ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TESTIMONY IN TROUBLOUS TIMES
by I. McKee
ABRAHAM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
by D. McAllister
CHRISTIAN CONDUCT IN A MODERN WORLD
by W. A. Boyd
by J. A. Davidson
by D. S. Parrack
AN ASSEMBLY OR A CHURCH?
by E. Ritchie
MY CONVERSION AND CALL
by E. Doherty
by J. Riddle (Cheshunt)
HAGGAI - PAPER 4 - "CONSIDER YOUR WAYS"
Read again Chapter 1.1-11
In our introduction, we noticed that the book of Haggai comprises four messages:
- To reprove their idleness, 11-15;
- To restore their confidence, 2-19;
- To rebuke their unholiness, 2.10-19;
- To reward their leader, 2.20-23.
In our introduction, we divided Haggai 1 into two sections:
- The reproof, v1-11.
- The response, v12-15.
The first section was subdivided into the following four parts:
- The address, v1;
- The admonition, v7;
- The advice, v8;
- The adversity, v9-11.
In the last paper we looked at the first two and now we shall consider the final two.
iii) The advice, v8.
"Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord." Notice the following:
- "Go up to the mountain." In the first place, it takes effort to climb mountains! But this is where the necessary material was located. Not in the valley, but in the mountain. Let's remember that we will not find the materials that we need for spiritual building, at ground level, with its clamour and distractions. Spiritual materials are found on 'higher ground,' in the quiet and solitude of God's presence. We must "go up." In New Testament language, we must "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection (mind) on things above, not on things on the earth," Col.3.1-2. The Lord Jesus "went up into a mountain apart to pray," Matt.14.23.
- "Bring wood." This involves hard work and laborious toil. They were not gathering sticks! Trees required felling, trimming, and carrying to the temple site. A variety of skills would have been necessary here, and a variety of gifts are necessary in assembly building. Materials for "the house of God" are only obtained through hard work. To change the figure of speech, "gold, silver, precious (costly) stones" have to be mined or quarried at considerable effort. The durable materials of God's Word can only be discovered and used by diligent study and hard work! It's worth noticing here that this was local work. The "mountain" could not have been too far away. Quite possibly, imported wood was used in the "ceiled houses," but it takes a lot more effort to work locally! Local assembly work is most demanding, whether it is spreading the Gospel, or helping God's people.
- "Build the house." Let's remember that the assembly, the "house of God," is "God's building," 1Cor.3.9. This is where we are to build, and we are told how we should build there, and what should be built there. See 1Cor.3.10-12.
- "And I will take pleasure in it, and will be glorified, saith the Lord." Would this really be true? After all, the second temple was a poor replacement for Solomon's temple! "Who is among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" But however small and unimpressive, work undertaken sacrificially for God, and out of devotion to Him, will bring Him immense joy and pleasure. We must therefore "labour" ('make it our aim': 'be ambitious') that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him ('well-pleasing to Him')", 2Cor.5.9. We must "speak" and "minister" that "God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen," 1Pet.4.11.
iv) The adversity, v9-11.
If we give God first place by 'building the house,' He will take pleasure in our work and be glorified through it. But if, like the Jews, we "run every man unto his own house," our lives and labour will 'come to little.' These verses explain that God will see to it that this happens. "Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And / called for a drought upon the land ..." The withholding of dew and rain was a sign of divine displeasure. See, for example, Deut.28.15-24, lKgs.17.1, etc.
So God deliberately brought adverse conditions into the lives of His people in order to shake them out of their apathy and indifference. Let's put it like this: if our Bible reading (that is, if we do read the Bible) is just a chore, and our prayers (that is, if we do pray) are quite meaningless, and assembly meetings (that is, if we do come) are a dreary routine, then it is a signal that something is desperately wrong. But when we can say with Thomas, "My Lord, and my God, Bible reading, prayer, fellowship and assembly meetings, will be a sheer delight! If, on reflection, you discover that God has "called for a drought" in your soul, and there is no spiritual joy, fruit, or progress in your life, turn to Him in confession and repentance. He is longing to say, "From this day will I bless you," 2.19.
—to be continued (D.V.)
by Ian McKee (Northern Ireland)
Paper 4 — RETURNING TO SERVE (Ezra ch.2.1-42)
The epic journey from Babylon to Jerusalem is passed over in surprising silence. This one thousand mile pilgrimage, which took at least four months to complete, Ezra 7.8,9, is not detailed. Like Abram and Sarai, "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came," Gen.12.5.
Like all practical advancement in the will of God, progress could not be more than one step at a time. Focusing on the essentials, the travellers recognised that major issues of testimony are only achieved by incremental stages. They had a fixed goal in view and day by day, by steady application, it drew nearer until realised. "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, and there a little," Isa.28.10.
God's plan for Israel's future envisaged each step being taken. These people understood this. They valued the rich heritage received from previous generations and recognised their responsibility in regard to the future. Returning to Judah, to Jerusalem and to their own cities was an essential precursor to the Lord's first advent. Even today, great purposes are worked out by weak saints who are in fellowship with an omnipotent God.
And God does not forget those who journey with Him. Thus the names of the leaders are recorded first. Principal are those of Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Zerubbabel is a grandson of Jeconiah, king of Judah. He can therefore trace his royal descent from King David. And this man, who was likely born in Babylon, will appear in the two genealogies of the Lord Jesus Christ, Matt.1.12, and Lk.3.27. Alongside this princely leader we have a priestly man, Jeshua. A grandson of the last High Priest in the days of the Kings, he is destined to fulfil that exalted office himself, Zech.3. Effective leaders today are primarily men of princely and priestly character.
The men of the people of Israel (Ezra 2.2-35)
This section contains two bases of classification. From v2-19 the "men of the people of Israel" are recorded according to parentage. From v20-35 they are recorded to place names. And in each case the numbers concerned are carefully recorded. God remembers the names of all His faithful servants and honours them for their labours for Him.
The fact that God remembers the sphere of service and notes the small number of fellow labourers, should be a source of encouragement to us. There are many saints today who seek to continue testimony for God in areas of increasing difficulty, whether in rural or inner city locations. All such should take courage. God will remember their name, the place where they served and how few shared with them in that work.
But what privilege and potential there is in service. Villages, with names of fragrant memory, are again inhabited by the people of God. Places such as Anathoth, Kirjatharim and Bethel once more resonate to Jewish voices. Although only one hundred and twenty-three returned to Bethlehem, yet the re-establishment of that Jewish settlement was consistent with the divine programme. "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel," Matt.2.6.
Days of weakness will be replaced by days of glory. In the meantime, rebuild among the ruins and live in such a way that God will honour your name and recognise your work.
The Priests (Ezra 2.36-39)
Priests represented approximately ten per cent of the total Jewish returnees. However those 4,289 priests came from only four of the twenty-four pre-exilic courses of the priesthood. Each individual would therefore be aware that the proportion of their time given to spiritual service must exceed that given by their forebears. Acceptable service today also demands time and energy. But God still takes note of those who suffer financial loss and forego secular advancement to help maintain testimony in unfashionable locations.
The Levites (Ezra 2.40-42)
The Levites are categorised as those who assisted the priests in worship; the singers; and the porters.
Only 74 working Levites returned. They did so in the knowledge that they would be required to perform a disproportionate share of repetitive and arduous tasks. They were also aware that Levites could not own land. It was therefore a test of faith to return to Judah with so much to do, with so few to do it and to depend upon the Lord to sustain them. However 128 singers returned. No doubt they encouraged the returning exiles with songs that could not be appreciated in Babylon, Psa.137. Finally, 139 porters returned, exercised to guard both the sanctuary from profane intrusion and the treasury from loss.
Testimony today needs those proficient in the defence of all that which is sacred, who have a spirit of praise and who are exercised to work.
—to be continued (D. V.)
by David McAllister (Zambia)
(9) ABRAHAM AND THE GREATEST PLACE (Heb.11.8-16)
— "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," (Heb.11.10)
Any consideration of Abraham in the New Testament which did not look at Heb.11 would be sadly lacking. The subject of this chapter is of course faith, and Abraham's faith is a practical example for us all to follow. But, as indicated in the first paper in this series, the emphasis in these papers is not so much on Abraham practically, but on how Abraham is seen doctrinally in the New Testament.
In these few verses under consideration in this paper, it is the subject of places that is much stressed. In fact, three places are described for us:
- The place that Abraham left:
v8: "he was called to go out," and "he went out;"
v15: "if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out."
- The place where Abraham lived:
v8: "a place which he should after receive for an inheritance;"
v9: "he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles;"
v13: "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
- The place for which Abraham looked:
v11: "he looked for a city which foundations, whose builder and maker is God;"
v16: "now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly."
Throughout his long life of faithfulness to God, sojourning in the land of Canaan, Abraham lived the life of a stranger and pilgrim, v13. God had called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees, and live a life of separation to Himself. Abraham had obeyed, not knowing where he went. It was not an easy life. If was a life of dependence on God. Doubtless many people felt sorry for him. But did he regret it? Did he desire to return to his former place? No. As v15 indicates, the fact that he (and his family) did not return, indicated that he was not "mindful" of the place. He had left it behind for ever.
Why was Abraham happy to dwell in tents, and to have no desire to return? We have the answer in v11 and 16 - his thoughts were centred, not on the place he had left, nor on the place where he was living, but on the place for which he looked. Not a city designed and built by man, but a city designed and built by God. Not an earthly country, but a heavenly country. So he was content to be a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth. He knew that this was not the end. Great as his experience of God and His blessings were in his pilgrim life, there was something even greater ahead - the city of God. And so he continued in his pilgrim life.
The parallels for us as the people of God today are plainly seen - God has called us out from the world. We obeyed, when we believed the Gospel, and became separated unto Himself. It is not easy, and the world pities us. We are "strangers and pilgrims" in the world, lPet.2.11. But have we any desire to go back to the former life? No. Because our thoughts are centred, not on the past, nor on the present, but on the future. We consider, not earthly things, but heavenly things. Thus we are content to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Blessed as our portion today is, we look forward to something greater. Like Abraham, we look to a heavenly country, to a city whose designer and builder is God. As the poet wrote:
- 'With steady pace the pilgrim moves
- Towards the blissful shore,
- And sings with cheerful heart and voice,
- '"Tis better on before".'
But (in the view of the present writer) we can go even further than seeing an analogy between Abraham's experience and ours. It is not only that Abraham's sojourn and expectation picture ours - we have even more than this in common with him. While acknowledging that views on this do vary, and while respecting the views of those of a different view, the present writer believes that the Epistle to the Hebrews shows that the place Abraham looked for and the place we look for are one and the same.
In the last three chapters of Hebrews, there are four references to this city (11.10,16; 12.22; 13.14). The first two references give the relationship of the patriarchs to the city:
- 11.10: "he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
- 11.16: "He hath prepared for them a city." - the pronouns used are "he" and "them" (third person). The last two references, in contrast, give the relationship of present-day believers to the city: 12.22: "ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem."
- 13.14: "here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come." - the pronouns used are "ye" (second person) and "we" (first person).
What is this city, for which Abraham, and we also, look? It is the city that hath foundations, 11.10, not a moveable tent. It is the city designed and built by God, not by man. He has prepared it, 11.16. It is "the city of the living God," 12.22, not of dead idols, as Ur was. It is "the heavenly Jerusalem," 12.22, of which the earthy city of Jerusalem, with its Mount Sion, is but a picture. It is a continuing city," 13.14, that (unlike the great cities of earth) will never pass away. It is the city described for us in Rev. 21,22, where it is called "that great city, the holy Jerusalem," Rev.21.10. It is the greatest place.
Before looking in a little more detail at our relationship to that wonderful place, we need to point out two opposite extremes which we need to avoid in our consideration of this glorious subject:
- Some take the fact that Abraham and we both look for the same city as proof that there is no distinction between OT and NT saints. If (they argue) we both look for the same place, then Israel and the church are one and the same thing, and all Israel's promises have been taken over by the church. However, the fact that OT and NT saints look for the same place does not mean that we both will bear the same relationship to it. Everyone who is saved, no matter the age in which they lived, will benefit from the heavenly city. For example even the Gentile nations will walk in the light of it and bring their glory and honour into it, Rev.21.24,26, and they will also benefit from the health-giving properties of the tree of life which is in it, Rev.22.2. All believers, from whatever age, have looked for it. That does not mean that they will all have the same relationship to it. The church's position as the Bride, the Lamb's wife is unique, Rev.21.9. In no way is the distinction between Israel and the Church compromised.
- The view at the opposite extreme is that, since this is the Epistle to the Hebrews, the statements in 12.22 and 13.14 refer to Jews, not to the church, and so that these verses are not for us. But this view does not stand either, for, while it is true that this book was addressed to Hebrews, they were Hebrews who had professed to be saved. And Hebrews who were saved became part of the church, the new entity described in Eph.2.14-22, composed of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, with no distinctions on the basis of race or of previous religion. Thus, the promises given to the readers in Heb.12 and 13 regarding the heavenly city are as applicable to us as they were to the Hebrew readers. The "ye", 12.22, and "we", 13.14, are for us.
What, then, does the writer tell us about our relationship to that wonderful place?
(a) Our Portion (in the present), 12.22
The writer has just reminded the readers of the giving of the Law, at Mount Sinai, v18-21. It was a fearsome scene, with fire burning, blackness, tempest, trumpet sound, an awesome voice, at which the earth shook, and death for any man or animal who touched the mountain. Moses was afraid, and so was everyone else.
Now, says the writer, we have not come to such a scene. Rather, we "are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." Not to a physical mountain, with physical phenomena, which affected the sight, the hearing, the touch, and the other senses. Not to a mountain that was shaken, but to a kingdom that cannot be shaken, v28. We have come to all the peace, stability, dignity and security of the heavenly city, and to all the blessings associated with it.
He says, "Ye are come," that is, we have already come. Not physically, but spiritually, we have already arrived by faith. We are already citizens of that city. It is our home. We already participate in the blessings associated with that place.
This is not just abstract theory; it has a practical implication for us now: v28 says, "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." Being associated with such a place, we ought to have a spirit of gratitude towards our God, that will enable us to serve Him with all reverence and the piety which is appropriate to those with such a standing.
(b) Our Prospect (for the future), 13.14
Our present association with the city is spiritual. But one day it will be literal. We will actually be there: "we seek one to come." Many of us live in cities, but they are not continuing cities. They will pass away. Not so the heavenly city. It will remain. And we eagerly await it.
Doubtless in these present verses, the writer is contrasting the heavenly Jerusalem with the earthly city of Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus Christ, as the Antitype of the sin offering of the Day of Atonement, suffered outside the gate of Jerusalem, v12. He was rejected by the Judaistic religious system, and was crucified outside the city. As far as the world is concerned, He is still outside, rejected and despised.
And so, as in ch.12, this has a practical implication for us: "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach," v13. The city of Jerusalem epitomised the religious system found therein; a system that would not continue. So it is with the religious systems of Christendom. Let us go outside them all, to where Christ is, rejected and despised, happy to bear His reproach, gathered unto His lovely Name.
Some will say that we are wrong to use these verses to encourage believers to leave Christendom and to gather to the Lord's Name. They say that these verses refer only to the Jewish system; not to Christendom. That is true. However, if, in these verses, God is calling His people to turn their back on the Jewish rituals, that He himself had instituted, then we can be completely sure that He is no less desirous that we should have nothing to do with Christendom, which never even had His approval in the first place! God tells us to leave all that is temporal, and all that rejects His Son, and to be where He is, sharing His reproach, as we seek the city which is to come, and where we will be with Him forever. What a blessed portion! What a glorious prospect!
- "There in the glory we shall gather every one;
- Loud in the glory raise the joyful song;
- Unto Him Who loved us never-ceasing praise be given,
- Sing we Hallelujah to the Lord of heaven.
- Jesus, Lord Jesus! Praise and glory be to Thee!
- Jesus, Lord Jesus! We shall reign with Thee!"
by Walter A. Boyd (South Africa)
No.4 — THE CONSIDERATE LIFE (Continued)
(D) Respect the Weaker Brother (Romans 14.14-23)
As we continue with Paul's teaching on the Considerate Life, the apostle moves from the responsibilities of both the weak brother and the strong brother, to that of the strong brother on his own. The previous section, v11-13, laid the foundation for what he now teaches and has shown the absolute error of judging one another. Now he concentrates our minds on the likely possibility in the relationships of weak and strong. Often the strong will despise the weak and live inconsiderately of his scruples. Having clearly established the principle of Christian liberty, Paul now emphasises the need for the correct use of this liberty. The spiritual equilibrium that is manifested in the considerate life will temper Christian liberty with Christian charity. Mutual love and care for each other are more important than the eager assertion of our liberties.
1. Paul's Persuasion, v14.
This verse can be regarded as a parenthetical hinge in the passage, as Paul pauses in the development of his teaching to recall and state, what is to him a matter of firm persuasion. In the first part of the verse he lays down a general principle that nothing is unclean of itself and in the second part he shows a particular attitude, that some things are unclean to some people.
- A General Principle. Nothing is unclean of itself. "I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself...". With regard to this general persuasion there is both knowledge and conviction. Paul knew well and was thoroughly convinced of this truth. He is not speaking here of a kind of firm persuasion in Scripture generally, but rather in the matter before us and this is something that is more precise and to be striven after. A believer with firm convictions that are firmly rooted in the Word of God will not vacillate when a decision is needed nor will they defer when action is demanded. This is also true, but that is not exactly Paul's point either. What we have here, is the point firmly made, that a firm persuasion in the Word of God will at times, lead to inaction! If I appreciate the Word of God, there will be occasions on which its truth will sweeten my heart and silence my tongue. This persuasion was by, or in, the Lord Jesus. Paul is here expressing his own liberty, into which the Lord had brought him. He has been delivered from the bondage of his past life with its proscribed meats. He had arrived at this point of liberty, not by obedience to a specific command but as the result of his conscience being fully persuaded before the Lord. Knowledge must of necessity come first in the formation of conviction but we must not stop there. Such knowledge should be brought to bear upon the conscience and lead to the heart being firmly persuaded.
- The Particular Attitude. Even though you know and are persuaded that nothing is unclean of itself, the conscience of another must never be violated. One whose conscience has not yet been delivered, and who still regards something as unclean and to be avoided, must have our sympathetic consideration. We must be careful to bear in mind that if a believer deems a thing to be unclean, then to him it is unclean. For a clear understanding of this truth, emphasis must be placed upon the words, "to him." Because of this, what is clean to us is unclean to him; what is right for us is wrong for him. The demands for consideration in life mean that we must keep this before our minds in our dealings with one another and if needs be, show deference one to another.
2. Walking in Love, v15,16.
The apostle now resumes the thread of his argument after the parenthesis of verse fourteen. In verse fifteen, we are confronted again by the underlying principle of love that governs our actions. In 13.10, we saw that we can never fully or completely repay the debt of love we owe to others in any way other than demonstrating the presence of love and the absence of harm in all our dealings. The Christian life should be characterised by walking in love, which if practised, will result in consideration being shown in three ways.
- By Limiting Our Liberties. "But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably...". If I, as a "strong" brother, persist in eating meat and thereby cause a "weaker" brother to be "grieved" (distressed or feel pain), I am not acting in love. This principle needs to be remembered — I can persist in the exercise of my liberty in Christ in a matter and grieve my brother, in considering the feelings of my fellow-believers, I must limit or restrict the exercise and enjoyment of my liberty.
- By Considering My Brother. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." The idea in the word "destroy" is to ruin or pull down and is written in a way that denotes a course of action presently engaged in and with present results. The damage caused by my inconsideration is instant and thus cannot be repaired when caused. It has nothing to do with eternal life but means the damaging of a life or testimony. If a brother sees you do something that his conscience condemns, he is grieved. If as a result, he is persuaded to do something that his own conscience condemns, he is in danger of being ruined or destroyed. "For whom Christ died," this expression places a worth and value upon each soul that must not be ignored. The weaker brother should not be counted as nothing nor regarded as unimportant — he cost the death of Christ!
- By Avoiding Wrong Impressions. "Let not your good be evil spoken of." The use of our liberties in a way that disregards others could lead to giving a wrong impression.
Cautiousness and carefulness must always be exercised to avoid such situations arising. That which is good and right to us should appear the same to others. If there is the slightest danger of it appearing to be evil or even being misconstrued by others, then it should be avoided.
3. Understanding the Kingdom, v17.
"For the kingdom of God is not in meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." The reason the apostle has gone to such pains in explaining these things in great detail is that we might understand the present aspect of the Kingdom of God. A right appreciation of the Kingdom of God will help to resolve difficulties in the present life with regard to material things. Here Paul tells us what the kingdom is not, what it is, and what its characteristics are.
- What it is not. The present aspect of the Kingdom of God is not a material kingdom. The material kingdom, as promised in the Old Testament, has been postponed consequent upon rejection of the King. That material kingdom will not be established until the King returns in glory at His second advent. In the meantime, the kingdom exists in mystery form. In Matt.13 we read about "the mysteries of the kingdom." Presently the kingdom is not earthly nor material, the King is absent and the rule of nations is in the hands of the Gentile powers.
- What it is. So then, if the King is absent, is the kingdom absent? Most definitely not! The kingdom in the present time is a spiritual kingdom and enjoys the full potency of divine power and the present relevancy of our omnipotent God. This being the case, we pursue spiritual values and principles that have a material effect upon us. (In past days when God was dealing with mankind upon earth, and in future days when the kingdom will be in material form, mankind pursues material values and principles that have a spiritual effect). Thus the apostle shows that we should be living in pursuit of the spiritual kingdom.
- What its characteristics are. The future material kingdom will be characterised by righteousness, peace and joy. But for us presently, Christ has set up His kingdom in our hearts and the same characteristics are manifested in us. The Holy Spirit makes these real to us.
- Righteousness — the result of justification.
- Peace — the result of reconciliation.
- Joy — the result of realisation.
- These are never more clearly seen and never more really enjoyed, than at the moment at conversion. While we likely knew little, if anything, about righteousness — yet that was our new standing and we enjoyed the peace and joy it brought in our new found sphere and power of the Holy Spirit. What a blessed moment! If we could return in heart to the newly found enjoyment of these truths, how considerate of others in the kingdom we would be.
4. Serving Christ aright, v18.
"For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men." In this verse we are brought back to the truth of verse ten — the Judgment Seat of Christ, serving Christ and acceptability to God. "Serveth Christ" is actually serving as a bondservant. Bond service for Christ is not just about missionary ventures or preaching the gospel; it is about the attitude of humility of the bondservant, it is about the attitude of the bondservant to other servants. Lowly, humble and considerate of others as he serves Christ. If I am considerate of others just to avoid hurting their feelings — I have missed the point altogether. I should defer in the exercise of my liberties if the situation demands it, as a service to Christ. Everything is decided by acceptability and human approval. Approval of men does not have the idea of popularity but rather the recognition of reality and sincerity.
—to be continued (D.V.)
by J. A. Davidson (Northern Ireland)
PAPER 2 — AGRICULTURE : THE FIELD
The Apostle not only drew his metaphors from city life as sharing the thoughts of the Wise Master Builder he said, "ye are God's building." He also said to the Corinthians, "ye are God's husbandry," tillage; cultivated field, 1Cor.3.9. Twelve times Paul mentions the matter of 'fruit' and in almost every Epistle gives us the thought of fruit bearing. As he journeyed he would have seen the work of the vinedresser in the vineyard and the skilful hand that grafted branches to the olive trees.
The present crisis in the agricultural industry in nearly every country serves to emphasise the principles of God's purposes in the sustaining of ordinary physical life and the oft repeated lessons from our Bible in the spiritual realm of the principle of sowing and reaping. In the drought and famines of the underdeveloped countries we learn in the physical realm of man's dependance upon God for rain. In the overabundance and awful abuse of food in the western world, we see man's ungratefulness of God's goodness in providing our daily bread.
Peter learned lessons from shepherds and their sheep but Paul drew his metaphors not so much from the operations and phenomena of the natural world but from the activities and outward manifestations of human life. Thus Paul has lessons about ploughing, sowing, yield, first-fruits, harvest, reaping and threshing. As he made his long journeys by foot through the countryside, he was sympathetic toward those who worked in the fields under the heat of the eastern sun. "The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits," 2Tim.2.6.
Paul had his first lesson about ploughing even before he was saved because the Lord reminded the stubborn Pharisee on the road to Damascus, "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," Acts 9.5. The reference is to the ox-goads used in the operation of ploughing so that resistance increased the suffering of the restive animal, just as the force of conscience sharpened by the Spirit troubled the rebellious sinner.
When we were unsaved we brought forth "fruit unto death," Rom.7.5. As we look back upon our unsaved life we ask, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" Rom.6.21 Prolonged testimony meetings which dwell at length on the details of a past sinful life are not to the glory of God and should not be encouraged among the Assemblies of the Lord's People. It is only of the Lord's mercies that we do not reap eternally the fruits of our sins.
The Lord Himself taught that, "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit," Jn.12.24. The fruit of Calvary is seen in His saints, the travail of His soul, as He died and rose again; "the first-fruits of them that slept," 1Cor.15.20.
The very life giving message of the Gospel that reached our souls is that of seed sown and fruit reaped. If the root has fallen into that good ground then there must be fruit unto holiness manifest in the life of the saint.
The principle of sowing and reaping, planting and fruitfulness, labour and increase in the believer's life is considered in four aspects in Paul's writings:-
"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God giveth the increase," 1Cor.3.6. Paul was used of God in planting believers at Corinth, not doctrines. In some fields there has been an emphasis on teaching rather than preaching the Gospel and this has resulted in a scarcity of crop to water. Diligent hard labour is involved if we are to see growth, greenery and gratitude which is to the glory of God. Barrenness, untidiness and weeds are to be seen in the vineyard of the slothful. The increase is of God and what a privilege that He allows us to be labourers together with Him.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," Gal.5.22-23. In this chapter, Paul gives two lists, "the works of the flesh," Gal.5.19 in contrast to "the fruit of the Spirit." As born of the Spirit we have a power which when operating in us, produces evidence of life. This is not just law keeping but evidence of holiness and sanctity of life which we would never have known in unsaved days. "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life," Rom.6.22. Without such a change and evidence of fruit, one would be wise to examine the reality of spiritual life before seeking fellowship in the assembly lest there be something missing at the root.
Paul not only laboured in ploughing and planting but he showed sympathising care for the spiritual growth of the converts. In 1Cor.3, he is dealing with the party spirit at Corinth. Paul entered the field and through the Gospel saw the plants rooted, Apollos came to water them and God blessed their labours. Thus Paul and Apollos were in happy fellowship working together for the good of the one cultivated field. God in His Sovereignty gives gift to men to do certain work for Him. Others just as godly, He enables to do a different work. Favouritism and party spirit divide the labour force, hinder the work and grieve the Lord of the Harvest.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," Gal.6.7. If a farmer sows corn, he expects to reap corn. If he wants a wheat crop he sows wheat. We do not expect to find pears on an apple tree. In life, no man liveth unto himself and often what we reap bears a close resemblance to the seed we have sown. The believer can sow to the flesh or to the spirit and will in this life, reap accordingly. Jacob deceived his father and was deceived by his own sons. Samson sported with a woman of the Philistines and was himself a sport for the Philistines. Saul spared the best of Amalek and an Atnalekite boasted of his slaughter on Mount Gilboa. David continued adultery in secret and his own son defiled his concubines on the housetop. Even Paul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen and he spent his later years in chains. What you sow in early life, you can reap in later life. What is sown in the flesh in secret passion and inward covetousness can yield publicly in the home and in the family.
"Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," Gal.6.9. How good to sow the basic seeds of love, joy and peace. Among our brethren, are we marked by longsuffering, gentleness and goodness? Is our behaviour marked by the graces of faith, meekness and temperance? If such good seed is sown, we shall in life reap with joy and have reward in the harvest day.
"Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn," 1Cor.9.9. "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? 1Cor.9.11. In these verses the apostle uses two agricultural metaphors. An ill fed ox will have little strength to tread out the corn and he that ploughs does so in the reasonable expectation of partaking of the crop. We should learn to sow material things for the benefit of others out of love to the Lord for the Gospel and those who brought it. There is great wisdom in giving up the temporal which we cannot keep to gain the eternal which we cannot loose.
"He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully," 2Cor.9.6. The Corinthians had been slow and sparing, having promised a year earlier to send a gift to the poor saints at Jerusalem. The Macedonians had sown bountifully for out of their poverty they had abounded in their liberality. God gives the seed to sow, dispersal will be to our enrichment since it is God Who has promised a manifold harvest. In the giving of His Son, we have the Divine Gift which inspires all others.
"The resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body," 1Cor.15.42-44. How often we have stood at the graveside of a saint departed, feeling the coldness, the chilliness, the helplessness which is ours as we face the last enemy. In the coldness of winter the seed lies buried, but we await the warmth of the spring day which is coming when He shall say, 'Rise up My love, My fair one.' "We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump," 1Cor.15.21-52. The Husbandman waiteth for the precious fruits of the earth. The Lord is the Firstfruits Himself and soon the great Harvest, the fruit of Calvary will all be gathered in. "What a gathering that will be!
—to be continued (D.V.)
by D. S. Parrack (England)
The term 'governmental judgment' is used in these notes to describe God's dealings with the sins of His own people. It has no implication at all as to eternal judgment which, in the final analysis, is the result of individuals not availing themselves of the forgiveness of sins made possible through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Governmental judgment is not much directly taught but it is clearly found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and is very real.
God promised David, regarding the continuation of the royal lineage through Solomon, that "He shall build an house for My name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father and he shall be My son." Now all of that, in its fullest sense, was accomplished by and through the Lord Jesus, Rom. 1.3, but God is very evidently speaking still of Solomon when he continues "If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children of men." That is showing clearly just what the outcome of culpable living would be, and it happened very dramatically in the division of Solomon's original domains into two, often opposing, kingdoms. "But" (always look for the 'buts' in Scripture) My mercy shall not depart from him - thine house and kingdom shall be established for ever," 2Sam.7.15-16. It certainly didn't look like that to Ethan when he was writing his psalm. After quoting from the above incident he almost seems to reproach God. "But Thou hast cast off and abhorred, Thou hast been wroth with Thine anointed, Thou hast made void the covenant of Thy servant, Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground," Ps.89.38-39. That is how we may sometimes view what the Hebrew writer refers to as "chastisement." What we need to remember in such circumstances however is what surrounds, and the purpose behind, such chastening.
Firstly, it is always deserved or warranted. "My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him." God will not in any case rebuke us if we have done nothing to deserve it, though He may very well put us to the test which is a different thing altogether. Secondly, it is evidence of God's love to us as members of His family because He knows that sin, in any shape or form, is bad for us. "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth and scourgeth every son that He receiveth". Thirdly, He has very positive aims in His chastening, it is "for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness," i.e. so that we might give evidence in our living of a family relationship. Whilst freely admitting that "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous but grievous" and those of us who have merited, and received, chastening will give a fervent 'amen' to that. "Nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness". As so often in matters like this, it is the "afterward" which makes the situation so hard to bear. Just how long until "afterward"? How long do we have to wait for chastening's intended effect to be seen? And in any case, can we really be sure that chastisement will always achieve its aims? Well, it is true to say that effectiveness is nowhere automatically guaranteed. "The peaceable fruit of righteousness (is yielded) unto them that are exercised thereby," Heb.12.5-11, and that means that God requires, and is looking for, a response from us. If we baulk, and continue to baulk, at what is happening in such circumstances, there will be no worthwhile outcome.
Happily, there are some examples in Scripture where God's chastening did accomplish His aim. This should give encouragement to us when in similar circumstances to those individuals who came to see how the purpose of God had been worked out through the unhappy situations brought about by their own failures. Job said, "Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more," and just in case that smacked too much of complacency, "That which I see not, teach Thou me, if I have done iniquity I will do no more," Job 34.31-32. The psalmist could say. "Before I was afflicted I went astray but now have I kept Thy word — it is good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn Thy statutes — I know O Lord that Thy judgments are right and that Thou in faithfulness had afflicted me," Ps.119.67,71,75. As far as Paul was concerned it seems almost that God was taking pre-emptive measures in his case. It was "Lest I should be exalted above measure" and that certainly would have been a sin, "there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me" and that could only happen, as it did with Job, by the allowing of, and limitation by, God, (see e.g. Job.1.12;2.6). How did the apostle react? First of all, like most of us, he prayed about it three times. But when God made it plain why He wouldn't answer that prayer in the affirmative, because He had something much better, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness", the apostle was able to respond "Therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me," 2Cor.12.7-9. That surely was what God wanted and so the "thorn in the flesh," the chastisement, the buffeting, was successful in its achievement.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of God intervening as a result of sin amongst believers occurred in the church at Corinth. In his first letter to them Paul reproaches them for a whole range of failures. Sectarianism, 1.11-13; 3.1-6, sexual malpractice, 5.1, unsocial, to say the least, business dealings, 6.6-8, behavioural disorder in assembly meetings, 11.17-22, and doctrinal error, 15.12-19. Now which of those would we think, most merited discipline or chastisement? None of those which probably first spring to our minds, it was disorderly conduct in assembly meetings, specifically the Lord's Supper. The judgment which ensued was severe and in some cases terminal. "For this cause" detailed in preceding verses, "many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep," 1Cor.11.30, i.e. many had died. But why should this set of actions be seen as so blameworthy, so deserving of judgment? Because it reflected directly on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, (see v26-29, where damnation in v29 should read "judgment," referring to the very sort being considered here, governmental, not eternal, judgment).
Although individuals were directly involved, the effect of such an apparently ongoing happening, must have been traumatic for the local church concerned, even more so when the real reason for the calamity was highlighted by Paul's letter. But though the Corinthian church was obviously seriously affected it did at least survive as a church, as evidenced by Paul's second letter to them. There was however another situation, this time at Ephesus, where the church was warned, not about severe sanctioning of its members but with its total disestablishment as a corporate entity. Of the seven churches written to by John, at the dictate of the Lord Jesus, Rev.2&3, five were directly reproved for shortcomings in their fellowship, but to only one was it said, "I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of its place," 2.5. That meant the testimony of the church would be removed. So the governmental judgment can apply to a church as a body as well as to its individual members.
Why was Ephesus picked out and given such a dire warning? At Pergamos there was doctrinal error of a particularly dangerous kind, 2.14. At Thyatira there was false teaching leading to gross immorality, 2.20. At Sardis, the way they were living was a denial of the profession that they made verbally, 3.1. At Laodicea, pride made it impossible for them to see the wretched state into which they had fallen, 3.17. But although all these churches were warned of retributive action by God, it was to be in a form which aimed at remedying the situation. Even to Laodicea, the church which is usually viewed as the one in the deepest and direst trouble, a combined assurance and plea were given. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten, be zealous therefore and repent," 3.19. Ephesus though, after a list of condemnations, 2.1-3, has just one blot on its character. "Nevertheless," in spite of all those good points, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love," 3,4. Where would we rank that in a listing of the failures of the other churches? Well, to the Lord Jesus it was paramount. A church which has not just lost its first love but "left" it, an act which implies a positive and decisive move, could in no way be allowed to remain as what would be a totally misleading testimony to Him.
But, it may be asked, what can be done, either individually or corporately, if we have any reason to feel that we are deserving, are heading for, governmental judgment? If we have got to that point we are moving in the right direction for recovery. But please don't fall into the trap of thinking, or saying, 'It couldn't happen here.' It could and it did at Corinth and no response from Ephesus would mean that the Lord Jesus would have kept to the terms of His warning there. We are not told of the final outcome, so idle speculation and conjecture are pointless, but the warning stands for all churches, then and now. Was any advice given in those two cases? Advice, which if paid attention to, could have changed situations? To the Corinthians Paul says, "If we would judge ourselves we would not be judged," 1Cor.11.31. If seeing, and repenting of, problems of our own making and then taking steps before God to put them right, intervention by God will not be necessary. The warning blast to the Ephesians was sandwiched between two conditions. "Remember from whence thou art fallen" that is the realisation of the problem, as referred to above, and repent and do the first works" i.e. repentance, the genuineness of which is shown by our actions, "or else," the only possible alternative, "I will come unto thee quickly and remove thy candlestick out of its place", and a final confirmation of the only way of stopping such a deserved and finalising stricture "except thou repent," Rev.2.5.
What we deserve or earn by our sin is punishment, but God, who will inflict it, calls it fatherly chastisement, and the more we live out our lives in accord with His will as revealed in Scriptural principles, and by the Holy Spirit with regard to our personal circumstances, the less necessary will it be. But necessary to some degree it is for all of us, Heb.12.8. It is our responsibility to see that it achieves the purpose God has when applying it.
by E. Ritchie (Canada)
The language that we speak is important. It is important when spiritual matters are under discussion. Most would agree that unclear or fuzzy language would result in confused doctrine, the consequences of which are very great.
Over the past few years there has been a growing use of the word "church" or "churches" among Christians who gather simply in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is quite common to hear, "We go to church on Sundays," or "We do this or that at our church." This article will propose that the more fitting and appropriate word is assembly, not church.
It is very interesting to note that the Holy Spirit has chosen one word and has seen fit to use it exclusively to describe both a local assembly and the whole body of Christians, folk saved from Pentecost until the rapture. That word in the Greek language is "ekklesia" which is composed of two words, "ek" which means "out of and "klesia" which means "called". Together they mean called out of or assembled.
When the writer was a boy, in school, sometimes there would be a fire drill. The children would leave the building quickly and in an orderly way to go to a designated place in the playground where the teacher would call the roll, ensuring that no child was left in the building. The principal told us to assemble at the designated location. We had been called out of the building and were gathered in a specific location. This is a picture of what has happened in the life of a believer in assembly fellowship today. Once we were in the world and in our sins but we have been called out first by the gospel and then according to the teaching of the Word of God to be assembled in a locality where we are gathered in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On other occasions in our school we would have a general assembly of students and teachers. In that case we were called out of our classrooms and marched to the auditorium where we listened to the principal or attended some other function. Once again, we were called out of our classes and gathered in a specific location. That is why it was called an assembly.
An Old Testament illustration of this principle of gathering occurs in the life of David when he was in the cave of Adullam, 1 Sam.22.1,2. "And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men." They found fellowship there, they found protection, but above all they had a wonderful leader who loved them and provided for them. The parallels between those suffering people who gathered unto David and believers of our own day who gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ are clear.
A New Testament example would be the believers in Thessalonica who, "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God," lThess.1.9. It wasn't just that they were sick of idols, rather, they had seen the surpassing beauty of God's love displayed in Christ and the result was that they left the idols behind to love and to serve the Lord Jesus and to wait for His return. Thus the assembly in Thessalonica came into being - the folk left the idols behind and were gathered together unto Him.
Where does the word church come from? The word is from the Greek "kyriakon doma" or "kyriakon oikia" which means lordly house or lordly place. These Greek expressions never occur in the original manuscripts as representing the assembly. Of course, the word "church" occurs many times in the Authorized Version, but the choice of this word to represent "ekklesia" tells us more about the preferences of the translators to use language that reflected their religious affiliation at the time, namely The Church of England. Other words such as "bishop," "presbytery," and "the office of a bishop" are in the same category of religious expressions to which Church of England translators would relate. Despite these expressions the AV has proven to be a tremendous blessing to the English-speaking world because of its beauty and accuracy.
The fact is that "church" is a religious word more than it is a spiritual word. Tremendous confusion has been created by its use in such situations as, "We are building a new church, it will have a very large stained glass window." These statements imply that the church is a building, a concept foreign to the Bible. Or, "The Church of China has suffered much persecution." Far better to say, "The Christians in China have suffered much persecution," or, "The assemblies in China have suffered." Another example is, "We belong to the Anglican church." In this case church designates denomination — again a concept foreign to the New Testament. Yet another example, "We believe in baptism by immersion in our church just like they do in many other churches." This sentence sees no distinction between an assembly patterned on the New Testament and a congregation with a paid pastor, a denominational name, and perhaps other important differences. No opportunity should be lost to emphasise the uniqueness of the Scriptural assemblies. Perhaps there is a reader who feels that there is an expression of a superiority complex. Let us remind ourselves that we are obligated to treat every truth of Scripture with the utmost of importance; we have no mandate to change or soften any teaching of the Word of God; to do so would be disloyal to the the Scriptures.
Why do Christians use the word 'church'? Firstly, many believers have never thought through the nature of the assembly even though they love the Lord and are enjoying the fellowship of the Lord's people. If some believer reads these lines and begins to dig into the great truths associated with the assembly his appreciation of it will grow. Another reason why the word "church" is growing in popularity among some assembly believers is that it blurs the distinction between the local assembly with its practices and objectives, which are often unacceptable to the world around.
"I go to the church around the corner," is much easier to say than, "I fellowship with the Christians who meet at the Gospel Hall down the street." It is much easier to say, "I am going to church," than "I am going to a prayer meeting tonight."
In a world of religious confusion, believers who have seen the truth of gathering unto the Lord Jesus Christ should lose no opportunity to distance themselves from religious influence and religious terminology. The assembly is unique and the uniqueness should be emphasised because it is worthy of admiration, it emphasises the wonders of the Person to whom we gather. Far from dividing Christian from Christian in the office or the classroom, assembly truth will have an uniting effect. The Person and work of Christ charm believers of every persuasion, the One in whose name and under whose authority we gather. Over many years thousands of sincere Christians have been greatly helped by believers who have a firm appreciation of God's assembly.
We trust these few remarks will enable us to hold more firmly and love more deeply the truth of the New Testament assembly.
by Edward Doherty (Canada)
I was born in Londonderry in 1923 into a Roman Catholic family, and was one of nine children. My parents were God fearing, practising Catholics. I attended a separate school and was chosen to be an altar boy for several years, and I was bishop's altar boy for some years. I judge I was a normal boy and teenager. I had religious instruction but had never seen a copy of the Scriptures. However part of the mass had the 130th Psalm and I was impressed with the words, "there is forgiveness with Thee ... with Him is plenteous redemption."
I can recall when about 13 or 14 years of age, observing that many attended places other than the cathedral where I went and I prayed that God would show me what was right. I had no doubt that I was right but wanted that confirmed. God did not answer at that time as it would have been impossible for me to change while still so young. The years passed and the Second World War came.
When about 18 I was working away from home and a fellow worker introduced me to the New Testament. This man showed me 1 Tim.2.5, 'One God and one mediator.' This was God's answer to my prayer years earlier. I have never been one to rush into things and so thought on this for possibly some months and decided praying to saints or the virgin was wrong and so 1 stopped going to any R.C. Church. I decided that if they were not right neither was any other place and got to the stage that I doubted if God existed. I did not discuss this with anyone, not even my family.
In my 21st year I was working in Belfast and several believers at work spoke to me about the Scriptures and salvation. After six months I agreed to attend a gospel meeting. Still later I attended another and sometime later my third meeting. I cannot remember a word spoken but when an invitation was given to raise a hand to indicate interest in salvation, I did. The speaker invited those who had raised their hand to stay for a conversation. This I did, but was the only person to stay, and was the only one to profess in four weeks' meetings. I was shown Jn.3.16 and asked what I thought of that. Not being sure what was expected I kept silence. He turned to Jn.6.37 with the same question. I asked did that mean I could come like I was and was told that is exactly when He wanted me to do. I said, 'I will do that now.' The preacher prayed, like most preacher's prayers it seemed long. He spoke to me as we knelt and said if I wanted to say anything to go ahead. In about two sentences I said Lord 'I am a sinner and you say if I come, You will receive me. Here I am.' That was about 9.20 p.m. on Monday 27th November, 1944. The years have passed. Like others I had trouble at first. Some months later, in private reading I found Jn. 10.28 and have been settled since.
Two weeks after being saved I travelled to Londonderry and told my parents that I had left the church and why. They did not understand and relations were strained for many years. Even today I am tolerated at best.
From the beginning I desired to be useful to God if possible. With no knowledge of Scripture I began reading and after some months I was received into the assembly at Ballyhackamore. Hearing Mr. E. Fairfield I became interested in missionary work. In an attempt to equip myself and being a bachelor, I devoted an average of three hours a day to study. Eventually I had a Sunday School class and helped with the village workers and was asked to speak in the gospel from time to time.
On holidays I visited door to door in Co. Donegal. Through George Walker, of Albertbridge, I made contact with George Walker of Cuba, and after prayer and circumstances seemed to indicate the time was right, I approached my brethren in the assembly about this matter. When I asked to meet with the brethren they had a meeting among themselves and decided that there was only one thing I could possibly want to discuss. In that private meeting they decided in favour of my anticipated exercise but still met with me and later made this public.
I can remember being asked to share a meeting in Windsor Missionary meeting with Mr. John Craig of the Argentine. I was seated behind him on the platform. He stopped his message and turned to me and said, "Brother the Lord will always do that which is right," and then he continued. I took as my reading "Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as him that putteth it off." I have sought to act in a careful fashion since.
In September of 1951 the assembly had a farewell for me and 29 assemblies were represented at this. In October of that year I left for Cuba and was there until after Castro's revolution when three surgeries in two weeks seemed to indicate a period of recuperation in Canada.
Until I married in 1953 I worked in Carro Biblico and was responsible for the press work until I left in 1960. Millions of tracts were printed and all given away without charge in the goodness of God. I considered this a sideline and employed the help needed. We had a two week visit back in 1979 but were not able to return to work there.
We have proved that 'God is faithful,' and would encourage any who have a desire, begotten of true exercise to serve the Lord, to trust and not to fear.
FAILED THE TEST
Failure is a word we do not like, especially when it is applied to some piece of work that we have done. Students work hard for particular examinations; craftsmen seek to mould shapes from some material; designers seek to produce articles which will be purchased by many. They all dread failure.
Recently the media reported an incident which illustrated the point. Many millions of pounds had been spent in the design and construction of a high-tech catamaran which was deemed to be a world beater. The calculations were done, the materials carefully chosen, the construction supervised and eventually the craft was unveiled. Subsequently it was launched and taken to the open sea for trials. It was somewhat embarrassing when it began to break up under the force of the waves. It had to be towed into harbour for repair and perhaps redesign. Certainly many hours will be spent assessing just what went wrong.
Dear reader, do you realise that you are in the construction business? I am not speaking about tangible structures. I am considering what you are building for eternity. We all need something that will withstand the waves of the judgment of God. You may think your craft will pass the test and have perfect confidence in the person who advised you as to its design. What if all failed? The disaster would be of horrific proportions and there would be no possibility of your craft ever being redesigned and reconstructed. We do not have another chance with life. The Bible, God's Word states, "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment," Hebrews 9.27.
The Lord Jesus told a story of two men who were building houses. You can read about it in Matthew 7.24-27. They both finished their houses and then there was a storm. Only one passed the test and the other failed catastrophically. The problem was not with superstructure, it was with the foundation. There is only one foundation which will pass the test. Paul, the apostle, wrote, "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," 1Corinthians 3.11. There may be other foundations which will satisfy you and perhaps satisfy others from whom you take advice, but will it pass or fail the test? The big question is how can I be sure? The only safe guide is the Word of God. It is not my reasoning or the philosophies of men. "What saith the Scriptures?" is the only guide. Is it possible for me to know that I am right with God and that I have everlasting life? The Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, made this very clear when He said in John 3.36, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him;" John 5.24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life; John 6.47, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life."
To leave the issue to eternity will be too late. The Lord Jesus died on Calvary's cross for our sins. He faced the mighty storms of the judgment of God and silenced them all, crying at last, "It is finished," John 19.30. All that you require for eternal safety has been accomplished. This work has passed the test and God has shown His satisfaction by raising His Son from the dead and giving Him glory, 1Peter 1.21. By sheltering in Him you can know that when the judgment of God sweeps this Godless world you have a shelter that will not fail. We read in Isaiah 32.2, "a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." Isa. 30.15
- What strength in quietness!
- What nearness to the Lord!
- When leaving all things in His hand
- And trusting in His Word.
- How precious, blessed Lord,
- The quiet times with Thee,
- A foretaste of the joys to come
- Throughout eternity.
"The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh ... My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone." Song of Sol. 2.8,10-11
- "The voice of my Beloved!"
- How long I've craved to hear
- That shout that bids me leave this earth
- And meet Him in the air.
- "The voice of my Beloved!"
- Oh, soon I'll hear Him say,
- "The winter rain is past and gone;
- It's time to come away."
- To enjoy the Divine Presence we must move according to the Divine Pattern.
- B. Cameron
What God uses is not great learning or great preaching, but great likeness to Christ.
- M. McCheyne
It is not who men are that counts with God, but what they are.
- J. Douglas
|Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.||Ps.145.3||The Lord upholdeth all.
The Lord is righteous.
|The Lord is gracious.||Ps.145.8||The Lord is nigh.||Ps.145.18|
|The Lord is good.||Ps.145.9||The Lord preserveth all.||Ps.145.20|