Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, teaches us much concerning the Holy Spirit in His relationship to the believer. These lessons may be divided into three groups :—
His Reception of the Holy Spirit—at conversion (3:2), at the beginning of his Christian life (3:3), a constant supply of His power (3:5), the outcome of a promise (3:14).
His Enablings by the Holy Spirit—to call God his Father (4:6), to wait in hope (5:5), to control his whole life (5:16), to oppose his fleshly nature (5:17), to lead him (5:18), to sustain his life (5:25), to reward him with eternal life (6:8).
His Obligation to the Holy Spirit—to display the fruit of the Spirit (5:22), to keep in step with the Spirit (5:26), to sow to the Spirit—to seek His interests always (6:8).
It will be appreciated that the believer’s life is controlled either by the Holy Spirit, or by the flesh. These are mutually antagonistic. The heart of the saint is the battleground, with the fortunes of war alternating between these two protagonists. The believer is led by the Spirit in that measure in which He is allowed to overcome the desire of the flesh. This Paul describes as sowing to the Spirit. The harvest is spiritual life—the life that really matters—a life enjoyed now, and lasting throughout eternity.
Paul uses another figure to express the operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer—‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (5:22). This he sets over against ‘the works of the flesh’ (5:19). Both of these are the outward manifestation of something within. The works of the flesh are manifest, much as the believer would like them to be hidden. Nor is the fruit merely an inward disposition. All of its components have a beneficial effect on others. But there the similarity ends. ‘Works’ are multiple, suggesting great activity, fussiness and variance of purpose. The word ‘fruit’ is singular, indicating the quiet, inward operation of the Holy Spirit, ‘the inherent energy of a living organism.’ The singular number suggests also the blending of these graces into Christian morality.
Five lessons are taught in Scripture concerning fruit, each exemplified in the fruit of the Spirit, as set forth in this epistle :—
Fruit is the outward expression of a hidden life (Isa. 37:31). Bearing the fruit of the Spirit is an evidence of being bom again, and of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Fruit indicates the nature of the tree (Matt. 7:16). The Holy Spirit reveals Himself in this fruit, for these graces are all divine attributes. It shows, too, that the Christian has been made a partaker of the divine nature.
Fruit is sweet-tasting (Song 2:3). Thus the fruit of the Spirit is well-pleasing to God (John 15:8), and to men.
Fruit was given for food, for the benefit of man (Gen. 1:29). All the graces that go to make up this fruit of the Spirit bring blessings to men.
Fruit is self-propagating (Gen. 1:12). It is the envelope containing the seed—reproducing its kind. The nine-fold fruit here described generates a like response in others.
The nature of the fruit of the Spirit is described for us in Gal. 5:22-23. Some see in this description a nine-fold cluster of fruit, arranged in three groups—(1-3) Godward, (4-6) manward, and (7-9) selfward. But this arrangement seems somewhat artificial.
Others suggest that the fruit of the Spirit is love, and the remaining eight virtues describe the outcome of love in the life. Thus love rejoices, suffers long, and is kind (1Cor. 13:4-6).
Again some see in these graces nine different component parts of the fruit, just as an orange is made up of peel, pith, pulp, seeds, etc. As no two oranges have the same relative composition, so Christians manifest these graces in varying proportions. Some are more characterised by love than others; some by joy; some by long-suffering. Every believer possesses them all in some degree—an indication of the unity of the Spirit. But all are not uniform.
Let us examine the composition of this fruit. First is Love. This is the sine qua non of Christianity. It indicates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5); it is the proof of being bom again (1John 4:7); it is the hall-mark of disciple-ship (John 13:35). Love is best defined as doing good to another regardless of any merit (John 3:16). Its keynote is action, not mere sentiment (1John 3:18). Love regards the other’s need, not his attitude (Matt. 5:44).
Joy is gladness from a full heart—the result of the Spirit’s activity in a sphere remote from the scrutiny of men. It is independent of circumstances — looking beyond present affliction to a name written in heaven. The Spirit-activated Christian rejoices in God (Rom. 5:11); in the hope of God’s glory (Rom. 5:2); in answered prayer (John 16:24); in the joy of others (Rom. 12:15). Murmuring and grumbling are foreign to his nature (Jam. 5:9 RV).
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice,
All ye that are upright in heart;
And ye that have made Him your choice
Bid sadness and sorrow depart.
Peace here is not stillness, but rather the harmony of smooth-running activity for God. A motor-car engine, accurately timed, well-oiled and running sweetly, conveys well the idea. There are no jarring notes. Peace comes from the Holy Spirit having control of all the believer’s faculties. All are in harmony with His will. The disquietude of worldly and carnal lusts is absent. Godly contentment is the result.
Longsuffering, lit., longmindedness, characterises one who suffers long before giving expression to his mind. He is slow to anger, bearing long with those who irritate and annoy him. He leaves his vindication with God, and waits patiently for it. The Holy Spirit, having put love into his heart, controls fleshly resentment and retaliation.
Gentleness, or rather, as R.V., kindness, is using oneself for another’s good, looking not to one’s own things, but each looking also to the things of others (Phil. 2:4). It is the inward working of the Holy Spirit, for He is ‘the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil’ (Luke 6:35).
Goodness seeks the welfare of others, and is measured by actions; it marks the man who goes the second mile (Matt. 5:41); it goes beyond what is merely right (Rom. 5:7). Gentleness and goodness are nearly akin, but the former draws attention to the person benefitted, the latter rather to the benefit conferred.
Faith denotes confidence in the promises of God. It does not refer merely to a past dealing with God, when the believer first trusted in Christ, but is a daily dependence upon God for everything. The Revisers translated this word by ‘faithfulness,’ giving it an active rather than a passive significance. Faithfulness to God, and to one’s fellow is the evidence of a Spirit-led believer; he is as good as his word; he can be depended upon. Both these ideas may be in view here. Both are becoming to the Christian.
Meekness indicates a mind under proper control. It is not weakness, nor lack of energy, nor disinterestedness. The Greek word was used for a colt just broken into harness. The animal’s natural strength was retained, but co-ordinated into useful channels. So meekness in the Christian implies that his energies are being directed by the Holy Spirit. In conscious humility he allows God to use him towards the accomplishment of His purposes.
Temperance, or self-control, round off this list of Christian graces. It is the mastery of the flesh by the Holy Spirit; the subordination of the Christian’s lower fleshly interests to those of his spirit—the highest part of his being. It includes control of the desires, the appetites, the affections, the tongue and the temper. All are in subjection.
The production of these graces in the believer by the Holy Spirit as a composite fruit is God’s norm for Christian living. It was manifested in abundance in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He showed His love by giving Himself for us (Eph. 5:2). Though the ‘Man of sorrows,’ Jesus rejoiced in Spirit (Luke 10:21). His joy, a full joy, He communicated to His disciples (John 15:11). The Lord also bequeathed His peace unto them (John 14:27). ‘My peace,’ not the peace of the world, which was but an empty formula (Jer. 6:14), but the deep-settled, inward peace of One who fully did the Father’s will, He bestowed on them. With great serenity He appeared before Pilate—absolutely unmoved. This is peace indeed! The Lord’s long-suffering was seen at Gabbatha, for ‘when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not’ (1Pet. 2:23). It will take the ages to come to teach us the display of His gentleness (or kindness) toward us (Eph. 2:7). His goodness was acclaimed by those who heard Him, and saw His works (John 7:12, Acts 10:38). The Lord’s faith in, and His faithfulness towards, His Father are seen together in John 8:29. He was ever conscious of the Father’s nearness. He always did what pleased the Father. Paul in 2 Cor. 10:1 bases an exhortation on the meekness of Christ, whom he had taken as his example, both of lowliness and of courage. His temperance was such that He never needed to retract a wrong word, nor apologize for a wrong deed. His spirit ever had control, for He ‘was justified in the spirit’ (1Tim. 3:16). As to His spirit, He had God’s approval that He was righteous.
This was the fruit of the Spirit in Him who was ‘full of the Holy Ghost’ (Luke 4:1). All these graces were seen in perfect harmony in His life; He is the Christian’s pattern. The same Holy Spirit dwells within him, and the measure in which he subordinates the flesh to the Spirit is the measure in which he will resemble his Lord in bearing the fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will bring forth this fruit in the believer’s life according as His leading is sought, and the flesh kept in subjection. The seed of the fruit is sown by constant reading of the Word of God. It is watered with prayer. But the Holy Spirit of God alone gives the increase that produces the fruit.
The believer has a very definite obligation to maintain a close relationship with the Holy Spirit throughout his life. He must walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16); the whole daily round of his activities should be lived in association with the Spirit, as Enoch did with God (Gen. 5:24); he lives by the Spirit, and ought to keep step with the guidance and direction of the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), to keep him from the sin of pride, strife and envy: he must sow to the Spirit—everything he does should be in the Spirit’s interests, and for His glory; he will reap the value of this in eternal life.
Whilst the production of the fruit is the sole prerogative of the Holy Spirit, the believer must see that no works of the flesh hinder it. He must make no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:14). The flesh must be crucified—kept in the place of death (Gal. 5:24). All these works of the flesh are the manifestation of selfishness, so he must learn to say ‘no’ to self. This will allow him to bear the fruit of the Spirit; this is the true Christian way of living.
In a short opening prayer at the consecration of the Temple, Solomon said, “I have built an house of habitation for Thee, and a place for Thy dwelling for ever” (2Chronicles 6:2). With the Ark placed in this newly built edifice, the Temple was “an house of habitation” for the Lord, prefiguring the spiritual temple of to-day as “the habitation of God” (Ephesians 2:22).
Probably alluding to and contrasting the tent pitched at Jerusalem by his father, David, which afforded temporary cover for the Ark of God (2Chronicles 1:4), Solomon prayed, “I have built Thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for Thee to abide in for ever,” as recorded in the corresponding passage of 1Kings 8:13. When the priests had placed the Ark in the Oracle, “they drew out the staves” (1Kings 8:8, 2Chronicles 5:9), indicating the permanence of its position, and so the Temple became “a settled place” for the Ark of God in contrast with the tabernacle where the staves were not taken from the Ark (Exodus 25:15). A dwelling may be either temporary or permanent, and both shades of thought are found in the NT Scriptures. Paul prayed “that Christ may dwell in your hearts . . .” (Ephesians 3:17), or “that Christ may make His home in your hearts” (Wey), and such a homely phrase conveys the thought of the permanence of Christ’s abode—He cannot and will not withdraw! The true Church, as “an holy temple in the Lord,” is “a settled place” for Christ “to abide in for ever” throughout time and eternity.
The Ark was not only placed in the Temple but it was put in the Holiest, the primary position where no other furniture was put. Both in our personal lives and in an assembly, Christ must have the foremost position and He is satisfied with nothing less. A tendency is to give Him a secondary position in our homes and to relegate Him to the background in our business lives, which often means that He does not have His rightful place in our assembly lives. Unless Christ is Lord of all, He is not Lord at all, as Hudson Taylor rightly said. We must acknowledge the Lordship of Christ in all spheres of life, both spiritual and secular. Failure to do so leads to spiritual defeat and unhappiness, but by doing so Christ is all in all to us and it means untold blessing.
The writer has already demonstrated the supreme glory of Christ over prophets and angels, so now he proceeds by a series of comparisons and sharp contrasts to show our Lord’s superiority to Moses.
The Consideration of Jesus (v.1). How inexhaustible this consideration is, and how truly inspiring as we “contemplate attentively” the faithfulness of Jesus as APOSTLE, representing God among men, and as HIGH PRIEST, representing men before God. The outstanding O.T. personality combining these two offices was Moses. Saints are qualified to contemplate Jesus for we are ‘holy’—our position and character, ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus’; ‘brethren’ our communion and association, not by race but by believing on Christ; ‘partakers’—our calling, a present heavenly state, we have been made meet to be partakers. (Col. 1:12); Our calling is heavenly as distinct from the nation of Israel. (Eph. 1.3; 2.5,6,; 4.1; 5.30-32).
The Contemplation of Jesus (v. 1-6). Thoroughly think of His dignity, excellency, and authority. Think of His Name— ‘Jesus’; His Office—prophetical—‘Apostle’, priestly—‘High Priest.’ His character—who is faithful (R.V.); His work, as Moses also, His dignity—‘Son over the house’ and His superiority—‘Worthy of more glory.’
Three of the greatest blessings and privileges vouchsafed to the Jewish nation were:— (1) The Law of God—Romans 3 v. 1-2; (2) Levitical Priesthood—Exodus 29 v. 1; (3) The Land of Rest, Canaan—Joshua 1 v. 2. The Law was given by Moses, the priesthood was invested in Aaron, and Canaan was conquered by Joshua. The writer proves Jesus to be greater than Moses as Apostle (ch. 3), greater than Aaron as Priest (ch. 5-8) and greater than Joshua as Leader and Rest Giver (ch. 4).
The consideration is not between Moses and Christ but between Moses and Jesus, that is in His Humanity as Son of Man (ch. 2). We must consider Him, to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him and to become like Him down here. This is the God-given way for deepening our appreciation, increasing our acquaintance with Him and enlarging our affection for Him. We are losing the holy art of habitually considering Him and it is seen in the poverty of our worship and lack of maturity in Christian living. The name‘Jesus’ (Matt. 1. 21) combines the title of Jehovah with the work of salvation which He accomplished.
Our Confession ‘even Jesus’ (R.V.). In our confession He holds the place of Apostle and High Priest in opposition to the confession in Israel of Moses. Whatever by others he be esteemed, He is so to us; and our inestimable privilege and honour is that He is so. He does not come behind Moses in faithfulness.
The Comparison—His Similarity to Moses. Moses was the object of the deepest veneration among the Jews, so there is Divine wisdom in speaking of Him to these Hebrew Christians. He was a type of Christ, both in character and career. Moses was their deliverer, leader, administrator, prophet and mediator with God. The comparison instituted between Jesus and Moses reminds us of Moses greatness. Christ like Moses was a Prophet (Deut. 18. 15) and introduced a new dispensation (John 1.17). Each was divinely commissioned and supported in His work for God. They were Apostles of God and had a message for their day, both were marked by devotion to God and to duty, sincerity of purpose, patient forbearance, complete unselfishness and absolute surrender to God. The point of similarity here is faithfulness (Numbers 12. 7; Matt. 17. 5; Rev. 1. 5). ‘Who is faithful,’ this is the general designation of His inherent character. He is today what He ever was, faithful, so we in turn should have this feature in our character and confession.
The Contrast—His Superiority to Moses. We see His superior glory as the Builder of the house (v. 3). Moses only introduced the Hebrew economy. God was the Founder. Moses was part of it and lost in the economy which was given through Him. Christ was the Author of that which He instituted. The glory of Moses faded, but the Lord’s glory is abiding. The fact and the degree of His superiority is clearly acknowledged; as the builder of a house has more honour than the house.
Jesus is superior in rank and position for Moses was part of the system entrusted to him, he did not originate it. Christ as Son, is the Founder of the ages (1.2); the Architect and Builder of the Church and is thus greater than the house He established. Moses is viewed as part of the building but Christ as the Builder (v. 3, 4); then as servant and Christ as Son (v. 5, 6). The servant abideth not, but the Son abideth ever’ (John 8. 35). The Mosaic order pointed forward to the better thing which should come. Christ was the subject of such testimony.
Two houses are here in view, the house of Israel in which Moses was a servant; and the Christian Church over which Christ is as Son. The latter is composed of the saints of this dispensation (Ephesians 2. 22; 1 Timothy 3. 15).
Verse 6 explains what is meant by God’s house today. We prove we are God’s if we hold fast. Our salvation is not dependant on our holding fast. Endurance is the proof of our reality. Here our privilege and responsibility are emphasized. The proof of our being in the house is seen in corresponding conduct, holding fast our boldness and the glorying of hope unto the end. The faithfulness of Moses and ourselves is finite and temporal, but that of Christ is infinite and eternal.
Think of His greater glory, His office, work, appointment, faithfulness, honour, rank and superiority; may we prove our relationship to Him by saintly conduct, clear and courageous confession and exultant hope.
The next tree, the fig, is the first mentioned in Gen. 3:7, which seems to link it with the idea of righteousness. Yet there, only the leaves are mentioned: there was no true righteousness, just as it was in Israel in the day when the Lord Jesus cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21). Israel’s righteousness was mere profession; there was no real fruit there. If the olive speaks of Israel as a spiritual nation, the fig tree gives us Israel as a righteous nation. How both ideas apply to us! “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness: I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig tree at her first season: but they came to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto the shameful thing, and became abominable, like that which they loved.” (Hosea 9.10, R.V.). The olive tree goes back to Abraham, the fig to the wilderness, where God had a people for His own possession. We would not expect to find grapes in the wilderness: the verse tells us of the joy He found in His people in the midst of a world alien to Himself. In the wilderness, away from Egypt’s influences, they appeared practically what He had constituted them— righteous. Note the repetition of the word “first” in the verse: how God prizes the first movements of His people towards Himself! And how easy for that “first love” to be left! Yet Israel failed in their separation to God as a righteous nation, and became abominable, like that which they loved. They took character, as we do, from their associates.
Hebrews 12:11 speaks of “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Jotham’s parable tells us of the sweetness of the fig tree. What a lovely character the man under the fig tree must have had, of whom the Lord could say,“Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile!”—John 1:47. Nathanael under the fig tree had been confessing his own lack of righteousness, on the lines of Psa. 32, which should be read in this connection. Psa. 32 is the first Psalm of the “Maschilim”— the wise ones of Dan. 11:33, the faithful remnant of the coming day who will draw special instruction from these particular Psalms—32, 42, 44, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142. If we link Psa. 43 with 42, we get fourteen of these in all. Nathanael is found by Philip, whose name means “lover of the house,” National Israel, in Psa. 32 may be like the horse or mule that has no understanding, but Nathanael, as one of the Maschilim, is one in whose spirit is no guile, and as brought to the Lord calls Him the Son of God and the King of Israel—a true remnant confession. We are not surprised that John omits the cursing of the fig: in his first chapter, we see a man who represents the righteous remnant amongst the nation.
Similarly, in Jeremiah 24, the nation is divided into two classes, “very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe”— indeed, as in the wilderness; and “very naughty figs.” The good figs represented the righteous part of the nation who had accepted the Lord’s judgement, and had gone into captivity. The burden of Jeremiah’s ministry was that the people should know that it was God Who had raised up Nebuchadnezzar, and to go against him was to go against God. The naughty figs would not accept this. It is the teaching of Hebrews 12: despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,— those marked out as very good had indeed accepted it. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth joyous, but rather grievous, yet afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby. The righteousness seems to be practical here rather than what we have been constituted as in 2 Corinthians 5, 21. Jeremiah tells the same story as Hebrews 12. The faithful part of the nation submitted to the chastening of God. That discipline leads to their good (vvs. 5,6), and produces practical righteousness— “they shall return to Me with their whole heart” (7).
Fig tree exercises amongst the people of God then, would involve a development of those sweet qualities of character that God looks for in a people that He has constituted righteous. Amos was a gatherer of wild figs (Amos 7:14, A.V.mg.). What a work for each of us, in the sphere God has placed us in, that we might encourage the Lord’s people in the development of that “sweetness and good fruit.” The fig is twice linked with restoration and healing in the Scripture—in the case of the Egyptian in the field (all the marks of the world) in 1 Sam. 30:12; and in the case of Hezekiah, Isa 38:21. Hezekiah’s boil would speak of an eruption of the flesh to disturb the spiritual life: happy he, who, by his sweetness and good fruit, can exercise an influence that will lead to spiritual recovery and to an increase of praise —“we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.” (Isa. 38:20).
Luke 13:6-9 tells the story of the failure of the righteous remnant of the restoration, to bring forth fruit in the time of the Lord. And so Israel, with no real fruit of righteousness, have been removed, as the cursing reminds us: but their future as a righteous nation is hinted at in Matt :24:32, and in the Song of Songs 2:13, where, after the winter, associated with the remnant’s sufferings, the fig tree putteth forth her green figs. Olive and fig tell the same story, that Israel has a glorious future. And what a sweetness will characterise them when, like Nathanael, they shall be presented as a righteous nation with “no guile!” And, beloved, the same sweetness and good fruit should characterise us!
What of the vine? “Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt, Thou didst drive out the nations, and plantedest it.” So runs Psa. 80:8, whence we learn that vine tree exercises began when Israel were given a place in the land. There, Israel was a choicest vine in a very fruitful hill—Isaiah 5 tells us. Not what the Lord did for this vine :
He fenced it—marking it off for His own.
He gathered out the stones thereof—Gentile nations thrust out of the land.
He planted it with the choicest vine—note His estimate of His people.
He built a tower in the midst—Jerusalem, cp. 2 Sam. 5:7.
He also made a winepress therein—the Temple, with its arrangements for bringing the people’s offerings to God.
As such, Israel was called to bring pleasure to the heart of God, but instead of the voice of joy being found in the land, “He looked for judgement but behold oppression, for righteousness, but behold a cry.” Isa. 5, 7. Indeed, “Israel was an empty vine,—empty for God—he bringeth forth fruit to himself.” Hosea 10:1. “Yet had I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Jer. 2:21.
It is a relief to turn to John 15, and find there One Who can say, “I am the true Vine.” Here is the Lord, the true Israel (cp. Isa. 49:3) bringing pleasure to the Father. Israel as a nation may have lost her vine tree privilege; prophesied in Isa. 5, declared in Psa. 80; under the Assyrian and Babylonian armies; failing to produce fruit, being only fit for fire, Ezek. 15. In contrast, the Lord, as the true vine, conveys joy to His own—“These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” (v. 11). His peace (14:27), His joy, His glory (17:22), all given to those who believe on Him, that they might take character from Him. With the Lord Jesus, we think of the One Who delighted the heart of the Father, and has made glad the hearts of those that believe on Him. Truly we can say, “Thy love is better than wine.”
And until Israel, the vine that God brought out, is “visited,” as Psa. 80 puts it, to bring forth real fruit for God, in association with the Lord Himself—“the stock which Thy right hand hath planted, and the Branch which Thou madest strong for Thyself,” we are called, in worship, to present to our God “spiritual sacrifices ACCEPTABLE TO GOD by Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 2:5. We are here for the pleasure of God, and our appreciation of His Son, and presentation of Him to the Father in worship, thrills His heart.
The olive, then, speaks of the spiritual supply that the saints should minister; the fig, of the sweet character and moral goodness of the saints, which will affect others, and the vine, of the refreshment and joy we are to bring to God and man, as planted in a pleasant place, with everything that can minister to our growth. “Green olive trees,” “first ripe figs,” “noble vines” with “new wine”—all speak of freshness, and spontaneity in our character and service. May the Lord bless these things to us.
In this lovely psalm we have God presented to us in three ways. First, we have Him as our Justifier; secondly, as our Hiding-place; thirdly, as our Guide. These surely are “Three Grand Realities.” Nor is it merely that God provides us with justification, security and guidance, though even this were rich and abundant mercy and goodness; but there is far more than this, He Himself has become our Justifier, our Hiding-place and our Guide. Wondrous provision! Such is the moral grandeur of redemption—such the way in which the God of all grace has met our need. If God Himself is my Justifier, I must be perfectly justified. If He is my Hiding-place, I must be perfectly hidden. If He is my Guide, I must be perfectly guided.
Let us then, as guided by the light of holy scripture, and in dependence upon the teaching of the Holy Spirit, proceed to consider, in the first place,
GOD OUR JUSTIFIER
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Oh! the blessedness! Transgression forgiven—sin covered. There is deeply imbedded in man’s religious mind the thought that he has to meet God as a Judge—that he, as a sinner, has, in some way or another, to satisfy the claims of a righteous Judge who will deal with him about his sins and exact the very last farthing. As the dying gipsy exclaimed, when told that he was standing at the very portal of the eternal world, “What! must I gang afore the Judge wi’ a’ my sins upon me!” Tremendous inquiry! If I have to meet God as my Judge, it is all over with me. “Enter not into judgement with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Psa. cxliii. 2.) Hence, therefore, a soul, looking at God as a Judge, must be filled with terror, inasmuch as he cannot answer Him one of a thousand. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” You cannot meet God as a Judge. Condemnation must be the issue of a meeting between a righteous Judge and a guilty sinner.
But, thanks be to God, He wears another character now. He is a righteous Justifier. Yes, a Justifier of such as cannot meet Him as a Judge. God must be righteous in whatever sphere He displays Himself. Whether as a Judge or a Justifier, He must be just. But, in this day of grace, during the acceptable year, the day of salvation, He is revealing Himself as “a just God and a Saviour”—a righteous Saviour-God. What a character! What a stupendous triumph of redeeming love! What an answer to Satan! What a balm for the convicted conscience and stricken heart! A Saviour-God! It is the very title which suits a lost sinner. It brings God near to me in the very condition and character in which I find myself. If God is a Saviour, it is precisely what suits me as lost. If God is a Justifier, it is exactly what I need as guilty. None but a lost sinner can have to do with a Saviour-God. None but a guilty sinner can have to do with God as a righteous Justifier. Nothing can be simpler. It places salvation and justification on a basis as simple as it is solid, and as solid as it is simple. God reveals Himself as a Saviour; the believing sinner walks in the light of that revelation, and is saved. God reveals Himself as a Justifier; the believing sinner walks in the light of that revelation, and is justified.
He is saved and justified according to the perfect standard of God’s revelation of Himself. It is impossible to stand on more solid ground or occupy a more unassailable position than this. To touch the believer’s salvation and justification is to mar the integrity of God’s revelation.
And let the anxious reader remember who it is that God justifies, for this point is only second in importance to the question of who is the Justifier. Who, then, does God justify? Is it good people? Where are they? Is it those who have done their duty? Are any such to be found? Is it those who have fulfilled the law? Such would not need His justification, seeing that “the man that doeth these things shall live in them.” If, therefore, a man could fulfil the law, he should have no transgression to be forgiven, no sin to be covered, and hence a Saviour-God—a righteous Justifier, is not for him. This is obvious. A man who has wrought out a legal righteousness does not want an evangelical one. “If righteousness come by law, Christ has died in vain.” There was no use in His dying to get us righteousness, if it could be had some other way.
Who, then, does God justify? Hear it, anxious inquirer! He justifies the ungodly. Yes; such is the veritable language of holy scripture. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Rom. iv. 4-8).
Here then we get our answer, full, clear, distinct and conclusive. Two characters are placed in contrast, namely, “him that worketh,” and “him that worketh not,” and this contrast completely upsets all man’s thoughts. It never could have entered into man’s mind to conceive that righteousness was to be had without working for it—that God could justify the ungodly. And yet this is the very doctrine of scripture. If man could get righteousness by working for it, then clearly it would not be divine righteousness, for the simplest of all reasons, that this latter is to “him that worketh not.” If God reveals Himself as the Justifier of the ungodly, then is it a sheer denial of the revelation for man to come before Him in any other character. If I, as a sinner, bring my duties to God, I must meet Him as a Judge, for surely He must judge my duties to see if they are all right. But if I bring my sins to Him, He meets me as a Justifier with a full and free forgiveness and an everlasting righteousness. The peculiar glory of the gospel is that it reveals God as the righteous Justifier of poor ungodly sinners.
This is a marvellous truth. And if it be asked, as surely it must, by every exercised conscience, on what ground does this grand reality hold good? the answer is as clear and satisfactory as the most anxious soul can possibly desire. It is this—God, as a Judge, dealt with my sins at the cross, in order that God as a Justifier might deal with me at heaven’s side of the empty tomb of Jesus. The death of Christ, therefore, forms the ground on which God can righteously justify the ungodly. A righteous Judge condemned sin on the cross, that a righteous Justifier might pardon and justify the guilty. What a profound mystery! Well may angels desire to look into it; and well may sinners, whom it so blessedly concerns, bless and praise Him who has counselled, revealed and wrought it all for them, through the accomplished atonement of Christ.
And here we would pause a moment in order to put a plain, pointed question to the reader. Dear friend, do you know God as your Justifier? Or, are you still thinking of meeting Him as a Judge? If so, you must be miserable. You can never enjoy true peace until you know and believe that God as a Judge has nothing against you as a sinner; nay more, that He Himself is your Justifier; that, in the death and resurrection of Christ, He has revealed Himself as a just God and a Saviour to you, an ungodly sinner.
In this brief letter, the aged apostle John, sketches for us, three character portraits, two commended, and one condemned. There is teaching of the utmost importance, to all in assembly fellowship, contained within the compass of this short Epistle, focused upon Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius.
John notes the individual, this is emphasised in his Gospel, where in chapter 1, in the space of eleven verses he mentions no less than five individuals. Surely if a lesson has to be learned, it is this, that a Divine record is being kept of my actions and motives, and that we at the Bema of Christ (2 Corinthians 5-10), shall be given the Lord’s assessment of the deeds done in the body. What a solemn and a sobering thought. The Lord Jesus SAT over against the treasury, He SAW the rich casting in out of their abundance, and the widow her two mites, and He SAID, “Ye have done it unto Me.” He is still sitting, and seeing and in a coming day will say! Will our life’s work be able to stand the test.
Gaius. There are three brethren at least in the New Testament bearing this name, Gaius of Corinth, (1 Corinthians 1. 14), Gaius of Derbe, (Acts 20.4,5), Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19. 29), and the Gaius addressed by Paul in chapter 16 of the Roman Epistle, verse 23, “Gaius mine host.” Whatever the identity of the Gaius addressed by John, he certainly was of outstanding spiritual calibre, illustrated by the traits of character outlined by John.
He was Worthy of Johns affection. Gaius had a place in the affection of John, engendered no doubt by the sterling character of the brother, the quality of his service, and his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was Weak in body. How often is this the case with so many of the Lord’s servants, suffering from some physical infirmity, is it not this very handicap which diverts the mind’s attention from the temporal and tangible to the spiritual and eternal, we can in our day and age, think of many, who from a bed of sickness have made a tremendous contribution to the work of the Lord.
He was Well in soul. Spiritual prosperity of the highest order, we live in a day when what is recognised is not so much my state of soul, but my material possessions, never let us make this substitute, the material for the spiritual, “He gave them their requests but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106-15). and again “Men shall praise thee when thou doest well for thyself” (Psalm 49-18).
He Walked in Truth. Not merely knowing the truth, but the truth in action, in practical daily demonstration, a walk governed by the Word of God.
He Worked faithfully. If there is to be a standard to apply to our service today, what better than that which is found in verse five, “Beloved thou doest faithfully, whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers” in our varied spheres of service we apply ourselves with varying degrees of zeal, but Gaius was consistent, to those well known, or to those unknown, he extended unstinting hospitality! Let us differentiate between hospitality to the servants and the social round which is the arrangement operating in so many assemblies today, there was no partiality with the hospitality offered by Gaius!
Diotrephes was singled out for the condemnation of John for the following reasons;
He was a Pre-eminent man. “He loveth to have the pre-eminence” loveth, the present continuous tense, never content unless in the lime light. Diotrephes was a man of ability, perhaps out of his place, but nevertheless able to assert himself as a leader or to use a term foreign to Scripture “a leading brother.” He had usurped the place reserved alone for the Lord Jesus “that in all things He might have the pre-eminence” (Colossians 1-18). The situation is fraught with danger, when a brother asserts himself as the alone mouth-piece of God, monopoly of the gatherings of the saints retarding the operation of the Spirit of God, a desire to sit in the judgement seat, lording over God’s heritage.
He was a Persecuting man. He put the saints out, and would not let the servants in! John writes “I wrote unto the church, but Diotrephes” this brother had assumed full control, he acted as a dictator in matters relating to the assembly. What a state of affairs exists when Diotrephes is allowed to usurp authority in any company. John writes “When I come I will bring to remembrance.” Never let us forget that meekness is not weakness, to tolerate the actions of a Diotrephes without a murmur, is not in the best interests of the saints, we should seek to expose such an one, by the Scriptures of Truth, that the errors of his ways should be manifest. Too often it is the case, that a lack of exercise among the saints, allows such brethren to exert themselves, and there is a difference between the brother who has something to say, and the brother who must say something!
He was a Prating man. Make no mistake about it, Diotrephes could speak fluently, he could exploit a situation to his own advantage, he could point out unscriptural practices when it suited him to do so! “With evil words” O the havoc that can be wrought by a back-biting tongue, to misrepresent or discredit a brother or a sister, by suspicion and gossip, critical of their simplicity or lack of education, it is tragic but true! This word prating is connected with false accusation. The leprosy that afflicted Miriam physically, could affect us spiritually, if we engage in this type of conduct which can only bring reproach upon us, as individuals and as a collective company.
Demetrius like Gaius was a stalwart in the things of God, the brother with a testimony in triplicate.
“Hath good report of all.” How important this is, that in every department of our lives, our testimony can be corroborated, consistency is a scarce commodity today. “Him whose words and acts agree let his footsteps praised be,” so sayeth the Indian proverb. The Demoniac of Gadara was told by the Lord in Mark 5 “Go home and tell thy friends.” This incident recorded by Luke says “Go home and shew thy friends.” Apparently there was a link between the sayings and the doings of Demetrius. The world may not agree with us, but it is good when we can be acknowledged as having “been with Jesus.” We cannot measure the impact upon the world of a consistent, regulated, godly testimony.
“By the Truth itself.” This must be the apex of Christian experience, that the truth finds an answer in our lives. Some commentators believe that the truth mentioned in verse twelve refers to the Holy Spirit, so that the testimony of Demetrius was not only recognised by men in general but by God Himself; a Divine attestation of a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit!
“And we also bear testimony.” There is so much flattery today, when we have become obsessed with personalities, and this is allowed to cloud our own personal convictions. There is a marked absence of this type of commendation given by John in respect of Demetrius, without bias, an outright approval of a transparent life of testimony. I am reminded of the words penned on the fly leaf of a Bible, “Give me grace O Lord to LIVE, ‘tis easier far to die.”
I come quickly—an oft repeated promise. A hope laid up in Heaven. An inheritance reserved for you. Sure! Steadfast! The solemn word of Him who is the Truth: “I will come again.” Let us live expecting Him whom our souls adore. He will break the silence, pierce the gloom of the darkening night at any moment now. His commanding will call us all away. “Caught Up”—how grand a word—taken hold of, lifted up, lifted out, caught away, Raptured! “And so shall we be forever with the Lord.
Oh, for the moment when our eyes shall first behold Him.
“Oh what will it be in Thy presence, when first
The sight of His glory upon us shall burst.”
. . . those eyes, that face, those hands, those feet—
It may be this year, this month, this week, Today! We know not when, we certainly know He comes!
The night is dark, the days are perilous, the love of many waxes cold, the world prepares for its final leader and its doom. But He is coming for us (“I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth”—Revelation 3,10) and we shall afterward come with Him and He shall reign.
His word to us — “Hold fast that which thou hast” — A little strength (weak but cling to His power) His word — read it, love it, cherish it, guard it, but even more important, obey it! His name—love it, adore it, sing it, preach it, cling to it, gather to it, live for it. He comes! He comes! He comes! —Note from the Editor.
“Why seek ye the Living among the dead, He is not here but is risen”—Luke 24 : 5, 6.
The history of many a derelict along the highway of theology is the sad story of the surrender of belief in the Resurrection of Jesus, followed eventually by the discarding of a simple faith in the shed blood of Calvary. “He died the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.” But that was not enough. God forever vindicated the sacrifice of the Son by giving back to Him the life that was surrendered. Down through the ages men have gladly died for a cherished faith, but from the beginning of time until now One only has come back to verify that the sacrifice was worth the making.
What a wonderful thing is fellowship, as revealed in the Scriptures! It is sharing together our riches in Christ. It is produced by the grace of our 'God, and is the result of the redemption work of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. It is pleasing to our God, and it brings joy to the hearts of His redeemed people, The Scriptures reveal that it enables us to be companions and partakers, contributing and distributing, by our communications one with another. In the Apostles’ days the saints “continued steadfastly’’ in it. (Acts 2:42). May this characterize each of us till our Lord be come, for then we shall enjoy it more fully in the ages to come.
As we review the year now past we praise our God for manifesting this fellowship through our little magazine. For the help and guidance given to our (Honorary) Editor we thank our faithful God. To our dear brethren who gave much time and study in submitting papers for our edification and profit we offer our sincere and heart-felt thanks. Again, we gratefully acknowledge the practical fellowship of so many of the Lord’s people in our assemblies,, or, who individually, made it possible for us to continue the publishing of the magazine during 1975, and we warmly thank all those who included us in the fellowship of prayer.
Despite rising costs of material, production and postal charges, we praise our God for meeting our needs, and encouraging us to arrange for the continuance of the magazine throughout another year, in His will. The fellowship, as revealed in these various ways, by so many of the Lord’s people, moves our hearts in gratitude to our God.
Please "CONTINUE STEADFASTLY" in the fellowship of prayer for us. We thank all those who do so. God delights to answer prayer.
“That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”—1 Corinthians 2:5.
It is extraordinary power from God, not talent, that wins the day. It is extraordinary spiritual unction, not extraordinary mental power, that we need. Mental power may fill a chapel but spiritual power fills the church with soul anguish. Mental power may gather a large congregation, but only spiritual' power will save souls. What we need is spiritual power.