AN ambassador is one who is commissioned to represent his country in a foreign court. He is accredited to speak and act in that court in the name of the sovereign or government by which he is appointed. He is at once a messenger and a representative, and as long as he is true to his commission, all the power, prestige and protection of his own country support him. In Scripture we have ambassadors both good and bad—ambassadors of God and ambassadors of Satan. In considering these we shall first look briefly at two passages in which the latter class is mentioned.
As we saw in our previous issue, the princes of Babylon sent ambassadors to Hezekiah, king of Judah (2 Chron. 32:31). Hezekiah, overcome by their flatteries, costly gifts, and professed interest, accepted the proffered friendship of their imperial masters. In this way, Satan who had failed to bring about the spiritual downfall of Hezekiah by the hostile attitude of Assyria, now accomplished it by the friendly approaches of Babylon.
All of this recalls Satan’s strategy against an earlier leader of Israel, as recorded in Jos. 9. There, as here, what the enemy had been unable to do by open hostility, he accomplished by working “wilily” (Jos. 9:4). The closed gates and stout walls of Jericho had fallen before the advancing hosts of Israel. The king and inhabitants of Ai had been given into Joshua’s hand, after the sin of Achan had been judged. Then Israel, flushed with victory and feeling self confident, failed to seek Divine guidance when faced with a new and unexpected circumstance which arose. The result was that the “ambassadors” of Gibeon beguiled the servant of the Lord into making a league with them (Jos. 9:15). Through the clever diplomacy of Babylon’s ambassadors, God’s people became linked with an outside nation; through the subtle craft of the ambassadors of Gibeon, outsiders who should have had “neither part nor lot” in Israel, were allowed to “creep in” to the congregation of the Lord; and in neither case was the mistake detected until it was too late.
A sad feature of the mischief in each case was that its consequences were felt in Israel long after the one whose failure caused it had passed away. Even more important it is to note that behind all the trouble in Jos. 9, as in Is. 39, was the fact that those responsible “asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord” (Jos. 9:14). In this Joshua was especially to be blamed, since from his first appointment as leader, it was made clear that he was in all things “to ask counsel . . . after the judgment of Urim before the Lord” (Num. 27:21).
In both these episodes there are lessons for us to-day. From them we ought to learn:—
That the world’s smile is more to be feared than its frown. Of this we have numerous examples in the history both of Israel and the Church.
That our strongest point is often the very one in which we are most likely to fail. Illustrations of this also abound in the lives of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Samson, David, Peter and other great servants of God. The knowledge of it should cause us to “go softly all our years’’ (Is. 38:15), as Hezekiah said he would after his illness. Alas! he “rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him”, and instead of “going softly”, “his heart was lifted up, therefore was there wrath upon him” (2 Chron. 32:25).
That no worldly alliance, be it political, commercial, social, or religious, can have God’s blessing upon it. Therefore, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14).
That we must ever be on our guard against being deceived by “a good story”, especially in the matter of reception to God’s assembly. In some cases those who are not able to put things in a very intelligent way, turn out to have most heart for the Lord. Then what need there is for godly caution and discernment!
That the fruit of negligence in these important matters may only become apparent afterwards and may have far reaching consequences and be as “thorns in the eyes” of those who succeed us, long after we have left the scene of time. (Jos. 23:13).
That we should ever be on our guard against Satan’s surprise attacks. He still has his “wiles” as in Joshua’s day (Eph. 6:11), and has acquired vast experience in the art of deception from then till now. “Wherefore take unto the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).
That one essential thing to keep us right in every circumstance of life is that we bring all to God, and in believing prayer "ask counsel at His mouth”. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).
“The habit of strict veracity”, said the late John Ritchie, “is of great importance to the Christian. He should study to be a man of genuine honesty and truthfulness in all his intercourse with the world and with fellow-believers. There is such a thing as misrepresentation—withholding part of the truth. To give part of a statement, and keep back the rest, may mislead the hearer, and be quite as much as the telling of a falsehood. To speak or act, so as to leave a false impression on others is to be guilty of ‘lying’ according to the divine standard.”
On a certain occasion a Christian repeated a grave matter he had heard about another to the late Dr. McLean, of Bath, who, having listened quietly, referred him to Deut. 13:14, and then asked:
Have you, dear brother, ‘enquired’?
Have you ‘made search’?
Did you ‘ask diligently’?
Is it ‘truth’?
And is ‘the thing certain’?
That ‘such abomination is wrought among you’?
The brother could only acknowledge, regretfully, that he had not fulfilled one out of the six questions and was repeating a grave matter merely on “hear say.” If thou “shalt hear say . . . then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently, and behold if it be truth, and the thing certain ...” (Deut. 13:12-14).
May we not forget this weighty lesson. A lie may blast the reputation of the godliest saint; and God hates a lying tongue. Let us therefore do unto others, in this as in all else, as we would that they should do unto us. Once a false, misleading statement has been made, no one can tell where it may end. A lie will go half round the world before the truth has got on its boots. It has been said that one striking difference between a lie and the proverbial cat is that the cat has only nine lives. So be careful, little tongue, what you say.
Rowland Hill was once staying with friends. During the evening other visitors who had arrived began to discuss some acquaintances who were absent. The things said were neither true nor kind, and serious hurt was done to those not present to defend themselves. For some time Mr. Hill listened in silence. Then he arose and rang the bell. When the maid came he asked if she had a brush and dust-pan handy. On being told she had, he asked if he might have them for a few minutes. When the brush and pan were brought, he began to sweep the carpet, saying that a prodigious amount of dust and dirt had been scattered that evening, and he was anxious that it should be removed. The rebuke by the man of God was keenly felt and the gossip promptly ended.
One word more! If we have inadvertently repeated what we later learn to have been an untruth, it is our duty, judging even by worldly standards, not only to apologise to the party injured, but to rectify the matter with those to whom we have, however innocently, repeated it.
When you appear before God (Psa. 42:2) in the assembly of His saints (1 Cor. 11:18), make it your aim to be there in a right condition of heart and soul, self-judged (1 Cor. 11:31), and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). In order to give time for this, "awake early” (Psa. 57:8), so as to have a season of meditation and prayer before going out.
Seek to preserve an undistracted mind on the way (Eccl. 5:1); share in no conversation (Prov. 10:19; Jas. 4:11) that would grieve God’s Spirit in you (Eph. 4:30). Look upon no object, which would turn your thoughts to vanity (Psa. 119:37).
Be in your place rather before the time than after it, so as to have a few moments for silent prayer and quiet waiting on God (Psa. 27:14; Isa. 40:31). Late comers miss this privilege and disturb the peace of others, while they greatly dishonour the Lord, who, at the appointed hour, is in the midst of His gathered people (Luke 22:14).
As the exercises of the assembly proceed, under the Spirit’s guidance (Phil. 3:3, R.V.), seek to share in the upward flow of worship, offering up to God the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15), as your heart is led out toward God, silently, or as expressed in the words of whoever leads the assembly’s thanksgiving and worship. If God gives a word of ministry, be ready to receive and be edified by it (1 Cor. 14:12), no matter through whom it comes. Avoid criticism and ungracious judgment of others in God’s assembly; it is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), and holiness becometh His house forever (Psa. 93:5). Gazing about, occupation with people’s dress and such like, are unbecoming. While the Lord’s Supper is being observed, seek to fix your thoughts on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus, His agony, sufferings and death (Psa. 22, Isa. 53); the excellencies and sufficiency of His sacrifice as meeting all God’s claims and your need (Heb. 9:14), looking upward to Christ on the throne (Heb. 2:9), and onward to His coming again.
Worldly dress, showy jewellery and whatever else would attract undue attention to your person, or occupy the thoughts of your fellow-worshippers, should never appear in the assembly of God. It is written: “God is greatly to be feared in the Assembly of His saints, and to be had in reverence of all who are about Him” (Psa. 89:7).
No Christian is greater than his prayer life. Any Christian who has no desire to pray must surely be away from God though he may not know it. The people who are not praying are playing.
The church has many who will pay and many more who will play, but where are those who will pray?
Failing in prayer, the people of God will fail everywhere.
“Men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
The ministry of preaching is open to a few, but the ministry of prayer is open to every Christian. How many of us have ever missed our bed for one night to pray for some dear loved one who is travelling on to a lost eternity? We fiddle while souls are dropping into hell. Some slip into hell from dance-halls, some from the cinemas and public-houses, and some race themselves into a lost eternity taking part in the Satan-controlled sport of motor-cycleracing. Alas, some professed Christians go and watch such. What about staying at home and praying, for a change? Watching such nonsense is blasting your own testimony, the assembly’s testimony, and making a laughing-stock of the Name in which you say you have put your trust.
"Pray, Brethren, Pray”. The secret of prayer is praying in secret. As it is often said, “A worldly Christian will stop praying, and a praying Christian will stop worldliness.”
We all, without exception, need to say: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Five minutes more alone with God each day will do us more good than any tonic a doctor will supply. How many minutes each day are we on our knees crying to God for the salvation of souls? How can we expect blessing without prayer? Also, dear brethren, money may build a church, but tears will give it life. That is the difference between the modem church, and the early church. Our accent is on paying, etc., theirs was always on praying. After we have paid the place is taken. When they had prayed, the place was shaken. How many tears do you shed in the prayer meeting nowadays? How many times is ‘Amen’ uttered in a prayer meeting? Very few! “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5: 17).
THE disappointments of life are in reality only the decrees of love. I have a message for you this day. My child: I will whisper it softly in your ear, in order that the storm clouds which appear, may be gilt with glory, and that the thorns on which you may have to tread, may be blunted. The message is short—a tiny sentence—but allow it to sink into the depth of your heart, and be to you a cushion on which to rest your weary head.
“This thing is from Me”
Have you thought that all which concerns you concerns ME also? He that touches you touches the Apple of My eye (Zechariah 2:8). You have been precious in My eyes; that is why I take a special interest in your upbringing. When temptation assails you, and “the enemy comes in like a flood” (Isaiah 59:19), I AM the GOD of circumstances. You have not been placed where you are by chance, but because it is the place I have chosen for you. Did you not ask to become humble? Behold, I have placed you in the very place where this lesson is to be learned; it is by your surroundings and companions that the working of My will is to come about.
Have you money difficulties? Is it hard to keep within your income? “This thing is from Me”. For I AM He Who possesses all things. I wish you to draw everything from ME, and to depend entirely upon ME. My riches are without limit (Phil. 4:19). Put My promise to the test, so that it may not be said of you, “Yet in this thing you did not believe the LORD Thy GOD” (Deuteronomy 1:32).
Are you passing through a night of affliction? “This thing is from ME”. I AM the MAN of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). I have left you without human support that in turning to ME you might obtain eternal consolation (2 Thess. 2:16, 17).
Have you some friend who disappointed you—One to whom you have opened your heart? "This thing is from ME”. I have allowed this disappointment that you might learn that the best FRIEND is JESUS. Yes, the best FRIEND is JESUS. HE says: I long to be thy Confidant.
Has someone said false things of you? Leave that and come closer to ME, under My wings, away from the place of wordy dispute, for I will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday (Psalm 37:6).
Have your plans been all upset? Are you crushed and weary? “This thing is from Me”. Have you made plans and then coming to Me asked Me to bless them? I wish to make your plans for you. You could not perform them alone (Psalm 57:2). You are but an instrument and not an agent.
Have you desired fervently to do some great work for Me instead of which you have been laid aside on a bed of sickness and suffering? “This thing is from Me”. I was unable to attract your attention while you were so active. I wish to teach you some of My deep lessons. It is only those who have learned to wait patiently, who can serve Me. My greatest workers are sometimes those who are laid aside from active service in order that they may learn to wield the weapon of prayer.
Are you suddenly called to occupy a difficult position full of responsibilities? Go forward, counting on ME. I AM giving you the position full of difficulty for the reason Jehovah your God will bless you in all your works and in all the business of your hands (Deuteronomy 16:15). This day I place in your hands a pot of holy oil. Draw from it freely, My child, that in all the circumstances arising in your pathway, each duty that gives you pain, each interruption trying to your patience—each manifestation of your feebleness may be anointed with this oil. Remember that interruptions are divine instructions. The sting will go in the measure in which you see ME in all things.
Therefore, "set your heart unto all the words that I testify among you this day ... for ... it is your life” (Deuteronomy 32: 46-47).
THIS man is often despised among David’s servants. He is said to be young, inexperienced, and seeking big prey. I believe, however, that a little careful meditation will reveal him to be quite otherwise.
HIS NAME, “Wrought of God,” tells of an exercise at his birth. How often the exercise of a parent has its lasting effect upon the after-life of the child! Had the mother (David’s sister), as with Moses of old, seen him to be a proper child, or was it the result of her own exercise of soul on his behalf? We do not know, but we can at least learn from this that only what is wrought of God will stand the test of a coming day. Alas, how much there is now that bears His name but has not His approval or blessing!
Although little is said of HIS WORK, we are given a brief glimpse of it in 1 Chron. 27:7 where he is called a “chief father” (v. 1) and with his twenty-four thousand men directs a course or division for one month of each year. This all tells of a service of no mean character, though whether it was for the protection of king and country, or for possession of new territory, we are not told, but in serving God’s appointed king he was serving his God. What a happy service is ours when it is done as unto Him!
HIS DEATH is of very great importance in the light of the foregoing, and, indeed, it proves to be none other than that of a martyr (2 Sam. 2:18-24). Abner, in enmity toward the God-appointed king, has arrayed his forces in deadly conflict, but meeting only defeat, he flees for his life. Asahel, knowing the guilt of the instigator of the battle is in hot pursuit and will not be turned aside. What noble words are recorded in His favour: “He would not” and “He refused”, telling of a devotion toward David, little known today. Alas how often we have been guilty of turning aside to save ourselves! Or would we, like Asahel, refuse to lay hold on one of the young men and take his armour instead of the “cause of the trouble”? But the language of Asahel could well have been that of Acts 20:24: “Neither count I my life dear unto myself.” Love to his Divine David led the dear Apostle to say, “I have suffered the loss of all things” (Phil. 3:8).
Little is recorded of HIS ACCOMPLISHMENT, yet how enlightening are the words of 1 Chron. 27:7! A son, Zebadiah (“Endowed of Jehovah”), tells of an. exercise at the time of his birth and this exercise is also seen in the after life of the son who was able to continue his father’s work as a chief father of Israel. Whether we view this endowment as the gift of a God-given son, or as a son with a God-given gift, it matters little, as both would be true. What a need there is among us of exercise about the children whom God has given us! About Asahel it could well have been said, “He being dead yet speaketh,” and will not our life and what has been left behind tell only too plainly what was our exercise of soul while here?
HIS REWARD. A little picture of the Judgment Seat of Christ is given us in 2 Sam. 23-24. Where is the great general, Asahel’s brother, Joab? Where is the beloved Jonathan? Where is Ahithophel, who prophesied as if he had enquired at the oracle of God? Where are Abiather the priest and a multitude of others? They are not mentioned among David’s mighty men at all. Yet notice that Uriah the Hittite is there. Yes, and also Zelek, an Ammonite (and therefore according to law, to be shut out from Israel’s camp until the tenth generation). And look, there is Asahel, named high in the ranks of David’s mighty men. Praise to our God who did not forget this one who laid down his life for the king he so faithfully served! I shall add but one short word to our own hearts in the light of what has gone before: How will it end with us? What will the record on high be? “Saved, yet so as by fire”? Or, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?
THE Christian’s separation from the world is not a platitude for the platform, or a mere article of faith yielding no practical results. If the truth of it comes to the Christian’s conscience as the voice of God, it makes him act. If he learns from the Word that “Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4, R.V.), he will not be found walking in its course (Eph. 2:2, R.V.), or conforming to its ways (Rom. 12:2). If he really believes what God says, that the "friendship of the world is enmity with God,” and that "whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, R.V.), he will not court the world’s smiles, or receive its honours. If the Christian simply stands where the Cross of Christ has placed him, a crucified and risen man (Gal. 6:14; Col. 2:13), there will be little danger from the world bestowing its favours upon him. It will not want him as an M.P. to represent it in Government; it will not nominate him as a J.P. to judge its claims. It asked the Lord to adjudicate (Luke 12:14), but he refused. It sought to get Him to give His verdict in politics (Matt. 22:17), but He showed by His answer that His business here was to maintain the claims of God and not the world’s. And His people are to follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). His example is their rule in this as in everything. To join hands, making common cause with the world is to deny in practice what many sing with the lips about being "not of the world.” A thousand excuses have been trumped up for Christians joining affinity with the world, but the real one is pride of heart, which may lodge finder a show of humility, and lurk deep beneath a zeal for the benefit of humanity. The son of God loved humanity more than any, but He never joined affinity with the world either in its religion or its philanthropy to manifest His “love” for men. He sympathised with, served, and suffered for sinners, but He did not leave the place of the Stranger here, to reach them. Nor did His servants who followed in His steps. Paul was no world-reformer. He was blamed for turning the world "upside down” (Acts 17:6), but it was by the Gospel he preached, which brought men out of it to God. He never would have been named “a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition” (Acts 24:5) had he settled down as a "respected citizen” seeking the suffrages and honours of the world. But this is what many are doing who claim Paul as their pattern and profess to hold his doctrine as their faith. It can have but a feeble hold on them when their practice is contrary to it. Yet some who so act, “walking in the counsel of the ungodly” (Psa. 1:1), and sharing their honours, seek to act as leaders and guides in God’s assembly, and assume the place of instructors of the saints. But this will not do. The two positions cannot harmonise, because they are mutually antagonistic. If a place of honour is sought in the world, its principles must be upheld and its course and acts defended at the expense of the truth of God. For no man living can take the world’s pitch into his bosom without being defiled. And as it has been abundantly shown, it is only a matter of time when the very profession of separation to God is given up, generally under some flimsy excuse of “lack of love” or the like, among those whose path in separation to God, after the pattern of the Word, has become intolerable to the worldly-minded backslider. These things have their beginnings, and it is there they must be nipped if the bitter end is to be avoided. The roots of this, like all evil, are in the heart, and there they must be judged. When the desire to become “like the nations,” and keep pace with the world in its fashion and style, its love of the aesthetic, and what pleases the flesh in religion is allowed, the next step is to join with those like-minded, even if “without Christ.” It does not take much to convince a man whose eyes the dust of the world have dimmed to all spiritual perception, that his associates are Christians, and “as good," if not better, than those who walk in a narrower path. The truth of God having lost its power over his life, he finds any excuse good enough to justify his affinity with the world. And soon the man’s preaching has to be altered to suit his practice. For while it is the way of the godly to learn the doctrine of the Lord from His Word, and then seek grace to acknowledge it in obedience, the way of the backslider is to go from evil “deeds” to evil “doctrine” (compare Rev. 2:6 with v. 15), and to defend his corrupt practices by wresting and twisting Scripture into conformity with them.
A MOST unwelcome task was here laid upon the apostle Paul by the Corinthians, yet for the honour of his Lord and for their benefit, he did not shrink from it. Though they were his own children in the faith, they had been beguiled into questioning his apostolic authority, and it became necessary for him to reestablish it in their minds. To do this he had to make himself a fool by boasting, though he only stated the truth. Carrying their thoughts back in his history, he came to “visions and revelations of the Lord”, when doubtless he received from Him the great truths of the present dispensation. While it was given to Peter to open the door of faith to the Gentiles, revelations concerning the Church were especially communicated to Paul.
"I knew a man in Christ”, he writes “above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter”. It is the privilege of the believer now to enter in spirit into the holiest by the Holy Ghost, who dwells in us and unites us with Christ in the glory. By the blood of Jesus "we have boldness to enter into the holiest”, and this is none other than the “third heaven” into which Paul went. But there was something peculiar in his case; for he was "caught up” personally, whether in the body or out of the body he knew not.
Scripture recognizes three heavens: (1) The atmospheric heavens, where Satan and his emissaries are, and from whence we receive the "fiery darts”. (2) The starry heavens, of which God says, “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by their names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth.” In this second heaven Satan has now no place; for our Lord’s words, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, teach us that all the angelic host do God’s will there, though it is not done in this rebellious world. (3) The third is the spiritual heaven, our place of worship. The three heavens are shown in figure in the porch, the holy, and the holiest, of Solomon’s temple. The porch was open to daylight; the holy place had the seventy lamps; and the holiest, where God dwelt, had the Shekinah glory.
It was in the third heaven that Paul received his revelations. The secret of the Church of God, then unfolded to him, is far above the thoughts of man. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9). The thoughts of God can only be learned in the heavenlies, as the transfigured Christ can only be seen in the mount of transfiguration.
The apostle calls this third heaven paradise, and Ps. 16 thus describes it: “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”. The soul enjoys God’s presence at the fountain-head, and thence, from the throne of God and of the Lamb flow the rivers of living water. It was into paradise that Jesus entered when He had finished His work, and paradise is restored to the believer now. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps. 91:1).
Speaking of the man caught up into paradise, the apostle says, “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities”. We have thus two persons in one—Paul as he was in himself, and as the man in Christ caught up into the third heaven. So also we have in one person the worm Jacob and Israel the prince of God. In our own experience we know something of Jacob with the crippled thigh, broken down, conquered. Would that we knew more of Jacob hanging upon the mighty One, of whom God could say, “As a prince, thou hast power with God and with men”; that is, would that we knew more of Romans 8, while we also learn from Romans 7—out of weakness becoming strong!
When we can say, “God is my strength, my all”, of such a one we may glory, rejoicing and boasting in what grace has made us in Christ. The apostle could also say of himself, "less than the least of all saints”; and he gloried in his infirmities, in the reproach of the Corinthians that his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. “Be it so”, he could say, in the spirit of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease”; and that they might not think of him above that which they saw him to be he would not enlarge on his visions and revelations, only adding, "But now I forbear”.
On the contrary, he still tells of his abasement: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure”. While he was in the third heaven there was no danger of his being exalted, nor are we in danger while in spirit we are dwelling in the holiest.
“The more Thy glories strike mine eyes
The humbler I shall lie.”
Isaiah was not puffed up when he saw the glory of the triune God (Isa. 6). John was not exalted when he saw the Son of man in His glory in the midst of the seven candlesticks (Rev. 1). The overwhelming majesty of the Lord lays man in the dust. The danger is found when we come down among our fellow-saints, and begin to measure ourselves by others and compare ourselves with them. Even Paul was not free from this danger. Neither Peter, James, nor John had had such revelations as were communicated to him, and lest he should be lifted up above measure, the thorn that was given to him was not taken away. After Hezekiah had been healed, he “rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” The good Physician knows that prevention is better than cure, and in His own wisdom He kept back Paul’s pride, putting him, so to speak, on low diet.
What mistakes we make when we think that this affliction or that trial will hinder our usefulness! Paul’s thorn was in the flesh. Sometimes the messenger of Satan puts a thorn in the spirit, and we are lifted up with proud thoughts. It is better to have it in the flesh; for then we are kept humble. What Paul’s thorn was we are not told, and for a wise reason; because those who had a similar thorn might even be lifted up thereby and think themselves Pauls.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Oh, what mistakes we often make in prayer! Such are our thoughts and such was the thought of the kite when it cried, "Oh this string! Where would I not rise, if it were not for this string!” But Paul’s thorn was to him what the string is to the' kite. The thorn was a gift from God; the one who brought it was a messenger from Satan; but Paul saw rather the purpose of Satan than the hand of God.
“Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.”
The thorn was really the token of God’s loving care to fit Paul for His service.
“And He said unto me (literally, "He hath said”—the perfect tense; that is, it was a word for to-day as well as for fourteen years ago), My grace is sufficient for thee.” It is not less trial, less opposition, less peril, less infirmity, that we need. Even without these we should not be sufficient for the conflict. What we really need is a sufficiency of grace; "for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This was the lesson that Paul had to learn by means of the thorn in the flesh. The messengers of Satan teach us lessons that angels never learn.
In order to have this spiritual strength from Christ, human strength must be set aside, and we must learn what weakness really is. In the paradise of God there is no Satan, no temptation, and a different lesson has to be learned; but to know our weakness, we must be in the conflict. Paul thoroughly learned both lessons.
“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The more there is of infirmity, the more room there is for the power of Christ. Paul was willing to be set aside that Christ might be seen, that the strength of Christ might rest upon him; he was willing to be the worm, that the excellency of the power might be of God.
“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” In the consciousness of his own weakness he was really strong— “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” It is well to learn our weakness, if it is the means of teaching us the sufficiency of divine strength.
“See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount." (Hebrews 8:5. See also Exodus 25: 40).
THESE words of Holy Scripture respecting the tabernacle, God’s habitation of old, contain principles which should find expression in local companies of true believers to-day. The Scriptures set before us a local assembly as God’s house, God’s shrine. It is fitting that what was spoken concerning a dwelling-place of God on earth in a former dispensation, should be considered in the light of the Scriptural record of a dwelling-place of God on earth in this dispensation.
The Scripture portion quoted at the heading of this article may be readily divided into five parts. Let us consider them briefly.
THE DIVINE CHARGE “See, saith He”
Of course, every instruction of God should be obeyed. Obedience should be rendered quite apart from any word emphasising the necessity of obedience. Nevertheless here we have such a word of emphasis, “SEE, saith He”. All the instructions found in the New Testament should be obeyed without hesitation or reservation. Nevertheless at the close of a passage outstanding in its content of assembly truth we read, “the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). What obligations are placed upon us by such divine emphasis!
THE DIVINE COMPREHENSIVENESS “Make all things”
Nothing was left to the ingenuity or discretion of Moses. All must be done according to the divine pattern. The mind of God as to the tabernacle had been made known. According to every detail revealed the work must be executed. Some matters are “weightier” than others. (Matthew 23:23). Some commandments are "the least”, but “the least” commandments are to be practised and taught (Matthew 5:19). May we see things in their right perspective and may we be balanced in our judgement and may we always recognise that no commandment of God is to be disregarded.
THE DIVINE CONSTRUCTION “According to the pattern”
In the New Testament God sets before us what He requires of His people to-day. The things we are to practise and the principles which are to govern us are presented to us. We have the pattern. It would be blasphemous to suggest that we can improve on this pattern and we cannot advance any sound reason for departing from it. We are not justified in leaving the pattern on the ground of human frailty; that is to say, we must not argue that on account of human weakness the pattern is impracticable and must be forsaken.
THE DIVINE COMMUNICATION“Shewed to thee”
“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29 : 29). What responsibility rests upon the recipients of divine revelation! We must “do all” that is revealed as the mind of God for us.
THE DIVINE COMMUNION “In the mount”
How often we fail to learn the mind of God because we fail to go, with humble hearts submissive to the Word of God—“to the mount”. As we are in communion with Him, and through His Word, God will show us the pattern.
It is thought that this article should not close without a word of warning. If we believe that we are conforming to a Scriptural pattern, let us also seek deliverance from all self-righteousness; and may we be marked by grace as well as by truth. He Who has left us an example walked here “full of grace and truth”. May we ever hold “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); and may we never forget that in the unity of the one body is found every true child of God of this dispensation. All these children are bought with the same precious blood, indwelt by the same Holy Spirit and awaiting the same consummation of redemption. While we seek to build up and to maintain that which is Scriptural, we have to recognise that in many unscriptural systems, with which we rightly will have nothing to do, there are those who are bound with us in the same bundle of life. May our hearts ever have a place for all such!