THE close of Ex. 15 finds Israel encamped at Elim. Its cool shade and refreshing springs must have been a welcome change from their experience at Marah, and were also, no doubt, an encouraging foretaste of the promised land. Thank God, many a restful “Elim” He has given His weary pilgrim people from then till now.
“But palms and shades and springs,
However loved and blest,
Are not the long eternal things,
Of our eternal rest”
We are not surprised, therefore, that chap. 16 opens with the words, “And they took their journey from Elim.” The long wilderness march, with its varied experiences, all so new and strange, still lay before them. Many were the lessons God had to teach their wayward hearts ere that journey ended. Its trying years manifested what was in them, and afforded their leader an opportunity of knowing God as few men have ever known Him. Shut in with Israel in that great and terrible wilderness, with all the care of those murmuring and stiff-necked people pressing continually upon his heart, God was Moses' only recourse. To him was given the unique and inestimable privilege of free access into the Divine Sanctuary at all times. There “he heard the Voice of One speaking unto him from above the mercy-seat” (Num. 7. 89, R.V.). Not in “dark speeches,” but “mouth to mouth,” did God commune with Moses. He spake to him “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33. 11). “Mouth to mouth” and “face to face”—what holy intimacy and hallowed familiarity these words breathe! It was during those years that God “made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel” (Ps. 103. 7). In His mighty “acts” they saw the outward fulfilment of what God had promised, but to Moses was revealed the secret significance and consummate wisdom of His “ways.” Moses, “the friend” of God, like Abraham before him, was shown the hidden purpose of the Lord (see Isa. 41. 8 and Gen. 18. 17); for the mark of a friend, as contrasted with a servant, is that to him are confided the secret things. “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (John 15. 15).
Thus to know God experimentally through communion and meditation upon His Word, should be the Christian's highest ambition. We are to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3. 18). Nothing can be a substitute for this. What is a mere theoretical knowledge of things compared with it? Here, dear child of God, is true and lasting wealth. Do not mistake the shell for the kernel. Here is what subdues the spirit, sweetens the temper, develops spiritual character, and imparts fragrance and beauty to the fire. It is a heart acquaintance with God, for to know Him is to be like Him. There is, however, no quick, cheap or easy way to the attainment ot this. It was Paul's life-long ambition, even as it was his highest, that l may know Him. For the excellency of this knowledge he “counted all tilings but loss,” yea, as mere “refuse” (see Phil. 3. 8-10); and his reward, like that of Moses, was a profound insight into God's ways. “O the depth,” he exclaims, “of the riches both of the wisdom and the Knowledge oi God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past tracing out! (Rom 11.33, R.V.). May it be our aim also to cultivate acquaintance with Him in an ever increasing measure. Who would not long for such blessed Companionship? “O for a closer walk with God. Theodorus said of Luther: “I overheard him in prayer, But, good God, with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with such reverence, as if he were speaking to God. It was with such confidence, as it he were speaking to his friend.” Moses knew God; Paul knew God; Luther knew God. Each of them had his wilderness experience, and out of that experience was born a deep and abiding confidence in God and in His infinite wisdom and love. Mr. Darby knew something of this when he wrote—
(2) IT IS BASED ON A FICTITIOUS ORDER OF PROPHETIC EVENTS.
The second objection to the Tribulation Theory is that it is based on a mistaken exegesis of Matt. 24. 29 and Acts 2. 20. In the former of these passages the heavenly signs are said to follow the Great Tribulation, in the latter they are said to precede “the great and terrible Day of the Lord,” and therefore, so the Tribulationists argue, the order of future events will be— (1) The Great Tribulation; (2) The heavenly signs; (3) The day of the Lord! This is certainly very clear; but it might have occurred to these teachers that were their theory as true as it is clear it would hardly have been left to our day to make the remarkable discovery. The fallacy of their argument lies in the fact that they have failed to grasp the difference between “the day of the Lord” and “the great and notable day of the Lord.” While it does say that the heavenly signs precede the latter, it does not say that they precede “the day of the Lord.”
“The Tribulation, the great one” (lit.) of Rev. 7, is to be carefully distinguished, these teachers admit, from the long period of tribulation which is even now leading up to it. Have they not overlooked the difference between “the day of the Lord, the great and notable one” (of Joel 2; Mal. 4; and Acts 2), and the long period entitled “the day of the Lord,” which precedes as well as succeeds it? This period of time will, I believe, dawn in Rev. 6. 1, and continue for a thousand years at least, till Rev. 20 (when, according to 2 Peter.3, “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise”). “The great and notable day of the Lord” will, on the contrary, be a crisis of time, when Christ shall be revealed as “the Sun of Righteousness” to the healing of His people, and “as a burning oven” to the destruction of the ungodly (Mal. 4). It is. therefore, perfectly true to say that “the signs in the heavens” precede “the great and notable day ” but they are themselves but an incident in the long period known as “the day of the Lord.” I do not mean, of course, that in every passage where “the day of the Lord” is brought before us, the above distinction is necessarily emphasised, but where the two expressions occur in the same passage, as in Joel 2, the distinction is as plain as it is important
THE ORDER OF EVENTS
This being so, I believe that the order of events is not as the “Tribulationists” affirm; but as follows :
The Rapture of the Church.
The Day of the Lord, which will include : (a) The Great Tribulation; (b) The heavenly signs; (c) The great and notable day of the Lord; and even (d) The millennial reign.
That this order is the right one, I submit the five following proofs:
In several prophecies the day of the Lord has begun before the heavenly signs occur.
We do not read in the prophets of a Great Tribulation preceding the “day of the Lord.”
The same characteristics are common to the day of the Lord and to the Great Tribulation.
The same unparalleled character of severity is predicted of both periods.
We do not see either in the Old or New Testament that the Lord is exalted throughout “the day of the Lord.”
THE DAY OF THE LORD BEGUN
In several places in Scripture the day of the Lord is described as in full progress before the signs in the heavens are mentioned at all: See Isa. 24. 1-23; Joel. 2. 1-10; Isa. 13. 6-10; Isa. 34. 2,3. How then is it possible to maintain, in face of such Scriptures, that the “day of the Lord” does not begin until after the signs in the heavens? Nor is there the hard and fast distinction that these teachers would maintain between the “day of the Lord” and “the Great Tribulation,” either as to time or character. It would appear rather that the former includes the latter. Even by the showing of the “Tribulationists”, “the Great Tribulation” only occupies a part of the whole period, stretching from the opening of the first seal onward. It would be strange had this inclusive period no generic name. I believe it has and that this name is “The Day of the Lord.”
As in Egypt during the plagues, so the day of the Lord during part of its course is characterised by the tribulation of God's earthly people at the hands of their enemies by His permission, and at the same time by terrible judgments against the nations of the earth directly from the hand of God, in which His earthly people also share.
PRECEDENCE OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION
2. Again, if the order of events is as the advocates of the Tribulation Theory teach, we should not only expect to find “the day of the Lord” preceded by the heavenly signs (which, as we have just seen is not the case) but a fortiori by the “Great Tribulation,” or by some period which, though not bearing this name, would at any rate correspond to it in character. We have seen that it is impossible at any rate to exclude Israel from the scenes depicted in Matt. 24. Should we not expect to find her decimated and exhausted by the fearful persecutions through which she has just passed? But where do we find such a state of things in the prophecies? It is “the day of the Lord” with which Israel is threatened if she will not repent (e.g. Isa. 2.; Joel 2; Amos 1; Zeph. 2), as well as the nations of the earth. Again, if the coming of the Lord in 1 Thess. 4 is to deliver His Church after “the Great Tribulation,” why is there no hint of this latter previously in that chapter? On the contrary, the exhortation that immediately precedes is, “That ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands”—advice hardly suitable for a people enduring a
raging persecution as the Tribulation Theory demands. Of course. I do not admit for a moment that we have in 1 Thess. 4:13-17 a description of the coming of the Son of Man, as in Matt. 24. But why have we not, even in the following chapter, a hint of tribulation and heavenly signs as likely to precede “the day of the Lord,” therein referred to? And why in 2 Thess did the saints imagine that they were in “the day of the Lord,”* and not in “the Great Tribulation,” if this was to take place first?
*The R.V. “as that the day of the Lord is now present” (2 Thess. 2. 2), is the more correct reading (Ed.).
It is quite gratuitous to apply, as one writer does, the references in 1 Thess to “the wrath of God,” simply to “the day of the Lord” Terrible though God’s judgments will be during that day they will not compare with His eternal wrath referred to in Rev. 14. 10, 11.
The historical background to this affectionate letter is found in Acts 16, where we have the record of Paul and Silas with Timothy and Luke bringing the Gospel to Philippi. As a result of their labours men and women were saved and gathered in assembly order. Two interesting stories of conversion are given in the chapter, one of Lydia, a devout and religious lady, and the other of the jailor, who was a hardened sinner. Both learned their need of salvation, and exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may conclude that the assembly was composed of these two classes of converts. To many others also who believed, the Gospel proved to be the power of God unto salvation, although their cases are not individually recorded. This section of the Acts is of special interest, since it contains the first account of the introduction of the Gospel to Europe.
It was some eleven years later, when Paul was a prisoner in Rome, that the Epistle to the Philippians was written, from which we gather that the assembly in Philippi had gone on well from the start, and had given much joy to the heart of the Apostle. These saints were poor in material things, according to 2 Cor. 8. 2, where Paul refers to their “deep poverty,” and they were experiencing a great deal of trouble from persecution (Phil. 1. 29). Notwithstanding these adverse circumstances, they had great affection for the Apostle, and had sent him practical fellowship by the hand of Epaphroditus, who undertook the hazardous journey to Rome, in which he nearly lost his life (see ch. 2. 27). In acknowledgment of “the things” sent by them, and brought to him by their messenger, Paul wrote this epistle, conveying not only his gratitude, but also words of edification, exhortation and comfort for their help and blessing.
The Epistle to the Ephesians was also written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, though possibly a little earlier, vet there is a striking difference between the two letters. In Ephesians God’s great eternal purpose is viewed as an accomplished fact. The believer is seen as Quickened, raised and seated with Christ in the heavenlies. Whereas in Philippians, God is said to have begun a good work in the saints (1. 6). which would continue in them during their lifetime (see 2. 13 : “For it is God which WORKETH in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure”). The good .work is begun at conversion by the impartation of the Divine nature, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The believer is thus capacitated to live for God, the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit within Him. making him not only willing and desirous to do God’s good pleasure, but giving him the power and ability to do it. This good work will be brought to completion at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who will change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. according to the WORKING whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (3. 20-21). Then the saints will be both morally and physically conformed to the image of His Son.
We see, therefore, that Christian practice and progress is the great theme of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. It is interesting as well as instructive to notice three words which the Apostle uses with great frequency in it. These are JOY—GOSPEL—and MIND. They could be regarded as keywords and their consideration will help us to a better understanding of the epistle. The word “joy” and its cognate words, “rejoice” and “gladness” occur some 19 times—nine times about the saints, nine times with reference to the Apostle himself and once in a mutual way. So it could on this account be called a joyful epistle. Then we note that “the Gospel” is referred to very often—e.g. “fellowship in the gospel.” “defence and confirmation of the gospel,” “behaviour becoming the gospel,” and “the faith of the gospel.” See also 2:22; 4:3,15. It is very likely that the active partnership of this assembly in the gospel, had a preserving effect upon its testimony, saving the saints from snares into which others fell. As to the word “MIND.” we meet it in all four chapters. It is connected with the leading thought of each chapter, and has often been summarised thus—
Ch. 1—The Gospel mind.
Ch. 2—The humble and unselfish mind.
Ch. 3—The progressive mind.
Ch. 4—The peaceful mind.
Having glanced at these few features of the epistle as a whole, we shall now notice more closely the contents of chapter 1. This first chapter falls into three main divisions, as follows—
vv. 1-2 : Address and greeting.
vv. 3-11: Paul's thanksgiving for their fellowship in the gospel, with a note of confidence in God's work in them being perfected, and prayer for their increase in love, knowledge and spiritual perception.
vv. 12-30: A description of his condition in Rome, his feelings and hopes, strong exhortations to conduct worthy of the gospel, and unity of spirit and soul in striving together for the faith of the gospel, despite attempts by their adversaries to terrify them.
Two things regarding the address in v. 1 are worthy of note. Firstly, it is very simple. He does not assert his apostleship as in some other epistles where there was a need to do so. He simply calls himself and Timotheus, “bondmen of Jesus Christ.” Secondly, it is very singular, since he addresses the letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (overseers and those who serve). This is the only assembly that he addresses in this way, mentioning the bishops and deacons, as distinct from the saints. Perhaps this recognition was to encourage them in their good work, and also to impress them with the heavy responsibility that rested upon them as leaders of God's people. For the spiritual tone in any assembly only rises as high as the spirituality of its guides. In apostolic days overseers were made by the Holy Spirit, see Acts 20 28; although they were chosen and appointed by an apostle or one deputed by him (see Acts 14. 23; Titus 1. 5). The making of overseers is still God’s work. It is He who puts the earnest care into their hearts, giving them the urge to shepherd the flock. There is no warrant for human appointment now, but we are exhorted to recognise those that are over us in the Lord, and to highly esteem them in love for their work’s sake (1 Thess. 5. 12, 13). A very high moral standard is required for both overseers and deacons, as will be seen in 1 Timothy 3.
The simple and godly path which the Philippian assembly pursued from the beginning gave great joy to Paul, causing him to thank God on every remembrance of them. It was not so in the case of every assembly which he planted. We think of the Corinthians, who through their carnality, party spirit and sin, caused him grief of heart and many tears. He complained that the more abundantly he loved them, the less they loved him (2 Cor. 12. 15). But with the Philippians. he was in their hearts, and this is the true place of affection. They loved the man who brought the gospel to them and led them on in the wavs of the Lord. Their love to him never waned, and their sense of partnership with him was expressed in practical ways, consistently from the first day. This led the Apostle to pray for them that their “love may abound more and more,” their knowledge increase, and that they “may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness” (vv. 9-11).
From v. 12 Paul writes about his present circumstances. He was in bonds, suffering imprisonment, with all its hardships and privations. But, as he records elsewhere, he was the prisoner of the Lord, and that made all the difference. When Israel came to Marah, (Ex. 16. 23) the waters were bitter, so that they could not drink, but the Lord showed Moses a tree, which when cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet. So the painful experience of prison life was changed for Paul, when he brought the Lord into it. and realised that he was there in pursuance of the will of God. It is a noble example to all God's people in affliction, to see that the Lord has a wise and gracious purpose in our trials. When assessing his position, Paul does not bemoan his hard lot. and dwell on his sufferings and difficulties, but rather discerns the advantages accruing from his bonds. These he describes in a fourfold way: (1) They led to the furtherance of the Gospel, since many heard and were saved, who otherwise would have been ignorant of the glad tidings. (2) Many of the brethren were encouraged to witness boldly and preach the Word fearlessly. When Paul was on his journey to Pome, the brethren heard and went out to meet him, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage. Now they take courage as they see him in bonds. (3) Paul himself was able to rejoice in his trials, knowing that the path of God's will is the wav of salvation. In v. 19 he states: “For I know this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” He does not mean salvation from Hell, nor deliverance from prison, but preservation from breaking down in his testimony for God. (4) Lastly, Christ was being magnified in his body (v20). This was the all important thing with Paul, the exalting of Christ was his very life, and if this were achieved, it mattered not whether by life or by death. Christ was everything to Paul, he had a longing to depart and be with Him. and only his desire to be of further help to the saints made him content to be still in the flesh.
He now gives a strong practical exhortation in v27. We have already noticed that the Philippians were a Gospel minded assembly. Not only did they give of their substance to help on the work, but they gave their own selves to the Lord, and, doubtless, according to their ability, sounded out the Word of the Lord. Now says Paul, “Only let your manner of life be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” What a needful exhortation to saints now, as it was then. If our lives are not righteous and consistent, we shall only be a hindrance to the work of God. A godly life is a great argument in favour of the Gospel, but a carnal Christian is a great stumbling-block. It would be a safe rule for all our conduct, to apply this test—How will it affect the preaching of the Gospel? Thus Paul desired to hear of their affairs, that their testimony was united, (one spirit, one mind, together), was aggressive (striving—contending), and backed up by godly living. This would result in persecution from their adversaries, but they were not to be afraid, since the very opposition was a sure token of perdition to the persecutors, but to them of salvation and that of God, because it was granted to them, not only to believe on Christ, but also to suffer for His sake. Let God’s suffering people then take courage, knowing that if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.
SPIRITUAL minds have noted for our profit that prior to God’s unfolding of any major purpose He gave an anticipation of it by His inspired messengers, so we have Jewish national history in Genesis 49, we have Israel’s governmental history in Deuteronomy 33, we have Gentile political history in Daniel, chapters 2 and 7, we have Kingdom history in Matthew 13 and we have Church history in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, but all written beforehand. Today we occupy a remarkable vantage point in that 1900 years have passed since the inception of the Church and it is now possible to view as actual history a great deal of what to John in Patmos and the churches in Asia was unfulfilled prediction.
Our previous meditations have shown that there were other uses for these seven letters, the primary and the practical, but the paramount purpose undoubtedly was to anticipate the successive conditions of God’s Assembly from the Apostles’ time until its removal from its present place of testimony. This is the MYSTERY (ch. 1. 19) the Lord was unfolding and for which reason the Omniscient One chose seven out of a number of Assemblies in Asia to supply through their conditions the predictive pictures of the whole time-history of the Church. We are now in a position to discern “the Mystery” and mark the progression of thought and development of experience these epistles were intended to forecast.
There is internal evidence, too, that while we have seven distinct phases of Church history, something of the character of the last four will persist until the Lord comes. Note that the promise of the return becomes specific in the message to Thyatira (ch. 2. 25) and is repeated to Sardis (ch. 3.3) and to Philadelphia (ch. 3. 11). The structural change from the fourth letter onward is also significant where the promise to the Overcomer is placed before the call for an audience for the Holy Spirit. We may call these periods after the respective local churches in which they were prefigured.
1st—THE EPHESIAN PERIOD: one of SPIRITUAL DECLINE.
The Apostolic era was almost over when John wrote “the Revelation,” and already the fervour and devotion so remarkable pt the beginning had declined. Her activities were not curtailed hut her driving-power was diminished. She had been diverted from a Person to a Programme and so had become eccentric. i.e. off centre. Assailed by false teachers, the wolves of Acts 20. 29, 30, with their attempts to foist upon her a system of priest-craft, she had become absorbed in defending the faith at the expense of affection for her Lord. The love of order and orthodoxy should spring from, and not be a subtle substitute for, love to the Lord Jesus Christ.
2nd—THE SMYRNAN PERIOD: one of SYSTEMATIC OPPOSITION.
Following the Apostolic era, history records the bitter ordeal through which the Church of Christ passed, corresponding exactly with the Satan-energised attacks upon the Smyrnan assembly (ch. 2. 10). Ten successive onslaughts by Emperors of Rome revealed the venom of “the Serpent” against “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3. 15). It is remarkable that the last of these organised persecutions under Diocletian should have been one of ten years’ duration. Political antagonism was aggravated by a religious movement within the church itself towards a mixture of Christianity and Judaism, here declared to be “the Synagogue of Satan” (ch. 2. 9). For two centuries the Church passed through the purging fires and many were added to the martyr-roll, before Satanic policy shifted from ‘the mailed fist’ of oppression to ‘the right hand of fellowship’ and ‘the roaring Lion’ assumed the guise of ‘the Angel of Light.’
3rd—THE PERGAMUM PERIOD: one of WORLDLY ALLIANCE.
The strange turn of events succeeding the persecutions brought a remarkable pattern to view. The “Stranger-church” becomes an earth-dweller (ch. 2. 13), and the Church and State walk hand in hand. But behold “the throne of State,” the unseen authority behind the new order of things (ch. 2. 13)! Constantine’s (A.D. 314) policy of friendship led the Bride of Christ into temptations never yet encountered. There was a promise of protection, of unity, of power, of freedom that was most appealing but which in reality meant the loss of those very blessings. Christ had said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and the unholy mixture of Church and world, of Church and State, was a diabolical snare, the temporal advantages of which were sadly offset by the terrible spiritual losses. The lessons of church history have never been accepted by the professing church. See, to-day, the pitiable spectacle of Church systems striving to lift a depraved society and to “Christianize” an ungodly and Christ-hating world! The result of all their compromising efforts has been to drag the church further into the world’s smothering embrace, and to lessen her influence for God and eternity. (In such circumstances “Post-millennial” theories concerning the Kingdom of Christ have been born and thriven). Satan has thus prepared the way for the great world-church which has served his ends so well. The Pergamum period with its Balaamism of worldliness and its Nicolaitanism of Clerisy was intended to teach us that only in complete separation from the world and its policies could the Church achieve its highest success.
4th—THE THYATIRAN PERIOD : one of ECCLESIASTICAL CORRUPTION
The advent of Papal authority (A.D. 606) and the development of a great ecclesiastical system determine the bounds of this fourth period. Who can fail to trace here the rise and growth of the Church of Rome with its stranglehold, through all “the dark ages” upon all the sphere of its dominion? The strong, cruel “Jezebel” character (ch. 2. 20), usurping authority belonging to Christ alone has been demonstrated in its Popes, its introduction of ‘the tradition of the fathers,’ its ecclesiastical edicts and dogmas, both unscriptural and anti-scriptural. Baptismal regeneration. Justification by works, Image-worship, Priestly-celibacy, Mariolatry, Confessional, Purgatory, Transubstantiation, Indulgences, Penance, The Immaculate Conception, Sacrifice of the Mass, The Bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary; these are the credal offspring of this corrupt Papal system, whose practically undisputed sway was felt from A.D. 606 until A.D. 1520, the time of the Reformation.
The Lord presents Himself to the church of this period as “The Son of God,” to remind her of that dignity which is His alone, and which is denied by the exaltation to a false position of Mary, chosen of God as the vehicle of the Incarnation (cf. Luke 1. 35, 46, 47). The conditions prevailing* in Thyatira will obviously continue till all believers are removed from earth at Christ’s return (ch. 2. 25; 1 Thess. 4. 13-17). The remaining elements of Christendom will then be free to amalgamate with the “Jezebel” system and so produce “the Great Harlot” of Revelation 17. Her ultimate destruction will be sudden, complete and irremediable (Rev. 18).
It was my inestimable blessing to have parents who knew and feared God and who sought to bring up their family “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The first time I remember having serious thoughts about my soul was when the Lord called Home my aged grandmother. Though I was but a small boy, I can still recall how 1 sat gazing into the embers of the dying fire, on the night of her funeral, and pondering the great question of where I would be in eternity.
At a later date God again spoke to me through the preaching of two honoured servants of Christ, Messrs George Gould and John Poots. One evening as we were cycling home from the meeting, my father abruptly asked me would I like to be saved. My answer being in the affirmative, he replied, “God is more willing to save you than you are to be saved.” With this our conversation ended, but that one sentence about the Lord’s readiness to save impressed me very deeply, yet, alas, I did not at that time put my trust in Christ.
On another occasion, after being away upon a holiday, I found no one in our house when I arrived home again. At first this caused me little concern, but after about two hours I became really alarmed. I sat alone in the kitchen. Outside all was calm and still as the shadows of nightfall stole over the countryside. The thought occurred to me that the Lord had come and caught away the saved loved ones. I cannot express the pang of agony which I then experienced, for do we not read : “One shall be taken and the other left?” What a relief it was when at last I heard the familiar footstep of my father! I said nothing of what my thoughts had been, but they left an impression upon my young mind which did not quickly pass away.
In October, 1919, it was announced that a well-known Evangelist, Dr. W. J. Matthews, was to conduct special meetings in Lisburn Gospel Hall, which was seven miles from our home. I decided to attend as regularly as possible. In the very first meeting I felt troubled about my state, and night after night the work of conviction deepened in my conscience. One text in particular took hold upon me—Genesis 6:3 : “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” I knew that the Spirit had long striven with me and I shuddered lest, after all my trilling with Him, He should leave me to my fate. How earnestly I prayed tor salvation! How diligently I read my New Testament, a copy of which I now carried with me! At times I almost despaired of ever being saved, but then I would recall my father's words concerning God's willingness to save me, and hope would be rekindled in my heart. At other times, when pondering such verses as Isaiah 53. 5 and John 3. 16, I thought I could see the Divine plan, but my difficulty was how to believe. I imagined more than once that I had believed, but then my further perplexity was that I did not “feel” saved.
In this unhappy state of alternating hope and fear, I sat down on the front seat of the Gospel meeting on Sunday evening, the 9th November. During the address I began to muse upon the Saviour's death. The question arose in my mind, “Why did Jesus die?" The answer was simple—“He died for me” Well, then, thought I, if He suffered what I deserve, does not that save my soul? There and then I grasped the truth of His substitution for me, and I knew I was saved—saved not by anything I could do, but by what He had done o,n my account. Just then the preacher repeated Romans 10. 9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” How definite, I thought, is this- promise— “Thou shalt be saved!” I could not doubt it. It confirmed my faith and assured me of my salvation, for what higher authority could I have than God’s own Word? The great transaction was done. My soul was saved. The bells of my heart rang for joy, and with emotion and tears I later told my beloved parents of what had taken place.
Forty long years, with their varying vicissitudes, have come and gone since that happy night. Many of the Christian friends of those days are no longer with us, and we miss their smile and handshake. Great changes, too, have taken place in world affairs and living conditions, but the Lord Jesus has at all times been my unfailing and unchanging Friend—the inexhaustible well-spring of my life’s truest satisfaction. “These forty years," said Moses, “the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing" (Deut. 2. 7), to which testimony one gladly adds his most hearty and grateful “Amen."
With deep gratitude to our God for His continued grace and guidance in our magazine work, we have crossed the threshold of another year. The coming months will doubtless bring their burden of service, care, and perhaps of sorrow and disappointment; but the secret of abiding peace amidst earth’s distractions is the presence of the Lord enjoyed in the believers soul. “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Ex. 33. 14). May this blessing be the portion of all our readers, in an ever deepening experience, not only in 1960, out till this fleeting life is past.
“Another year I enter, its history unknown;
Oh, how my feet would tremble to tread its paths alone.
But I have heard a whisper, I know I shall be blest,
My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
To all our fellow-helpers in this service, we wish to express warm and grateful thanks, for their kind and unselfish cooperation during the year which has just ended, without this the work could not be carried on. several brethren have written valuable papers tor our pages. Not many realise the labour this involves, but we sincerely appreciate it. Others have kindly forwarded poems and letters or encouragement. Others again have helped in the work of distribution, and still others, through assemblies or individually, have forwarded donations to defray expenses. For these services, all so willingly rendered, we thank you cordially, beloved friends. Above all, we feel gratefully indebted to God’s dear people for their loving remembrance before the throne of grace. This has been a great spiritual support over the years, and only in “that day” shall we know how much we owe to it.
It will be noticed that the present issue includes a Gospel page. This will be a regular feature in the future, if the Lord will, and we are introducing it by a series of interesting conversion stories. Please pray that these papers may be made a blessing to unsaved relatives and others in the homes that receive the magazine.
We also wish to state that the printing and dispatching of the magazine is now in the hands of the well known Christian firm, Messrs John Ritchie, Ltd., Sturrock Street, Kilmarnock, Scotland.