THREE distinct movements are discernible in the Spirit’s operation in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first at His birth in Bethlehem, the second at His baptism in Jordan, and the third at His return to earth in power and glory.
The first stage:
As the Israelite of old opened his tent in the early morning, he saw the Manna, the promised bread from Heaven lying on the ground. “When the dew was gone up behold upon the face of the wilderness ... a small round thing as small as the hoar frost on the ground” (Exodus 18. 13-14). The dew was thus the medium by which the Manna was conveyed to earth and preserved from immediate contact with it. When the dew was gone the Manna was seen. So in bringing the Bread of life to a heart-hungry world the Holy Spirit was the sole agency in conveying the great Gift and in preserving Him from any defiling contacts with the human instrument which He, the Holy Spirit used.
While needful details of Christ’s wondrous birth are recorded yet one is impressed by the dignity of Divine reticence. The event is traced to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit both for the reassurance of Joseph and for the instruction of Mary. The natural conclusions of Joseph are not ignored but we see the Angel of the Lord appearing opportunely to withhold him from his design of putting away Mary his espoused wife. With what relief and satisfaction he heard the Angel’s message, “Joseph . fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”. Then follows the inspired explanation of this unprecedented conception. “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Angelic and prophetic testimony thus combine to declare Mary’s child is “God manifested in the flesh” (Matt. 1. 20-25: 1 Tim. 3. 16).
The visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary was, of necessity, one of explanation and cheer. Her problem, too, was solved and her heart gladdened as the wonder and character of the predicted birth was disclosed. The record equally emphasises her virginity and the uniqueness of her privilege as the only earthly parent of the Christ-child. To her Gabriel makes known His Name, “Jesus”, His greatness, His Deity, “Son of the Highest” and His Kingship. “Fear not, Mary: . . . thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1. 27-35). The Saviourhood, Majesty, Godhood, and place as the Sovereign of the house of Jacob, the eternal King, of this virgin-born child, all demanded a supernatural entrance into this world.
As these facts were unfolded and the portrait of the coming One enlarged, it still remained to trace the origin of this amazing event. Mary herself was swift to sense this and her modest but honest enquiry elicited Gabriel’s revealing message: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the So,n of God” (Luke 1. 33-35). This was unmistakably supernatural having no parallel in the multitudinous births of the human family. Mary was God’s chosen vessel for the bringing of His Son into union with humanity. “That holy thing” indicates the perfect sinlessness of His nature, while, “He shall be called the Son of God”, marks Him out as the eternal and only begotten of the Father. The inescapable logic of this passage is that the sovereign Spirit in the power (dunamis) of the Highest preserved the Holy Child from all taint of Mary’s sin. Had this been a completely natural birth Jesus would have been born out of wedlock: born in sin. He would have possessed a nature like Mary’s capable of sin and incapable of being our Saviour: needing Salvation Himself. How vitally important then is the information which Gabriel brought concerning this momentous happening, the alternative to which is too blasphemous to be entertained for a moment by any true lover of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The implications of this event are most important and heart-stirring. Here was love’s only plan. To reach its objective it must come where we were, broken and dying in sin. So, “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman to redeem . . . that we might receive sonship” (Gal. 4. 4-5). The words that Christ used as He entered this world, “A body thou hast prepared Me” connect with the ultimate purpose of His incarnation, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10. 5; 10. 10).
Here, too, was love’s revealing plan. “The Word”, coeternal, co-existent, co-equal with God “was made flesh”, that is, united Himself with perfect humanity “and dwelt among us” so as to reveal all that may be known of God and to lift human nature to the highest level. All the qualities demanded in absolute Deity are expressly seen in the Lord Jesus as the interpreter of the Father. (John 1.14, 18; 14. 9). Later revelation categorically declared that “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2. 9). But these attributes of Deity consist harmoniously with the whole range of virtues that constitute perfect manhood. What a glorious Personality is this ‘God-Man’!
The incarnation was also love’s inclusive plan. Via Bethlehem and Calvary it reaches the very throne of God. It includes not only the miracle of His presence on earth as the Son of Man, and the infinite value of the presentation of His body as a sacrifice for sin but also the abiding benefits of His session at the right hand of God. In the same body in which He sojourned and was sacrificed “He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1. 3). “Handle Me and see,” He said, “for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have” (Luke 24. 39). In that body He returned to Heaven to be for them and for us all that saved sinners need before God and men. The offices He now fulfils are essentially by virtue of the humanity He assumed when by the power # of the Spirit He entered into union with the human race. It is this that makes His mediation powerful; His representation valid; His High Priestly work intimate and sympathetic, and His advocacy effectual and real, (1 Tim. 2.5; Heb. 6. 20; Heb 4. 14-15; 1 John 2. 1).
Tests of Christian belief and reality come into view in this connection. In the foggy religious climate of our day, Christ-dishonouring rationalism boldly rears its ugly head and with blasphemous effrontery scorns the miraculous in the birth of Christ. There is a crying-out need for the restatement of this and kindred fundamental truths. No one can be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who has erroneous views about His tabernacling in the flesh. John’s first epistle unChristianizes all the Unitarian cults of his day and ours that deny Christ’s supernatural assumption of humanity. How emphatic He is! “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that (spirit) of ANTI-CHRIST, whereof ye have heard that it should come and even now it is in the world”. The preface to this paragraph is a solemn warning not to believe every spirit but to try the spirits whether they be of God. (1 John 4. 1-4). The acid test in every case is the denial or acknowledgement of the incarnation of the Son of God.
THE SERVANTS SUBJECTION The principles by which assemblies function can only operate aright when there is spirituality among the Lord’s people. It is possible, and indeed it happens, that because we have no board of directors or centralized body of men to control, those out in full time work have opportunity to became a law unto themselves. Therefore in the absence of a tender conscience and personal devotedness to the Lord, one may make the preaching or missionary profession an excuse for a lazy, aimless existence. He can use the assemblies as tramping grounds for touring the world, with the Lord’s people paying the expenses, or he may settle on a mission station to do nothing except to hinder the native believers from assuming their proper responsibilities in the local assemblies, or he may become a weekend preacher with neither a burden for the lost nor a care for the weary and poor of the flock. Mr. Harold St. John once said that when one is working for an earthly master he will give him at least eight hours a day and when one is working for our heavenly Master he should give Him no less. This Christian gentleman divided his own day into three parts: the morning for prayer, study and writing, the afternoon for visiting and the evening for preaching.
It is because New Testament principles, which guide the work of God as carried on by the assemblies, can only work where there is godliness and Spiritual intelligence that assemblies should be doubly careful to see that only godly, devoted and indispensibie servants should be released for full-time work.
Trace the path of godly servants in the Book of Acts. It is indispensible men that are released in ch. 13. 1-3. They did not make a tour to tell what they were going to do but plunged right into the work of preaching the gospel and planting assemblies. Then after a while they returned to their home assembly to declare what the Lord had wrought (14. 26-27).
Follow their path and see how they were completely under the Spirit’s control. They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia (16. 6). This teaches us that the need of any country does not constitute a call to go. Then, “the Spirit suffered them not” (v. 7). Then, “A vision appeared unto Paul in the night” (v. 9). Here doors close and open to them as they move in the path of the will of God. There are three conversions in our chanter that laid the foundation for the first assembly in Europe. Each soul needed a different approach. But men trained in soul-winning will find the approach to broken hearts. The first is the picture of a seeking soul (v. 14). the second is a deceived soul (vv. 16-18) and the third is the out and out sinner (vv. 30-31). Notice the equipment that was used in these conversations. In the first, the emphasis is on the Word of God, in the second, it is on the Name of Christ and in the third it is on the power of the Holy Spirit. Such equipment is better than Saul’s armour to meet the giant that holds souls in bondage. We must let this emphasis remain on God’s equipment for His servants. There can be no substitute for the Word of God. the authority of Christ, enshrined in His lovely Name, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
I shall close with these words of a devoted servant of Christ: “The want of the age is men. Men of thought. Men of action. Men who are not for sale. Men who are honest to the heart’s core. Men who will condemn wrong, whether it be in friend or foe, in themselves or in another.
“Men whose consciences are as true as the needle of the compass is to the pole. Men who will stand for right though they stand alone. Men who can tell the truth and can look the world right in the eye.”
“Men whose courage comes from within and whose joy springs from the soul’s deep fountain. Men through whom the current of everlasting' life runs still and deep and strong. Men too large for certain limits and too strong for the bondage of men. Men who know their message and tell it. Men who know their place and fill it. Men who are not too lazy to work nor too proud to be poor. Men—real men— Men of God.”
IN these days of highly organized and systematic distribution of collected Christian ministry available to any one at little cost, the Pearls of Divine Truth are being cast before all and sundry contrary to Divine teaching, (Matt. 7. 6). There is no discrimination in the giving out of Divine things, hence the intellectual instead of the spiritual are becoming the custodians of Divine truths and God’s things are approached and handled in a cold, critical and self-sufficient spirit by those who have neither moral substance nor spiritual constitution. Such, in many cases, have an antipathy to certain Divine Truths, being unlearned and unstable men who wrest the Scriptures, giving undue prominence to certain truths and excluding others equally as true as those they contend for, forgetting that all Scripture is equally inspired and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3. 16-17). Such men may hold proper doctrine and use correct terms but have no spiritual understanding of what they set forth or affirm. They have the light of the things spoken of but not the things themselves nor yet the joy that comes from having them. They are merely superficial, having no spiritual depth and speak light and flippantly of things they may have right and title to but have never touched experimentally, having never learned the truth as it is in Jesus (Eph. 4. 21).
Because of such handling of Divine Truths, there is much failure in practical response to them so that exercise and movements are governed by the friendships, associations and teachings of others rather than by the Scriptures of truth and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the Corinthians being at work, that is, “I am of Paul, of Apollos, of Cephas, of Christ” (1 Cor. 1. 12). In this way the Scriptures themselves are belittled in favour of the conceptions of men, and, it may be, men of note among the brethren. How true it is that at our best we only see through a glass darkly, but how much more so when we only view things through the glasses of others. Thus our spiritual vision is obscured and our appreciation of Divine things is hampered and we become unserviceable to the Lord. What is looked upon as service is mere religious zeal and what is regarded as spiritual movement is only the effect of religious propaganda in which we use worldly methods to make capital out of the failure of other saints who are not of our particular company in order that we may swell the ranks of those with whom we associate. Thus we move politically in support of our party or policy like the Herodians, belittling any effort that others may make and magnifying our own achievements like the Pharisees, upholding in doctrine the truth of the oneness of the Body but in practice denying it by our preferential treatment of those who happen to be of our own persuasion. Doctrinally we may be holding all saints in our affections but in practice we hold them at arm’s length, teaching the truths that underlie the eating of the sin offering and the covering up of our brethren’s nakedness but in practice exposing their failures by preaching and publishing their faults, using the same methods as the nations, namely, leaflet propaganda, to hold them up to ridicule; holding tenaciously to one aspect of truth and very lax as to another; pressing the ecclesiastical side of separation out of all due proportion, while the unequal yoke of commercialism is fully indulged in; withholding the right hand of fellowship from those who are in eternal bonds and extending it to those in the temporal bonds of worldly associations, co-operation and amalgamation, whose motto is “Unity is Strength”, while in doctrine we set forth that the believer’s strength lies in his separation from all such systems.
Such glaring inconsistencies between doctrine and practice are calculated to humble Christian men and teach them that they are poor exponents of what they so glibly exoound. That they require moral ballast and spiritual balance to keep them from being so lopsided in Divine things is evident, so that in their doctrine and practice there may be moral correspondence. Only thus shall they show forth the virtues of Him who has called His people out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2. 9), who embraces all His saints in His affections and is not ashamed to call them brethren, leaving us an example that we might follow His steps (1 Peter 2. 21). He first began to do and then to teach that of which He was the living embodiment—the Truth (Acts 1. 1; John 14. 6). He had moral discrimination in the giving out of Divine things, teaching the people as they were able to bear (Mark 4. 33). There was no superficiality with His doctrine. It was profound, having the stamp of Deity upon it and not mere externalism like the Scribes. He taught as One having authority (Matt. 7. 29).
In concluding then, let us all see to it that we approach and handle Divine things with reverence and godly fear, like Mary, sitting at His feet and hearing His word, may we walk worthy of our high and heavenly calling.
THE foot that touches John 17 should be unshod. It is holy ground. Divine Persons are here. The Son is addressing the Father.
John’s Gospel was written after the others. Its five chapters, 13 to 17, are special to John. They show the Lord Jesus at the end of His earthly sojourn. He is about to depart out of the world unto the Father. The apostles are to be left in the world. They will need special instruction for the new circumstances. Teaching, correcting, encouraging them, His love has ever been practical. It will continue to be so, for He is loving them “unto the end”. This is not merely the termination of a period of time. There is more in it than that. The end is an end in view, an achievement to be attained. He would have them fitted for their heavy responsibilities because in His bodily absence they would be the representatives of God in this dark world. With this in mind He gives them the special instruction they needed. His love for them had before it this end, this outcome, this issue, namely, preparedness for their witness. The teaching He gave them is in the chapters mentioned. Chapter 17 shows Him strengthening the apostles by praying for them. This gives the clue to the appreciation of John 17. Primarily it has in view the unity of the apostles as a strengthening factor in their forthcoming witness.
Any reader to whom this is new should find it helpful to read the first nineteen verses, skip the next four, resume at verse 24 and read to the end. The references to what “they” did and to what “I” did after the four parenthetical verses will reveal continuity with the nineteen verses before them. Both tell of what happened in the past, when the Lord was with the apostles. After doing so, let the reader turn to verses 20 and 21 beginning, “Neither pray I for these alone”, noting the wider scope of the two verses. They have to do with unity in the testimony of believers both apostolic and post-apostolic, including ourselves. Then verses 22 and 23 bring before us another phase, yet future, namely, final perfection in respect of Christian unity. It is essential to distinguish these three unities.
Setting aside for the present the four parenthetical verses, let us look at the main part of the chapter, in so far as it deals with unity. This comes to a head in verse 11, “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one as we are”. He is praying for unity among the apostles after the pattern of that between the Father and the Son. This calls to mind the Lord’s words, of John 10. 30, “I and the Father are one”. In what sense are they one ?
As a matter of grammar Greek has a special ending for “one” in the masculine gender and another for the neuter gender. The masculine form occurs in Gal. 3. 28 and Eph. 2. 15, “one man”. In both the unity is an accomplished fact. It relates to the believer’s standing in Christ, not to his walk. The neuter form occurs in John 10. 30; 17. 11, 21, 23 (twice); 1 Cor. 3. 8; 11. 5; Ephesians 2. 14, and 1 John 5. 8. This oneness is not that of one person or one man, but it is to be regarded, in some sense which is determined by the context, as one thing. The Father and the Son are not one person; their oneness is of nature and essence. That of 1 Cor. 3. 8, in which Paul and Apollos each with his own personality and gifts were nevertheless one, is of attitude and witness. Eph. 2. 14 tells of one position made of two by the demolition of their dividing wall, and 1 John 5. 8 of three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood agreeing in one thing, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God. In John 17. 11 each of the apostles was to preserve his own gifts and personality, all to be co-ordinated so as to be able to act as one.
Can we see any fulfilment of this the Lord’s prayer for the apostles ? We have no further to look than Acts 2. Peter is the spokesman, but the teaching is not called Peter’s, it is “the apostles’ doctrine”. These disciples of Acts 2. 42 persevered in “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship”. That is, they heard and heeded the apostles’ teaching which they got from the Lord Jesus and also shared in or with, the witness of the apostles. Peter and the others were one in outlook, attitude and action, with all the variety of their gifts and capacities. This is what the Lord prayed for in John 17. 11, “that they may be one as We are”.
Two cautions may not be out of place here. The first is that it is anachronistic and quite misleading to identify this fellowship with what has come to be called “Holy Communion”. Secondly, it is well to recognise that, in the New Testament, fellowship is never a company of people.
We are next to look at the unity mentioned in verses 20 and 21 of John 17.
We regret that, owing to an overlook, this part of the article did not follow in sequence.
(2) The UNDERlying meaning of baptism.
In our consideration of the meaning of baptism let us refer to three Scripture portions in which baptism is linked with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 10. 481 we may read, “And he (Peter) commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord”; in Acts 2. 38, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ”; and in Acts 19. 5, “They were baptised in (or, to) the name of the Lord Jesus.” The different ways of referring to the Saviour, namely “the Lord”, “Jesus Christ”, and “the Lord Jesus”, are very significant, and something of the significance we may observe in our meditation upon these portions.
1. The remarks on Acts 10. 48 must be a little qualified if the R.V. of the verse is accepted in preference to the A.V. and Darby’s translation.
In the first of these portions the Name is the AUTHORITY, for the baptising commandment is given by the AUTHORITY of THE LORD. The One who is Master, who is Sovereign, the One who has all power in heaven and upon earth, the One who is THE LORD has given commandment. In its simplest aspect the baptism of the believer is an act of obedience. The Lord commands. The believer should obey. Has the saved reader obeyed this command of his Lord ? “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me” (John 14. 21).
In the second of the three portions now under consideration, namely, Acts 2. 38, the Name is the BASIS of baptism. The One who became Man, Jesus (Jehovah-Saviour) and accomplished the work for which He was anointed, this One, Jesus Christ, died and rose again. These facts are essential to baptism. Baptism is in the Name of J^esus Christ. In Romans 6 (the baptism chapter), the references to the Saviour’s death and resurrection are most marked. We read in verse 3 of His death, in verse 4 of His resurrection, in verse 5 of both, in verse 9 of both, and in verse 10 of both. (The life in verse 10 is His resurrection life). All true believers in our Lord Jesus Christ who have been baptised, have been baptised unto HIS death. Had the Lord Jesus not died and risen again, baptism would be a meaningless ceremony. The believer goes down into the water and comes up out of it. The Lord Jesus Christ went down into death and rose again.
In the third portion, namely, Acts 19. 5, baptism is to, or into, the Name of the Lord Jesus. Here we may see CONFESSION and CONSECRATION. In the baptism of John the Baptist there was a confession of sins (Matt. 3. 6); in the baptism into the Name of the Lord Jesus there is a confession of faith and ownership. By the act of being baptised in obedience to HIM, the believer confesses faith in Jesus as Lord, that is, as the Lord and as his Lord. The believer confesses His ownership, that is to say, the believer confesses that he belongs to HIM. In baptism there is a pointing back to what happened when the person baptised obeyed the gospel. As a poor sinner who deserved eternal death he came to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for sinners, and was accepted in Christ.
Baptism is unto the Name of the Lord Jesus. As they followed the pillar of cloud and passed through the Red Sea, all the children of Israel confessed the leadership of Moses. They were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10. 2). At times there were those of them who questioned the place of Moses as leader, but in following the pillar of cloud and in passing through the sea they acknowledged God’s appointed leader.
In 1 Cor. 1. 13, 15, it is made clear that no one was baptised unto the name of Paul. Baptism is unto the Name of the Lord Jesus.
Closely linked with this thought of CONFESSION is the thought of CONSECRATION. The believer is baptised UNTO his LORD. Baptism should be a step of consecration. The sixth chapter of Romans would teach us that the believer is not to be the subject of sin (as king—v. 12), or the slave of sin (as master—v. 16). Christ died unto sin (v. 10). We died with Christ (v. 8). “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?” (v. 2, R.V.). We must reckon ourselves dead to sin (v. 11). We must be slaves to righteousness unto holiness (v. 19). We should have this in mind when we are baptised unto the Name of the Lord Jesus.
(3) The UNDERstanding of the Meaning.
In this subject, as in many another, there are dangers in opposite directions. There" is the danger of setting no value upon a candidate’s understanding of baptism’s meaning. There is the danger of raising an unwarranted barrier by an improper insistence upon a certain degree of understanding on the part of the candidate for baptism.
Let no obstacle be placed before the true believer who seeks baptism out of a sincere desire to please his Lord.
At the same time let there be loving and wholehearted exhortation respecting the acquisition of the greatest possible understanding of baptism’s meaning. Let wise instruction be given. May those who take the step of baptism do so intelligently.
FINALLY, let us consider verses 41 and 42 of Acts ch. 2, “Then they that gladly received His word were baptised . . . And they continued stedfastly (persevered) in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers”. How happy it is when this order and example is followed. Is the reader a true believer in our Lord Jesus Christ? If so, have you been obedient to your Lord’s commandment in the matter of baptism ? Are you by God’s help persevering in the teaching of the Scriptures, in assembly fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers?
“God speaketh once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62. 11).
THERE can be no doubt that the great need of the Church today is for the manifestation of Divine power. While there is much light and gospel truth, there is -comparatively little spiritual power. It should be the desire of every child of God to “know what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe” (Ephesians 1. 19).
We may have certain ideas as to what Divine power is, without those thoughts necessarily being according to Divine truth. We may even be mistaken in our thinking as to how this power is obtained. Perhaps it may be well to consider first of all, what it is not, that we may clarify our thinking concerning its true manifestation.
It is not Excitement. Some seem to think that without great emotion or excitement there can be no power; but spiritual power may be quite apart from any great manifestation of these elements. It may be seen in a calm yet irresistible influence, as when the Master -stilled the storm at sea and brought His disciples peace of heart amid the ensuing great calm (Mark 4. 39).
It is not Self-energy. The Lord’s words to His own were: “Apart from Me ye can do nothing” (John 15. 5). While His words primarily referred to fruit-bearing the principle also applies to our Christian activities. The consequence will be similar also; herein is My Father glorified (v. 8). So many associate Divine power with so much self-effort, so that great effort is regarded as a sure sign of great power. Not that we should be slothful, however, but rather vigilant.
It is not Self-sufficiency. The apostle wrote: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything of ourselves! but our sufficiency is of God” (2 Cor. 3. 5).
Our salvation by grace alone has not made us self-sufficient. Belief that we are strong and able to overcome our difficulties ourselves would produce confidence in self xather than confidence in God. We can see this characteristic of self-confidence in Peter in his readiness to affirm that he would go with the Lord to prison and to death. (Luke 22. 23, 34). He was yet to learn His weakness, when he denied his Lord.
When we turn to consider what Divine power is, we recognise at once that it is not something of our own, but the power of God; this will keep us humble before Him.
It is the Power of Christ’s Resurrection (Phil. 3. 10). Paul knew the reality of this fact, for he had personally seen the risen Lord. “And last of all He was seen of me also as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15. 8). He desired to know more of this power in his life. There was Divine power seen in the death of Christ, whereby a full deliverance has been secured for us; but the Lord lives after the power of an endless life. “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1. 19, 20). He is ever “Christ, the Power of God” (1 Cor. 1. 24).
It is the Power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1. 8). To be filled with the Spirit is to be endued with power. To walk in the Spirit is to live in the power of God. To possess the Holy Spirit is a great privilege, but to be possessed by Him is quite another matter. It is one thing for the Spirit to be resident and quite another to be president; if He truly possesses us, we shall live in the holy atmosphere of Divine power.
The ministry of the apostle Paul is full of indications of the power of God at work through him. He speaks of “striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1. 29); and reminds the Philippian believers of the fact that “it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2. 13); while the very frailty of the human instrument magnifies “the excellency of the power as being of God and not of men” (2 Cor. 4. 7). When the Christian lives, by this Divine power he will be marked by strong faith (1 Cor. 2. 5), for his faith will stand in that power. He will abound in hope (Rom.15 13) by the Holy Spirit and the “greatest of these”, love, will characterise him, for it is a product of the Spirit’s work in the life (Gal. 5. 22). All power and really effective service will be found to spring from entire submission to the will of God (Rom. 12. 1, 2). From the yielded personality will come the opening of the path of that will which is good, acceptable and perfect.
See also “Women’s Place in the Assembly” by Andrew Borland.
ANOTHER question to be answered was—“What do you conceive to be the main purpose of the Christian Brethren Research Fellowship ?”
F.R.C. says: “Essentially, to create awareness—of ourselves, of others, of the Chritian Faith in its total implications. Moreover, “Brethren” in this context includes all “brethren” in Christ, and C.B.R.F. has a not insignificant number of members from other traditions.”
He should know ! It is an interdenominational fellowship and has nothing officially to do with the Brethren. Many of the so-called “Brethren” are members because they support its objects. Many more are not members, some because they do not support its objects, others because they are indifferent to it. I am not a member. I have copies of the C.B.R.F. Journal (first three issues) before me, sent to me by the secretary. I recognise in some of the articles, an urge, for better things, for a fuller Christian life, for more expansive witness. I recognise, too, however, (1) an ecclesiastical latitudina-rianism more pronounced than in normal brethren circles (almost bordering on Ecumenism). (2) A frowning on typical teaching, which teaching was one of the things in which the early brethren indulged, and they have left us a rich mine of devotional, heart-warming ministry, based on such an approach to the Old Testament particularly. There is also an advocacy of a very liberal view on prophecy. One is reminded that before the “High
Leigh” and “Swanwick” Conferences there was a Conference at “Cora” on “The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus”, at which various notions were aired. It would be true to say that many of the group I have already mentioned hold unorthodox views on prophecy. It could not be denied, however, that the vast majority of the members of the Brethren believe in the Pre-Tribulation Coming of the Lord Jesus to rapture His saints to meet Him in the air. They believe that the Seventieth Week of Daniel’s Prophecy is still future. They believe that when our Lord Jesus appears and His feet rest upon the Mount of Olives His enemies will be overthrown, He will set up His Kingdom and Israel will be gathered to their own land again. They believe there will be a Millennial Kingdom. Many Brethren assemblies would not accept ministry from men who held either the “Tribulation” or “Partial Rapture” or “A-Millennialist” theories; and some others would allow them to minister but not on subjects relative to prophecy.
I do not like the closing paragraph under A.W.R.A.
“I see its main purpose as the provision of a forum for those Brethren who take the view that intellectual activity is permissible in spiritual matters and can even be beneficial. This view is not widespread in the Brethren and I think the C.B.R.F. helps to keep up the morale of many Brethren who find themselves virtually without intellectual fellowship.”
This savours of intellectual snobbery. There is many a miner in Lanarkshire, or a fisherman on the Moray Pirth, or a steel worker in the valleys of South Wales, many an ordinary working man who, though self-taught, would be a giant in divine things as compared with many a more intellectual Christian.
We believe that there is plenty of room in a New Testament assembly for discussion, that will edify the Lord’s people, whether they be extremely intelligent or even illiterate. Are we not members one of another!
THE popular idea of a Christian Minister is, that he is a man whose office and calling is to preach to, and pray for, the congregation of people over whom he has been chosen to preside. That he and he only is capable of “administering the Sacraments”, and that in virtue of his ordination he is empowered in some extraordinary manner to look after the souls of men, and in some not very clearly defined way, to make their salvation sure. That he is not to be regarded as any ordinary mortal, but distinctly marked off from the “laity” by wearing a clerical dress and having the title “Reverend” prefixed to his name. In return for all this, he is paid a salary—in many cases a large one, incongruous to the work done for it— and being the servant of the people whose purse supply his salary, they of course have a right to choose the man they desire to perform all these spiritual functions for them. This is oftentimes no easy job, as there is usually a superabundance of candidates for the vacant church— more especially if the opening is a good one, with a tempting salary.
Need it be wondered that an ever-increasing number of ungodly and unregenerate men are being drafted into “the ministry”—men who do not hesitate to deny every bulwark of the faith, and fritter away every doctrine of the Book of God, to make room for that which will please the people and keep them comfortable in their sins, on the way to perdition. But the marvel is this, that many of God’s true people are found supporting such a state of things. We do not wonder at the unconverted doing so, it is just what we might expect from them. But men and women who have their eyes open, who know the difference between light and darkness, to be found “sitting under” the teaching and preaching of a man whom they know to be unconverted to God, and whose life in many instances proved him to be so, is a marvel to men and angels. But apart from the condition of the “minister”, the whole system of his creation, his ordination, his priestly position and clerical functions, his title, attire, and salary, in short the whole matter of “the ministry” according to the popular meaning of that phrase, is opposed from stem to stern, and from bottom to top, to the Word of the eternal God.
Where do we read in that ever blessed Book—the only authority on things spiritual—of “The Reverend Mr. this or that ?” Where ? And where do we read of his salary, or his clerical garb ? And which of the churches chose their own minister? The testimony that Scripture bears, presents a different picture. The “minister” according to the pattern there given, is a man whom the risen Christ has gifted, either as an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher” (see Eph. 4. 11). If the former, his sphere is the world (Mark 16. 15) and to the world he goes with the Gospel message, not waiting for man’s appointment (Gal. 1. 1, 16) or to be hired by men (1 Thess. 2. 4 with Gal. 1. 10). The Lord looks after His servant’s needs and supplies-them through His stewards (Phil. 4. 15, 18) but from the world he takes nothing (3 John 7). If a pastor shepherding the flock, or a teacher instructing the saints in God’s; Word, he is not chosen by the people, nor is he the minister of any stated congregation. His gift is for “the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4. 12). This leaves no place for “one man” ministry. God’s ministers need neither title or attire to mark them: their labours point them out (2 Cor. 11. 23, 28; 1 Thess. 5. 12).
BEAUTY always appeals to the human heart. The Lord has given us marvellous visions of beauty in Nature and all around we see the perfection of His creatorial powers. The beauty of the fragrant rose, the loveliness; of the violets, and the purity of the lily is ever a source of delight to gaze upon.
However the beauty of Nature is fading and subject to decay. So is human loveliness and will sooner or later pass away. Alas, no beauty is permanent in this changing scene among the sons of men. But the beauty which surpasses all others is the excelling beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalmist expresses ardently in Psalm-27. 4: “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.”
The Holy Spirit delights to bring before our spiritual gaze glimpses of the beauty of the Lord Jesus. There is the beauty of His character. The Lord of glory is the only One who ever possessed a character unstained by sin. His moral beauty could not be hid and shines out so brightly in His Humanity and His Deity and in His written Word. How rich the character He bears exalted on the throne in whom all glories shine.
There is the beauty of His walk. The pathway of our blessed Lord we would retrace with adoring hearts. Truly, it was one of unsullied holiness a perfect path of purest grace unblemished and complete. His perfect obedience to accomplish the Father’s will was displayed throughout His pathway to the cross. And the beauty of His love was displayed in His holy walk and seen in all its fulness in His sacrifice on the cross. His pathway gloriously ended with His resurrection and ascension.
There is the beauty of His words. The Psalmist exclaims, “Thou art fairer than the children of men. Grace is poured into Thy lips; therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever” (Psalm 45. 2). Truly words of secret power in hours of grief, in loneliness to kindle thoughts of praise! The two disciples at the end of the Emmaus journey said one to another: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us by the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24. 32). Even His enemies had to confess: “Never man spake like this Man” (John 7. 46).
What a joy it is to be occupied with the beauty of the Lord. We remember well the time in our life when the Lord of glory was nothing to us, and we were like the people described in Isaiah 53. 2 who saw “No beauty in Him that they should desire Him”. But He is now the “chiefest among ten thousand” (S. of Sol. 5. 10). We are reminded in the Song of Solomon of the supreme beauty of the Lord, and again in chapter 5 the daughters of Jerusalem challenge the Bride concerning her Beloved. “What is thy Beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us ?” And the Bride enumerates the loveliness of her Beloved and exclaims, “My Beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand .... yea, He is altogether lovely” (vv. 10, 16). Surely this is the language of every lover of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lastly, there is the transforming beauty of the Lord. As we contemplate His beauty we shall be transformed into His likeness in some measure as we behold Him. “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3. 18). What will it be to be completely transformed into the image of the Lord of glory when “we shall see Him as He is”.
May we appreciate more the beauty of our Lord as we are occupied with Him until “faith shall give place to sight and we shall see His face”.
THE evangelist is not the servant of the church, nor does he look to it for his support, or receive from it his marching orders. He is the Lord’s servant alone, and to Him he must give account. Yet the evangelist is not a “free lance”, a man under no obligation to any one, going where and doing what he thinks fit without consideration of others. The evangelist, like all other ministers of Christ, is in and of the church of God, subject to its rule, and if need be to its discipline. If his service is conducted according to God, he will go forth from its bosom with its hearty fellowship (Acts 13. 4), followed by its prayers, and return to it when his labours are for a season over, to share with it his joys, by telling what the Lord has done by his ministry (Acts 14. 27). If these simple lines are followed—and they have been left for our guidance—there will be no great danger of isolation, or lack of fellowship with the evangelist in his work, no lack of interest in his converts, and less liability of the Gospeller himself drifting into modes of work and associations which are not according to the Word of God.
The evangelist, when he assembles with the church, is on a level with all his brethren as a worshipper, and has a common share in the privileges and responsibilities of the assembly of which he locally forms a part, but he should take no pld.es where he for a time labours. If this were more carefully observed by brethren moving from place to place in Gospel service and teaching, there would be fewer broils and party feuds, and possibly more real power with the Word to saint and sinner. Nor should the evangelist be too eager to have those who profess conversion baptized, brought into the fellowship of the assembly, and reported as “fruit” of his work. Those who have shepherd care and guide the flock locally, may be safely trusted to do that with more discernment and less danger, than the man who sees them only for a few weeks, and knows little of their lives at home or in the world. The baptizing and receiving of young converts is a work in which much spiritual discernment is required, and it ought to be done cautiously, prayerfully, and in fellowship with saints.
THE Corinthians, as such, from an intellectual standpoint, were highly intelligent, but from a moral standpoint iniquitously licentious and depraved, yet, out from this learned and licentious mass, God has rescued for Himself, by the power of the Gospel, that which it has pleased Him to designate as the Church of God in Corinth.
Their history, as such, has been a varied one, yet one of profound interest to the people of God to-day, for, crowded into their short experience, there has occurred to them most of the difficulties and disorders which could be experienced by any company of God’s people during the whole course of the Church period.
Herein then lies the value of Paul’s first letter to them; not only has it met the need of the Corinthian saints, but in the wisdom of God it has been recorded and preserved to provide the standard of adjustment in these matters for the whole of the Church age. Possibly, much of the failure which was manifested by this company was the lack of spiritual perception and the constant tendency towards the carnal rather than the spiritual.
As a church of God in local exercise, they had been greatly blessed of God, being gifted above many, with a full revelation of the requirements of God and His expectation from them, yet, in their apprehension of imparted truth, much had been imperfectly grasped; much more had been positively perverted, while much had been practically misapplied. Truth which is Mixed or Mutilated or Misapplied has the tendency to produce serious forms of error, consequently one is not surprised at the condition of things that prevailed at Corinth.
In order, then that these tendencies should be checked and corrected, the letter has been written; no attempt has been made to condone their shortcomings; everything must be brought into the light and adjusted according to Divine requirements. Much failure had been evidenced, yet, with all their failures and shortcomings, they were still the church of God at Corinth.
Might we say at this point that, that which has been Divinely constituted can only be Divinely disannulled. A local church is the workmanship of God, and is expected to be a display of His handiwork. Spirituality and knowledge does not make a church, neither does Carnality or Ignorance unmake one. This only proves the rule that, whatsoever cometh from the hand of God is perfect, but the moment it is placed into the hands of men, failure and imperfection begin to manifest themselves. Although Paul had been absent from the company, yet there had been communicated to him reports of disorders which had occurred, with requests concerning difficulties which had also arisen.
These reports and requests had come from the spiritual element in the company—those that were interested and exercised concerning the purity and spiritual progress of of the church, in order that the evils might be removed, the erring ones recovered and, in relation to their difficulties, that they might receive a further enlightenment from God.
Such was the state of things that was now existing in the church of God in Corinth; surely the Gates of Hell were prevailing here.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he reminded them that the evidence of progress in Divine things was the ability to distinguish the things that differ. This is a spiritual quality which should be in constant evidence amongst the people of God; much of the difficulties that have arisen could have been avoided had this quality been more constantly seen in exercise. We oft-times make differences where none exist, and where the Spirit of God so clearly marks them out we seldom see them. Possibly the church local and the Church according to Divine purpose could be a glaring example of the difficulties which could arise in failing to distinguish the things that differ. Failing to do so has led to much confusion and has produced quite a variety of distorted thought. Where the definite article does not occur, it is not the thing itself that is being suggested, but rather the character of the thing.
The church local has body features, but could never claim to be the Body; it also has house character, but never claims to be the House; it should experience temple conditions but would never claim to be the Temple. These are a few of the occasions when discernment is necessary and the ability to distinguish the things that differ is a must.
The church of God in Corinth is the description that has been divinely given to all in that place who have accepted Christ as Saviour and have been separated from the world and gathered unto His Name.
The church: its Designation: Called out and called together by Divine invitation.
The church of God: its Dignity and Distinctiveness unequalled and unique, the only place on earth where God expects to find pleasure and see His Will expressed.
The church of God in Corinth: its Defined locality, marking out its bounds as the sphere in which it functions for the Glory of God and for the good of men.
The church of God, as a term used in the New Testament scriptures, occurs some eight times and always in connection with privilege and responsibility down here.
The Church which is His Body, the completion of Him who filleth the all in all, is purpose truth; that which has been determined in the council chambers of eternity, which will require the entirety of the present age to develop and in its completeness display: When, to the admiration of all the Principalities and Powers in the Heavenlies, there will be displayed the multi-coloured Wisdom of God, in the Church which is His Body, the completion of Him who filleth all in all, the consummation of the Purpose of the ages.
In distinguishing the Practical from the Purpose, one could become a good workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.