This chapter is in three parts. In vl-12 the King speaks to the multitude and to His disciples, warning them of the hypocrisy of the ecclesiastical leaders. In vl3-33 He addresses these leaders directly, pronouncing eight "Woes" upon them. The remaining verses (34-39) are a sad lament over the nation, and over the city, as the King foresees the ultimate desolation, which will be developed in the next chapter. These scribes and Pharisees had placed themselves in the seat of Moses the legislator. Their precepts were right but their practice was wrong. What they taught and demanded of the people was quite proper, but they themselves were motivated in their practices by pride and hypocrisy. They loved to be seen of men. The phylacteries were two strips of leather, to each of which was attached a small box containing quotations from the law. One of these strips was wound around the head, with the box resting on the forehead. The other was bound around the arm. So was indicated that what a man thought, and what he did, was all in observation of the law of Moses. The Pharisees, however, wore phylacteries which were broader than those of other men, and likewise the borders of their garments were enlarged also. It was all to attract attention. At the feasts, in the synagogues, and in the markets, socially, religiously, and commercially, they vied for the attention of men. They loved titles, Rabbi, Father, Master. They loved honours, offices, and distinctive garb, and they were ignorant of that rule of the kingdom, that he who would be great must be servant, and he who would be truly exalted must humble himself. The King Himself was the great Exemplar of this basic principle of His Kingdom. It should be noted that Pharisaism does not belong to one dispensation only. The leaven of the Pharisees has permeated ritualistic Christendom and the believer must ever beware of it. Seven times in the verses which follow the King says, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," and once, in v16, He says, "Woe unto you, ye blind guides."
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" The woes begin in v13. These men were the spiritual leaders of the nation but by their example and influence they actually hindered the people. Scribes who were so familiar with the letter of the law should have known its deeper spiritual and moral import, but they had turned their backs upon it .and upon the light. Those who followed them were led astray, so that both the leaders and the led were being barred from the kingdom.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" They preyed upon defenceless widows, with mercenary motives, seeking gifts in money or in kind, and looking for applause from these vulnerable women. They visited such houses, pretending to be what they were not, making long prayers in pretended evidence of their spirituality and knowledge. We must beware of this. It was obnoxious behaviour and would receive greater judgment.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" They would compass sea and land to make one proselyte. For what reason? Judaism was torn with sects, schisms, and schools, each Rabbi having his own following of disciples. The Rabbis were both jealous and zealous, ever seeking converts to their own particular party. The motive was utterly selfish, the building up of their sect. They would stop at nothing to make a convert, and, having made one, they would indoctrinate the proselyte and make him worse than themselves.
"Woe unto you, ye blind guides." They were both fools and blind, these leaders. The Lord speaks of the gold of the temple and the gifts upon the altar. These hypocrites preferred the gold and the gift rather than the temple and the altar. They were guilty. They either could not, or would not, get their priorities right. The temple and the altar were symbols of heaven and the throne of God, they were greater than the gold and the gifts associated with them.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Again their priorities were wrong. They scrupulously attended to the paying of tithes even on the smallest of garden herbs, as mint, and anise, and cummin, but they neglected the weightier matters of judgment, mercy, and faith. They strained out gnats from their wine and water, filtering out the unclean, and yet they would feast themselves on unclean camel meat. It was cant and hypocrisy indeed.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Externally they had a self-righteousness which covered the inner corruption of their minds and hearts. It was like cleansing the outside of cups and plates while ignoring the defilement inside. The hearts of these Pharisees were full of extortion and intemperance, while outwardly they gave the appearance of being godly. Once again the King charges them with blindness.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" They were like whited sepulchres. Outwardly such tombs appeared attractive, even beautiful, but within they were full of dead men's bones, unclean and corrupt. It was even so with the Pharisees, outwardly appearing righteous to men, but full of hypocrisy and iniquity within.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Here is the concluding woe. They adorned and garnished the tombs of prophets and righteous men who had been killed by the fathers. "If we had been in the days of our fathers we would not have been partakers with them," they said. But in saying this they were adamant that they were indeed the children of those who had killed the prophets. They were a generation of vipers. How could they escape damnation?
In spite of all these indictments, God would even yet send them prophets and wise men and scribes, but what their fathers did, they would do also. They would kill and crucify, scourge and persecute, and so they did, in their own generation, beginning with Stephen in the early days of the Acts of the Apostles. They would be as guilty as the murderers of Abel and Zacharias and God would hold them responsible for the blood of His martyrs.
This chapter closes with the well-known sad lament. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How oft would I ... but ye would not." For three years the Saviour had presented Himself and had pleaded with them, "Come unto Me," but they would not come. He would have gathered them, protected them, sheltered them, as a hen covers her chickens with her wings. They knew the figure well, it was used often in the Psalms, and in the Book of Ruth. They were as vulnerable as chickens and in great danger and the fox would get them, but He had to say, "Ye would not." Their house would now be left unto them desolate.
One day it will be different. A remnant nation will greet the King when He comes in power and in great glory. They will say in that day, "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord." What a contrast is this "blessed" to the "woes" of their earlier verses. The King will come. He will then gather His people and become their shield and defender and they will confess Him "wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities." But this will be a remnant people. So many of the apostate nation will have received another who will come in his own name. They will be branded with his mark and will worship his image while others patiently await the appearing of the true King and Messiah.
Haman's friends and family had predicted his downfall, 6.14, and now their worst fears were fulfilled. The Agagite had "begun to fall" in ch.6: his "fall" is completed in ch.7. We have already noticed the prophetical implications of the story. After his expulsion from heaven, Rev. 12.7, Satan will vent his anger particularly on the Jewish nation: "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child," vl3. He has, however, "but a short time," vl2, and will be consigned to the abyss, Rev.20.1-3, for a thousand years, before his ultimate consignment to the lake of fire, where he will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever."
Whilst there can be no question about the prophetical significance of events described in the book of Esther, we have also emphasised its practical lessons during our studies. We will do so again in this chapter.
1) THE CORDIALITY OF AHASUERUS. v1-2
There certainly seems to be a strong feeling of goodwill in the king's request: "What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy
request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom." We have already speculated about this. The smile on his face would have probably vanished if Esther had asked for half of his kingdom! Even so, there can be no doubt that Ahasurus was prepared to be generous to his queen. Perhaps his conscience reminded him that he had neglected her for thirty days, 4.11! Bearing in mind his tendency to sudden change,.it seems more likely that he was in a particularly good mood at the time! One thing is certain: we come to a generous King. He is not subject to fluctuating moods. Someone has written:
Thou art coming to a King:
Large petitions with thee bring.
He is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think," Eph.3.20. The Lord Jesus taught, "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you," Jn.15.7. See also 16.23-24, John certainly seems to refer to this in his First Epistle: "Whatever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His sight ... and this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask. we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him," Un.3.22 and 5.14-15. You will notice, of course, that these words do not constitute a blank cheque. There are some very important conditions. Firstly, we must "keep His commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in His sight." This means that we are not likely to make selfish requests. After all, that would hardly be "pleasing in His sight." Secondly, everything is subject "to His Will." We cannot expect Him to answer our requests if they are unscriptural, or if it would be harmful to us in some way. But this in no way detracts from His ability, generosity, and desire to bless us abundantly. We can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," Heb.4.16.
Perhaps we ought to say that our prayers should reflect the measure of our faith. For example, our faith might not be strong enough to ask for vast numbers to be saved in the area, but surely we can pray with complete faith that God will save souls in the district and enlarge the assembly whilst God "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not," we must "ask in faith, nothing wavering," Jms.1.5-8.
2) THE CONCERN OF ESTHER. v3-4
Esther takes the place of an intercessor, not merely for herself, but for her people. "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request: for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish."
It is worth noticing that Esther first brought pleasure to the king. He was invited to a "banquet of wine." See Ps.104.15, "Wine that maketh glad the heart of man." Ps.104.15. (But do remember Rom.14.21). Her intercession was set against the joy that she brought to Abasuerus. We have already noted the lesson.
Notice, too, that Esther was so different to Haman who carefully observed court etiquette, 6.4, but it only masked his pride and hatred for the Jews. Esther humbly petitioned the king, with no thought for her personal advancement.
A) She petitioned the kins with a sense of acceptance
Esther had not encountered hostility on the part of Ahasuerus. She was conscious of royal favour. The golden sceptre had been extended to her on the previous day, and the king repeated his desire to accede to her request. The fact that we pray in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a meaningless formula. It is the ground of our acceptance in the presence of God.
B) She petitioned the kins without personal ambition
Ahasuerus had made a magnificent offer — "to the half of the kingdom" — but Esther was not concerned with increase in her personal wealth, or personal enhancement in any way. She was not an opportunist. By human standards, she missed a golden opportunity. An offer like that only comes once in a lifetime! But she identified with her own people; notice her words: "My people ...we are sold, I and my people ... But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen." (This was, presumably, the first time the king knew that he had married a Jewess! See 2.10 and 2.20. Now she really had got to 'nail her colours to the mast').
Doesn't this remind you of Moses?: "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasurers in Egypt," Heb.l 1.24-26. Doesn't this also remind, again, of the "great woman" of Shunem? (We mentioned her in a previous study). "What is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?" Not at all! She had no desire for high society. Listen to her magnificent reply: "I dwell among mine own people," 2Kg.4.8-13.
What about our ambitions? The welfare of God's people was more important to Esther than personal prestige. If we are genuinely concerned for one another, and really love one another, then we will take every opportunity to promote one another's welfare in every way. It is a case of "the members" having "the same care one for another," lCor.12.25. Sadly, to quote the hymn, 'Room for pleasure' and 'Room for business,' displaces room for the Lord's people, and more serious even than that, 'But for Christ, the crucified, Not a place where He can enter in the heart for which He died.' Talking about ambition, how about Solomon? "And God said, Ask what I shall give thee?" What an offer! What a reply! Read lKg.3. How about Elisha? "Ask what I shall do for thee ..." What an offer! What a reply! Read 2Kg.2.
Still talking about ambition, listen to this: "Wherefore we labour (RV: 'we make it our aim' with the margin 'Gk. are ambitious'), that whether present or absent, we may be accepted ('wellpleasing') to Him," 2Cor.5.9. This must be the greatest, and most worthy, ambition of all!
C) She petitioned the king with a sense of alarm
You can hear the urgency in her voice: "For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish." Esther was actually quoting the King's letter, see 3.13. This was no casual request. The lives of God's people were at stake. Need we say more? You can hear the urgency in the prayers of Epaphras; "always labouring fervently for you in prayers," Col.4.12. Read through the Psalms, and notice how often the words "cry" and "cried" occur. So many of the Psalms were written in times of dire danger.
Now, a couple of technicalities, (i) The words, "we are sold," refer to 3.9, where Haman said, "I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries." This refers, not to those who had the 'business' of annihilating the Jews, but to those in charge of Persian business affairs. Haman offered to pay this vast sum of money to the royal treasury. (ii) The words, "if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail ('compensate', JND) the king's damage," are not so easy to understand! It seems to mean that if the Jews had been sold as slaves, Esther would have remained silent about their misery (perhaps because they would have at least been alive), even though the king himself would have been deprived of the revenue he would have otherwise received from them as subjects of his kingdom.
3) THE CHARACTER OF THE ENEMY. v5-6
We must notice the description of Haman. "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman." We must never forget the identity of our opponent. Whilst he cannot rob us of eternal life, he will certainly endeavour to destroy our testimony, and ruin our service.
"Adversary." This recalls lPet.5.8, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." The word rendered "adversary" here is interesting: it means an opponent in a lawsuit, and could refer to the fact that Peter's first readers were faced with two alternatives: either to bow in emperor worship, or to refuse to do so, with the inevitable consequences. The word may therefore have the sense of "the accuser of our brethren," see Rev.12.10. One thing is very clear: Satan is our opponent, whatever tactics he employs.
"Enemy." This recalls Matt.13.39, "The enemy that sowed them is the devil." The world conveys the idea of hate and hostility. So don't expect an easy passage.
"Wicked." This recalls Un.3.11-12, "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one." The word means 'bad in effect, malignant.' (W. E. Vine). The active form of evil.
4) THE CONDEMNATION OF HAMAN. v7-8
The man who had "begun to fall" in ch.6, is now plunging downwards. The grim forebodings of Zeresh must have rung in his ears as he went to the banquet. These forebodings became terror in v6: 'Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen,' JND. First the king's anger, v7, then the king put the worst possible interpretation on Haman's posture at the queen's couch, and finally, he is deprived of light itself. His face is covered: never again did he see the face of the king, v8. His doom was sealed.
The man who endeavoured to destroy the Jews had to lead 'a Jew in triumphal procession through the streets of the city, and now he has to plead with a Jewess for his very life!" (John C. Whitcomb). This can only remind us of the ascendancy of the Jew under the reign of Messiah. "And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet," Isa.49.23. "The sons of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet," Isa.60.14.
5) THE COUNSEL OF HARBONAH, v9-10
We have met Harbonah before: see 1.10. An additional charge is laid by him against Haman: "Behold also the gallows fifty cubits (seventy-five feet) high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken for the king." As if the existing charges were not enough, Haman was also guilty of plotting the death of a benefactor of the king.
We cannot escape the biblical significance of the words, "So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai." Here is an appropriate commentary: "Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end ... He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate," Ps.7.9-16. Compare Esther 9.25: "that his wicked device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head." See also Ps. 9.15-16 and Prov.l 1.5-6. The final comment comes from the New Testament: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," Gal.6.7.
If the "king's wrath" was "pacified" with the execution of Haman, then divine wrath against Satan will be finally satisfied when he is consigned to the lake of fire.
With the temple cleansed, the priests consecrated and the worship completed, 2Chron.29, Hezekiah further demonstrates his ability to progress in the things of God. 2Chron.30-32 record:
(c) His Steadfastness
Unlike many of the kings that preceded Hezekiah, his pure motives and spiritual strength enabled him to keep going! In 2Chron.30-31 this is demonstrated by the following points:
• He displayed Enthusiasm
2Chron.30 commences with Hezekiah's desire to keep the Passover. Moreover, he sought to do so in a spirit of unity for the Northern Kingdom was also invited1, v1. Returning to the Word, 'as it was written,' v5, Hezekiah was able to enjoy a memorable Passover and the feast of unleavened bread, v13. This was all achieved
1Although the invasion of the Assyrian army had already taken place, some Israelites must have avoided captivity, 30.6. The holding of the Passover on the second month, v2, instead of the first month, Ex. 12.1 -2, was due to Hezekiah's problems of having sufficient priests, 29.34, and also because more time would be given to the people to congregate at Jerusalem,v3.
despite considerable opposition from the Israelites, v10, for only 'some', v11, took up Hezekiah's kind offer 2. Thus, two features characterised the king at this stage: warm-hearted, he invited the Northern remnant and whole-hearted, he put his all into the occasion, 31.21.
2 2 Chron.31.1 records the impact on those who came from Israel for the Passover, they rejected the false idols.
Although the Passover was the way in which the Israelites remembered their redemption from Egypt, and the unleavened bread spoke of their new way of life, the New Testament approach is different. Nevertheless, it is only when we return to the Bible, as Hezekiah did, that we learn of the way in which we should conduct our remembrance. It should be a simple gathering, only for the 'breaking of bread', Act.2.42, and yet solemn, 'the Lord's Supper', 1Cor.11.20. It too must be in a spirit of unity, 1Cor.10.17, and only then with united and dedicated hearts, shall we truly 'remember' the Lord.
• He gave Encouragement
2Chron.30.22 records that 'Hezekiah spoke encouraging words unto all the Levites' (Scofield Translation). Notice some of the things that characterised the Levites:
holy (2Chron.29.34b; 30.15; 30.22b)
especially as they 'taught the good knowledge of the Lord'. In response to such, the king was not jealous or silent, rather he 'encouraged' them. In addition, he was not selective, it was to 'all the Levites'. The same exercise was repeated in 2Chron.32.6 to the captains of war.
Within any assembly there will be those who labour for the good of others and who do so out of willing hearts. May our attitude be that of encouragement.
• He ruled Effectively
2Chron.31 records how Hezekiah dealt with the important subject of supporting the priests and Levites,v4. As they had no portion of land, Num.18.20-21, the responsibility was upon the nation to provide that which was necessary. Taking the lead himself,v3, Hezekiah was able to oversee the supporting of the servants of the Lord. From the passage we observe that the giving was:
scriptural - 'as it is written in the law of the Lord", v3.
spontaneous - 'as soon as ... the children of Israel brought,' v5.
sincere - 'tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord,' v6.
satisfying - 'we have had enough to eat and have plenty left,' v10.
Within the confines of the NT assembly, our giving must follow a similar pattern. It should be based on the Word of God - 2 Cor. 8 and 9 3 It should be in a cheerful manner, 9.7; once needs/problems are identified, 8.2; when we have first dedicated it to the Lord, 8.5, and then we can be sure that it will have the desired effect, 'being enriched in everything to all bountifulness', 9.11.
3 The great example of giving is to be found in heaven. 'Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift,' 2Cor.9.15. 'For we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich,' 2Cor.8.9.
(d) His Strength
2Chron.32 illustrates that it was not long until Hezekiah was tested on the strength and reality of his revival. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, confronted Hezekiah at Jerusalem, 32.1. At an earlier stage, Hezekiah had expressed his unwillingness to serve the king of Assyria, 2Kg.l8.7, and had endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to avoid confrontation by offering silver and gold, 2Kg.l8.13-16. How different was the attitude of Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, towards the enemy, 2Kg.l6.7; 2Chron.28.16.
In 2Chron.32.3-20 we can observe the:
• Actions of Hezekiah
2Chron.32.5 summarises the way in which Hezekiah prepared for battle, 'he strengthened himself.' In more detail: (i) the walls were repaired, v5. (ii) the weapons were assembled, v5b. (iii) the warriors were encouraged, v6.
The emphasis on the 'walls' ensured that the enemy would find it difficult to penetrate the city. The 'weapons' were balanced between those designed to inflict injury on the enemy - 'darts' - and those designed to protect - 'shields'. For those 'warriors' called to engage in battle, they were encouraged when Hezekiah spoke of the Lord and how His strength was greater than that of the enemy, '... for there are more with us than with him,' 2Chron.32.7.
In the present age the believer is also engaged in battle, Eph.6.11; 2Tim.2.3-4, and it is important that our attitude should replicate that of Hezekiah's army. In terms of the 'walls' we should, as the Apostle Paul sought to do for the assembly at Ephesus, strengthen and fortify ourselves from attack, Act.20.28-29. This is only achieved when we meditate on the Word of God, 'which is able to build you up' Act.20.32. Then, concerning the 'weapons', as we showed in our study of Amaziah, we too have a weapon of penetration, Heb.4.12, and protection, Eph.6.16. Finally, as 'warriors', the Apostle John speaks in a similar way to that of Hezekiah: 'greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world,' Un.4.4.
• Attitude of the Enemy
2Chron.32.9-19 records the way in which the enemy began their assault on the city/nation. Initially we observe that the king of Assyria sent his servants, v9, and they conveyed the message on his behalf, vlO. The message threatened the faith of the people of Judah, vlOb; the king, vl2, and the God of Israel, vl7. Then, with a move of great subtlety, the Assyrians spoke to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in their own language, vl8, in order to trouble them.
As Christians we can be assured that the enemy will attack when the first signs of spiritual progress emerge. Whilst our faith will be attacked, the ultimate desire of Satan is to mar our testimony and so bring the Lord's name into disrepute. How should we respond?
• Answer to the Problem
Hezekiah responded in the only way open to him - prayer, v20. The verse also indicates that Isaiah (the prophet) joined in prayer which was in earnest. Isa.37.14, recording the same incident, illustrates a further feature of the prayer, they 'spread
it before the Lord.' Not knowing what to do, both men just presented the situation to the Lord and left it there, acknowledging their own inability to take effective action and the Lord's sovereign power. Thus, the victory recorded in 2Chron.32.21-22 comes as no surprise, especially as Hezekiah had earlier expressed the Lord's superior might, v7-8.
Eph.6.10-17 may mention the complete armour of God, however, it must be combined with earnest and fervent prayer, vl8. In our next paper we shall consider Hezekiah's sickness, supplication, signs and stature.
God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to the southern kingdom of Judah. "Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves," Is.28.14-15. The majority of the people had turned their backs on God in order to embrace idolatry. They refused God their faith, their obedience, their praise and their worship. Isaiah's task was to tell them that God's judgment ('His strange work' v21, contrary to His wishes) would come upon Judah in the shape of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. However, they were not repentant but arrogant, "We are alright, we have an agreement with death and the grave!" "No", says God, "you are taking refuge in a shelter of lies and falsehood." Their refuge was to be swept away, 'Hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters shall overflow the hiding place,' v17.
Israel had failed God. But God was to make a new start, creating a new people who would worship Him. 'Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation; he that believeth shall not make haste,' Is.28.16. This new work of God would be built upon a tested, precious and sure cornerstone. This speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ. Tested in His earthly life and found sinless. Precious in God's sight because He is His beloved Son. Sure because He perfectly executed His Father's plan of salvation. This new work would be based on justice and righteousness, v17, not lies and falsehood, v15.
The Old Testament speaks again of this cornerstone. 'The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes,' Ps.118.22-23. Here we are told that the One who is to become the cornerstone will be rejected, this means the cross; but God's purpose will not be frustrated, this means the risen Christ will build up a true people for God. The Lord Himself points this out in the parable of the wicked husbandmen, Matt.21.33-45. Note v42, 'Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?'
The One who is the Cornerstone is rejected, but finally it is those who reject Him who will be rejected by God. 'And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken,' Is.8.14-15. Again the Lord Himself pointed this out. "And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder," Matt.21.44. Peter also quotes Isaiah in this respect, 'And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them that stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed,' 1Pet.2.8.
So in summing up His parable of the wicked husbandmen, Matt.21.33-46, the Lord is telling the chief priests and Pharisees that He knows that they will reject Him and then the kingdom of God will cease to be theirs, but that He Himself will be the cornerstone of a new nation. "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof," v43. That new nation is the Church, the company of the redeemed, both Jews and Gentiles.
This is further explained in Eph.2.18-22. 'For though Him (Christ) we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access by one Spirit unto the Father ... And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for habitation of God through the Spirit'. The new temple would not be built of stones but of saints. Founded upon the teaching of the apostles and prophets, as found in the Holy Scripture. But the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming work is the cornerstone of this new spiritual temple. Now God dwells not in a tabernacle of cloth or a temple of stone but in the midst of His gathered people.
The picture of the cornerstone is carried a step farther in 1Pet.2.4-10. 'To whom (Christ) coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,' v4-5. Here the believers not only make up the spiritual temple of God, but they are also the spiritual priesthood who offer up the spiritual sacrifices that God so desires. The spiritual sacrifices are described in Heb.13.15-16. 'By Him (Christ) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name. But to do good and to communicate (share) forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.'
We, by God's grace, as believers, are now built on the chosen and precious Cornerstone. Living eternally to enjoy the privileges and fulfil the responsibilities that are ours. 'But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy,' lPet.2.9-10.
Abraham was very highly honoured by the Jews, and rightly so. He was the father of the nation, and they held him in the highest esteem; indeed, they boasted in him. What a contrast to how they regarded the Lord Jesus Christ. Well could He say, "Ye do dishonour me," v49. They called Him "a Samaritan" and said that He had "a devil," v48. They had not been able to answer the points which the Lord made to them in the previous verses, so they resorted to personal attacks. This is still the case today: if people do not like the truth that is being told to them, but they have no answer to it, they begin to attack the character of the one who is bringing the truth to them!
In this passage, in which Abraham's name is mentioned 5 times, v52,53,56,57,58, the Lord Jesus Christ, while in no way speaking disparagingly of Abraham, clearly points out to these people, that, great as Abraham was, He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is greater. We find a threefold comparison of Abraham and the Lord Jesus Christ, each proving that the Lord Jesus Christ is greater:
The Passing of Abraham's life: "Abraham is dead," v52:
The Pleasure of Abraham's life: "Abraham rejoiced to see my day," v56:
The Period of Abraham's life: "Before Abraham was, I am," v58:
These three comparisons deal with three different time periods, going in reverse historical order. The first deals with the period after Abraham died, the second with what occupied Abraham during his life, and the third goes back before Abraham was born. In all three, as we will see, the conclusion is the same: the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than Abraham.
1. The Passing of Abraham's life, v51-55
The Lord Jesus did not need to tell His listeners that Abraham was dead: they stated it themselves, v52,53, in response to the Lord's claim, v51, that someone who keeps His saying shall never see death. What provoked their irate response: "Whom makest thou thyself?" It was that, by His statement in v51, the Lord was claiming to have power over death. If the Lord had said in v51, "I am alive," they would have shown no annoyance at that. It was perfectly true that He was alive at that time, but that in itself would not have made Him greater than Abraham. When the Lord Jesus spoke, there were plenty of people who were alive, but who were certainly not greater than Abraham. No, his statement went further. By stating "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death," the Lord was saying, not only that He was alive, but that He had (or, rather, has) the power of life and death. Not only so, but that the issue as to whether a person will live or die depends on one's obedience to His words. No-one else could claim that.
In one sense, the response of His hearers was based on a misunderstanding. When they replied "Abraham is dead," they were of course meaning dead physically, and they took it that the Lord was speaking of physical death, whereas He was not saying that a believer never dies physically, but rather that he would not see eternal death. Yet in another sense, they understood the implication of His statement only too clearly: He was claiming to be greater than Abraham, as their words in v53 show. A man who could promise that anyone obeying Him would not see death, must certainly be greater than a man who is in the grave. And so it is: Abraham, great as he was, died, but the Lord Jesus Christ has the power to give eternal life to all who obey Him.
The listeners thought such a statement preposterous. They thought that He was honouring Himself; boasting of something that He was not, v53. But the Lord makes it plain that this was not so: it was God who was honouring Him— the God whom they claimed as theirs, v54. V55 makes clear the huge gulf between the Lord Jesus and His hearers. When He says "ye have not known Him; but I know Him," he uses two different words for "know". In referring to Himself: "I know Him," He uses the word meaning intuitive knowledge: He is God, and did not need to get to know God by experience. But in referring to them: "ye have not known Him," He uses the word meaning to get to know by experience. They had not even got to know God experientially; he already knew Him intuitively.
2. The Pleasure of Abraham's life, v56,57
Now the Lord goes further back in time, to when Abraham was still alive, and He states: "Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad," v56. This shows that, during his life, Abraham was occupied with Christ, and obtained pleasure, gladness, and delight, in such thoughts. This shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than Abraham.
We ought to ask ourselves: what is "My day" that the Lord Jesus refers to? It is generally taken to be the Lord's life on earth, to which Abraham looked forward. We do indeed see glimpses of this in Abraham's experience. For example, it is doubtless true that when Abraham said, Gen.22.8, "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering," he was looking forward to Calvary, and God's provision of Himself as the sacrifice. Surely Abraham's looking forward to the Lord's time on earth is included in the term "My day." However, the present writer is inclined to believe that, in the context of this passage, the phrase "My day' includes much more than the Lord's time on earth. In this passage, and in particular in the verses that follow these ones, the emphasis is on the eternal existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus "My day" could well be a reference to the whole span of the Lord Jesus' existence, which encompasses eternity, and is not limited to the 33 years that He spent on earth.
Thus, when the Lord says "Abraham rejoiced to see My day," as well as referring to Abraham looking forward to the Lord's time on earth, the He could also have been referring to the fact that, when Abraham was alive, He, the Lord Jesus, was already in existence. That was certainly how the listeners understood His statement: they took it to mean that the Lord Jesus was there in Abraham's time, and saw Abraham, v57. And, as the Scripture makes clear, not only did Abraham see His "day": he actually saw Him, if we believe that it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself Who appeared to Abraham and conversed with him in Gen.18. Among the things that the Lord told him then was the promise of the birth of Isaac. What joy this conversation must have brought to Abraham! Such was the effect of his encounter with the Lord, that the following morning Abraham returned to the same spot where they had parted the previous day, Gen.19.27.
Furthermore, could "My day" not also look away into the future? In Heb.11.10, we read that Abraham "looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Surely this also indicates that Abraham had an appreciation of Christ's glory in association with the Millennial city. He saw it, and was glad. The greatest pleasure of Abraham's life was his contemplation with the Lord Jesus Christ. This shows that the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than Abraham. The Jews had no understanding of this. They saw it simply in terms of the fact that the Lord was far too young to have been alive at the same time as Abraham, v57. They had no idea of His greatness.
3. The Period of Abraham's life, v58,59
The Jews were shocked by the Lord's claims, but there was more to come. Now the Lord goes back even further, to before Abraham's birth. The listeners thought it ridiculous for Him to claim to have been there when Abraham was there, but the Lord announces: "Before Abraham was, I am, v58. He does not say, "Before Abraham was, I was." That would not in itself have made Him greater than Abraham. Enoch, for example, could have said, "Before Abraham was, I was." Only God could say, "Before Abraham was, I am." This statement is not according to the rules of grammar. Conventional rules of sentence construction are insufficient to express His greatness. The Lord here is making an unequivocal statement of His eternity and of His deity. Here is the voice of Jehovah Himself, the One who could say to Moses, Ex.3.14: " I AM THAT I AM ... say ... I AM hath sent me."
Those listening to the Lord were not believers, but they did know their Bibles, including Ex.3. They knew exactly the implications of His statement, and they were incensed. If He had said "Before Abraham was, I was," that would have been bad enough as far as they were concerned, but possibly they would have been content for the meantime to label Him as a Samaritan and demon-possessed, as they had done in v48, and to await a suitable opportunity to put Him to death. Now they could wait no longer: he was claiming to be God. This was the height of blasphemy, and they took up stones to stone Him to death, v59. These unbelievers had no doubt about the Lord's claims to deity, eternity and equality with God. Sad that it is that so many people today, who claim to be believers, are unclear about these fundamental truths.
In conclusion, the Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest Person. Whether we look at the eternal ages before Abraham was born, the time of Abraham's life, the years since Abraham has died, the future, or the unending ages still to come, the conclusion is the same: the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than Abraham. Not only is He greater than Abraham; He is God.
In this passage, the Lord Jesus told His hearers that a person who keeps His saying will not see death, v51. How can this be? How can a mortal, sinful man escape eternal death? In the next paper, if God permit, we will consider together how Abraham is used to illustrate the greatest principle: justification by faith.
(a) The Christian - An Earthly Citizen (Romans 13.1-7)
Rom.13 is an important development on the teaching of ch.12 in the matter of Christian conduct in the world. In view of what Paul wrote at the end of ch.12 about not retaliating but rather to overcome evil with good; one would be inclined to ask if all evil is to go unpunished? Can people do what they like and get away with it? The answer from ch.13 is a very definite, no. In society generally, there must be the rule of law and order. God has decreed the exercise of authority for the punishment of evil and for the protection of what is good. This is a God ordained arrangement for the good of society generally. In view of the existence of God's arrangements for the governance of society, the Christian can safely continue the virtue of overcoming evil with good as already taught in 12.19-21. At the same time he must be a model citizen and strive to uphold the arrangements God has placed for law and order. As well as having a responsibility towards those who do evil, he has a responsibility towards those placed in society for good - the authorities in the land. The Christian has a duty to render respect to the rulers of the country and live in obedience to their laws.
The chapter divides itself into three sections:
The Christian - an earthly citizen, v1-7;
The Christian - a fellow citizen, v8-10;
The Christian - a heavenly citizen, v11-14;
The Christian - An Earthly Citizen
1. Submission to the State, v1,2.
This passage is of the utmost importance in that it clearly defines what should be the attitude of a Christian towards the state. It is very relevant to our day and our place in a society, sections of which are only too ready to display rebellion against authority at any opportunity. We should be grateful for the inclusions of these verses and for the guidance that they give. The first sentence strikes the keynote for the section and its emphasis must be caught if we are to understand the contextual setting for all that follows. First in the sentence and thus in the mind of the Apostle is "every soul." These instructions are not for some; they are inclusive of all. No exceptions are given. Having established the scope of his statement, he then introduces the subject - submissiveness to the state.
The duty of every citizen, saved and unsaved alike, is to submit to the ruling authorities. The freedom that we have received in Christ carries with it the responsibility to submit to the authorities that rule the land. There are no qualifications mentioned, so this is a very embracive command which takes in every aspect of life that is governed by the state, providing that conscience towards God is not involved. Acts 5:29 balances this by clearly teaching that "we ought to obey God rather than man." There ought to be unqualified submission to the state as is manifested by the tone in which Paul writes. At that time of writing a tyrant ruled the Roman Empire. Nero violently opposed the Christian faith and was later responsible for brutally persecuting the Christians. Had opposition to the State been an option for the Christians in those circumstances, Paul would not have written as he did. The Scriptures have in mind here the institution rather than the people who administer it. The duty of the Christian is clear- "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. "
The reason for this duty is in the latter part of vl, "For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. When Noah and his family came out of the Ark, God established the principle of human government. Human government is a Divine institution and thus it is said to be "ordained of God." First and foremost, the consecrated life must be lived in obedience to God, so it follows that a consecrated life will be in subjection to the powers ordained by God. Whatever the form of government and however the laws are applied and enforced, the Christian must be prepared to live in subjection to them provided that submission to God is not at stake in so doing. In Tit.3.1, Paul has a similar thought in mind; "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work." Peter has the same principle in mind when he says, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well," lPet.2.13,14. In Rom.13 the requirement to submit is further strengthened in v2 by stating that "whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment." (RV). Rebellion against the state and breaking its laws is not the way a Christian is expected to behave, even if those laws are enforced by an unjust and wicked regime. This is not to say that God approves of the state of oppression and cruelty nor does He approve unjust and unfair legislation. The penalty for resisting God's ordinance as expressed in the rule of the state is to incur the judgment of the state for the infringement of its laws. Any breach of the law brings its own penalty.
2. The Nature of Submission, v3,4
These two verses indicate the normal responsibilities and activities of the state and at the same time describe the nature of our submission to the state. This should express itself in the practice of good and the avoidance of evil.
The Practice of Good. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil, wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?" The child of God need have no fear of the state if he obeys its laws. Civil rule is constituted in order to operate against that which is evil, not against good. The Christian should be marked by good works and obedience to the laws of the land that have been enacted for the well being of society. One of the features of a just society is that good is rewarded "... do that which is good and thou shalt have praise of the same. "
The Avoidance of Evil. For he is the minister of God to theefor good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain." The one responsible for the administration of the civil order is described here as "the minister of God." He has been ordained of God and placed by God within society for the good of the community. The work he does is a service to society for which he has been divinely ordained. The nature of submission to civil authorities therefore involves avoiding all that is evil and detrimental to society. Those who practise evil have every reason to fear the authority of the state since every infringement of the law brings its own penalty and defiance of the civil authority will be justly dealt with in punishment. This authority to punish evil is delegated by God to the state.
3. The Motive behind submission v5. "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake."
The necessity for submission to the state is now established, "we must needs be subject." In this verse we are told that it is also necessary to be subject for the right reason. The unsaved submits to avoid the wrath of the state but the believer submits for the additional reason of his conscience. He wishes to maintain a good conscience before God by doing the will of God in submitting to divinely ordained authority.
4. The Illustration of Submission v6. "For this cause pay ye tribute also."
The apostle now takes a specific example in order to illustrate the kind of responsibility that is involved in submission on the one hand and in administration on the other. The believer must fulfil his duties to the state in paying taxes imposed by the state. This is what is required of a citizen. What the state does with the taxes collected is no concern of the Christian, the rulers are responsible for this and answerable to God. Taxes are collected from Christians as well as from the unsaved. The believer is not justified in withholding taxes if the Government uses funds raised by taxation to promote an ungodly lifestyle or to advance the cause of something evil. In respect to the State discharging its fiscal stewardship, "righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people." Modern society has become so accustomed to the propagation and nurture of evil for some sections of society by government, that we hardly notice much of what is going on around us. Free needles are provided for drug abusers; social security benefits are biased towards those living sinfully; free legal aid is given to persistent offenders of the worst sort in criminal trials. There is a finely balanced debate that raises the plight of those who have fallen prey to sin and ignores the principles of righteousness. We are not advocating the opposite extreme of ignoring the plight of the underprivileged. The balance is seen clearly in the Lord's handling of the woman at the well in Jn.4. He clearly wanted to meet her spiritual needs as a priority and that resulted in an improvement of her lifestyle by repentance bringing unto her a monogamous life. If a nation's Government acts righteously in the enactment of legislation and the handling of revenue collected from its citizens, the nation will prosper. If on the other hand, it passes legislation that is contrary to biblical principles or uses the revenue from taxes in the promotion of sinful living, that will soon become a reproach to the people. Can we not see this clearly in the nation of Britain today?
5. The Practice of Submission v7.
As a final word on the matter, Paul describes how submission should be practised in two ways. Paying tribute and custom, and rendering fear and honour. "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom ..." That which is due to the authorities of the land should be paid and every other obligation to the state should be met. There appears to be a slight distinction in the words used. "Tribute" has in view the payment of taxes imposed on a person or property. "Custom" has to do with the payment of duty on goods and merchandise. Of primary importance is the need to be scrupulous in ensuring that we meet our responsibilities honestly in the matter of payment of taxes. There should be no desire to 'cook the books' at the end of the year to gain benefit in the tax return. Certainly, expert advice can be sought to avoid paying taxes that are unnecessary, this is a different matter to evading payment of taxes. "Fear to whom fear ..." shows that submission includes the intangible as well as the tangible. Fear or respect will be shown towards those ordained by God for the governance of the state. Honour should be shown to all that hold high office and have the responsibility or rule in the society. The modern world does not know much of this respect and honour. The popular press has ensured that almost every person of standing in the nation has been exposed to ridicule and has become an object for national fun and humour. Irrespective of what we think of persons in the high office, we should not be guilty of the common habit of criticising every form of authority. Alongside humble submission there will be absolute honesty and humble recognition of authority. —to be continued (D. V.)
Due to the silence which sisters maintain in the gatherings of the assembly it is possible for the part which they play to be regarded as insignificant. They may be looked on as silent bystanders who have no contribution to make. Because of this some sisters may be discouraged and fail to prepare for the gathering (This fault is just as prevalent with brothers). Such an attitude betrays a lack of understanding of the nature of the silence of the sisters. How then does she contribute to the gathering of the local assembly?
She acknowledges the Lordship of Christ.
The privilege of showing that she acknowledges the Lordship of Christ is given to a sister in a manner which is not given to a man. She displays two signs of this in her long hair and in the covering that she places on her head when the assembly is gathered together. Paul's teaching regarding this, is given in 1Cor.11.
The divine order in creation is that the man is the head of the woman, Christ is the Head of the man, and the Head of Christ is God. The physical head of the woman is a symbol of her creatorial head, who is, as we have noted, the man. When the assembly gathers together the woman covers her head as a sign that man is not prominent and will be hidden as the Lord is present. He is thus acknowledged as the head of the man. He is acknowledged as Lord. If she refuses to do this, Paul states that a sister uncovered in the gatherings of the assembly is as shameful as a sister who has had her hair cut short or shaved completely, 1Cor 11.3-16. To all who gather, therefore, and to any unbelievers who are looking on, the sisters display in a very clear and positive way that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that in the gathering of the assembly, He alone has to be seen.
She educates angels.
It is not only men and women who are looking on when the sisters cover their heads. Angels are interested on-lookers as believers work for the Lord. Paul understood that there was angelic interest in his service as he was "made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men," 1Cor.4.9. But angels also observe the godly behaviour of sisters in the assembly who appreciate that one of the reasons why they cover their head is "because of the angels," 1Cor 11.10. These angels know of a time when some of their own number rebelled against the divine order of creation. The words of the king of Babylon expressing the ambition of his master, the devil, are "I will be like the Most High," Isa.14.14. Thus he, the Adversary, sought to overthrow the divine order of creation and together with the angels who followed him in this venture of pride and folly, he was judged.
Today sisters have an opportunity of showing to the angelic throng who observe the gathering of the saints that they do observe this creatorial order gladly and acknowledge the lordship of Christ. They will not rebel, but have joy in accepting the privilege of having a place in the order of which the Lord has a part. To be part of this in any way is an honour and dignity far above our ability to apprehend fully. Let sisters therefore take note that as they place the covering on their head and take their place amongst the gathered saints, angels look on and see the power of the work of the Cross in their glad acknowledgement of the order against which Lucifer, son of the morning, Isa.14.12, rebelled.
She adds fragrance to the worship.
The worship of sisters is also very helpful to the assembly. Any thought that their silence results in no contribution is a very poor appreciation of worship. We must remember that Mary of Bethany heard what the disciples heard, indeed over the years she probably heard less than the disciples heard, but she understood much more. On that memorable evening she filled the house with the fragrance of her worship as she anointed the Lord with pure oil of nard. The height of worship which she reached was far above any thoughts in the minds of the disciples. Despite the accusation of waste made by Judas she heard the words of the Lord Jesus confirming that she had been right in her spiritual discernment. She had understood that shortly He would be buried. The Twelve had not appreciated this, but this woman alone was in touch with the mind of heaven, and so she worships. "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this" are the words of the Saviour, confirmation that she had made no mistake.
How many assembly gatherings have been lifted by the worship of godly sisters whose appreciation of the Lord is on a high plane? No thinking believer would ever claim that the only public worship of brothers is heard in heaven. The tender graciousness of a woman's heart and the finer feelings of a sister's spiritual affections have often been the means of "filling the house" with the sweet odour of worship.
She prays intelligently.
Prayer also is made by sisters. In the assembly prayer meeting, and in the home, many a sister has been able to pray for that which escapes the notice of brothers. The writer has observed that godly sisters have a keen spiritual sense to see beneath the surface to the root of the matter. They can perceive what often brothers do not see and are quick to understand the difficulties and the problem of others. This enables them to pray intelligently, What we stated regarding worship is equally true of prayer. Silent prayers are as effective as public prayers.
In Scripture we find women who rose far higher than others in their dealings with God. Who would deny in reading Jud.13 that the mother of Samson had an appreciation of God which was greater than that of her husband? see v23. The account of the sorrow and then joy of Hannah shows her to have spiritual desires which went beyond the appreciation of Elkanah, 1Sam.1. Although Naomi obeyed her husband in leaving Bethlehem-Judah, did her subsequent behaviour not show that she had spiritual desires larger than Elimelech's? The Shunammite, 2 Kings 4, displayed a care for others, and in her sorrow, spiritual discernment, which her husband did not share. The women who followed the Lord from Galilee stood afar off beholding the cross, Lk.23, when others had fled.
Let our sisters joy in the unique service in which they can engage, and let them never consider that the role given to them is second rate. The God who has saved us never asks us to engage in the second rate. To do with our heart what He has given us to do is pleasing to Him and will bring its reward in the day of review. The assembly is blessed indeed when it can number amongst those in fellowship, sisters whose godly demeanour, Christ-like disposition and spiritual perception make them invaluable to the testimony. Like Mary, Rom. 16.6), they bestow much labour on behalf of the saints, and like the beloved Persis, they labour much in the Lord, Rom.16.12. May we hold them in honour and be thankful for their contribution to the work of the Lord.
Both my parents were saved in their early teens, my father during meetings held in February 1926 in Bethany Hall, Lochore, Fife, by Mr. David Roberts, an Evangelist from Liverpool. He had been using the "From eternity to eternity" chart. My mother first heard the gospel in 'kitchen' meetings that were held in Glencraig, Fife, around the same time by Mr. Sandy Munro, who was a coal miner and lived in the village. Later they both obeyed the Lord in baptism and were subsequently added to the assembly that met in Bethany Hall, Lochore.
I was brought up in that village and was taken to all the assembly meetings in Bethany Hall, I was sent to the Sunday School as a child, then as a teenager joined the Bible class, and attended gospel tent meetings during the summer months in the County of Fife, which was the normal way of life. Leaving school at fifteen years of age in 1951,1 commenced a five-year apprenticeship as a house painter and decorator. This involved attending 'day release' classes during the first two years and 'night school' during the five years of my apprenticeship. A wee bit of taste of the world that I had been sheltered from was enjoyed during these first two years during the time day release class finished and night class commenced at the Lauder Technical College in Dunfermline, Fife.
Having been working for one year, my first holiday apart from my parents was at the Fife Assemblies Bible Class Camp held in a school in Bankfoot, Perthshire in July 1952. One morning, the room leader stated that two of the lads had trusted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour the previous night after the gospel meeting. I listened carefully to know whom he was talking about; each of the lads mentioned had his bed on either side of me! They were now saved 1 was not. Both presently are elders in their respective assemblies in Fife and Ayrshire, Scotland.
As July 1953 approached, I decided to go again to the camp, this time a school in Stanley, Perthshire was being used. Mr. Alex Scouter who was on furlough from India was one of the speakers, and a verse that he repeated nightly was "Choose you this day whom ye will serve ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," Jos.24.15. I knew my parents and my sister who is seven years younger than me were saved, but I was not! Troubled by a remark that was made to me by a young woman after a gospel meeting, I left the school but returned again under deep conviction, and approached a Lochore friend and said, "I want to be saved." Talk to Mr. Scouter was his advice. By the bedside of Mr. Scouter as he read and explained Rom. 10.9 to another lad and myself, I received the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour ... that was on Friday 24th July 1953. Returning to the room where we slept, I confessed to the leaders, who said with tears coursing down their faces, "John we have prayed for you for years." One of those men now resides in Auchlochan House in Lanarkshire; the other is at home with the Lord. I wrote to my parents who were on holiday in England the next day ... there was rejoicing in that Christian Hotel when the postcard arrived giving them the good news. Later I was baptised on the 15th November 1953 and received into the assembly fellowship at Bethany Hall the following Lord's day.
As a young believer I got involved in the Sunday school, also in children's meetings and open-air work both locally and in the surrounding villages where there was no assembly testimony. Brethren from the smaller assemblies in Fife started to invite other young men and myself from the assembly along to preach at their gospel meetings and later on to give teaching to the saints at their ministry meetings also.
I met Margaret at camp in 1954 and we started courting. Margaret was saved during meetings that Mr. James Hughes an Evangelist from Northern Ireland had at the opening of the new Ashgrove Gospel Hall in Methilhill, Fife on the 11th August 1952. She was baptised on the 29th March 1953 and afterwards received into assembly fellowship at the Ashgrove Gospel Hall.
During our courtship, a circular letter from Mr. William D. Bell who was serving the Lord as a missionary in Trinidad, West Indies was read to the Lochore assembly one Lord's day during January 1956. In that letter he told of meetings he had been having in Chaguanas, a town in central Trinidad. A remark caught my attention, "There is great need all around ...O that God will raise up a young couple who will devote themselves to the Lord's service among those R.C. and Hindu people." Requesting the letter from the assembly correspondent, I showed to Margaret that same evening. We both had been asking the Lord to direct our footsteps, and were both conscious of guidance towards missionary service. Now the Lord was indicating a definite place. About two years later, Mr. Bell visited the Lochore assembly, where after the report meeting I asked him if anyone had at any time ever mentioned to him anything about what he had written in 1956. "No one," he replied! I mentioned that we were exercised before the Lord in that regard. Taking the elders of the assembly into confidence, they were requested to pray with us about this important matter. This they agreed to do.
In the intervening eleven and a half years there were many that encouraged us in our exercise, but its also true to say there were many discouragements and disappointments along the way. Finally, with the commendation of the Lochore assembly and five other assemblies in the County of Fife also giving supporting commendations, we left Scotland by train on the 9th June 1967 on the first stage of our journey which took us to Bournemouth on the south coast of England. From there to Southampton on the 13th June where we boarded the "Southern Cross" with our two infants of 15 months and 3 months. At 2.00 p.m. on that beautiful afternoon, as friends waved to their friends and as the skirl o' bagpipes and drums resounded, the ropes holding that ocean liner to the quay where loosed, and the tug boats pulled her out into The Solent. Port of Spain, Trinidad was to be the first port of call that the "Southern Cross" would make on its round the world voyage.
After an 8-day sail, Trinidad's Northern Range of mountains was sighted on the 21st June 1967. Waiting on the quay side to welcome us were Mr. and Mrs. William D. Bell, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Ussher, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard King who were local commended assembly workers and Mr. and Mrs. Hedley McLachan. Mr. Hedley McLachan was the eldest son of the first assembly missionaries to reside in Trinidad, having arrived with his parents in 1910.
The Trinidad Government granted a three-year visa initially, "to preach and teach the Christian gospel." After seven years in the Country, we were granted Residential Status. Preaching and Teaching the Word has been done to a greater or lesser extent using halls and homes, tents and open-air meetings, and on occasions day schools, in both these islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and also in a few of the other West Indian islands over the intervening years.
Looking back over these 33 years, and having enjoyed the fellowship of fellow-missionaries and local evangelists, also the saints in the different assemblies, we can only say, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us," lSam.7.12. It has pleased God to save some and to see some of them added to the local assemblies. But at times there has been much grief when assembly discipline has been needed. However, some who have been put away, having repented have been restored not only to the Lord, but also to the local assembly. Still there are others, for one reason or other have left the assembly and fellowship with other believers.
It was the late Dan Crawford who once wrote, "hats off to the past, coats off to the future." The door is still open in these islands of the blue Caribbean Sea for the preaching of the gospel, and the ministry of the Word of God, but who will heed the call of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, "Whom shall I send ..." Is.6.8, and "Go ye therefore ..." Matt.28.19. Will you?
Mk.8.36,37, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Ezk. 18.20, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
Have you ever stopped to wonder
What this life is all about?
Why you're here and where you're going
When your lease of time runs out?
Maybe you've been far too busy,
Trying hard to reach your goal;
Would you let me ask you, kindly,
Have you thought about your soul?
You may reach the highest portals,
And your dreams may all come true;
Wealth and fame may be your portion,
And success may shine on you.
All your friends may sing your praises,
Not a care on you may roll:
What about the great tomorrow -
Have you thought about your soul?
Don't forget your days are numbered,
Though you may be riding high;
But, like all of us poor mortals,
Someday you'll just up and die.
Your success and fame and glory
Won't be worth the bell they toll;
Let me ask you just one question,
Have you thought about your soul?
If you've never thought it over,
Spend a little time today;
There is nothing more important
That will ever come your way
Than the joys of sins forgiven,
And to know you've been made whole.
In the Name of Christ, the Saviour,
Have you thought about your soul?
Lev.17.11, "It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."
Is.55.3, "Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live."