The coming of the Holy Spirit in extraordinary fashion on tne day of Pentecost (Acts 2) was at once, the fulfilment of Christ’s promise and a potent reminder of the world’s rejection of Him. He came to vindicate and glorify the absent Lord Jesus Christ, and this is traceable in three directions: Man-ward, Christ-ward and Satan-ward. He brings home to men their greatest sin; He demonstrates the character of the rejected One: He indicates the overthrow of the WORLD-RULER and his kingdom.
1. THE CONVICTION OF SIN
The spearhead fo ail human transgression is the refusal of God’s Son. Accordingly the Spirit reproves (convinces) the world of sin because they believe not on the Lord Jesus. Anyone who refuses Him as Saviour and Lord assents to and acts in complicity with that deed of the world by which the blessed Lord was slain on Calvary. Man can offer God no greater insult than to reject “the Son of His love”. Therefore the Spirit of God—through the messenger of God, and by the Word of God—lays upon the unbeliever’s conscience this super-sin, the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “reprove” (16. 8) is in the R.V. “convict” and has the sense of bringing to logical demonstration. This is exactly what took place on the day of Pentecost a few weeks after these words were spoken. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, laid this very sin on the consciences of the thousands of Jews who were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. Here are some of his actual words: “ye men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have CRUCIFIED AND SLAIN: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.” Having fortified his proposition by appeals to Psalms 16 and 110, he concluded with the assertion, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom YE HAVE CRUCIFIED, both Lord and Christ”. This was unanswerable and when they heard this they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do ?” There and then by faith and public confession three thousand souls deliberately took sides with the One who so recently had been slain without the city’s walls. Here then is a precise historical example of the work of the Spirit in bringing to logical demonstration the sin of unbelief alongside the gracious intention of bringing the convicted ones to repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. THE VINDICATION OF CHRIST
In another important direction the Holy Spirit espouses the cause of the absent Lord. “He shall convince ... of righteousness because I go to the Father”. This is essentially Heaven’s verdict on the Lord Jesus as opposed to earth’s. The Holy Spirit who conveys it acts as Christ’s Advocate (Parakletos) as well as ours. It is His to defend and uphold the character of Him who men maligned and slandered. Their verdict was, “we know that this man is a sinner” (John 9. 24). They numbered Him with the transgressors. (Mark 15. 27). When they spiked Him to a cross it was a vile assault upon His sinless character, for in their law it was written, “Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree” (Gal. 3. 13). Inspired by Satan, man has sought to stain and dishonour the person of the Lord Jesus, but God has seen to it that His blessed Son is fully vindicated in the presence and message of the Spirit of God. His presence on earth is a monument to Christ’s personal rectitude: He is present here because Christ is received in Heaven. Another brief look at Peter’s Spirit-begotten speech on the day of Pentecost will show how positively true this is. The climax of that message was the fact that “the Crucified” was “the Glorified”, that “the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now”. “This Jesus,” he said, “did God raise up whereof we all are witnesses. Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT, HE hath poured forth this which ye see and hear.” It cannot be overstressed that the amazing events of that final Pentecost argue the acceptance in Heaven and the vindication on earth of the Christ who died, rose and ascended on high. The Spirit-controlled messenger of the Word of God will have these facts concerning our Lord Jesus Christ in the forefront of His message.
3. THE CONDEMNATION OF SATAN
The Spirit convinces “of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged”. In thus anticipating the third phase of the Spirit’s work of conviction our Lord is looking forward to and beyond His cross. Calvary was the great arena where the great enemy of mankind would be met and overthrown. This becomes crystal clear from a parallel passage in this Gospel, John 12. 31-32: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. This He said, signifying what death He should die.” He foresaw the Prince and his Dominion falling before him. He knew Himself to be the Stronger than the strong man armed: that He would invade Satan’s territory and make a show of him openly. (Luke 11. 21-22; Col. 2. 15).
Victory was ever in the spirit of the Man of Sorrows. Fully aware of the tremendous cost to Himself, He knew Satan would be worsted, bound, judged when He was “lifted up” at Calvary. How remarkable to enlightened hearts it is that the very act in which the world disowned its Redeemer became the occasion of its judgment and that of its Prince.
This facet of Spirit testimony in the world produces some important propositions.
That Satan is already judged; his sentence will in due course be executed.
This his realm of rule has shared his sentence and will ultimately share his doom.
That emancipation from that condemnation is now available to all who by faith respond to the pull, the magnetism of the up-lifted Christ. The alternatives are simple and clear; the sharing of the spoils with the glorious Conqueror of Calvary or the sharing of eternal woe with the now defeated Prince of this world. (Isaiah 53. 10-12; Revelation 20. 10-15).
The threefold approach of the Spirit to the needs of sinful men in the world is the essential preparation for the Salvation of the soul; a preparation for which there is no substitute. On the part of the preacher there may be scriptural statements, human reasonings and emotional pleadings all of which ‘ALONE’ will miss the marks of quickening the conscience, making real the sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ and leading to union with Him. It well becomes every servant of God to be tuned in to the Spirit and His programme so that He will bring the sinner to an intelligent consciousness of his guilt and to an equally intelligent choice of the Crucified One. No Spirit-taught or Spirit-filled worker will want to indulge in emotionalism in Evangelism or other tactics which inevitably produce a deadly crop of empty professions. There is an urgency, an earnestness, a feeling of compassion which the Spirit supplies; which are the only permissible emotions in the presenting of the claims of our absent Lord. Such preaching has a dignity and appeal all its own and finds a response in the minds of both saint and sinner. How important it is, beloved saints of God, to be under the sway and control of Christ’s Vicar on earth!
NOW, touching the divine authority of the Scriptures, if I ask whether the sun, moon, and stars you look upon are the very same sun, moon and stars which the Creator saw when He came in the flesh, and of which His servant Moses wrote in the first of Genesis, you will say, Yes. How came they to be preserved ? You reply: Their Maker has preserved them to this very day. Suffer me to say that the preservation of the Scriptures is a still more wonderful thing, for man has not yet defiled the sun, moon and stars; but, in spite of man’s meddling, we have the Word of God preserved to us in all its fulness. Marvellous is the preservation of sun, moon and stars; but still more marvellous, I affirm, is the preservation of the Book of God. That Word shines by its own light. If any one were to say that artificial light was the light of the sun, or that the light of the sun was artificial, who would believe him ? As the eye of the body can distinguish between artificial light and the light of the sun, so those, who, like Mary, sit at the feet of Jesus, are able to discern between God’s truth and all the thoughts and doctrines and words of men.
It is not possible that any child of Adam could have invented one single doctrine of Scripture, for the plain reason that man, having revolted from God, cannot judge himself aright. He has no standard by which to judge himself; God is shut out of his thoughts, and he can only ask : How much good have I done to my neighbour, and how much harm ? It is the Scriptures alone that teach the state of man in relation to God; the natural man is ignorant of the fact that every thought of his heart, and every imagination thereof, is enmity against God. But it is a guilty ignorance. This ignorance makes him deny the necessity and righteousness of the atonement; he cannot know that God’s glory demands it, or that man’s condition requires it. Therefore all religions of men are founded upon ignorance of God, and of the guilt of sin; and one consequence is that men look for some mercy in God that dishonours His justice. You find this everywhere, even in this land. My special times of evangelising are in railway carriages and tram cars; and I find everywhere that man’s religion consists in this: When you have done your best you may trust to God’s mercy. This vain Imagination is based upon the idea of some goodness in man, and not total corruption, and some mercy in God that dishonours His justice.
Never let a caviller say there are so many religions he does not know which to choose. There is only one way of life, and that is Christ, and we who trust in Him have in Him eternal life and glory. An understanding of the guilt of sin is found in measure in every renewed soul; but in none except the renewed. Then a growing knowledge of sin is only gained by communion with God, and growing up into Christ. It is as we bear His yoke, and learn of Him who is meek and lowly in heart, that we find rest from that which darkens faith’s faculty of apprehending Him.
The question is sometimes raised : Have not transcribers and translators made some mistakes in copying or translating the Scriptures. Yes, they have, and therefore I say that the preservation of the Scriptures is more marvellous than that of the sun, moon and stars. Let it be especially noted that God so wrote the Scriptures by His servants that no truth hangs upon a single passage; every truth of God runs through the whole Book. There is scarcely an error to be found that is not based upon some passage of Scripture ; there is not a single error that will stand the test of all Scripture. Bring any error to that test and it cannot stand, while, on the other hand, every truth will be confirmed, unfolded, and gloriously opened out by passage after passage. Hence, beloved, the deep neccessity of dealing with the whole Scripture, if we would take the yoke of Christ upon us, and find the second blessed rest of Matthew 11.
THE entrance of the Gospel into Europe was remarkable (Acts 16. 6-40). Paul and Silas tried to go in the opposite direction, but were “forbidden” and “not suffered” by the Spirit to do so. In what ways these restrictions were made known to them we do not know, but when, waiting upon God, Paul “saw the vision” and then heard the call, they sailed over to the West and eventually came to Philippi. The whole Western world lay open to the Gospel and God’s time had come, the Roman world was to be challenged and evangelised by a handful of devoted men, and this was the vanguard. God was therefore in control though there were to be many adversaries.
Paul was well equipped for this work, he was a Jew by birth and had been by conviction, he was also a Roman, freeborn, although how he had inherited that freedom is somewhat obscure, he was a Grecian by education and culture and therefore knew by experience how to approach those of any nation. Also he had when required, the protection of the Roman authorities to which sometimes he made appeal and laid claim.
Philippi was a chief city of that part of Macedonia and a colony (v. 12), that is, it had been colonised by Rome, whose legions, followed by citizens had marched in military formation and set up a little replica of Rome, with its language, customs, coinage, courts and administration of justice, all of which were strictly according to the pattern of Roman practice. The city was a miniature Rome in the midst of an alien country. The application of all this will be seen later in the Epistle when applied in a spiritual way to the church which was formed there.
Firstly two women are brought into the picture, one a godly woman Lydia and one an ungodly, with a spirit of divination. Later in the jailer we have an ungodly man, all of whom truly converted became the beginning of the first European assembly. The details of these will not here detain us.
It was from a prison experience that Paul left his mark upon that city and doubtless in claiming immunity from maltreatment because of his Roman citizenship, although he had suffered it, was thinking of the safety of the little community, when he did stand upon his rights, and make the rulers acknowledge it. Although he was not now in a dungeon but in his own hired house or rooms, it was as a prisoner again he. writes them this lovely heartwarming letter. They had become very dear to him and this is the most endearing of his letters. They had out of their deep poverty sent financial help to him once and again, to which allusion is made by him in writing to others, not so munificent. (See Romans 15. 26; 2 Cor. 8. 1-6; 9. 2-14 ; 11. 9 ; and Phil. 4. 15).
The Epistle throbs with his affection and longing after them, especially since they had now sent him a further gift, which is the cause of this letter to them.
He is now a prisoner again but still rejoicing, as he had done with Silas in the dungeon at Philippi and this is one of the key words of the letter, “Rejoice”. This was not the outcome of circumstances or happenings, but because he had learned through discipline that “for him to live was Christ and to die was gain.”
There was no doctrinal error to put right at Philippi, it was a normal Christian assembly, “saints in Christ Jesus with the elders and deacons”, a description of a complete, if small local church, as to its order and makeup but on the other hand there were dangers of disunity which Paul endeavours to correct.
If disunity was the danger at Philippi then it was the mind of each which would decide the issue and this word occurs again and again in the letter. These are here listed for the help of the reader and need closely studying and more closely carried out in the fear of God. [1. 7 ; 2. 2 ; twice 5 ; 3. 15 (twice), 16, 19 ; 4. 2, 10 (twice)].
Although this Epistle does not yield easily to any kind of “Structure” (as Campbell Morgan says, ‘How can you analyse a love letter?’) yet it has often had headings attached to its divisions such as Chapter 1, Christ our Life ; 2, Christ our Example; 3, Christ our Reward ; and 4, Christ our Provision. Or again, A Supreme Purpose, A Supreme Position, A Supreme Pattern, A Supreme Person, A Supreme Peace. Also a definite development and progression can be seen.
It is not our purpose however to follow this, as this is not the way in which the writers of scripture proceeded and this is often mechanical, and so also is the alliterative process, so very much indulged in, which, while it may assist the memory is not the method adopted by the Spirit of God.
It has, however, been remarked that its position in the canon is interesting in that it seems to form a valley between the mountain peaks of Ephesians and Colossians, a valley indeed in which we have the great stoop of the Lord Jesus portrayed, unequalled anywhere. It does not deal with the Church nor bring before us any of the ‘Mysteries’.
Silas, the Apostle’s fellow worker and companion in the prison at Philippi is not included in the salutation, as Silas is not with Paul, nor in prison, but only Paul and Timothy.
It is clear that Paul's first visit was by no means his last as the following references show. Acts 20. 1-6; 1 Cor. 16. 5 ; 2 Cor. 1. 16 ; 2. 13 ; 7. 5 ; 1 Tim. 1. 3. These visits cover a span of some thirteen years.
I HAVE entitled this little article, as a fresh look at the Coming of the Lord, as described by Paul in First Thessalonians, Chapter 4, 13-18.
There is a threefold reason why this aspect of the Lord’s Coming should be considered. Firstly, because the truth of it is being denied by so many today; secondly, although not so completely denied, it has been so greatly distorted by others, that the true concept of the truth has been completely changed; thirdly, that for the most of us, the lustre and the glory of it has been greatly dimmed.
I have the feeling that, if we could recapture something of its importance, its imminence and its inclusiveness, our outlook concerning divine things would be enriched, our exercises in service encouraged by our affections for Him becoming enlarged.
There is nothing in my judgment which would revive the saints so much as a greater consciousness of the nearness of His coming, not merely held in our head, but received with certainty into our heart. The saints at Thessalonica had not the advantages which we possess in these enlightened days and, consequently, we can appreciate something of their perplexities, in relation to the experiences into which they had been brought. What they knew, they performed gladly, even though it was accomplished in the midst of the most severe persecutions. Their perplexity then was not the outcome of what they knew but what they did not know and is the content of the teaching we are about to consider.
The doctrine of the coming of the Lord, in the form in which it is presented to the Thessalonians is an advance on anything which had yet been revealed from God and is the outcome of a fresh and further unfolding of this great truth. We, in this enlightened day, with all the fulness of divine revelation before us, can fill in the many details of that which had been merely suggestive outlines, which had been previously given and which seemingly contained the promise of a single coming, and that coming to establish and set up His kingdom. Probably this concept would be formulated in the light of Old Testament prophecy and in the further teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, although there were suggestive hints of a further and fuller meaning in the statements made 'to His own in His upper room ministry. How much of this was grasped is manifested by the first and eager question which was raised by them when Jesus manifested Himself alive after His Passion as, with revived hopes, they said unto Him, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom unto Israel ?” The answer made by the Lord Jesus does not entirely disapprove of the question, but defers it, until the incoming of the Holy Spirit saying, “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father has placed in His own authority, but ye shall receive power after the Holy Spirit is come” (Acts 1. 6-8). Even at the Lord’s ascension, the message from the heavenly visitors conveyed no further teaching than the fact of the Lord’s personal return in the manner which they had seen Him go. Consequently, the popular concept of all His disciples was—He has gone to take His place at His Father’s right hand until He makes His enemies His footstool for His feet, and then He shall return and set up His kingdom.
This concept had been firmly accepted by most of His disciples, so that it coloured their teaching and was associated with the Gospel which they preached ; some eight times in the Book of the Acts, the things concerning the kingdom occupied a large place in the Gospel which they preached and in the teaching which they taught. Even Paul himself in his preaching in the Acts was not exempt from this popular concept, for, even at Thessalonica, one of the charges laid against him was the fact that he was preaching about another King, Jesus.
Those, then, who had accepted this message at Thessalonica, had turned to God from idols, to serve the Living and True God and to wait for His Son out of Heaven, whom God raised from amongst the dead ones, even Jesus, the deliverer from coming wrath. This having been accepted by them, the coming of the Lord and the setting up of His kingdom was eagerly awaited, and at any moment they expected that all those who had accepted Him as Saviour would be sharing the triumph of His reign. During the waiting period, some of them who had accepted Him as Saviour had died, and this unlooked for experience created a perplexing problem for the rest of the Thessalonian saints.
If the teaching of Paul was true, it was true for all His saints, and, if true for all His saints, how could it be possible for those who had died to participate in the glories of the coming kingdom. This then was their problem, and to meet the need which had arisen, a further and fuller revelation was required. As far as the former teaching was concerned, the Thessalonians were in no doubt, for according to that which has been recorded in Paul’s first letter to them, chapter 5. 1-11, concerning times and seasons he had no need to write unto them. The only other occasion in the New Testament where times and seasons are referred to was prior to the Lord’s ascension, when, in answer to His disciples’ question concerning His kingdom, He told them that these times and seasons were the possessed property of His Father, and at that time the unfolding could not be made known beyond the fact that, at some time and connected with some season, His kingdom should be established. However, the time has now arrived for a further unfolding of Divine purpose and there is now imparted to Paul a word from the Lord which he gladly passes on to the Thessalonian saints, thus removing their difficulty and leaving on record this precious heritage for the encouragement and expectation of all His saints right on to the present moment. This then is the subject matter of that which has been recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4. 13-18 : a section which, into a scene of deepest sorrow and disappointment there is brought the gladdening golden gleams of eternal hope and joy.
Could we now for a little moment try to catch something of the grandeur and the glory, the gladness and the comfort which the section also contains for us, with the brightness of the hope which it has brought, which, with its illuminating beams, sheds light and everlasting joy beyond the tomb. “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that have fallen asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” Ignorance causes uncertainty, and uncertainty produces doubt, and when doubt comes in, it usually produces unbelief. Now, in order to produce confidence and assured belief ignorance must be removed. How dreadful and how dismal is the prospect of them that know not, compared with those who say, with every degree of confidence, we know. Think of the despair of those devoted women who came to the sepulchre that resurrection morning and found it empty, and listen to the pity of their cry, “They have taken away the Lord out from the sepulchre and we know not where they have laid Him”; compare that with the note of triumph in the apostle’s voice when he says, “We know that, if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Ignorance then must be removed, and something of a concrete character put into its place, and so the apostle triumphantly says, I have received a word from the Lord, not I received something out of the word of the Lord, but a word from the Lord, a fresh revelation (as upon other occasions he had received) : a fresh word, a fuller revelation, something that, into this scene of gloom and grief, a fuller teaching has now been brought, pulsating with fresh hope and joy.
Revelation in all its Clearness—a word from the Lord concerning
Relationship in all its Closeness—the dead in Christ
Resurrection with all its Certainty—they SHALL RISE FIRST
Rapture in all its Completeness—we that are alive and remain (all of us)
Reunion with all its Consolations—shall be caught up TOGETHER with them
Realised glory with all its Continuity—so shall we EVER BE with the Lord
Reassurance with all its Comfort—wherefore comfort one another with these words
This then is a compressed outline of the revelation given to Paul, to meet the perplexities of his day and which, we trust, may be used of God to refresh and reinvigorate the hearts and minds of all His people of today, that with steady upward gaze we may be found looking for “the Blessed Hope and the appearing of the Glory of the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, zealous of good works” (Titus 2. 11-14).
PRAYER MEETING ADDRESS (Notes by Dr. H. A. Cameron)
'THERE are m my mind two or three things in this 1 Psalm that I would like to look at. It is a Psalm we are very familiar with in connection with the Lord’s Table, but there are subjects in it that we would not think of at the Lord’s Table and these I would like to bring before you now. Please read verses 6-7. “Let not them that wait on Thee, 0 Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake : let not those that seek Thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach: shame hath covered my face.” Look now at v. 20, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness : and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none ”
Now we shall turn to the New Testament presently with regard to these verses. You have perhaps wondered sometimes why the Lord spent nights in prayer, for we read that He spent whole nights praying upon the slopes of the Mount of Olives. What would be the burden of His heart during these long sessions in prayer ? We might guess, but here is one thing we need not guess about: He prays for His own. “Let not those that seek Thee be confounded for My sake, O God of Israel. Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach: shame hath covered My face.”
Now our Lord Jesus Christ is here in prayer prophetically and He is looking forward to the Cross and He is entering fully into that which shall be to those who follow Him. While He was with them they were convinced that He was the Messiah, and they thought that He would set up His kingdom, and they were looking for that all the time. The idea of a time of rejection and of the Lord Jesus Christ dying as the Lamb of God never came into their minds. But, instead of what they looked for, a mob came out into that place where He was accustomed to pray, and they take Him a prisoner, and they lead Him to Annas, and then to Caiaphas, and then to Pilate, and then to Herod and back to Pilate, and the disciples saw Him led forth bearing His cross, and at the place called Calvary they saw Him suffer the death of crucifixion. Then they slunk away, and we find them behind closed doors : not that they feared physical harm so much as they expected the taunts of the Jews who would say, “Now, what do you think of your Messiah?” They felt utterly ashamed. Here was One that they had counted upon as the Messiah who would take the reins of government into His hand ; and some might come and say, “What do you think now of your Messiah ? Don’t you see that you made a mistake ?” In their hearts they were true to Christ, but what about their minds? They could not find an answer to the enquiry, for they had seen Him put to death. But for all that there was not one of them who said, “We made a mistake. He was not the Messiah.” Yet what they had passed through was more than humanity could bear. Now remember that resurrection never entered their thoughts, but notwithstanding that fact, not one of them was upset. And why? Because of the Lord’s prayer. God helped the dear disciples and in the light of resurrection all was cleared up. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” They had been sore tried but not destroyed, perplexed but not in despair, cast down but not destroyed. Now the storm is past and they are preserved.
But look at this prayer: “Let not those that seek Thee be confounded for My sake.” Why ? “Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered My face”. “I have endured the cross for Thy sake : now keep these dear disciples till My resurrection.” Look at the reason. “Shame hath covered My face.” We often bring the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ into the cross and think He did not feel it. Think of what it was ! A shameful death; a death reserved for barbarians and criminals. Did He feel it ? “Oh,” you say, “He was God and did not feel it.” But He was Man and He felt it and the shame of it. You have heard about the pillory: that wooden implement with holes for the hands and head and feet. Anyone could come and spit in the face of the man thus pilloried and make fun of him. Suppose you put a red Indian into the pillory. It would not hurt him much : he would be quite stoical there, or at most he might scowl at those who mocked him, yet his feelings would not be much outraged. But take a College man with culture and fine family connections and put him there. Oh, it would be awful to such an one: just in proportion to the refinement of his feelings would be the terrible nature of the punishment. Now the Lord Jesus Christ was the finest Gentleman that ever trod the earth. Think of Him suspended upon that cross, nearly naked, and think of the multitude coming and mocking Him. Do not think that because He was God that He did not feel it. It was because He was a Man, and a sinless Man, that He felt it and felt it keenly. “Thou knowest My reproach, and My shame, and My dishonour” (v. 19).
And remember this that there is one thing about the Lord Jesus’ prayers : they are not ended. We count on them yet. He could think of His sufferings during the years before the Cross, and He prayed for the disciples in the days of His flesh and also on the Cross, and He is not less concerned about them now. He prays still and we can count upon these prayers.
Now read at Mark 14. 32 : “And they came to a place which was named Gethsamene: and He saith to His disciples, Sit ye here while I shall pray. And He taketh with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.”
I doubt not that you have thought of these two passages as connected; the one in Mark and the other in this Psalm, “Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness : and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none ; and for comforters, but I found none.” Now that is very strange humanly speaking; for it is true that followers have stood by their chief when all was lost and there was no possibility of the day being redeemed : and yet such men did not love their masters with the intense affection that the disciples loved their Lord. Nevertheless they all forsook Him and fled. Why ? You get the answer in Psalm 88, “Lover and friend hast Thou put far from Me, and Mine acquaintance into darkness.” And so the Lord never scolded His disciples. He never said, “Peter, I am surprised at your forsaking Me. John, I never thought you would leave Me.” Why ? Because He knew it was His Father who had done it. He would not leave Him one drop of comfort in that dark hour. “Lover and friend hast Thou put far from Me,” and yet as a Man He craved it, and so He took Peter and James and John. “Why”? Oh, He would like their sympathy. “Tarry ye here and watch,” and then there was the terrible agony with the bloody sweat: and He came back. Of course they would surely watch, He had brought them here for that purpose. “And He cometh and findeth them sleeping and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldst thou not watch one hour? Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.” A gentle reproof. He goes and comes back again, and again they are asleep, and so the third time. And now He says, “Sleep on now and take your rest.” He looked for comforters and they failed, and so He says, “Sleep on now and take your rest.”
I can imagine Peter years afterwards saying to John, “Why was it that we could not watch with the Lord that night ? Can you account for that terrible drowsiness?” “No,” John would say, “I do not know what was the matter. I know the Lord has forgiven me but I will never forgive myself. Think of it: we had such an opportunity and we missed it and it will never come again, not in all eternity. Oh, how bad I feel: we had such a chance and we missed it.”
And so He said, “Sleep on now and take your rest.” I do not believe that the words, “It is enough. Rise up, let us go,” follow the others immediately. I only know that He let them sleep on in calm rest.
Now we have only one life and it will never come again, and the Lord has left us here to watch with Him1. The disciples could not drive off that drowsy feeling. Dear child of God, you will pass through Sleep Hollow, and it requires self-denial to take hold of opportunities. The Lord has left you here and He has something for you to do. He has tried and tried and come often and found you asleep. He has given you time and talents and money, and He has tried and tried and tried you in vain and some day He will say, ’’Sleep on now. You had a chance and you did not embrace it.” And then will have passed forever all opportunity for the Lord Jesus Christ. It may be some of you could take up a class of children, or you might speak a little word in the Gospel, or comfort God’s people, and you let someone else do it: and God says, “Sleep on now.” Many a man and woman? has God stirred up and they have held back and God has said to them, “Sleep on now.” And then the time will come when God will say, “Come up higher.” All opportunities past: they will never come again, never again. You have missed it. The Lord help you to remember that we are called by the Lord Jesus Christ to fellowship in the things that He is doing and He might have to say to us, “Could you not watch with Me one hour ?” Let us take care that the time does not go by without our making use of it.
'THE title “I AM” belongs to God, also to our Lord Jesus Christ, but in a minor degree there are a number of “I AM’S” in Psalm 119 which can refer to a believer. They are:—
1. I AM A STRANGER (v. 19).
This rightly tells of our position on earth in relation to worldly affairs and sinful pursuits which are followed by those who are not born again. In relation thereto—we are strangers.
2. I AM A COMPANION (v. 63).
“I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts.” This Christian companionship should be encouraged, and sought after, and we should remember the blessedness of not walking in the counsel of the ungodly. (Psalm 1).
3. I AM BECOME LIKE A BOTTLE IN THE SMOKE (v. 83).
Think of a skin bottle in a place where there is a fire, and the smoke covers the bottle, and so it may be that in the affairs of life as a Christian you might feel obscure —yet we should not forget the statutes of the Lord, for in the keeping of His commandments there is a great reward.
4. I AM THINE—SAVE ME (v. 94).
How lovely to realise that we belong to the Lord, and we can sing, “Dear Saviour, Thou art mine.” What a relationship! May we always represent Him well on earth.
5. I AM AFFLICTED VERY MUCH (v. 107).
Though we are children of God we must remember that discipline is necessary in the Lord’s family just as it is in earthly families, so we must not get downhearted, and if we do, let us pray—“quicken me, O Lord.”
6. I AM SMALL AND DESPISED (v. 141).
Humility becomes the saints, and if at times we are despised let us think of our Lord who was despised and rejected of men, and if we are called to walk in this way, let us rejoice, and not forget the Lord’s precepts.
7. I AM THY SERVANT (v. 125).
Jesus Christ is our Lord, and we are left here to serve Him by lip and by life, and we need to pray—give me understanding so that the service I render will be acceptable by our Lord, but what an honour—to be able to serve such a dignified person as our Lord.
“Eli, Eli, Lama Sabacthani, that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?” (Matt. 27. 46 : Mark 15. 34).
Appropriately, this is the central cry from the Cross. It focuses the attention upon the sufferings of Christ. Here was the crowning ordeal; Judas had betrayed Him, the rulers accused Him, the people rejected Him, the disciples had deserted Him and fled. He was left alone with His God, but now God was to forsake the lonely sufferer. Completely alone, He clings to God still.
The original aramaic words are recalled and preserved, marking the deep impression this utterance had made, as if the air still was filled with that tremendous shout. Its peel rung on in the memory. Deep darkness descended, an awesome silence settled upon the scene. Satan’s rage, sin’s guilt, God’s wrath all converged on Christ during these three hours. The intense spiritual agony to His holy sinless soul is beyond human thought and feeling. Human eyes are not permitted to behold any more. Nature only, so to speak, mourned for its Maker in that dread hour. Towards the end of the three hours, the cry escapes his lips :
“It pierced the moral universe on high,
Upon eternal shores the echo brake,
That long, that loud, that lamentable cry,
My God, My God, why didst Thou Me forsake ?”
The subject is so solemn and sacred, that suggestion only can be offered as to the import of the cry.
None will doubt the force and feeling of the repeated call, “My God, My God . . .” It is not now, “Father”, but “God” the Judge of all the earth. It is not however, a cry of despair for confident relationship still exists, “My God, My God . . .” Christ clings to His God in the extremity of His felt human weakness and suffering. It is a cry of inexpressible agony, and intense loneliness. He, who in His manhood always remained in perfect contact with God is now suddenly cut off. In His human consciousness He experiences separation from God to become the sin-bearer and the curse upon the tree. We dare not say, “the Father forsook the Son”—such a thought leads to blasphemous insinuations. As the mystery of this hour is surveyed we must keep strictly to the words of scripture.
The cry is framed as a question. Were it otherwise, it would have implied defeat. God would never forsake such an One without good reason, and the answer is sought. “Why hast Thou . . .?” It implies trust still in thus addressing His God. Though sinking down, He is seeking up. The heavens are black with wrath and as brass against Him yet upwards still He looks in faith, searching for the silver lining and the dawn that would soon break. The mystery is solved for us by reference to Psalm 22 whence the saying is culled . . .“Thou art holy”. Christ was in the place of sin, indeed “made sin” (2 Cor. 5. 21), laden with the guilt of sinners. God, being of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, averts His face from the sight. Put as a question the cr> expresses more acutely the agony that seized the Saviour’s soul and provokes every hearer to enquire the reason for His forsaking. Why ? Yes, why, indeed ? Then a cleft was cut into the Rock of Ages in which the believing soul may find eternal cover. He was forsaken that we might never be.
This reveals the heinousness of sin to God and His Holy Son. May it cause us to feel its loathsomeness too, and flee its influence to follow that which is good. FIFTH
“I thirst” (John 19. 28). This saying expresses the effects of His sufferings. The heat, the pain, the divine wrath and approaching death all combined to produce an agonising thirst. The whole body was dried up, the tongue swollen, the lips parched (Ps. 22. 15) ; the thirst was undoubtedly real. The Lord Jesus, the Fountain of living waters Himself, who offered others the water of life freely (John 4. 14 ; 7. 37) now thirsts. To save us from the unrelieved thirst of hell (Luke 16. 24) and make our souls an oasis in this desert scene, Christ was brought to this experience.
“Amazing pity, grace unknown,
And love beyond degree.”
Yet the cry was not uttered so that His cravings could be quenched. No, but that the scriptures might be fulfilled. The pain of crucifixion by this time would have driven an ordinary person’s mind into incoherent thought, if not, insanity. The Lord’s mind, however, traverses the entire range of the prophetic Word in these closing moments and, knowing that all things were now accomplished, consciously causes one outstanding prophecy of His passion to be completed by expressing His need of drink. The saying indicates the Lord’s devotion to God and His obedience to all the Word of God. No scripture was too insignificant to avoid His scrutiny. All had to be fulfilled. No wonder it is found recorded in John’s Gospel only. The burnt-offering is here presented in the perfection of its various parts. The Son of God in His omniscience and dignity is before our gaze. Our hearts are bowed with wonder, and, as one of old “make haste and worship” (Exodus 34. 8).
The practical point for us here is that reverence for, and obedience to God’s word might be inculcated. However insignificant a scripture might appear, it nevertheless demands our attention. If the Lord attached such importance to this prophecy, no scripture should be considered to be of no, or little, consequence. Let us give heartfelt attention to the whole counsel of God, and pursue the narrow path of implicit obedience, unperturbed by other popular appeals, or the reproach one might have to bear as a result. Temptations to neglect, ignore or forsake principles or precepts of scripture, lose their power as the motives that evoked this cry from the lips of Christ on the Cross are reverently recalled.
“THE same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside.” Historically, the break with Israel was at the Cross. A remnant, of which Paul was one, received the King, who in grace for their sins, died on the Cross, but the nation as such, refused their Messiah when on earth, and equally so when in heaven. God in governmental chastisement used the Romans as before the Babylonians to scourge His people. In both cases the temple—the centre of national and religious interest— was razed to the ground, the people sent into captivity, and their beloved city given over to spoilation and capture. The Lord went out of the house, i.e. the temple, and sat at the seaside, i.e., figure of the Gentile world (Daniel 7. 2; Rev. 17. 15). “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” The prophets of old spoke and wrote of the suffering of Christ and the glories following (1 Peter 1. 11), but that the Messiah of Israel, should first of all enter upon such a lowly service as a sower of seed, formed no part of their testimony. Sowing was neither suffering nor glory. Had it been written, “A reaper went forth to reap”, it would have been in consonance with human thought. But going forth to sow was indeed a new action, and one necessitated by the state of the people. The fig-tree (Israel nationally) was covered with leaves whilst absolutely destitute of fruit (Matt. 21. 19). After centuries of care and culture the vineyard of Israel yielded no fruit for Jehovah, hence the Kingdom of God was transferred to the Gentiles (v. 45). Now, if fruit was to be gathered from Jew or Gentile, the Lord must do a work to produce it. He sowed during His personal ministry on earth. The reaping is yet to come. But as sure as He sowed He shall reap.
This parable, with its accompanying explanation is also related in Mark 4 and Luke 8. Matthew terms the seed, “the Word of the Kingdom.” Mark speaks of it simply as “the Word.” Luke, as “the Word of God.” In addition to these, the seed may be regarded as the Word of Salvation (Heb. 2. 3). In this first and fundamental of parables, there are four casts of the seed. In the first there is no result; in the three which follow there is. It is only in the fourth, however, that permanent results follow on the reception of the seed sown in “good ground.”
The wayside hearer (vv. 4, 19) is the most common case of any. The Word is preached—the person hears. There may be a certain effect produced, but it is only transitory, for Satan is there to catch away the seed before it can find lodgment in the heart. This class of hearers are numerous, and are to be found in every grade of society, from its highest to its lowest. The fowls who devoured the seed point to a Satanic agency (v. 4), but Satan himself is the real source of the almost universal carelessness and indifference to the Word of God (v. 19). The moral character of the great enemy of God and of man is referred to in his descriptive designation as “the wicked one.” As to who he is there can be no question, for Mark (4. 15) terms him Satan, and Luke (8. 12) the devil.
The stony-ground hearer (vv. 5, 6, 20, 21) is an advance upon the former. In this case the Word is received with joy. But it is not joy that the sinner needs; it is peace with God about his sins. The saint is called to joy, the sinner to peace. Hence, in this case the heart is indeed touched, the feelings are aroused, perhaps, the person weeps, but the word has been received without any exercise of conscience—no sense of sin felt. Souls should never be hurried into a confession of the name of the Lord. There is an immense amount of mere superficial work abroad. Always look for depth and reality in souls ; bring people face to face with the realities of sin, judgment, God, heaven, hell; seek rather for quality than quantity. Press the necessity of repentance.
The thorn-hearer (vv. 7, 22) is also in advance of the stony-ground hearer. The rich and poor make up this very numerous company of unfruitful, unproductive hearers. The many cares of the poor, and the deceitful riches of the better-off, equally choke the Word. If the Lord has given you riches, pour them1 at the feet of your adorable Saviour and Lord, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5. 12). If you are burdened with cares, go cast all upon Him, for He careth for you (1 Peter 5. 7) ; then “be careful for nothing; but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4. 6).
The good-ground hearer (vv. 8, 23) is a doer of the word, and not a hearer only. James describes the good-ground hearer in these words—practical words, which we beg our readers to ponder over, as in the sight of God— “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed’ (1. 25). Why good ground ? Simply because prepared by God’s Spirit. Then fruit is produced in proportion as there is subjection of heart and conscience to the “Word.” “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” May it be an hundredfold with every reader of these pages!
In Matthew the quantity of fruit borne is from a hundredfold down to thirtyfold ; whereas in Mark it is from thirty up to a hundred. The work of the sower was perfect, neither was there defect in the seed. But failure and declension in not maintaining the high standard is intimated in Matthew, while in Mark the increasing quantity shows the progress in the soul and life of some. Dispensational failure is the point in the first Gospel; moral advance is the lesson in the second Gospel.
Three things characterise this class of fruitful hearers: (1) they understand the word; (2) they receive the word ; (3) they keep the word (see Matt. 13 ; Mark 4 ; Luke 8 for these and other interesting distinctions). This first parable is the key to the understanding of all the others. “Know ye not,” says the Lord, “this parable” ? (Mark 4. 13).
IF these “Churches” and “Associations” were according to the Word of God, they ought not to have been separated from; if they are not, then surely it would be wrong to invite others to go to them for any purpose whatever. It no doubt shows a great deal of what the world calls “charity” and “large-heartedness” to patronize all such things and fraternize with them but this helps to blot out all distinction between what God has commanded, and what men have invented, a climax to which all things are fast hastening, BUT IT IS NOT OF GOD.
We believe that the simple path for those who have in obedience to God’s Word come out from worldly religion and all its ways, is to go humbly but firmly forward in the ways marked out in God’s Book, taking no notice of sects and sectarian associations and their ways, except to show how contrary they are to the revealed will of God.
The saints who are in these systems we are taught in God’s Book to love, but not to show that love by identifying ourselves with the worldly religious systems and net they are entangled in.