|Vol. 9, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1980
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
IT is always a joy to meet in the flesh those whose names have become
familiar by being constantly repeated in our prayers. I have just had the
great privilege of meeting a much prayed-for servant of the Lord from a communist
country, and have been greatly moved to hear some of his experiences of
God's miracles and mercies in answer to prayer.
His name is Joseph, which is very suitable, for his story has much in
common with the patriarch Joseph, who found great fruitfulness by way of
deep suffering. I have since heard from a colleague of his that Joseph has
suffered a good deal from his own brethren, which makes the parallel even
more apt. Joseph himself said nothing of this, and indeed said very little
about his own sufferings.
He had a wonderful story to tell of the faithfulness of God. It is not
my purpose here to describe how very many people are turning to Christ in
his land; nor do I propose to dwell on his main burden now, which is concerned
with Christian literature. Every week he expounds the Word to very large
groups who have no printed aid to Bible study but who are so keen that they
will stand for two hours, taking notes while they do so. Funds are needed
on a big scale if these Christians are to have spiritual books. It is not
a matter of Bibles but of spiritual teaching, for there is no such literature
in their own language. With others, Joseph is hoping to remedy this deficiency
and has helpers ready to translate, set up type and print. My purpose in writing
this message, however, is to try to recapture a few of the salient spiritual
points which he made as he spoke to a group of God's people in our little
Joseph was a teacher in a Theological College but was thrust out by God
into the pastoral care of a large church. When I say 'large', I do not refer
to the building, for that was altogether inadequate, but to the believers
in a fellowship which was growing in such a way that many hundreds of them
had to stand in the courtyard outside to participate in the services. They
stood for hours praising God, listening to His Word and having communion
in the breaking of bread, though often exposed to rain and even snow when
the weather was bad. God graciously worked to enable Joseph to get a roof
put over their heads, but again I refrain from recounting this miracle in
order to concentrate on a few spiritual points.
The atheistic authorities were closing down on God's work in that land.
Decrees were made which forbade the churches from meeting except on Saturday
night and Sunday morning, removed the liberty of speakers from preaching
anywhere else than in their own premises and insisted that church leaders
(pastors, elders and deacons) should be appointed not by the churches themselves
but by the communist authorities. Although many church leaders were ready
to accept this, Joseph felt that he could not do so and sent a message to
his fellow Christians, urging them to resist and disobey such decrees which
in any case were contrary to the laws of the land. He only took such a bold
step after much exercise in prayer and with the wholehearted backing of his
Then the storm broke! With others, Joseph was subjected to merciless
interrogation and brutal treatment which wearied mind and body but which
never broke his spirit. During all those cruel months Joseph sought grace
never to face his interrogators as communists nor to regard them as enemies,
but only to think of them and speak to them as needy souls for whom Christ
had died. He acted towards them as men who were what he called 'saveable',
and he trusts that some at least were affected by the gospel. When at last
they released him, one of them commented, 'We shall miss you!'
What is more, Joseph was always strong to argue that his fellow Christians
were loyal citizens who loved their country. He was able to point out that
these Christians were proved to be good citizens, honest, sober and as conscientious
workers as the best of their fellows. In this way his defence of the gospel
was confirmed and re-inforced by the practical daily living of his converts.
One could only wish that this were more often true in our Western lands and
that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in the workday activities of
God's people. In that land no-one could deny Joseph's argument in this respect.
When he was passing through deep trials, a flood of correspondence poured
in from all over the world. This came in the form of postcards
[81/82] with a simple message of greeting and assurance of prayer.
A special watch was kept on all his mail and a Post Office employee deputed
to separating it and carrying it into an inner office where it could be examined.
The result of this was that daily, piles and piles of cards had to be so
carried; they came from all over the world and kept arriving in enormous
numbers. Whether the vast number of cards or the prayer behind them finally
produced the withdrawal of the decrees and the release of God's servant, he
never knew. Probably it was both. Joseph thanked God for the postcards and
only regretted that the same comfort could not be forthcoming for so many
nameless suffering saints in communist lands, but as he thanked God even
more for the prayers, he reminded us that prayer is a way in which we can
all minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As he spoke to us, Joseph stressed his discovery that the real area of
conflict is not outward at all, but is the inner battle for complete submission
to the will of God. At various stages he had -- as we all do -- the agonising
struggle as to whether he would disregard his own feelings and the advice
of others and capitulate to the will of God. Happily Elizabeth was the most
loyal of helpers in this matter and ready to accept the bitter price to herself
of her husband's obedience. 'When you are yourself conquered by God,' Joseph
told us, 'then, and only then can you be an overcomer.' For him the supreme
struggle was to accept and obey that will.
He told us of one occasion when he and his wife were convinced that it
was God's will that he should refuse to answer any more questions. That
Sunday night, in spite of the cloud hanging over him, he was able to preach
to a large congregation on 'The joy of the Lord'. On the Monday, however,
his firm refusal brought him into acute conflict with his interrogators,
and he was subjected to hours of fierce abuse. He was then released and told
to appear the following day at 9 a.m., with the threatening assertion that
he would then be forced to answer all the questions. Things looked so serious
that they realised that they could not go on without fellowship and prayer,
so his wife arranged for them to visit the flat of friends and there the four
of them cried earnestly to God for guidance and help. In this atmosphere of
faith and prayer Joseph was able to resolve to obey the Lord even if he were
utterly crushed by his tormentors, as he fully expected would happen. To
his amazement, even as he newly accepted the will of God, a miraculous peace
flooded his heart, and he spent the night with the sweetest sense of heavenly
And the next day? No more threats! Reason, even understanding treatment
from the government official! As Joseph said, the real battle had been in
his own heart. Once the Lord had established the victory there, He made everything
work out to express that victory. Joseph's face was radiant as he acknowledged
himself to be a man inwardly conquered by the will of God.
Not that things had been easy to bear. Far from it! He told us of a dreadful
day of beating up when he cried out because of the painful blows. On the
next day he was not further attacked but was left in solitary confinement.
As he meditated and prayed, he suddenly remembered that it was Holy Week,
and thought on the sufferings of the Saviour. This was such a comfort to him
and his heart was so overwhelmed with the privilege of sharing Christ's sufferings
that when he later appeared before his tormentor, his first words were of
apology. The officer was taken aback and asked what he meant. Joseph's reply
was, 'As a Christian I was wrong to cry out, for it is the greatest privilege
that Christians can have to share in the sufferings of Christ. I realise
how wrong I was to protest about the pain, and how gladly I ought to welcome
the opportunity to bear it for the Saviour who bore so much for me.' The
interrogator was embarrassed and silenced, and then revealed that an order
had come from the highest authorities that he was to be released.
That was on Good Friday. It so happened that a great friend of mine was
in the capital city of that country at the time, and was amazed when Joseph
and Elizabeth joined them in the apartment of a Christian friend. Joseph
bore deep marks of his painful ordeal but, when they stood in a circle to
praise and to pray, it was he who used Paul's words: "I rejoice in suffering
for Christ and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions
of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake" (Colossians 1:24). My friend is
a man who has a ready word for every occasion, but just then he could only
worship in emotional silence.
As I have written about these things, it has come to me afresh how sad
is the soft condition [82/83] of Christians in the
affluent West, and how to be envied the spiritual freshness and devotion
of persecuted saints in less fortunate lands. We need to pray for God's people
in communist lands. Maybe we also need that they should pray for us!
SONGS OF PRAISE (4)
John H. Paterson
For Thou, Who knowest, Lord, how soon
Our weak heart clings,
Hast given us joys, tender and true,
Yet all with wings.
THESE lines come from the hymn which begins, "My God, I thank Thee, Who
hast made the earth so bright." It contains some beautiful thoughts, but
it is not a hymn to be sung lightly. It thanks God, among other things, that
"all our joy is touched with pain". It is a hymn written by someone scared
of becoming too happy, because they fear that sorrow must inevitably break
in upon their happiness; someone who has prepared in advance for the calamities
that happen, even to God's people, in the imperfect, sin-spoilt world in
which we live. Since the hymn was written by a young woman who died at 39
years of age, all this is, perhaps, understandable.
But in the lines that I have quoted there is an important thought, and
one which every self-aware Christian will recognise. It is the human tendency
to cling to the comfortable or the familiar, and to fear change. In its most
blatant form, this feeling finds expression in the well-known refrain, which
greets every new proposal at a church meeting, 'But this is the way we've
always done it!' We fear what change may do to us -- the upsets it may cause,
the shifts in personal status, the very approach of the unknown. It is always
easier to cling to what we know, even when our rational selves tell us that
what we know is imperfect or unsatisfactory.
The hymn writer says that it is the weak heart that clings, that
resists change. By contrast, then, it is a sign of strength and maturity
in the man or woman of God to confront change courageously. And very specially
is it a sign of the grace of God at work in a life when the change to be
faced is one leading, not to a fuller usefulness or larger sphere of service,
but to restriction, withdrawal or closure. How many works of God have died
a lingering death because those involved in them could not bear to accept
the reality of change and say, 'This is finished. Now I wonder what God will
The Weak Heart
There are abundant examples in the Bible of this clinging to the old
and familiar, and the curious thing is that people cling regardless of whether
the familiar is good or bad. Think of Lot, for instance, who hated to leave
Sodom -- than which few places could have been more obviously 'bad' -- and
begged for permission to halt at the nearby Zoar (Genesis 19:18-22), so as
not to leave the past too far behind, even though that past was in ruins
under the judgment of God. We may think, too, of the Children of Israel, for
whom even Egypt became, in retrospect, a place of familiar comforts: "Who
shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt
freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks and the onions and the
garlic" (Numbers 11:4-5). There could hardly be a clearer example of the
heart's power to cling: never a word about the slavery in Egypt, the taskmasters
and the bricks!
But sometimes, more understandably, it is not the bad but the good to
which we wish to cling. Who has not been to a conference at some time or
other and thought, 'I wish this could go on for ever'? We speak at times of
'mountain-top experiences', and by doing so we refer to the most famous of
all examples of the heart's wish to cling: the time when Peter, on the Mount
of Transfiguration, suggested building three shrines to commemorate the
wonderful experience [83/84] through which he and
the others had just passed. He wanted to capture it, permanently.
We know the feeling! Once we have experienced God's blessing in a place,
or through a particular channel, we are reluctant to move lest we miss the
blessing when it comes again. So we cling to the place, or the person, or
the formula, as if they were the essential part of the blessing -- as if,
without the Holy Spirit's work, place or person or formula would be anything
To cling to joy when we have it is only human in a world where, on the
whole, there is so little of it to be had. To cling to material things is
a natural instinct -- to ensure our shelter and our food and our comforts.
And because these tendencies are human and instinctive we have to be prepared,
as God's people, to overcome them -- to prevent them from turning into a
wild race to accumulate possessions, or the 'care' of riches. To cling to
joy in the face of the immense burden of sorrow that is carried by mankind
as a whole may well be insensitive, if not selfish; there is a time to weep
and a time to laugh.
But the weak heart -- even the believer's heart -- may cling to other
things, too. It may cling to tradition in the face of change as, for example,
the Jewish Christian did to circumcision- - and think of all the trouble
that caused! It may cling to routine in the face of dead formalism,
as Israel did with their sacrifices and their temple ritual; sacrifices which
God said that He simply could not bear (Isaiah 1:14). It may cling to a
person, even when that person is manifestly not God's man or woman,
as Abraham wanted to cling to Ishmael ("O that Ishmael might live before
thee!"). It may cling to a place in face of clear evidence that God is no
longer there, as in that most tragic of all Jesus' laments over Jerusalem:
"Behold, your house is left unto you desolate".
The Courageous Heart
By contrast, the courageous heart will recognise two truths, and build
upon them. The first is that the Christian experience is in the nature of
a one-way journey. Its structure -- and the image used to depict it -- is
that of a pilgrimage rather than of a sedentary existence, and it is very
unlikely that, in the will of God at least, the same thing is supposed to
happen to me twice over.
Let me explain that statement. It is instructive to go through the Bible
and note the occurrences which represent some kind of 'repeat performances'.
Among those that come readily to mind there is Abraham, pretending, not once
but twice, that Sarah was his sister and not his wife (Genesis 12 & 20).
Can we for one moment imagine that that represented God's best will for
them? Then there were the Children of Israel arriving twice at the border
of the promised land, at an interval of 38 years, for no better reason than
that they had declined to go in the first time. There was Moses, who struck
the rock twice (Exodus 17 and Numbers 20), when only once did he have God's
order to do so, and you remember how calamitous an error that was! In each
of these cases it seems clear that the experience ought not to have been
repeated : the point should have been made the first time. God had no
intention of repeating Himself. If familiar things engender in us any spiritual
reaction at all, it should be one not of complacency or of satisfaction,
but of alarm!
Now the practical outcome of this in the life of the individual believer
is evident enough; that he or she must expect things to change with the passage
of time, and should accept this as wholly normal in the Christian pilgrimage.
But let us carry that obvious lesson one step further. It is often easier
for us to accept change in our own lives than it is in the lives of fellow
believers. If, however, the Lord is leading us all, then there may well
be the times when He brings us together, and other times when He parts us
again. From the point of view of the group or fellowship, a move out or
away may well look like a betrayal -- like backsliding or worse. There may
well be dark mutterings at those who once formed part of the circle, but
who no longer do so.
It is at that point that we must surely learn to trust the Holy Spirit
in each others' lives. For it is the weak heart that is clinging
now -- clinging to a form of fellowship or service which God may well have
raised up and blessed and which, consequently, we may have concluded is
the only possible form for Him to bless. If that were indeed the case, then
to move away would certainly be wrong: we should have no right to leave.
But is it the case? Can we really say that, at any stage in His
dealings with men, God has ever confined Himself to a single group, form,
person- - excepting only His own, perfect Son? [84/85]
In any large, man-made enterprise there is built in a degree of flexibility.
An engineering firm, for instance, will concentrate its resources on a dam-building
project in Africa, and then switch them to a power station in Britain or
an oil refinery in the Far East. Workers and resources are not left idle in
these places when the work is finished, but are transferred from place to
place as the needs of the task demand. Not to possess such flexibility
would soon put the firm out of business. And shall not God use His resources
wisely and economically without having them cling to the old? A group of
Christians whose life together has shown no visible change, in manner or make-up,
over a long period of time may be clinging to the joys of fellowship: on
the other hand it may be dead!
The second thing the courageous heart will recognise is the need for
a positive refusal to settle down and accept as ultimate or final the situation
which now exists. To maintain a pilgrim spirit undimmed over the years is
very difficult: to be as alert for God's new thing at the end of the road
as at the beginning is a rare quality indeed. But this is the stuff of which
pilgrims are made. We think of Abraham, dwelling in tents because he would
only be satisfied by a city with real foundations (Hebrews 11:9-10), and
living and dying a pilgrim. We think of Caleb, with that marvellous burst
of energy still left to him after 40 years in the desert and five years in
the land: "As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day when Moses
sent me ... now therefore give me this mountain" (Joshua 14:11-12).
And we think, too, of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself
which, once He embarked upon them, became indeed what I have earlier described
as 'a one-way journey' -- to Jerusalem and the cross. It was a wandering,
comfortless life but one which led, clearly and deliberately, to a single
goal. Nothing in it was unnecessarily repeated; there were only the repeated
acts of mercy to the sick and needy, and the repeated lessons to the all-too-ignorant
disciples. Apart from these, it was a straight progression towards His death,
complete in its course, timed to perfection. What would we not give to have
a life like that- - nothing wasted, no delays; no lost time at the beginning,
and no slackening off at the end!
But it takes a courageous heart not to falter -- not to feel that, after
years of service, we have earned a rest; not to resent the ending of our
apparently successful phase of ministry and its replacement by a smaller,
less public task; not to feel 'I am too old to change'. May the Lord give
each one of us courage to face the future with its uncertainties -- and not
only the uncertain future of this poor world of ours but also the built-in,
wholly deliberate uncertainty provided by the work of the Holy Spirit who,
like the wind, blows where and when He will, and carries all before Him!
Father, hear the prayer we offer;
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength, that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
25. THE PERSONAL TOUCH (Chapter 16)
PAUL had never been to Rome, but he knew some of the Christians there.
This need not surprise us, for even in those days all roads led to Rome,
so that for one reason or another there were many Christians who moved from
the eastern part of the empire where the apostle had met them and went to
live in the capital city. We now come to the end of Paul's letter and find
that it concludes with special greetings for some of these friends of his.
The first is Phoebe. She may have been called a deaconess but her service
to the church was not so much a matter of status as of the loving sisterly
care which she gave to many in that eastern harbour town of Corinth. Paul
does not describe how she helped him, but clearly she often assisted travellers,
including the apostle himself. Now she herself was a traveller and should
be treated with that hospitality which the Bible so often recommends (12:13).
Other names are then mentioned which are not familiar to us, though common
enough at that time. C. H. Dodd, in his Commentary pp.15-17, gives much interesting
information about possible connections between some of these and famous
families of the first century. For our part we recognise Priscilla and Aquila,
noting that both here and in 1 Corinthians 16:19 Paul mentions the wife
first. This widely-travelled couple are presumably -- apart from Joseph
and Mary -- the most famous husband and wife in the New Testament. They
receive the highest praise which the apostle can give them: "Unto whom not
only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles". A glimpse
of their significance is given us in Acts 18:24-26. Their hospitality was
most appreciated, but it appears that they had carried their loving concern
to the extreme of risking their lives in order to save his. He also sends
greetings to "the church that is in their house". When they lived in Ephesus
they gathered a church in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19). We can hardly
believe that both the church in Ephesus and the church in Rome had so few
members that they could all gather in one house, so we are forced to conclude
that in Paul's estimation a company who met regularly in a home (first and
foremost to break bread -- Acts 2:46), should be considered as a church. This
seems a natural consequence of Christ's words in Matthew 18:20 and suggests
that there is nothing strange about a church not possessing its own meeting
As the list proceeds we read of two Jewish relatives of Paul's who had
also been imprisoned for Christ's sake and are described as being "outstanding
among the apostles" (v.7). This suggests that in addition to the Twelve whom
the Lord Jesus had chosen, there were other workers who could be described
as 'apostles' or 'messengers' in a wider sense. These two were not part of
Christ's original band, but they had trusted Him before their more distinguished
kinsman and colleague, Paul.
Some of the others whose names follow are described as "beloved", an
indication of Paul's warmth of heart, and others as hard workers in the
Lord (v.12). Nobody knows what work they did, nor do we need to know for
Christian women, as well as Christian men, are called to serve God in all
their activities. Rufus and his mother are particularly distinguished. The
mother had been like a mother to Paul and, since every Christian is chosen,
this description of Rufus as "chosen in the Lord" must mean that he was especially
distinguished. Was this perhaps because he was the son of the man who carried
Christ's cross? (Mark 15:21).
There is much loving warmth in Paul's salutations to these Christians
and house groups, and a suggestion that in passing on greetings from the
churches in the eastern parts of the empire, he revealed that all were heartily
with him in his decision to travel to Spain via Rome, and had asked him to
greet all the brethren on the way. Now, with a different approach though
surely not with less love, he writes: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark
them which are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary
to the doctrine which ye learned; and turn away from them". The apostle knew
from bitter experience that the church is the place where Satan is active,
and he did not treat the matter lightly. To a modern Christian's ears it may
sound harsh advice, but that is because nowadays we tend to confuse sentiment
and emotionalism with love. As we remind ourselves that the context of this
Letter is justification by faith alone, we wonder whether these contrary
and divisive doctrines were preached by the types that led the Galatians
into danger by teaching them that they needed something in addition to faith
in Christ. Such false teachers know how to make an impression on simple and
unsuspecting Christians by their 'loving words' and 'smooth talk'. Refuse
them! Keep away from them! That is the apostle's command, for love will never
barter with the truth.
Paul is able to rejoice over the believers in Rome as people whose obedience
is everywhere recognized (v.19). If anyone should suggest that they had not
been obedient in the matters of circumcision, sabbaths and other things,
then the culprits show themselves to be the disobedient ones in making such
charges. Paul is happy to report that everywhere the obedience of the Roman
Christians is well known. What is more, the God of peace watches over them,
careful lest the peace which He has given them through the blood of Christ's
cross should be disturbed by false teachers, and planning very soon to bring
to an end all Satan's activities against the life of the Church by crushing
the Evil One under the feet of the saints.
The apostle seems about to conclude his great letter by commending his
readers to the grace of [86/87] the Lord Jesus, but
then he feels he must add a few more personal greetings. Among them we find
his amanuensis, Tertius, who feels that he can claim to have "written down
the letter in the Lord" (v.22 Danish), and Gaius, who is called the
host of the whole church. This is hardly meant to say that the whole church
gathered in his house but rather implies that he kept open house for all
his fellow Christians.
It may well be that this seemed a poor ending to such an impressive message,
so that Paul -- perhaps taking up the pen himself -- decided to conclude
with the rich doxology of verses 25 to 27. He invites us all to join with
him in lifting up our hearts to worship the God of such a glorious gospel,
which is "the preaching of Jesus Christ" and the unfolding of the eternal
mystery of salvation. This mystery lay concealed in the prophetic Scriptures,
but is in accordance with them and through them is now announced to the world
in a divine call to men to believe and obey.
We give glory through Jesus Christ to Him who has shown such infinite
wisdom in His gospel, and we rejoice that He has power to establish us by
means of it. By what Paul calls, "My gospel", God has given us the highest
and the best. We join with the apostle in a united and heart-felt "Amen".
A GREAT GOD, A GREAT KING (3)
(Four pairs of Psalms on this subject)
J. Alec Motyer
Psalms 97 - 98. Joyful Response
SO far we have seen God's Kingship over all the turbulent forces in this
world (93-94) and His Kingship over all the supernatural forces which seek
to beguile and attract men (95-96). Perhaps the best way now to summarise
the aspect of His Kingship in Psalms 97 and 98 is to say that there we find
His Kingship in the hearts and affections of His people. It therefore follows
that in these two psalms this Kingship is directly linked with a response
of joy. "The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice", "Zion heard and was glad,
the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of Thy judgments, O Lord" (97:1 &
8). The judgments show that He has exercised the reality of His power as
king, so the psalms go on to say: "Let the floods clap their hands; let the
hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth"
This joy is all the more remarkable because the leading characteristic
of the psalms is an emphasis on the darker side of God's judgments. It is
therefore an important feature of these psalms that they couple together
the darker aspect of the Lord's activities as Judge and the more severe side
of His righteousness and holiness with the immediate and exuberant response
of joy from His people at the prospect of His coming.
Part of the explanation of this joy is that the psalms invite us to consider
the completion of the work of God for His world. Earlier we had been called
to "preach the gospel of his salvation from day to day" (96:2). That psalm
belongs to the time of gospel preaching when the Church goes out into the
whole world with the good news of God's offer of salvation. Now, however,
we are told that "the Lord has made known his salvation" (98:2). God's preaching
has had its effect: salvation is now known: "All the ends of the earth have
seen the salvation of our God" (98:3). This psalm brings us to the end of
the process, with the work done and the preaching accomplished, so that the
nations, hearing and believing, have seen His glory (97:6).
In the preaching there was included a call for the heavens to be glad
and the earth to rejoice in the expectation of the coming Lord (96:11 &
13). Now, however, the world has responded and roars out its greeting to
the King who is coming back (98:7). In Psalm 96 there was no reference to
a response from the world. The created order was called to rejoice, but no
response was mentioned from the world of men as described in Psalm 98:7. The
preaching of the gospel, however, has produced a people who are waiting for
the Lord, so that there is now a world of [87/88]
men ready to roar their acclamation to the coming King.
This stress on the consummation of God's purposes, with its mixture of
joy and judgment and holiness, exactly matches the mixture of joy and judgment
and holiness which is evident in the New Testament when it speaks of the
return of the Lord Jesus and the happy, experience of the redeemed when the
Son of Man appears in the sky.
Psalm 97. Joy in Expectation
We are at once confronted with joy in its most surprising setting. There
is no question that the opening verses call on us to rejoice. It is such
a joy that it needs two different words to express it: "let the earth rejoice;
let the multitude of the isles be glad". The first verb is even stronger
than 'rejoice', for it means 'to exult'. The second verb is milder, meaning
'to be happy'. Exultation and happiness -- a true joy -- yet alongside it
an earth that trembles and melts in God's holy presence.
1. A joy co-existing with the grim reality of world condemnation.
The Bible offers no connecting link between verses 1 and 2, but leaves
them lying side by side, one fact beside another fact. The earth is to rejoice
because the Lord is King (v.1), yet "Clouds and darkness are round about
him" (v.2). This contrast is even more stark as we go on. The earth is called
upon to rejoice and yet, "the earth saw and trembled" (v.4) and "the hills
melted like wax at the presence of the Lord" (v.5). This may seem a strange
joy, with its background of the grim reality of world condemnation. "Clouds
and darkness are round about him" gives us a pictorial reminder of the time
when God came among His people at Mount Sinai, wrapped in clouds and darkness
and smoke. Although that coming amongst His people was of grace, that they
might meet unto Him and hear His Word, it was of the Holy Being who set bounds
about the mount and forbade unauthorised trespass. The clouds and darkness
are an expression of moral reality: "righteousness and judgment are the foundations
of his throne" (v.2). "The Lord of hosts is exalted in judgment, and God
the holy one is sanctified in righteousness" (Isaiah 5:16), or more literally,
"God the holy one shows how holy He is by righteousness". God's throne rests
upon the moral reality of principles of righteousness and practice of justice
-- a fact which gives a picture of clouds and darkness to the world, for
it portrays the threatening judgment side of God's holiness.
"A fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries on every side"
(v.3). This further Bible symbol of fire speaks of the holiness of God particularly
in its antagonism to sin. The holiness of God is a threat to the sinner,
so that when God appeared to Moses as a flame of fire in the midst of the
bush, He said to him: "Draw not nigh hither. Take thy shoes off thy feet,
for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground". The fire is that which
excludes the sinner from the presence of the Holy One, making it perilous
for him to come near. When later the fire was enlarged to its normative proportions,
so that the whole mountain flamed up into the heart of heaven and Mount Sinai
was wreathed in smoke because of the Lord's presence, the command was again
issued: "Draw not nigh hither".
"Fire burns up his adversaries" (v.3), for holiness is God's distinctive
hostility to sin. "His lightnings illumined the world" (v.4) -- holiness
in its universal manifestation. "Mountains melted like wax" (v.5). There is
no definite article. Mountains, great solid land masses, melted like wax,
not because of any specific acts of God but simply "at the presence of the
Lord". His mere presence is sufficient. It may seem irreverent to use the
word 'mere' when speaking of God, but I use the word to convey the startling
fact that the bare presence of the Lord is enough to cause the wholly physical
fabric of the world to disintegrate.
We are confronted with the completed programme: "The heavens have declared
..." (v.6), "All peoples have seen his glory". These verses tell of the time
when the preaching of the gospel will have reached its God-appointed terminus;
the word will have gone out into all the world and all nations will have
heard. I think that the reference to the heavens means that the gospel has
been officially and universally preached. Just as the physical features of
darkness, lightning and fire were used to illustrate certain realities about
God, so the physical fact of the heavens giving light in every place speaks
of the universal proclamation of God's truth. Such a universal opportunity
involves a merited judgment: "Ashamed will be all they that serve
[88/89] graven images" (v.7). In the Old Testament this verb 'ashamed'
means a great deal more than a passing sense of embarrassment. It means
deep disgrace. When the gospel has been preached and the chance has been
given, in the justice of God those who have refused Him loyalty, wedding
themselves in loyalty to other gods, will reap shame as their portion; while
the gods themselves, the seducers of the hearts and minds of men, will be
cast down before the great God and King above all gods, falling down before
Him on that day as surely as the god Dagon fell before his Ark in the land
of the Philistines.
2. A joy facing the demands of holiness.
In verse 8 and onwards to verse 12 we come to the second aspect of joy.
Following the balance and pattern of the psalm, we reach the conclusion that
the world-wide people who are rejoicing in verse 1 must be the same as the
Zion people described in verse 8. The eternal Zion, the Zion which is the
mother of the people of God, is the capital city of the world-wide empire
which the gospel creates. According to Psalm 87 every believer has his citizenship
in her. This world-wide people is a rejoicing people.
It seems strange to speak of undimmed joy while looking at the judgment
of God. I do not understand it, I do not know how it can be. It is a mystery
which the Bible does not explain. At the end time there will be those who
are lost, darkness and fire will be their portion; yet somehow the joy of
God's people will be undimmed. The Bible asserts the fact, and here a word
of explanation is attached: "They rejoice because of thy judgments O Lord,
because thou Lord art most high above all the earth". It seems, then, that
God's rejoicing people will be caught up in the vision of the supremacy of
their God, who is most high over all the earth, and far exalted above all
Oh, the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own beloved Lord!
Every tongue Thy name confessing,
Worship, honour, glory, blessing
Brought to Thee with glad accord.
Thee, my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned,
Unto earth's remotest end
Glorified, adored and owned!
It doesn't take away the mystery, but it goes far to explaining the joy.
Verses 10 to 12 address an exhortation to Zion's people, those who love
the Lord. In the light of the coming end, the psalmist cannot but round on
his hearers and say to them: "If it is going to be like that, then do make
sure that you are ready for it". In these verses there are four factors,
the first and last being things which should be done and the two in the middle
affirmations to be believed. That is the shape of the last bit of the psalm.
The first of the four is an appeal to our emotions: "Ye that love the Lord,
hate evil". Alternative translators alter this, but a footnote to the Bible
shows that they may be disregarded, for the original Hebrew text says: "Ye
that love the Lord, hate evil". This counsel refers to a commitment which
is both emotional and moral; it has to do with loving and hating. The earlier
part of the psalm has warned us of the day that is coming which is going
to show in black and white the great moral absolutes of God. Such black and
white distinctions are found in the New Testament: "You can know this for
a surety, that no fornicator or unclean person, or sexually lustful, covetous
man ... has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Christ" (Ephesians
5:5). Paul is looking forward to the end, the consummation of the kingdom,
and tells us the moral principles, factors and judgments which will operate
in that day. Christian ethics are eschatological ethics, that is to say that
they derive their strength from what God will do in Christ at the last day
when He will set the seal of His absolute authority upon His own moral standards.
These are the factors which on the last day will operate for inclusion or
The last of the four is an appeal for a mental commitment: "Give thanks
to his holy name" -- literally, 'Give thanks for that which reminds you of
His holiness'. We are here exhorted to mental and doctrinal activity, remembering
the name of God and the meaning of that name. The phrase takes us back to
God's words: "This is my name for ever, this is how I am to be remembered
unto all generations" (Exodus 3:15). He brought His people out by shattering
the power of Egypt in judgment and delivering by redemption -- that is the
sort of God He is and we do well to remember in the actualities and difficulties
of our lives that He is also to us the Deliverer and the Redeemer.
The second and third factors present two things which we are to believe.
We are to believe [89/90] in the faithful deeds and
also in the faithful promises of the Lord. As for His deeds: "He preserves
the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked"
(v.10). As God's saints wait for His coming, they commit themselves to Him,
and He in turn commits Himself to them in a preserving grace which guarantees
their continuance and rescues them from every adversary. As for His faithful
promises: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in
heart" (v.11). The various renderings are due to the fact that the translators
took fright because they have never sown light in their gardens and therefore
cannot conceive of sowing light. Sowing, however, points on to reaping, and
God is not afraid to mix His metaphors. Light is the metaphor of what is joyous,
relieving and uplifting, and this is what God has planted for us, so that
the day of harvest will come when His righteous ones will reap the crop and
enjoy its benefits. The New American Standard Bible says: "Light is sown
as seed for the righteous", and that makes it so clear. It is in the ground;
it is maturing; the crop is on its way. The harvest will come when we are
all in the presence of the Lamb of God. In these waiting days we rest upon
His faithful promise that the joy is secure and the consummation certain.
Psalm 98. Joy at the Finished Work of Salvation
This psalm renews the call to joy, announcing its theme with the opening
words: "O sing to the Lord a new song". It continues with the call to the
earth to "Shout aloud unto the Lord" (v.4) and goes on to exclaim: "Let the
earth roar ..." (v.7). Here, then, are three great invitations or exhortations
to make an enormous noise -- "Sing ... shout ... roar". So the psalm has
three sections. The first call to sing is based on the fact that He has wrought
and made known salvation. The second call to make a joyful noise unquestionably
concentrates on His Kingship. The third call for shouting tells us that this
is because the Lord is coming. So we have: The praise of the saving Lord
(vv.1-3), the praise of the reigning Lord (vv.4-6) and the praise of the
coming Lord (vv.7-9).
Here there is only opportunity to deal with the first of the three sections
and, in fact, it provides the third aspect of the joy of the people who know
their King. The first is the joy which co-exists with the grim reality of
world judgment. The second is the joy of God's people who are committed to
holiness. Now the third, a very wonderful one, is that it is the joy which
rests on the divine and finished work of salvation. In some versions the
word translated 'Salvation' is here rendered 'victory', but I prefer the
word salvation because it links up with the Rock of our salvation (Psalm 95:1).
i. Salvation accomplished. "He has wrought salvation" (v.1). It
is supernatural in that it is that which cannot be performed or contributed
to by us. The verse goes on to explain that "His right hand" and "His holy
arm" alone were responsible and that what they had done is for His own sake.
Notice that it does not say that He has wrought salvation for us, but that
He has done it "for him". What does this mean? Well, it means that salvation
begins in the mind of God; the salvation of sinners is something that God
wants. It is done for Him because that is what He wishes. Secondly it is
done for Him because it is done in such a way as to match His character --
it is wrought out by the arm of His holiness. His is the arm which gives effect
to His holiness. And thirdly it is "His right hand", which means that it
is accomplished by His personal agency. It is all of God.
ii. Salvation revealed. "The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness has He openly showed in the sight of all the nations"
(v.2). Salvation is the divine intention. When God addresses men, He addresses
them in terms of salvation. That is to say, He does not wait for them to
discover and explain their need. He diagnoses their need and meets them with
the remedy. Again we see that this salvation meets the requirements of God
and matches His character. In saving sinners He has maintained His righteousness
intact. God Himself is satisfied by this work of salvation. What is more,
it is universal, for it is openly shown in the sight of all the nations.
iii. Salvation experienced. "He has remembered His mercy and faithfulness
toward the house of Israel" (v.3). Where does salvation originate? In the
mind of God. This is proved by the statement that He remembered. It originates
in His unprovoked love -- the word which lies behind the word translated
'mercy'. In the R.S.V. it is rendered "steadfast love". The love which we
could never have imagined, the love which we could never have provoked, the
love which we could never have deserved, but which [90/91]
wells up in the heart of God because He Himself is Love. This salvation
has as its immediate purpose a chosen people, "the house of Israel", but it
has as its ultimate objective the whole world: "All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God". This is the joy of salvation experienced,
a joy that rests upon a divine and finished work.
We have to close with verse 4, "Make a joyful noise", which I could translate
as 'explode into song'. The rest of the psalm explains that the reason for
this jubilation is that it is directed towards the coming of the Lord and
to be consummated by that coming. Every means is laid hold upon: "Accompany
your songs unto the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of accompanied
singing, with trumpets and cornets". Make a joyful noise to the Lord by every
means. Let creation join in, the floods and the hills. And to crown all,
not just the voice of the sea and of inanimate creation but the explosion
into song of redeemed humanity. The fruit of the gospel in the church of the
firstborn provides a people ready to roar out its acclamation also, and these
praises converge on the great focal point of the coming Lord. By every means
and from every creature there is to be a joyful noise, "Before the Lord,
for He cometh" (v.9).
The Lord is King! child of the dust,
The judge of all the earth is just;
Holy and true are all His ways:
Let every creature speak His praise.
(To be concluded.)
HOW GOD MEETS ALL OUR NEEDS
"My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches
in Jesus Christ." Philippians 4:19
HOW could Paul be so positive when he did not know what needs the Philippians
had? As the church had grown since he had so hurriedly left it, there must
have been believers there whom he had never seen. How could he address
all the saints and speak so dogmatically of all their needs,
when he did not know them? He did not need to know them. He knew his God.
And so it was out of his own rich experience of divine sufficiency that
he commended them with all their needs to his own proved Lord: "My
God", he assured them, "is the One who will assuredly supply all your needs".
His was more than a general statement about God; it was coloured and reinforced
by what he himself had learned. This personal reference to his God also
suggests that he has information to impart as to how God meets our needs.
In our search for help we turn back to the beginning of this letter and
ask just what were the qualities of Paul's God which are so calculated to
provide all our needs. We have four chapters before us, and each will help
to clarify this great truth for us.
Chapter One. The God of Happenings
I suggest that the first chapter speaks of God's ability to turn every
experience which we can have to good account. For the believer, He is the
one who is in full command of all that happens. "I want you to know, brothers,
that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (verse
The allusion here is to his imprisonment. The Philippians had first got
to know Paul when he was thrust into the inner dungeon of their own prison.
Wonderful things happened, then, in answer to prayer. In a marvellous earth-shaking
experience Paul and Silas were set free and all their hearts had been filled
with rejoicing. This time, however, their dear Paul had been a prisoner for
a long time and there had been no release for him in spite of all their prayers.
What had gone wrong? Was this a need that God could not meet?
The apostle was clearly concerned to assure them that nothing had gone
wrong -- in fact everything was turning out for good and for
[91/92] God's glory. "The things that happened to me"! What a catalogue
of apparent calamities. If Luke had sent them a letter about it all (which
is more than likely, since he knew them so well), they would have the details
of those happenings which we can read in Acts 21:10 onwards. They would
thus know of the mobbing in the temple, the fact that he had literally to
be carried away by Roman soldiers to prevent the angry crowd from tearing
him to pieces. They would have known of the plots, the chains, the unjust
delays of insincere governors who were looking for bribes, the storm and
the shipwreck, the much rain, the cold and the viper in the firewood, all
culminating in the mystery of the long drawn out captivity in the Roman
What strange and painful 'happenings'! Could not the God who opened prisons
so easily have met Paul's needs by opening his? Could not the Saviour who
so easily calmed the storm have made it calm and safe for Paul? Peter was
not only released from prison in answer to prayer but the tyrant Herod was
struck down by divine judgment. Could not Peter's God have met Paul's need
by doing the same with the tyrants who kept Paul captive? Of course He could.
But He did not. So one of the first lessons we must learn about God's meeting
of our needs is that He has a way of not repeating Himself, but of changing
His methods. He did not work for Paul in Rome as He had formerly worked for
him in Philippi. This was no problem to Paul who wanted to assure his friends
in Philippi that this new phase of God's dealings with him was bringing greater
blessings than ever. He had been sovereignly brought to Rome where God had
a special purpose for him. If the journey there had been a strange one,
it had all been overruled by divine wisdom and power. It is true that when
the fierce tempest struck their ship, God did nothing to mitigate its fury,
leaving them in apparently hopeless circumstances for many dark days. But
in the middle of the gale He sent a special heavenly messenger to His servant.
He did not this time speak peace to the winds and waves, but He did something
even better when he filled Paul's heart and mind with the peace "that passeth
all understanding" (4:7). At every turn and in every circumstance, God met
Paul's needs in ways which brought blessing to many and glory to Himself.
From his prison the apostle could make the claim that Christ had been exalted
in those strange years of testing, only asking for prayer "that now, as
always", Christ might be exalted in his body (1:20).
Paul's words not only tell us more about his God, but suggest to us ways
in which He meets our needs. He allows circumstances and men to work against
us, and then overrules all the evil to bring salvation to sinners (v.13),
encouragement to other Christians (v.14), and joy to the heart of His tried
servant (v.18). Death itself, the great enemy, can only come when He wills
it, and then it will bring gain to its victim (v.21), and will certainly
mean that the one involved has no more work on earth to do for his Lord (v.25).
Paul's God was the One who would perfect the work which He had begun in His
servant, and who gave the apostle confidence that He would do the same for
us all. He is the God of all the things that happen to us. No wonder that
the apostle keeps on exhorting us to rejoice.
Chapter Two. The God of Humility
With a minimum of words and in a few striking sentences, Paul here reminds
us of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Saviour,
Jesus Christ. His point of stress, however, is not on the actual atonement
but rather on the mind which was in Christ from the first right through to
the last. This can best be expressed in one word -- humility. "He humbled
himself" (v.8). Humility is probably the greatest spiritual virtue and in
this, as in everything else, the Lord Jesus excelled. In a moment of Self-revelation
He made the disclosure that He is meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29)
or as the International Version has it: "gentle and humble in heart".
This humility unto death, even the death of the cross, has brought us
salvation. But it has done more than that, it has undercut and overthrown
the whole kingdom of Satan which is based upon pride. It was pride which precipitated
Satan's downfall and it was the poison of pride which infected the human
race when Adam sinned. God will tolerate no trace of pride in His kingdom.
That kingdom is reserved for those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).
Until the Incarnation there was no perfectly humble person in the human race.
At one stage in his life the great Moses did reach the heights of being described
as the meekest man on earth, but he subsequently failed on that very point
and was excluded from the Promised Land because of his [92/93]
failure. The Lord Jesus did not need to attain to the virtue, it was part
of the perfection which He brought down from His place of equality with God.
No doubt, though, some of the fiercest temptations which assailed Him in
His earthly life were associated with this quality of life. But having emptied
Himself, He humbled Himself and went to the utmost limit of testing with
not a trace of pride at any point.
This great victory of the One who was not only humble in appearance and
action but truly humble in heart, has provided God with a perfectly humble
Man. As such He is head of God's heavenly kingdom. But if humility is essential
for that kingdom then every child of Adam would have been eternally excluded
from it but for the 'cross work' of the Lord Jesus. Our greatest lack is
humility: our favourite sin is pride. As the representative Man, the Lord
Jesus challenged Satan's kingdom of pride, just as David challenged the giant,
Goliath, and He achieved a full and final victory by the one smooth stone
of His perfect humbling unto death. Because of this extreme humbling of the
cross, the Father has exalted His Son to the highest place and invited Him
to share His throne. In heaven it is incarnate Humility which is enthroned.
Christ did not do this for Himself. He need never have left the throne. He
did it for the Father so that God might have a kingdom of humble sons. And
He did it for us that we might be made fit for that kingdom.
What was the greatest need of Saul, the proud Pharisee? Surely it was
humility. In Christ God supplied that need: "I, Paul, entreat you by the
meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul's teaching,
confirmed by his own experience, was that when Christ descended into the
depths, He took us with Him. We had no humility of our own, but He made it
possible for us to share in His death so that self as well as sin might be
buried with Him, and our problem of sinful pride for ever be solved. This,
however, is not automatic. In our Christian life it is often contradicted.
But it need not be so. We must appropriate this blessing by faith, claiming
that in Christ pride is crucified and humility enthroned. This, then, is
how God supplied Paul's paramount need.
What was the greatest need of the Philippians? It was this same lack
of Christian humility. They needed this humility to live together a life
worthy of the gospel (1:27); they needed Christlike humility to practise
spiritual fellowship (2:3); they needed it to press on towards God's goal
(3:13); and they manifestly needed it if they were to work together in harmony
(4:2). So, at every moment and from every angle, this was their need, as
it certainly is ours too. As we realise this, our verse takes on new lustre,
for we can rejoice that the God who met Paul's need in this matter will
fully meet ours.
One more thing should be stated on this matter. If humility is such a
supreme virtue in God's sight, then He will always desire to supply our needs
in such a way that we may keep humble. Perhaps the ugliest form of pride
is when we are proud of some spiritual achievement or success. It may well
be that God withholds answers to our prayers which He would otherwise gladly
give because He knows that we cannot be trusted to keep humble with them.
Not that He begrudges us anything. No, He loves to give bountifully. What
is important, though, is that ever fresh experience of His generosity should
bring us lower in humble worship. There is evidence that this is what happened
in the case of Paul. Perhaps that is why he stressed that it was his God
who will supply all our needs.
Chapter Three. The God of Hope
God is actually given this title (Romans 15:13). With equal truth He
might well be called "The God of the hopeless". Now there is one realm in
which every human being is quite hopeless and that is in the physical. Our
bodies are doomed to die; they are in fact described by God as mortal bodies.
Whoever we are and whatever we do, we must listen to the Wise Man when he
warns us that the time will come when "the grinders shall cease because
they are few ... those that look out of the windows will be darkened, and
the doors shall be shut in the street ... the silver cord will be loosed
and the golden bowl be broken, the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or
the wheel broken at the cistern ..." (Ecclesiastes 12:1-6). "It is appointed
unto man once to die." These bodies of ours have no lasting future -- they
Let us turn, then, from the despairing poetry of the Old Testament Preacher
to the inspiring prose of our New Testament preacher, Paul. He tells us that
his God is the God of the hopeless. "He is able to subdue all things (even
death!) to himself" (v.21) and He will demonstrate this supreme ability of
His when He gives us a new [93/94] body, like unto
the body of Christ's glory. Meanwhile, of course, He is able to preserve,
and if necessary patch-up by healing, these Spirit-indwelt bodies of our
humiliation. That is just a part of the guarantee that He will meet all our
needs. We can safely count on the Lord to give us the necessary strength for
the doing of His will so long as He wants us to continue here on this earth.
Apart from that, we have to wait for His Son from heaven before we get our
This, however, is almost a footnote in this great chapter of hope, for
the 'goal' which had captured Paul's vision was not just an immortal body
but a character fully conformed to the image of Christ. To the apostle every
lesser attainment was only an inconvenient hindrance to be discarded in his
eager quest for "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord"
(v.8). He knew what God had captured him for; it was not just that he should
be forgiven, reconciled and used in service, but that he should come to
perfection in Christ. Mature as the apostle was, he recognised how far short
he still came (v.12) and was all too aware that in himself he could never
become a fully Christlike man.
His need -- which is also the need of everyone of us -- was so to be
moulded by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that he should be changed
into Christ's image. His faith embraced this hope. He pressed toward this
mark. Greater even than a perfect body was the need of a perfect man to
occupy it, and this tremendous need is included in his inclusive statement
about his God's sufficiency. Every spiritual Philippian felt this same need,
and every Christ-captivated Christian now feels it too. Let us now listen
to Paul's dogmatic assertion: "My God will meet every need of yours" -- even
this one! Comforted and encouraged by these words we may keep pressing on
as Paul did, counting on God's ability to lead us from our appalling earthliness
to "the prize of the on-high calling of Christ Jesus" (v.14).
Once again, we should observe that this consideration governs all God's
dealings with us. Much as He may like to keep us feeling happy, His faithful
love makes Him always careful to answer our prayers in the light of eternal
values. How does Paul's God meet our needs? By leading us on into ever-growing
conformity to Christ. He sometimes refrains from responding to our less worthy
desires because His Spirit reads within us that deepest and purest desire,
which is to become truly Christlike. This need eclipses all others.
Chapter Four. The God of Harmony
This is the chapter which contains the beautiful phrase: "the peace of
God which passes all understanding" (v.7). It is not just an alliterative
convenience to employ the word 'harmony', for this is the idea behind the
Biblical idea of peace. In this chapter we have mention of the peace of
God as well as of the God of peace. Tension and discord in the life prove
that a man is not really experiencing God's ability to meet his every need.
The Christian life and the Christian community should be maintained in the
harmony of heaven.
How shall Euodias and Syntyche live and work in harmony? Only by having
a fresh experience of the divine peace ministered by Paul's God. How shall
restless minds, disturbed by all the ugliness and corruption of the world
around them, find relief from their inner turmoil? Only by receiving from
God a new control of their thought-life by the peaceful Holy Spirit. How
can even an apostle maintain equanimity amidst all the chances and changes
of service for Christ? Only by being given a new supply of contentment by
We notice here, though, that God often calls for human co-operation in
His work of meeting human needs, Paul has to urge his nameless yoke-fellow
to give assistance to the striving sisters. He has to remind the Philippians
that they must pray, and must mingle thanksgiving with their prayers, if
they are to enjoy the miracle of divine peace. What is more, he instructs
them deliberately to focus their minds on the things which are good and honourable,
even as they look to God to supply mental peace to their anxious minds. He
goes on to tell them that if they want the God of peace to be with them,
then they must walk obediently in His right ways. And even he, claiming as
he does to enjoy full contentment in the will of God, confesses that he had
to learn the lesson of appreciating and appropriating satisfaction in Christ.
From all this it appears that in meeting our needs, God at times demands
our co-operation to make His giving effective.
Before we begin, too glibly, to claim as our own the wealth of this promise,
we should notice to whom the words were first addressed. Instead
[94/95] of emphasising the first personal pronoun, "My",
we can perhaps emphasise the second, "Your". Of whom and to whom was
Paul speaking? It was to a praying people -- "through your prayer" (1:19).
It was to a witnessing people -- "Holding forth the word of life" (2:16).
It was to a spiritually eager people -- "We look for the Saviour" (3:20).
And it was to a generous people -- "You sent once and again unto my necessity"
(4:16). While it is true that we can never earn or merit God's blessings,
we can put ourselves in the way of blessing by our love and obedience. To
the praying, witnessing, aspiring and giving Christians, Paul has no hesitation
in saying: "My God will supply all your needs".
One further comment is relevant; it is that God's resources are ministered
to us in accordance with His own very high standard. If our verse had declared
that He would meet all our needs out of His resources, that would
be true but would come far short of the full truth. It is not just 'out of'
but 'according to' His glorious riches, a phrase which suggests to us that
God will deal with us on a very munificent scale, in keeping with His own
infinite wealth in Christ. If King Solomon had sent the Queen of Sheba away
with just what she asked for, his gift would certainly have come out of his
riches, but might not have been on a scale worthy of his greatness. He did
more. He gave her gifts worthy of his own wealthy status -- what is called,
"his royal bounty" (1 Kings 10:13). That was "according to his riches ...",
and that was how he gave. This is a small illustration of how Paul's God gives.
He meets our needs, not just according to those needs nor even according to
our expectations, but "according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus".
He keeps in mind His own dignity and majesty when He provides for our needs.
Every believer can enjoy something of God's "royal bounty".
The more we read of Paul's God, the more grateful we are that He is also
our God. We join with the apostle in his summing up of the whole matter:
"To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen!"
LOOKING FROM THE HEAVENLY PLACES
W. C. Saunders
"Come with me ... look from the top" Song of Songs 4:8
THIS little book consists of songs and poems by which Solomon and his
bride conveyed their love for, and to, each other. Behind the songs there
lies a much deeper meaning than this, for they were inspired not merely by
human love but by the Spirit of God, in order to form part of Holy Scripture.
Whatever the intention in the minds of Solomon and his bride, the Holy Spirit
intended the songs to portray the love of Christ -- the heavenly Bridegroom
-- for His bride, the Church, as well as her love for Him. If you look on
the words of Solomon here as the words of Christ to the Christian, and the
words of the bride as the response of the Christian to the Lord, you will
discover some of the deepest and most precious truths affecting the full
In particular we now consider this invitation to draw alongside of the
king to look down with him from the top. In speaking thus to his bride,
Solomon wants her to realise what partnership with him is going to mean.
In this verse he reminds her of Mount Hermon and other mountains, but comparison
with verse 6 will show that he really wants her to go with him to another
mountain -- the mountain which he describes as the mountain of myrrh and the
hill of frankincense. I believe that he is referring to Mount Zion -- that
mount which was always so sweet and precious to him. It was sometimes called
'The mountain of the Lord'. The temple was there where the glory of the Lord
dwelt amidst the fragrant incense. It was also the place of His throne and
To us these words come over from our great Lover, the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Come with me" He calls. "look from the top". It is to no ordinary mountain
that He invites us to accompany Him. Solomon was inviting his bride to go
with him to Mount Zion. The Greater than Solomon would have us with Him in
His Home, the heavenly Jerusalem. On Ascension Day Jesus the Lord went back
into heaven and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high -- far
above all. Now the Bible teaches us that as Christians we are 'in Christ'
and one [95/96] with Him in everything. We are one
with Him in His death, and so spiritually speaking we are to reckon ourselves
dead -- dead to sin, to self and to the old life. We are also one with Him
in His resurrection, so we are to walk in newness of life with all the power
of His resurrection available to us. Furthermore, we are one with Him in
His ascension. Spiritually speaking we have been made to sit with Him in the
heavenly places -- far above all (Ephesians 2:6).
We are to live in the good of this. He calls us to come with Him and
look from the top. Here is a new realm for the exercise of faith, we are
to reckon ourselves to be seated with Christ in His position of being far
above all. Many Christians are too earthbound. They fail to realise and
enter into the values of their true position in Christ. He wants His people
to get on to higher ground, ever calling to us "Come with me ... look from
the top". Our position 'in Christ' brings a new elevation into our lives.
We can see things -- even earthly things -- from heavenly heights.
How different everything in life appears if we see it from Christ's level
rather than our own. Here is the secret of spiritual ascendancy, to stand
with Christ on high and view your life "from the top". I believe that whenever
the way is hard and we are prone to be cast down, the Lord Jesus would whisper
in our ears this invitation to rise up to Him and view the situation as He
sees it. When Elijah was so depressed and sat under his juniper tree wanting
to die, God sent the message to him: "Go forth and stand upon the Mount
before the Lord". The prophet found that from that position everything took
on a different face.
Jesus has a much more wonderful message for us than was given to Elijah.
In the words of Ephesians 2, He reminds us that our true position is to be
one with Him, even now. By His Word He calls us into those heavenly places
that, with His help and encouragement we may look from the top. This is surely
the true significance of the promise that we shall mount up with wings as
eagles (Isaiah 40:31). How can we do so except by rising on the wings of
faith and then -- like the eagle -- looking down on earthly things from a
bird's eye viewpoint? Only with us it is to be more than a bird's eye; it
is to be the Lord's eye view of things. It is of supreme importance that
we learn to look on things as He sees them.
So often people speak of the limited possibilities of things, 'under
the circumstances'. Christians are never meant to be under the circumstances,
but rather above them. In all things we are to be "more than conquerors"
(Romans 8:37). By this God means that not only do circumstances not get the
better of us, but that by faith we are able to make them serve us. We are
not to be ruled by them; we are to use them for the greater blessing of
our souls. When Paul himself was taken to the prison in Rome, he proved these
very words which he had written and indeed was able to affirm that "the
things that happened to him" were turning out for the furtherance of the
gospel (Philippians 1:12). He had heard Christ's call to rise up by faith
and stand with Him, so that even though in a prison cell he could "look from
the top". When I tried to find a way out of the Hampton Court Maze, I found
that every endeavour to discover the way made by me from the horizontal level
only got me more hopelessly lost in the twists and turns. It needed advice
from a guide who looked down from a higher vantage point to get me out of
that maze. It was easy to see the right way "from the top". From the earthly
viewpoint our life is a maze. Christ is in the vantage point, far above all.
We must get up there with Him. If we do so we shall see:
1. The Lord is on the throne and is Lord over all.
He Himself has assured us that He has all power over heaven and earth.
Down here we are all too conscious of the terrible strength of the powers
of darkness; we need to rise above them in Christ and to know that He is
Master of them all. From His position of ascendancy He is able to keep all
our varying circumstances under His omnipotent control. That is why Paul,
from his prison, could describe himself as "The prisoner of the Lord". He
knew all about the Roman army and he had heard all about Nero. That was on
the horizontal level. But in spirit he was able to enjoy his union with Christ
in the heavenlies and to look down on the earthly powers from that vantage
point. For this reason he could not be content to think of himself as the
prisoner of Nero or the prisoner of the Roman army, but only as the Lord's
prisoner. He knew that these other powers could have no hold over him save
as the Lord permitted it. When you look from the top you see the reality
of Christ's throne. [96/97]
2. Our circumstances are part of the Lord's great strategy.
None of us lives to himself. Our lives impinge upon and affect the lives
of others. This explains why the Lord allows us to get into situations which
bring us into contact with others. From the earthly viewpoint it all looks
haphazard or even calamitous, but when with Him we look from the top, we
find that our experiences are being fitted into His wise and loving plan.
The Bible abounds with illustrations of this very fact.
i. Joseph. A nation needed to be saved from famine and starvation, a
deliverance which required a God-sent ruler. What did God do? He permitted
Joseph to be hated by his brothers, sold as a slave, cast into prison, held
unjustly there until in due time he could be made the ruler of Egypt. That
is the divine view of his story. We can see it so clearly now.
ii. David. The nation of Israel needed a God-given king. For this purpose
God took the young shepherd boy, David, had his father send him to the battle
front with bread and cheese for his brothers, and all so that he could hear
and respond to the challenge of Goliath. Everything in David's life developed
from that incident of the bread and cheese.
iii. Esther. To save His people from the terrible massacre planned by
Haman, God overruled all the affairs of the monarchy to bring Esther to the
kingdom for such a time and such a task. So it is today. May the Lord give
us grace to co-operate with Him by looking "from the top" at the various
features of our daily life -- our neighbours, our work, our joys and our sorrows.
3. All present circumstances are related to the future.
As we look down with Him, we see our circumstances and experiences as
tools in the hands of the Potter. We find comfort in Romans 8:28 but we should
follow this through to the following verse, where we are reminded that the
governing purpose of God in all His dealings with us is to conform us to
the image of His Son. The poor clay on the whirling wheels cannot understand
this, but if it could see itself and its movements with the eyes of the Potter
above, it would be restful and submissive under the skilful hands which are
working with it. God always has eternity and His eternal purposes in view
There is nothing so small as to be insignificant in our lives. We must not
look at the incidents of life in isolation, but always see that in them God
is 'working together', and always with that final glorious destiny in view.
That is what can only be realised if we go to Him and "look from the top".
4. He is able to use all things for His own glory.
"Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the residue of wrath shalt
thou restrain" (Psalm 76:10). The man who wrote those words was certainly
viewing affairs from the divine standpoint. We can be certain that God is
well able to restrain any wrath which cannot serve His purposes. The glory
of the life of faith is that we know that when He does not restrain
evil, it is just as purposeful and even more wonderful, for He plans to
use men's evil for His own greater glory. If, then, God can use the actions
of evil men to bring Himself glory, how much more will He make use of everything
in the lives of His own people to glorify His own name. "This sickness is
not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified
thereby" Jesus said (John 11:4). That was certainly a case of looking from
the top. So it is with everything in the believer's life. We need to keep
close to the Lord Jesus so that we may always see things as He sees them.
THE SECRET OF DANIEL'S STRENGTH
Chapter V. THE LIVING GOD
"He is the living God, and steadfast for ever"
THERE is no doubt that Daniel was a key man for God throughout the years
of Israel's captivity in Babylon. God's intentions in this matter are indicated
by the simple statement at the very beginning that "Daniel continued even
unto the first year of king Cyrus" (1:21). [97/98]
He lived on beyond that, but the point is that he lived to see the day
of the return of the captives. He probably played a key role as adviser
to Cyrus in this matter, for God put him up to the top and kept him there.
But not all the time. This chapter opens with the startling implication
that after Nebuchadnezzar's demise, Daniel entirely disappeared from public
life. All the honours given to him in his promotion by Nebuchadnezzar seem
to have lost their value; he was so completely forgotten that it took a
divine miracle to bring him back on the scene. This chapter will explain
how it all happened. That it only happened on the final night of the Chaldean
empire is but one more example of the recurring truth that while God is
never late, He has a way of leaving things to the very last minute. He runs
it very fine.
A Dying Empire
The scene set before us in the Babylonian banquet hall is so bizarre
that if any Jews were present they might well have wondered if the Lord
was still alive. There was no sign of His reaction to arrant blasphemy.
Where now was the King of Heaven? Where was any evidence that God is the
Most High? Nebuchadnezzar's dissolute son (or grandson) was mocking Him
in ways which his great ancestor would never have countenanced. It is true
that Nebuchadnezzar carried away the holy vessels from the temple in Jerusalem,
but he seems always to have treated them with respect. After he had learned
the lesson of the burning fiery furnace, he uttered bloodthirsty threats
against anyone who dared to be irreverent towards the true God.
But times had changed. Nebuchadnezzar was no more. His son, Nabonidus,
was at that very time being defeated in the field by the Medo-Persian armies,
and Belshazzar, the regent (either a son or a younger brother), was indulging
in this gigantic drinking party while the empire disintegrated. So great
was the Babylonans' sense of security within their massive city, that they
contemptuously ignored the seemingly ineffective besieging troops of the Medes
who in fact had been steadily working while they seemed inactive, and had
now completed the field works which opened the undefended city to them. On
the eve of the empire's overthrow Belshazzar, descendant of the mighty conquering
Nebuchadnezzar, was indulging with his officers in drunken revelry. Times
had changed in Babylon.
Times had changed for Daniel, too. He who had risen to such eminence
under Nebuchadnezzar, was so effectively removed from office that Belshazzar
behaved as though he had never heard of him. It was only when the old queen-mother
came on the scene that Daniel's name and ability were disclosed. Obviously
he had been removed from all prominence and authority in this crumbling empire.
Unbelief might well have wondered if God were asleep or dead.
But no, God was alive all right. Our title for this chapter is "The Living
God" (6:26). The phrase was coined by Darius the Mede, Belshazzar's successor,
but it is the perfect description of the One who is not only very much alive
Himself, but able to bring back life into dead situations. He alone could
rescue Daniel from obscurity and put him back again into the governorship
from which he had been eliminated. Whenever we think of God's exercise of
life, we should bear in mind that it invariably carries with it the idea
of resurrection from the dead. There is no other life available to Christians
than resurrection life. The fact that He is the Living God means that His
methods in all His working -- and most notably in His Son -- are based on
resurrection. Daniel needed such a God; for practical purposes he had been
reduced to social and political death, with no position, no power, no public
reputation; he was in the depths.
His experience had some parallel with that of Nebuchadnezzar as described
in chapter 4, though in Daniel's case there was not the slightest suggestion
of any fault on his part. Both men were in a hopeless position, humanly speaking.
Nebuchadnezzar was brought down to zero by the heavy hand of God upon him.
Daniel came down to zero by divine permission, though probably he was the
victim of men's envy. After seven years of suffering, Nebuchadnezzar was
fully restored. After an unknown period of eclipse, Daniel was also fully
restored. But the eclipse had been so total that Belshazzar only met him for
the first time on this occasion (v.13), and his return to power can only be
likened to a resurrection.
The title, Living God, means just this, that He has power to give life
by raising from the dead. This chapter proves the point and justifies itself
in forming part of the whole book by its implication of the miracle which
happened to Daniel. We may be carried away by the wonder
[98/99] of "the writing on the wall", but God would not use His
Word just to interest us with that story of Belshazzar's shock and doom.
His interests are positive and purposeful. What He needed to do was to safeguard
those precious holy vessels of the temple and, even more, to restore Daniel
to his place of authority until His people returned to the land. This chapter
discloses how He did all this.
The Writing on the Wall
The effective words here are, "that night" (v.30). Once again we should
notice God's perfect timing. Even while the besotted regent was blaspheming
God in his cups, a hand -- indeed only part of a hand -- was stretched out
to sober him up with a solemn warning. That hand could just as easily have
struck him down, and if there were any Jews present, they must have wondered
why it did not do so. It is true that the time for Belshazzar's end had come,
but God's main purpose was to re-instate Daniel. Instead, therefore, the
divine fingers wrote four cryptic words on the wall. Just that, and nothing
more. It was enough, though, to terrify this boasting blasphemer. Somehow
he knew that the message came from another world, even though he did not know
what it said or who could explain it to him. He was so frightened that he
made the offer of highest advancement, even to third rulership, to anyone
who could tell him what the mystic message was. He who had been so bold in
drunken blasphemy was now terrified in sober panic as he saw the fingers write.
Incidentally the fact that he was only regent explains why it was that when
Daniel was given top-rank promotion, he could still only be described as
'third' in the kingdom.
Once again they went through the now familiar pattern of calling in all
Babylon's wise men, and once again God's servant had to wait patiently till
the last. Nebuchadnezzar had had to learn humility: Daniel knew it but had
to practice it. There was such a hysterical panic in the palace that the
king's mother broke into the disorderly scene with the reminder that Nebuchadnezzar's
previous 'master of magicians' was still available and was the very man they
were looking for. So last of all, the neglected and unrecognised servant
of the Lord was brought in and given the opportunity to speak for Him. It
is my firm belief that any gifted man of God with a message does not need
to force himself forward and rely on the influence of others, but will be
given his chance to minister if he keeps humble before God and available to
Him. That is what Daniel did, and his experience confirms me in my conviction.
His humility was outstanding. If Nebuchadnezzar had felt some justification
for feeling proud of himself (4:30), how much more might Daniel have harboured
pride in his heart. Before him the mighty emperor had prostrated himself,
and in his honour it had been commanded that they should offer an "oblation
and sweet odours" (2:46). His had been the honour of receiving Nebuchadnezzar's
commendation: "You are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you" (4:18).
He had had the high privilege of indicating to the king how he might experience
God's delivering mercy, even though he had to wait a long time before his
hearer responded to his exhortation. We know, however, that Daniel was free
from any conceit: he retained his lowliness as well as his integrity. When
later we listen to his prayers, we will appreciate the depth and reality
of his beautiful humility.
When the call came quite unexpectedly, then, his spirit was so pure that
he was ready to answer it, and his walk with God so close that he did not
need a lot of time and exercise to be able to communicate God's message.
He was not looking for promotion. His first reaction was to reject the gifts
and rewards offered by the king (v.17). But he was in touch with God. What
could natural reasoning make of the three words, Numbered, Weighed and Divided?
Only divine inspiration made it possible for Daniel to give the interpretation
of the sinister message.
But before he gave this, Daniel was bold enough to tell Belshazzar what
he and everybody else well knew, and that was the truth about himself. In
Babylon pride was on the throne once more. In spite of the sensational experience
of his father about which he was fully informed, he had made himself the
ring-leader of a dissolute revolt against the very King of Heaven who had
so signally proved His power (v.23). This time Daniel made no plea for repentance
and gave no offer of forgiveness. The words had been written. The moment of
reckoning had arrived. The Hand had pronounced the sentence. The solemn interpretation
followed, with its emphasis by repetition of the [99/100]
first word about the kingdom being numbered and brought to an end. We look
now to see how it worked out.
Fall of Babylon
It is a matter of secular history that the bloodless capture of Babylon
opened the way for the new Medo-Persian empire, already prophesied in chapter
2. It appears that while Belshazzar was junketing with his nobles, trembling
at the supernatural writing and then trying to smother his conscience by
heaping honours on Daniel, a small band of enemy soldiers penetrated into
the city by a subterfuge and changed the government overnight. There was no
fighting, except a scuffle in the palace, and it is recorded that only Belshazzar
was actually killed. If, in fact, he was the only man to die when the city
and empire were conquered, then the divine warning is made all the more solemn
by its personal directness. God does not need to waste His time in the constant
performance of spectacular miracles; "all things are His servants" (Psalm
Daniel's book shows us that heaven is not to be trifled with. Nebuchadnezzar
disregarded God's warning to him through Daniel, and he paid dearly for seven
years for his obstinacy. This son of his, who had been terrified at the
uncanny appearance of the divine fingers and the warning words, seems to
have tried to pass it off by promoting Daniel, but he soon found that there
is no armour against the judgements of God. Heedless of the verdict pronounced
upon him, completely deceived as to its totality and imminence, Belshazzar
kept his word about rewarding Daniel because he felt that it somehow glorified
him, and then presumably returned to his carousing. God gives no details
of his sordid end. It is of no importance. What is important, though, is
that in spite of everything, without knowing it and without any credit for
it, Belshazzar's last act had been to safeguard the interests of God by
committing authority to Daniel. Our God is indeed the Living God and steadfast
God's Care of His Own
When we considered chapter 4 we were given a clear understanding why
it was written. It warns us all and it inspires us all. In chapter 5, however,
there is little in the arresting story of Belshazzar's downfall to give any
spiritual help to God's people. We therefore look beyond him, to seek to
discover the inner significance of the chapter, and as we do so we are confronted
with a wonderful and inspiring disclosure of God's ability to protect and
care for the vessels of His service. In this case they were two-fold, the
golden vessels of the temple and the human vessel of His testimony in Babylon.
It was essential that those vessels that had been carried away from the
temple by Nebuchadnezzar should be safely returned at the end of the seventy
years by Cyrus. The latter knew nothing of them, and would not have cared
had he known. But God knew. God looked forward to the day when Cyrus's treasurer,
Mithredath, would take them from the pagan museum in Babylon and hand them
over to a prince of Judah to be replaced in God's house in Jerusalem (Ezra
1:8). Belshazzar desecrated the vessels by using them in his drunken carousal,
and they so easily might have been mixed up with all the other heathen goblets,
but no doubt one of Daniel's first actions on being promoted to rulership
was to collect them and store them against the day when they should be restored
"every one to his place" (Ezra 6:5) in that re-built temple about which he
later so fervently prayed. The Living God can be trusted to care for what
is His, and to exert resurrection power in the process if that be necessary.
And what shall we say of the human vessel? In the wise providence of
God, Daniel was destined to prominence and authority in the new empire so
that he could steer the counsels of Cyrus towards the release of the captives
at the end of the allotted years. From the first God had determined that Daniel
should continue through those seventy years (1:21) and the intervening chapters
have shown us how He worked to bring His servant to the place of rulership.
For some reason all this had been lost. What happened between chapters 4
and 5 we do not know, but by the time chapter 5 opens he was a nonentity.
By the end or the chapter, though, we find that the Living God had brought
him back, as if by resurrection, and had made sure that his authority was
(To be continued) [100/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (27)
"(touching whom ye received commandments; if he come to you, receive
SINCE Paul felt it necessary not merely to commend John Mark but to command
the Colossians to receive him, those Christians must have had some questions
about him. And no wonder! Here was the man who had caused such a sad disagreement
between the great apostles, Barnabas and Paul. He had left them and let them
down at Pamphylia (Acts 13:13), preferring to return to his mother's home
where he had seen such a sensational answer to prayer (Acts 12:12), rather
than to press on into the harsh demands of the apostles' journey into Pisidia.
ALTHOUGH he left the work, he did not leave the Lord, so that when the
apostles discussed a return visit to the area where Mark had deserted them,
his relative, Barnabas, was prepared to give him another chance. Paul said
"No" and, being Paul, he said it very emphatically. So the Scriptures record
a "sharp contention" between those great men of God. They parted company,
apparently never to work together again.
IT is tempting to take sides. Paul, whom we usually trust, had the church
to back him, so we imagine that he was right. On the other hand, Mark evidently
made good and became a prominent worker in the gospel, so we may argue that
Barnabas was right to give him the second chance. Was Paul right to say "No",
or was Barnabas right to stick to his proposal?
I SUGGEST that (as is sometimes the case) both men were right. If Paul
had not shaken Mark to his foundations by rejecting him, he might never
have made good as he did. Alternatively, if Barnabas had not given the young
man some encouragement, he might have succumbed to despair. Once again, then,
we are faced with an instance of the marvellous ability of our all-wise God
to deal with the weaknesses of His servants and even turn them to His own
account for the good of all concerned.
IT is true that we hear no more of Barnabas, but that does not signify
much, for the same could be said of most of the other apostles. It is clear
that in the person of Silas, Paul gained a most trustworthy and appreciated
colleague. What is more, it is evident that Paul himself came to appreciate
Mark's worth, for he not only commanded the Colossians to receive him but
went out of his way to ask for his presence and help as a useful fellow-worker
(2 Timothy 4:11). Would that every story of disagreements had such a happy
"HEAVEN AND EARTH SHALL PASS AWAY;
BUT MY WORDS SHALL NOT PASS AWAY."
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