|Vol. 9, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1980
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
AN UNFULFILLED LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
"He shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines
" Judges 13:5
IN His foresight God wrote Samson's epitaph before he began his life.
The epitaph which He wrote said that Samson would begin -- and nothing more.
His would be a life of promise that would be unfulfilled, a life that failed
to attain to the real purpose appointed for him. In the words of the parable
of the sower, he would be the seed sown among thorns which brought no fruit
to perfection. Without wrongly judging, we can all think of people who fall
into that category, Christians who ran well and then began to fall away.
Some may have fallen morally, but others have just fallen from spiritual usefulness;
at first they gave great promise of fruitfulness but later they were found,
spiritually speaking, on the shelf.
Samson began so well. He was a great and loveable giant of a man who
lived life with tremendous gusto. At the end, however, we find him blind,
bound and buried under the rubble of a Philistine temple. "The Philistines
laid hold on him and put out his eyes. And they brought him down to Gaza
and bound him with fetters of brass, and he did grind in the prison house"
We need to ponder his story lest we come to the place where we have to
confess that although we are true believers who made a good start, we are
now bound, not by brass chains but by mini-bondages which threaten our spiritual
usefulness and our ability to bring fruit to perfection. Is it possible
that this could ever be our divine epitaph: "He began -- but he never finished"?
There is a striking unity about the story of Samson, and this is what
makes it such terrible reading. The end to which Samson came was not unexpected;
it was not against the grain of his life but ran along that grain. His life
had tended this way all along, so it was no surprise that he ended as he
did. We consider his life to discover signs or evidences of spiritual decline.
What indications are there that a life will fail to bring fruit to perfection?
1. He had too narrow a view of separation
In a sense we might say that his view was too broad, but what we mean
is that he took too narrow a view of the difference which God seeks between
those who are His and those who are not. Samson was a Nazirite. Numbers 6
explains that this means that he was under a vow of three-fold separation:
he was to be a total abstainer from alcohol; he would not cut his hair; and
he would have no contact with the dead. That was to be his separation: no
alcohol, no haircuts and no contact with the dead.
He finished blind and bound in Gaza, but he should never have been there
in the first place. Gaza was where he began his life of fornication. He did
not apply the Nazirite principle of separation unto the Lord, or he would
never have gone to Gaza. He did not apply his vow to places, or he would
not have gone there, and he did not apply it to people, or he would not have
been with a harlot, and he did not apply it to practices or he would not
have been in bed with her. He had too narrow a view of the difference which
God expects of us His people.
Samson illustrates the kind of person who has no intention of applying
his faith beyond certain narrow limits. Thus far with God -- but no farther.
He was like the man of whom Jesus spoke in His story of the wedding feast
and the guest who had no wedding garment. Such a man insists that he is all
right. He was standing at [21/22] life's crossroads
and someone came to him with a good-news invitation to come to the feast,
so he rose and followed, but what he did made no whit of difference to his
outward life -- there was no evidence there of the white linen which is the
righteous deeds of the saints. Such a man cannot escape being exposed and
2. He did not keep his promises to God
Nazirite vows were deliberate, that is to say, they were voluntary. A
man could take such a vow for a limited time as an act of special devotion
to God. Samson was a permanent Nazirite -- "I have been a Nazirite from my
mother's womb" (16:17). He was first a Nazirite by parental dedication and
then we may presume that when he reached the years of discretion, he confirmed
the parental dedication by his own voluntary decision, so continuing into
his adult life what had been imposed upon him from infancy. In the Nazirite,
the three abstentions, from alcohol, from hair-cutting and from contact with
the dead, were not an end in themselves but were outward and visible signs
of what we would call "total consecration". Samson had therefore made this
promise to the Lord: "I promise You that I utterly and completely am Yours:
my all is on the altar".
Now look at him. "Samson said to his father, Get her for me, for she
pleaseth me well" (14:3). He was a man dedicated to God, yet he lived for
himself. It was not the Lord's pleasure that he sought, but his own -- "Get
her for me ... she pleaseth me ...". Never mind if she is
acceptable to God; never mind if she is a believer; never mind her ancestry;
never mind her religion; never mind God; she pleaseth me! Later on
we read: "Samson went to Gaza and there he saw an harlot, and he went in
to her" (16:1). He was a man pledged to belong to God, but he made no attempt
to shun alien loyalties and other attachments and devotions. He did not keep
his promises to God.
If we take up the specific separations of his Nazirite vow, we find that
he failed to honour them. On the way to his wedding feast, a lion sprang
out on him but he turned and rent it apart. When he was on his way down again,
he made a point of going over to the carcase of the dead lion and found the
honey in it. Here was a Nazirite, groping around in the corruption of a
dead body, something he had vowed never even to touch.
He never kept his promise about his hair. He might as well have taken
the razor from Delilah's hand and shaved his own head, for he toyed around
with those vows which should have been sacred to God and himself, so that
the real blame for his shortened hair lay upon his own conscience. We hardly
dare blame him without searching our own hearts. Have we made promises to
God which we are not keeping? The Scriptures say: "When you vow to God, delay
not to fulfill it, for he has no pleasure in fools". In moments of spiritual
pressure we make promises to God, but when the trial passes we are all too
prone to forget or fail to carry through our resolution. How sad if over
our life God had to write: 'A beginner, but one who never fulfilled the original
3. He played with temptation
There is no need to go over the whole sordid story of Samson's dallying
with Delilah, but its details show us how he tarried in the place of temptation.
Time and again she asked him why he was so strong, and instead of a downright
refusal he bluffed her with explanations which proved false. Still she persisted,
and still he foolishly toyed with the idea, until at last he could keep it
up no longer. Proverbs 7 tells us of a young man foolishly walking around
an area of evil and succumbing to its temptations, as unhappily many young
women as well as men still do today. As an inspiring contrast we are reminded
of Joseph's behaviour in Potiphar's house, how he ran away because he remembered
his God. Surely Paul had this scene in mind when he wrote: "Flee fornication!"
Don't have any truck with it; leave your coat and your belongings there if
you must, but run right away. Those who play with temptation, tarrying in
the place where Satan can make them his victims, will find that in the end
Samson's epitaph will be theirs: "a beginner only; one who never went through
to the end".
4. He assumed that what was given to him by grace belonged to him
This assumption is a further factor in spiritual declension. Let us try
to follow through this statement. When Delilah woke him with the warning
about the Philistines, he said: "I will go as at other times and shake myself"
(16:20). [22/23] He had told Delilah that if he were
shaven his strength would depart from him, but he did not really believe it.
When he shook himself, however, nothing happened. His mistake was to assume
that what was his by the grace and gift of God belonged to him by right,
as though his was a natural strength. He had got to that place of self-sufficiency
in which he forgot that he was walking on mercy's ground and tried to walk
the roads of life in his native strength in expectation that the Lord would
be with him. "He wist not that the Lord was departed from him", imagining,
as they did in the church of Laodicea, that he was rich and increased in
wealth, having need of nothing, as though virtue lay in him and not in grace
and mercy. This is a sin which is natural for our human hearts. We do not
want ever to be dependent on grace alone; we want to be self-sufficient,
but in fact when we begin to despise grace and imagine that we have rights
of our own, then we are in great danger of waking up to find that the Lord
has departed from us.
5. He misunderstood the patience of God
All along God had stood by Samson, even when he was in Gaza with the
harlot. It was hard for him to believe the possibility that God had departed
from him. When the Philistines tried to lock him into the city, he was so
mightily empowered by God that he picked up the gate with its bars and posts
and carried it for about forty miles up to the top of a hill. Even at that
time the Lord had stayed with him and maintained his great strength. So
it continued, for all the time that Samson was bartering himself away to
Delilah, the Lord still stood by him so that he escaped out of one difficulty
after another. The Lord still waited with him and patiently continued to
maintain his strength. It was so easy for Samson. He could look back over
a life of so many victories and mighty deeds that he could persuade himself
that his giantlike power was native to him.
This, however, was a colossal mistake. The things which were but indications
of God's gracious patience, he took for granted, as though God were approving
of him and favouring him, whereas all that He was doing was patiently giving
him time for repentance. "God is long-suffering towards you", says the Scripture,
"not willing that any should perish". It also says that God's goodness is
meant to lead to repentance. How foolish, then, for any of us to imagine
that God is complacent towards our sins! How absurd to think that we can get
away with them, without God noticing or caring. The time may come when God's
patience is exhausted. Over us, as over Samson, He may at last say: "That
6. He finished in failure
And so Samson's life was sadly cut short (16:30). To add to all the other
indignities, he was called to make sport for the Philistines, and when allowed
to rest asked the lad who was leading him to bring him to the pillars which
supported the house. "And Samson called unto the Lord and said, Oh Sovereign
Lord, remember me I pray thee, strengthen me, I pray thee only this once
O God, that I may be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes". We notice
how self-centred the man still is. When he was in early manhood he said,
"Get her for me; she pleases me well" and now He says, "Lord I want to get
my own back on these people who have humiliated me". He finished as he had
begun. And he rightly said, "Let me die with the Philistines", for he had
been mixed up with them all his life and now it was fitting that he should
die with them. He lived unseparated and now he must die unseparated! Oh, the
solemnity of it! Here was a man concerning whom God had a purpose to accomplish
deliverance for His people, but he never finished the work which he had begun.
In His foresight, God had said that it would be like this, that Samson
was only a beginning man who would never bring fruit to perfection. He had
been self-seeking, he had followed his own fancies and lacked the separation
that belongs to God's true people, and then he had to go into the presence
of God with no real change. He had to take into God's presence the self-seeking
and unseparatedness which had marked and marred his life, and so his story
is recorded for us that we may be warned of the dangers and ways of spiritual
decline and renew once more our vows of devotion and separation as becomes
those who spiritually are Nazirites -- separated unto the will of God. "Wherefore,
brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure;
... for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal
kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10-11).
RISKING ALL FOR THE KING
Reading: 1 Chronicles 11:15-19
THE cave Adullam was, as its name signifies, a place of refuge. It became
the headquarters of the rejected king, David, and many came to him there
to find safety and deliverance from their bitter circumstances (1 Samuel 22:2).
The men were diverse in character and came from different places, but as
they gathered to David, they found joy and strength in their companionship
and are often referred to as "David and his men". It was a community of mutual
support, but it was more than that; it was a band of brothers, bound to
one another by the bonds of their common devotion to David. The name "David"
means "loved". He was not only their Leader; he was their Beloved one whom
they served with deep devotion.
The typical allusion to Christ is obvious. He is King, but is now rejected.
He provides refuge. We have come from our distress and emptiness of soul
to find relief and safety in Him. Life has a richer meaning for us now, since
He is also the provider of fellowship. We belong to one another because we
belong to Him. We are not just a crowd of refugees: we are a band of brothers.
But if we are to carry the allusion further we need to recognise that we
should risk all for Him. The Old Testament warriors are not only an illustration
to us; they are also a challenge. Christ is our Beloved, but how much do
we love Him? Is our love just selfish gratitude for all that we get from
Him, or does it inspire us to action and sacrifice? Adullam was not only
a place of refuge and companionship; it was also a place of willing self-sacrifice,
as the story of these three men so graphically shows. Here are some of the
spiritual principles which we can learn from them:
1. They were near enough to David to know of his heart longings
In that company the commands of David were heard and obeyed by all. Even
those most remote from his person were committed to obey his instructions
when he gave them. But what we are dealing with now was not a command for
all to hear but only a whispered heart longing heard by the few who were
in closest association with him. Not all were near enough to be aware of this
deep desire of his. Only the few who were very close to him could catch that
whispered yearning of his heart: "Oh, that one would give me water to drink
of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!" These three were near enough
to overhear his words. It was not just that David was thirsty. Had it been
that he would just have called loudly for water and any of the six hundred
would have gladly brought it. It was much more than that. He remembered wistfully
that well by the gate of his own native village and the refreshing coolness
of its water, and found himself confiding to his intimate friends how much
he longed to taste it again.
This was not a passing fancy. Bethlehem was his own home. If he was king
of Judah, then he was certainly king of Bethlehem, his "royal city". At that
time he was in rejection, and his enemies were in possession of that locality.
What is more natural and more fitting, then, than that he should have a
strong desire to taste its waters once more, and to whom should he confide
this longing but to those more intimate friends of his?
There are many passages of Scripture which show how necessary it is to
live in close touch with the Lord in order to discern His will. "The secret
of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14) which in the RSV reads:
"The friendship of the Lord ...". This reminds us of Christ's own words:
"Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his
lord doeth: but I have called you friends" (John 15:15). Like the mass of
David's followers we are familiar with His general commands and are committed
to give obedience to them. More than this, though, He seeks those who will
walk in close communion with Him and be sensitive to His slightest wishes.
He will not shout as from a distance the things which are dear to His heart,
but He will whisper them, if only we have ears to hear. [24/25]
I am not thinking of anything apart from His Word, as though we should
look for some personal communication which is not available to others, some
dream or vision which comes to us alone. No, if He whispers, it will be
through the Scriptures. But only those who keep daily contact with Him and
find their Bible not a mere Rule Book but a pulsating communication of the
inner depths of the will of God, will know what it is to be sensitive to
His desires. David quietly expressed a longing, and these three men heard
it. How often the Lord might make us aware of His deep desires if only we
were near enough to receive His confidences!
2. They were devoted enough to be provoked to action
One wonders if David even expected anyone to take this matter up. He
certainly had no intention of ordering any of his men to fetch the water.
It may be that this was no more than a vague longing -- Oh, that it were
possible to taste Bethlehem's cool water! There were a few, however, whose
devotion to the king was so great that the very fact that they knew his
wishes acted as a spur to immediate action.
They were, of course, a small minority. I am afraid that it is still
true that it is a comparatively rare thing among the subjects of King Jesus
to find such eager response to that 'extra' strength of devotion. Others
ask: 'Is it usual?' or 'Is it necessary?' or 'Is it commanded?'. These three
asked a different question: 'Will it please our king?', and because they
knew that it would they did not hesitate.
Take the matter of prayer. Our Lord whispers to us: "O my dove, that
art in the clefts of the rock ... let me see thy countenance, let me hear
thy voice, for sweet is thy voice ..." (S. of S. 2:14). If we really love
Him, this should be enough for us. If that is what He wants, then we should
surely press forward to prayer times, even if it is inconvenient, and do
so not because we are commanded but because we respond to the realisation
that He longs to hear our voice.
This is also the most impelling reason for seeking to point men to Christ.
When as a young man I left home to take the gospel to Amazonia, it honestly
was not because I felt any special compassion for the forest Indians there,
but because I sensed something of the Saviour's need of them. There were
in that land some who could be described as part of "His inheritance in the
saints", but they were captive to Christ's enemies. At any cost, then, we
felt that they must be reached by the gospel of His redeeming love. This is
the best argument for gospel witness, not to add to our statistics nor to
satisfy personal desires for success, but simply and solely that He may see
of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
3. They were strong enough to fight
The three knew that there was no chance of obtaining the water from Bethlehem's
well without a fight. The Philistines were not only in that area, they actually
had their garrison headquarters in the town, and the well being situated
at the gate was virtually an impossible target. In the face of such a prospect
they would certainly have to show themselves strong (v.10). If this were
to be done, then a fight was inevitable.
We may go further and say that there is nothing worthwhile in the kingdom
that does not have to be fought for. What did the Lord Jesus mean by speaking
of the kingdom of heaven suffering violence, and the violent taking it by
force (Matthew 11:12)? He certainly did not imply that a sinner must make
great efforts if he is to enter the kingdom, for a few verses later we read
of His gracious invitation to every needy soul to come to Him and find rest.
No, this is surely a reminder that we can only serve in the kingdom by being
ready to fight. We are soldiers of Christ and we serve by fighting.
We need to be strong with ourselves -- violent if necessary -- if we
are to be stirred to show devotion to Christ. We must be strong against
Satan and wear the whole armour of God if we are to invade enemy territory
and capture spoil for the Lord. These three did not wait for their camp to
be attacked. In such a situation all are on the defensive and must fight.
No, they went out in their lord's name to get what he most wanted. If nobody
else would go, they would. If everybody else ridiculed their seeming foolhardiness,
they would still go. They did what we must do: they showed their love for
their king by risking their lives for him.
Suppose that their foray had been a failure! How pityingly their fellow
soldiers might have spoken of the pointless waste! "Waste" was the very word
that the disciples used to describe the outpoured offering of Mary of Bethany.
Those who are so moved by devoted love never think in terms of waste. Nor
do they think overmuch of what others say about them. The one governing
concern of their lives is to bring pleasure to the heart of their King.
These three had no interest in gaining the favour of the army. Only one
thing mattered to them. If there was something that David longed for, then
they would fight to get it for him. Their story was written for our inspiration.
It points each one of us to the possibility of venturing for Christ, even
if the difficulties and opposition be great and the fight a fierce one.
4. They were united enough to succeed
No one man alone could have brought the water. This chapter is almost
entirely a list of individuals, with the accounts of personal triumphs which
they had in the service of the king. This story is different. There is no
clear indication of the names of those involved, but stress is laid on the
fact that they were a group of three. Each needed the other two; probably
at the well two of them stood on guard while the third drew the water. Perhaps
they took turns in carrying the heavy waterskin once there was no more need
There is no special indication of the prominence of an individual, but
every justification for saying that only their unquestioning loyalty to
each other made it possible for them to succeed. Unlike Christians today
they did not waste time talking about unity; they did not need to discuss
or arrange unity, but they found it spontaneously as they sacrificed all
for David. Their king united them. Their overriding concern for what would
please him gave them that inner unity which was the secret of their success.
Which of the three actually presented the gift of water to David? We do not
know. They were not interested in status or precedence. The only thing that
mattered was that David's lightest wish should be gratified.
This is a most important spiritual truth, the matter of mutual interdependence
in the Lord's service. As it was the secret of their success, so we are taught
that spiritual unity is essential if the Church is to be successful in the
task of bringing back the King. "These things did the three mightiest" (A.V.).
There is yet one more thing to say about them.
5. They were sacrificial enough to provide worship
Don't you feel disappointed when you read that after all that sacrifice,
David did not even taste the water but threw it all away? Look again, and
you will see that he did not throw it away, "he poured it out to the Lord".
It was so very precious that no man, not even the king, ought to drink it.
David vowed before his God that he would never do so. It may be that at first
the three felt disappointed, for they had so looked forward to seeing David's
enjoyment of what had been brought to him at such a cost. When, however,
they appreciated the significance of his action, they must have been filled
with joyful wonder, for they were witnessing the outpouring of a drink-offering
to God Himself. Not only were they witnessing it, but they had played a
prominent part in providing it.
Just as they had lived near to David, so David lived near to God. He
was therefore sensitive to the deep desires of God's heart. As the Lord
Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman, there is a sense in which God Himself
thirsts with a deep longing for true spiritual worship (John 4:23). It was
almost as if David had overheard God longingly whisper: "Oh, that someone
would bring Me to drink of the love of men in that world which is really Mine
but has become Satan's garrison!" This was his response. There must be a
drink-offering for God. "David would not drink thereof, but poured it out
unto the Lord". As the three saw the precious liquid poured out by their
king, they began to realise that they had become involved in a priestly ministry
of giving a precious drink-offering to their God.
They were not priests; they were just nameless subjects of the king;
but their heroic action had provided this satisfying offering to God, and
this must have filled their hearts with joy. The same prospect is opened
to all believers. Paul once wrote of himself in this very connection: "If
I am being poured out like a drink offering on the service and sacrifice
of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you" (Philippians 2:17).
There can be no higher honour for mortal man than so to sacrifice that God
may receive a drink-offering of worship.
If we are to have a part in such holy ministry to the heart of God we
must give serious thought to the five propositions which have been set before
us by this story. In a new way we must learn to live in close communion with
the Lord in the hurly-burly of our daily life, so that we may be sensitive
to the whispers of the Spirit and respond with active obedience as we learn
His will. We must also practise communion among ourselves, for without the
maintained operation of the unity of the Spirit there will be little hope
of victories in the name of Christ. And we must so deny ourselves that any
expectation of glory [26/27] for men shall be forgotten
in the supreme delight of providing satisfaction for the heart of God.
And where shall we do and dare for Him? Look at the map and you will
find that Adullam and Bethlehem were quite near to each other. The three
did not have to travel a long distance: their opportunity for service and
sacrifice was close at hand. This is generally true in our case. We do not
need necessarily to think of missionary service in distant lands. Right
near us -- often in quite small matters -- there are opportunities for us
to risk all for our King. Like these three, our names may remain unknown,
but like them we can have a place among the lovers of Christ who have had
some part in providing a drink-offering for our God.
IN THE WILDERNESS WITH GOD
Angus M. Gunn
"Thou wentest after me in the wilderness" Jeremiah 2:2
"I did know thee in the wilderness" Hosea 13:5
THE wilderness journey of the people of God only began after they had
experienced three fundamental crises. These are Old Testament illustrations
of three great New Testament experiences of being sheltered by the blood,
led of the Spirit and delivered by the power of the cross.
For the Israelites the sprinkled blood was God's means by which the entire
problem of sin was removed. It represented the sum total of the whole answer
of God to the problem of guilt. The blood on the door was all that God had
to see for full protection from wrath. It did not matter how they felt about
it; they could not even see it, for they were shut inside the door at the
Secondly we read that immediately they were freed, they were led onward
by the Holy Spirit, as symbolised by the cloud and the pillar of fire. The
leading of the Spirit is not for some select few who have had a special experience;
it is for all those who have entered into life by the redeeming blood. It
is the birthright of every child of God to be led by the Holy Spirit from
their first moments of pilgrimage.
Then there was the Red Sea. We read that there God said to them all:
"Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will
work for you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall
see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and you need
only be still" (Exodus 14:13). The position was that even though they had
been delivered from the guilt of sin, they were still in bondage to its
power; they were afraid of Egypt, under Egypt's grip. It was the Red Sea
which brought them deliverance from this bondage and from the world power
over them. And look what they had to do to experience release from it all
-- simply to accept divine deliverance. God did it all. In the same way,
when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He delivered every committed Christian
from all the sinful habits which could hold him down. He did not just promise
something which might happen in the future: He did it then, when He died on
the cross. When we accept what Christ has done for us on the cross, then we
can know full deliverance from fear and from the power of sin.
So Israel came through these three fundamental crises, and then went
right on with God knowing, as the first chapters of Exodus tell us, how
the entire power of sin -- past, present and future -- are dealt with by
God's redemption. [27/28] All that follows, in Exodus
and the following books, represents their moving forward in the will of
God. We read of their joyful and free expectation in the song which came
with their deliverance in Exodus 15. They looked forward to being led on
and right in to the land of promise: "Thou shalt bring them in, and plant
them ..." (v.17). As a redeemed people they now had a sense of purpose,
of destiny; they were going somewhere and they knew what it was all about.
The full realisation of redemption is dealt with in the same song which
is to be found in the book of Revelation where the saints in glory sing the
song of Moses and of the Lamb (15:1-5). Those who sing that song will no
longer have to face the wilderness; it will all be past. In Exodus, though,
the redeemed throng of singing Israelites found that as they moved on with
God, they had to face the wilderness. And so do we. But we go into the wilderness
The Wilderness was Essential
We are not here dealing with the wandering life of those who are trying
to live without God or who have strayed far from Him, but with that way of
testing and learning which is the way of His will. In the Bible, "wilderness"
is not the sort of bucolic, holiday notion that we associate with the word,
but it is desert, a place without life, a place of barren emptiness and hardship.
We find now that the Exodus image of the Christian life reminds us that
wilderness experiences are absolutely essential for our spiritual growth.
Wilderness experiences are inevitable for every Christian on his way forward
to the promised land, for something is to be done there which can be done
At the end of their journey, the Israelites were informed that God had
led them through the wilderness "to know what was in thine heart" (Deuteronomy
8:2). The truth was that there had to be a sorting out, and God made use
of the wilderness for doing this most important work. The wilderness is essential
for fullness. After all, the Lord Jesus Himself was led by the Spirit into
the wilderness. We know too that Paul had a wilderness experience, and so
did David and others. Perhaps the most notable of God's servants who were
so tested was Moses, the man who was now at the head of God's ongoing people.
He had deep and drastic trials in the wilderness to prepare him for his task.
The wilderness is not a chance happening; it is an essential experience under
the hand of God. It is His Winter, the time in which He causes His people
to put down deeper roots in preparation for the Spring of spiritual growth
and the fruitful Summer of fullness.
Not that Israel needed to spend all that time there. Most of what we
read took place at the beginning and end of that journey, with the long
middle period an unrecorded waste of time. After a little over a year at
Sinai they were only eleven days journey from the land. In God's purpose
the trial was meant to be much shorter; nevertheless it was absolutely necessary,
as part of His will for them. The same applies to us. There is no other way
through into the promised land.
This can be an enormously beneficial experience; it can be the very thing
that makes you, as it certainly was for Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 32:12).
The wonderful spirit found in these two men was born out of the wilderness.
They were what they were not because of some special experience of blessing
nor because of the support and fellowship of hundreds of others. No, they
went through the wilderness with God, and so they learned to triumph. The
purpose of the desert is to sift us and bring up to the surface hidden weaknesses.
God has no use for 'phoneys'. He needs to deliver us from a world of pretence
into a life where we are wholly committed to His will. What He does in
us is infinitely more important than what He purposes to do for
us in an outward way. It is clear in Israel's case that while He had brought
them out of Egypt, He now had to get Egypt out of them. It was deeply rooted
in their system as a result of long history. And there is a long history
of this world's spirit and ways in you and me. In the wisdom of God He plans
to prove His delivering power from it not just by meetings and seminars,
but in the trial and testing of daily life.
The Wilderness can mean Failure
It can be one of the great reassurances of God's care for us when we
find how He engineers and overrules circumstances in our everyday lives
which bring to the surface things which we never suspected were in us. So
often this is done not by some special Bible message but by the situations
in the home or on our job, the clashes which we have with those who are in
close contact with us. The test then is as to whether we are going to accept
God's verdict on the things which needed to be uncovered, or whether
[28/29] we will try to dig in our heels and do what Stephen called
"turning back to Egypt" in our hearts. If we are irked or if we are deprived,
does this mean the outburst of old nature? Basically what it comes down to
is the question as to whether we are in this thing for what we can get out
of it; or are we there for the crown rights of Jesus Christ and His authority
over our lives. It is in the wilderness that the Lord tests us by depriving
us of the things that we prize, to show us what He already knew -- what was
in our hearts of self interest. A friend who had been in a Japanese prison
camp told me of how horrified she had been at the behaviour of some fellow
prisoners who were keen Christians and yet acted so badly when the bread ran
short. Things began to surface which she had never expected. So it is in
one way or another with us all.
In the Scriptures we are given a frank exposition of the things which
were disclosed by the wilderness. Items are pulled out of that story of Israel's
history and highlighted in the New Testament also, in order that we might
realise how true to life this all is. There is a passage in 2 Corinthians
10:1-13 which pulls these matters out into high relief so that we might realise
that this is not just something in ancient history but that which applies
to us today. We are told by Paul that there were those who had a genuine
experience of deliverance and a taste of the Holy Spirit, yet whose lives
in the end became a complete disaster. They never reached God's goal for
them. In the wilderness testing they forsook God instead of moving closer
to Him. Paul wrote concerning problems in Corinth, but under God he wrote
for us all, reminding us of Old Testament illustrations of abiding possibilities.
The five-fold warning here lifted directly from the story in the book of Exodus
1. Lusting. "to the intent we should not lust ... as they also
lusted." We find the reference in Numbers 11:4. A mixed multitude of fellow-travellers
were in the party. They had felt that things were going Israel's way and
had joined the crowd, and now they were surfacing as soon as the wilderness
brought them into a time of testing. They felt aggrieved that those who had
never left Egypt should be having so much better times than they. It was not
enough for them that they had the Lord; they compared themselves with the
people of this world who were doing fine and they demanded to know why it
should not be the same for them. They were not satisfied with God's way in
their lives, not being able to see beyond to the far greater prospects of
God's will for them.
Lust is more than just body appetites; it is the craving for the things
which God does not want to give us. I want to say that if you do long enough
for something in this way, if you hanker for it, if you keep praying for
it, then you will get it! God has a way of answering such prayers by letting
you have what you crave for and then discovering what havoc it brings. This
is the way in which God has run the world from the beginning. He shows that
His wisdom is greater by letting men have their own way and then discovering
that it is no good. Alas, there are many who end up as embittered and miserable
persons because they insisted in having what they wanted, instead of trusting
God's wisdom to give them what He saw was best.
2. Idolatry. "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them."
This is described for us in Exodus 32. Moses had been away in the mountain
for a long time and the Israelites got restless. The story tells us of the
golden calf and of how the people lost control of themselves and ran wild.
Chaos took possession of their lives, and all because something other than
the Lord had become their supreme interest and the centre of their activity.
Authority over their lives had been to another than God. This is precisely
what idolatry is, the allowing of anything or anyone else to take the place
of Jesus Christ in our lives. This will bear repetition. It is so important.
Idolatry is the allowing of any other thing or any other person than the Lord
to have first place with us. Whenever people do this, then they are bound
to go to pieces as Israel did.
3. Immorality. "Neither let us commit fornication, as some of
them committed." We probably regard ourselves as very moral people, but
we should realise that the whole matter is more subtle than we think and
that God's warnings have relevance for us all. There is much subtlety in
this permissive world in which we have to live, and we must be wise to another
trick of Satan by which he attacks us at some point of weakness to defile
the clear testimony we are giving for Christ. Brothers, don't be naive about
such defilement. Sisters, don't be deceived by men who are not committed
to Jesus Christ. There is a whole world of subtlety in the attempts made
to catch us and besmirch the Lord's name through us, and this goes far beyond
the more outward forms of gross immorality. [29/30]
4. Tempting the Lord. "Neither let us tempt the Lord, as some
of them tempted." We must not try to put God to a test, insisting that He
must give proofs of His presence and power. When Satan asked Jesus to demonstrate
His relationship to His heavenly Father by jumping down from the temple,
he was only repeating his attempts to provoke unbelief as he had provoked
Israel to demand something spectacular from their God. Almost within a couple
of months of their leaving Egypt, the people were saying: How do we know that
God is really among us? Let Him prove it. Let us see a miracle.
You and I do not have the freedom to demand that God should always be
proving Himself by showing special signs. That is a childish approach to
a relationship with God. As Cowper says in his hymn:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace.
We have been given firm promises by God and we must never presume to
question Him as to His ability to fulfil them. It is His business to demonstrate
His pleasure as and when He so wishes; it is not for us to be always insisting
on the sensational.
5. Murmuring. "Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured." This
is an obvious tendency which is deep down in us all. The occasion specifically
referred to here is found in Numbers 14:2, and we notice there how the whole
people had been affected by the unbelief of ten of the spies. Two of the
twelve returned with the assurance that they were well able to overcome, but
these others contradicted them, magnified the difficulties and complained
of God's call to them. Their murmuring had a ripple effect, as such behaviour
not infrequently does. The few can affect the many. This is especially true
of complaining and criticising; those who refuse God's Word and God's ways
can rapidly spread their influence of disaffection until many are carried
away and join in the murmuring.
These, then, were the latent weaknesses in the Israelites. The wilderness
exposed them. If such tendencies are in us, the Lord will allow us to come
into the kind of experiences that will bring them out. Does this sound gloomy?
Let us notice that the passage is not really negative. Having been told to
take warning from these examples, we are assured that all of them have an
answer: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God
is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But
when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand
up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). What you are going through in the wilderness
experience is not private to you alone. Thousands of others have gone through
Triumph in the Wilderness
All the Israelites went through the wilderness, and many failed in the
test but there were others, like Caleb and Joshua, who actually benefitted
from it. You may wonder perhaps how some people survive in the deep trials
through which they are passing. You don't have to wonder. They are finding
their answer in God. You, too, may find that answer and be able to "stand
up under it", for God's purpose is always positive and His sufficiency not
to be questioned.
Against those who were failures, then, we are able to consider those
who triumphed, and more than that, who became pioneers to lead the rest
on into the land, which speaks of God's fullness in Christ. As we have seen,
the prophets were able to glory in the wilderness. Hosea spoke of it as a
place of fellowship (Hosea 13:5) and Jeremiah tells of reciprocated love
in the wilderness and enlarges on how God brought Israel through that land
of deserts "where no man dwelt" (Jeremiah 2:6). It is clear, then, that for
some the wilderness brought experiences of great value. It is a place of
sifting. So much so that the generation who came out of Egypt were not able
to survive. God, however, was moving with another generation who were able
to pick up where the others left off and move onward into the land.
This is true now, and has been all through the centuries. God is always
moving on with every generation, seeking higher things for the next which
follows. We are not to try to re-live the past and dwell on hallowed memories,
but to thank God for what He has already given and move on. The new generation
of Israel had an opportunity which was not given to most of their fathers,
but it was the link provided by the few who did triumph through all those
testings which kept the door open for them. They owed so much to Caleb and
Joshua, but we must remember that these two were made the men they were by
reason of their triumphant faith in the wilderness. [30/31]
Rather than consider these two, we turn again to Moses who led them right
through to the land, even though he could not himself enter. The secret of
this man's leadership was that he himself had been through a long wilderness
experience with God before ever he was given the task of helping God's people.
He had been through the cycle himself, and carried its values with him.
The life of Moses was divided into three equal parts of forty years.
In the first phase he had tremendous self-confidence and would have faced
every problem with the assertion: 'I can!' Then he had to pass through his
wilderness experience in which he was reduced to the lowest level and was
most emphatic in his confession: 'I cannot!' The final, and most fruitful
period was when he was able to forget both his abilities and his failures
with faith's assertion: 'God can!' He had been in the wilderness with God.
For this reason he was able to be a tremendous help to Caleb and Joshua
as they pursued the wilderness journey, and then they in their turn were
able to lead and inspire a new generation to go right on with God. This generation
had a magnificent record of fulfilment in the purpose of God, as He had promised
them they would in the thrilling re-capitulation of the law given in Deuteronomy.
Alas. God also had foreseen a further failure when they forsook the discipline
of total dependence on God which they had learned in the wilderness. "Then
thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God ... who led thee
through the great and terrible wilderness" (Deuteronomy 8:14-15). For our
purposes, though, they represent a new and victorious generation who owed
everything to the faithfulness of Moses, Joshua and Caleb, the men of steel,
and they went right on into God's full purpose in the land.
Those of us who are older must remember that there is another generation
of believers who are watching us. They are not greatly concerned with our
words, they will not be influenced by what we profess to be or by what we
suggest that they should be. They are looking for the evidence of Christ's
presence in our lives. The Lord Jesus made this whole business so simple.
He did not get involved in great theological discussions but just said: "Follow
Me". Now none of us is going to ask others to follow us, but we should remember
that the unique work of the Holy Spirit is to keep pointing to Christ, and
if that is so, then He must be able to reveal Christ to others through us.
He cannot point them to the Lord Jesus somewhere out in clouds, but He can
make Christ known through us. "Be ye followers of me, as I am of Christ"
were Paul's words (1 Corinthians 11:1). This is the ministry to which we
are called; it is the only true ministry of the Spirit; it calls and inspires
others to follow Christ by what they meet of Him in us.
Moses, Joshua and Caleb all assure us that the emptying of self interest
which takes place in the wilderness, and the experiences of being cast wholly
on God in every situation of need are neither wasted experiences, nor are
they merely selfish achievements. They form part of the divine purpose to
bring to the full maturity of Christ, the people who have been purchased
by the blood of the Lamb and delivered by the power of His cross.
SONGS OF PRAISE (2)
John H. Paterson
God, Who for world's new framing
Set His Son as Cornerstone
SOMETIMES a line or two of a hymn can set off in the mind of the singer
or listener a train of thought which leads to fresh spiritual understanding.
The words of the hymn are not inspired in the sense that the word's of the
Bible are, but they may nevertheless be inspiring, in that they provoke
or stimulate a new appreciation of the realities of God and His salvation.
As I reported in a previous article in these pages, the two lines of the
hymn I have quoted at the head of these notes had a powerful effect on me
when I recently heard them for the first time. [31/32]
On the previous occasion we considered some of the content of those words,
"the world's new framing". There was the original "framing" of God in His
creation, but there have been many fresh beginnings since then, and there
is a whole universe of newly-framed heavens and earth still to come. And
what is remarkable is that, in everyone of these new acts of creation, God
has made use of the same cornerstone -- Christ.
My train of thought on this occasion led me to consider some of the implications
of this familiar Bible picture of Christ as cornerstone. What does it involve?
The function of a cornerstone is to give to the structure in which it is
set both shape and strength. The whole alignment of the building is determined
by the placing of the cornerstone. Its purpose is to bind the walls together,
and without it they might fall apart: that is, the building would cease to
be a building at all and disintegrate into a mere pile of rubble. The placing
of the cornerstone is the first step in turning a random heap of materials
into an ordered structure.
Now the Scriptures attribute this kind of role in God's building to a
person -- a single individual. They say that it is he who gives the structure
its alignment; who holds it together; who represents the first sign of order
in what without him would be a universe in chaos. Everything else was planned
around him. So Paul writes: "In him were all things created, in the heavens
and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones
or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through
him and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things hold
together" (Colossians 1:16, 17 R.V. margin). The writer to the Hebrews
adds a further dimension: "His son, whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom also he made the worlds ... upholding all things by the word
of his power" (Hebrews 1:2, 3).
NOW none of this is too difficult to accept so long as we are thinking
about God Himself. It belongs, after all, to one fundamental idea of who
God is that He can plan, create and order a whole universe; otherwise He
is no God. But now we have to assimilate this further fact: that in all this
activity God has decided to employ an agent. He acted through someone
else, and we believe that we know who that someone is. More than that, people
just like ourselves actually met this agent of God. For a number of years
he walked about among them, and ate and slept and talked and then departed.
In certain important senses, he was one of us. Yet this man was the key figure
in a whole creation. Upon him depended the fulfilment of God's entire purpose.
That, in its true dimensions, is very difficult to grasp. For his contemporaries
-- those who had known him as a child, or grown up with him, it was well
nigh impossible to accept. For what people were required to do was to watch,
and listen to, this man and immediately identify him as the central figure
of all the ages. How could anyone possibly do that? After the resurrection,
perhaps! But earlier on -- at the Cross; by the lake; in the manger?
There were, of course, some who did identify Jesus of Nazareth
as the Christ, the Son of God. But even for many of them, as we well know
from the New Testament story, there was the further problem of seeing Him
not only as the cornerstone of Jewish history but of all God's plans
for His creation. To see Him as the Jewish Messiah was still a thousand miles
from the Spirit-inspired perception that this was indeed the Lamb slain from
the foundation of the world.
IT is always dangerous to try to fit God's thoughts into our own human
mould, but let us imagine for a moment that they ran something like this:
God said to Himself, 'To carry out my purposes, I need an agent. He must
be someone utterly reliable, who can create, control, obey, command and redeem.
The only way in which I can secure that kind of collaboration is through
a relationship as close as that of Father and Son, but at the same time my
agent has got to be a man'.
We will return in a moment to the reason why it had to be a man. For
now, let us simply notice the awesome dimensions of what we should nowadays
call this 'job description'. God's whole purpose depended on finding the
right man; yet what a man this had to be -- so versatile, so well qualified,
so morally flawless!
Every year, in my work, I write fifty or a hundred testimonials for young
people trying to find employment at the start of their careers. It is of
no service either to my students or to their prospective employers if I make
these young people out to be marvellous at everything: the employers will
not believe me, and the students will not get the job they want. A realistic
testimonial will [32/33] mention weaknesses as well
as strengths. There are those who lead and those who follow; those -- a few
of them -- who initiate ideas and others who carry them out; those good at
dealing with people and others more suited to work behind the scenes. For
everybody's sake, I try to be honest: I want to be believed. Nobody is good
Have you ever thought of the range of qualities required by him who was
to be the cornerstone of all God's plans? He must be innovative and creative
("without him was not anything made that was made"), yet perfectly willing
to be a subordinate ("though he was a son, yet learned he obedience by the
things which he suffered"); teacher, yet also advocate; morally unblemished,
yet infinitely sympathetic. How could anybody possibly fulfil such a specification?
JESUS CHRIST did, and what I have crudely called this 'job description'
forms, of course, the basis for appreciating what saints in fact in past
ages knew as "the excellencies of Christ". It is His perfection, His greatness,
which makes everything else possible. Had he been in any respect lacking
in one of the qualities required, some part of God's purpose must have remained
unfulfilled. But it has all worked so far, and goes on working today, because
of who and what He is.
Here again, our perception may be limited, and need enlarging. To see
Jesus Christ as essential to God's purpose for our salvation, as the Saviour
we need, is a view familiar to us since Sunday School days:
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin ...
but without detracting in the slightest degree from the Lord's value
to us as Saviour, may we notice that this is only a part of His work? He
who upholds all things by the word of His power has more responsibilities
than the single responsibility for our salvation. He has the total responsibility
for what God is making out of these redeemed lives, this groaning
creation. All things are to be made subject to Him, so that He may then, as
a perfect and obedient Son, deliver them up to His Father. Multiply a thousand
times the gratitude of all the redeemed sinners for the salvation of sinful
men and women, and you begin to appreciate the value of Jesus Christ to His
Now the jolting realisation in all this is that when God chose His cornerstone,
His choice was limited in practice to a man. In the previous article we saw
that, to be true to Himself, God's choices are always self-limited to those
which are "godlike", that is, in keeping with His character. And in choosing
His agent, to whom He would entrust the outworking of His purposes, God
restricted Himself to searching for a man. Direct intervention would not
do. An angel would not do. What needed doing had to be done through a man.
Why was this? I return to the theme of the previous article to point
out that God's self-imposed limitation upon His own actions required that,
where His materials failed Him -- as they did in man at the beginning of
the creation -- He should make good the breakdown, not discard the material.
He appointed a man -- Adam -- as His agent and, if that agent failed then
another -- another man -- must be found to replace him.
WE need to appreciate the importance of this, and a homely example may
help. When I have to carry out any repairs in the home, I always try to
use wood to do so, because I do not understand metal. I am quite good working
with wood, but I have not the slightest idea how to fasten two pieces of
metal together. Carpentry and metal-working are two different skills, and
I understand one material and not the other. I find metal too difficult to
But it must never be said of God that He could handle some materials
but not others; that He could make a universe work properly, but not a man.
If, in a creation which had been judged good in all its parts, there was
a breakdown in the agency employed -- and there was -- then that must also
be the point of recovery.
So God needed, searched for, a man to fulfil His 'job description'. We
ourselves can be wise after the event and know that none of the men God
tested could match the need, but let us not dismiss them too lightly, or
without noticing that some of them filled parts of God's requirements.
There were Abraham and Moses, the "friends" of God, who went some way to
meeting the need for a close working relationship between God and His agent.
There was David, of whom God said "A man after my own heart, who will fulfil
all My will", but David did not; none of them did. In the end none of these
men could truly fulfil even one of God's tasks, let alone all of them!
So we return to the point that what God needed was a man. Yet
at the same time the intimacy of understanding and relationship between
His agent and Himself demanded something more than mere closeness, mere friendship;
it required a son. The reconciliation of these two apparently irreconcilable
requirements has baffled Christians for centuries, and led some of them to
accept an easier 'either/or' explanation: Christ was either God or man. But
if we adopt that kind of explanation we lose, whichever He was. Either way,
there will be something missing. A cornerstone, after all, sets the direction
for two walls; it unites two dimensions. Because Christ as
cornerstone unites the dimension of Son of God and Son of Man, He made it
possible for us men, too, to become sons of God.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
22. THE TRANSFORMED LIFE (Chapter 13)
PAUL continues his task of making God's perfect will plain, and in this
chapter he deals with the transformed life under three headings, that is,
life as a citizen, as a debtor of love and as a watcher for the Lord's Return.
1. As a Citizen (verses 1-7)
In chapter 12 the apostle has dealt with Christians' relationship with
each other and their relationship "to all men". Now he takes up a third
relationship: Christians and the organized community, the State and its
officers -- in his day the Roman public administration.
From the Old Testament prophets Paul verified that the Most High rules
in the kingdom of men, setting up over it the lowest of men (Daniel 4:17).
He read and believed that "heavens do rule" (Daniel 4:26). When he says
here that there is no power but of God, and that the powers that be are
ordained of God, he shows that he takes the prophets' words about the supremacy
of the Lord quite seriously. God governs the nations. God is the God of
The whole world lieth in the evil one (1 John 5:19); if there were no
public authorities, sin and evil would flourish without hindrance, causing
such chaos that it would not be possible to preach the saving gospel to men
(1 Timothy 2:1-4). As it is, civil authorities put some check on evil and
its activities, acting as "an avenger for wrath" (v.4) to frighten those who
do wrong. In this way they serve as ministers of God on behalf of those who
do good. Every soul, therefore, is called to be in subjection to higher powers
(v.1). So absolutely does the apostle proclaim God's supremacy that he claims
that the actual authorities which exist are ordained by Him. Just as no sparrow
falls to the ground without His knowing, so no public man can obtain a position
of authority without His will.
Consequently it is obvious that to resist that power is to withstand
the ordinance of God (v.2). No Christian, though he is freed from the basic
attitude and the spiritual direction of this present world, has a right to
ignore or oppose its present arrangements of law and order. If he does so,
God will not excuse him from the consequences. The God-given rulers are
entrusted by God with the task of frightening and punishing those who do
evil. If they go beyond this authority, frightening and punishing those who
do good, what then? Paul does not deal with such a situation here, but we
know that his attitude in such a situation was already made clear from chapter
12:17-21. The Church must continue to do good and not try to avenge itself.
In addition to this, the power is "a minister of God to thee for good"
(v.4). It can be used by God to maintain such circumstances as permit the
spread of the gospel. This is the viewpoint which forms the basis of the
New Testament exhortations to honour and pray for those who rule over us
(1 Timothy 2:1 and 1 Peter 2:17). So the powers that be are God's servants
in a double way: they serve His wrath by punishing lawbreakers here and now,
and [34/35] they serve His long suffering by making
it possible for men to repent and be converted before the final day of His
"Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath,
but also for conscience sake" (v.5). Not only fear of punishment but the
conviction that the powers that be are God's servants, makes every Christian
accept their rule. It may be a surprise to find the Commissioners for Inland
Revenue described as "ministers of God's service, attending continually upon
this very thing" (v.6), but perhaps it may make our painful tax burden a little
more bearable. The commands of verse 7 remind us of our Lord's words: "Render
unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's ...". We owe respect and honour
to persons in authority not because they necessarily command respect in themselves,
but because they represent God's order. They are, at times, a defence against
the chaotic lawlessness provoked by the unseen world of evil, and if the
Church fails to respect them, it may be abetting those evil powers and breaking
down the defence against them provided by God in the form of lawful authorities.
That would be both unworthy of Christians and also very foolish. Three times
the apostle describes civil powers and their personal representatives as
God's servants (vv.4 and 6). On this earth God has many men to serve His
interests though they do not know Him, a fact already recorded by the prophets.
2. As a Debtor (verses 8-10)
While speaking about our fearing the powers that be, and being subject
to them, Paul has also said that we owe something to them: "Render to all
their dues ..." (v.7). He does not stop at this point but goes on from limited
duties to the unlimited debt of love. In this matter the law regards us as
constantly in debt. It may seem paradoxical that a Christian fulfils the
law by loving and yet is always in debt to love more. He who loves his neighbour
and pays that debt by deeds of love, does not finally discharge his debt
but knows himself still to be a debtor.
This is typically Pauline. We sense that he will not say to us that by
loving we have fulfilled the law and are thereby righteous before God, for
a person who still has a debt to pay cannot be described as "justified".
He has already made it plain that the whole content of the law, which is
indeed love, is to be known only in Christ, and that we are justified by
believing in Him. So love is not presented as a goal we should strive for
in order to be justified before God, but as a gift which is given to us by
faith. We, therefore, who have received the great gift of faith, can both
love our neighbour and always feel in debt to love him more. Faith and love
are really two sides of the same gift; faith enables us to make God the centre
of our life, and love enables us to make our neighbour the centre. In this
way we are released by the gospel from being the centre ourselves. Other
debts are burdensome and should be avoided, but this debt of love grows lighter
the more we work at repaying it.
3. As a Watcher (verses 11-14)
"The night is far spent, and the day is at hand." The basic exhortation
not to be fashioned according to this world but to be transformed by a renewing
of the mind is now further motivated by the realisation that this age win
soon be over. Since the age or world is passing away, there is no reason
whatsoever for following its trend, but much more reason to be transformed
and renewed in the doing of God's will. The connecting words, "and this",
suggest that it is love's duty which should be considered in the light of
the near coming of Christ.
This reference to the "high time" is rendered in the Danish: "You know
that the hour has already come when you shall awake out of sleep", and gives
us a picture of what the Lord Jesus called His "hour", those decisive days
when the Devil and darkness were given power, but God's salvation was accomplished.
This points us on to the time when God will again intervene directly to wind
up this present age. Paul does not directly say that that hour had come,
but he seems to look on to it and in its light to say that at any rate it
is high time to wake up to the prospect that "salvation", that is the bringing
in of an entirely new world, is getting very near.
The present age is the "night", which is far spent and the coming new
world and age are the "day" which is said to be at hand. This is a view which
characterises the whole of the New Testament. It is true that so far the
apostle has not touched upon it in the Letter, but perhaps that is because
the matter was well known and he could introduce it simply by saying: "Knowing
the season ...". [35/36]
This makes very relevant the exhortation to cast off some things and
put on others. The wording is interesting. We understand the use of the
word "works" when speaking of the night for they are works of darkness. When
we come to the day, however, it is not the "works of light" but "the armour
of light" which the Christian needs. He is in the world's night, but he does
not belong to it, so he must fight in order not to do its works, but to be
loyal to the will of God. For this fight it is armour which he needs, and
such armour God has provided, as we are told in Ephesians 6:13-17 and 1 Thessalonians
5:8. How inspiring for those in this fight of faith to have the armour of
light, for that indicates that the day is near when the fight will be over.
If victory is so near, then this is not the time to give up.
Paul goes on to speak of walking honestly as in the day, sharpening
his argument from the nearness of the day to suggest that for us that day
in a sense is already with us. The life of the Lord Jesus is the life of
the day; the life of the flesh belongs to the darkness of this world's night.
In their baptism they "put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27) and here Paul tells
the Roman Christians that they can and must "put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh" (v.14). Like all his other exhortations
this is part of the promise of the gospel: it gathers [At
this point in the text a line of about 8 words is missing from my copy.]
emphasising that Christ and all the fullness of salvation is already
theirs, to be appropriated by faith. How could they put on something which
they did not already possess? In this twilight of the age we should be sure
to put on the armour of light. The Day is at hand.
(To be continued)
THE SECRET OF DANIEL'S STRENGTH
Chapter II. A REVEALER OF SECRETS
"Your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a revealer
THE previous chapter closed with Nebuchadnezzar's realisation that Daniel
and his three companions were ten times wiser than his own counsellors. If
the Hebrews thought that this would bring them favour and promotion they
were mistaken, for we now find the troubled king calling for help from all
his official advisers, with never a thought for the Jewish princes. But God
has His own way of opening up a chance of service for those whom He plans
to use, as this chapter clearly shows. If God has called us, we will find
that opportunity will knock if we remain spiritually on our toes. And even
while we serve, we learn. God was about to continue with Daniel's spiritual
education by teaching him that one of His own names is "The Revealer of Secrets".
A Life and Death Crisis
The revelation which came to Daniel was a life-saver: "... they sought
Daniel and his companions to be slain" (v.13). The prophecies of Scripture
are never intended to be treated as hobbies or mere intellectual exercises;
their objective is to deliver us from spiritual death and to give us new
life. Daniel knew that for him this whole matter of revelation was an area
in which he desperately needed "mercies of the God of heaven" if he and his
friends were to stay alive (v.18). At this point the first need was not just
prayer but active faith. With nothing more to rely on than confidence in
his God, Daniel assured the king that he would remind him of his dream and
then give him its interpretation. It was a humanly impossible task. As the
Chaldeans asserted, no-one had ever been expected to provide such information.
Was this forgetfulness genuine, or was Nebuchadnezzar trying it on? If he
really had forgotten the dream -- a very normal happening -- we may perhaps
believe that God made him forget it so that no opportunity for human ingenuity
or duplicity was possible. In any case Daniel was committed to discover the
truth, and his life depended on God giving him success. [36/37]
This, then, was the time for prayer. All God's deliverances seem to be
in response to man's prayer. Happily Daniel had friends who could pray with
him and for him. They knew how to pray, too, for their appeal was made on
the ground of mercy (v.18). This is always a sure basis for our petitions.
Special emphasis is given in the Bible to corporate praying. In this case
we have an excellent example of how spiritual fellowship works; they all
prayed but the answer came to only one of them. Daniel had what all servants
of God greatly need -- loyal prayer partners. Incidentally they saved their
own lives, too, by praying for Daniel!
The answer came. Anxious as Daniel must have been to take it to the king,
he did not forget to think first of his God and to offer praise and thanksgiving
for it. After that he went straight to the public executioner and told him
what had happened. Arioch took all the credit to himself for bringing Daniel
to the king (v.25), but this did not disturb Daniel, who in any case wanted
no glory for himself, and was careful to insist that revelation owed nothing
to his efforts but was altogether a divine miracle. Nebuchadnezzar himself
was to be shown that God is the sole Revealer of Secrets, and many lives
were saved by God's gracious answer to urgent prayer.
This exciting story is a wonderful illustration of how God answers prayer,
but it is much more than that. It goes on to tell us what the secrets were
which God brought to Nebuchadnezzar through his dream and through Daniel's
Spirit-given interpretation. The actual content of the vision was very great,
as we shall see, but the spiritual realities behind it are very much greater.
They carry us into the New Testament realms of what is there called "a mystery".
God has a secret. There is a "mystery which from all ages has been hid in
God" (Ephesians 3:9). At first glance it does not seem to be the main import
of the dream, but it is disclosed at the overthrow of the great world image.
God is prepared now to disclose that heart secret of His. His servant Paul
assures us that He has much pleasure in revealing this secret to men of faith
and prayer. Before we read on any more it would be good for us humbly to
ask His Spirit to give us wisdom and revelation so that we may get the full
value of this amazing dream and its God-given interpretation. There may be
a sense in which for us, too, this is a crisis of life or death.
The Secret of Present World Kingdoms
Nebuchadnezzar's dream represented a divine disclosure of what the Lord
Jesus called: "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24), that is, the period
during which the nation of Israel is no longer central to God's operations
in world affairs. Unlike some of the later visions given directly to Daniel,
this one makes no reference to Israel. From verse 4 here to the end of chapter
7, the Hebrew language is replaced by Aramaic. The revelation was given to
a non-Jewish ruler, himself one of the principal characters involved. It
is not easy to discern that Nebuchadnezzar got any immediate value from it,
except that he received a startling demonstration of the difference between
human cleverness and divine revelation. This is a lesson which we all do well
So far as the dream is concerned, the period of Gentile domination will
be brought to a violent end by another kingdom, one which is heavenly and
eternal. In the larger context of Bible study, though, it gives an amazing
preview of the centuries of human history. It gives a clear indication that
world empires rise and fall by divine decree, and that from God's point of
view there is a continual deterioration in the quality of world government.
It tells us that the whole cumbersome political structure is top-heavy, since
the metals are lighter as well as cheaper as the image develops. It makes
no secret of the fact that there will be a complete collapse when God's
ripe time arrives.
If in the New Testament we look for those uses of the word "mystery"
as they apply to this image, we will find two passages: "The mystery of
Babylon" (Revelation 17:5) and "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thessalonians
2:7). In the other frequent uses of this word "mystery", we find that it
refers to that other kingdom, "the stone cut out without hands" which displaced
man's rule and became a great mountain to fill the whole earth" (vv.34-35).
At this time God had nothing more to reveal about this great secret of His;
we must wait for the New Testament for that, since it was "hid in God from
all ages" (Ephesians 3:9). In this vision, most of the attention is focussed
on what the New Testament calls, "the kingdom of this world" (Revelation 11:15).
It seems that the more correct rendering is in the singular, not "kingdoms",
for the image is an imposing unity, though composed of many parts.
We are distinctly told that it was God who gave "the power and the strength
and the glory" of this first world kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar. Similar language
is used about the final expression of this world kingdom for the significant
phrase, "it was given" is often applied to it (Revelation 13:5, 7, 14, 15).
This is the kingdom of MAN. It is essentially the same kingdom through all
the centuries. When it comes to the divine disclosure of its true nature
in the final manifestation yet to come, not only is the word "mystery" employed,
but we find that it has reverted to its original title of "Babylon" (Revelation
Here, then, in the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream is given us an outline
of world dominion from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem until the
Coming of Christ in His kingdom. No doubt it is possible to identify various
expressions of that kingdom in this and other prophecies, but for our present
purpose it is enough to suggest that the "secret" here revealed is that by
divine permission a world order is operating in which fallen man works according
to his own will and finds himself moving inexorably forward to catastrophic
collapse. From the New Testament we know that throughout the period in which
He permits man to have his way, God is working to fashion and prepare His
own "secret", and that in due course this will completely and permanently
replace the present order. This is the chief importance of the revelation
to us who have a place in that kingdom by reason of redemption through Christ's
blood (Revelation 1:6). Meanwhile, however, it is evidently salutary for
our eyes to be opened by God so that we may have discernment as to the real
nature of the civilisation in which we have a part. This "mystery" concerns
the hidden and spiritual significance of our world.
In our view of history, various kingdoms have risen and fallen: in God's
view, the same essential order has continued all the time. To us there has
seemed to be an evolution towards ever improving conditions of life: to God
there has been a steady deterioration, with no hope of recovery. We may
think and talk of "Christian" and non-Christian nations: God tells us that
all the time He has been visiting the nations "to take out of them a people
for his name" (Acts 15:14). Daniel had to live his life and do a faithful
job in the alien kingdom in its "head of gold" expression; we have to live
our lives and be worthy of our high calling in the same kingdom in its "feet
and toes, part of potters' clay and part of iron" expression. I have no suggestions
to offer about the identity of those ten toes, and no hope to offer those
who are remote from the Mediterranean area that they are not part of the
kingdom which is to be destroyed. There is only one kingdom of this world.
It has its prince (John 14:30); it is essentially antagonistic to God and
full of human pride (1 John 2:15-17); it will find its final expression and
disintegrating state represented by brittle earthenware and cruel iron.
Does this seem defeatist? Obviously it did not have that effect on Daniel,
who went on praising and witnessing throughout his long life. Is it realistic?
Well, in keeping with our getting to know God as the Revealer of Secrets
it may be enlightening to note that in dealing with the subject of "the last
days", the Scriptures use this very word in speaking of "the mystery of iniquity"
(2 Thessalonians 2:7). "The mystery of iniquity, or lawlessness". What is
that? What the Thessalonians thought of the statement that this sinister
influence was already at work in their day, I do not know; but I do know
that in our world today dark and iniquitous influences are working in a multiplicity
of ways, so much so that it hardly seems to be any more a mystery. Yet such
Few perceive its true nature. The majority of people, even Christians,
seem unable to grasp that the world's malaise is not caused by the blatant
wrongs and injustices. These are only symptoms. The real truth is that we
live in a doomed society, just as surely as the ancients did before the
Flood. Daniel's image makes no secret of this fact, and offers no remedy.
May I even suggest that those who long for past conditions in our land and
pray for a reversal to the good old days, may all unconsciously be wanting
to put back God's clock? This cannot be. "The end of all things is at hand;
be ye therefore of sound mind ..." (1 Peter 4:7).
"We look for a Saviour from heaven." When the blow from heaven falls,
it will not only crush the ten toes (whoever they may be!), but will disintegrate
and scatter to the winds the whole society of human government as we know
it (v.35). Can Daniel's interpretation have any other meaning? Was not this
the plain teaching given by Paul to the Thessalonians at the beginning of
their Christian lives? They were told that this mysterious iniquity will
culminate in one single man, the lawless one (2 Thessalonians
[38/39] 2:8). This may be parallel to John's revelation that "the
ten horns" -- under God's overruling -- will hand over their sovereignty to
one supreme deceiver (Revelation 17:17).
This vision does not enter into any details like that, but it does assure
us -- as indeed do all the other visions, both in Daniel and in the Revelation
-- that the last word will be with God. He gives us enough indications about
the future to assure us that He knows beforehand just how things will go
and how and when He will act. This is the blessing of knowing Him as the Revealer
of Secrets. It brings a deeper conviction of faith that God is always in
control. A man needs to be absolutely certain of that if he is to be strong
and do exploits.
The Secret of God's Eternal Kingdom
It seems that the main reaction of the earthly-minded Nebuchadnezzar
to this revelation was that it focused all his attention on his own position
as the golden head of the image. This will appear more clearly when we come
to the next chapter. It is all too possible for us now to focus our attention
on the ten toes, but how unspiritual that can be. We should not let our study
of God's Word lead us to concentrate on the fascinating form of the image
and so give second place to God's final objective. It is quite possible to
forget that what concerns us most is the divine kingdom represented by the
stone. I suggest that while it may be interesting to identify the various
world empires and to speculate about those ten toes, this can hardly bring
much spiritual increase to our lives. Our purpose in turning prayerfully
to Him who is the Revealer of Secrets ought to be the production of spiritual
growth in ourselves, and others. It may help us to do this if we concentrate
our supreme attention on the culminating feature of the dream, God's ultimate,
which is His own heavenly and eternal kingdom to which we are called in Christ.
God has a heart secret. He has kept it hidden through the ages, but now
He longs to make it known. This is the theme of that New Testament seer,
the apostle Paul, who wrote: "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints,
was this grace given ... to make all men see what is the stewardship of this
mystery ..." (Ephesians 3:8-9). Paul it was who made repeated references to
this great secret of God's. It will well repay a consideration of some of
those references so that we can get a better understanding of this "stone
cut out without hands" which Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about. Here are six of
them, and they lead us to understand that:
1. The mystery is the gospel. "My gospel and the preaching of
Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been
kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested ..." (Romans
16:25-26). See also Ephesians 6:19. Why should we limit the term "gospel"
to the initial offer of salvation to repentant sinners? It is positively
unscriptural to do so. This revelation of God's mystery is not an extra
to the gospel; it is not an extension of the gospel; it is the gospel,
the full gospel of God's plan of salvation in Christ. Paul called it "my
gospel", not because he had the monopoly of it or gave some special emphasis
which made it different from what all the other evangelists were preaching,
but because by faith he had grasped it and made it personal. Every preacher
should be equally able to call it "my gospel", but if he is to do so he will
need to get back to the Revealer of Secrets to learn something more of its
scope and objective. This is the only gospel which Paul knew, and the one
which he had been called to preach and for which he was prepared to suffer.
"The mystery of the gospel".
2. The mystery concerns the fullness of Christ. "all riches of
the full assurance of understanding, that they may know the mystery of God,
even Christ" (Colossians 2:2). Our Lord, the Christ, is the central Figure
in the revelation of this mystery. He is the Stone, "cut out without hands"
(1 Peter 2:4). Those who are in Him are made into living stones (again, without
hands), and form one organic whole in Christ. This mystery must not be approached
as though it were some spiritual luxury, an optional extra to ordinary Christianity.
In no sense at all does it embody a "Jesus plus"! The risen Christ not only
gives forgiveness to lost sinners, He gives the Holy Spirit to forgiven sinners
that their hearts may be enlightened to know "what is the hope of his calling"
(Ephesians 1:18) and God's objective in their salvation, which is the fullness
of His Son (Ephesians 1:23). If we are saved, then we are called to reign
3. The mystery involves being indwelt by Christ. "the riches of
the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the
hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). There is no other prospect
[39/40] of lasting glory than what is produced by this marvel:
"Christ in you". In the nature of things it was not possible for Daniel
to have more than the most elementary indication of God's eternal kingdom
-- a stone cut out of the mountain without hands -- since the mystery was
deliberately hidden by God from all ages and generations (Colossians 1:26).
We are now privileged to live in that era when God no longer wishes to hide
His great secret, but is very pleased to share it with His Bible-loving
people. With Paul as God's chief agent, the whole New Testament call believing
men not only to find forgiveness and peace but also a destiny. He reveals
His Son in us (Galatians 1:16) in order to make that destiny possible.
God begins His kingdom from the centre and works outwards. In every true
believer He begins by the Spirit's forming of Christ in our hearts and then
seeks to extend the Spirit's rule throughout our whole being. Life -- Christian
life -- is an unsolved problem until we catch a glimpse of God's eternal
purpose for and in us. When that "secret" is revealed, then everything begins
to make sense.
4. The mystery includes men of all nations. "the mystery of Christ;
which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it
hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,
to wit, that the Gentiles are ... fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ
Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:5-6). Once again Paul confronts us
with the fact that this destiny of the Church was not made known to other
people, not even to Israel, but has now been uncovered by New Testament "apostles
and prophets" whose Spirit-given ministry is provided for us in their writings.
One of the points made very clear is that "all men" may now both perceive
this mystery and have a share in its glory. The threefold stress which the
apostle makes concerning the inclusion of all nations is: "fellow-heirs,
and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ
Jesus". Can anything be more clearly stated, and can any grace be more marvellous?
When God began to implement this eternal purpose of His in Christ, He began
with the believing remnant of Israel -- it came to the Jew first. Soon,
however, Christians who were also Israelites were completely outnumbered
by Christians who are described as "Gentiles", and so it is to this day.
All, whether Jews or Gentiles, are included in this stone cut out without
hands". This was always God's intention, and it will never be changed. I
am one of those who believe that among the earthly nations there is still
a place, and a central place, for Israel. It need not be considered here,
though, for as we have already seen it has no place in Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
5. The mystery is based on love-union with Christ. "This mystery
is great; but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church" (Ephesians 5:32).
It is not surprising that here the apostle calls the mystery "great". It
is stupendous. It lifts the matter of reigning for God to its highest level,
for it presents the Church as the consort, the beloved companion in eternal
union with the King Himself. Here on this earth and in this age, the Church
has the unique honour of being known as the body of Christ. In the age which
is to come, and through eternal ages, the title used is "the bride". "Come
hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:9).
There seems no end to the glories of this great secret. So this was
what was in the Father's heart when He made Eve! This is the eternal purpose
in God's heart long before time began when, "in the mystery of his will",
God predestinated us in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-11). Why waste time trying
to fathom how and why God foreordains men to be pardoned, when the real wonder
is that God planned a destiny (pre-destiny) of eternal love union with His
Son for believers? I am rather uncertain as to why the Revealer of Secrets
gave this vision and interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar, but I have no doubts
as to why He unveils His mystery to me; it is to inspire me to seek holiness
of life in preparation for my share in the heavenly destiny of the Church.
6. The mystery will be completed at the Second Coming: "when he
is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the
gospel" (Revelation 10:17). John goes on to say that the sounding of the
seventh trumpet will be the moment for this world's kingdom to pass to Christ
(11:15). According to Daniel 2, this is when the rock of Christ and His Church
will take over the government of this world which God had previously committed
to the various powers indicated by the image and it will "become a great
mountain and fill the whole earth ... It shall stand for ever".
(To be continued) [40/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (24)
"(For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness
THIS brief comment on light is most practical and very necessary. The
readers must have been in happy agreement with the apostle when he contrasted
their present condition of enlightenment with the muddled darkness of their
unconverted state. Perhaps they were even beginning to realise the full implication
of their transformation, namely, that it was not just that they had been
in the dark but were now in the light, but something more radical than that.
The truth which they were now coming to appreciate is that formerly they
had been embodiments of darkness. They were in it and it was in them; they
were darkness. Happily now the converse had become true; not only were they
in the light, but the light was in them. They now were light in the Lord.
How could they thank God enough for this new realm of understanding to which
they now belonged!
LIKE many modern Christians, however, they may have been tempted to imagine
that spirituality consists of information and instruction about spiritual
things, that to know a thing is necessarily to be in the good of it. This
is not so. Light is essential, but light must have its proper fruit. So the
apostle felt it necessary to make use of his characteristic word, "walk",
urging his readers to walk as children of light, to live out their light
in daily conduct. It is in this connection that he gives us this present parenthesis
concerning "the fruit of the light".
SUCH fruit provides the test as to whether ours is truly spiritual light.
Three elementary but basic words are used to describe this fruit, and they
speak in total terms: "all goodness", "all righteousness" and "all truth".
The terms are not alternatives; they are part of a whole. Just as the singular
is used in describing the nine-fold "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22),
so here we are not to think of three fruits but of the one triple fruit of
the light. When we try to shine, we never achieve this proper balance. Our
so-called goodness may not always be righteous and it may not always be
true. Our righteousness can sometimes be unexceptional without being wholly
good. This difference is indicated elsewhere: "For scarcely for a righteous
man will one die; but peradventure for the good man some would even dare
to die" (Romans 5:7). So a "righteous" man, in human terms, may not always
be attractive. The same is the case with truthfulness. There can be people
who lay great stress on absolute truth but who seem to lack the warmth of
gracious goodness. The fruit of the light, being the expression of Him who
Himself is the world's Light, demands the threefold consistency of all goodness,
all righteousness and all truth. It leaves no place for unbalance and disparities.
This fruit should characterise believers who are called "the light of the
world" by the Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:14).
IT is significant that, in contrast with the "sons of disobedience" (v.6),
we are described as just "children of light". None of us claims to have attained
to maturity in this matter; we are still pilgrims moving steadily on towards
the fullness of divine light. Our hope is in the Lord who is leading us
in that way which "is like the light of dawn that shineth more and more
unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).
"HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY;
BUT MY WORDS SHALL NOT PASS AWAY."
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