The Psalmist said, "Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" Ps.73.24, and now Moses, who had enjoyed the Lord’s guidance and counsel in leading His people from Egypt to the border of Canaan, leaves the scene of his labours to be "gathered with his people" Deut.32.50. Moses’ whereabouts after death would make an interesting discussion!
Deuteronomy chapter 34 may be divided as follows:
The Sight of The Land, vv.1-4;
The Sepulchre of Moses, v.5,6;
The Strength of Moses, v.7;
The Sorrow of Israel, v.8;
The Succession of Joshua, v.9;
The Singularity of Moses, vv.10-12.
THE SIGHT OF THE LAND, vv.1-4
"And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho." The general name given to the whole mountain range east of Jordan was evidently Abarim, Deut.32.49, of which "the mountain of Nebo" (some 2,600 feet above sea level) was part, with Pisgah as its highest peak. We should notice three things here:
The Lord Showed Him The Land. "And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar" vv.1-3. "The enumeration given … follows a large anti-clockwise circle from north to south" (J.A.Thompson). According to an authority quoted by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, "There was no miraculous power of vision imparted to Moses … The atmosphere of the climate is so subtle and free from vapour, that the sight is carried to a distance of which the beholder, who judges from the more dense air of Europe, can form no idea".
Moses therefore died in full view of "all the land" that God had reserved for His people, and while, as we have emphasised throughout our Deuteronomy studies, Canaan is certainly not a picture of heaven, we can nevertheless take the opportunity to say that in the privations and difficulties of life, even in view of death itself, the believer is sustained by the prospect of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven …" 1Pet.1.4. Moses literally saw "all the land", and believers today, unlike unregenerate men of whom it is written, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him", can say, "But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit" 1Cor.2.9,10. The Holy Spirit is "the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory" Eph.1.14.
The Lord Referred To His Promise. "This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed" v.4. This was far more than a statement that He had fulfilled his promise to the patriarchs by bringing them to the border of Canaan. The promises to the founding-fathers of the nation involved permanent as well as immediate possession: "All the land which thou seest, to thee (Abram) will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" Gen.13.15. Compare the promises made to Isaac, Gen.26.3, and to Jacob, Gen.35.12. Moses was therefore assured that the nation would not only possess their God-given inheritance in the near future, but that it would remain their possession to perpetuity. The Lord’s people today have received "the promise of eternal inheritance" Heb.9.15. In the Lord’s words to the overcomer at Philadelphia, "he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God … and I will write upon him My new name" Rev.3.12.
The Lord Exercised His Government. "I have caused thee to see it (the land) with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither." It must be said that this was not permanent exclusion from the land. As Raymond Brown nicely points out, "The epitaph or obituary at the end of this book is not the final sentence in the story of Moses. A day came when he entered the land. Centuries after the invasion of Canaan, Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, and Moses was there too, along with the prophet Elijah. That day, both Old Testament leaders, representative of Israel’s law and prophets, had a greater privilege than inspecting a new land; they heard about a new life. They talked with Christ about the unique saving event He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses’ longing to see the unfolding purposes of God was fulfilled far beyond his highest dreams. He actually spoke with God’s Son, that unique ‘Prophet’ whose coming he had predicted, Deut.18.18,19". It should be noted that on that unique occasion, Moses and Elijah "stood with Him" Lk.9.32. Moses stood in the land!
We must notice, however, that his immediate enjoyment of the land was curtailed by past failure. This is not to say that events at Kadesh, Num.20.1-13, terminated Moses’ usefulness in the service of God and destroyed His fellowship with God, but it does illustrate that no child of God can sin with impunity. It should also be said that we can be thankful that God, in absolute transparency and honesty, has faithfully recorded the failures of His servants as well as the integrity of their faith. If it had been otherwise, we would all be plunged into the depths of despair with the impression that since every servant of God in Bible times was impeccable, our case is hopeless! As it was, Israel "angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisably with his lips" Ps.106.32,33. This is explained in Numbers chapter 20: "Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them" v.12. In the first case, Moses had been told, "speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water" v.8, but he "smote the rock twice" v.11. In the second case, he said, "Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock" v.10. Instead of drawing the people’s attention to the Lord’s power and provision, he emphasised the role of himself and Aaron. Failure to give glory to God is immensely serious. Pride heads the list of things that are "an abomination" to the Lord, Prov.6.16,17. The overall lesson is abundantly clear: we cannot trifle with sin, any sin, and remain unscathed.
THE SEPULCHRE OF MOSES, v.5-6
"So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." We should notice that:
Moses died "according to the word of the Lord" v.5 or, literally, ‘upon the mouth of the Lord’. It has been pointed out that for many years it had been the habit of Moses to do everything ‘at the mouth of the Lord’, and now his pilgrimage ends in the same way. He died at precisely the appointed time, and he did so in the presence of the Lord, with all the support of His "everlasting arms" 33.27. Moses was bereft of human company at His death, but he did not die alone. Bildad described death as "the king of terrors" Job 18.14, but the man with whom the Lord spoke "mouth to mouth" Num.12.8, knew that this was not the case so far as he was concerned.
Moses was buried by the Lord v.6. The record simply states, "He buried him" and although some suggest that Jehovah "had agents" (J.A.Thompson) meaning, presumably, either men or angels, it is much better to take the wording at face value! Yes, we do know that Michael and the devil were in contention over the body of Moses, Jude v.9, but we do not know when this took place. We could spend considerable time speculating about this, and about the way in which Moses’ body was transported from "the top of Pisgah to "a valley in the land of Moab", but there are better things to do! The reason for the unknown location of his sepulchre is explained by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: "This concealment seems to have been owing to a special and wise arrangement of Providence, to prevent its being ranked among ‘Holy places’, and made the resort of superstitious pilgrims or idolatrous veneration in after ages". This sounds very likely: do remember what happened to the brazen serpent, 2Kgs.18.4.
And now, my soul, may I ask, What knowest thou for thyself of these blessed truths? Knowest thou what true Christian ground is, as to thy standing in the presence of God? Faith answers, Surely the deliverance which Christ has wrought out for us is perfect. All depends on the completeness of His work. Christ risen from the dead is the measure of our deliverance: and being made the righteousness of God in Him, our title is clear to be in the same glory with Him. But as the enemy bears me such a grudge, because I am so much better off than he is, he tries his utmost to weaken my hold of the truth, to interrupt my fellowship with Christ, to hinder my enjoyment of His love, and to dim my apprehension of His glory. On the other hand, he will try hard to ensnare with present things, lawful and unlawful. These are some of the things that we have to war against. But the easiest way to victory is to hold fast the truth and walk in the light as God is in the light.
Good, and true, my soul. But in what way is "Christ risen the measure of our deliverance?" It is a matter of faith, and perfectly plain to those that believe. We were dead in sin, Christ died for sin; and we can now say, we have died with Him, or, died in His death. But God quickened us together, raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And now, being associated with Him in life, united to Him by the Holy Ghost, we are entitled, as a matter of faith, to regard the flesh as done with before God, as if our old nature had been nailed to the cross and brought to its end there, and we received our new nature in resurrection. This is what Paul says in writing to the Galatians: "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." He does not say, "They are to crucify it," as if it were something to do, or something going on. But "they have done it." And it is done in the case of the every one who receives a crucified Christ. Therefore it is all true to faith and in God's sight. The raising up of the twelve stones out of the bed of the river Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood, and setting them up at the camp in Gilgal, is a striking type of our being raised up with Christ, and seated in heavenly places in Him.
But all who understand the meaning of the Red Sea and the Jordan will have no difficulty on this point. The former shadows forth deliverance from the slavery of sin and Satan, the justification of God's people, and the judgment of their enemies. These blessings flow from the death and resurrection of Christ for us. But this brings the people into the wilderness, the place of sojourn; the land lies before them. The latter is a very different type. There is no rod of judgment lifted up over the waters, as at the Red Sea. When the feet of the priests that carried the ark of the covenant approached the Jordan, the overflowing waters fell back, and the children of Israel passed clean over. They now leave the wilderness, enter Canaan, the manna ceases, and they eat of the fruit of the land. This shadows forth the blessed Lord going first down into the waters of death, and bringing us into the heavenly places. Clearly, then, the Red Sea represents Christ as dead and risen for us; the Jordan, as our death and resurrection with Him; or, as one has forcibly said, "The grand point of the Red Sea is what Christ brings us out of, and that of the Jordan is what Christ brings us into." Bless the Lord, O my soul, thy deliverance is complete! the world, sin, Satan, death, and judgment are behind thee. And now, having explained the allusion to the wars in Canaan, the course is clear. Buckle on thine armour, brace it tightly; put to the sword every wrong thought, feeling, desire, motive, or object, by which Satan might gain an advantage over thee. All spiritual blessings in heavenly places are thine; see that thou maintain thy possession of them in present enjoyment. And at the same time, see that thou maintain a holy and consistent testimony here on the earth.
We anticipate the coming of Christ at The Rapture; like the Thessalonians, we "wait for His Son from heaven" 1 Thess.1.10. Of that day Scripture says, we shall "meet the Lord" 1Thess.4.17. Add to that glorious fact the thought of resurrection for sleeping saints, rapture for living saints, and reunion for grieving saints, and it is little wonder that the prospect excites us.
I can almost hear His footfall
On the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing
To be with Him evermore.
(S. Trevor Francis).
However, our expectations extend beyond the Rapture as we see where it all leads. We are "looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God" 2Pet.3.12; we "look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" v.13. That is where Peter’s teaching takes us in 2Peter chapter 3, which is the focus of this little article.
Where Is The Promise Of His Coming?
Holy prophets and apostles combine to describe future events. In other words, these details are predicted in both Old and New Testaments, and yet the last-day mockers will sneer, "Where is the promise of His coming?" 2Pet.3.1-4. Cartoonists mock with their "The end is nigh" drawings. Intellectuals attempt to discredit the Scriptures including discounting its prophecies. Politicians speak of apocalyptic events and Armageddon without believing that it will all come to pass. This universal scepticism is occasioned by the desire to walk "after their own lusts". It would be uncomfortable to seriously believe in a holy God Who is in control of His universe and Who will bring it to an end some day; it would necessitate a change of lifestyle. Careless, godless, sinful living is facilitated by the wishful thinking that dismisses God as non-existent, and His Word as religious nonsense.
A major plank of their argument is that the planet has known nothing but continuity from earliest times, v.4. There has never been divine intervention, so there never will be! "Wrong", says Peter, "what about the flood?" vv.5-7. They "wilfully forget" it says v.5, R.V. Fossil evidence for an ancient universal upheaval has been manipulated to prop up the vacuous theory of evolution, so there has been a deliberate attempt to banish the great flood from current thinking.
The Lord Is Not Slack Concerning His Promise
Does the passing of time give credence to the mockers’ jibes? He promised that He would come but two millennia have passed since He left the world. Why the apparent delay? Peter advances two reasons. First, time means nothing to Him, v.8, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." He is the "I Am" Whose existence is outside the boundaries of time, so from His perspective, there has been no interval between the promise and its implementation.
The second reason for the seeming delay is His longsuffering, v.9. His reluctance to judge has extended the opportunity of repentance. But the wait will not be indefinite as indicated by the ominous "but" at the beginning of v.10.
The Day Of The Lord Will Come
The day of the Lord is a period of time that will commence subsequent to the Rapture. Its early stage encompasses the Tribulation, and its arrival will take a slumbering world by surprise. It "will come as a thief in the night." At a time when "Peace and safety" will be a universal slogan, a storm of Divine wrath will break upon an unsuspecting world. It will be as unwelcome and unexpected as a nocturnal intruder, and as inevitable as the labour pains of an expectant mother, 1Thess.5.2-3.
In 2Peter chapter 3, Peter is taken up with the last stage of the day of the Lord, "in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise" v.10. There was no "big bang" at the birth of creation, but a big bang will see it go into oblivion. Every atom in the cosmos is held together by the power of Christ for "by Him all things consist" Col.1.17. At the end of the day of the Lord He will suspend the exertion of His power, occasioning such a release of energy as to be described here as the elements melting "with fervent heat." The earth will also be engulfed in the conflagration, with "the works that are therein". It alone in the universe is the stage on which proud men have promoted human achievement and ingenuity, "the works" of our verse. Their displays of architectural brilliance will be "burned up". Their vast industrial complexes will be "burned up". Their elaborate venues for sport and entertainment will be "burned up". The God Who created everything out of nothing, Heb.11.3, will consign it to nothingness again.
The Day of God
The passing of the old order will be necessary for the introduction of "the day of God" v.12. Most translations make that clear by rendering the verse, "the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved". The phrase "the day of God" is unique to this verse, and we see it as a description of what we call the eternal state. (It is distinct from "that great day of God Almighty" Rev.16.14). "New heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" will feature in the eternal state, 2Pet.3.13. Having discarded the former creation as a useless garment, Heb.1.10-12, God will declare, "Behold, I make all things new" Rev.21.5.
According to Peter, the dissolution of the heavens and the earth will coincide with "the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" 2Pet.3.7, and John’s vision of the last judgment confirms this. He says of the One on the great white throne, "from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away" Rev.20.11. Thus the day of judgment will terminate the day of the Lord, end human history, and introduce the day of God.
What Manner Of Persons Ought We To Be?
On three occasions in quick succession, Peter uses the verb "to look for", vv.12,13,14, and he indicates the way in which looking for the fulfilment of Bible prophecy should impact on our lives right now. First, we look for "the coming of the day of God", but as noted earlier, its arrival must be preceded by the disintegration of the old order. Is there any point in building an empire here when it is destined for the flames? Lot may have thought it was good sense to exchange his tent for the luxuries that could be procured by a judge’s salary in Sodom. However, the extravagant life-style was relatively brief, interrupted by an invasion, and ended by fire and brimstone; he spent his last days as a cave dweller. At the best, the enjoyment of material things is short-lived. In our day, flashy cars become rusty wrecks. "Desirable" properties end up as ruins. Expensive gadgets wear out. Exotic holidays are soon a memory. Understandably, we all want to avoid a frugal hand-to-mouth existence, but should we not be asking ourselves, "For which world am I living? Am I pouring my energies into making life here more comfortable and exciting, or is the emphasis on issues that relate to ‘the life … which is to come’? Where do my priorities lie?" In the final analysis, everything that is material and tangible is destined for the flames; "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" 2Cor.4.18.
According to v.11, the prospect of fulfilled prophecy should be an incentive to a distinctive way of life now. The word translated "what manner of" carries the idea of, something from a different country. Here, the believer has the status of an alien; he doesn’t really belong. Like Abraham, he is "a stranger and a sojourner", and yet like Abraham again, as far as dignity and morality and integrity are concerned, he can be recognised as "a mighty prince" among the people, Gen.23.4-6.
A "holy conversation [life R.V.]" should be another feature of someone living in light of the future. Peter uses the word "conversation" eight times, twice in a negative way as he contemplates first the emptiness of the religious life of his Jewish compatriots, and then the blatantly foul behaviour of ancient Sodom, 1Pet.1.18; 2Pet.2.7. By contrast, he designates the believer’s manner of life, as holy, 1Pet.1.15, honest, 2.12, chaste, 3.1,2, good, 3.16, and again, holy, 2Pet.3.11. While the word "all" in our verse is in italics, Peter does expect holiness to permeate every department of our lives; "holy in all manner of conversation", 1Pet.1.15 (italics mine). Are you holy in the home? Are you holy at your work place? Are you holy in the assembly? Are you holy in what is colloquially called your "private life?" Righteousness will dwell in the new heaven and new earth, 2Pet.3.13. People who are looking for righteous conditions should reflect that righteousness in their lives presently. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" 1Pet.1.16.
"Godliness" is another feature of the man with an eye to the future, 2Pet.3.11. Godliness is piety, respect for God, the kind of fear of God that is allied with holiness, and that encourages holiness; "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" 2Cor.7.1. A casual attitude to God will encourage careless living, but an appreciation that His great eternal purpose will be worked out will promote the godliness that engenders submission to God and His Word.
Peter’s final comments about the influence of future events comprise an encouragement to "give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in His sight" v.14 R.V. "Peace" implies that the time is too short to spend it in the agitation that sin creates, or to squander it in needless squabbles with our brethren. "Without spot, and blameless" is not dissimilar to that used of the Lord Jesus in 1Pet.1.19. Christ-likeness has to be fostered. In view of great future events, let our christian character be unbesmirched and beyond reproach.
The distinction between the 'dispensational' church and local assemblies has been set out in paper 1. Christ is Head over both. This second paper addresses some practical implications of this important truth in relation to local assembly practice.
THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY
The Biblical examples of New Testament churches show that they are not ruled by any board, hierarchical system or another church. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are sufficient testimony to show that self-governing local assemblies were the pattern in the first century AD.
We generally use the word "autonomous" and 'independent' and speak of local autonomy to describe this state. But 'autonomy' and "independent" are not New Testament words. Autonomy is a compound word consisting of 'autos', self, and 'nomos', meaning law; hence meaning self-law or self-governing. Autonomy is defined as, "Independence … the right of self-government … a self-governing community". By implication the autonomy of the local church means that the church governs itself.
In this sense, and being pedantic to a point, the concept of autonomy is to be rejected because a local assembly should not be governed by self but be governed wholly by the Word of God. The Bible is our only guide and is authoritative and must be solely used to determine truth and practice, Jude 3. God’s Word is to determine all matters of fellowship for the individual believer and the local assembly, 2Jn. 9-11.
However, while autonomy literally means self-governing, when used in relation to a local church it is used in the sense of accountability to none but the Lord alone. This truth is seen illustrated in the seven churches of Asia Minor where we see that each assembly is a golden lampstand on its own golden base and responsible to the Lord alone, Rev.1.20.
Notwithstanding these pedantic statements in light of the precise definition of the word 'autonomy', the word 'autonomy' will be used in the rest of this article since the readers will be acquainted with the spirit of the term. It may be more helpful to place less emphasis on the words 'autonomy' and 'independence' and more stress on the idea of 'local' churches. While 'local' is also not a New Testament word the concept is most definitely scriptural. The existence of local churches in the first century, in different localities, with different problems, demonstrates the fact that the early assemblies were not a denomination (a group bound together in structure). The reality of their individuality (independence, autonomy) is seen in the fact that elders were to be appointed in each local assembly, Acts 14.23. Moreover, these elders only had rule and authority in the local assembly where they served, 1Pet.5.2. If God had not desired each local assembly to be a self-governing unit surely there would have been explicit instruction about corporate administration.
There is really no serious dispute regarding the fact of autonomy in New Testament assemblies. New Testament assemblies had no denominational headquarters, no single standard of affiliation or formal membership. Each local assembly was 'independent and autonomous' but informally linked with other assemblies by a common doctrine. Such companies understood themselves as gathered unto the name of Jesus Christ alone. There was a distinct absence of any bureaucracy in the form of hierarchies, committees, councils, formal associations or regional strategic bodies. These are nothing but human arrangements.
It should be accepted therefore that local autonomy means there is no place for a central, controlling board to maintain the doctrinal and moral purity of each local assembly within a circle of like-minded companies. This would be tantamount to denominationalism. Such a practice is emphatically in complete violation to truth taught in the Scriptures. Such a practice should neither be formal nor official.
The truth of autonomy must be understood in light of the fact that all believers are linked to Christ in heaven. We are members one of another, Rom.12.5, and all the members have the same Head, Eph.4.15. We must hold the Head, Col.2.19, "from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God". This does not rule out autonomy but qualifies the way in which it is to be practically expressed. Again, in this context, note Eph.4.16, "the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
If assemblies are autonomous then they may be slightly different. It is possible, in our attitude to other assemblies, to look for a measure of uniformity that takes us beyond Scripture. Too often we condemn diversity on the basis of matters upon which Scripture does not legislate. Negative views of certain assemblies emerge because of a deviation from what is perceived as the acceptable norm. Judgments from a distance are often based on hearsay and passed on by people who love to make these issues the subject of gossip.
The autonomy of each local assembly is a truth to remember when we look at the testimonies around the world. All genuine saints have the same Lord and the same New Testament as the basis for gathering. Yet assemblies may differ slightly because sometimes the New Testament establishes principles rather than a detailed code of rules for every situation. Legitimate variations may be the result of various local factors but such minor differences should never cause us to act in a bigoted way towards other saints who seek to gather to the Lord Jesus.
If we therefore teach "the autonomy of the local church" we must accept that this means their independent accountability to the Lord and must avoid any action that promotes the notion of denominationalism (such as the "cutting off" of companies). The use of a common name for companies and buildings may suggest denominational tendencies. It should be recognised that the use of a name such as "Gospel Hall" is not always an endorsement of the doctrinal or spiritual integrity of a gathering and may be wholly misleading, Rev.3.1.
The autonomy of the local assembly is an important truth of the New Testament and must be borne in mind in all inter-assembly relations. New Testament assemblies were local and independent groups but this did not preclude inter-assembly fellowship. There are a number of Scriptures that show there was active fellowship between New Testament churches. This was seen:
In the matter of practical aid, local assemblies sent to other local assemblies, Acts 11.27-30; 1Cor.16.1; 2Cor.8.9; Rom.15. In such cases the relief was sent to the elders of each local assembly for distribution, Acts 11.29,30.
When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and spoke of glorying "in you in the churches of God". The implication is that different churches in different localities were made aware of the spiritual conditions that prevailed elsewhere. Independence did not mean exclusivity.
Acts 8.4-18 not only show that the work commenced in Samaria was not directed by the church in Jerusalem thus confirming independence (there was no idea of a mother church), but also that there was fellowship between different localities and genuine interest in one place as to what was going on elsewhere.
In the teaching on spiritual gifts and the movements of men of God in different localities, the New Testament shows us that certain men were given by God for the benefit of more than one company.
The references to "the faith" and the need for adherence to it, implies that there should be common ground across Christian companies.
The use of letters of commendation indicates that there was fellowship between individual saints from different assemblies and greetings exchanged between companies.
Good relationships with other local churches are valuable and to be fostered. However, this must not be at the expense of autonomy. The local church to which I belong may agree or disagree with the decisions and practices of others but we have no right to interfere in their affairs or vice versa. Churches are not called to establish formal links with one another. There is no evidence that Paul’s reference to "the churches of God" (e.g. 1Cor.11.16) denotes a formal grouping.
THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS TRUTH
What then are the practical implications of this truth? To what extent should individuals from one assembly be involved in the day-to-day life of another company? Is there a danger of undue emphasis on autonomy that promotes abdication of responsibility for what goes on in another assembly and/or failure to help where this may be constructive? Does autonomy call into question the practice of gifted men helping in other companies? At what point does the inability to function autonomously call into question the appropriateness of continuing as an assembly? Does the truth of autonomy call into question the existence of groups of convenors or committees, Trusts and charities which may be established, in good faith, to support the Lord’s work?
Some Issues To Consider?
In certain countries there are legal obligations (such as the registration of assemblies as a named group) that cannot be ignored. While this may appear to compromise the truth of Scripture it does not necessarily in practice undermine local autonomy or doctrinal purity. Only if this were the case should it be resisted.
There is such a thing as paying only lip service to the truth of autonomy. This is seen for example in the case when brethren from neighbouring assemblies or sometimes from a distance, would fiercely defend the truth of autonomy, but make judgments about another assembly’s practices or seek to legislate for other assemblies or even join together in collective communication to other companies. While in a very few circumstances, it may be helpful to involve a more mature spiritual person from another assembly in giving guidance on a difficulty this should only be by invitation.
There is a potentially serious problem arising from current practices where resources are pooled, where organisations have been established to support missionary activity, teaching brethren move on a national and international circuit, assemblies work together to convene joint meetings in a locality; all of which could be perceived as compromising autonomy. "The end justifies the means" is a motto for the world, not for God’s people.
Unity is not uniformity. It is possible to strive for uniformity on the pretext that this is unity which thereby promotes a sectarian spirit.
There is a danger of taking an overly simplistic or an overly prescriptive approach. The principles and spirit of Scripture must be applied with wisdom in the circumstances of the day.
In the first paper we introduced the epistle and indicated the various sections, now we come to ch.1. We noted a three-fold division of the chapter based on the subject of manifestation, as follows:
vv.1-4, Manifestation of Sovereign Purpose;
vv.5-9, Manifestation of Shepherds;
vv.10-16, Manifestation of Subverters.
vv.1-4, Introduction - The Eternal Promise - God’s Purpose;
vv.5-9, Instruction - The Elder’s Path - Paul’s Purpose, v.5 for this cause;
vv.10-16, Infection - The Evil Pursuit - Judaisers’ Purpose, v.11, subvert whole houses; v.14, turn from the truth.
Vv.1-4 INTRODUCTION - THE ETERNAL PROMISE - GOD’S PURPOSE
V.1, Paul and His Position:"Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;"
THE PERSON – "Paul";
THE PRIVILEGE - "a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ;"
THE PRINCIPLE - "according to the faith of God's elect;"
THE PATTERN - "the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness."
The Person - "Paul"
What a change from the proud, bigoted Saul of Tarsus! He is no longer the hard and callous opponent of Christianity. He has been brought from Christianity’s greatest persecutor to its greatest preacher. The salvation that changes a person’s destiny is a salvation that changes a person’s desires. With much lightness in what seems to be acceptable gospel preaching; with many ‘preachers’ wanting to brag about the conversion of large numbers; even parents eager to boast in the profession of their children, there is a danger of producing mere profession. Let us understand that a salvation that cannot save from the world will not have the ability to save from hell.
His name means ‘little’, which implies his humility in christian service and this was probably a large contributor to his successful service. When we become self-important, desiring the admiration of men, we will not enjoy the blessing of the Lord, since we yearn to have the glory for our selves and not ascribe it to Him.
The Privilege - "a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ"
The servant is mentioned before the apostle and this order is important. More than 30 years have passed since his conversion and he is content, yea, seems to glory in being a servant. He did not want place and position.
The apostolic age was receding and since there is no such thing as apostolic succession, servants only would be left. This would encourage Titus who was a servant, not an apostle. It should encourage us also, since we will never be apostles, but we have the privilege of being servants. Again, this is nothing in which to boast but should cause humility and yet thanksgiving, because to serve Him is a great honour.
He is a servant of "God", but "an apostle of Jesus Christ". To see Him was a qualification for apostleship, which we could never have, but we have been touched by God and in the pastoral epistles it is God our Saviour. This is the only time Paul is called a bondman of God.
When practical and corrective truth is being taught it seems his apostleship is in connection with Jesus Christ, the Man who lived down here, but when it is truth teaching our blessings, his apostleship is in connection with Christ Jesus, the One Who is now up there - see J.N.D. and R.V. He Who lived among men is our example for practical living, but our blessings are secured in the One Who is exalted to God’s right hand.
We need to emphasise in our day, when so much emphasis is placed upon the achievement of academic qualifications, that for the work of God a call and a fitness from God are required. It is not Bible Colleges and Theological Seminaries but gift which is sovereignly imparted.
The Principle – "according to the faith of God's elect"
There is no article before "faith" and so this is their personal faith that enables them to live for God. The word "according" (kata) occurs some 480 times in the New Testament and often bears the idea of ‘in keeping with’. Thus Paul’s apostleship was in the sphere of the family of God and being such proved they were God’s elect. His apostleship had no authority in the world, but within the realm of God’s elect he would assist, guide, correct, and nurture, their faith. In the phrase "God's elect" it ought to be noted that the word "elect" is plural, thus it means God’s elect ones. God elected each as an individual and it is to these Paul ministers.
The Pattern - "the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness"
The life of faith of the elect is seen in the full acknowledging (epignosis) of the truth that is in keeping with godliness, (piety J.N.D.). This means that all truth is important. We cannot be selective in what we wish to obey. No part of the inspired Scriptures is superfluous and while it is not all written to us it is written for us and we, as His servants, must obey.
This also underlines the fact that the two qualities of having some knowledge of the truth and displaying godliness are inter-related. There is no godliness without truth and truth leads to godliness. Thus knowledge is not merely for our heads, but the aim is piety. The test of the genuineness of salvation is growth that leads to godliness.
V.2, God and His Promise:"In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."
What a verse! In the compass of a few words eternity is spanned: "eternal life ... before the world began".
"In hope of eternal life" - this is the life of God and is defined: "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" Jn.17.3. It is in the Son, "(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)" 1Jn.1.2. The meaning of "in hope" is "unto hope". Only those who are enjoying truth and living godly are moving unto the realisation of this hope, which is the full enjoyment of eternal life. The unshakable basis of our hope of eternal life is a "God, that cannot lie". This is in contrast to the Cretians in v.12, "The Cretians are alway liars". We lean upon an unwavering promise that was given "before the world began". This must have been a promise that God made to Himself and His Son. J.N.D. translates as, "promised before the ages of time", that is before creation and all that affects the world, began. William Kelly’s translation is, "before the times of the ages (or everlasting)". The only other mention of the phrase is in 2Tim.1.9, "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
Before the ages (dispensations) commenced in which man would be tested, namely, innocence in Eden; human government under Noah; promise in Abraham; law given to the nation through Moses; grace displayed in this day; the tribulation to follow; and then the millennial kingdom. Every age has, and will, end in failure and be judged by God. It is as if Paul is saying, "Titus you may have a difficult task and find much opposition. Men may change and seek to subvert truth, but there are unchanging bulwarks, eternal life and God’s immutable promise."
It has been stated publicly on a number of occasions that baptism is always linked with conversion and not with assembly fellowship. We wish to examine what the Scriptures say and decide what the proper spiritual action should be when a person requests baptism.
Clearly the New Testament preachers included the teaching of baptism in their preaching. The Scriptures are clear that all genuine believers in our Lord Jesus Christ should be baptised. The desire to submit to the Lord’s will should be evident when a profession of faith in Christ is made. In areas where there is no established assembly work, it is doubtless the responsibility of the evangelist to teach and carry out the rite of baptism for those who are saved through his ministry. His objective is not only to see souls saved from hell, but to see a "people prepared for the Lord" who will eventually be gathered on simple Scriptural grounds as a testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where gospel work associated with an established Scriptural assembly of Christians gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, results (as it should) in the conversion of sinners, it is the responsibility of local elders to consider the request for baptism, of those who profess salvation. As the "next step" of obedience to the Lord, after baptism, is assembly fellowship, those elders need to be satisfied that those whom they decide to baptise, are (a) genuinely saved people and (b) suitable candidates for reception to the local testimony. There should be no excuses made such as, "Well we are not considering the candidate for assembly fellowship at this stage, so we will take a chance on baptising them and hope it will encourage them to go on better." Baptism is not a rite to "encourage" anyone. It is a step of obedience to the Lord that no genuine child of God should balk at, but for a false professor it only helps confirm them in a false position. Spiritually it does them no good and physically it only succeeds in wetting them! We shall examine some of the prominent Scriptures bearing on baptism.
"Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned" Mk.16.15,16. This command of the Lord Jesus to the disciples links baptism with believing the gospel. Where true faith exists then true obedience will be the visible evidence of the invisible faith. "Faith without works is dead" Jms.2.26. A profession of faith accompanied with a refusal to bow to the Lord’s will gives no evidence of salvation and he that hasn’t true faith, (i.e. "that believeth not"), will perish, even should such have been baptised. The lesson here is that there should be a willingness to submit to the Lord.
"Save yourselves from this untoward (perverse) generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptised" Acts 2.40,41. Here was a Jewish audience, part of a nation that had just rejected and crucified their Messiah, who were convicted of their sin and had cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter’s command to them was, "Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." By gladly receiving the word and being baptised they were taking sides with Christ against their own nation that had crucified Him. This was something so radical and revolutionary that it was very unlikely that anyone who doubted the reality of a risen Christ would have dared to submit to the ordinance of baptism. By so doing they were "saving themselves" or standing absolutely clear, from a generation of rank unbelievers. This is in stark contrast to the situation of a young person today whose parents and maybe grandparents are assembly members and who may have professed salvation in an environment where many of their closest friends will rejoice at their profession. There may have been subsequent pressure from family members to get baptised. In such circumstances there is no great "cost" of standing apart from family or national ties and so it is incumbent on those who interview such a person to be convinced that the candidate is a genuinely saved soul, indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. The lesson here is that there should be clear evidence of a heart change wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit, in regard to the past, be it attitude, attractions, actions or associations. There must be some evidence of a definite change.
"But when they believed Philip, preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women" Acts 8.12. Philip preaching in Samaria, a stronghold of satanic power, saw a great work done and the converts were baptised, but note that it was adults that were baptised – not children! The words used indicate mature people, at least those who have reached puberty and have grown up out of childhood. Here also is the first case of a mistake made in baptising an unconverted man. No hint of blame is levied on Philip, but the apostle Peter with his apostolic gifts and authority withstood Simon the sorcerer, declaring "thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity" Acts 8.23. In a work of God when much genuine fruit is seen, there needs to be increased vigilance, lest the Evil One tries to spoil the work by "sowing tares". The lesson here is that immature children are not candidates for baptism and care should be taken that no ulterior motives are involved.
"Know ye not that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead, even so we also should walk in newness of life" Rom.6.3,4. The doctrine of baptism reveals to us that upon believing the gospel, in God’s reckoning we died with Christ, were buried with Him and are raised with Him in a new kind of life. A candidate for baptism must therefore be seen as showing evidence of mortification of old habits and ungodly practices and producing some signs of "newness of life" in Christ. As it would be cruel and unlawful to bury a person who is not already dead, so it is tragic to make a mistake and baptise one who is still alive to the world and to sin. The lesson here is that it may take some time for elders to discern if the evidence of new life is being manifested.
As Mr. Wm. Hoste so ably put it:
Back to the cross, I look and wondering see
The Christ of God there crucified for me.
But gazing closer at that form Divine,
I see with Him, myself: His death was mine.
Again, beside the garden tomb I stand
And watch Him buried there with reverent hand.
But in that grave faith sees not one, but two.
God hid me there forever from his view.
But was that precious "corn of wheat" thus sown
In tears, wasted or did it rise alone?
A fruitful ear, bursting from ‘neath the sod,
It rose, its every grain a saint of God.
Since then, by simple faith ourselves we see,
Whether for Christ in death or life to be;
May the world henceforth in our words and ways,
See Christ in us, to His continual praise.
In summary, it is recognised that there may be areas of this world where due to "winnowing" effects of intense persecution, converts may be baptised quite soon after conversion. However, in light of the above Scriptures it is clear that in the Western world, with so much spurious christian profession, godly care and discernment must be exercised when considering candidates for baptism. In particular:
There must be a genuine desire to obey the Lord.
There must be evidence of a changed attitude to the past life. (e.g. If a person had done wrong to others before conversion, have they repented of it and made it right by confession and restitution if need be?)
There must be time given for growing-up in the case of childhood professions.
There must be care taken to discern if there could be any ulterior motives involved in the candidate who is asking for baptism. (e.g. If a person only seeks baptism after forming a friendship with someone already baptised or already in assembly fellowship, it should be a cause for serious inquiry and concern.)
There must be some evidence of the Holy Spirit producing fruit of new life in Christ.
May the Lord of the assemblies continue to raise up God-fearing evangelists who will preach the sound, soul-searching gospel that will produce genuine conversions to God. May He also raise up spiritually minded overseers who will have the discernment and care to recognise those who are genuinely born of God. Such men will be glad to baptise those who are dead to the world and alive unto Christ, providing reinforcements for the support and spread of assembly testimony in these last days.
Someone has said that parables are miracles in word and that miracles are parables in deed.
When the Saviour was on earth he told over thirty parables and performed over thirty miracles. When reading Matthew’s gospel we get to chapter 8 before we read of any miracles at all. When he wrote, Matthew had the Jews in mind, a people who were waiting for the Messiah, Who would be their King and deliver them from the yolk of their Roman rulers. Matthew presents Him as their King and the first three miracles he records display "The Season of His Sovereignty". The first miracle was performed on a Jew with Jesus present, 8.3, the second on a Gentile with Jesus absent 8.13, and the third on a Jew again, with Jesus present, 8.15. Could this not be pictorial with the first depicting the time when the Lord was with His people on the earth; the second indicating that although now He is in Heaven, He blesses Gentiles in this day of grace with salvation; thirdly a picture of the millennial reign of Christ when once again He will be with His chosen people on the earth? His wonderful reign brings blessing to all as the curse is set aside and may be seen in v.16.
Mark wrote his gospel with the Romans in mind (those who because of their position were interested in servants) and presents Christ as God’s Perfect Servant, willingly working from 1.14 through to the last chapter, 16.20. His miracles in Mark display "The Scope of His Service". Note the first four miracles that depict the sinner in his madness, uncleanness, restlessness and helplessness, all gloriously healed by the Lord! In chapters 4 and 5 we see His power over danger, demons, death and disease.
When we come to Luke’s gospel the emphasis is on "The Compassion of His Heart". Luke, as a Gentile, would be despised, and he takes up the cases of despised people. Here we find women, children, widows and publicans brought before us. He has the Greeks in mind when he writes. Their interest in the achievements of mankind led Luke, by the Holy Spirit to present the Lord as the Perfect Man.
So we see him as the King, yet a Perfect Servant, as a Man who is, nevertheless, God and so the final gospel writer brings before us "The Glory of his Person".
The miracles recorded by John are particularly outstanding in several ways. They were signs indicating who Christ was.
John’s first recorded miracle appears in 2.1–11. Here we read of miraculous provision that was abundant and appreciated as "good wine".
In 4.46–54 a nobleman’s supplication was granted, his son being healed at a distance by the word of the Lord.
5.2–9 tells us of a man who had been at Bethesda suffering for 38 years! Living in hope, yet how much he knew of frustration in his life, Prov.13.12. Hearing the Lord Jesus’ command to rise he was healed immediately.
6.5–14 records the feeding of a number probably well in excess of four figures. The pangs of hunger and starvation were thus avoided.
Later in the chapter, vv.16–21, the Lord comes to His fearful disciples caught in a storm at sea. Their trepidation is dismissed and their efforts to make progress were no longer needed as they arrived at their destination immediately. Is this a foreshadowing of the journey time at the rapture?
Chapter 9 brings to our attention a man blind from birth – what devastation. There was no hope for him! The Lord gives a reason for his sad circumstances. It was to display the works of God, 9.3. There was virtue in Christ’s spittle (see also Mk.7.33), but only vileness in those who were to spit on Him later, Matt.26.67. Sight being given to him, the rest of the chapter deals with the consequences that arose from this remarkable occasion.
Chapter 11 brings before us resignation reversed. Here we are told of one of the three whom Jesus raised from the dead. There was a young girl, a young man and an older man, Lazarus. Different in every way, in gender, ages and even in death. One was just dead, she was still in bed; the young man was obviously dead for a short period and was in his coffin; Lazarus was corrupting in his grave, having been dead four days. This time the glory of God is to be displayed, 11.4. Another comparison is that Jairus’ daughter was commanded to eat, the widow of Nain’s son was delivered to his mother and Lazarus was to be loosed from his grave clothes. A picture of three necessary things associated with spiritual, as well as natural, life: food, fellowship and freedom.
The Lord’s last miracle is recorded in chapter 21. Here we find disappointment dispelled! Under Peter’s powerful influence six disciples go fishing with him. A reminder of old days! They catch nothing that night so have to admit this when asked by the "stranger on the shore". Obeying His command they have so many fish they have difficulty in bringing the catch to the shore, needing help and yet the net was not broken. This enabled them to count what may have been a record catch numerically and maybe the reason for the number of fish being recorded. Would that in our day the Lord would work through us that we might have reason to "count the catch" as far as being "fishers of men" is concerned! Perhaps we lack prayer, purpose and passion when it comes to our concern for the blindness that surrounds so many lost souls today, who are on the broad way that leads to destruction.
A friend of mine went into a store to buy a piece of electrical equipment. He had done his research and was confident that he was buying the best product within his price range. One of the things that mattered to him was the reliability of this particular brand. All the reviews that he had read had commented on the fact that it passed all the stringent tests with flying colours. When he had chosen the item and was walking to the checkout one of the store sales representatives approached him and asked if he needed any assistance. He replied that he was happy with what he had selected and was heading for the checkout desk to pay for it. The sales person asked if he would like to take out an extended warranty since the manufacturer’s warranty only lasted for 12 months and it was possible to purchase a warranty for 36 months, of course at considerable cost. He refused the offer since he believed the product to be very reliable.
The next day my friend went to work in the office and related this story to a few of his colleagues and was amazed to learn how much importance people place upon a ‘cast iron guarantee’. They began to tell him horror stories of commodities breaking down and becoming useless after a relatively short period of time. Thankfully the item purchased is still working very satisfactorily.
With society apparently placing great importance on a guarantee that may last for a few years, is it not amazing that so few want a commodity that is free, will never need replacement, is guaranteed eternally and brings nothing but real, deep joy and satisfaction both in time and eternity?
This ‘commodity’, which is hardly the right word to describe such a blessed possession, is the salvation of your precious, never dying soul. We are creatures of time but bound for eternity. At death the body begins to corrupt and soon returns to dust, but the soul goes on to eternity and exists in either heaven or hell for evermore. This latter place was, "prepared for the devil and his angels" Matthew 25.41, and was not intended for mankind. However, all who die refusing the salvation of God will share the devil’s doom. Yet there is good news. God loved humanity so much that He gave His Son so that all men could be saved. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" John 3.16.
Please note the warranty, "should not perish". There is no ambiguity, no doubt, no if or maybe, it is clear and not open to misunderstanding. The Lord Jesus Christ stated quite clearly, "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand" John 10.28,29. This is a cast iron warranty that all who believe on this glorious Person Who died on the cross of Calvary for the sins of guilty humanity will not perish. When asked the question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" the apostolic reply was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" Acts 16.30,31. There was not the slightest hint of doubt. The Lord Jesus accomplished the work of redemption by His suffering upon the cross and God is eternally satisfied. The work will never need to be adjusted, reconditioned or amended in any way. He said, "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 5.24.
Dear reader, please think beyond time and have an unbreakable guarantee for eternal bliss and glory.