The first object that confronted the Israelite when entering the court is the large brazen (copper) altar, in which the undying flame feeds continually upon the burnt offering (Lev. 1). The sin-offering was consumed outside the camp; there sin was dealt with under God’s judgement, the fat only of the sin-offering was burnt on the brazen altar. The thought in relation to the altar of burnt-offering, as it is described (Exod. 38:1) is that of acceptance, not calling to mind the guilt. All the claims of God’s holiness are here seen to be met. The continual burnt offering with the drink-offering was laid on the altar morning and evening, chapter 29:38-42, ever gratifying the heart of God. So “Christ hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2).
The altar presents the Person of Christ; the sacrifice therein, His work as appreciated by God.
The altar was made of shittim wood overlaid with copper. It was made to contain the sacrifice and sustain the flames. The incarnate Christ is therefore in view, the wood relating to His humanity, the copper to His capacity to endure the intense scrutiny and judgement of a holy God. The altar was later overlaid with plates made from the copper censors of Korah and company (Numbers 16:38). The fire of divine wrath fell upon them. The censors however endured the fire they were not consumed. How significantly they should be used in this way. The altar refers us to the completed work on Calvary. The cross is not only the place of divine wrath against sin to clear the guilty, when “He who knew no sin was made sin for us”; but it is also the place of divine approval in the acceptance of forgiven sinners, for “Christ... through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:14). The altar then is witness to the welcome that awaits a believer who comes through Christ, the Way, into the courts of the Lord.
The altar was low and hollow containing a grate midway, suggesting the lowliness and self-emptying of the Lord Jesus. By contrast idolatrous altars were set in high places. Observe, too, that the altar is as broad and wide as the white wall is high, teaching that divine requirements are fully met in Christ.
There were horns on each of the four corners of the altar, pointing to the universal appeal of the sacrifice. To the horns the appointed offering was bound to await the moment of death (Ps. 118:27). We recall that they “bound Him and led Him away” (John 18:12-13), the perfect and final sacrifice. The horns were stained with the blood of the sin-offering (Lev. 4:25); and provided a place of refuge (1 Kings 1:50). How true this is of Christ, a refuge for all who flee to Him.
The next vessel in approaching the tabernacle itself is the laver. This was filled with water and the priests were instructed to wash their hands and their feet at the laver before passing into the holy place. They were to keep themselves scrupulously clean for conduct and communion in the presence of God. When the priests were consecrated, they were washed all over to symbolise their fitness for the office (Ch. 40:12). But continually they had to wash away defilement of hands and feet before ministering in the tabernacle. This clearly corresponds to New Testament teaching in respect of the believer. At conversion, amongst other things, we were made priests, washed with the water of regeneration (Titus 3:5) yet we have constant need of cleansing by the washing (laver) of water through the Word (Eph. 5:26). In all our holy exercises before the face of God in communion, prayer, worship and service, we must make use of the Word of God, meditating upon its truths, applying it to our lives, that worldly and sinful defilements contracted in the way may be removed. It is illustrated, too, in the Lord’s own ministry (John 13:4). The disciples were clean every whit. “He that is washed (lit., bathed) needeth not save to wash his feet...” (John 13:10). “Ye are clean through the word which 1 have spoken unto you.. ” (John 15:3).
This truth is reinforced when we discover that the laver was made out of the copper looking glasses which the women of Israel gave for the work. The Word of God is likened to a mirror (James 1:23). Thus the priest in coming to the laver would see themselves reflected in the bright polished copper, and wash their hands and feet therein. The water presumably came from the smitten Rock which followed them in their wilderness journeyings (l Cor. 10:4). This teaches us that all cleansing, be it from the guilt or the stain of sin, is effected only through the glorious work of Christ Jesus our Lord, who was smitten on the Cross. His work has a once-for-all application in respect of our guilt, but a continuous ever-present means of moral cleansing and sanctification. Blood was shed at the altar, and applied to the sinner’s guilt. Water was available at the laver to fit the sinner morally for God’s presence. These aspects of truth are represented at the Cross, when not only blood poured from the Saviour’s side, but as John specifically recalls water and blood (John 19:34).
No measurement is given to the laver and like the candlestick it is all of metal; the symbol of the human element (wood) is absent. Maybe this is because it represents that which is altogether divine, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God. No limits can be placed upon the eternal and infinite.
As was suggested in an earlier paper, three main divisions may be traced in the subject matter of 1st Peter. In the first one, the saints are pointed back, again and again, to the beginning of their Christian course; in the second, their present testimony for God is emphasised; and in the third, special prominence is given to their future prospects. In addition, the first section deals more particularly with their relationship with, and responsibilities towards the Lord Himself; the second with those towards the world of unsaved ones around them; and the third with those towards their fellow saints.
The last of these divisions may be viewed as beginning at chapter 4:7, with the statement, “The end of all things is at hand”; and it will be found that the thought thus expressed runs like a sort of under-current beneath most of the exhortations which come after. That this is so is implied in the “therefore” by which it is followed in verse 7; and is seen in the promise which ends v. 13, in the view of things that is taken in vv. 17, 18, and in the future prospects at ch. 5:1, 4, 6, 10.
THE APPROACHING END
The closeness of the connection between these opening words of v. 7 and the group of seven exhortations coming immediately after them, is shown very clearly in the R.V., in which they are all united in a single paragraph; and indeed in a single sentence, since the Revisers insert no lull stop between the beginning of v. 7 and the end of v. 11. Thus all the seven are linked; on the one hand with the motive suggested in the warning which precedes them, of the end being at hand; and on the other with the higher motive contained in the words which follow them, “that God in all things may be glorified.” It will be noticed that the group begins with exhortations of a general character, to sobriety of mind and to diligence in prayer, matters with regard to which the apostle himself had tailed; and it goes on to include others addressed to such as were possessed of particular spiritual guts; but in the one case or the other, these activities were to be controlled by consciousness of the approaching end, and by a desire to glorify God in them.
As so often in this epistle, Peter at v. 12 reverts once more to the fiery trial of suffering upon which his readers were entering; and on this occasion he introduces a new and beautiful thought —that in the midst of their trial “the Spirit of glory and of God” would be resting upon them. The form of expression here seems to be taken from Isaiah 11:2, where it is said of Christ, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him”; an interesting point, in view of the fact that in the preceding verse Peter had spoken ol them as “partakers of Christ’s sufferings”. The thought itself is well illustrated by the case of Stephen, of whom it is said in Acts 6:15 that his persecutors “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel”.
SUFFERING AND GLORY
It is rather remarkable that, soon after this reference to “the Spirit of Glory” as resting on persecuted New Testament saints, the apostle’s thoughts go back to the time when “the Glory” was seen to be leaving God’s House of Old Testament times. For there can be little doubt that when in verse 17 he says, “Judgement must begin at the House of God,” he has in mind the words of Ezekiel 9:6, “Begin at My Sanctuary”; words which form a part of the Vision of the Departing Glory seen by the prophet in chapters 9-11 of this book.
Even while Peter wrote, the “cloud out of the West” was about to overwhelm with a new destruction Israel’s Temple and City, just as the “whirlwind out of the North” had done on that earlier occasion; but it is not of this the apostle is thinking. The House of God to which he refers is the same that he had been setting before the saints in chapter 2:4,5, of which they themselves formed the living stones; as is made clear by the clause that follows in verse 17, “If it first begin at US.” For this “us” is the equivalent of “House of God” in the former clause, and of course means the apostle and the saints to whom he is writing.
Moreover, the “judgement” of which he speaks is evidently the persecution mentioned in the previous verses, as is shown by the use of the connecting word “for” at the beginning of verse 19. His suggestion is that they should look upon their suffering as chastisement from the hand of God; and by the contrast drawn between it and the fearful doom of those who do not obey the gospel, one is reminded of the saying of Paul, “When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” In the present instance, however, it must not be thought of as a punishment for some sin they had been guilty of, but as part of the training to which all God’s children are subjected.
SAVED THROUGH SUFFERING
When once the connection of this 17th verse with verses 12-16 is apprehended, the meaning of the “scarcely saved” of the next verse will also become clear. In that verse Peter repeats, in words which are quoted from the Septuagint Version of Prov. 11:31, practically the same question that he had asked in verse 17, concerning the fate of the wicked as compared with the present afflictions of the saints. The “righteous” in the one verse is the counterpart, expressed individually, of the collective term “House of God” in the other; and the phrase “scarcely (or, with difficulty) be saved”, like the previous one “judgement must begin”, points back to the difficult path of suffering through which God’s people were passing at this time and by means of which their salvation, in its present or progressive aspect, would be furthered. Compare Paul’s thought about his afflictions in Phil. 1:19, 20, where in words taken from a still earlier sufferer (see Job 13:16, R.V.) he says of them, “This shall turn to my salvation.” And note also that here in verse 18 the word rendered “be (R.V., is) saved” is in the present tense, and might well be translated “is being saved”.
From all this it should be clear that no failure, either on the part of God, or on that of the saint, is implied in being “scarcely saved”; nor is the expression to be set in contrast with the “entrance abundantly” of 2 Peter 1:11, as though it suggested a bad finish to one’s course instead of the good finish pictured in that other verse. Indeed it may be found that most of those who shall have the abundant entrance are the same who have been “scarcely saved” through difficult and painful experiences while on their way home. They have suffered “according to the will of God” (verse 19) and they shall not go unrewarded.
III. The local Church is Spirit-instructed as to its progress,
Passing from the thought of Gospel ministry the Apostle proceeds to discuss capacity for the things of the Spirit among these Corinthian Christians. How right it is that he should inculcate spirituality as the way from babyhood to maturity; that is, that these who should be “full-grown” in Christ should come to see their dwarfed condition and the causes of their prolonged babyhood and abandon them.
He begins by administering a sharp prod in a very sensitive part. Had the Apostle spoken in terms too simple for such as they? Had he in effect demoted their intellects? Well, then, there was a “WISDOM” he was able to unfold but it was reserved for those who were “PERFECT”. By this term he means those who were FULL-GROWN (rendered in 1 Cor. 14:20, “men”). He intends those whom, as Hebrews 5:14 has it, are capable of taking strong meat, who “are of full-age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil”. Such are not sub-normal Christians who have been betrayed by pride, laziness or disobedience into neglect of the truth of God. They are those who had progressed from food suited to babes in Christ to that necessary for adults in spiritual stature.
This wisdom is hid from the great and learned whether philosopher or Pharisee—“the princes of this world” who in their blindness and ignorance failed to recognise in the Christ of God the Lord of glory and nailed Him to a cross of shame. But if it be darkness and obscurity to the human intellect according to nature, it is sunshine and clarity to the Spirit enlightened here described as lovers of God (3:9). The heirs have begun already to know the wealth that is theirs and so anticipate the joys of Heaven by the present gracious ministry of the Spirit—of those great secrets we read, “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” He alone can examine and interpret to us “the depths of God” (see verses 10-13).
This passage is deserving of closer study than it gets as it points to the setting aside of “the spirit of this world”; the negation of merely human reasoning by a willing subjection to the great Teacher Christ has given to every born-again soul with a view to spiritual growth and development. The use of three terms, “Natural”, “Carnal” and “Spiritual” is a special feature of the section. The natural man be he learned or unlearned is the unregenerate person devoid of any light in his soul. He is, as the term is literally, “soulish” and lives on that low dark level where the Holy Spirit of God is excluded. The carnal man is the believer in whom, because of the dominance of the fleshly nature, growth spiritually has been retarded. The spiritual man is the ideal the inspired writer has in mind where the Holy Spirit is not only “resident but president”. It is a pertinent and probing point to note the ultimate of carnality and spirituality at the judgment seat of Christ where the products of the first will be “hay, wood and stubble” and the products of the latter will be “gold, silver and precious stones”. How earnestly and affectionately this great-hearted servant of God sought to ensure that the Corinthian believers should build what would outlive their stay on earth and stand the test of the fire in that day! (3:12-15). Would you wish to be a Lot or an Abraham in that day? Growth in grace or the lack of it will determine the issue (Gen. 19:29).
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Man in his natural state (flesh and blood) is mortal; and at death is corruptible. Only the Christian faith provides the hope of resurrection: yet belief in the resurrection has been a stumbling-block to the rationalist of all generations. Resurrection is not the reviving of the mortal frame which has been buried. It is a divine act of which there is no explanation other than in the words of the Bible.
Our Lord said that in the resurrection those who are raised “are as the angels in heaven”; and again, “as touching the dead that they are raised, have you not read in the book of Moses how in the bush, God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Mark 12:25-27).
The inference is that the Patriarchs were then alive, and that their bodies would be raised again, and that in resurrection they would be so completely transformed that they would be like the angels who are in heaven; and angels are not incorporeal. There is, as A. M. Ramsey writes, “identity and continuity”, Abraham being distinguished from Isaac and Jacob.
Resurrection is an act of God, and of the change wrought by divine power. Paul wrote, “God giveth it a body, as it has pleased him” (1 Cor. 15:38). If God has given to every seed its own body in nature, the same God will give to every one raised from the dead his own body. Consequently resurrection is called “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). That act is the evidence that the bodies of those who are the children of God (the adoption) rightly belong to Him, and He claims them as His own. Paul informs us that he himself longed to be clothed upon with his house from heaven (his new body) when mortality would be swallowed up of life (2 Cor. 5:4). He encouraged his Christian friends in Rome by assuring them that the God who had raised up Jesus from the dead would quicken (make alive) their mortal bodies because they were indwelt by His Spirit (Rom. 8:10-11). Paul is careful to assert that it was JESUS whom God raised up; and in another passage he maintains that “we believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thess. 4:14). In Him there was, beyond death in a resurrection body, continuity and identity.
About the nature of the resurrection body Paul wrote that at the Second Advent when he descended from heaven whence He would come, the Lord Jesus, as Saviour, would not only raise His own, but would also transform their bodies of humiliation (bodies of flesh and blood) and fashion them like unto His own body of glory (Phil. 3:20-21). The nature of that resurrection body man cannot conceive; it is only in the pages of the Bible that anything about it is disclosed. That disclosure occurs in the context of the verse quoted at the beginning of this paper, in 1 Cor. 15. Two questions are asked—(1) How are the dead raised up? and (2) with what body do they come? Naturally, we expect both questions to be answered, and Paul does so, by tackling the second question first in verses 36-49, by way of exposition. Then the first question is answered in verses 51-57 by way of explanation. The verse quoted is a summary of the situation informing us that a change must take place, for as verse 51 states,“ we shall all be changed”, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”.
The first answer is by way of analogy and application. The analogy is in verses 36-41; the application is in verses 42-49, introduced by the words, “so is the resurrection of the dead”. The analogy is easily followed. It is in three parts.
Illustration from the realm of agriculture—sowing. The general principle which the Apostle insists upon is stated thus: “that which thou sowest is not quickened (made alive again) except it die” (v. 16). Those words recall similar words in a saying of our Lord, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit”. Abundant life is the result of the process. In the realm of nature the quickening to abundant life is preceded by death, and “so is the resurrection of the dead”. It is a single grain which is sown, but the result is according to divine purpose. The grain which is sown is not the body which shall be, for God gives it a body as it pleases Him. “The identity of matter is preserved in a variety of form”, for there is continuity of life. God gives each grain its own body when it has re-appeared quickened by the processes of nature. Each grain has its separate individuality.
Illustration from the various forms of life. Each species has its own particular form (v. 39). God is a God of variety, and He constitutes His creatures so that they are adapted to the conditions in which they live. “There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish and another of birds”. Each of these groups, men, beasts, fish and birds, has been so constituted that the members of each group can live in the environment most congenial to it.
Illustration from astronomy. Paul distinguishes between bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial. Matter is adapted to its sphere of existence. What variety there is in “terrestrial bodies”, that is in the formations which make up our earth! Variety and change may be witnessed everywhere. The splendour seen on earth is different from that seen on heavenly bodies. The sun, the moon, the stars, have glories of their own. They differ. Even one star differs from another star in brilliance. Modern astronomical investigation has confirmed Paul’s illustration.
The point in those three analogies is this, that resurrection is possible, and that God who wills that there should be variety in His creation can give to His own in resurrection a body suited for and adapted to life in a heavenly realm. “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
The application from the analogies, is an explanation of the statement, “So also is the resurrection of the dead”. It is in two parts. Verses 42 to 44 revert to the idea of sowing and raising. Verses 45 to 49 draw the contrast between the two federal heads, Adam and Christ.
In the resurrection there is the process of sowing and reaping, the reaping being the resurrection of the body. Paul’s argument is clear and cogent.
There is a natural body, and there is as surely a spiritual body. The natural or physical body is that which is adapted to life on the earth. It is physical because it is soul-controlled, and according to Rom. 8:10, “the body is dead (i.e., subject to death) because of sin”. The spiritual body is that which will be adapted for life in resurrection. The natural body is “the body of our humiliation”, the spiritual body is that which will be fashioned like unto Christ’s body of glory (Phil. 3:21).
Vivid contrasts are made between those two bodies. The natural body adapted for life in a world affected by the fall is associated with dishonour (humiliation) and weakness. To those conditions it is born (sown), the characteristics of those designated “flesh and blood”. That natural body is capable of corruption, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption. On the other hand the spiritual body which believers will receive in resurrection will be marked by glory and power —glory instead of humiliation, power instead of weakness. It will not be subject to corruption. Decay will not enfeeble it. Death will not affect it, for in the realm for which it will be fitted there will be no more death. The natural body may die and go to corruption, but He who raised up Jesus from the dead will quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit who indwells us (Rom. 8:11). That spiritual body will be resplendent with the glory of God. What a future!
There are two federal heads—Adam and Christ. Here again the distinction is between that which is natural and that which is spiritual. Set out in a series of contrasts those distinctions need no further elaboration.
The first man Adam was made a living soul (the natural). The last Adam was a life-giving spirit (spiritual).
The natural (Adam) was first. The spiritual (Christ) came afterwards, and that applies to all who are in Christ.
The first man is of the earth, earthy, adapted to life on earth. The second man is from heaven—the spiritual.
The contrasts are continued with respect to those related to the federal heads.
As is the earthy (Adam) such are they also that are earthy, i.e., all who are “flesh and blood”. As is the heavenly (Christ) such are they also that are heavenly, i.e., all who are destined through faith in Christ to share His heavenly glory.
We (i.e., those who are heavenly) have borne the image of the earthy, we have been sown a natural body. We shall also bear the image of the heavenly. We shall be like Christ (1 John 3:2). That contrast had been succinctly stated earlier in the chapter, “For as in Adam all (natural men) die, even so in Christ (those destined to bear the image of the heavenly) shall all (and only those) be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
The second question (v. 35)—How are the dead raised up? is answered in verses 51-53. The answer is simply this; if flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption, then a change must take place if we are to bear the image of the heavenly. The solution is simple when the power of God is introduced. Explanation is unnecessary. We shall not all sleep, that is die, for some will be alive when Christ comes. But we shall all be changed, whether having died or being alive. The dead will be raised incorruptible, the living will be changed. The mortal, the living, will put on immortality; the corruptible, those who have died, will put on incorruption. The victory over death and the grave will be complete.
If flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, all those who are in Christ will. Glorious prospect!
CHRIST SHALL BE SATISFIED. Last of all and highest of all, He who bled and groaned and died on Calvary, “shall see His seed, shall prolong His days, the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11),
Israel, near the end of his pilgrim journey, the two sons of Joseph, bom to him in Egypt, said: I had not thought to see thy face; and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed” (Gen. 48:11).
Satan, the Jews and the world thought to cut the Name and person of the Christ “out of the land of the living” Gsa. 53, 8), so that neither His face nor His seed should ever more be seen by God or man. But God raised Him from the dead, set Him at His own right hand, “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named” (Phil. 1:21), and has decreed that “He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high” (Isa. 52:13), so “that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven, and in earth, and under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10).
As certain as He died alone on the Roman gibbet, so certain, within a short distance from the spot on which He died, shall He sit on the throne, as Great David's greater Son, King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Blessed be God, in that divinely appointed moment, when He shall have healed the wounds of Israel, hushed the groanings of Creation and gathered all His own from land and sea together unto Him in Glory, beholding the ranks of the ransomed, ten thousand times ten thousand, fruit of the travail of His soul, shall He not “see His seed”—the fullest fruition of Calvary—“and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:10,11).
The word, “satisfied” (sabea), is the strongest word that can be used, implying satiated, filled as a sponge unable to hold one drop more. Is it any wonder that when those very eyes, that were closed in death on the Cross, look upon “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18),.made like unto Himself, that no stronger word could be found to express the attainment of the Joy that was set before Him, than— Saturated with exceeding joy.
As the Servant whose ear was bored to the door-post of Calvary, exclaims to His Father, “Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given Me” (Ex. 21:6; Heb. 2:13), shall not each servant declare, “As for me, I wili behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Isa. 17:15).
The last revelation of Jesus in the last book of the Bible, fresh from the Throne, was, “I am the Root and Offspring of David, and the Bright and Morning Star ... Surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22:16,20).
Times and customs have changed greatly since the planting of “the churches of God in Judea” of which the Thessalonian Christians “became imitators” (I Thess. 2:14). But the Word of God, and scriptural principles have not changed, nor will they change while the church of God is here on earth.
Concerning the Gospel, we believe that the four great “Rs” should be clearly emphasised in every Gospel meeting. These are—man’s ruin by the fall, God’s remedy by the blood, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and man’s responsibility.
It surely becomes every gospel preacher, whom God has called, and sent forth, to obey the Great Commission from the Church’s risen Head given in Matt. 28:19-20, and in Mark 16:15-16.
Our Lord has left two divine ordinances to be kept by His beloved Church (I Cor. 11:2)—believers’ baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The first of these, baptism, is clearly and definitely commanded by our Lord, and obeyed by His followers (see Acts 2:41, 8:12, 9:18, 10:47, 16:15, 33 and 18:8). Its mode was by immersion (Acts 8:35-39) and its solemn meaning is brought before us in Rom. 6:3-6 and Col. 2:12. It is a figure of what our Lord Jesus Christ went through for our salvation; it symbolises death, burial and resurrection. What He went through in reality, His followers go through in figure.
The other ordinance, which should follow baptism, is the Lord’s Supper, instituted by the Lord Himself on the night in which He was betrayed: reconfirmed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the church of God at Corinth (1Cor. 11:23-29): and, as we see from Acts 20:7, kept by the disciples on “the first day of the week”.
Now we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, who thus instituted this feast, was then, and is still, the Centre and the Attraction of the gathering of His saints unto His Name. In Psalm 50:5 we have the prophetic language of His soul, “Gather my saints together unto Me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice,” and in Matt. 18:20 we have His promise in connection with the first mention of a local church (v. 17)—“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This promise He actually fulfilled on two occasions after He rose from the dead—see John 20:19 and 26. So we verily believe that when we are gathered together in His Name, according to His Word, “with true hearts, in the full assurance of faith” that “Jesus Himself” is in our midst. Therefore, in thus gathering together we come, not only to remember Him, but also to meet with Him. How many thousands of God’s dear children have been enabled to say in coming away from the Lord’s supper, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25).
When we come together to partake of the Lord’s Supper, we do not come to pray unto Him, but to give thanks unto Him; we do not come to listen to ministry about Him, but to ministerunto Him. To the prayer meeting we come as suppliants, to the Lord’s supper we come as givers, to worship the Father through the Son. Ministry which may be very edifying and helpful at other times, is often out of place at the Lord’s supper, especially before the breaking of bread; (one always feels that it savours of barrenness in worship, disturbing the silent adoration rising from many hearts).** We should not require ministry to produce worship on such an occasion; we should come with our baskets full of first-fruits (Deut. 26:2). After the breaking of bread, a little ministry touching that with which we have been occupied is often very acceptable. To the Lord’s Supper we come “as unto a living stone... an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5). There should be neither an appointed leader nor any pre-arrangement at such a gathering; we should come together entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead in thanksgiving, praise and worship. This is the first, and most blessed, duty of a local church.
** The editor feels that there are occasions when reading the scriptures with appropriate comments may help the hearts of the saints in worship. Nevertheless this is a good article and we print it as our brother wrote it.
Now it may be asked, what is a local church? How is it planted, and how are Christians received into it? It is very important to recognise the difference between the local church and the universal. The first mention of the universal is by our Lord in Matt. 16:18—“Upon this Rock I will build My church.” In the epistles it is spoken of as “the church which is His body”, “the body of Christ”, “the household of God”, “an holy temple”, etc. The moment we are born again we become members of this church, and no power in earth or hell can disannul this membership:
“Once in Christ, in Christ for ever,
Thus the eternal covenant stands.”
In this aspect of the church, no distinctions are made. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body” (1Cor. 12:13). But when the Holy Spirit, through the apostle is speaking of the local church, distinctions are made. Men and women are each given their respective place and sphere of service—-see 1 Cor. 14:23-40, 1Tim. 2:8-14. The local church is viewed as “God’s husbandry”—a cultivated held to bear fruit for God (1 Cor. 3:9). It is spoken of as “a flock, over which the Holy Ghost makes overseers” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2, 3). It should be "the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:13). It is to be the final court of appeal for the brother who feels he has been wronged (Matt. 18:17). Into the local church true Christians are “received” (Acts 9:26-28, 15:4, 18:27, Romans 16:1-2) and from it, they may have to be “put away” (1 Cor. 5:13). In answer to the question, what is a local church, a writer wrote many years ago—“The local church, in any town or village, or country district, is the local representation of ‘the church which is His body’. It is composed of sinners saved by grace, baptized and gathered simply and only in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 18:20); owning no denominational name, but seeking to imitate the divinely given pattern in Acts 2:41-47; recognising no head but ‘The Head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’ (Col. 1:18); seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in everything, and having no creed or book but the Word of God.”
When God gave Moses instructions regarding His first dwelling place on earth—the Tabernacle—He said, “See that thou make all things according to the pattern shown to thee in the Mount” (Heb. 8:5). In 1Chron. 28:11, 12-19 we see Solomon receiving from David that which David had received from the Lord—a “pattern” of all things in relation to "the house of God”. Now has God given His people no “pattern” of His spiritual “house” or “habitation” today? Is His local habitation in this church age of less importance in His sight
than His first dwelling place in the wilderness, or His house in Jerusalem? Nay, verily! In the building and ordering of His house today, He has not left us to our own discretion, nor to the methods of men to suit the times; He has given us very definitely in His Word both the pattern and the specification of His local church. From verse 41 of Acts chapter 2 we have the first local church brought before us, and surely it is of the greatest importance for us to get back to the beginning of Church history. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter was the first herald of the Cross, and 3,000 souls were saved through receiving the message which Peter proclaimed—“And they that gladly received his word were baptized.” This was the first step in following the Lord after their conversion, and it should be the first step still. Then we see that these were added to the 120 who had been saved before them (Acts 1:15). And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in fellowship and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. These first principles are clear and plain to every child of God who desires to do the will of God.
The words “After these things” in 15:1, and which occur again at 22:1 and 20, are most important as indicating definite sections and crises in the fife of the patriarch. But ere this is inaugurated the Lord draws from Abram a request by saying, “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward”, a most wonderful promise, and the first of the “Fear nots”. But Abram points out that a stranger, a foreigner, is at present his heir, but each of the promises of God depended upon Abram’s SEED, and he says, “Behold to me Thou hast given no seed and one born in my house is mine heir”. How Eliezer had been born into Abram’s house is not at all clear but such is the implication. It had, of course, been some time since Abram had left his home and come into the land most probably by way of Damascus, and he had now many servants born in his own house (see 14:14) and this may give us the clue we need. But God said to him, “This shall not be thine heir, but he that shall come forth from thine own bowels (or body) shall be thine heir” and He brings him forth and bids him behold the innumerable stars of heaven and says, “So shall thy seed be”. In 13:16 the seed had been likened for multitude to the dust of the earth, but here to the stars of the heavens. The same stars that we look at and behold! This is the third promise.
It is up to this point that God had been leading, and now follows that important pivotal statement which is so often referred to in the scripture and by which Abram becomes “the father of faith and of a great multitude”. “And he (Abram) believed in the Lord and He counted it unto him for righteousness”. Righteousness counted or imputed by faith, the great principle of God which is the very basis and ground of salvation, quoted in Romans 4 (throughout the chapter), Galatians 3:6-9 and James 2:23. (But note that this last quotation in James is linked up with an after experience of Abram’s which fact is usually overlooked.) These together and occurring for the first time, give us the great basis of the Christian faith both for Jew and Gentile, viz., “justification by faith”, the very cornerstone of God’s dealing with man in this age of Grace. But it is the centre one (Gal.) which links the two scriptures together, i.e., the one in Gen. 15 and that in Hab. 2.
It is most important to see the distinction between the covenant with Abram itself and the circumcision that followed, which is described as a “seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had”. See the whole argument expounded in Rom. 4:9, 11. The covenant was all of grace and irreversible, dependent upon God alone. The covenant of the law connected later with circumcision is quite different and was to be kept by the other party, viz., Israel. This is the one which they broke even while it was being given (Exod. 32:1-10) and was made only with Israel, not with the nations nor with believers of this dispensation (Deut. 4:32-40). This is not believed by Christians generally, though so clearly stated here and elsewhere. The danger is in connecting the New Covenant with the Mosaic covenant whereas it appears clear that when God makes with Israel this New Covenant it will not be the Old Covenant renewed or patched up because that was completely broken, even as Moses in that early day broke the tablets of the law. It was, and is, a ministry of condemnation as is so clearly stated in the New Testament, and could not “give life”. The New Covenant is completely NEW. See scriptures below.
Israel constantly and dismally failed in keeping the law and brought judgment upon themselves but God always retreated, so to speak, into His original covenant with Abram recalling always that He was the God of Abram, Isaac and Jacob. Otherwise the history of Israel would often have come to a standstill. Sacrifices of themselves could not avail.
God will undoubtedly, as He has promised and sworn, make with Israel a completely new covenant, into the good of which we have even now entered, but which has yet to be made with Israel in the days to come. This new covenant, however, is not one of law, nor needs two participants but signifies what God will do with this new nation, which is to come into a new relationship with the Lord. The student is exhorted to turn to the following scriptures and read them carefully in order to be clear upon this matter. These are from the two main “captivity” prophets. Jeremiah 31:31-37; 32:37-40; 33:20; and 50:5. Ezekiel 11:19; 16:60; 18:31; 34:25; 36:22-26; 37:21-26, et seq. This is referred to in Hebrews especially regarding Israel the coming new nation, quoting Jer. 51 (Hebrews 8:7-13).
In this scripture no mention is made of the “blood” nor of the Aaronic priesthood, all depends upon Christ and God. It is different in Heb. 10:15-18 where Israel is not mentioned though the same scripture in Jeremiah is quoted, this scripture in Heb. 10 has a much wider application. It is essential to realise that Christ by His one sacrifice has fulfilled completely the essential requirements of the Old Covenant and it has, therefore, been “fulfilled”. The blood of this New Covenant has already been shed and that once for all—see Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). There are two words for “new” in the Greek of the New Testament, one meaning “new, recent, newly made” and the other meaning “youthful, fresh” (see Trench’s “Synonyms”). It is this first meaning which is almost always used in connection with the New Covenant, the exception being Heb. 12:24, but elsewhere in Gospels and Hebrews it has the former meaning. It is therefore new as regards kind and quality, a completely new covenant, and we may say “of pure grace”.
There is now, therefore, in these Old Testament scriptures no mention of the “blood of the covenant” for now the blood of Christ has once for all and finally been shed for us and for Israel. Neither is there any human mediator for there is but “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” all is therefore dependent upon divine Persons and not upon man, praise God.
When Israel has been finally restored every promise of God to Abram will likewise have been fulfilled. See Appendix re “Covenants”.
But now the Lord precedes the giving of this covenant of grace and gift by a most mysterious enactment and follows it with a most important revelation of His will. So the promise is reiterated, bringing forth a quite reasonable request, “Lord, GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” Faith is to be followed by knowledge which is always the order. He believed in the Lord and now he wants to be assured, or to know.
The covenant with Noah (Gen. 9) does not appear to have been ratified with blood, but here, and henceforward the basis was to be the blood of sacrifice and this was the basis here indicated. We do not profess to know the meaning of this which was here enacted except to recall that afterwards these sacrifices were the very basis of God’s dealings with Israel under the law. Here we have each kind of sacrifice from the highest to the lowest. The sacrifices were claimed, provided, slain and protected from the birds of the air.
This was not a covenant between two parties, each to keep his own part but on God’s side alone, there was only one party to it, and only one symbol, a burning lamp passing between the pieces of the sacrifice, whereas it was usual in a two party covenant for both parties to pass between them. This all depended upon God and not upon Abram.
This also made sure the promises of God to Abram, but what follows is interesting and revealing indeed, for now God having given Abram such promises, which had made him a stranger and sojourner in the land, reveals to him that there is to be a delay of many years before his seed could enter upon these promises and the inheritance.
It is most important that we should follow this, for just similarly did the Lord Jesus indicate that there was to be an interval between His own sacrificial death and the setting up of His kingdom and the entrance of the saints upon their inheritance, which we have already seen indicated in the thought of the Melchizedek priesthood and the wording of Psalm 110. “Sit thou on My right hand, until....” This interval in the purposes of God was not at all clear to the Jews of our Lord's day nor to the disciples and they had difficulty in apprehending this, but we have exactly the same thought here. Under this deep sleep and horror of great darkness indicating the sufferings of his seed in Egypt, the four hundred years affliction, the final deliverance, and judgment of their captors, there lay the hitherto unrevealed purposes of God. This delay must have been a great shock to Abram, but there was also a great encouragement in the reiterated promise of divine, preservation and final deliverance. Meantime, this smoking furnace of affliction, as Egypt certainly became to Abram’s seed. There was thus kept alive and alight the lamp of prophecy, passing between the pieces of the sacrifices and thereby all was made doubly sure.
Was it not the knowledge of this prophecy passed down to succeeding generations that caused Moses to act as he did, and showed forth his faith in God and His word? (See Acts 7:25). And was it not the knowledge of this promise which caused Joseph also to repeat the prophecy and act as he did? (See Gen. 50:24, 25.) These were men of faith and their hearts were set upon the land of promise, as Abram’s was, and they lived and died in the faith of it. The word and oath of God to them was final and binding though they had but that Word to go upon and that is all we have, and need.
Here commences also the history of Israel, which was governed by the “times and seasons” indicated in the Word of God and which can be traced throughout that history, with certain periods omitted and not reckoned in when they were out of the land or in captivity by others, and were passing through the fire of persecution. Thus was kept alight the lamp of prophecy indicating that God would never give them up. Along with this, details were constantly being given prophesying of the coming of the Christ to which all prophecy points, and as the ages unfolded these prophecies narrowed down constantly until there could be no doubt as to how, when and where He should be born. His life, manner, ministry and ultimately His death and sacrifice and finally His coming again to complete these prophecies.
The prophecy for instance in Jeremiah 25:11, concerning the Babylonish captivity, was read by Daniel who sought the face of God concerning it (Dan. 9:2, etc.) and a further prophecy was given him denoting another period (Dan. 9:24, etc.) bringing us to the coming of Messiah, His cutting off (at the cross) and His ultimate triumph which brings us to His final revelation in power and glory. The approximate date of His first advent could therefore be calculated and was thus used by the godly remnant to be in readiness for that coming, as seen in Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:25-38. How wonderful all this is and how the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show unto them His covenant.
The covenant with Abram is now explicitly connected with its full extent and the names of the ten Nations which were to be finally displaced are given.
A further reason for the delay in possession is given in v. 16, and thus all God’s ways and purposes fit into one another and take into account every circumstance and detail. This is the fourth promise but it is seen that God was giving these nations a chance to mend their ways, although they would have to give place to Israel ultimately. So while the people were to be preserved for the land, and kept in Egypt where they could multiply, the land was also preserved for the people, so that they should have when the time came, a fruitful inheritance all ready for their possession. This covenant was of pure grace, there is not a word of Israel’s worthiness, all was a gift, and now the ten occupying nations of the land are here enumerated who were then in possession, but who were to be dispossessed.
“But Martha was cumbered about much serving” (Lk. 10:40).
Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him. The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him. We are not sent to battle for God, but to be used by God in His battlings. Are we being more devoted to service than to Jesus Christ?
“If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (Jas. 3:2).
A Christian should seek to make speech spiritually profitable.... No themes are intellectually so profound as those which are highly spiritual. Astronomy is the most exalted of studies because it deals with the infinite; and the study of God’s words as well as works introduces us to the infinite, eternal, immutable, To live to contemplate God is the appetite of a great soul, and converse about Him makes the soul great.
“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
If you and I want to know how to walk, we have to study His ways. I do not know anything more sanctifying, more helpful for the believer, than to read over and over again the story of His blessed lowly ways, as He went through this world. It will stir your heart it will break your heart sometimes, but it will encourage you, too, as you seek to go on and walk with God.