The white wall barring the way South, West and North directed attention to the Gate in the East, the only entrance into God’s dwelling place. This reminds us of the sober fact to-day that there is only one way to God, the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Way, the Truth, the Life”... “the door”. Similarly, the believer’s upright life based on the precepts of Christ, bears witness to the Way to God. The word for gate in the scripture here means “entrance”. It was designed to welcome people in, not to keep them out. There were no bolts and bars. The hanging need only be pushed aside and a step taken to be inside the courts of the Lord. How marvellously simple! A child could go in. And such is the Gospel. The gate was 30 ft. wide making room for all. The “whosoever” of the Gospel is written plainly on the threshold. The hanging was supported by four pillars suggesting the four Gospels and the universality of the message.
The gate was beautifully embroidered in blue, purple, scarlet and fine twined linen. The spiritual mind discerns here some of the glories of Our Saviour in these colours. Blue, the colour of the sky, suggests His heavenly character, the Son of God; Purple, the colour of royalty, His Offices as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Scarlet, obtained through crushing worms, suggests the humiliation of Christ as the Suffering Servant; all intertwined into the fine linen of His perfectly righteous humanity. These are aspects of the Saviour that should be stressed as He is presented to the World in our Gospel Witness. In this way souls will be attracted by His loveliness.
The height of the hangings for the gate were 5 cubits “answerable to the hangings of the Court” ch. 38, 18. They measured the same as the wall of white linen. Christ measures up to the righteous standards of God, and in gaining admission to God through Christ there is no lowering of standards to accommodate the sinner. Once a person stepped within the Court the white linen which had previously shut him out and directed him to the entrance, now shut him in, on all sides. This is a tremendous truth to grasp. The believer to-day, having been brought in to God through faith in Christ is completely enclosed securely and eternally by the righteousness of God.
The entrance to the tabernacle faced the East. The early morning rays of the rising sun lit up the embroidered hanging, spotlighting the way to God. A further truth is here suggested. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, eastward, Gen. 4, 16. East indicates therefore being away from God. Men have to repent and turn round to the opposite direction (West) to approach the presence of God, as the Wise Men of Matt. 2 who came from the East to worship Him. East is associated too with idolatry the earliest form of which was worshipping the rising sun. In worshipping thus, men’s backs were to the presence of God, cf. Ezek. 8, 16. Men have to turn from their idols to come to God, as did the Thessalonians of a later day, 1Thess, 1, 9. Let us remind ourselves that as we enjoy the presence of God and the dwelling place of God, we have left behind us the world and its idolatry. In bringing others to Christ let us look for genuine repentance in that souls turn their backs upon all else.
The warfare of these Eastern kings spans 12 to 13 years and therefore had taken place before Abram had become a pilgrim in the land. Many of the names of places will be familiar, so that when Lot entered Sodom, it appears that this was a vassal state and tributary to these other kings and Lot was in a doubly dangerous position, and now he is taken captive. Verses 12 and 13 emphasise that Lot DWELT in Sodom and Abram DWELT in the plain. But Abram was not content to lose his brother Lot, and so with other confederate kings he went out to engage the enemy with only 318 trained men. He pursued the enemy as far as Dan and Damascus. Now this was a long way, right up into the north of Palestine some 150 miles from where Abram dwelt, through the whole length of Palestine. He pursued and got the victory. The man in touch with God and in the place of His appointment is able to rescue the backslider but, note, that backslider cannot again walk the path of faith but has to go back to the place of his abode and there await further tests.
Before his encounter with the King of Sodom, however, whom he had rescued, Abram has a meeting with a stranger, Melchizedek, who suddenly emerges and appears to Abram, doubtless to prepare him for the meeting with the king of Sodom. He comes to sustain him, to bless him and to reveal to him a new Name of Jehovah and to receive the tithes of all that which Abram has won. We will not here pursue the teaching based upon this remarkable person which is opened up for us in the Epistle to the Hebrews, except to point out that the explicit and involved teaching there clearly conveys the fact that this mysterious priest-king precedes the Levitical priesthood, that his ministry is unconnected with any sacrifice or any covenant and is superior to any other. He is spoken of again and again dissociated with the Levitical priesthood and in Psalm 110:4 and is typical of the everlasting priesthood of the Lord Jesus. That psalm is most important as upholding the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and indicates His session at the right hand of God and therefore shows an interval for that priesthood, before He comes forth to rule in power. This is one of the psalms quoted by the apostles in the first preaching of the Gospel in Acts, claiming this for the Lord Jesus. This is the first mention of a “Priest”.
This revelation and recognition of Jehovah as “the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth”, prepares Abram for the temptation put before him by the king of Sodom to enrich himself through his victory and Abram uses this new title in disclaiming anything for himself.
This is high ground and Abram is now prepared and in a fit condition to receive the covenant, and it is significant that the Lord had waited until now before making this covenant with Abram. He had now been tested and tried, and had responded to the revelation which God had given. It is significant that in the progress of the unfolded doctrine in the Epistle to the Hebrews in which the spiritual application of all this is worked out, that not until the truth concerning the priesthood of Melchizedek has been expounded (chapters 5 to
7 incl.) is the covenant brought into view in chapter 8. This covenant with Abram is not to be confused with that made with Noah, the terms of which are entirely different nor with that of the law which followed long after, although these linked together show us the many ways by which God bound Himself to His people, but this covenant with Abram was all of grace and was not dependent upon any works of Abram. This is clearly indicated for us in the epistles of the New Testament.
I) The local Assembly is Spirit-ordered as to its practices.
The indispensability of the Holy Spirit of God to the life and well-being of the local church pinpoints the difference between a New Testament Assembly and other organised centres of Christian testimony. Through the centuries, to a greater or lesser degree there has developed a dependence upon order and organisation not at all in harmony with scriptural principle or usage. However apparently laudable in motive, these human additions can be injurious in their effects. The fact is that the degree to which we give place to the Spirit of God will determine the nature of the company and the order of its activities.
In the wisdom of God only a bare skeleton of the original order in New Testament churches has been outlined for us in the Scriptures. For example, in Acts 2:42 we have “and they continued stedfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in prayers”. For the remainder we are largely indebted to Apostolic adjustments made by letter where departure from principle or doctrine had made such records necessary. Had there been fixed formulae or a special “order of service” it is surely reasonable to expect some account of them in the Acts or the Epistles. The simple framework of Acts 2:42 was sufficient and this viewed in the light of apostolic corrections given to churches where either error or confusion had come in, gives us unmistakable guidance in all that relates to a church holding the truth and simplicity of those early Assemblies.
If we line up the Apostles’ adjustments of the disorders existent in Corinth we shall be, I am quite sure, deeply impressed and possibly greatly surprised at the recurring reference to the Holy Spirit as the essential remedy for both errors and disorders. The reader of 1st Corinthians who sincerely desires to discover the mind of God on Assembly practices is sure to reach the conclusion that the minimum of human organisation and the maximum of Spirit control is what is there indicated. The unhindered, unhampered operation of One great mind behind the many minds will produce ORDER THAT IS ORDER INDEED, and the MIND is that of the Holy Spirit of God.
II) The local Assembly is Spirit-empowered as to its message (1 Cor. chapters 1 and 2).
The natural aptitude of the Grecian mentality was to magnify human intellect and to admire eloquent speech, and this tendency followed some of the Corinthian believers into their Assembly life. The Apostle’s personal example is here used to eliminate this man-exalting policy. The factional spirit among them stemmed from this attitude which mistook an eloquent tongue for a gifted preacher, so that personal preferences were allowed to include some and exclude others among the servants of God. This was shown by the Apostle to be a double robbery: it robbed God of His glory, it robbed the saints of their heritage (1 Cor. 1:26-31; 3:21-23). By unduly exalting the servant they were dishonouring his Master. By being exclusive in their choice of preachers they were depriving themselves of that full-orbed ministry—all the God-given ministers of the church, from whom every saint is intended to profit. The Apostle’s words are penetrating. “Who then is Paul and who is Apollos but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (3:5-6). Again, “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death, or things present or tilings to come, all are yours and ye are Christ’s: and Christ is God’s” (3:20-23).
These would-be intellectuals had forgotten two things. First, the extraordinary message the servants of Christ proclaim. To a natural man it is absurd, to a Spirit enlightened man it is the power of God. It is not only “foolishness” but it is an “offence” to human reasoning whether in philosopher or Pharisee. Second, they had forgotten the true, the only source of power which made it effectual in human hearts, the power of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 1:17-23).
It must have been a sledge-hammer blow to their fleshly pride that the one who brought to them “the Word of the Cross” should say: “And I, brethren, when I came to you came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom but in demonstration of the SPIRIT and of power that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of man but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 3:1-5). What lessons in Gospel preaching are here both exemplified and expounded! All the natural powers of this man of God were subjugated to the Spirit of truth. “Excellency of speech and wisdom” were not resorted to as a part of his evangelism. They were not in keeping with his set purpose that Christ and Him crucified should be the measuring line. This would mould his motive, message, and methods. The shame of the cross and the simplicity of its presentation were over-ruling factors. The Gospeller himself was present with them in a frame of mind that put to “the death of the cross” all reliance on himself or human appeal and in such a frame of mind there was room for the Spirit’s DEMONSTRATION and power. There were the desired evidences without the undesirable displays of man in the flesh. Any parade of learning, any flash of showmanship, any undue personality emphasis are all out of harmony with “Christ and Him crucified”. The Spirit empowered preacher will be like the Dew which withdrew each morning to let “the small round white thing”, the manna, be seen on the desert floor all ready for the hungry Israelite to partake of it. It is essential to withdraw self to present the Saviour. Paul’s determination and the Spirit’s demonstration are repeated in every fruitful Gospel effort.
Inferences and deductions are not proofs, when passages can, with a little good-will, be explained in the fear of God in quite another way. God Himself could be proved “ignorant”, on the plan these men adopt, e.g., in such passages as Gen. xviii. 21 or Gen. xxii. 12. But did not God see all? Did He not know all before?
It is the same with the much misunderstood verse, Mark xiii. 32. One wonders the omniscience of the Holy Spirit has not been called in question, for surely He is included in the “no one knoweth!” This alone would show that the truth of the verse has nothing to do with the incarnation, but with the relations and prerogatives of the Divine Persons in the Triune Godhead. Let this verse be read with Acts i. 7 and the difficulty vanishes. Even there, after His resurrection, the Lord reminded His disciples that the date of the setting up of the Kingdom was one of the Father’s things, “the times and seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.”
The plainest testimony to the omniscience of Christ is ignored or explained away. Again and again we read: “He knew their thoughts”; “He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man”; “Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son; (the knowledge of the disciple can never approach that of the Teacher, when the lesson is infinite); and, lastly, the unparalleled (except in John xxi. 17) testimony of the disciples resulting from His wonderful words just uttered. “Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things.” What could be plainer? But all goes for nothing with these men, in face of their theory that “our Lord must have been in the position of not knowing what was coming next in order to resemble us.” But surely what we are called to is to resemble Him, not to drag Him down to resemble us. This same writer refers to this theory as “This marvellous experience of His of not knowing.” It would indeed be marvellous were it true!
I hope what has been written here will enable the Lord’s people to appraise this teaching aright. Let us, however, in closing, quote a few more Scriptures which still further negative this erroneous theory: “Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that believed not and who should betray Him” (John vi. 64); “He knew that His hour was come,” (Chap, xiii 1;) “Now I tell you before it come, that when it is come to pass ye may believe that I am” (v. 19. Chap. xiv. 29; see Isa. xli. 21-23, 26); and finally, “Jesus knowing all things that should come upon Him” (chap, xviii. 4).
Is it not difficult to recognise in the Christ these teachers offer us, “who did not know what was coming next,” the omniscient Christ of the Gospels, “Who knew all things that should come upon Him” and “all things” besides?
III. IN WHAT SENSE WAS OUR LORD TEMPTED?
Many of the moral signs of the last perilous times are with us to-day, among which we may note false teachers, who are at once “deceivers and being deceived” (n. Tim. iii. 13); while undermining the faith of the saints, they seem able to persuade themselves that they are building it up. Thus the Higher Critics, who only leave us intact the covers of our Bible, assure us that the Book is now much more precious than before; we must suppose they think so, but if so, they are “being deceived.” Again, those who, under guise of upholding the humanity of Christ, present us a Saviour Whom with sorrow we fail to recognise as the Living Christ of the Gospels, seem quite self-satisfied with their views; it is they who are upholding the truth; it is their strong faith that enables them to believe as they do. To us their theory seems “another Jesus” in the making. Well, if they must “deceive themselves,” it is no reason why we should be deceived.
But why such efforts to enforce this one-sided view of the Humanity of Christ? In order, the reply is, to insure to Him the ability to sympathise with us in our temptations. But it is admitted that our Lord did not need to be ill, in order to sympathise with the sick. But this admission seems to give the whole case away, for why should not the same principle hold good in other respects? Why should our Lord have to become ignorant in order to sympathise with the ignorant? Indeed, an ignorant person could not do so. But “sympathy” was not the primary end of the Lord’s mission. He had something more important in view, “to seek and to save that which was lost,” and more important still, to “glorify the Father and finish the work He had given Him to do.”
Let us now ask, in what sense was our Lord (1) tempted? (2) “in all things made like unto His brethren”? (3) “made perfect”?
1. In what Sense was our Lord Tempted?
Temptation (peirasmos) is used in two senses and great confusion arises from not distinguishing these; (a) of enticement, “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (James 1:14). Our Lord was clearly never tempted in this sense. He had no “lust” to draw Him away; “In Him is no sin.” It is of the nature of unclean animals and birds to love garbage, but, for us it has no attraction. So the Lord passed through this scene of moral corruption but there was nothing in Him to respond to it. What has a natural attraction for us, left Him unscathed. But there is another sense of temptation, that of (b) testing. “Though now for a season if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (1Pet. 1:6). Enticement cannot come from God; “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man,” but God does test all His people. It was in this sense He tempted Abraham (Gen. xxii. i). Satan tempts to bring out the evil, God tests to bring out the good effected by His grace. We should pray to be delivered from enticements, and flee from them, but we are to “count it all joy when we fall into divers testings.”
In the latter sense our Lord was tempted in all points, after the likeness or similitude” (Heb. 4:15, Kath’ homoioteta)*, the words “we are” are not in the original. That is, as far as it was possible for a sinless Divine Person to be tested “apart from sin,” He was tested, and every test only served to bring out His perfections and proved Him to be “the Holy One of God,” the perfect Servant, the faithful Witness. Moreover, His was a holy sympathy,! never with sin unconfessed or devious ways persisted in, but with sorrow, suffering, and infirmity. He was tested in every possible way proper to Himself. In this sense He was “tempted” of the Devil. The first temptation is enough to show up the error here combated. Satan would not appeal to us to make stones into bread. It would be no temptation to us, for an obvious reason, but he knew the Lord had the Almighty power at His disposal, if He could be induced to use it apart from the Father.
* This phrase, with the article, occurs again in chapter vii. 15, “after the similitude of Melchizedek.”
Had the theory of the men been true, the Lord would have disclaimed possessing (“in function,” the insidious phrase is) the power attributed to Him.
2. In what sense was our Lord “in all things made like unto His brethren?”
“All things” must be limited by the context to the possession by our Lord of all that constituted true humanity—spirit, soul, and body. Not absolutely “all things,” for though capable of death, He was not, like us, subject to death, nor, as we have seen, to sickness or sin. As Alford writes in loco, “All things, wherewith the present argument is concerned: all things which constituted real humanity, and introduce to its sufferings, temptations, and sympathies.”** This agrees with the context; the “many sons” of verse 10 are not angels.
** The word for “touched with feeling” (sunpasko), in Heb. iv. 15, is distinct from the word of the high priest’s “compassion” in v. 2 (metris-pasko).
Christ did not take them up, but true men, possessors of blood and flesh; so He partook of the same, becoming truly man. Why should the reality of His humanity diminish the reality of His Deity? He never ceased to be a Divine Person. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” He, the Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, dwelling among men, in this scene of sorrow, suffering, and sin; He, the Almighty Creator (John i. 10), enduring all at the creature’s hand; as the “Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief”; IN FULL POSSESSION OF ALL HIS DIVINE POWERS, but never using them to escape one pang or evade one sorrow. “Emmanuel,” yet as a man among men, entering into their circumstances, griefs and cares, and sharing them all, “that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God,” though this is never, as we shall see, termed “His being made perfect.” But is it not presumptuous folly to attempt to analyse all this and reduce it to the limits of a formula? We only know in part any divine truth, and even less of the Person of Christ (Matt. xi. 27; i. Tim. iii. 16).
This brings us to our last point.
3. In what sense was Christ “made perfect?” (Heb. 2:10).
Was it by the disciplinary processes of His ministry and Cross, as some affirm? If so, then it would be impossible to avoid the conclusion that our Lord did need perfecting in a moral sense. *** To put perfection in inverted commas explains nothing and escapes nothing. I believe it can be demonstrated that the term is never thus applied to our Lord, but only as expressing His qualifying by death and resurrection to be our Saviour and High Priest. Of course, in saying this we must not lose sight of the resurrection and ascension. The Lord is qualifying for a certain office, He must pass through the cross; but he must also reach a certain position in order to fulfil that office, and that is by resurrection and ascension; “now to appear in the presence of God for us.” It is only thus He has reached the goal. We all agree that our Lord’s life was one of suffering. Such sufferings were very varied, at the hands of man and Satan, by privation, by sympathy; as the Holy One in a defiled scene; as the Righteous Witness; by anticipation; and yet, at the last passover we hear Him saying, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you, before I suffer” (Luke xxii. 15). It was as though He had never suffered till then, so unique were to be the sufferings of the Cross.
*** It has been affirmed that the verb teleioo, “to perfect,” does not imply “moral perfection” but if used in the sense these teachers use it, it can only imply that. See Grimm, N.T. Lexicon, Section 2, on the verb in question, and also such passages as Phil. iii. 12, t. John iv. 18, where the word seems clearly used of moral perfecting.
The word for perfecting (teleioo), is applied four times to the Lord, and in each case the context points to the Cross and only to the Cross as the means of it. Luke xiii. 32 is the first occurrence, “the third day I shall be perfected.” This is at once connected with His approaching death which, being so near, called for an immediate journey to Jerusalem, which must preserve its sad monopoly of being the death-place of the prophets. Hebrew ii. 10 is equally clear: “For it behoved Him (God)... to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings”; the “for” is in logical sequence with verse 9, and explains the necessity of the death referred to there. To apply verse 9 to His death, and verse 10 to His ministry is topsy-turvy reasoning. No less clear is Heb. v. 9: “And being made perfect He became (not sympathiser merely), but the Author of eternal salvation.” Christ was never morally imperfect, but His moral perfection could not avail. Without the Cross He could never have been “perfected” as Saviour. Clearly “the strong crying and tears” of the previous verses were not His ordinary experience, but can only be connected with the period of His death. His prayer was, not to be saved from dying, but to be raised from death. It is really impossible to connect the “perfecting” of verse 9 with some kind of perfection attained by our Lord as the result of His experiences, without violating the context, and the truth of His Person. This is equally true of the last occurrence. “A Son perfected for evermore” (Heb. vii. 28, R.V.). Again the perfecting is connected with His offering of Himself (v. 27), and thus, His work being consummated by death and resurrection, He is for ever qualified to fill His mediatorial offices. We have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but Jesus Christ, THE SAME yesterday (that is, during His ministry), to-day (on the Throne of God), and for ever (in eternity).
Were the theory here traversed true, either Christ would not be the same now as when here below, or we should have a defective High Priest “today and forever.”
Bunyan, true to human experience, describes how Christian had a double encounter with evil. In the Valley of Humiliation he met Apollyon, a fiercesome fiend who did battle with him to impede his progress towards the Celestial City. The conflict was long and dreadful, but in the end Christian won by the skilful use of the sword of the Spirit. The second encounter was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. No visible foe was met. Wicked spirits kept assailing him, whispering evil thoughts and beclouding his mind with doubts. Only as he realised that the Lord was with him did he manage to overcome. Such is frequently the experience of the Christian in conflict with evil forces.
Ample provision has been made to meet the foe. Mere repetition of the instruction is very impressive.
Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Get your spiritual strength from the divine resources by living in union with the Lord.
Having done all, stand. After you have performed tasks of duty, continue to stand against the foe. The danger is that a sense of duty performed may induce a spirit of carelessness: so, stand.
Put on the whole armour of God. Having done so the Christian will be able to withstand the onslaughts of the enemy. Because of that ability the further advice is, stand. Resist every attempt to overcome.
The pieces of armour are given in detail.
Gird the loins with truth. Prepare to meet the foe with a knowledge of the truth of God which produces integrity of life.
Put on the breast-plate of righteousness. Have a good understanding of the righteousness which God imputes in order that you may respond to His demand of a corresponding uprightness of character.
Have the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Stand firm with a steadfast knowledge of what peace with God means, and be prepared to advance with the good news of the gospel.
Take the shield of faith. Have confidence in God and the fiery darts of the wicked one will be quenched.
Take the helmet of salvation. A knowledge of salvation in all its aspects, past, present, future, is a splendid weapon of defence against the wicked insinuations of the devil.
Use the sword of the Spirit. A skilful use of the word of God drives the enemy back in defeat, as our Lord did in His temptation when He overcame by saying on each occasion, “It is written”.
Pray always with all prayer. “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”
With such provision the Christian is able to withstand in the evil day. The watchword is, Stand and withstand.
“Unto you therefore which believe He is precious” (1Peter 2:7). As we contemplate the “preciousness” of our Lord Jesus Christ, our meditation of Him is sweet, and our hearts are bowed low in adoration.
All other things in the Scriptures are precious because He is precious. “To whom coming as unto a (the) Living Stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious” (verse 4).
The Apostle Peter mentions precious things seven times in his two Epistles. Our Blessed Lord was despised and rejected of men then, and alas He is disallowed by the world still. But chosen of God and precious.
The Father’s estimate of His well-beloved Son, His choice, the perfect Servant (Matt. 12:18). Where also it is contained in the Scripture. “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and He that believeth on Him shall not be confounded (verse 6) (Isaiah 28:16), a precious quotation from the prophet: God has laid the foundation and our Saviour and Lord is the solid Rock.
“He now the Head of the Corner—a Chief Corner Stone elect and precious.”
And we are reminded in 1Peter 1:18-21 the provision and the cost of our redemption—redeemed... with the precious blood of Christ as a Lamb, without blemish and without spot.
The blood of Christ has precious been,
’Tis precious now to me;
Through it alone my soul has rest
From fear and doubt set free.
Even the trial of your faith is much more precious than gold that perisheth. The manifold testings will in that day be found unto praise, and honour and glory at the appearing (unveiling) of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).
“Whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (verse 8).
In the second Epistle we have, firstly, the precious faith in the righteousness of our God and Saviour (2 Peter 1:1).
A precious faith obtained and imparted to us, and that it may increase and be strengthened day by day. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and “precious promises”; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature (verse 4).
Many promises our God has given to us to be tried and proved, and they are exceeding great and precious to every child of God, in every time of need.
The Psalmist reminds us that God’s thought towards us are precious. How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God; how great is the sum of them (Psalm 139:17).
We also read that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). And how precious is the redemption of the soul, for “None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of the soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever (Psalm 49:7, 8).
May the Lord Himself be increasingly precious to us in the coming days till we see His face.
ALL WRONGS WILL BE RIGHTED James the apostle, who evidently saw in vision these “last days,” speaks very strongly concerning the miseries of the rich whose “riches are corrupted,” and “whose garments,” lavish and costly, “are moth eaten,” because they have defrauded the labourer, and, “been wanton” with ill-gotten wealth (Jas. 5:1-5).
And what is the remedy for such ills? Unite and fight federate and be equally oppressive, look to Parliaments of people, or League of Nations, and expect the Golden Age to come by man, or nation, or revolution?
Nay, his message is, “Be patient, therefore brethren unto the Coming of the Lord” (v. 7). Lest the undue oppression should cause undue weariness and anger, he reminds us that, “The husbandman... hath long patience and waiteth,” and adds, “Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts: for the Coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (v. 8).
When He comes, in a moment of time, His own, long harassed and distressed on earth, shall be caught up out of it all to be in His presence, with no more pain of body, no more night of sorrow, no more of earth’s curse with its sweat of brow and galling yokes, for these things shall have “passed away” for ever (Rev. 21:4, 25).
Then He comes with His own to “reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10), “for He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25). That reign will be different to all other reigns, in that it will be a reign of perfect righteousness and equity. “Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment” (Isa. 33:1), “for He cometh to judge the earth, with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psa. 98:9).
The Prince of Peace was cast out of earth well-nigh 2000 years ago (Acts 3:15); there has been no peace on earth since, but, on average, two wars every generation; there will be no peace till the Prince of Peace returns. But, thank God, the Prince of Peace is Coming, and “of the increase of His Government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever” (Isa. 9:6,7).
Thus shall He hush all the groans of creation, banish all the birth-pangs and death agonies of mankind, right all the wrongs of earth, settle the question of armaments, cause wars to cease. Then:
In our earlier “Notes” it was suggested that Peter’s object in writing his first epistle was threefold: that he desired (1) to encourage the saints in view of a fiery trial of persecution which had arisen at that time; (2) to confirm them in the truths which had been already taught them by Paul and his fellow-workers, through whom most of them had been led to Christ; and (3) to exhort them to manifest by their conduct the power which these truths exercised upon them. It does not seem to have been any part of his purpose to teach them new things, nor what he himself, when referring to Paul’s writings calls “things hard to be understood”; and, indeed, to do so might have hindered the accomplishment of the second aim above mentioned, by giving them an impression that there were truths which their early teachers had kept back from them, or else did not know.
Yet for all this 1 Peter contains at least a few statements and expressions that have stirred up more diversity of opinions as to what they mean than almost anything in Paul’s epistles has; and some of these opinions view him as setting forth what is not only novel, but even contrary to the plain teaching of the Scriptures elsewhere. This is particularly so in the case of two passages, ch. 3:18-20 and ch. 4:6, which by a certain class of commentators are held to mean that the Lord, between His death and resurrection, preached the gospel, and gave a fresh opportunity of receiving it, to sinners who long before had died in their sins. That such an idea stands contradicted by Luke 16:26, Jude: 7, Job 36:18, and many other passages, may matter little to the writers in question; but will bar it from the acceptance of all those who believe that the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures is a reality.
Others there are who, while they take a similar view to that above with regard to the time and circumstances under which Christ is said to have “preached” to these disobedient ones, do not agree that a second chance was offered them. They speak of it as merely a proclamation of His triumph; though why such a proclamation should be made at that juncture, or why the sinners of Noah’s days should be chosen to hear it rather than others, is by no means clear. If it was not designed to bring about their salvation, it could only be to their further discomfort; and thus fails to give any explanation of ch. 4:6, where the word rendered “preached” is not equivalent to “heralded” as in ch. 3:19, but to “evangelised”, or “announced as good news”.
WERE THE DISOBEDIENT ANGELS?
An alternative view to this last explains the connection with antediluvian days by asserting that the disobedient ones were not men at all, but a particular class of angels who, it is said, are referred to as “sons of God” in Gen. 6:2; and whose disobedience consisted in marrying the “daughters of men”, and having children by them. But here again it is a thing “hard to be understood” how angels, who are “spirits” (Heb. 1:7, 14) and who “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30), should be able, as part of their disobedience, to provide, or should we say “create”, for themselves bodies sufficiently human in character to be capable of reproduction of the human species. Nor is it easy to apprehend what connection there can be between a proclamation made to such spirits and the subject with which Peter is dealing in the preceding and following verses.
Doubtless ch. 3:18-22 is, in some degree parenthetic as may be seen by the easy and natural way in which ch. 4:1 can be read after verse 18; but this does not imply that the apostle has wandered from his subject. Rather is it that he turns back from the point to which he has attained at the end of verse 18, for the sake of using an Old Testament illustration, and of this illustration he then makes a stepping-stone to carry him forward again to that same point. For the word “quickened” of verse 18 just as certainly refers to Christ’s resurrection as does the word “resurrection” itself in verse 21. Compare the use of the same Greek term in 1 Cor. 15:22 where it is rendered “made alive”.
THE DAYS OF NOAH
This being so, a turning back in our thought between verses 18 and 19 is equally necessary, whether we refer the latter verse to an act done between the death and resurrection, or to something which took place centuries before; and since our minds can travel the one journey as easily as the other, it seems much simpler to go back at once to the time of Noah, and to look on it as describing from a particular point of view what then took place. We are the more encouraged to do this because of certain guideposts which appear to direct us that way. In ch. 1:11 of this same epistle it is stated of the Old Testament prophets that “the Spirit of Christ which was in them... testified”. If in others, why not in Noah? In Gen. 6:3, the Lord (Jehovah) said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man”; which implies that His Spirit was then doing so. Mark, too, that it is “with MAN”, not with some other order of beings. In 2 Peter 2:5 Noah is called a “preacher”, and the word used is the noun corresponding to the verb rendered “preached” in 1 Peter 3:19. Going further afield, we find in Eph. 2:17 an expression similar in form to the “He went and preached” of our passage. It is “He came and preached”, and the context there shows that it was through the agency of the apostles and others He did so; so that there need be no difficulty, grammatical or other, about attributing the statement in verse 19 to the agency of Noah.
Any one of these points, had it stood alone, might perhaps be brushed aside as unimportant; but together they make a very strong case for what may fairly be called the orthodox view of 1 Peter 3:19, 20. And when the view is accepted, the phrase “spirits in prison” will most naturally mean the spirits NOW in prison; and the idea suggested will be in vivid contrast with another one which underlies ch. 4:6 and some other verses, namely, that death is to the believer’s spirit a gaining of freedom. These men of ch. 3:19 were “in the flesh” when preached to; now, because they disobeyed the message, they are “spirits in prison”. On the other hand, when the “dead” of ch. 4:6 had the gospel preached to them, they too were “in the flesh”; but now, though dead, they “live in the spirit”, because when they heard the good news they believed it: bearing in consequence, the evil speaking of their fellow-men (v. 4), and their adverse judgement (v. 6), and possibly death itself at their hands.
SPIRITS IN PRISON
If it be maintained that those of ch. 3:19 must have been "spirits in prison” at the very time of the preaching to them, it will follow that those of ch. 4:6 must have been “dead” when the gospel came to them, and “dead”, too, in the same literal sense in which that word is used in the preceding verse. But in this case the final clause of the verse implies that they were saved through the preaching, and would thus be made to contradict the teaching of the Word of God elsewhere.
For a clear understanding of either ch. 3:19, 20, or ch. 4:6, it is necessary to give more attention than is generally given to the real connection between their various clauses and phrases. In the case of the latter, the words “men-in-the-flesh” are read by most people as though they formed a single closely connected expression, and this, if it stood, alone might have an intelligible meaning. But here we would have to set over against it “God-in-the-spirit”, which has no intelligible meaning whatever. We, therefore, in reading should pause slightly after the words “men” and “God”, thus making it plain that the phrases “in-the-flesh” and “in-the-spirit” which follow do not qualify them, but carry us back to successive stages in the experience of those who in the beginning of the verse are spoken of as “dead”. Some versions insert a comma at the two points so as to prevent misunderstanding; Darby’s rendering of the entire verse being particularly clear. It ends with “that they might be judged, as regards men, after the flesh, but live, as regards God, after the spirit”. Helpful also to a right understanding of the entire passage is his translation of the parenthetic verse 2, “For he that has suffered in the flesh has done with sin”. Throughout the whole of it, from ch. 3:14 onward, Peter seems to have before his mind the persecutors; the persecuted, some of which had already suffered unto death; and a God who in the background stands “ready” (ch. 4:5) to call to account the one and to vindicate the other.
Similar attention to the connecting words between the clauses of ch. 3:20 will completely disprove the more erroneous of the views held regarding it and the previous verse. The persons concerned were disobedient, WHEN the long-suffering of God was waiting (Gr. imperfect tense), and WHILE the ark was a preparing. Therefore the disobedience referred to was not the “great wickedness” which originally caused the sending of the Flood, but disobedience (through unbelief, as the word used implies) to God’s message through Noah during the period while the Ark was being built, and during which God’s long-suffering was awaiting their repentance. That being so, no reason can be suggested why these sinners should get a further offer, who during a hundred and twenty years of opportunity remained disobedient; and no reference to fallen angels is possible, since in the light of Heb. 2:16 it cannot be assumed that the long-suffering of God ever waited on the repentance of such.
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16).
The vigour of our spiritual life will be in exact proportion to the place held by the Word in our life and thoughts. Since I began to search it diligently, the blessing has been wonderful. I have read the Bible through one hundred times, and always with increasing delight. Each time it seems like a new Book to me. I look upon it as a lost day when I had not had a good time over the Word of God.
“And it shall be, when he shall be guilty... that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord” (Lev. 5:5, 6).
If we are convicted and have come short, committing trespass in “the holy things of the Lord”, let there be a full, frank, whole-hearted, sincere confession. Confession brings sin out, and puts it into the light, and makes its ugliness to be plainly seen.... We cannot have the life of unbroken fellowship with God, and joy in His service, if any sin is compromised with or condoned. So let us examine ourselves together.
“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
Has your life opened up to the pattern that was set before your astonished gaze when first you trusted Jesus? Or have you become so pedestrian in the Christian life that you have ceased to think of running any more? Let Christ put His joy and glowing love in your heart, to be shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, and then dare to venture on the God of the extraordinary.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24).
If a river should be turned into some dark cave where unclean beasts have herded and littered for years, the bright waters would sweep out on their bosom all the filth and rottenness. So, when the love of Christ comes surging and flashing into a heart, it will bear out on its broad surface all conflicting and subordinate inclinations, with the passions and lusts that used to rule and befoul the spirit.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isa. 55:9).
Cease meddling with God’s plans and will. You touch anything of His and you mar the work. You may move the hands of a clock to suit you, but you do not change the time; you may hurry the unfolding of God’s will, but you harm and do not help His work. You can open a rosebud, but you spoil the flower.... Leave all to Him.
“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Psa. 56:3).
Dear one, if you scarcely realise the value of your present opportunity, if you are passing through great afflictions, you are in the very soul of the strongest faith, and if you will only let go, He will teach you in these hours the mightiest hold upon this throne which you can ever know. If you are afraid, just look up... and you will yet thank God for the school of sorrow which was to you the school of faith.