Our beloved brother, affectionately known as Tom, was a valued committee member of this magazine from 1983 until he resigned due to ill health in 2006. He suffered much from Parkinson’s disease and when it became impossible for his devoted wife to tend to him at home any longer, he was cared for in Faith House for some nine years, and for the last four years of his life he was bed-ridden. He never complained and took an interest in the work of the Lord as long as he was able.
He was born on 21 January 1926 and was saved on 7 May 1945. He had been attending gospel meetings in Dunmurry Gospel Hall, conducted by Hawthorn Baillie and Fred Bingham, both now with the Lord, and was saved through the truth of John 5.24 as he went to the side of the hall to collect his bicycle. He was often heard to remark that as he went home people were dancing in the streets because the war was over and there was peace, but he had a greater peace and a greater cause for rejoicing because he had trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.
Soon after, Tom was received into the fellowship of the saints meeting in Derriaghy Gospel Hall and continued there throughout all his life. He developed into quite an outstanding gospel preacher and was never happier than when he was telling the story of the cross. He was a strong man with a powerful voice that fitted him well for open-air meetings; a service for the Lord he loved.
His love for the saints became obvious and for many years he was a valued overseer in the assembly. He had an unshakable conviction regarding the truth of the assembly and never wavered through his lifetime. He could minister God’s word to profit and yet had the ability to speak to the young at children’s meetings.
His widow, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would value the prayerful support of the saints.
Such men as Tom Armstrong are rare and it was a privilege to have known him. The following is pertinent, "Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith" Heb.13.7. (J.N.D.)
No. 11: "They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph"
Read chapter 6.1-6
Chapter 5 is addressed to the nation generally, with particular reference to its religious veneer, which served only to cover its moral and spiritual bankruptcy. It can be summed up in the following way:
They went to the right places, but they were wrong.The people were evidently making pilgrimages to Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba, all of which had sacred associations in the past, but there was nothing sacred about them now, and certainly nothing sacred about the people who went there. They were commanded to "seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest He break out like a fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel. Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth, seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion…" 5.6-8.
They wanted the right things, but they were wrong.They wanted the presence of God: "Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken [‘as ye say’, J.N.D]" 5.14. But what they said they wanted, and how they behaved, were quite incompatible, vv.10-13. They could only have what they said they wanted if they obeyed the injunction, "hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate" v.15. Only then could it be said, "it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph" v.15.
They worshipped with the right sacrifices, but they were wrong. They certainly practised orthodox religion (together with idolatry: the two together are called ‘syncretism’): the Lord refers to their "burnt-offerings … your meat-offerings … peace-offerings’, but it was sheer hypocrisy; "judgment" and "righteousness" were required. Without these, their ‘worship’, was devoid of reality.
Chapter 6 is addressed, at least initially, to one particular class of people: the rich ruling class. "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!" or "woe to them that are at ease at ease in Zion, and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel come!’ (R.V.). We have already noticed that the wealthy women have been censured: "hear this word, ye kine of Bashan" 4.1-3. Now we have an address to the rich men in Israel: to the acknowledged leaders: " to whom the house of Israel come [present tense]" 6.1, (R.V.).
The chapter commences with security and comfort, vv.1-6, and concludes with destruction and captivity, vv.7-14. The three main paragraphs may be entitled:
• Idle Leaders, vv.1-6
• Inescapable Judgment, vv.7-11;
• Irreversible Law, vv.12-14.
IDLE LEADERS, vv.1-6
The leadership is marked by:
• self-satisfaction, or pride, vv.1,2
• self-indulgence, or indolence vv.3-6.
The scope of the message. " Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria [‘and to them that are secure in the mountain of Samaria’, R.V.]" v.1. Jerusalem [Zion] is mentioned before Samaria! While the prophecy of Amos relates particularly to Israel, with its capital city Samaria, Judah and Jerusalem are not excluded. Compare, "thus saith the Lord; for three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof" 2.4; "hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt" 3.1. Jeremiah makes the same point: "hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? ... And her treacherous sister Judah saw it … feared not … hath not turned unto Me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD" Jer.3.6-10. We learn at least one important lesson here – we must never hide behind ministry addressed to other people!
The people in the message. " Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust [‘are secure’ or ‘careless’, J.N.D. margin] in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations [that is of Judah and Israel], to whom the house of Israel came [or ‘come’, R.V.]" v.1. As already noted, this evidently refers to the rich leaders, who are called "the notable men of the chief of the nations" (R.V.) or "the renowned of the first of the nations" (J.N.D.).
The words "chief of the nations" (A.V./R.V.) were evidently a proud boast. That is, they (the wealthy leaders) were the notable (A.V.) or renowned (J.N.D.) of the most renowned and notable kingdom. In other words, they said, ‘there is no one like us!’ Perhaps this boast was based on the long reigns of Uzziah (Judah) and Jeroboam (Israel). Both are mentioned in the introduction, 1.1. Uzziah (Azariah) reigned for fifty-two years, 2Kgs.15.1,2, and Jeroboam for forty-one years, 2Kgs.23-29. The statement "to whom the house of Israel come [not ‘came’, A.V.]", is evidently intended to boost morale, and impress the populace! In other words ‘what fortunate people you are to have leaders like us!’
The warning in the message. "Pass ye unto Calneh [on the river Tigris]; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great [on the river Orontes in northern Syria]; then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? [i.e. better than Israel and Judah] or their border greater than your border?" v.2. J.A. Motyer suggests that this is a piece of government propaganda: ‘these places are not worthy of comparison with us: we are better and greater: we are "better" in affluence, and our "border" indicates our territorial advantage. In other words, the answer to the question in v.2 is ‘No, they are not better than us – we are the tops!’
But the context suggests something rather different. Read it like this: "pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? Or their border greater than your border? Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near … Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive" vv.2-7. In this case, the answer is ‘Yes, these kingdoms are better than Judah and Israel; just look at the conduct of Judah's and Israel’s leaders! They deserve to go into captivity’. As M.F. Unger points out, ‘Israel in her rebellious degeneracy was much worse and far more guilty than these nations, which had already been punished. How much less could Israel not expect to be punished?’
We must now compare the picture of the complacent and proud leadership here with what the New Testament requires in the assembly leaders: "Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil" 1Tim.3.6; "A bishop [overseer] must be blameless, as the steward of God" Titus 1.7; "neither as being lords of God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock", or "neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock" 1Pet.5.3, R.V. Compare 2Sam.23.3, "The God of Israel said, the rock of Israel spake to me, he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God",
There is no room for pride or complacency in assembly leaders. It is work rather than a position: "take care of the church of God" 1Tim.3.5; "feed [tend] the church of God" Acts 20.28; "which labour among you" 1Thess.5.12. That is not to say that assembly leaders are not to be honoured and respected for their work: "Esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake" 1Thess.5.12. But to say ‘what good elders we are’ or ‘our assembly is one of the best’, is courting disaster. "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" 1Pet.5.5. The question is:
There are many aspects of Divine truth that the human mind cannot comprehend. Of course, this is to be expected. If we could fit God and His truth into the smallness of our mind, He would be a God Who would be far too small! To illustrate this there are many aspects of Scriptural truth that could be considered, but just four will suffice.
First, God has always been in existence and always will be. He is described as ‘eternal’ in Deut.33.27. Everything that we see and know had a beginning and will have an end. This is an example of Isa.55.8: "My thoughts are not your thoughts". Perhaps, as a result we just cannot ‘understand’ eternality, but we believe it.
Secondly, we can only listen to one person at a time and find it difficult to listen intelligently when we are in a crowd and there is a multiplicity of voices. This does not apply to God. When we speak to God in prayer, we have no idea how many others are similarly engaged, yet we know that He knows and will give to each person His personal, undivided attention, simultaneously. Does this help us to understand how at the Judgment Seat of Christ, our Saviour will deal with each one of us individually, yet at the same time. Our finite minds cannot grasp such a scene but ‘then’ we shall be like Him, 1Jn.3.2, and so appreciate then what we cannot now.
Thirdly, our minds have difficulty in grasping the seeming divergent truths of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. Failure to accept this can lead to unbalanced deductions, which themselves can lead to errors in which we fail to appreciate the mind and heart of God. A typical Bible example may help us to have a balanced view. Jn.6.37, "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; (sovereignty) and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out (responsibility). Many such like examples can be found in both Old Testament and New Testament.
Fourthly, we have difficulty in grasping the power of God shown in creation. Jer.33.22 reminds us that "the host of heaven" (the stars) cannot be numbered nor the sand of the sea measured. These two illustrations help us to appreciate the unimaginable number of stars in the sky and grains of sand on the seashore. The latter are tiny and close together, the former large and far apart. The sand grains look the same in size but the stars are all different. The sand grains are pressed together, the stars far-flung. Ps.147.4 tells us that God knows the number of the stars and has a name for each one! Lk.12.7 gives us a personal application: our hairs are numbered! These are matters that can be grasped by faith alone and we do not rely on human intelligence that will always fail in these sublime truths relating to our God. What power and knowledge are His!
What is a headcovering? A head covering, as the name suggests, is a covering that covers the head and is to be distinguished from the natural covering supplied by nature. Although the English text of our Bible disguises the difference, Paul uses one word for a covering for the head and another in his description of a woman’s natural hair covering (see above). The word used to describe the woman’s long hair is a "garment", that is an item of clothing that covers the body. The head covering is not defined other than by its function and so Scripture does not prescribe what type of head covering should be worn. As one might expect, cultural norms influence what women wear. In the U.K. hats are the norm. In other parts of the world veils are the norm. Sisters should not seek to use the symbol of headship as an opportunity to rebel against social norms or as an opportunity to make a 'fashion statement'.
Occasionally one sees women who wear ribbons in their hair or lace coverings through which the hair is visible. These are not truly head coverings. Note that it is a head covering not a hair covering. Scripture teaches that a woman should have long hair but there is no requirement in Scripture for the head covering to also cover the woman’s hair or for that matter for the woman to conceal her hair beneath a head covering. If a sister chooses to wear her hair 'up' while wearing the head covering that is a matter of personal preference not command.
Who should wear them? The Bible teaches that women should wear them. The principles upon which Paul rests his teaching are found in creatorial order, not just the relationship into which we are brought at salvation. Nevertheless, it is clear that Paul is addressing Christians in this passage since only they would have an inclination to pray or prophesy and only Christians see their relationship with one another as "in the Lord" v.11. However, in light of the fact that the section is a comprehensive review of mankind’s relationship to God and between the sexes, unsaved females should cover their heads. Tolerance is, of course, appropriate for the unsaved or untaught. It is the author’s opinion that Christian parents should require their children to acknowledge the truths of this passage whether or not they are saved since neither salvation nor marriage brings a woman into the sphere of headship. Lordship, which is mentioned in the second section of 1Corinthians chapter 11, is a different matter and is connected with salvation.
Why does the Scripture require head covering? The main point behind the head covering is to make a visible distinction between the male and female, which indicates the submission of the female to the male. That a covering on the head should suggest such a thing is not perhaps obvious to 21st, century eyes but is clearly the intention of the apostle writing under the guidance of the Spirit.
When is a woman required to cover her head? Paul does not say whether he has in mind church gatherings: any occasion where prayer is made or the word of God spoken: the home or all of the above. However, he does specify that a man should be uncovered and a woman covered during prayer or prophecy. What does that suggest? In 1Corinthians the exercise of this gift occurred in the assembly (see 1Cor.12.10, 28; 14.4-6, 31,32).
Prophecy was a public gift meant to edify the Church. The reference to prayer and prophecy shows that he has in mind occasions when public prayer is offered and the public gifts mentioned later in the epistle are exercised. Secondly, words such as "honour", "shame" and "comely" pepper this section. This suggests that Paul the apostle has in mind the public not the private sphere. Questions of "honour" and feelings of "shame" are most closely connected with public opinion not private occasions such as the home. It appears that Paul is assuming there are onlookers who may be shocked or critical if a sister has her head uncovered. Thirdly, he states in v.16 that his teaching was the practice of "the churches". This indicates that private prayer is not in view and that a sister is not obliged to cover her head at home. However, the teaching is not confined to church gatherings since the Word of God can be preached where no assembly has been planted e.g. Lydia at the riverside in Philippi. Public prayer is offered at weddings and funerals which are not assembly gatherings but are public occasions when onlookers will be present.
One of the most difficult issues in this connection is to determine what Scripture requires during children’s work. While there is Scriptural precedent for the church gathering to hear the Word of God (which covers gospel preaching or teaching meetings), for prayer (the prayer meeting), for worship and thanksgiving (at the Breaking of Bread), there is no example in Scripture of a gathering dedicated to children. Timothy learnt the Word of God at his mother’s and grandmother’s knee and Scripture seems to assume that children learn either at home or in the ordinary gatherings. On the other hand there is no passage that positively prohibits children’s work. All would agree that there is a general obligation to reach out with the gospel and to use all legitimate means to do so, 1Cor.9.22. To the author this is sufficient warrant for Sunday Schools and Children’s Meetings. This means that children’s work is part of the public testimony of the Assembly, and the principles set out above as to headcovering should apply.
In the previous paper we noted that there are four passages of Scripture where the words "as sheep without a shepherd" are found. These passages are:
• Num.27.12-18: Regarding Moses - the thought is Leading
• 1Kgs.22.17: Regarding Micaiah - the thought is Ruling
• Matt.9.36: Regarding the Lord Jesus - the thought is Praying
• Mk.6.34: Regarding the Lord Jesus - the thought is Teaching and Feeding.
We dealt with the first only and now turn to the remainder.
MICAIAH - A MINISTRY OF CORRECTION
1Kgs.22.17, "I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills ‘as sheep that have not a shepherd’ and the Lord said "these have no master; let them return every man to his house in peace."
Under the following alliteration are sections to ponder and understand the outcome of fellowship with the ungodly. We shall leave these without further comment except to say that these sections should search us all in relation to our friendship and the dangers resulting from unholy alliance.
Slain sheep and scattered sheep were the sad result of Jehoshaphat’s folly having links with Ahab. Take time to note, the:
• Unholy Alliance of Jehoshaphat with Ahab.
• Unanimous Word of the 400 prophets to go up and prosper.
• Unswerving Micaiah: "What the Lord saith that will I speak".
• Unadulterated Word Of the Lord: "These have no master".
• Uncompromising Micaiah: "If thou return in peace the Lord has not spoken by me".
It is a sad day when the Word of the Lord is despised. Sadder still when ruling men forsake it, since the result is scattered sheep.
THE LORD JESUS - A MINISTRY OF CARE & COMFORT
Matt.9.36, " When He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion because they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd."
This context is the gospel but He sees them as sheep.
His Compassion: "He saw" … "He was moved" … "had compassion". Sadly, we are sometimes not so easily moved or aware.
Their Condition: "Fainted", (distressed) … "scattered abroad" (dispersed).
His Conclusion: "Then saith He unto His disciples, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest". Note they were not to preach at them, but to labour among them and bring them into the fold and to the assembly, but to carry out this work we would need shepherds.
How apt is Prov.27.23, "Be diligent to know the state of thy flock." May the Lord enable us to diligently adhere to His word and work for the spiritual enrichment of His people.
(These papers were in the process of preparation by our dear brother when he was called home, and this explains the somewhat abrupt conclusion. They have been submitted by his son)
The neighbourly qualities of the good neighbour (friend) to which Proverbs introduces the reader are some of the basic kindnesses and compassions of everyday living. The book endorses the attributes of:
A friend will not start strife, "Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee" 3.29. Nor will he spread it, "Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame. Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another" 25.8,9.
A good neighbour will show benevolence even to enemies, "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth" 24.17; "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" 25.21. However, kindness must not develop into sentimentality which would lead to his own detriment, "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul" 22.24,25.
The standard upheld by the friendly man will be as much a service to his neighbour as the good things he dispenses. "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: but the way of the wicked seduceth them" 12.26. In fact, the manner of life of this type of person is beneficial to others in a proper way: "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee" 3.27-29.
We used to be taught that our lives should be lived in such a way as not to harm the testimony, however, we have clear teaching in Proverbs as to how we should live before our fellow man, and so bring praise to our God.
There are clear indications of things which will disrupt friendships, and while this list is not exclusive, we should be aware of:
Repeating everything we hear. "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" 17.9
Being argumentative. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with" 7.14
Overstaying our welcome. "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee" 25.17
Meddling in another’s affairs. "He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears" 26.17
Inappropriate jokes. "As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?" 26.18,19
Tale bearing. "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth" 26.20
Insincerity. "He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him" 27.14.
Finally there is clear instruction with whom not to foster friendships. It may seem to some that the warnings given are basic common sense, but how many have gone astray as a result of disobeying the simplicity of the Word of God?
Sinners. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof" Prov.1.10-19.
A gossip. "He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips" 20.19.
One who is ill tempered. "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul" 22.24,25.
Those of inappropriate behaviour. "Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags" 23.20,21.
Those given to change. "My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?" 24.21,22.
Liars. "A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow. Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint" 25.18,19.
The inconsiderate. "As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart" 25.20.
The list is extensive, and rather than depend upon ‘trial and error’ or read up on how to ‘win friends and influence people’, an understanding of the word of God will guide us into building friendships for mutual benefit. The integrity of a friendship depends as much on spiritual resources, as on the feelings of the individual. Is it not remarkable that Scripture is so topical when dealing with the everyday things of life? It therefore follows that disregarding the wise teaching of Scripture will result in foolish lifestyles. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" 1.7.
In the former paper we considered Solomon’s temple and its Whereabouts; its Worth; its Weight; its Workmen and its Word. We conclude this study by thinking about its Water; its Worship; its Witness; its Watching and its Wreck.
"Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim … it received and held three thousand baths" [about 22,500 gallons] 2Chr.4.2,5. This was for daily cleansing as the priests went about the work of the sanctuary.
It is a figure, not of the Word enshrined in the assembly, but of the Word applied to our daily walk. The 12 oxen that sustained the weight of the "molten sea", are figurative of those fitted in the assembly who "labour in the word and doctrine" and dispense it to the flock. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word" Ps.119.9. Young or old we all need the daily cleansing of the Holy Scriptures. Do we read out of duty or are we driven to study out of devotion? As Israel in the wilderness gathered manna every day, so we need daily nourishment from our Bible.
"It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, "for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever;" that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God" 2Chr.5.13. (See also 7.1-7 where the offering was 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep).
The prime reason for the existence of an assembly is to give God His portion. Of course, the assembly must be a witness to the world, but first and foremost we gather to offer to God the worship due to His great and holy name. We remember the words of the Lord in reference to the disciples crying, "Blessed be the King that cometh in the Name of the Lord", "If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" Lk.19.38,40. Do we come together with hearts overflowing and minds filled with thoughts of Christ, and of the Father, as gleaned by the help of the gracious Holy Spirit?
When He came the angels sang,
"Glory be to God on high!"
Lord unloose my stammering tongue;
Who should louder sing than I?
It needs to be stated that while instruments were used in temple worship, the New Testament leaves absolutely no room for the introduction of instrumental music in the assembly of saints gathered to the Lord’s Name. No Scripture can be validly brought forward to prove that instrumental music was ever used in the apostolic age in New Testament churches, nor can any text be used as proof that such is permissible in assembly gatherings in our day. But if there was such variety and harmony in the temple of old, should there not be greater variety and harmony in the spiritual worship of saints "redeemed with the precious blood of Christ" today?
"And when the queen of Sheba heard … and had seen … his ascent by which he went up into the house of the LORD; there was no more spirit in her" 2Chr.9.1-4; cp. Matt.12.42.
God’s purpose in calling Abraham, the "father" of the nation, was that "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" Gen.22.18. God’s purpose for Israel was, that His name might be known among the Gentiles. The temple and the manifestation of God’s presence there, was a testimony to the whole world. So an assembly in fellowship with God and enjoying His presence will have an effect on the whole community. Our separation is our strength. Others will want to know why we don’t run "with them to the same excess of riot" 1Pet.4.4. We can reveal to them the spring of our joy: the Lord Jesus and our indebtedness to Him. When Israel joined in with the heathen in their idolatrous worship they not only grieved the great Jehovah of their redemption, but they also lost their power as witnesses to God. Let us be careful to maintain a holy, devoted separation from all the evil and folly of a passing world and "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" 1Pet.3.15.
"Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually" 2Chr.7.16.
God was observing in love and appreciation all that was done at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. He valued those 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, because, while they had no intrinsic value, they prefigured the infinite value of the sacrifice of Christ. His glory filled the house. His eyes were still watching when the people started to divide their love of Jehovah with the idols. He looked with pity on their folly, but in anger on their sin.
He is watching all that happens today in our lives and testimony, as is clearly proved by the sevenfold repetition of "I know" in Revelation chapters 2,3. He, and indeed the holy angels, (see 1Cor.11.10) are observing our behaviour in the assembly and appreciating all that is seen of genuine devotion, but we must solemnly remember that He also sees all that is heartless and all that is insubordinate to His revealed will.
"And they burnt the house of God" 2Chr.36.19.
The glorious house that Solomon built eventually became a ruin. (It had stood for about 415 years.) The introduction of idolatry by Solomon in his later years, 1Kgs.11.4, started a process of declension that got bolder and bolder with succeeding generations, despite temporary revivals under better kings like Hezekiah and Josiah. "But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy" 2Chr.36.16. God was slow to leave, but He left; see Ezekiel chapters 10,11. The temple was impregnable while God’s presence was still there. Sin brought its wreckage. So it is in assembly testimony. Sin overlooked, sin tolerated, sin excused, sin allowed unjudged will work the ruin of the precious testimony for God.
It is significant that the temple had within it the means of its own destruction. If it had been all stone, gold and silver it would not have burned. The boards of cedar on the inside of the walls and planks of fir on the floor, although unseen and the olive wood doors before the most holy place, all contributed fuel to the fire that brought the great house to a pile of rubble. We must solemnly remind ourselves that there is enough of the flesh in any one of us to bring personal ruin, or in all of us together to bring the ruin of a vibrant testimony for the Lord. May the Lord help us to keep idolatry out of our hearts and assemblies that we will continue to worship Him "in Spirit and in truth" and be a witness for Him until He come again.
References to the shedding of blood in connection with sin, and atonement for sin, are found in the book of Genesis and go right through to the book of Revelation. The first mention of blood is in Gen.4.10, where it is recorded that God said to Cain, "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground". It would seem that, at some time in the past, God had given instructions that sinners could approach Him only when the blood of substitutionary sacrifice had been shed. Cain offered some of the produce of the soil, the results of his own labour. Abel obeyed God, and showed his faith in God, by his offering of the firstlings of his flock which had been slain, Heb.11.4. Abel had made a sacrifice to God which was acceptable to God because it involved shedding of blood, whereas the sacrifice of Cain had not involved the shedding of blood and was not acceptable to God. In his disappointment and anger, Cain slew Abel, Gen.4.1-8. Blood had been shed when Abel, the first man to die, had been murdered, and his blood cried out to God from the earth which had been cursed by God because of sin, Gen.3.17.
I WILL PASS OVER YOU
When the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh was unwilling to let them go. God told them to take an unblemished, male lamb, slay it and "strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood" Ex.12.22. They were told not to leave their houses until the morning. During the night, the destroying angel would enter the houses of the Egyptians and the firstborn of man and beast would die. He would not enter the houses of the Israelites where the blood had been applied around the door. The Lord would protect those houses. The blood was to be a "token" Ex.12.13, a token of the fact that a lamb had been slain instead of the firstborn. God had said, "when I see the blood, I will pass [hover] over you" Ex.12.13. It did not matter whether the faith of an Hebrew in what God had said was weak or strong, as long as the blood had been applied, and he was inside the house, his life would be preserved.
In Lev.17.11, a fundamental truth is brought before us, and that is that "the life of the flesh is in the blood…it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul". Blood and life are inextricably linked together: if the blood is taken away, a living body dies. The law required almost all things to be cleansed with blood, "and without shedding of blood is no remission" Heb.9.22. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST
God is love, 1Jn.4.8, and He so loved the world that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, into the world to suffer and die for our sins. The Lord came into the world to save sinners, 1Tim.1.15; Lk.19.10. He, the eternally holy One, could not and did not sin, and God "made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him", 2Cor.5.21. God punished His Son, whom He loved, for the sin of the whole world, Jn.1.29; 1Jn.2.2. The Lord consumed the wrath of God. He voluntarily died, Jn.19.30; Heb.2.9, but after three days God showed His acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son by raising Him from the dead, Lk.24.6. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice. His precious blood was shed, and that blood continually "cleanseth us from all sin" 1Jn.1.7. The blood of Abel cried to God for revenge, but the precious blood of Jesus calls for remission of sins, and peace with God, for God "made peace through the blood of His cross" Col.1.20, and "being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" Rom.5.9.
In the Old Testament we read of the provision of "a lamb for an house" Ex.12.3; then in v.4 the reference becomes more specific, for "the lamb" is referred to, and in v.5, "your lamb" is referred to. In Jn.3.16 we read that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son". In Eph.5.25, love and the giving of God’s Son are specifically connected with the church, for we are told that the Lord "loved the church, and gave Himself for it". He gave Himself for the church which God "purchased with His own blood", Acts 20.28 or as J.N.D. "with the blood of His own". The love of the Lord and His sacrifice of Himself becomes even more personalised in Gal.2.20 where we have the delightful truth concerning "the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me". The Lord suffered, bled and died for each individual believer. If only one person had committed only one sin, the Lord would have suffered and died and His precious blood would have needed to have been shed, to glorify His Father and redeem that one sinner. The value of His blood is infinite: it has infinite value because of the Person Who shed it, the Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the infinite power of the shed blood of the Lord that it has the power to redeem all those who repent and put their trust in Him.
The blood of the Lord is precious to God, for it is the blood of His beloved Son, shed in accordance with His will and for His glory, Lk.22.42; Jn.5.30; Acts 2.23. His blood is precious to each believer for it purchased our redemption, and we will praise, love, worship and serve Him eternally. His blood was shed "for the remission of sins" Matt.26.28, and is eternally efficacious. Our salvation is eternally secure, Jn.3.36; 10.28-30, because we were not redeemed with things which can become corrupt, "But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" 1Pet.1.19.
The offerings we read of in the Old Testament provided a temporary atonement for sin, and every time an Israelite sinned a new sacrifice had to be offered. The substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ never needs to be repeated. The sinless Lord Jesus "needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s; for this He did once, when He offered up Himself" Heb.7.27. It was not by the blood of goats and calves, "but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" Heb.9.12, and "after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" Heb.10.12.
The precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ saves a believer completely and eternally from the consequences and penalty of sin. The Lord was at one and the same time the offerer and the offering, the unblemished, sinless Lamb of God Who was sacrificed and Whose blood was shed. The eternally holy Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself to God through the eternal Spirit and His shed blood cleanses our consciences from dead works to serve the living God, Heb.9.14. By this offering the believer is cleansed and his conscience is purged from the guilt of dead works. Having been saved and cleansed by the shed blood of the Christ, we can worship, serve and glorify the living God. We have been reconciled to God to become more conformed to the image of our Lord and Saviour, Rom.8.29. We are to serve God, both in the assembly and among the lost, in accordance with His will as revealed in the Word of God.
On the first day of every week, we remember the Lord. We do this in accordance with His command until He returns for us to take us to be with Himself for ever, 1Cor.11.23-26. We see before us a loaf and a cup, speaking of the body and shed blood of the Lord, Lk.22.19,20. The word "cup" is used to refer to the wine which is in the cup. This is a metonymy, where the name of something referred to is substituted by another word. We read, in 1Cor.10.16, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"
The Lord’s substitutionary death, and the shedding of His blood, was in God’s plan of salvation before the world was created. Peter wrote of redemption through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" 1Pet.1.20. All who have been saved in the past, and those who will be saved in the future, are saved through faith in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. In the tribulation, persecuted Jewish believers will overcome Satan through "the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" Rev.12.11. They will overcome Satan through the death of the Lord and their testimony relating to that death. Those who will be saved during the great tribulation will "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" Rev.7.14: their sins will have been forgiven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord has purchased us for God by His blood, "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" Rev.5.9. He gave Himself for us and we shall worship and praise Him eternally, for He "loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" Rev.1.5. How glad we are to testify to the truth that:
Two of the above Scriptures remind us of things that all believers may enjoy at the present time and one that we will all enjoy eternally. How wonderful it is beloved, to be held safely in the good Shepherd’s hand. "No one shall snatch them out of My hand." He will never release us from His grasp for we are much too precious to Him! In John’s Gospel the Shepherd is observed searching for lost sheep. We read how he found Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the nobleman’s son, the man at the pool, the adulterous woman, and the man that was born blind. In chapter ten the Shepherd brings all these lost sheep of the house of Israel into His flock and only after He spoke of laying down His life for the sheep he said, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd." We, poor sinners of the Gentiles, were added to the flock after Calvary and after Pentecost. The good Shepherd loved His sheep so much that He laid down His life for them. Beloved, it is possible that after the intense sufferings and agonies of Golgotha that our blessed Lord will forfeit one of His sheep? The lord affirmed, "They shall never perish, neither shall anyone seize them out of My hand." The words of the old hymn still ring true, "my name from the palms of His hands eternity will not erase; imprest on His heart, it remains in marks of indelible grace." We are eternally secure in His nail-pierced hand.
The Lord’s love is assured to every believer and is expressed by the fact that we are forever, not only in His hand, but on His heart! " Having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end." He loves His own with an extreme love. In John chapter thirteen our Lord is engaged in priestly love. The shoulders of the Aaronic high priest held two onyx stones inscribed with the names of the tribes of Israel according to their birth. In the present dispensation of grace our great Shepherd is bringing us safely home on His shoulders just as He brought the lost sheep home. Lk. 15:5,6. Now we all know that the new birth is a once for all experience and the Lord emphasises this to Peter. The Lord, "having taken a linen towel girded Himself: then He pours water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet." vv.4,5, J.N.D. When Jeremiah retrieved his linen girdle from the hole in the ground where he had hidden it, "Behold the girdle was marred." Jer. 13.7. It was profitable for nothing. Israel’s service was unprofitable, but our Lord’s service was both profitable and pure! Impetuous Peter rebuked the Lord for wanting to wash his feet and was told, "if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me. Peter answered, "Lord not my feet only but also my hands and my head." The Lord then told him, "He that is washed is clean every whit." The Lord, undoubtedly was referring to the once for all new birth.
The high priest in Israel also bore stones upon his breastplate. All these stones were different and all were precious! It is certainly true today that the Lord holds each of us close to His heart. We too are all different and are precious to Him. Beloved, are we in the enjoyment of this tremendous truth? The apostle John certainly was for he reclined on the Lord’s bosom and leaned on His breast. The bosom speaks of receptive love and the breast speaks of the love emanating from His heart. The Lord washed their feet so that they could enjoy an intimate place close to His heart! The feet washing refreshed the disciples and also removed the defilement that had accumulated from their travels on dusty roads. We also need our feet washed by the water of the Word in order to be refreshed and also to be cleansed from the defilement that we come in contact with in our sinful world! Feet washing in an absolute necessity for without it we will remain at a distance from our blessed Lord. At first Peter refused but afterwards experienced its importance when the resurrected Lord restored him and commissioned him to Shepherd His sheep. Peter would serve the Lord motivated by love. After the Lord's questions Peter finally replied, "Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love thee."
In a pouch behind the breastplate of Israel’s high priest were the Urim and the Thummim and from these, in some way, Israel received guidance from their God and answers to their questions. Peter's question was about the betrayer. He asked the Lord, "Who it should be of whom He spake." Peter's query was directed to John. Was he not close enough to the Lord to receive a direct answer? Do we find ourselves in a similar condition? The disciple in His bosom receives the answer. May God help us to dwell on the Lord’s bosom and to enter into His love in a greater way. When we are enjoying this place of nearness we receive guidance and answers from the Lord's heart of love.
Now we all understand that this feet washing is not a literal practice for us today for the Lord told Peter, "What I do thou knowest not now but thou shalt know hereafter." Our Lord has given us the privilege to follow His example by washing one another’s feet. When did we last refresh another believer with the water of the Word? When did we last share a little thought about our Lord that we have been enjoying? Have we a desire to remove any defilement that hinders our dear brethren from enjoying communion and intimacy with our beloved Lord? How long, do you suppose, will we have this privilege?
Our Lord is coming and soon we will be in the Father's house. Remember the words of the Lord "Let not your heart be troubled. He would soon return to His father and the disciples needed encouragement during the time of His absence. They believed in a God that they had never seen and the Lord graciously instructs them to continue believing in Him when He is absent from them. They are assured that He will come again and receive them unto Himself. There is a place in the Father’s house for every believer. The tabernacle was a temporary structure that contained no place for officiating priests to dwell but the Father's house on earth was surrounded by chambers where the priests dwelt when they their fulfilled their course. Perhaps the Lord alluded to this when He said, "In My Father's house are many abodes." J.N.D. Beloved, there is a place for us already prepared in the Father's house above by the Lord Jesus Christ Who has entered into heaven as our Forerunner! The Hebrew writer exhorts us, " to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil whither the forerunner is for us entered even Jesus" 6.18.20 We will soon follow the Man in the glory! The Lord's coming is very near! May we be encouraged by knowing that we are safe in His hand and secure on His heart and we will soon be at home in the house!
"It cannot be long now" is a saying among many of the Lord’s people. There is a very strong conviction that the end of this present age is near. The inspired chart of time’s course indicates it. The rate at which events are travelling now is startling, and the quick succession of momentous happenings is quite bewildering. In our early days the pace was slow, but as the end draws near it becomes fast and alarming. Once we had time to consider events, now there is hardly time to do so.
The two World Wars have set in motion a flood of evil which has devastated the whole earth, turning everything upside down. It is humanly impossible to right the universal capsize. Politically, socially, religiously, morally, financially-all is confusion, and will yet be more confounded. Is there no remedy? Some think there is; and great schemes are formulated to relieve the present distress and check the lawless forces, only to prove futile one after another. Why is this? The heart of man is in revolt against Heaven, and he is urged on to his complete ruin by Satan.
What is to be gathered for such an awful state of affairs, by the child of God in whom the Word of Christ dwells richly? Let Scripture reply: "When ye shall see all these things, know that it (or He, marginal reading), is near, even at the doors" Matt.24.33.
When some long-expected dear visitor is at last at the door, there is only one more step to the joyful welcome. So our long-looked-for Lord and Saviour may be about to take that "one step" into the air, when in a moment the redeemed will be caught up to meet Him. Then, farewell mortality, welcome eternity! Death will be swallowed up in victory! The enjoyment of unutterable blessedness with Him, will be our sweet portion for ever and ever! The fair prospect exceeds every imagination of the heart.
After the welcome home of the Church, followed by the judgment-seat of Christ and "the marriage of the Lamb", then will the Lord come to earth to bring to naught the Antichrist and take vengeance on all adversaries, and establish His kingdom in righteousness. Meantime our attitude should be like those addressed in Matt.24.44 "Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh". For the moment we leave aside the precise dispensational bearing of this passage of Scripture, for its present practical application of the truth. In either case the injunction can apply - "Be ye also ready". Let us never cease being on the watch, lest we be taken unawares and are found swallowed up with the cares of this life and with the pleasures and pursuits of this world; but rather "found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless" 2Pet.3.14.
What sort of testimony are we leaving behind? How sad if the life has been scarcely distinguishable from "them that go down into the pit" Ps.28.1. Poor Lot’s testimony is a solemn warning to all Christians who leave the pilgrim path for the attractions of the world, Lot lost all but his life, and so will they, 1.Cor.3.15.
Lastly, we read in Matt.24.26, "Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing". That is, occupied with the service appointed us. The "blessed hope" filling the heart will teach us to be painstaking and faithful in all our labour, working as under the Master’s eye. We shall be careful to observe all His commandments, which is the proof of love, Jn.14.21, esteeming all His precepts concerning all things to be right and hating every false way, Ps.119.128. Whatsoever we do, will be done heartily as unto the Lord, Col.3.23; and all the more so as we see the approaching end of the present age, and the nearness of our Lord's return.
(Reprinted from "The Bible Expositor", Oct. 1952. If relevant then, how much more now?)
On Wednesday the 19th. November 1997, the M.V. Green Lily ran aground on Bressay, near Grut Wick. After loading a cargo of approximately 3000 tonnes of frozen fish, bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Isles, the Croatian-born captain decided to set sail in foul weather, in spite of warnings from the Harbour Master not to leave the port at Lerwick, Shetland. Shortly after leaving the harbour, the ship suffered engine failure in a force 9 gale forecast to reach force 11 imminently and was left drifting in 50ft. waves, eventually running aground off Bressay.
Thankfully the crew members were successfully rescued by the Lerwick lifeboat and the coastguard rescue helicopter from Sumburgh Airport. Sadly, after ensuring that the last crew member had been saved, Mr. Bill Deacon, the helicopter winchman tragically lost his life. The fifty year old father of two, from Ellon in Aberdeenshire, was about to be lifted onto the Shetland Coastguard rescue helicopter when his winchline snagged and his colleagues had to cut the line. The heroic winchman was swept to his death from the deck of the stricken 3624-ton freighter by hurricane force winds. It was reported in a local newspaper that Bill Deacon had given his life for strangers. He was posthumously awarded the George medal for his bravery.
We salute the courage of such a man who was prepared to risk his own life that others might be saved. That, my friend, is the story of the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left heaven with the express objective of giving His life to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. The lives of the crew members on board the M.V. Green Lily had been put in grave danger by the reckless actions of the captain, his autocratic management style and his obstinacy in refusing to heed the advice of the Harbour Master. The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, willingly came to this earth to give His life; to die in our stead. Bill Deacon had no idea that he would not return home alive; he never planned to die in such a manner; he hoped to return to his wife and family, safe and sound. Alas, it was not to be.
The Son of God said Himself, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" Luke 19.10. In John 6.38 He said, "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." He knew that His death was inevitable if men were to be rescued from going down to the everlasting burnings. In John 12.24 we read, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" John 3.14,15. My friend, if you are unsaved, your only hope of reaching heaven and escaping hell, lies in you trusting this loving Saviour Who willingly died for us. "… while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5.8
There was One Who was willing to die in my stead
That a soul so unworthy might live,
And the path to the cross He was willing to tread,