly strange beliefs. He respected their religion and avoided unnecessary
criticism. He saw in their religiousness an expression of the fact that
man was made in the image of God, and therefore made to respond to his Creator.
However inadequate and even false the Gentile religion might be as a consequence
of sin, its very existence is nevertheless a confirmation of the fact that
man still retains the fundamental character of a religiously responsible
So often Christians have scorned those of other religions and failed
to show much love. In past times, some Christians fought against the Muslims.
Now we no longer fight with swords, but some Christians still think it is
their duty to battle against Islam with hot arguments and abuse. Often people
have thought that to be a good Christian you must condemn the non-Christian.
This is a mistake (Luke 6:37). As Christians, we should hold firm to our
own Faith, whilst showing love and respect in our attitude to people of other
Jesus Christ said that the second commandment is: "You shall love your
neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:31). Whether one is a missionary working
in Africa, or a Christian in this country with an immigrant family living
in the same street, one must love those of other religions. One should be
friendly, and little by little try to break down the barriers that separate,
accepting the sincerity of their beliefs and giving respect to whom respect
In approaching people of other religions, there are two errors that a
Christian can make. The first we have already seen is being hostile and aggressive.
The other is that of compromise or keeping silent about one's faith. Some
think that they shouldn't tell others anything about the gospel because
that might offend them.
Paul did not compromise or keep silent. Although he respected their Faith,
he was not afraid to make an evaluation of the religion of the Athenians.
Paul says in effect: "That which you worship, acknowledging openly your ignorance,
I proclaim unto you" (v.23). In saying this he does not mean he is going
to complete what the Athenians already possess of true [97/98]
religion. On the contrary, what they acknowledge as ignorance has a far
deeper meaning for Paul. He maintains a clear distinction between the Christian
gospel and other religions. Paul is careful neither to accommodate his gospel
to the Athenian religion, nor to imply that they need only supplement their
Faith with a few new concepts from Christianity. He calls them to repentance
and conversion from their ignorance.
Frequently the actual beliefs of the people are unrelated to the pure
teaching of their religion. Buddhist priests in Japan ought to spend their
lives in pursuit of enlightenment. In practice, the priests spend much of
their time reciting prayers in a language that is quite incomprehensible
to the modern Japanese. They are motivated by a fear of the spirits of the
dead and seek to prevent them from interfering with the living. It is not
true that people are happy as they are; most of them are bewildered and lost
in superstition and fear of death.
When approaching those of other religions, a basic principle of good
teaching is to start from the known and move to the unknown. Our starting
point should be those things with which people are familiar. Paul began
with the altar "to an unknown god", which was a familiar object to the people
of Athens. Likewise, in speaking to a Muslim, our approach should open with
those aspects with which he is already acquainted -- One God, Jesus as Prophet
and Teacher, prayer, and the last judgment.
The answer to ignorance is wisdom. Some people would argue that the important
thing is a person holding to a Faith, regardless as to whether it is Islam,
Hinduism or some other religion. They have their Faith, and that is sufficient.
But their faith must be based on truth. A faith in a non-existent god is
as ineffective as faith in an imaginary chair. If one places one's trust in
either, one will be let down. Paul's sermon therefore continues with a disclosure
of the nature of God. First, He is the Creator: "God that made the world
and all things therein" (v.24). Secondly, God is Spirit. He does not live
in shrines made by man. He is not confined by the physical, but is Spirit.
Thirdly, He is Self-sufficient. He does not need to be carried in a temple
cart, or to receive gifts of food from men. On the contrary, He is the First
Cause of all things. Not only is He the Creator of man, He is also the Lord
of human history: "having determined allotted periods and the boundaries
of their habitation" (v.26).
Finally, God is the Ultimate. God has made every man so that instinctively
he longs for God. In the darkness, man gropes for reality, and is dissatisfied
until he finds Him. A religion, of itself, will never satisfy unless it brings
man to God: "They should seek God in the hope that they might feel after
him and find him" (v.27). It is sometimes argued that God may well have spoken
to men through other religions and we ought therefore to give them the benefit
of the doubt. The Bible does not deny that God has spoken to men outside
Christianity. Christians fully accept the Jewish Scriptures as authoritative
and inspired by the same Lord in whom both Jews and Christians believe. But
now has come the final revelation of God in Christ Jesus, which leads Peter
to proclaim: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Paul moves on logically in his argument to face his listeners with the
practical repercussions of this revelation. "The times of ignorance God
overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent" (v.30). We
are now in a new era. In Christ the full revelation of God has come. In
the New Testament, the term "repent" refers basically to a change of mind.
It consists of a radical transformation of thought, attitude and direction.
Repentance must come first in conversion, because only one who is oppressed
by sin will realise his need of salvation.
Men everywhere are conscious of not having lived up to their own moral
standards. Hudson Taylor claimed that he had never met one Chinese, be he
scholar or farmer, who for an instant could claim that he had lived up to
all the light which he possessed. Many Muslims are deeply concerned about
the Day of Judgment. In his daily prayers he asks for forgiveness, and he
continually repeats the formula: "I ask forgiveness of God". He knows when
he has done wrong, and hopes for forgiveness through the mercy of God. Yet
he is fully aware that through his religion he can have no assurance of
forgiveness or pardon for sin.
God commands all men everywhere to repent. Even in this, Paul did not
stand aloof from the [98/99] Athenians. A missionary
only dare go to those of other religions as one sinner going to another in
love. The fact that the missionary knows that he has been forgiven should
engender no pride. Paul in his fanatical adherence to Judaism needed to repent
and come to the living Christ. Likewise, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu
and even the nominal Christian must repent and acknowledge Him who "will
judge the world in righteousness".
Evangelism has been defined by J. I. Packer as "communication with a
view to conversion". Not all will respond to the message. There will be
those who mock. They will refuse to accept anything that is outside their
Just as the Athenians stumbled over the concept of the resurrection of
the dead, most Muslims today stumble over the idea of Jesus as the Son of
God. Muslims feel that the title "Son of God" is dishonouring to God and
to the Lord Jesus. Yet many really do want to know the truth about the person
of the Lord Jesus. So often by insisting upon our doctrinal phrases, we
may fail to communicate the truth. When a Muslim asks: "Was Jesus the Son
of God?", it is better to answer by asking what he means by this term.
The Pharisees often asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, but He seldom
said, "Yes, I am". This was simply because their ideas of the Messiah were
false. He conveyed the truth about Himself in other ways, for example, by
taking the name of God and adding simple illustrations to it, such as, "I
am the bread of life", or, "I am the good shepherd". We must try to convey
to the Muslim something of the wonder of the person of our Lord without
using the term, "Son of God" until he has begun to understand.
Even though some of the Athenians mocked, there were others who said,
"We will hear you again about this". There will always be those who will
want to hear more. They will refuse to conform to the popular notions around
them. Out of this group will be those who respond and believe -- men like
Dionysius, the Areopagite, one of the members of the unique court of the
Areopagus, consisting of thirty of the most respected men of Athens. Thank
God that throughout the history of the Church there have always been those
who have responded to the claims of Jesus. What a mercy that Christ's witnesses
paid no attention to the cry: "Why don't you leave them alone?"!
A PILGRIM'S PRAYER
1. A PILGRIM WHOSE HEART IS AFLAME
"Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness
THE sinner does not really start his pilgrimage by turning to Christ.
This first movement is simply an urgent action of fleeing to Jesus for refuge.
Having done this, however, and discovered something of the greatness of the
love of Christ, he finds his own heart moved in an eager quest for the will
of God. He becomes a pilgrim, then, because he is a man of a captured heart.
As he sets out on his spiritual journey, he finds that he can only do so
with the Word of God ever near at hand. It is a wonderful day when a person
who has hitherto found the Bible a boring book suddenly meets Christ in the
Word and so discovers it to be a source of endless delight.
This pilgrim's enthusiasm is due to the fact that every aspect of the
Word is made intensely personal by the possessive pronoun, "Thy", which provides
a personal link with the Lord Himself. There are only four verses of this
long psalm in which this is not so. The speaker insists that he does not
just deal with commandments or testimonies, but with "Thy commandments"
and "Thy testimonies". His heart love, then, is not just for a book
(even though that be the most wonderful Book in the world) but it is concentrated
directly on the person of its Author. What is so precious to him -- more
than all riches -- is not just the law, but "the law of Thy mouth" (72),
coming warm, as it were, from the lips of [99/100]
Him who is so dear. The happy pilgrim, then, is the man or woman who has
Christ as first love and is learning all the time to give glad priority to
His ways and His wishes: "O how I love Thy Law!" (97).
So important is this love that it keeps him pressing on when otherwise
affliction might have caused him to despair: "Unless thy law had been my
delight, I should have perished in mine affliction" (92). Even in his darkest
hour the Word gives him sweet compensation: "Trouble and anguish have taken
hold on me; yet thy commandments are my delight" (143). His delight at communion
with his Lord bears very favourable contrast with the self-indulgence of
his proud neighbours: "Their heart is as fat as grease", he comments,
but I delight in thy law (72). The Christian neither envies nor condemns.
In Christ he has something better.
Full of love as his heart is, he feels that it is all too small, so he
cries out: "I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge
my heart" (32). It is a good thing when we are impatient with our own slow
progress in the path of holiness, but growth will come not by self-effort
but by the Lord's giving us a larger heart. Such enlargement can only come
by means of the Word of God. Fresh love to Christ can only be flooded into
our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and He always uses the Word for His gracious
activities. So warm is this pilgrim's devotion that it makes him fiercely
intolerant of any other will than that of his Lord: "I esteem all thy precepts
concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way" (128). To
him Christ is the only One who is always right.
It is striking that one of the predictions of the Lord Jesus about the
period immediately before His coming is that "because iniquity shall be
multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:12). This cooling
off of love seems to be due not so much to some special iniquity but to
the general atmosphere of what we call the permissive society. There is
only one answer to it, and that is a new devotion to the Word of God, not
in a mere doctrinal sense but as spiritual food: "How sweet are thy words
unto my taste!" (103). Doctrine is not unimportant, as is indicated by the
pilgrim's constant quest for understanding; but the first essential for
an eager walk in the way of holiness is a heart aflame with personal love
Love to the Lord must include love to those who are His. In this matter
the pilgrim presents us with a most challenging statement: "I am a companion
of all them that fear thee, and of them that observe thy precepts" (63).
It is not so difficult for us to invite fellow believers to meet us on our
own ground, but this goes far beyond that. The psalmist says that he will
gladly offer companionship to all other true pilgrims; in other words that
he will join others on their ground, giving them sympathy and support if they
are lovers of the Word. "I am a companion ...". Am I?
The apostle John was one of God's great pilgrims. He spoke of the matters
which occupy our psalmist. He was also very strong in his challenge about
fellowship. He pressed hard the close relationship between love for God and
love for our brother. So it is that the Old Testament is confirmed by the
New in this call for loving unity among the pilgrims on the heavenly way.
How the men of the world would open their eyes with surprise and envy if
they saw God's people tramping along their pilgrim way, both delighting themselves
in God's commandments and happily united in seeking Him with their whole
"What is this psalm from pitiable places
Glad where the messengers of peace have trod?
Whose are these beautiful and holy faces
Lit with their loving, and aflame with God?"
(To be continued) [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (15)
"(for he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, and in
a day of salvation did I succour thee; behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation)" (2 Corinthians 6:2)
THIS quotation and comment are marked off by double brackets because
they are not an essential part of Paul's argument. This does not mean that
they are unimportant: Far from it. They accentuate the importance of timing
in our dealings with God. It is essential that those who hear His message
should eagerly grasp its offer while there is time. It is also necessary
that God's messenger should be in harmony with God's acceptable time if
he is to be truly successful.
THE apostle was clearly concerned for his hearers and readers that they
should give prompt heed to the gospel message. God's grace is full and free,
but it must be received without delay, or it may be "in vain". In this connection
we notice that the apostle will not tolerate delay. He reminds us once again
that the Spirit's day for obedience is always Today. Now is God's acceptable
time for us to call upon Him. He eagerly awaits our appeal to Him. The word
"acceptable" which is found in the Isaiah quotation carries the idea of what
is well-pleasing. In other words, God enjoys hearkening to our prayers. It
is wonderfully true that today can be a day of salvation. "It is now," urges
the apostle, "there is no need to wait. Indeed it may be perilous to do
so. This is God's day of favour. It may not always be so."
THE main context of the verse shows, however, that the apostle is dealing
with the experiences of those who have been honoured by Christ to be His
ambassadors. The Scripture quoted is from Isaiah 49:8 and refers first of
all to the Lord Jesus Himself. Through the prophet the Father spoke these
words of encouragement to His Servant-Son. The circumstances are most notable
in that God's holy Servant seems to be under pressure and even to feel that
His labour had been in vain (Isaiah 49:4). The following verses are full of
reassurance, with promises of success far beyond the limited sphere of Israel.
It is as though the Father calls for just a little patience. His "acceptable
time" will soon come, and then it will be seen that the delay was not due
to lack of love or of power but just to this one perfect feature of the perfect
God, which is perfect timing.
WE remember that on more than one occasion the Lord Jesus affirmed that
His time had not yet come. His time was God's time, and God's acceptable
time is always a day of salvation. Jesus went to the tomb completely prepared
to await the Father's hour for resurrection. The acceptable time came, and
the glory of the Father entered that dark sepulchre and raised the Son to
fullness of life. The Saviour now sits at the Father's right hand, quite content
to wait for the moment of His full and final vindication. That Day will certainly
be "The day of salvation". The implication of this parenthesis seems therefore
to be that God's chosen servant needs to be patient and to be found in the
perfect timing of God. This is borne out by the further description of apostolic
service which Paul gives to commend himself as a minister of God (2 Corinthians
6:3, 10). The list begins with the words: "in much patience" and possibly
implies that all the subsequent trials which he endured were borne in the
spirit of patience which characterises the servant of the Lord. Like his
Master, the apostle might often have complained, "I have laboured in vain.
I have spent my strength for naught". Many of us may share precisely this
same temptation to despondency. If so we, like the apostle and like our glorious
heavenly Servant of the Lord, may gratefully hear the Father say that our
prayers have been given His favour and that His succour is near at hand.
"GOD IS ABLE TO MAKE ALL GRACE ABOUND UNTO YOU;
THAT YE, HAVING ALWAYS ALL SUFFICIENCY IN EVERYTHING,
MAY ABOUND UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK."
2 Corinthians 9:8
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