In the previous paper we saw that there are two major divisions in this Psalm: i) the prayer for help, vv.1-4, and ii) the promise of help, vv.5-8. We began to consider the prayer for help and concluded by noting that there were five things to check in relation to our speech. We highlighted the first two: viz. are we guilty of flattery when we speak? and are we guilty of vanity when we speak? This paper continues from those observations and reveals the other three matters that we ought to check. Then we will ponder the second part of the Psalm: the promise of help.
Are We Guilty of DUPLICITY When We Speak? "With a double heart do they speak" v.2. Compare 1Chr.12.33, "Of Zebulun ... fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart". A "double heart" means a deceitful heart. Lips and heart are not consistent. It is a case of saying one thing, but thinking something totally different. The Lord Jesus censured the religious hypocrisy of the day: "This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me" Matt.15.8.
Are We Guilty of IMMODESTY When We Speak? "The tongue that speaketh proud things" v.3. That’s not the language of Phil.2.3, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves". The Lord Jesus recorded the Pharisee’s prayer: "I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are ... I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess" Lk.18.11,12. Perhaps we ought to rephrase it: ‘I’m out preaching nearly every week ... oh, I meant every week ... I’m speaking at the conference you know ... I do far more than most people in the assembly, and I know a lot more too ...’.
Are We Guilty of EFFRONTERY When We Speak? (Just to get all five points ending in ‘Y’ – shameless or insolent boldness). "With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?" v.4. The Christian position in all this is summed up in 1Cor.6.19,20: "Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price". We are not free to say what we like, when we like, where we like, how we like, and to whom we like. Christian speech submits to the teaching of Eph.4.29, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
THE PROMISE OF HELP - vv.5-8
For the first time in the Psalms we meet a direct answer from God: "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD" v.5. So we have:
The Pledge of God’s Help - v.5
David had no human resources in v.1, but he has Divine resources in v.5. God is not impervious to the cry for help. "He inclined unto me, and heard my cry" Ps.40.1. We can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" Heb.4.16. The remaining part of the verse can be understood as it appears in the A.V.: "I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him". See Ps.10.5 ("as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them"). "It is as if to say that with the breath of their lips they could blow them away. It is the thought of scorning; making light of them; treating them with contempt" (J.M. Flanigan). However, the Lord will "set him in safety from him that puffeth at him". The original text may be rendered, ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs’.
The Purity of God’s Word - v.6
"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times". Notice three things in this lovely statement:
His Words Are PURE. "The words of the LORD are pure words". That is, they are completely free of the dross that is present in vv.2-4. No falsehood or flattery now. There is no alloy here. Read Ps.19.7-9: "The law of the LORD is perfect ... the testimony of the Lord is sure ... the statutes of the Lord are right ... the commandment of the Lord is pure ... the fear of the Lord is clean ... the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether". See also Ps.119.140: "Thy word is very pure: therefore Thy servant loveth it". As J.M. Flanigan (What the Bible Teaches - Psalms) observes, His words "are not yea and nay, but yea and amen, 2Cor.1.18-20".
His Words Are PRECIOUS. "Silver tried in a furnace of earth". (Omit "as"). Here is true wealth. Solomon urged his son: "If thou ... liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" Prov.2.3-5.
His Words Are PERFECT. "Purified seven times". In Scripture, seven is the number of completeness and perfection. Silver purified seven times in the furnace was silver perfectly pure. Quite obviously, this verse does not teach that the "words of the Lord" need to be "purified seven times". It tells us that "the words of the Lord" have the quality of silver "purified seven times".
C.H. Spurgeon (treasury Of David) observes that "the Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as alloy to precious ore. The experience of saints has tried it in every conceivable manner, but not a single doctrine or promise has been consumed in the most excessive heat."
The contrast between the words of the wicked and the words of the Lord could not be more vivid.
The Preservation of God’s People - vv.7,8
The emphasis is on preservation in the circumstances, rather than deliverance from them. "Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, Thou shalt preserve them". From what? "From this generation for ever": that is, the "generation" described in v.8: "The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest [of] men are exalted" or "‘The wicked walk about on every side, when vileness is exalted among the children of men" (J.N.D.) That is, when corrupt standards become acceptable, "the wicked swagger everywhere" A.G. Clarke (Analytical Studies in the Psalms). The Lord Jesus prayed, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil" Jn.17.15.
The believer today can rest on the keeping power of God in dire circumstances. We are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" 1Pet.1.5. We can say with Paul, "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" 2Tim.4.18.
At this time we are pleased to announce changes of responsibility within the Committee of "AT". We hope these will preserve the character and teaching of the magazine for the glory of our soon coming Lord.
Our brother Brian Currie was invited to join the Committee in 1981 and became Assistant Editor, under the tutelage of our late brother A.M.S. Gooding in 1984 and succeeding him as Editor in 1992. It has always been the Scriptural order that older men should try to identify young men to whom they can pass responsibilities, for example Moses and Joshua; Elijah and Elisha; Paul and Timothy. After some 34 years it has been considered wise to pass the baton of responsibility to a younger man and we are very happy that our brother David McAllister has agreed to take over the editorship from January 2018.
David left his employment in 1992 when he, together with his wife and family, went to serve the Lord in Zambia. He now resides in Ireland while regularly visiting the area of his labours viz. Livingstone, Zambia. He has displayed spiritual gift and ability in preaching and teaching, both in ministry meetings and conducting Bible readings, to the spiritual profit of the saints. The Committee of "AT" was unanimous that David be invited to take on the responsibility of editor. He joined the Committee in the summer of 2016 and observed the demands of editorship before agreeing to accept the Committee’s invitation.
We ask the authors and readers of the magazine to support David in his new role, praying for him and giving to him all the encouragement and help that has been granted to our brother Currie during these past 34 years. His experience will not be lost because he will continue as a Committee member and will help in the writing of articles and contributing to the books we publish.
We have considered previously Reuben the man; and Reuben the tribe. We now wish to consider James’ practical application in relation to Reubenite character traits. In his epistle James writes to benefit first century Christians from a Jewish background. These were descended from all the tribes and had the potential to display Old Testament tribal characteristics in a New Testament context. Hence James writes to encourage and challenge them to progress from tribal traits to princely grace.
We have already seen that Reuben, the progenitor of his tribe, evidenced an impulsive and turbulent temperament. While decisive when doing wrong, he lacked the necessary impetus to do what was right. Moral sin robbed him of his: birthright; primacy in leadership; and priestly honour. The temperament of their tribal head was also manifest in the subsequent history of the Reubenites. However there were some noble exceptions, as previously considered, to the predominant tribal trait.
Those exceptions give encouragement. The Reubenite tribal tendencies need not predominate. Men then, as now, need not be prisoners of their natural temperament. There are choices to be made in life; and our character is moulded by the decisions we make and the actions we take. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" Gal.6.7-9. Reuben is a picture of one who sowed to the flesh. Reuben, because of the choices he made, and his blatant sin, lost his intended place of privilege and honour for himself and his tribe. We should not neglect to heed this solemn warning.
THE CONTEXT OF JAMES’ TEACHING
At the commencement of Jacob’s prophetic blessing of the tribes he said, "Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father" Gen.49.2. Hear and hearken! James, the writer of the New Testament epistle, is like his namesake Jacob when he states, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" Jms.1.22. Hear and do! Said the Lord Jesus Christ, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" Matt.11.15, etc.. Hear and hear!
Jacob had a high expectation for his eldest son: "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power" Gen.49.3. Sadly that expectation was not to be fulfilled.
When we turn to James we read about first century Jewish Christians, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" Jms.1.18. God has bestowed new birth upon believers, His resolute will has been engaged on their behalf and a Divine message was employed as the instrument of regeneration. However, as well as being the source of new birth, God has great expectations for them. The phrase "a kind of firstfruits" indicates that the Jewish Christians to whom James writes are the early specimens that pledge a full harvest, the innumerable multitude that will subsequently believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, while James wrote to an initial Jewish audience, and while his epistle may be read in that context, it is equally applicable to us. Indeed the character traits of the twelve tribes can be detected to varying degrees in our own personalities.
JAMES’ REUBEN SECTION
There is, of course, some subjectivity in considering sections of James’ epistle in relation to individual tribes. However, the first twelve verses of James chapter 1 relate to features seen in the personality of Reuben and his tribe.
James writes "to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" Jms.1.1. Most likely these were Jewish Christians who were driven from Jerusalem commencing with the persecution that followed the martyrdom of Stephen, Acts 8.1. James evidently knew nothing about ‘lost tribes’!
This Reubenite section, Jms.1.2-12, deals with the subject of temptations, better understood as trials or testings, and the appropriate reaction to them. Faith must be tested to prove that it is genuine and then to purify and strengthen it. The question then arises as to what attitude we should adopt when such testings arise, as they certainly will. James enjoins us to "count it (or consider it) all joy" Jms.1.2. The trials are unavoidable and are diverse in character as well as severity, but a deep seated and joyful confidence in God is the appropriate response.
James reminds the recipients of his epistle that they have a knowledge based on personal experience "that the trying of your faith worketh patience" Jms.1.3. Saving faith is proved in the trials of life, with God testing us to build character and bring out the best. So accepting the trial and not seeking to escape from under its heaviness will develop in us perseverance, staying power and fortitude.
"But let patience have her perfect work" Jms.1.4, is a command. James encourages his readers to allow the events in their testing to run through to their completion and not to seek to extricate themselves before God’s purpose for them is fulfilled. To do otherwise will result in our loss of God’s intention for us. The correct attitude to testings and trials will result in the progressive development of all those virtues characteristic of a mature believer with nothing lacking as the spiritual endowment is complete.
The turbulent temperament of Reuben was never curbed and, as a result, he sustained incalculable loss. His instability and disastrous actions had far reaching consequences. He failed all the major examinations in his experience of life, but from Jms.1.2-12 we learn how to avoid making the same mistakes as Reuben.
Reuben clearly lacked wisdom. But there is no excuse in that regard for us: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" Jms.1.5. When we face the variety of testings and trials that cross faith’s pathway we should turn to God in prayer. Recognising the reality of our need we should seek God-given wisdom to educate us to view trial in its true light and to derive the intended profit. Prayer will enable us to see the trial from the Divine perspective and will help us to draw on the generous spiritual resources available to us. God will give to us liberally. He will give promises and assurance from His Word. His generosity has beneficial intent and He will not ‘cast up’ to us any previous failures in our use or neglect of His gracious provision in the past. James is telling us that God will respond to a genuine prayerful request for His wisdom. He will help us come to discern the Divine intention of testings, and enable us to make the correct decisions and take actions that are consistent with His wise and holy will.
Reuben was inconsistent and vacillating, but there is no excuse for us in that regard either. "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed" Jms.1.6. This is the attitude necessary for prayer to be effective. There is a spiritual demand upon the one asking; that is, to believe and not to doubt. There must be an active confidence in the character of God: "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" Heb.11.6. The phrase "nothing wavering" Jms.1.6, is interesting. Doubt is the result of a divided mind. The present tense and middle voice indicates that this state of mind can become habitual as it oscillates according to competing personal desires. This person’s desires and yearnings are divided between God and temporal things, which leads to an inner moral conflict. The tension of this mental struggle staggers the mind, leading to doubt about the kind of God we have and the character of His purpose for us.
The waverer, unless he breaks the cycle, will become a compulsive doubter of God, with characteristic unrest of soul. That unrest will develop in intensity until he becomes as turbulent as the wind-driven and storm-tossed sea. He will know no peace and will be subject to every external force that lifts up, casts down, and tosses to and fro. "For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord" Jms.1.7. Like Reuben, he does not acquire in life his Father’s intention, but rather suffers loss: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways" Jms.1.8. He acts as if two divergent personalities inhabit his body. Like Reuben and his tribe, there is an inherent dichotomy, exemplified by John Bunyan’s (Pilgrim’s Progress)character "Mr Facing Both Ways"! Without a firm foundation of settled confidence in God, he seeks to serve two masters, halts between two opinions, puts his hand to the plough and looks back and the Scriptural metaphors go on and on. Like Reuben, the man who cannot trust God when in the trial; cannot be trusted by men in any crisis.
However Scripture is positive and encouraging as well as holding an accurate mirror to human failures. "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away … " Jms.1.9-11. This provides a contrast to the double-minded. Often a person’s attitude to material things provides an index of his or her spiritual condition. The believer’s response to changing circumstances, for better or for worse, often indicates his or her state. A gloomy downcast attitude to more straightened economic conditions is not the proper response. Rather there should be an exulting and joyful satisfaction possessed by the person who has confidence in God and who values what God values. The financially poor brother should glory in what he actually has and what he will be, rather than resent what he hasn’t got. What these believers had in prospect was very much greater than what the rich had presently. And the rich should similarly rejoice that they have found in their faith something of incomparably greater value than material wealth. They must not trust in their wealth but in God alone and not become double minded. The brevity and uncertainty of life reminds us that permanence is not found in material things.
Reuben failed under testing. What a contrast there is when potential is realised: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him" Jms.1.12. In this beatitude the believer perseveres in the testing and refuses to give up. He endures with a steadfast attitude and enjoys tranquillity of soul in this life and the assurance of bliss in the next. Like a coin he is tested to establish that he is not counterfeit and he proves to be a true coin of the realm. Having been thus proved he will receive a certain future reward at the Lord’s return and enjoy the full consummation of an eternal salvation as a living, not a perishing, crown of life. Trial is therefore of benefit to the believer now and in relation to future prospects. He has all the Lord’s promises of heavenly glory in view with obedient, trusting, love being his spiritual motivating power.
Reuben lost his birthright, his potential for leadership and priestly honour. Let us learn the lessons James would teach us so that we do not fall short in a similar way.
THE WORK OF EVANGELISATION IN FIRST CENTURY CORINTH
"And such were some of you", wrote the apostle Paul to the assembly of God in Corinth, 1Cor.6.11. His comment came at the end of a list of sins practised unashamedly by the unrighteous sinners of Corinth. Those gross sins characterised the Gentile nations to which the apostle to the Gentiles had been sent in the first century A.D. In the workplace and in the marketplace, Corinthian Christians rubbed shoulders with people who were sexually immoral, idolaters, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers. The apostle had emphasised in an earlier letter that he had written that they were "not to company with fornicators" 1Cor.5.9. The apostle ensured that his readers did not expand the boundaries within which they were to interpret that verse, by including the qualifying phrase, "yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world", which may be understood as saying, "I did not refer primarily to fornicators of the world" v.10, since dealings with the covetous or the idolater or the railer or the drunkard or the extortioner were unavoidable, unless the Corinthian saints were to go out of the world, v.11! They were instructed not to eat socially with "a brother" who was known to be guilty of any of the sins of v.11. Had the apostle not written to Gentile Corinth in those terms, a convert from idolatry may not have had the clarity of understanding that the apostle might have found in an orthodox Jew; hence the need for special care in the wording of 1Corinthians.
The scribes and the Pharisees, who held sway over many in Jerusalem, had less excuse than the idolatrous Gentile of Corinth, when moral sins such as fornication and adultery were being judged. Their prejudiced judgment of a woman taken in the very act of adultery revealed their rejection of the law of Moses in respect of such sins. They brought the woman to the Lord and accused her of adultery, Jn.8.4. Both the male and the female parties were guilty of the immorality the woman’s accusers were outlining, but somewhere on the way from the scene of her adultery, the woman’s accusers had lost the male adulterer, or let him go. Yet, at Lev.20.10 and Deut.22.22, the law stated unambiguously that both were to be stoned to death; we read: "they shall both of them die … so thou shalt put away evil from among you" Deut.22.22,24. Deliberately, the woman’s accusers had misquoted Moses. They stated: "Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned", adding their question: "but what sayest thou?" v.5. It was on that occasion that the Lord stooped and wrote on the ground, and the woman’s accusers continued asking Him, until He said: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" v.7. The outcome of the case was remarkable, for "they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst" v.9.
The world in which the gospel of the grace of God was preached from the day of Pentecost onwards was the world of Jew and Gentile. The message of the gospel is described as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [Gentile]" Rom.1.16. The gospel had entered their world at a time when the moral standards of both Jew and Gentile were not punctiliously observed. Certainly, among the Gentiles, the root cause of such behaviour was in part ignorance, an ignorance that the temple priests of false gods and goddesses exploited by blending idol worship and immoral practices.
PRACTICES OF GROSS DEGRADATION
Ignorance is a dangerous state for a child of God or an assembly of God. However, there is something worse than ignorance; it is arrogance. It is more costly too. It drives men to commit what the Jew called "presumptuous sins". Rightly, a godly Jew prayed to be delivered from "presumptuous sins": "Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins" Ps.19.13. They would have said that the arrogance that causes one to commit "presumptuous sins" is costly. It might cost a man his own soul. Indeed, Daniel chapter 5 provides an example of a "presumptuous" sin, not in a Jew, but in a Gentile king. Face to face with Belshazzar, Daniel did not say, "If only thou knewest!" Rather Daniel reproached him: "... though thou knewest all this" v.22. Belshazzar knew of the God of heaven; knew how his respected grandfather had been humbled and restored to the throne by that God. Belshazzar was guilty of "presumptuous" sins, for out of arrogance he ignored all that he had learned.
The commonly-reported fornication among the Corinthian believers involved a relationship that even the unsaved Corinthians would not have condoned - a man having his father’s wife, 1Cor.5.1. We learn that the Corinthians were so "puffed up" (perhaps as a result of glorying in their so-called liberty) that they failed to realise the seriousness of the man’s sin. The apostle bluntly states that they should have mourned over the appalling sin that was in the assembly in order that the guilty man, who had done this deed, might be removed from among [them]" v.2. They learned from the apostle that their arrogance, their spiritual pride, had ignored, perhaps even approved of, serious sins that should not be allowed to continue among God’s people. Certainly, the converted Jews among them would have known that the incestuous sin that was being tolerated was the sin, first of Reuben and then of Absalom, Gen.35.22; 2Sam.16.22.
It is in that context that the apostle Paul draws attention to the authority that belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ, so he uses the phrase "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" to qualify the gathering together of the assembly, v.4. The apostle could not be present, which immediately highlights that such a meeting for discipline of a sinning Christian was not then, and cannot be now, dependent on the presence of an apostle. Both the authority and power of the Lord Jesus are the two features that Paul underscores. Having considered the evidence and having reached the view that serious sin had been committed, the assembly was to bow to the authority of Christ and "put away from among [themselves] that wicked person" v.13. The apostle also writes of the wicked person being committed to Satan "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" v.5. The apostle also exercised this apostolic authority in respect of Hymenaeus and Alexander, 1Tim.1.20. Since it had received instructions from Paul, with his apostolic authority, the assembly, in faithfully carrying out those instructions, could be confident that it was acting with Divine authority, even when Paul was not physically present with them.
In dealing with this case of serious sin, the apostle notes lessons that are to be learned in Corinth and elsewhere. Those lessons were particularly relevant to Corinth, but not to Corinth only. He warns against "keep[ing] company [with] any man that is called a brother … [who] is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" 1Cor.5.11, A.V.; J.N.D. reads: "with such a one not even to eat". The final clause may warn against eating socially with a man whose influence could prove dangerous even to an earnest Christian.
Where there is such a breach of New Testament moral standards, Paul makes it clear that the elders of the assembly should charge the perpetrator before the assembly. As we shall see in the next paper, in our God, the assembly has every resource required to deal with the problem. We sing truthfully:
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Blessed Saviour, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
Blessed Jesus, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
(Joseph M. Scriven)
THE GRACIOUS WORK OF RESTORATION
Restoration is as much a work of God as conversion; restoration also involves both the grace of God and the power of God affecting the soul. The psalmist David has awakened countless men and women through the last three thousand years, as they have pondered his testimony to the God of restoration: "He restoreth my soul" Ps.23.3. The tense of the wording suggests that restoration is not an isolated event, but an aspect of his relationship with the Lord, his Shepherd.
As is the case in respect of salvation, God graciously uses His servants in the work of restoration. It is a demanding work, requiring a comprehensive understanding of the Divine requirements for Christian living, New Testament doctrine and practice, and a heart that understands the grief that sin can cause in a Christian’s life. The Lord will also ensure that the responsible brethren are not burdened with more than they can undertake, Rev.2.24.
Many are of the view that Paul’s references in 2Corinthians to "a man" and his "punishment" 2Cor.2.6 refer to the man who was guilty of the incestuous sin Paul condemns in the first epistle. The over-much sorrow that might have swallowed up the man under discipline was to be avoided. Paul indicates that if such a one was "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" it could lead to depression, despair, and, ultimately, to destruction, of the individual, and perhaps even of the assembly, v.7. If it be the same man that is in view in 2Corinthians, then we see that, the man having earlier been delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, Satan is now over-reaching himself to gain an advantage over the apostle and the Corinthian assembly, v.11.
Paul, who shamed the Corinthian assembly that there was not a wise man among them to exercise judgement in respect of moral sin, in other matters had guided them to purge out the old leaven from those who owned that Christ our sacrifice has been sacrificed for us, 1Cor.5.7. He had brought them "consolation and salvation" 2Cor.1.6. Now that same Paul speaks of being led in the train of the triumph of Christ, 2Cor.2.14. The imagery is unashamedly borrowed from the victorious Roman general riding in triumph along the Via Sacra in imperial Rome. This is one of the most vivid images that Paul uses in this letter. The first epistle as a whole caused Paul "much affliction and anguish of heart [and] many tears" 2Cor.2.4. Rightly, he had made them sorry with a letter, which may have seemed heavy, but the intensity of Paul’s abundant love for them would not let him give them up, 2Cor.2,2,4; Hos.11.8.
Any saint in fellowship in the assembly at Corinth would learn lessons about the seriousness of sin. These were lessons for all, not only for the wicked man who was put away from among them and then forgiven.
"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" 1Cor.1.2.
A contemporary feature of many assemblies today is that of an ageing company. Faithful saints in their seventies and eighties and some into their nineties struggle out to the meetings despite advancing health issues. The average age of conference attendees has increased markedly over the years. In many assemblies there are no young believers and few young couples with their families. The attendance of young believers at ministry meetings is largely selective. Many sadly seek fellowship elsewhere. Ill-nourished and poorly-taught believers, some young and some not so young, often see no difference between the assembly of believers gathered unto the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and a nominal evangelical church or human organisation. Do we need to focus again upon the Divine order in the local church of God?
Paul writes to, "the church of God which is at Corinth". There were very serious doctrinal errors and moral sins at Corinth. These are dealt with in the two epistles to that church. Does this mean that we can have fellowship with companies professing to be assemblies, no matter how unscriptural or corrupt? The answer is no! Paul as an apostle laid the foundation of the church at Corinth. By inspiration, he writes to address the immediate problems and thus, with other apostolic writings, giving us the completion of the inspired canon. We are left with guidance and instruction for assembly practices. We cannot have fellowship with organisations which were never founded on the Word of God. In our movements, we cannot frequent places which have deliberately and wilfully over many years, disobeyed the plain teaching of the Word of God.
The word "church" is the translation of the Greek word ekklesia which is made up of two words: klesis, a calling and the preposition ek, meaning "out of". It simply means an out-calling. In all of the 112 occurrences in the New Testament, it could be consistently translated by the word "assembly". "Church" is a good word but it has two very wrong uses in Christendom. In the religious world "a church" is either a building used for religious purposes, or an organisation made up of member congregations that adopted a denominational name to distinguish it from other "Christian organisations". You will search in vain in the New Testament to find either one of these uses for the word "church".
A comparison of the ways that the Holy Spirit uses the word "church" in the local aspect will show how wrong it is to use it for a building. "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison" Acts 8.3. "Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem" Acts 11.22. Again Paul speaks of "the church that is in their house" Rom.16.5. These quotations show how ridiculous it is to use the word "church" to mean a building of bricks and concrete. The reader will therefore understand why in these Papers, we use the term "local assembly".
When the New Testament refers to assemblies (plural) they are called:
"Assemblies of God" - emphasising their ownership. God’s possession. The authority of God’s Word.
"Assemblies of Christ" - emphasising sovereignty. The Lordship and Headship. Control of the Risen Head.
"Assemblies of the Saints" - emphasising the sanctity. The moral character of the members, distinct from the standards of society.
"Assemblies of the Gentiles" - emphasising their ethnic composition.
"Assemblies of Galatia", "Judaea", "Asia", etc. – indicating their location and highlighting autonomous local assemblies: never a confederation.
The principles which distinguish the Scripturally gathered New Testament assembly are:-
The Gathered Company Does Not Accept Any Earthly Name.
1Cor.1.2 "call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord". His Name. To take another name is to denominate. To denominate is sin. Companies named for convenience, invention or emphasis are denominations. Our attraction and attachment is to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Local Assembly Does Not Belong To Any Man-Made Organisation.
Heb.13.13 "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach". His Reproach. The assembly is separated from any Jewish organisation or its counterpart in Christendom. The principles, practices and places of the ordered religious world system are alienated from and hostile to the assembly. Human wisdom and ability; secular or religious organisations; the federations of missions or movements are contrary to a New Testament assembly gathered without the camp unto our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Assembly Is Not Subject To Human Authority.
1Cor.5.4 "The power [authority] of our Lord Jesus Christ". His Lordship. His Lordship is not to be usurped by a pastor or senior elder. The recognition of clergy and laity is Nicolaitanism, which the Lord hates, Rev.2.15. A Scriptural assembly will be fed and guided from the Scriptures by a plurality of elders, Acts 20.28.
The Assembly Is Not Ruled By Regional Control.
"These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" Rev.2.1. His Control. The Scriptural principle is that of independent autonomous assemblies with no central government of men. Apostolic advice was sought in Acts chapter 15, pending the completion of the full canon of Scripture. A regional managerial committee of human impostors is a denial of the sufficiency of the Scriptures, the presidency of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Lord of the churches.
The Assembly Does Not Follow Secular Patterns.
"The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" 1Cor.11.3. His Headship. The Scriptural pattern of the assembly will be seen in the Divine order of God’s will displayed in Christ and the submission of the man and woman in their respective spheres.
The Assembly Is Not Occupied With Religious Rituals.
"No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit" 1Cor.12.3,4. The Holy Spirit. "He will guide you into all truth" Jn.16.13. In the gathered assembly, the Spirit controls in the meeting giving spiritual exercise and the functioning of the priesthood of all believers. All the functions of the assembly are spiritual, not social entertainment or ritualistic formality.
The Assembly Does Not Conform To Human Standards.
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" 2Tim.2.15. The Truth. The local assembly today is distinguished by Scriptural truth which has not changed. This is not a creed, code or guidebook of rules compiled by man for the present age. Nor does it permit the inventions and innovations of evangelical modernism. The local assembly is not the best of the denominations but it is a condemnation of the sectarian and denominational organisations of men.
In the previous paper we dealt with v.1 and now we come to v.2 where we have the mind in connection with proving the will of God. Paul presents it in a twofold way: "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind". First negatively, "Be not conformed", and then positively, "but be ye transformed".
Different Words For World
"Be not conformed to this world [age]." There are two Greek words for "world" viz. kosmos and aion. Kosmos means "order" or "arrangement" and is used a couple of ways in Scripture. It is used of humanity’s abode, i.e. the world God made; and it is used of humanity itself, mankind living in the world made by God. Both meanings are brought together in Jn.1.10: "He was in the world", i.e. that which God made: "and the world knew Him not", i.e. the world of humanity knew Him not. The other word for "world", aion, means "age." It comes from a word meaning "blow" or "to breathe," referring to life in its temporal form. It is occasionally used of historical time and eternity also.
The word aion is what Paul uses here: "Be not conformed to this age." It recurs frequently in the New Testament. In 2Cor.4.4, we have "the god of this age"; in Gal.1.3,4: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age"; in Lk.16.8, the Lord Jesus spoke of "the children of this age"; in 1Cor.1.20, Paul speaks of "the disputer of this age"; and in chapter 2.6 of the same epistle, we have "the wisdom of this age", and "the princes of this age".
Notice too, the recurrence of the word "this" in these passages: "The God of this age"; "The children of this age"; "The disputer of this age". The introduction of "this" before "age" directs our attention to its character. We can only see its true character when we view it from the sanctuary, and this is something, my dear brethren, we need to learn. Gal.1.4 says it is an evil age and 2Cor.4.4 says its god is the devil. This age has its sons, its rulers, and its own wisdom, but it is always in spiritual darkness and away from God. It is an age where man’s opinion prevails and God is excluded. It is in stark contrast to the age coming, when Christ will rule and nothing shall be at variance to God; when everything will be in accord with His mind.
Paul said: "Be not conformed to this age." If we recognise its character, we will understand the need for not being conformed to it. Peter uses this word in 1Pet.1.14, when he writes: "Not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance". That is, "not being conformed to your former lusts which were done in ignorance," "not conforming to the example of this age." External conformity is the word here. Not being externally conformed to this age in which we live.
Young people pride themselves in nonconformity. Is not that true? They boast of being nonconformist, ones who refuse to conform. Nevertheless, my dear brethren, the fact is, that young people have never in any age been more conformed than they are today. It only takes some TV personality or pop singer to introduce a new fashion and they rush to conform. Many parents and alas, even some of our elder brethren, become guilty of this same conformity.
My dear brethren, these things are very deceptive. There are men wearing women’s apparel and women wearing men’s, and of course, some of our dear brethren say, "That wasn’t made for a man, it was made for a woman," and "That wasn’t made for a woman, it was made for a man". They feel relieved by this and think it’s an excuse, but it is not. The fact women’s clothing is made for men and men’s clothing is made for women, is only astute businessmen catering to the unisex idea. Do not just blame the shopkeeper or astute businessman. Get into the sanctuary of God and see things as He would have you see them.
Some time ago, it was asked in a Christian magazine if it was wrong for a woman to wear certain clothing like a man. Of course, Deut.22.5 was quoted: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God." The answer stated that this verse no longer applies today. They said if it did, then subsequent verses in the chapter must apply also; things like ploughing with an ox and ass or the wearing of garments made with diverse materials as woollen and linen. This answer, of course, pleased ever so many. However, my dear brethren, that answer was not of God. Never forget, that while ceremonial laws are superseded and altered, God’s moral laws are never altered. Only one law in the Decalogue was altered: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" Ex.20.8. Why was that? Because it was purely ceremonial. All the other laws abide: "Thou shalt not kill", "Thou shalt not steal", "Thou shalt not commit adultery", etc.. These have never changed because, I repeat, ceremonial laws are superseded and changed, but moral laws never are. A man wearing women’s clothing or a woman wearing men’s clothing involves something moral and God’s moral law has never changed. May I appeal to my dear sisters and dear brethren: Be not conformed to this age; this age of dreadful conformity.
That is the negative, now we come to the positive: "But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind". The word "conform" is the antithesis of this word "transformed". "Conform" involves external change, but "transformed" involves internal change. You likely know that the word "transformed" is the same as that used of the Saviour in Matt.17.2 and Mk.9.2, where we read: "He was transfigured before them". That is the change the apostle speaks of here. It is a change in the life that commences in the inner man; that inner man which is created after God and whose desires must always be according to God.
How is this transformation achieved? "By the renewing of your mind". The word "mind" signifies intelligence, the vehicle through which change is brought about. We are transfigured or changed by the renewing of the mind.
Think of this a moment. My brother, my sister, when you were saved, old things passed away and all things became new. When you were saved you were a new creation. You put off the old man and put on the new. Says Paul in Titus 3.5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." Eph.4.17 describes our former walk in the vanity of our mind, but that is no longer so. Ours is now a "renewed" mind, Eph.4.23. Paul confirms this further in Col.3.10: "And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him." Thus, when the apostle speaks in v.2 of the "renewing of your mind", he is simply referring to the use of our renewed mind. "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind" Eph.4.23; "The inward man is renewed day by day" 2Cor.4.16.
How is this brought about? How do I employ my renewed mind? 2Cor.3.18 is the only other place where Paul uses the word "transformed" or "transfigured": "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed [transformed] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord". We are transfigured into moral and spiritual conformity to the will of God when we become occupied with Christ. We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are transfigured, are changed into the same image, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Young brother, young sister, I appeal to you. This being transfigured is not an adherence to a code of rules or something bred from fear of one’s brethren. Many young people in an assembly will adhere to rules where they are, but when crossing the waters to another area and assembly, they change radically. This indicates conformity to certain rules or ministry or to a fear of discipline, but conformity to these never brings change that’s according to God. What does? Heart occupation with Christ. My brother, my sister, old as well as young, if you want to be changed or transfigured, then get your heart and mind fixed on Christ. If He fills your soul and heart, then you’ll not go up and down with the fashions of this world.
"That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." That you might prove by experience, discover by experiment, approve by trial. The same word is used in Lk.14.19: "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them". It means to prove or discover by experience in the world of evil (a world that militates against everything holy and heavenly). It is proving God’s will is good and acceptable and perfect.
"Prove what is that good" will of God: that’s man-ward. God’s will is good in its effect upon us. Why? Because it brings peace, it brings tranquillity into the soul. "And acceptable": that’s God-ward (acceptable in God’s sight): the testimony that we are pleasing to Him. "And perfect", the will of God is perfect in its wisdom, in its love, and in its result.
(This article has been transcribed from a recording of our late brother’s ministry and submitted for publication. It also explains its somewhat colloquial style.)
The words of the Lord Jesus in His prayer in Jn.17.3, "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God", give us to understand categorically that the high water mark of Christian living is not getting to know the saints nor even the Scriptures, valuable as those exercises may be, but rather ‘getting to know God’!
This was surely the failure of the nation of Israel as they rallied round the golden calf with the vain anthem ringing out "These be thy gods, O Israel" Ex.32.4. It was to be a failure that dogged their steps right until the captivity and indeed to this day. The dark days of Malachi were only brightened by the few that "feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name" Mal.3.16. The promised blessings of the new covenant after the dark failure of a failing nation will be that "they shall not teach every man his neighbour ... ‘Know the Lord’: for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest" Heb.8.11.
It has ever been the challenge of the enemy to undermine the child of God’s confidence and to minimise his appreciation of the greatness of God. From the days of Eden’s subtle insinuation of "hath God said?" to the striking mockery of those in the psalmist’s experience, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" Ps.53.1, to the psalm already quoted above, "Where is thy God?" Ps.42.3, and right up to the present time when Richard Dawkins sponsored the ‘atheist bus campaign’ advertising the slogan, "There’s probably NO GOD. Now stop worrying"! Psalm 42 is entitled ‘Maschil, for the sons of Korah’, causing us to remember the seriousness of the attitude of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers chapter 16 when their failure to rightly esteem the character of God cost the lives of over fifteen thousand men. Truly, "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him" Ps.89.7.
The knowledge of God is not necessarily something that is to be learned in the trial through which the child of God passes but rather something learned beforehand, as that which will sustain him or her in the trial when it comes. Note how the psalmist speaks of God in answer to the challenge "Where is thy God?"
His knowledge of God is manifested in the various ways in which he speaks of God in Psalms 42 and 43.
Ps.42.2, HE IS THE LIVING GOD – HIS PERMANENT CONTINUANCE
This should still be a great consolation to the believer in the 21st century. Uncertainty is the order of the day. The instability that is all around us makes us recall the words of the old hymn by Henry Francis Lyte, 1847:
Change and decay in all around I see,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Our seemingly stable lives can be rocked in a moment: a hospital consultation, a change in management, a poor examination result, a broken romance, a disappointment in a friend, a marriage breakdown or the loss of a loved one. How blessed to have known the reality of a God of Whom it can still be said, "But Thou art the same and Thy years shall not fail" Heb.1.12; "I am the Lord, I change not" Mal.3.6. This is the knowledge that sustains us in the trial! David grasped this truth in Ps.8.3,9: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained … O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!"
Ps.42.8, HE IS THE GOD OF MY LIFE – HIS PRESENT COMPANY
Learning God, not only as the distant, omnipotent creator of all things, but also as One Who is personally interested in my life. Thus, David asks in Ps.8.4 "What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" It is sometimes hard to get the ear of the top physician or surgeon in their field. We are often unsatisfied with the lesser mortals when it is my case in question, but, in the matters of my life, we have ever the ear of the "God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways ... " Dan.5.23. It was this God, Whom David had proved in the everyday needs of life, before the giant must be met. The lion and the bear preceded the deep valley of Elah. It is good to know God before the giant approaches, whatever forms that giant may take, be it Disappointment, Despair, Distress or even Death.
Ps.42.9, HE IS GOD MY ROCK – HIS PROTECTIVE CANOPY
It was this aspect of God that Isaiah also learned, "And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" Isa.32.2. There is something exceedingly precious about having such a God beside us.
It is good to have a rock beneath us, making us secure on salvation’s day, Ps.40.2. It is equally grand to have a rock beside us, when the sun beats down on our frail form and the cruel winds of affliction blow in our face, Isa.32.2. It is even more thrilling to have a rock above us: "When my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I" Ps.61.2.
I know of many of the choicest of saints who must be finding it hard to keep their head above the water. The torrents of life’s raging billows sweep the unbelievers off their feet but the child of God lifts his or her eyes above the swirling tide and knows there is a God Who is above it all. We rest under the shadow of His wings, in the shadow of the Almighty. Get to know Him better now before the storm breaks and the billows roar.
Ps.43.2, THE GOD OF MY STRENGTH – HIS POWERFUL CONTROL
"Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts, all Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me" Ps.42.7. Note how the psalmist recognises that the noisy waterspouts and the deep billows are not in the hand of the enemy or mocker who says "Where is thy God?" but rather in the hand of God. He speaks of Thy billows etc. Our little boat is rocked to such a degree that at times we feel like crying out: "carest Thou not that we perish?" as did those on the turbulent sea in Mk.4.38. With the calm of omnipotence, He Who controls and maintains the oceans of the world and limits their boundaries; calms the threatening waves that would seem to overturn the already seemingly sinking ship for "it was now full" Mk.4.37. Do you ever get ‘that sinking feeling’? Listen for His word that still can say "Peace be still ... it is I, be not afraid". The God who manages 1,400 million cubic kilometres of water in the oceans of the world, can be safely trusted when He says "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee" Isa.43.2.
Ps.43.4, GOD MY EXCEEDING JOY – THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPENSATIONS
Well might the psalmist ask in Ps.42.5 "Why art thou cast down O my soul?" We have so much for which to be thankful that one wonders how the soul without Christ can possibly cope with the turmoil of life’s storms. The theme of Psalms 42 and 43, even in the teeth of opposition and trial, is not Panic but Peace and Praise. There is a joy in being able to rest in Him and trust Him for all that is to come. We often think of five young men, missionaries to Ecuador, on 3rd Jan 1956, who gathered to pray on the night before they were to make contact with the Auca tribe. As they gathered on that fateful night, the eve of their martyrdom, they sang lustily together:
King of my life I crown Thee now,
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow,
Lead me to Calvary.
(Jennie Evelyn Hussey)
Their spirit was the spirit of Asa, who said, "we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go" 2Chr.14.11. Our blessed Lord beautifully exemplified the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, whose leaf did not wither, Ps.1.2,3. All too often our joy still ebbs and flows. May we be among those who can say, "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord … be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart" Ps.27.13,14. We sing of, but do we truly know?:
The joy that comes when He is near,
The rest He gives so free from fear,
The hope in Him so bright and clear,
Is more than tongue can tell.
(J. E. Hall)
Ps.43.4, GOD MY GOD – A PERSONAL CLAIM
As a young believer I heard the late Mr. Edmund Allen of Bleary and the late Mr. John Douglas, Ashgill, say often, "Read your own Bible and pray to your own God". I wondered at such words at the time but as I grew older I realised what they meant. They were seeking to encourage a rising generation to cultivate a personal acquaintance with the God of the Bible. Paul did strive after such, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord ... that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings" Phil.3.8,10.
Thus when any ask of us "Where is thy God?", may we be able to give an answer of the hope that is within us and of the God we personally know. To the world, He is still "the unknown God", as Paul discovered in Athens. Let us be able to say with conviction in our personal testimony and public preaching, "Him declare we unto you" Acts 17.23.
Psalms 42 and 43 could thus be summarised in the words that we often quote, which, had they been known by the psalmist, may well have been sent to the "chief Musician":
I was going to visit two Christians who were in hospital. It was a high rise building and the people I wanted to see were on different levels. I went to the area on the ground floor, from which the elevators could be accessed and was soon on my way up. After spending a little while with the first person I made my way back to the area where a number of people were waiting for an elevator. Soon it arrived and we were asked, "Are you going up?" This immediately divided the people because some said, "No we’re going down". I got in and was in the company of people, all of whom were going up; the others we left behind and they were going down.
Later, as I pondered this simple incident, I thought it was just like humanity; some are going down and some are going up! The destinations are certainly not on earth. Some people are going up to heaven, while sadly very many are going down to hell. Dear reader, which way are you going?
In Luke chapter 16, we read about two men: one was a rich man while the other was a poor man. It says concerning the rich man, who lived independently of God, that he "died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame" verses 22-24. He went ‘down’. Isaiah 14.9 states, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming ..."
It is not a pleasant prospect to be going down. However there is a glorious possibility, open to all humanity, that we could go up, and that to heaven! Note how the Bible speaks of the location of heaven: in Romans 10.6 we read, "Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) ..." This location is seen in Luke 16.23: "And in hell he [the rich man] lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Note, "he lift up his eyes". Are you going up or down?
How is it possible to know that you are going up? Did the poor man go up because he was poor and the rich man go down because he was rich? Very dogmatically, no! Peter tells us, "God is no respecter of persons" Acts 10.34. The name of the poor man was Lazarus, which means, ‘my help is of God’, indicating that he was a believer.
In the simple illustration, the direction of travel was based upon which elevator I chose, just as your eternal destiny depends on your choice or rejection of Jesus Christ. He alone can take you up! Acts 4.12 states, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." God had only one Son Who came "to seek and to save that which was lost" Luke19.10. We could not save ourselves. Religion, church attendance, good works, philosophies of men could not save us; salvation is "not of works, lest any man should boast" Ephesians 2.9. Since each person must die for his own sins, only a sinless person could die for sinners. Thus, due to His sinlessness He alone could die for us and He alone can save us. In Romans 5.6,8 we read that "Christ died for the ungodly ... Christ died for us." 1Corinthians 15.3 tells us that "Christ died for our sins". Salvation comes through "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" Acts 20.21.