|Vol. 14, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1985
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
ISAIAH AND THE GOSPEL
5. CHRIST'S REALM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (32:1-17)
WE now come to the passage in which the prophet speaks of Christ as the
righteous or true Ruler of God's kingdom. Bible students of all ages have
found problems in what the Scriptures have to say about the kingdom or kingdoms
of God. In this chapter Isaiah is most helpfully simple, for to him the kingdom
is simply the sphere where God's King actually reigns, its chief characteristic
being righteousness. In this realm there is stability and reality; shelter
is there, wrongs are righted and lasting peace enjoyed: "Behold a king shall
reign in righteousness ... and a man shall be as a hiding place from the
wind, and a covert from the tempest; ... as the shadow of a great rock in
a weary land".
It is important to recognise that Isaiah's prophecies looked forward
to several different occasions which are divided by many centuries. He spoke
of the King as we see Him in the Gospels, and also of the same King who will
come in the glory of His universal kingdom. On earth the Lord's best followers
were confused over this time factor, expecting to see events which were
not for them then but which must await the Second Advent. We should see
more clearly now and can learn of the kingdom realities of the present Church-age
while Christ is still in heaven without losing sight of the literal fulfilments
which will come when He returns. The all-embracing and all-governing word
which describes all these various periods is the word 'righteousness'. Nothing
is right where Christ does not reign: everything is right when He is King.
In this passage our attention is drawn to the One who is a great Rock
(v.2). Some commentators apply this description in a more general way because
of the reference to princes and as though there were many rocks. Well, although
through the centuries there have been spiritual giants who have towered like
rocks to resist drift and to shelter their fellows, to me it seems more
Scriptural to regard this as a unique description of the Lord Jesus who
reigns in righteousness and who is the very embodiment of the LORD Jehovah
who is "the rock of ages" (26:4). Not that the present passage treats directly
of that redemptive sacrifice which the well-known hymn associates with that
title; rather does it point to the strength and stability of character of
the "Righteous One" who is depicted for us in the Gospels.
Isaiah's picture speaks of a coming kingdom in which the king in righteousness
is supported by loyal princes. It may be that after Ahaz's corrupt reign,
the prophet had the faint hope that his son Hezekiah would prove to be a
spiritual rock, supported by godly statesmen. If so, he was disappointed and
forced once more to look beyond all faulty human qualities to the only Person
who could truly be called "the Righteous One" (Acts 7:52).
The prophet tells us more of Christ. This chapter will give us some glimpses
of the characteristics of that kingdom of righteousness which is the realm
of His rule.
1. Steadfast Patience
The picture is one of a landscape of swirling sands in which a great
rock stands immovable, providing a shelter for all life. It is an amazing
illustration of the person and activities of Jesus of Nazareth, the steadfast
figure in the swirling sands of life as He had to meet it. He suffered popularity
and adversity, He performed thrilling miracles and He endured unspeakable
barbarities; in a world of shifting sands He was the magnificent Rock. His
first recorded utterance revealed the firm purpose of His whole life, "the
things of my Father" (Luke 2:49). The final verdict on Him, given at the cross
by the profoundly moved centurion was, "Surely this was a righteous man"
(Luke) as well as "Truly this man was God's Son" (Mark).
In a beautiful passage about the Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah used just
two phrases to depict Christ's infinite patience towards others and His absolute
firmness in Himself: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking
flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment in truth. He shall
not fail nor be discouraged, till [81/82] he have
set judgment in the earth" (42:3-4). What he said was that in His dealings
with others, He would not break the bruised reed nor quench the
dimly burning wick, but as for Himself, He would never be dimly
burning nor be bruised until He had completely finished His
work. The two words used are the same. We might regard this just as Isaiah's
poetic language if it were not actually quoted to describe the day-to-day
procedure of Jesus (Matthew 12:15-21).
He always had time for those who appealed to Him and was never at a loss
to help them. He showed infinite patience with the needy. What a shadow of
a great rock in a weary land He was to the woman taken in adultery (John
8:11), to the distraught demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), and to the two grief-stricken
sisters at Bethany (John 11:40). They were certainly smoking wicks and crushed
reeds, but He loved them into full recovery.
And He remained steadfast to the last: "Having loved his own which were
in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). To His captors in
the Garden He firmly said, "I told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek
me, let these go their way" (John 18:8) and when in His interrogation He was
asked about His disciples and His teaching (John 18:19) He took up the matter
of His doctrine but would not discuss His disciples. He was ready to face
accusations about Himself but determined to shelter those faulty fellow workers
in the gospel from any hostile criticism. Then, having borne without protest
the brutality inflicted upon Him, He still had thoughtful consideration and
care for sorrowing Mary (John 19:27) and words of comfort and hope for the
poor wretch on the adjacent cross (Luke 23:43). Far from quenching his smoking
flax of faith, He brought forth for him "judgment unto victory" with the
words: "Amen" -- "Today" -- "With Me " -- "in Paradise
". For that man, if for no-one else, Jesus was indeed a king reigning in
righteousness and "as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land".
As the chapter unfolds, the prophet begins to speak of an end to pretence,
describing this new kingdom as the realm in which things are seen in their
true nature: "The vile person shall no more be called noble, nor the crafty
said to be bountiful" (v.5). From the first Isaiah had blazed out against
religious hypocrisy. The people who boasted of the multitude of their sacrifices
and their many prayers and all the fasting and observances of their religious
ceremonial were described by him as being repulsive to the Lord (1:13). The
Lord Jesus was equally fiery against religious humbug and made use of Isaiah's
words in His denunciation of the Pharisees: "Well did Isaiah prophesy of
you saying, This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far
from me" (Matthew 15:7-8). There is no place for pretence in God's righteous
The Lord Jesus also used Isaiah's words about God's holy house when He
exposed the corrupt proceedings in the Temple. Were there two cleansings
of the Temple court? It seems likely that there were, especially as on the
first occasion He charged the Jewish leaders with making His Father's house
a market (John 2:16) while at the later cleansing He intensified His condemnation
in calling it "a den of robbers" (Luke 19:46). If there were two, then we
have the striking fact that both at the beginning and at the end of Christ's
ministry, He was forced to draw public attention to a desecration of the
Temple buildings which seemingly nobody else had noticed or questioned. On
both of these occasions the Lord's quotation came from Isaiah 56:7: "My house
shall be called a house of prayer ...". It must be so when the King reigns
in righteousness, whether that house is His heavenly home or His Church here
The Lord Jesus showed things as they really were. It is true that He
had not come into the world to condemn the world but, as light automatically
condemns darkness, so His very presence aroused in every sincere person who
had dealings with Him a realisation that he was not right with God. How else
can we explain Peter's constant blunders than by saying that it was his proximity
to Jesus which brought out his hidden mistakes and follies? Then take the
Pharisees. There is no reason for believing that as a class they were conscious
deceivers, but their encounters with the Lord somehow brought to light hidden
and unsuspected falsity, exposing the inconsistencies of those who had always
reckoned to excel in righteousness. "No more of that" says Isaiah (v.5). The
King reigning in righteousness puts an end to all pretence.
Whether it was a thoughtful Nicodemus or a brash Samaritan loose-living
woman, a proud Simon the Pharisee or a complaining cripple at
[82/83] Bethesda's porch, a sneak-thief like Judas or a wealthy
aristocrat like the rich young ruler -- they all saw themselves in their
true light by reason of their encounters with God's righteous King. Some accepted
His rule, others shrank from it; but none of them was left with any self-delusions
after they had met up with Him.
It is always like this. We can keep our distance and nurse our self-deception
if we so chose. Many -- even Christians -- prefer to do so. We can be offended
by the light and reject it as the Jews of Isaiah's day and of the gospel
period did. Or, like Isaiah's godly remnant and like those transformed believers
about whom we read in the Gospels, we can acknowledge our need and cast ourselves
upon the mercy of the Lord, the One who promises to uphold us with the right
hand of His righteousness (Isaiah 41:10).
One thing is certain, and that is that if we wish to find shelter from
the storm of God's righteous anger under the shadow of the divine Rock,
we must be prepared to have an end of all pretence. By nature we are all
deceived and we live in a deceived world; reality can only be found in Jesus
who is truth (Ephesians 4:21).
It is remarkable that although Isaiah's ministry began with a stark declaration
of man's hardness of heart, the prophet avoided merely gloomy fault-finding
and sought every opportunity to burst through with messages of glorious hope.
God's righteous Ruler has transforming power. The people were blind and
deaf, were they? Then listen to what God's righteous King will do about that:
"The eyes of them that see shall not be dim and the ears of them that hear
shall hearken" (v.3). The Messiah is not only right Himself; He has power
to put other people right too.
This promise of transformation is repeated several times. "In that day
shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall
see out of obscurity and out of darkness" (29:18). And again: "Then the
eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then
shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing"
(35:5). The gospel is nothing if not positive: it assures those who are
not right in any way that the King who reigns in righteousness can put them
right and make them whole.
We can easily identify literal fulfilments of these promises of healing.
The Gospels tell us of several who had their sight restored and of one who
was given his hearing, as well as describing other phenomena of the kingdom.
Perhaps the lame men did not literally "leap as an hart" then, but how better
can we describe the recovered mobility of paralytics who not only began to
walk but were able to carry their beds as they did so? Incidentally the first
man to be healed after Pentecost did actually leap as he praised God (Acts
So it was that Christ literally fulfilled Isaiah's promises. Nevertheless
we must agree that spiritual transformations are far more important than
physical ones. Take the extreme cases -- those who were raised from the dead.
Wonderful as their experiences were, the spiritual counterpart is both more
wonderful and eternally lasting. What guarantee had Jairus and his wife that
their daughter would not die later? None at all! She might, of course, outlive
them, but in that case she would be the one to mourn when they died, just
as at Nain, the widow's son would one day have to accompany the body of his
dead mother to that same cemetery from which he had been delivered if in fact
she did not herself have again to go to his burial. Ultimately death
would again strike the home in Bethany. Would Lazarus be the first to go?
We do not know. It might be that the elder sister, Martha, or even Mary who
loved to sit at the Master's feet would go first to be with Him eternally.
In any case, so far as physical experiences go, they would all have to die.
Was that perhaps partly why Jesus wept with those mourners?
Spiritually, however, Christs transformations are lasting and eternal.
The gospel produces this kind of supreme miracle, the transformation of
saved sinners. Isaiah knew about that. "In this mountain" he affirmed, "shall
the Lord of hosts make a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees
... well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering
that is cast over all people ... He hath swallowed up death for ever; and
the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces ..." (25:6-8). Jesus gave
a foretaste of this when He turned the water into super-vintage wine and
fed the multitudes, but the reality and lasting blessings spoken of by the
prophet surely refer to the way in which even now He transforms our humble
fellowship into [83/84] spiritual feasting and enjoyment
of " the royal wine of heaven". He gave those temporary blessings of
swallowing up death in His miracles but He will do so in surpassing glory
in the Day of His Appearing. Even now, though, we are able by the Spirit to
enjoy the earnest of death being swallowed up of life (2 Corinthians 5:4-5)
and tears being dried by His comfort. The prophet's words were fulfilled in
measure in those gospel days and will be realised in abundant fulness in
eternity, but even now we are able to testify that, with the Lord Jesus reigning
in righteousness, the Church enjoys those miracles of transformation of which
Isaiah spoke so eloquently.
4. Peace, Peace
This particular section about Christ's righteous reign contains a beautiful
statement about His gift of divine peace: "The work of righteousness shall
be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and confidence for ever"
(32:17). Isaiah's prophecies abound with this promise of peace. Speaking
of Christ's healing power he offers: "Peace, peace, to him that is far off
and to him that is near" (57:19), words which are taken up by the apostle
Paul in Ephesians 2:17. The Hebrew method of emphasis is a simple repetition
so that in speaking of the perfect peace enjoyed by those who take shelter
under the Rock of ages, what he actually wrote was: "Thou wilt keep him in
peace, peace ..." (26:3).
Without righteousness there can be no true peace, but God's righteous
King is also the Prince of peace. See Him on the frightening storm-tossed
waters of the Sea of Galilee and marvel, as the disciples did, at the double
miracle of the sudden cessation of the wind and the immediate calm of waves
which would normally have continued rough for some time after the wind has
dropped. That was indeed an experience of peace-peace.
However once again the Lord gave minimal stress to the physical miracle,
making it clear to His disciples that they could have known perfect peace
even in the fiercest storm if only they had exercised faith in Him. "Go in
peace" Jesus said to the woman who touched the border of His robe (Luke 8:48),
surely meaning that she could not only have peace about her physical complaint
but much more about her soul's need. He used the same words of blessing
to another woman (7:50). This one had no need of bodily healing but hers
was a very needy soul, doubtless confirming Isaiah's words that "there is
no peace to the wicked" (48:22), and she must have been grateful indeed to
find peace through forgiveness of her many sins.
The peace which the Lord Jesus gives is one of His greatest miracles,
as I myself can testify. I once spent a night stranded in the Brazilian jungle
with a badly sprained ankle and in peril of being abandoned there to die
by my two Red Indian guides. I was unable to bear any weight on my foot and
did not know how I could proceed on the following day but had more than a
suspicion that this would be regarded as witchcraft and the superstitious
men would forsake me. When morning came, however, my ankle was healed and
I was able to keep up with my companions and complete a few more day of trekking
through the forest. It seemed to me then, and it still does now, that a miracle
happened to my body. As I look back now, however, a much greater miracle to
me is that I slept soundly that whole night, freed from all care by one simple
verse of God's word: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 50:15). That was my sedative and it was
a most effectual one. In my case it was truly a matter of "the peace of God
that passes all understanding". There, in that remote and menacing forest,
the King of righteousness ruled in my heart, with the miracle effect of peace-peace.
How closely Isaiah lived to the gospel's spiritual realities! He lived
in a world very much like our own. World powers jostled each other, and
lesser nations were in a turmoil about armaments and treaty organizations.
Security -- or the lack of it -- provided items of daily news. Religion
trifled with God's Word and got itself involved in politics. Fashion parades
were all the rage; jewellery and hair-do's occupied everybody's attention
(3:16-24). Alcoholism, the occult, property rackets -- they knew it all,
just as much as we do in this twentieth century. A dreadful pall of gloom
hung over the whole future, even though they knew nothing of nuclear weapons.
Faith was at a discount.
It was at such a time that Isaiah maintained his vision of the exalted
Lord and spoke confidently of the beautiful feet of messengers who brought
the Good Tidings of peace (52:7). He found his sure refuge in the shadow
of the great Rock. And so can we! [84/85]
HOW SHALL THEY HEAR WITHOUT A PREACHER (2)
John H. Paterson
IN these studies, we are considering the way in which the Apostle Paul
adapted the message of his preaching to the type of audience he confronted.
I suggested in the last study that we could distinguish four types of audience
in the Book of Acts: (1) an audience whose members had no knowledge of the
God of the Bible or of Jesus Christ; (2) a synagogue audience of religious
Jews who had the Old Testament, but who were ignorant of the developments
represented by the coming of the Lord Jesus; (3) an audience of Jews who
were well-informed about those developments, and (4) the very individuals,
or their successors, who had brought about the death of Jesus.
The Book of Acts supplies us with one or more examples of Paul's response
to these audiences, and answers the questions: how can the Gospel
best be presented to this type of person? In the light of what these listeners
already know -- or don't know -- which is the best line of approach to the
central message of Christ as Saviour and Lord?
In our last study, we considered an example of Paul's preaching to a
'Type l' audience -- his sermon at Athens, recorded in Acts 17. We now move
on to an example of the next category.
Paul in the Synagogue
The fullest record we have of one of Paul's synagogue sermons is in Acts
13:16-41. He was in Antioch in Pysidia, where he had just arrived and was
apparently unknown, but where he was offered the quite normal opportunity,
as a Jewish visitor, to say a few words.
Notice how, as in Athens, a large part of his sermon was taken up with
establishing common ground with his audience. In Athens, as we saw last
time, common ground was not easy to find: virtually all that Paul could
assert was that they and he both believed in the existence of some sort of
nature and super-nature. But here in the synagogue, it was comparatively
easy to find agreement: it lay in the Old Testament record, which both speaker
and hearers revered.
So, Paul began by identifying himself with them: "The God of this people
Israel chose our fathers ..." (13:17). He began with a short recital
of Israel's early history, a history as familiar to them as to himself --
the exodus, the wilderness, the promised land; Samuel, Saul and David. We
can imagine this audience (like congregations everywhere, as preachers well
know!) nodding their heads in satisfaction as they mentally ticked off the
familiar phases of their national story.
Paul stopped at David. I imagine that many Jews of that time -- and perhaps
also today, although that is only a guess -- stopped the historical clock
at David, because he represented the high point of the whole Jewish story.
From David onwards, it was mostly downhill; a record of failures and disasters
and only the most infrequent intervention by God in a tale of national calamity
-- invasion, dispersion, vanished splendour. In the recollection of the glory
days of David's reign there was consolation for what followed. Thereafter,
one could only mourn, and hope, and hold on, waiting for the promised Messiah,
century after century.
Putting the matter in its simplest form, what these Jews in Antioch needed
was a national story-line which would lead onwards and upwards from
David, instead of down and out. And of such a line, as Paul pointed out (cf.
13:33, 35), David himself had constantly spoken. In the Psalms of David there
are abundant references to events which David himself never saw or understood,
but which demanded a future fulfilment. This, indeed, was what kept the
Jewish faith alive -- the belief that one day, somehow, God would make good
those words of prophecy.
And this was exactly what Paul was going to tell them: God has
made them good -- it's happened! The trouble with the story of Israel's
relationship to God, which formed what I have called the common ground between
Paul and the synagogue Jews, was that it was incomplete, and that
in two senses. On the one hand, it was a story of promises made but unfulfilled
and, on the other, it was a story of a relationship which, for all its remarkable
qualities, was always bound to be incomplete. [85/86]
Why do I say that? Because that Old Testament relationship between God
and His people was based on the Law. Under the Law, various do's and don'ts
were commanded and, for failure to keep the Law, penalties and offerings
were laid down. The principle was clear: for every breach of the Law a sacrifice.
But some of the commandments concerned not overt actions, of which the doer
would be conscious, but attitudes of mind: "Honour thy father and
thy mother"; "Thou shalt not covet ...". How could anybody 'keep the score'
of his or her own thoughts? How, consequently, could there ever be, under
the Law, any assurance that the 'score' was really zero -- that the Law had
been satisfied? There could not! There must always be a doubt -- a fear that
perhaps the work of justification, of being considered righteous, was incomplete.
We can only try to imagine, then, the impact of Paul's message as it
fell upon the ears of such hearers as these, wearily familiar as they were
with the uncertainty of an incomplete religion. "We bring you good tidings
of the promise made unto the fathers, how that God hath fulfilled the same
unto our children" (13:33). "Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that
through this man is proclaimed unto you the remission of sins: and by him
everyone that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could
not be justified by the law of Moses" (vv.38-39).
This note of completion or fulfilment was the heart of Paul's message
for the day. There remained, of course, many questions to be answered:
how had God fulfilled the promises? What evidence was there that this
Jesus was really God's answer? If He was the fulfiller of the promises,
why had their fellow-Jews in Jerusalem not spread the word to other places?
With all of these questions Paul sought to deal. He went back to David to
demonstrate that the supreme test of the one they looked for was that He should
escape death, and not "see corruption" (vv.33-37). He explained that the
Jews in Jerusalem, who should have welcomed their Messiah, "because they knew
him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled
them by condemning him" (v.27).
It has to be said that, from that day to this, there have been many Jews
who have simply found this evidence for Jesus as Messiah unconvincing, and
that is their privilege and their responsibility. For the present, we are
mainly concerned here with the approach of Paul to his audience. It is one
which, far from being restricted to a Jewish context, is both important and
useful to us all in our own setting. For do we not know -- and perhaps worship
with -- any number of folk whose religious views, whose perception of Christ,
are not so much false as incomplete. They are traditionalists, doing what
they have been brought up to do, and thinking old thoughts, and if in church
you ask them, 'Do you feel fulfilled by what you do here? Is your
faith a complete answer -- does it give you complete assurance?' they
have to answer, 'No, it does not'.
For them, we have a joyful message -- that they have only part
of the story; that no wonder they feel dissatisfied: that there is much
more to come in Christ; that they are missing the best part -- "... justified
from all things ...".
Paul and the Experts
In our third example we find Paul confronted by an individual or an audience
to whom the story of Jesus' life and His final days in Jerusalem was already
a familiar tale. Of such an audience Paul himself used the word "expert".
Here he is, facing Agrippa: "I think myself happy, King Agrippa, that I am
to make my defence before thee this day touching all the things whereof I
am accused by the Jews; especially because thou art expert in all customs
and questions which are among the Jews" (Acts 26:2-3). Although there were
many others present -- Festus, Bernice and high-ranking officials -- it was
to Agrippa that Paul spoke.
In the same way he had spoken, a short while before, to a knowledgeable
audience -- on the steps of the castle in Jerusalem (21:37-40). He had spoken
over the heads of his Roman escort to the Jerusalem crowd below, in Hebrew,
as one of themselves (see 22:2). He referred to the teaching and discipleship
of Christ as "this way", and they knew as one what he meant.
So, how did Paul deal with this kind of audience -- an audience with
whom he shared the common ground of a vivid knowledge of exactly what had
happened to Jesus? The answer is very simple: to this audience, he gave
his testimony! [86/87]
Christians have long been divided over the question of whether or not
it is proper to have what are usually called 'testimony meetings'. There
are some folk who regard it as both their duty and their privilege to give
their testimony on every possible occasion -- on trains and buses as well
as in church. You have hardly sat down beside them before they begin what
is clearly a well-rehearsed story! There are equally Christians who feel
that such personal experiences play no proper part in the worship and service
of God, but tend to exalt the individual and not his Lord.
The fact is that Paul did give his testimony on at least these
two occasions, and not simply to his fellow-believers, although he evidently
did that, too. He did not tell his life story in Athens, or in the
synagogue at Antioch, however: he reserved it for a particular kind of audience.
This was an audience to which he could say, quite simply: 'I know how
you feel! I used to feel exactly as you do; I shared your religious convictions,
your ceremonies and, as it happens, your prejudices. But something happened
to make me change my mind, and now I should like to tell you what it was'.
The 'something' that made Paul change his mind was, of course, his encounter
with a risen Christ. It could have been -- for us it can be -- something
else that marks the change of direction, but let us simply note, once again,
Paul's approach to the audience. Here the common ground was a shared past
-- as it happens, a shared antagonism to Jesus Christ and all that He stood
for. What Paul then had to do was to explain, as we may have to explain to
old friends and companions, where and why their way and his or ours diverge:
what new factor has come into the reckoning. That is the time for a personal
testimony. In those circumstances, it is entirely appropriate.
Paul and the Main Enemy
We come now to Paul's fourth type of audience. In Acts 23:1-10 and 24:1-21,
he was brought into court in the presence of the Jewish council and their
barrister, Tertullus. Here he had the opportunity to speak to, or in front
of, the very men who had brought about the arrest and trial and death of
the Lord Jesus -- the plotters and enemies-in-chief of the Son of God.
So, what kind of speech would he reserve for this occasion? Here, surely,
he would dig deeply into his reserves of oratory and denunciation; here he
would tell his audience exactly what he thought of them!
Well, the outcome is here for us to read: he didn't do that at all! On
these two occasions he preached no sermon. On the first of them, he resorted
to a trick to avoid saying anything at all: "But when Paul perceived that
the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the
council, Brethren, I am a Pharisee ... and when he had so said, there arose
a dissension ... and when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain,
fearing lest Paul should be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers
to go down and take him by force" (23:6, 7, 10).
What a splendid way of getting out of court, and avoiding answering the
charges! The second occasion was a little less dramatic, and a little more
a matter of law, but it achieved the same result. In Acts 24:10, Paul was
brought for a regular trial before Felix and, after the charges had been
laid, he simply argued that there was no case to answer. He did not even
refer to the substance of the charges; he simply called on Felix to dismiss
them on the grounds that "neither can they prove to thee the things whereof
they now accuse me" (v.13).
What is this? Paul, the great preacher, the apostle who said, "Woe is
me if I preach not the gospel", missing an opportunity to speak a word for
Christ, or give his testimony? Was it not remiss of him?
I wonder how you would answer those questions. The answer I suggest is
this, and it is a solemn one. There appear to be some circumstances in which
not even the Gospel, not even the Gospel preached by Paul, has anything
to offer. It is evidently possible so to oppose, so to resist, the claims
of Christ that an apostle himself can only say, in effect, 'You have heard;
you have seen the evidence; you have made up your minds to reject. So, there
is nothing more to be said'. And in those circumstances, there can only be
But let us be grateful for all those other occasions on which
God's servant had a word of challenge, encouragement or reassurance. However
it is presented, the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation
to every one that believeth, be they Jew or Greek. [87/88]
SECRETS OF SPIRITUAL CONSTANCY
"I have told you all this to guard you against
the breakdown of your faith." John 16:1
J. Alec Motyer
4. THE SAFEGUARDING REALITY OF CHRIST'S ASCENDED GLORY
HERE is another of those strands of teaching that run through John 14
to 16; He proffers Himself as the ascended glorified Lord. In this way He
told His disciples that He had spoken to them to guard against the breakdown
of their faith. This time our message is beautifully summed up in the well-known
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
There in a nutshell is the truth which will emerge as we study this passage
Our Established Security
In these chapters the Lord gives much teaching as to His going away,
but the common truth in this connection is that we have an established security.
"Now I go unto him that sent me. None of you asks me, Where are you going?
But because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow has filled your heart.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away
..." (16:5-7). The New Testament meaning of the word 'expedient' which is
most suitable in this passage and indeed most striking is: "It is for your
highest spiritual welfare that I go away.' Now can you imagine anything
that would have appeared less likely to be conducive to spiritual welfare
in the minds of those disciples? How startling and indeed how frightening
it must have seemed to them! How it must have brought them in their own minds
to a state of insecurity. "We are about to lose Jesus; He is going away;
He is going to leave us! How will we manage? How can we be at peace with
our future all unknown?" We of course know that the factor which made His
going away to be expedient was the sending of the Companion, the gracious
Holy Spirit, but I want to isolate this one point of the truth of the Lord's
ascension in relation to the security of the believer as it is contained
in the words: "He will convince the world of righteousness ... because I
go to the Father" (16:10). Do you see how the truth of the righteousness
of Jesus is directly related to this reality of His going to the Father,
for it not only involved going to the Father but staying with Him -- "and
ye behold me no more."
The coming of the Companion was the result of Christ's going to the Father
not just on a visit but as a permanency. In the light of His going away,
He speaks of two things: the coming of the Companion and the reality of His
own state as the Righteous One before the Father. In order to see one facet
of understanding of this idea of the status of the Lord Jesus as the One who
is righteous before the Father we may relate it to the claim that He registered
on the cross. In the moment before He yielded up His life, He cried out in
a loud voice: "It is finished!" We speak of the seven words from the cross,
whereas actually there were five words and two shouts. Of these two which
were not said privately to the Father or to someone standing near but shouted
out for publication, the latter was: "It is finished!" This was something
that all must hear. Jesus registered his claim to a finished work.
It seems to me that there must be at least five strands to this claim.
He registered a claim in relation to His own person and character, claiming
before the Father that He is the spotless Lamb of God, for according to the
Scriptural regulations, any who is going to be a substitute must be without
stain of sin. He also registered a claim regarding His example, the public
face and image that He showed to others. Elsewhere He expressed the claim
by saying: "He who has seen me has seen the Father", and now He was to affirm
that the whole aspect of the work of declaring the Father in the visible
reality of His own life had been accomplished; the Father had been fully
declared. Moreover He registered the claim in respect of His teaching. It
was finished. All the truth the Father had sent Him to declare had been declared;
nothing false or misleading had been included and nothing left out. He registered
the claim regarding His works; He went about doing good;
[88/89] He did the works which the Father gave Him to do. Nothing
had been left undone and nothing had been done imperfectly. He had finished.
Finally, and in the context of all that life of perfection and obedience,
He registered the great claim that He had proved to be the Lamb of God bearing
away the sin of the world; He had discharged the debt before God of all the
sinners whom the Father had sent Him to save. The work of salvation was
I hope that it is not too foolish to imagine that the three days which
ensued express the deliberateness of the Father in weighing up this claim.
We imagine that the parental reaction to the death of His Son would be swift
and immediate, as if saying that His response to the killing of His Son
should be remedied at once. Yet He waited until the third day. There is
a lovely deliberateness about the acts of God. Of course we know that the
eternal Father does not take time over things, but it may be a little bit
helpful if we imagine that those three days were spent examining the claim.
Was it really true? Was it wholly completed? Had His character, His example,
His teaching, His works been totally finished? And above all, had there really
been discharged before the throne of God the debt of all the sinners He had
been sent to save? Has it really been completed?
On the third day the women came to the tomb, worrying about how to roll
the stone away, only to find that the stone had been removed already. Not,
my beloved, in order to let Jesus out, but in order to let us in, so that
we may know that He is indeed wholly righteous. On the fortieth day he was
lifted up to heaven before their very eyes, in order that they might see
clearly that the Father's verdict on His Son is that He is worthy of exaltation
to the highest place of all, the right hand of God.
Seated at the Father's right hand, enthroned in heavenly splendour, John
describes him as "a Lamb standing as it had been slain" (Revelation
5:6). Did you ever see a slain lamb standing? This Lamb is alive from the
dead and shown, as it were on the ascension day itself, in the midst of the
throne, accepted at the Father's right hand. In this way the certainty of
the work of salvation is fully demonstrated, so assuring the believer of
his established security.
If we may be allowed for a moment to stray from our selected chapters
to John 20:17 we will read: "Jesus said to Mary, Do not cling to me, for
I am not yet ascended to my Father, but go unto my brethren and say to them,
I ascend to my Father and your Father ...". God is called the Father
as the status word, for God the Father is high over all. But that One, the
One who in His own right and perfection is the Father is now also
My Father. And He is not only My Father but He is also your
Father, for you are accepted in the beloved before the very throne of
Our Continuing Security
"Verily, verily I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that
I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do because I
go to the Father" (14:12). I have to confess an enormous uncertainty as to
what the expression 'greater works' means and am not at all satisfied with
what the commentators say, but one thing I can see clearly for, as always
happens in the verses of the Bible, where there is a perplexity there is
a clarity lying side by side with it. In this case the verse clearly says
that once Jesus is at the right hand of God, then all the power flows through
Him to the believer.
His going away and guaranteeing power for the Church does not mean that
He ceases to be here: "I will not leave you desolate, I will come to you"
(14:18); "You heard how I said to you, I go away and come to you ..." (14:28).
He goes to the place of supreme power, but while doing that He is also here,
alongside His believing ones. So there is the continuing security of believers
in the continuing outflow of power from the Father through the mediation
of the Lord Jesus.
His help is very personal and not a cold thing of help sent from a far
country. I once knew a stepson who supported his step-mother quite generously
but he never went to see her and did not even come to her funeral. Help
can be real and valued and yet remote and cold. The Lord spoke of going
to the Father who is greater than He is and through whose almighty power
the Church will do greater things than He did, but He made it plain that
this did not mean that He will cease to be with us but rather that He will
also be here to minister that power in a personal way. We see, then, the
continuing security of the believer by reason of the power and presence
of the ascended Lord. [89/90]
Our Ultimate Security
We make our last observation from the opening verses of Chapter 14: "Let
not your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's
house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I
go to prepare a place for you? If I go and prepare a place for you, I will
come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am you may be also."
As we have seen, the truth of the ascended Lord guards us against breakdown,
first by offering us what we may call a past assurance, our eternal security
in the presence of God. The ascension also offers us a present security, that
is that the Lord Jesus who mediates to us all the superlative power of the
Father is alongside, the Companion. We now come to the last strand in the
security which we have in the ascended Lord, and that is a future security,
a security in certain hope, the security of a place in heaven.
Notice first of all the gracious accommodation He makes to the only way
in which we can think of these things. I confess to you that I have no patience
with those who say that we must not think of heaven as a place. Now will
you tell me how else we can think of heaven? If you say, Well, heaven is a
state of being, my next question is, Where do I enjoy it? We have no capacity
to think of a state of being other than in terms of enjoying it in a certain
place. This is that way in which God, by His creatorial providence, has constructed
How beautifully the Lord Jesus states things in a way that we can rest
upon. "I go", He says, "to prepare a place for you, so that where
I am, there you may be." How beautifully spatial! I know that everything
we think about heaven will be outshone by the reality: "Eye hath not seen
nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that
God has prepared for them that love Him." I know that, but in the meantime,
while we wait for the revelation of things at present incomprehensible, I
rest upon the things which He allows me to think: He has gone to prepare
a place for me.
In relation to this prepared place, we have an assurance of the demonstrated
reality of His exaltation. He said, "I go ..." and they watched Him as He
went. If you take the going of Jesus to be His total work of salvation, you
may say, He went to the cross; He went to the tomb; He came out of the tomb;
He went up to the Father. That is the total content of the matter. But in
this particular aspect of His going, you notice that the disciples gathered
around Him on a mount called Olivet and watched Him as He went. In the narrative
of the opening chapter of the book of the Acts you will find that there
are five different expressions as to the visibility of the ascension of
the Lord Jesus Christ. It was as though, under the Holy Spirit, Luke knew
that this fact would be challenged and decided to emphasise in this way
the five-fold proof that God allowed them actually to see Jesus as He went.
It was not that incredibly foolish idea that He did this in order to teach
us where heaven is. Far from that being the case, the lesson is not so much
that He went upwards, but that He went away. Of course there is only one
manner of going away from the earth and that is upwards, but that is beside
the point. The purpose of the ascension is not to show us where heaven is,
but to show us who Jesus is. Just as God gave the empty tomb with the stone
rolled away to demonstrate the resurrection, so now, in His mercy He demonstrated
before the eyes of witnesses the reality of the exaltation of His Son.
When the cloud had received Him out of their sight. God sent messengers
to say that this same Jesus would come back again as they had seen Him go
-- that is, personally and visibly. Had He not said. "If I go and prepare
a place for you, I will come again"? In the ascension, then, lies all our
security for the future. Let us never put a full stop where God only puts
a comma. "Believe in God, believe also in me". That is perfectly Scriptural
but it is only half of what Jesus said, for He continued straight on with
the prospect of the Father's house of many mansions. Believing in Him takes
all the worry out of life if we keep in view His sure promise to come again
and take us to where He is. It is as though He says, 'I have gone to all
this trouble in order to get you safely to heaven. I have undertaken the whole
work of the incarnation, the earthly life of perfect obedience, the doing
of the Father's works, the sharing of the Father's teaching; and now the
bearing away of sins. I have done all that to get you to heaven, and now
do you think that I am going to lose you on the way? Having secured the end,
could I possibly let you go astray on the road?'
There is nothing more precious, beloved friends, than our eternal security
in glory. Dwell much on heaven. The teaching of the Lord Jesus here in these
chapters is that only those who think correctly about heaven can think correctly
about [90/91] earth. Only those who know where they
are going, really know where they are. Only those who are confident about
the end can truly be confident in the middle. To think about heaven is not
unreal; it is the supreme reality. It is the very crown of our Christian
faith and it is this which teaches people how to die without being afraid.
Jesus is coming again!
LEARNING TO KNOW GOD
(Some thoughts from the Pentateuch)
4. DEUTERONOMY. God the Gracious
IN his long speech before going up the mountain to die, Moses spoke from
his knowledge of the Lord and also from his knowledge of the people. The
one thing which he had in mind and which he wanted to sink down into their
consciousness was the fact of the gracious Lord really being their
God. With this in view he spoke with the simple definiteness of the Bible:
"Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord" (6:4). Right from the first
verse in the Bible it is emphasised that God has no-one to match Him, no alternative
to Him and no adversary to equal Him. So it is that the man of faith can
accept that He is the Creator of darkness and evil as well as of light and
peace, even though he cannot explain his faith. God is Lord of all.
Having said this, the text continues: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength" (6:5).
It may seem strange that love can be expressed in terms of a commandment,
but this is based on a New Testament truth, implicit in Moses' speech, that
the source of true love is in God and not in ourselves: "We love Him", says
John, "because He first loved us."
And God is not far away. Moses told the people that "the Lord He is God
in heaven above and upon the earth beneath: there is none else" (4:39). We
may imagine that God is so distant that, although He governs in the larger
sphere of things, He is remote from the earth and that down here we can be
the victims of chance happenings. The simple fact is that God is God upon
the earth and this is far-reaching, though we have to admit that we are
apt to forget this fact.
Deuteronomy is a long story, devoted to the remembrance of all the good
things which God had done, as though pointing on to the psalm which says,
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." Moses related
how the Lord had led them from the house of bondage and through the wilderness;
how He went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire
by night, speaking to them, giving them the Tabernacle, changing them from
a crowd of slaves into an orderly nation and giving them a divine order for
worship of Himself. He had helped them to discern between the clean and the
unclean. He had been with them all the way.
Moses reminded the people that although the Lord was God up in heaven,
they had experienced that He was their God here on the earth, and they were
to be always the objects of His loving care. God the Creator was making
them into the people chosen before all other peoples to be blessed, protected,
led and trained by Him to be a people for His own possession. We might think
that all this would be so stamped upon the memories of those who had experienced
it that it would be unnecessary to charge them never to forget it. Nevertheless
this is the message of Deuteronomy, repeated many times negatively in the
command, "Forget not!" and just as many times positively as "Remember!"
If we know ourselves, we realise how difficult it is to trust God when
a new difficulty arises, even though He has helped us so many times before.
We can have experienced an answer to prayer which is outstanding and the
next time forget it and become like those who thought that God might well
be God up in heaven but doubt whether He is God here on earth. Every time
we come to the Lord's Table we hear the words, "This do in remembrance of
me", and we greatly need this constant reminder so that is why the Lord commanded
that it be repeated. [91/92]
Moses challenged the Israelites: "What great nation is there that has
God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is whensoever we call on Him
?" (4:7). This is indeed a great mercy, that we never call on Him in vain.
Yet Moses had to plead with them not to forget Him (4:9), well knowing that
while in their uplifted moments they would affirm that they would never again
forget, the heart of man is so sick and deceitful that it finds it hard
to remember God's gracious benefits, while it is all too easy to do the
opposite and remember everything else.
The human heart is sick: faith finds no place in it. Moses gave a further
exhortation to remembrance when, speaking of possession of the good things
of the land so freely given, he added, "Then beware lest thou forget the
Lord ..." (6:12). He was a good judge of character and knew how easily we
forget God when all is going well for us and our lives are richly blessed.
Moreover it is not just a matter of remembering, but of giving Him His rightful
place as Lord: "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God and him shalt thou serve"
Again, when you are faced with something you cannot manage, then remember
and never give up: "If thou shalt say in thine heart, These nations are more
than I; how can I dispossess them ... thou shalt well remember what the
Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt" (7:17-18).
We have nothing to be proud of: "Do not say in thine heart, My power
and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth, but thou shalt remember
the Lord thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (8:17-28).
We are all too prone to imagine that we deserved blessing, feeling that because
we prayed so much, because we fasted, because we claimed
God's will or because we were so true to Scripture, that God was
forced to bless us. But that was never the reason, and never will be. God
is not a God who can be 'bought'. If He blesses us, we have never earned
that blessing. It is all of grace. If we have done what is right, our actions
are the consequence of His blessing and goodness but never an explanation
of His blessing. You must not misunderstand me: I do not undervalue wholeheartedness,
but the wholeheartedness, if it is genuine, is the work of God's grace and
never a performance on our part. God never is put under an obligation to
bless. It was not wholeheartedness which led Israel through the Red Sea,
for they faced the situation full of doubts. It was not as a reward for any
performance of theirs which brought the manna, for they were a murmuring
people. Even to think in this way is not to remember God as He really is.
Surely the worst sickness of the human heart is hidden religious pride,
based on legal self-righteousness and overvaluation of self. The warning
was repeated by Moses, not without irony and humour: "Speak not thou in thine
heart, after that the Lord thy God hath thrust them out from before thee,
saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this
land" (9:4). "Know therefore that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good
land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people"
Later on Moses had to say to them: "Of the Rock that begat thee thou
art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that gave thee birth" (32:18). In
the same chapter he said of them: "They are a very froward generation, children
in whom is no faith" (v.20). They forgot Him! Although He had done innumerable
good things for them and given them countless benefits, they did not remember
Him. It is a fact that all kinds of signs and wonders do not help people
to believe. They did not then and they do not now today. If we know ourselves
we have to confess that although we affirm that we will always remember the
Lord and never forget Him, we do just that. Although He has done everything
for a person, until something happens with that person, something
so decisive that it makes him a new creation, he will fall into forgetfulness.
In his final song Moses clearly confirmed this, for he did not say, "
If you forget God ..." but "when you forget God". He knew that
it would happen because he knew the kind of people they were.
And we are told why it had to happen: "But the Lord hath not given you
a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear" (29:4). Moses had just
reminded the people that they had seen for themselves the great works which
God had done and now he affirmed that they had not really seen them. He had
just said that they had heard the wonderful words that God had spoken; now
he said that they had heard nothing. It seems that they lacked the blessing
offered to those who have ears to hear. [92/93]
If the question be asked as to how they could get such ears, any answer
which man could give would only be in terms of doing something, as if advising
that action on our part would open our eyes and ears. In fact the divine
remedy is all of grace, and is called "circumcision of the heart". In Chapter
30, after he had spoken of when all these things had happened to them
he gave the promise, "the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart ..." and
then they would return (vv.6-8). This return, or conversion does not
begin the process, for a dead person cannot convert himself, but rather follows
the new heart, the new birth, and then conversion. Salvation is entirely
of God; it is not even a reward for conversion. It is entirely of God and
is a wonder, greater than all miracles that can happen outside of us or even
in our body; it is the miracle of a new heart and a new spirit. Grace alone
can enable us to remember.
In the history of the human race it has been Israel's strange lot to
have been chosen by God. It has been a painful experience, for to be chosen
by God seems to involve being an object lesson for other men. The object
lesson which God has given us through Israel is that of the essential sickness
of the human heart. How impossible it is to get to know God. How hopeless
it is to make oneself righteous! This has been Israel's tremendously painful
place in history. In this wonderful song, however, we read: "The Lord shall
judge his people, and repent himself for his servants; when he seeth that
their power is gone, and there is none remaining, shut up or left at large"
This has happened to us as individuals, as it certainly did with that
great Israelite Saul of Tarsus. When his power was utterly broken and he
was finished, then he received a new heart. We ourselves will testify that
it was when our righteousness was exposed as filthy rags and there was nothing
upon which we could build our case before God so that we were helpless and
hopeless, it was then that we were allowed to taste the love of Christ. Individual
Jews and individual Gentiles have experienced this. I believe that Israel
as a nation will yet experience it.
It is my quiet conviction that a day is coming when Israel will find
that their power is broken down, all their hopes are lost and that they
will confess that they are not at all better than the Gentiles but rather
as full of unrighteousness as filthy rags. I believe that on that day they
will receive eyes to see and will weep as no-one else has ever wept, as they
undergo the complete humiliation of seeing themselves as they are in God's
light. Then they will be given a heart to know the Lord; their heart sickness
will be healed and they will know themselves to be sinners saved by grace
-- nothing more.
Moses saw this, but he could not communicate it directly. What he did
say, and he said it in well-known words which they could not understand even
when they were fulfilled, was: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee
a prophet from the midst of thee, and of thy brethren, like unto me; unto
him ye shall hearken" (18:15). On the mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus
stood there with both Moses and Elijah, there came the voice from the eternal
world: "This is my Son, hear him!" There He was! If only they had been able
to hear Him, they would have experienced all that fullness of salvation of
which the Pentateuch speaks. In God's infinite grace, that has become our
happy lot. We have our names written in heaven. The Day will come when He
will lead us into all the wealth of the eternal treasures of His land of
promise. Already in this life He gives us a foretaste of it in a spiritual
sense but it will reach its fullness when we see Him face to face. He is
the God of all grace and He is the One to receive all the glory.
WATCHING FOR THE MORNING
Reading: Psalm 130
WE are familiar with what occurred to John Wesley in Aldersgate Street
one May evening as he listened to a reading of Luther's Preface to the Romans,
but we may not be aware that this was a sequel to his presence that same
afternoon in St. Paul's Cathedral where he listened to the singing of Psalm
130. Surely this was all part of the experience that day when his heart was
[93/94] 'strangely warmed'. It was there in Aldersgate
Street that Wesley's real experience with Christ began, but the way had been
prepared already as God had spoken to him in the afternoon by this psalm.
None of us are starting on the experience of the Christian life as Wesley
was, but it may well be that with us there is a desire to renew a divine
relationship and we can do so by using this psalm as a background and listening
to the cry found in it.
1. A Cry out of a Great Need
"Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
Lord hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications". (verses 1 & 2)
Three things strike me about the great need out of which the psalmist
i. The need is primary
The psalms have two methods of approach. There is that which begins with
human need and goes on to the divine response, and the other begins with
the supply in God as it reaches down to meet the deep need of man. Here we
have a supreme example of when the need is primary, for it starts from where
man is and cries to God out of man's depths. It articulates human predicament
and man's heart need and gives us the tremendous advantage of not only being
inspired by the need of the human heart but also inspired by the Spirit of
God. The psalm does two things at once, it provides a cry which God Himself
has inspired the human heart to make. So it is God's Word to us also.
ii. The cry is timeless
Learned commentators may tell us that the psalm was written long after
the time of David because of a later Hebrew word. I do not know; in any
case it seems immaterial to me for, whether it was spoken by David or in
the time of David or whether it was spoken by some other psalmist is neither
here nor there, since it speaks of a present need at all times. There is much
in Scripture which is timeless in this way. While relevance is important as
is also the contemporary context, there are fundamental spiritual factors
which are timeless. It follows, then, that while the cry of Psalm 130 may
be applied to a particular situation in which the psalmist spoke it, it is
applicable to any age, having to do with no particular time, referring to
a need which may be as great to us today as ever it was to the psalmist when
he wrote of it.
iii. The need is undefined
This is very important; the need is not defined. Some believe that it
refers quite clearly to guilt which needed to be forgiven; that the psalmist
had a conscience that was bad and he needed to have his sins forgiven. I
wonder if that is necessarily all the truth or whether this is one of those
instances in which the silence of Scripture is meant to teach us a lesson.
The Scriptures teach us by their silence. There is much that is not told
us about the life of Jesus, but we must believe that God's purpose in His
Word is wise in telling us all that we need to know, then we do not speculate
concerning matters which are not told us. The silences of God are quite deliberate.
We can apply this same principle to Paul's 'thorn in the flesh' (2 Corinthians
12:7). This thorn was a great trial but the Lord refused to remove it so
that His servant could learn in a new way the sufficiency of divine grace.
When we read that passage we naturally ask what exactly was this thorn. Paul,
for reasons best known to himself, does not tell us, with the result that
all down the ages men have wondered whether it was not their own particular
trial. Was this the thing which is causing them so much distress? It might
This is the sort of thing we have here. A cry out of a great need, but
we are not told what that need was. Can this perhaps be because this is
a deliberate withholding on the part of God who caused the psalm to be written
in this way so that the circumstance should not be pinned down to some special
need which is not mine but left undefined, so that I can think that perhaps
it refers to my own particular need. I may feel the need for forgiveness
of sins or a rescue from failure; I may find myself in misery as I am faced
with opposition, up against danger or in the depths of weariness. I may be
weighed down with sorrow or perhaps in the kind of depths of which the psalmist
speaks elsewhere, "I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold" (69:2).
We think of the plea of a man who finds himself literally out of his depths.
In these two first verses, then, we are directed to a great cry which could
be ours and we can take it on our own lips. [94/95]
2. A Cry to a Great God
"If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
" (verses 3 & 4)
The psalmist's cry arises from the human heart but it flies straight
home to heaven. But who is the God to whom he makes this cry? Is it the
God of hope (Romans 15:13)? Is it to the God of peace mentioned also in
Romans 15 as well as in many other places? Or is it even more appropriately
to the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3)? Remarkably it is not made
to that kind of God but to a God of wrath and forgiveness. The cry is made
to a God who is described here in moral terms. Might that perhaps seem to
be a heartless kind of cry? In the Pilgrim's Progress it was Mr. Worldly
Wiseman who sent the pilgrim laden with his burden of sin to the city of
Morality, and he almost destroyed him in the process. Surely that is not
the way to deal with a heart that is in the depths of need.
No, it is not heartless because whatever the depths out of which the
needy may cry, it remains true that the first necessity of the believer
is that he should be right with God. Here in these two verses we have both
sides of the God of morality. He is a great God and yet He is a God of wrath:
"If thou shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord who shall stand?" Just imagine
if there were no way for our sin to be dealt with, everyone of us would stand
condemned before God. Each one of us stands in need of forgiveness. Whatever
our apparent need may be, the basic need is that sin should be dealt with.
We tend to stress the need of our emotions and to minimise the matter of our
sin. There is always the problem of making sure that we are right with God.
It is possible that we think back even over one day and may be tempted
to say or just to think that even if there had been no cross, even if Christ
had not gone to Calvary, even if God did mark iniquity, reckoning it up and
marking it in His book to be brought out on the day of judgment, well today
at any rate things would not be too bad for us. It is as though we felt
that perhaps we might just get by, even if there were no such thing as redemption.
This is the frightful complacency that threatens every believer, ministers
and workers more than most. Professionalism in the things of God is a dreadful
possibility. Those who succumb to it find it very easy to see the faults
of others and even to blame them when things go wrong and find reasons for
troubles in their shortcomings.
I must ask myself if there might possibly be something wrong between
me and the Lord. It might be that my troubles arise not from what is being
done to me by others; the fault may be in myself. So when I come to God I
must remember that He is a God of wrath and tremble before Him. Then I can
also find as we have here in this psalm that we are given an equally blinding
vision of the fact that He is also a God of forgiveness. Mercy and pity are
at the heart of the nature of our God, so that when we have admitted our
own sinfulness we find that the God of wrath is also the God of forgiveness
too. It has been said that none fear the Lord like those who have experienced
His forgiving love. For this reason, confession is the healthy starting point
for the person who comes to God with a great need. The need for forgiveness
actually constitutes his claim upon God and indeed it is precisely because
he recognises that he is a sinner and has that particular need first and foremost
that he finds liberty to come at all. From that he may bring whatever other
needs he has to this great God.
3. A Cry with a Great Desire
"I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
My soul waiteth for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
yea more than watchmen for the morning." (verses 5 & 6)
The greatness of the desire is shown by the doubling of the last phrase.
Twice over the psalmist describes how he hopes in the Lord and does so in
order to emphasise the importance of what he is saying. It is an amplification
of his first declaration: "I wait (or hope) ...". It is an intensely personal
matter as he explains by continuing. "My soul waits ...". My soul is the
real ME; this desire springs from the depths of my own heart. Once again this
warns us who minister of the great danger of professionalism. As we go on,
and the years of ministry go by, the very exercise of that ministry can tend
to make us over-confident because we are able to go through the motions,
to lead meetings and to counsel, assured that we know just what to say in
any given circumstances. It is then that our declaration
[95/96] as to waiting on the Lord can simply become a form of words.
The psalmist challenges us, as if asking us if our routine prayers do
really express deep consciousness of heart need; is it in this way that we
cry to the Lord? I suggest that we need to cultivate what I call realism,
that is a ministry which considers realistically what each situation truly
is. We are speaking, but who are listening? They are real people with real
spiritual needs, brought within sound of our message by God Himself. They
are people with real needs who want to listen to a real speaker, one to whom
God Himself has first spoken. They need more than words, more even than
just Bible words, but the living message from the living God.
It is an amazing fact that the Lord can take hold of a man, his brains
and his lips, and speak through him to meet the deep needs of his hearers.
It is by this gracious miracle that God Himself can speak to people through
us, but we must not ignore the fact that there can be real hindrances, things
that can go on not only in the minds of the hearers but also in the mind
of the speaker, all designed to prevent the working of God's Spirit. How careful
we need to be! It is all so real, and means that we may face up to it and
seek the Lord in ernest prayer. This is true not only in preaching the Word,
but in all the service of Christ. It must never be "I wait for the Lord"
just as a form of words, but a soul cry to Him that we may extricate ourselves
from the awful professionalism that can creep over us, and have very personal
dealings with the Lord.
Yes, it is I who wait, but also true that I must wait for the Lord
, and that I do this by hoping in His Word. The real ME is waiting for
the real Lord, and the real Lord is the speaking Lord. If I really want to
meet God then it must be that my hope is in the speaking Lord who does and
will speak personally to me. So when I come to Him to wait upon Him, it
is to wait for His Word. I lay hold of His promises, counting on Him to implement
what He has said. I want the real thing. Maybe the deeper the conscious need,
the greater will be the desire.
This brings us to that double phrase, "more than watchers for the morning
watch for the morning." It is a lovely picture. I wonder just what it means.
Is it the watcher, standing sentinel on the town walls, keeping watch until
the day dawns? Or it may be somebody watching by a sick bed, finding that
the night seems long and waiting for it to end. It is a beautiful picture,
but I wondered why the psalmist chose this rather than another and scoured
the commentators without finding anything that could satisfy me until I read
what Derek Kidner had to say in the Tyndale Commentary. With his usual gift
of crystallising the real point, he suggests that the hope with which the
watchers watch for the morning is "the hope that will not fail. The night
may seem endless, but morning is absolutely certain; it is time-determined."
The one who cries to God with a great desire is also the one that cries with
a great hope.
4. A Cry with a Great Effect
"O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy,
and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities." (verses 7 &
This cry is so effective in that it brings together more than simply
God and me, for it is not just an individualistic sort of prayer. In the
first place it speaks not only of God but also of His grace and His redemption:
"With the Lord there is steadfast love." In his commentary on this psalm,
Alec Motyer gives it the lovely title of "The Lord's Three Companions". He
is referring to, "there is forgiveness with thee" (v.4) and, "with the Lord
there is steadfast love and plenteous redemption" (v.7). These, then, are
God's three companions, Forgiveness, Grace and Redemption.
I found this a very fruitful comment, and the more I considered it, the
more I thought that I could add something to it. I looked at the Redemption
which stands beside the Lord and read the word 'plenteous', which commentators
tell me signifies that which is multiplied. Rather, as in the previous verse
the watchmen were doubled, so here redemption is multiplied. So, as the psalmist
comes into the presence of the Lord, he has in mind His three companions.
There is forgiveness, who opens the door into the divine presence; there
stands grace with outstretched arms to draw the sinner into that haven; and
then there is redemption and redemption and redemption. There is rescue, rescue,
rescue and rescue every time that the sinner needs it.
This, then, is the Old Testament picture. "Out of the depths" the needy
soul cries, and finds that with the Lord there is rescue, rescue, rescue,
rescue. There is total redemption. Beside this Old Testament picture stands
the New Testament testimony in promises such as that God is able to do exceeding
abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). These are the
wonderful gifts which the Lord has; these are His companions, bringing multiple
redemption in answer to a cry of need.
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more strength when the labours increase.
To added affliction He addeth more mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
So much for God and me. On the other side, though, it is not only I,
but all Israel. "O Israel, hope in the Lord." The psalmist wants all God's
people to join him as he comes to God out of the depths and seeks the divine
blessing. It is not only the speaker but his audience too. And it is not
only each one of us individually but all of us corporately who may have the
blessings. Moreover others will get the blessing through us as we have new
dealings with God. And so it is that our heartfelt cry can be a cry with
great effect because it does more than bring together just God and me, but
God with His grace and forgiveness and redemption not only to me but to all
So, as we cry to the Lord for rescue and renewal, coming to Him and in
Him finding what we cry for, we remember the words with which the psalmist
closes: "And He will redeem Israel." Others may be blessed through
our experience. There was another John who lived a century before John Wesley,
John Owen, one of the greatest of God's people in this country in the 17th
Century. He has a commentary on this psalm which has a very interesting
personal history to it, for it seems that this particular psalm was a means
of tremendous blessing to him and may even be what brought him into a real
heart experience of God for the first time. However that may be, he wrote
a lengthy commentary on Psalm 130 which in fact ran to 324 pages in his
Collected Works. The verse which struck him most of all was verse 4; on
that one verse he has no less than 227 pages. I was about to suggest that
I would tell you what he says, but realise that all I can do here is to
quote one line of what he says. Speaking of those who have been lifted out
of the depths, he writes: "They who out of depths have by faith and waiting
obtained mercy, they are fitted, and only they are fitted, to preach grace
and mercy unto others."
So brother or sister, if you cry to God out of the depths, this is God's
goodness to you, for it means that He is giving you an experience which will
be a blessing to someone else. As He answers your cry and lifts you up,
He is giving you a message of grace and of gospel which may be a blessing
to many others in time to come.
SAYING AMEN TO GOD'S PROMISES
"Through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God" 2
IT may perhaps be sensible and even spiritual to denigrate those old
Promise Boxes which have now gone out of fashion. It is perfectly true that
we need to read God's promises in their Scriptural context and it is equally
true that we have no right to give exclusive attention to God's promises
and at the same time neglect His commands and His warnings. Nevertheless,
when all is said and done, we need the promises of God. And we seem
to need them more and more as we progress in our spiritual pilgrimage.
Abram moved out of Ur of the Chaldees in the strength of a divine promise.
It is true that according to the New Testament "he did not know where he
was going", but he did know that he was going to "the promised land"
(Hebrews 11:8-9). Surely we can say that every faith step of this great
[97/98] pilgrim was a direct result of a new promise given to him
by God. Of Sarah, too, it is reported that "she counted him faithful who
had promised" (11:11).
In parenthesis may I suggest that Isaac's sad experience when he was
deceived by Jacob would never have happened if he had kept in mind that
initial promise of God made to Rebecca and himself before the twins were
born (Genesis 25:23).
Jacob himself was the subject of divine promises of grace, but at times
he ignored this and made his own plans. After much discipline, however, although
he longed to see his beloved son Joseph, he would only journey on down into
Egypt when he had a new promise from God on which to rely (Genesis 46:4).
Moses most notably based his whole procedure on the promises. When he brought
Israel out of Egypt he did so with a promise backed by a token: "Certainly
I will be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee: when thou has
brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain"
(Exodus 3:12). This was followed by the greatest statement and the surest
promise of all: "I AM THAT I AM". Moses had some wonderful revelations of
God's power and God's presence which we cannot hope to enjoy, but basically
his fruitful life was due to the fact that "by faith he endured as seeing
him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). In other words his spiritual fulfilment
was not so much due to those visions as to his reliance on the promises
of God. In that we can be like Moses.
Then came Joshua. In his last days he laid stress on the amazing faithfulness
of God's promises: "You know with all your heart and soul that not one of
all the good promises which the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every
promise has been fulfilled" (Joshua 23:14). Perhaps that was why he and Caleb
survived when all their contemporaries failed to do so -- they majored on
the promises of God.
David was such a man of the promises that the prophet was able to speak
of "the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3). Now the primary and perfect
receiver of these promises was, of course, the Lord Jesus, and Paul did not
hesitate to apply this Scripture to Him (Acts 13:34), but the context in
Isaiah suggests that those sure mercies are secured for all those who know
Christ as their leader and commander. So we might go on. There are things
in the prophetical books which we may find hard to understand, but how grateful
we all are for the clear and unmistakable words of promise contained in them.
When we come to the New Testament we not only have rich promises but
we have assurances that to us the Holy Spirit is "the promise of the Father"
and is Himself called "the Spirit of promise". In the passage which so describes
Him, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is not only God's promise, but also
His seal and His 'earnest', all with the one objective, "to the praise of
his glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14). This is in close accord with the heart-warming
words on the subject which the apostle used to reassure the doubting and
questioning Corinthians: "How many soever be the promises of God, in him is
the yea; wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through
us" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
"How many soever!" I like that! The A.V. and some other versions content
themselves with the simple inclusive word 'All', which no doubt is adequate.
The N.I.V. however, gives what may provide a better rendering of the thrust
of Paul's words with its translation: "No matter how many promises God has
made, they are 'Yes' in Christ ...". No matter how many! Has anybody ever
tried to count them all? If so he has wasted his time, for the great thing
to grasp is that the Lord Jesus guarantees that there is no divine promise
which does not find its perfect fulfilment in Him -- not a single one.
Perhaps they may not be fulfilled in the way in which we had expected,
but ultimately we will find that the divine answer was always better than
what we had looked for. We might make the verse read, "No matter how great
are the promises of God ..." for they are always greater than we had anticipated.
It is true that they are not always implemented just at the time which we
might have chosen but, however long the delay, in due season we will find
that the 'Yes' was in Christ and that in fact the Lord's timing was better
than ours would have been. God will never fail and He will always be on time.
When this was written, Paul's critics were questioning his reliability, though
they had no reason for doing so. He did not let [98/99]
this worry him too much, but seized the opportunity to affirm that whatever
may be said about His servants, God Himself is totally reliable. He cannot
I have recently been trying to anticipate what will be my emotions when
I find myself in the glorious presence of my Lord and have come to the conclusion
that one of these will be to have an altogether new appreciation of the perfect
fulfilment of every one of the Lord's promises. In his first letter to the
Corinthians, Paul had to admit that life has its puzzling enigmas for us
all, but he confidently asserted that one day we will see 'face to face'.
" Now I know in part", he confessed, "but then I shall know
even as I have been known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Now we can only
affirm our faith as to some of the promises, but then we will fully
appreciate that not a single one has ever failed.
In that Day we will know. But although we may be helped by looking forward
to the future, there are times when we desperately need to have the help
of God's promises right now. That, I think, is why the apostle included in
his statement about Christ's 'Yes' and 'Amen', the comforting words about
the immediate aid of the Holy Spirit, who is given to us here and now as a
foretaste of what is to be. By His presence we have a present and genuine
proof of God's faithfulness. The 'earnest' is not all there is, but it is
an actual part of that totality. Various translations are given of the word
here described as an 'earnest'. We are told that it can rightly be called
a deposit, in the sense of being a down-payment which guarantees the full
honouring of the pledge at a later date. The point to be grasped is that this
is not a substitute or an alternative, but the real thing. The Holy Spirit
is given to us as an immediate and positive taste of God's faithfulness in
the fulfilment of His promises. The first payment guarantees the rest, and
this is what is done by the inner working of the Holy Spirit now. This is
a Promise that we do not have to wait for.
We must not forget, however, that the Lord expects us to appropriate
His promises. Unless I am mistaken, the implication of this Scripture is
that when Christ has said 'Yes' for us, we must reply with our 'Amen' to
God through Him: "And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory
of God" (NIV). It is an interesting fact that the Lord Jesus always used the
'Amen' to introduce His statements, often doubling the word with His. "Verily,
verily ...". He alone could do that. In our case what Paul calls 'the Amen'
is to be said by us in understanding agreement and appreciation of the utterances
of our Lord.
It should be said that in the first place all God's promises are given
to His Son: they are a feature of the anointing and of His title Christ.
He plans to include us in them, though, and has Himself done what is necessary
to make possible the substantiation of those promises by putting us "into
Christ", that is, into vital union with the anointed Inheritor of His Promises:
"Now he that stablisheth us with you in (into) Christ and anointed us, is
God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts"
(vv.21-22). God in His grace has now stablished us into Christ and holds
us in Him, so that we may share His anointing and find that the promises are
valid for us also.
When God put us into Christ. He sealed us as His own possession. This
is something that He has done, only requiring from us a truly committed 'Amen'.
With due respect to those who teach that this 'sealing' is a subsequent work
of grace after regeneration, I cannot doubt that when God puts people (even
Corinthians!) into the Anointed One, He thereby brings them into the sphere
of that anointing, seals them for His own possession and enters into them
by His Holy Spirit to ensure that they can have the real and present benefit
of all His promises. The potential is there for all to enjoy: our part is
to claim the blessings by faith's utterance of the Amen.
This 'Amen' is not to be just a formal utterance but a real faith appropriation
of the promise. To some the first crisis of such an appropriation seems to
come as a second experience of grace, as though only then were they being
sealed, but in fact it surely means that they are entering into what the
Lord had already provided when His Spirit came to dwell in them and to establish
them into Christ. If we are truly children of God then, whether we are penitent
prodigals or self-righteous brothers, the Father graciously assures us: "Son,
thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine" (Luke 15:31). It is
for us gratefully to respond with our 'Amen' to that.
There is an element of humble kindness in the way in which Paul speaks
of their shared blessing in Christ: "He that stablisheth us with you
", he [99/100] writes, speaking of himself as being
a simple sharer with the Corinthians of God's grace. In fact, of course,
as compared with these converts of his ministry, he could have claimed priority
both in time and in position. He wrote, "us with you", but we would have
expected him to write, "you with us." He might even have written (as some
of us would undoubtedly have done), 'He has brought me into this experience,
but I am not too sure about your position. However I wish you well and will
pray that you may have the same experience of anointing which I have had.'
He did nothing of the kind. In fact his manner of expression was modest and
gracious and also true to Scripture. Had he not already written to these same
people: "We have received that Spirit who is from God, that we may understand
what God has freely given us" (1 Corinthians 2:12)?
His beloved brother Peter voiced similar sentiments when he wrote: "He
hath granted to us his precious and exceeding great promises that through
these ye may become partakers of the divine nature ..." (2 Peter 1:4).
Our spiritual progress and fulfilment depend upon our saying 'Amen' to the
precious promises of God.
What can we do, o'er whom the unbeholden
Hangs in a night with which we cannot cope?
What but look sunward, and with faces golden
Speak to each other softly of a hope?
So even I, and with a heart more burning,
So even I, and with a hope more sweet,
Groan for the hour, O Christ, of Thy returning,
Faint for the flaming of Thine advent feet.
Surely He cometh, and a thousand voices
Shout to the saints and to the deaf are dumb;
Surely He cometh, and the earth rejoices
Glad in His coming who hath sworn, I come!
F. W. H. Myers [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (17)
"(For she was the sister of Ahaziah)" 2 Chronicles 22:11
IN Bible Quizzes not many people would be able to identify Jehosheba
or, as the Chronicler calls her, Jehoshabeath, yet she made a vital contribution
to divine history, for it was she who saved and sheltered the one tiny living
link in the Davidic dynasty which was left after the wicked Athaliah had
murdered all the other descendants of King Ahaziah.
SHE was Ahaziah's sister, so we are told. That means that she was the
aunt of the infant Joash. She was only an 'auntie', but I suggest that she
was the most famous aunt in the Bible. Her husband, Jehoiada, was God's instrument
for establishing little Joash on the throne and was a tremendous influence
for good in the royal court so long as he lived. This was so much the case
that he was given the unique experience for a commoner: "They buried him
... among the kings" (2 Chronicles 24:16).
JEHOIADA was the prominent figure and he got the limelight, but he could
have done nothing if his wife had not first taken responsibility for safe-guarding
her baby nephew by hiding him and his nurse in her own bedroom.
LATER he was smuggled into the house of the Lord. That was a master stroke.
I wonder if it was her idea. The house of God was the one place which the
ungodly Athaliah would not wish to enter. This move must have meant that
Jehosheba's part was only a brief bridging operation which gave her no more
part in the matter and little if any recognition. Perhaps this parenthesis,
which only repeats the twice-given information that she was the daughter of
King Jehoram in another way, may serve to ensure that she is remembered. Somehow
aunts fail to find much place in the Scriptures.
TO me she stands as the prototype of all those godly aunts who play such
an important part in the lives of their young nephews and nieces. During
my lifetime I have often noted and appreciated the great value of an aunt's
loving and prayerful concern. I would like to think that King Joash remembered
how much he was indebted to this aunt of his, but I doubt it. Never mind!
God saw! God had it written down in His inspired Word. And we do well to pay
tribute to the woman who stood in the gap for God when the whole future of
the Davidic throne was so direly threatened.
WORSHIP GOD! FOR THE TESTIMONY OF
JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.
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