v. 24“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you,” Paul now explains what is meant by his being made a minister of the Gospel (v. 23). Having dealt with the great work of the Lord Jesus Christ in making reconciliation between God and the pagan Colossians, Paul proceeds to show the part God gave him to play in this great ministry. He had mentioned, in vv. 20-22, the Passion of the Lord, that had laid the foundation of their adoption into the family of God. Now he mentions his own sufferings for their spiritual edification, and even rejoices in them. In like manner Paul dealt with his afflictions for the sake of the Corinthians’ edification (2 Cor. 1:6; 12:19). He even gloried in his persecution, for Christ’s sake. His part in the perfection of the saints was to encourage them to continue in the faith, and not to be side-tracked by teachers like the Gnostics. His task was to ‘present every man perfect in Christ Jesus’ (v. 28). In doing this he suffered much in his care for the churches.
“and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church :” The expiatory sufferings of Christ Paul saw as complete, and something in which neither he, nor any other man, had any part. But the service given to Paul entailed suffering (2 Cor. 11:23-28). He tells us that his part was something that Christ had left behind for him to do, and to suffer in the doing of it, namely, to keep the saints from the tendency to wander from the straight and narrow path of Christian living. Paul sees the service that Christ had left for him since He had gone to the glory, was that of enduring tribulation, as He Himself had endured it (John 16:33). Paul saw himself filling this role of enduring affliction instead of his absent Lord. This would be experienced in his flesh, and it was for the sake of the Body of Christ, a term he defines as referring to the Church. Well might each believer to-day ask himself, ‘How much do I suffer that others may be edified?’ Let us not think of ourselves, but of others.
v. 25 “Whereof I am made a minister,” In v. 23 Paul calls himself a minister of the Gospel, as one who had preached the Gospel to men in the whole world. He had brought them to the knowledge of the faith in Christ Jesus, and of the hope laid up for them in heaven. Now he tells us that he had been made a minister of the Church, one who served the Church since the members first trusted Christ, until they enter into the hope laid up for them in heaven. This was Paul’s particular work towards the Colossians.
“according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you,” ‘Dispensation’ here is really a stewardship, an administration in the House of God. Paul’s stewardship had special reference to his responsibility to look after the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16).
“to fulfil the word of God;” This was the task appointed to him, by God—to minister the word of God in all its fullness, as Paul indeed has been doing in this epistle (1:9, 19; 2:9, 10; 4:12, 17).
v.26 “Even the mystery that hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints:” The Word of God that Paul preached he calls a mystery— a word translated in the LXX as a secret (Dan. 2:18). This was its meaning in classical Greek, namely, something that was revealed only to a few specially initiated men (Dan. 4:9). But in the New Testament mystery means something that had been ‘kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God. made known to all nations for the obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16:25-26). Thus the mystery in the New Testament was revealed not just to a few specially initiated into the secret, but to all believers. It was a scheme divinely planned in the bygone ages of eternity, but now revealed to the saints of this age of grace—those vessels of mercy to whom the riches of God’s glory had been revealed, having been prepared by Him for this glory (Rom. 9:23).
The word ‘mystery’ is used 27 times in the New Testament —three times in the Gospels, and four times in Revelation. The remaining twenty occasions of its use are in Paul’s epistles. Nineteen of the references to mystery in the New Testament are to the gospel of God in salvation. They are all different aspects of God’s redeeming love through Christ. It is the Divine scheme for man, embodied and revealed in Christ. Eight other mysteries are found in the New Testament,
The spiritual restoration of Israel to God (Rom. 11:25);
The nature of the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:51);
The Church, the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:32);
Christ the repository of all fullness of wisdom (Col. 2:2);
The mystery of lawlessness—Satan’s counterfeit of the mystery of godliness (2 Thess. 2:7;
The false church, the harlot —the counterfeit of the true Bride of Christ (Rev. 17:5);
The revelation to John of something not understood in his vision (Rev. 1:20);
Unknown tongues, as comparable with the Old Testament use of mystery (Dan. 2:18, 1 Cor. 14:2).
v 27 “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles;” In Eph. 3:16 the term, ‘the riches of His glory,’ indicates the magnitude, the infinitude, of what the Father holds at the disposal of His children. So abundantly glorious in all its aspects was this scheme of God’s planning that His desire was for it to be made known widespread, even to those men among whom God had not been revealed, as He had been to the Jews. Thus Paul was God’s chosen vessel for this task (Acts 26:16-18). Paul had beheld this glory, and now he must needs bear witness of its brightness to Gentiles.
“which is Christ in you, the hope of glory Paul now gives us in these words what is the riches of the glory of this mystery. It is twofold, (1) That Christ now dwells in you, Gentile believers (Eph. 3:17)—those who hitherto had not known Him; (2) Christ is their great hope for the future—the hope of seeing Him, and being like Him, in His glorious manifestation (Phil. 3:21). Glory is in effect here put for the Divine Presence (Ex. 40:34), the equivalent of the Shekinah—a word not found in the Bible, but used by the later Jews, to express the Divine Presence, especially when dwelling between the Cherubim and the Mercy-Seat in the Tabernacle, and in Solomon’s Temple, but not in Zerubbabel’s Temple.
v.28 “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom;” Paul tells how that he, and his fellow servants in the Gospel (v. 7), made it their aim thoroughly to preach Christ in every place. The word ‘preach’ is emphatic, suggesting that they so ministered Christ as to bring down upon their hearers the importance of their message, to impress it on them. They went about admonishing every man, putting the message into their minds—producing repentance toward God; the doctrines they taught, imparting all fullness of wisdom to them, were addressed to their hearts—producing faith in Christ (Acts 20: 21).
“that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:” Note the threefold use of ‘every man,’ stressing the fact that their preaching was the same for Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 1:16). The preachers did this as following the example of their Lord and Master (4:12), that they might present their hearers perfect before God. They would have all the believers mature, not merely a few initiates, as the Gnostics proposed. This perfection can only be found in living union with Christ Jesus.
v. 29 “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.” For the purpose of the perfecting of the believers Paul shows how it demanded a great conflict. In this conflict we see, first, Paul’s exercise. It was not merely preaching, earnestly though he did it. He was constantly labouring unto weariness, striving earnestly, as though contending in the games. But, secondly, he tells of the source of his ability so to strive. His efficiency came from God, who energised him, by putting His strength into the apostle. We believers, too, can count on the strengthening hand of God to do whatsoever task He has given us, however difficult it may be (Phil. 4:13).
We will always find Mark’s gospel full of practical truth for us, dealing as it does with the One of whom Jehovah could say, “Behold My servant,” and this will be the case as we look at the book in the light of the tribes Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin, the ones that pitched on the west side of the Tabernacle. We will also consider the ligure, agate and amethyst stones.
Ephraim means “Fruitful,” and there can be no doubt that the dominant thought in Mark’s delightful Gospel is that of fruitfulness for God arising from the “labour of the ox.” How little this servant speaks of Himself! There are, indeed, but four parables recorded in Mark, and to the ones in ch. 4 we must now turn.
He is in a little boat, pushed out from the land. The sea, as mentioned before, is dominant in Mark. Mark always stresses universality—it is the gospel of the purple, and purple, suggesting royalty (Judges 8:26) is associated with the imperial power of Rome. Here is another ruler moving through this scene, with authority. Mark emphasises His authority, while Luke stresses His power. A comparison of Mark 1:27, Luke 4:36, will help here. As universal monarch, He needs no introduction. “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”—so we start. The writer has often heard it explained that a servant is not favoured with a genealogy, or an account of his birth, but while accepting this thought, feels that neither does the Son of God require either genealogy or account of birth. If He is the Son of God, then all belongs to Him. Thus in the first chapter, He is associated with both dove and wild beasts: later, He is the Lord over both the ass and the fig tree and in this Gospel, after throwing out the merchandise from the Temple—a house of prayer, in Mark only, “for all nations”—walks in the Temple (11:27) as if to indicate ownership. Only in Mark do we find that the Gospel is to be preached to every creature: universality again is the thought. Now the sea stresses this idea; for the seas lap every shore, and His sitting in the boat emphasises His ownership of the “abundance of the seas” that are to come to Him, (Deut. 33:19; Isa. 60:5). Very expressive is that phrase in Mark 4:1, that He “sat in the sea.” Accordingly He speaks of the sower going forth. That is in the relationship that He has taken up with regard to the world, Israel having effectively rejected Him at the end of ch. 3. This parable is common to Matthew (ch. 13), Mark and Luke (ch. 8) but there are characteristic differences. Note phrases peculiar to Mark. “It yielded no fruit”—v. 7. That is the acid test! “Growing up and increasing”—v. 8. That is what is looked for from any servant! Note how it increases—“thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and an hundredfold.” In Matthew, we have decrease—we are going downhill, the whole trend in the Kingdom, before the King is finally manifested at the end of the age will be apostasy. Luke only says “an hundredfold.” The perfect Man has only the perfect measure in front of Him. But Mark is on the line of increase. John the Baptist will say, “He must increase.” Colossians is on a similar line with the desire that believers might increase in the full knowledge of God (1:10) and in its use of the little phrase, “the increase of God” (2:19).
He then tells the parable which is peculiar to Mark, and therefore deserves much attention. See vv.26-29. It is the man casting seed upon the earth, and the way it grows. What does He do? Tend it carefully? No, he sleeps, and the seed springs up, “he knoweth not how” For the earth brings forth fruit of itself—first the blade—again we see that increase is in view—then the ear, then the full com in the ear. That introduces the harvest, which we would understand to be the end of the age, “the full com in the ear” would be the nation of Israel as formed in the exercises of the Tribulation period.
But the phrases “he sleeps” and “he knoweth not how” need more explaining to us, and so Mark tells us at the end of the chapter, how the disciples take the Lord in a little boat, and cross the sea with Him. They take Him as He is. There is no effort to try and make Him something else, no, they are satisfied with Him as He is. The Colossians were trying to make Him something different, and the Apostle writes to bring before them His essential character. Mark will encourage us to see no man, save Jesus only. What does the perfect servant do after a day of toil? He sleeps, and only Mark tells us where—on a cushion. “He giveth His beloved sleep.” For the servant to find a cushion while all around the seas are boiling? Yes, for the seas are His: He claims them, and He can afford to sleep, as He has indicated in His parable. He is truly the greater than Manasseh—“Forgetting.”
The Lord has given many lovely things in life, the beauty of the fragrant rose and the loveliness of the lily, and the grandeur of God’s creation. However the loveliness of nature is fading, so is human loveliness which will, sooner or later, pass away, alas all things are subject to change.
But the loveliness of the Lord Jesus surpasses all. We read in Psalm 45 verse 2 “Thou art fairer than the children of men, grace is poured into thy lips, therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever.” There is none in human history compared with the loveliness of the Son of God.
There is the Loveliness of His character and the Lord of Glory is the Only One Who ever possessed a character unstained by sin which shines out so brightly in His humanity and His deity.
We trace the Loveliness of His holy walk, we listen to the gracious words which flowed from His holy lips, for it is written of Him “Never man spake like this man” (John 7 verse 46).
Let us ponder again on the wonder of His sacrificial death for us on the cross where He shed His precious blood to set us free from sin and guilt. As we behold the Holy Victim upon the cross bearing away our sins, may we be moved to love Him more.
We turn our eyes from the cross and see Him exalted now upon the throne—His sufferings passed for ever—God has raised Him from the dead, crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2 verse 9).
We are reminded in the Song of Solomon of the excelling loveliness of the Lord. In chapter 5 the question was asked “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” and the answer is “My Beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand” (verse 10). Then the Bride enumerates the loveliness of her Beloved and exclaims “Yea, He is altogether lovely. This is My Beloved and this is My Friend” (verse 16).
May the loveliness of our Lord Jesus occupy our hearts and minds until faith gives place to sight and we shall see His face, and we shall be like HIM (1 John 3 verse 2).
May we, in the language of these lovely words express our devotedness to our Adorable Lord :
It was a severe set-back to Nicodemus when our Lord said to him, “Ye must be born anew” (John 3). The circumstances were very remarkable. The Lord had but a little while before coming up to Israel’s stately city of ceremonies from the Galilean village in which He resided. Being indicnant at what He beheld in the temple, He forthwith purged it before the very eyes of the authorities. After such an act it was a great thing for Nicodemus, one of the principle religious leaders of the people, to visit Him, and say: “Rabbi, we know that Thou art a Teacher come from God.” It was in answer to this greeting that our Lord insisted upon the necessity of new birth for every one, and for Nicodemus in particular.
The visitor was puzzled. Had the Saviour asserted that publicans and sinners needed to be born anew in order to enter the kingdom of God, he would have understood Him more readily; but the Lord made it a personal thing for himself—“Ye must be born again.” Was he not both upright and moral, and withal an instructor of God’s people? What more could be required? Surely, such a man as he merited favour from God!
Many in this day are as perplexed as to this matter as Nicodemus. The human heart is slow to admit that we have all sprung from a corrupt stock, that we all entered the world morally tainted; in a word, that our very nature (to say nothing of our actions) is unsuitable to God and His holy presence. Yes, it is true. Every man, therefore, however excellent in the eyes of his fellows, needs a new and spiritual life from God. How is this life implanted in the soul? By the Holy Sprit’s application of the Word of God, which is likened to water in John 3:5, and to incorruptible seed in 1 Peter 1:23. Persons are spiritually begotten, not by ordinances, but by means of the Gospel (1 Cor. 4:15).
And what is the Gospel? The Saviour presented it, as it were, in a nutshell to Nicodemus during their midnight talk. He announced Himself as “He that came down from heaven” a Divine person tabernacling in flesh. Then He declared that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He followed this up with the wonderful statement that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” All is told here. Our only hope is in the once-crucified Son of man. His cross has secured life and healing for all who believe. The moment the eye of faith turns to Him there is wrought in the soul by the Divine Spirit that new life of which our Lord spoke, which fits the soul for God and the light of His sacred presence for ever.
The Epistle to the Romans reading divides into three sections, namely; Chapters 1-8 Doctrinal, 9-11 Dispensational, and finally 12-16 Practical. This truth is repeated in the Epistles by Paul, that doctrine must find an answer in the lives of God’s people. Scriptural Principles require Practical Power, living and transforming.
Our present study is based upon Romans chapter 14, a two fold division, being, verses 1-12 “Mutual Toleration and the Lordship of Christ” verses 13-23 “Mutual Consideration and the Service of Christ.” The Lordship of Christ should be the motivating factor in my toleration of others, the Compassion of Christ the example in my consideration of others. The apostle outlines for us three principles of conduct for our guidance, in verses 3-13 Personal Liberty, verses 13-23 my Neighbour's Good, and verses 22-23 God's Glory. Coupled with the thought of personal liberty is that of individual accountability in verse 12 “every one shall give account to God” leading on to mutual responsibility in verse 19 “edify one another.”
1. Weak Members (verses 1-6). The saints at Rome were a cosmopolitan company, there were those saved from a Jewish background who had brought with them the ceremony of religion, chiefly, the dates and diets to which Paul refers, again there were those from heathen backgrounds to whom those things had no meaning. It would be good for us to mark the manner in which the apostle deals with this problem in Romans, the opposite of his approach in the Galatian letter. Here in Romans practice is in view, in Galatians the fundamentals were under attack from the Judaizers, this called for denunciation in the strongest possible terms, in fact, in no other epistle does Paul use language so designed to expose those who sought to undermine the foundations of the faith, and the all sufficiency of the Cross Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this chapter there is no thought of any thing subversive, “weak in faith” not the faith as being the revealed body of Christian doctrine, here it is rather the lack of faith in being able to fully grasp the fullness of the liberty into which God’s salvation had brought them! We are exhorted to receive such a person. Do not let us confuse the lack of knowledge, with a willingness to acknowledge the truth of the Word of God, there is a difference between wilful ignorance and the convert or Christian who desires to be taught. How often we look for knowledge and experience which takes years to acquire!
2. Worthy Master (verses 7-9). The pre-eminence of the Lord, (the title Lord is found no less than 10 times in this chapter). If the Lordship of Christ was a reality in our lives, many of the problems confronting us in assembly life would be non-existent, this truth must govern my conduct in relation to my fellow saints. So many of us speak lightly of the Lord as if He were at our beck and call, this truth is solemn and cannot be treated with levity. The Lord alone is the Owner, Controller, and Leader of His people, the sovereign claims of the Lord Christ is the key note of this portion. My attitude to the weak brother should be adjusted by this important truth. Paul says in verse 4 “who art thou that judgest another man’s servant” the Lord alone will be the Judge of our standing or falling, we must be careful that the spirit of Pharisaism does not move us in our condemnation of others. Apparently the weak condemned the strong and the strong set at nought the weak, our personal liberty must be seen in the light of this truth, that Christ alone is Lord, and accordingly my relationship to my fellow believer must be adjusted and maintained for God's Glory.
3. Works Manifested (verses 10-13). The day of true evaluation is coming for the child of God, this truth is constantly affirmed by the Apostle, that our motives and works will be manifested and rewarded accordingly. The word Bema is once translated ‘throne’ and ‘judgement seat’ ten times, only Christians will appear before the Bema, eternal security is not in question, but rather the quality and the character of our service rendered while here on earth. The following references clearly bear this out; 1Cor. 3:13, 14, 15; 1Cor. 4:4, 5; 1Cor. 9:24-27; 2Cor. 5:9-10. It is solemn that for some the work of a lifetime will be consumed in flames, “and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” 1Cor. 3:13, not what size it is as to quantity, but of what sort it is as to quality. The wood, hay, and stubble may be bulky and easily obtained. In contrast the gold, silver, and precious stones, have to be mined involving hard labour and are small in volume. The review and reward at the Bema of Christ takes place after the Rapture and before the Revelation, my place in Heaven has been secured by the blood of Christ, but my place in the Kingdom will be determined by my faithfullness and service here!
4. Watchful Mercy (verses 14-16). Paul emphasises the responsibility placed upon each one, that there must be no provision for self pleasing when this can affect a weak brother or sister. In verse 14, we have a Clear Conscience, the words of personal conviction “I know.” The apostle here is dealing with ceremonial uncleanness and not moral uncleanness, we can imitate others, we can be persuaded but there is no substitute for personal conviction about anything, but this matters most when the things are spiritual things. In verse 15, we have a “Christ-like Consideration.” “Destroy not him for whom Christ died” if ever there was a compassionate appeal this must be the limit, “for whom Christ died” the word ‘destroy’ has nothing to do with eternal security, but rather the idea of spiritual disaster relative to the life’s testimony. In verse 16, we have a “Critical Comment” “Let not then your good be evil spoken of” the strong brother was using his liberty to the detriment of the weak brother, and as a result causing the ungodly to reproach.
5. Wonderful Message (verses 17-23). In verses 17-19 we have Salvation, the apostle is dealing a death blow to the ritualist, the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, not something outward, or material, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, an inward spiritual experience. Righteousness, peace and joy, this is the order in which these three great blessings are expounded in the epistle to the Romans. In verses 20-21 we have Submission, no dogmatism, no default simply accepting the Word of God, the challenge is then addressed to the strong brother “Hast thou faith, have it to yourself before God” the lesson here for us is simply this; the spiritually strong must not impose upon those who are weak! What a message for our day! Each of us has a peculiar path to tread, which cannot be exchanged, it is our own by divine decree. How many have tried to copy the exploits of others and failed, there must be a personal conviction, imitating or persuasion is simply not enough! In verse 23, we have, Sincerity, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” there must be sincerity of purpose, we must be straightforward and candid in our dealings with our fellow believers having always God’s glory and their good in view!
It is argued by some that there cannot be much wrong with Infant Sprinkling, since many good men have practised it. Scripture lays it down, however, that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Not a few Christian writers who have practised it have themselves confessed that Infant Sprinkling is without any authority in the Word. Let me quote from the writings of some of these :
Bishop Ryle says, “Anything contrary to that Book, however specious, plausible, beautiful, and apparently desirable, we will not have at any price. It may be endorsed by fathers, schoolmen, and catholic writers, etc., but it signifies nothing. Give us rather a few plain texts ... We hold it is wrong to tell men that they are children of God, and members of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven, unless they really overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. In short, we believe that where there is nothing seen, there is nothing possessed.”
Martin Luther wrote: “It cannot be proved by the sacred Scripture that Infant Baptism was instituted by Christ or begun by the first Christians after the Apostles.”
Neander: “Infant Baptism was established neither by Christ nor the Apostles.”
Calvin : “It is nowhere expressed by the Evangelists that infants were baptized.”
Dean Stanley: “For the first thirteen centuries the almost universal practice of baptism was that of which we read in the New Testament (i.e. immersion), and which is the very meaning of the word.”
Dr. Wall: “Among all the persons that are regarded as baptized by the Apostles there is no express mention of any infant;” and again, “As for sprinkling, properly called, it seems it was at 1645 just then beginning and used by very few.”
John Wesley: “Mary Welsh, aged eleven days, was baptized according to the custom of the first church, and the rule of the church of England, by immersion.”
Jeremy Taylor: “It is against the perpetual analogy of Christ’s doctrine to baptize infants.”
Prof. Moses Stuart: “Commands or plain and certain examples relative to it in the New Testament I do not find.”
Bishop Moule: “In the New Testament we have not indeed any mention of Infant Baptism.”
Dr. T. P. Forsyth : “There is no Infant Baptism in the New Testament; I mean in the presence of the New Testament. We have originally in the New Testament only adult and believers’ baptism.”
Dr. Plummer: “Not only is there no mention of the baptizing of infants, but there is no text from which it can be securely inferred.”
Dr. Vincent Taylor: “Baptism, for example, must have contributed powerfully to the idea of fellowship with Christ. Entrance into the waters reminded him of dying with Christ; immersion, of His burial; and the emergence, of His resurrection.”
Sunday and Headlam: “Baptism expresses symbolically a series of acts: Immersion—death, Submersion—burial (the ratification of death), and Emergence—resurrection.”
Prof. Peake: “The rite of baptism in which the person baptized was first buried beneath the water and then raised from it.”
Mr. Wm. Hoste, B.A. was prevented by scruples as to the baptismal service from “taking holy orders.” I once had the same difficulties myself,” said a clergyman to him. “And how did you get over them?” he was asked. “I did not get over them at all,” was the answer, “I just got ordained and I was never troubled again.”
Mr. V. P. Martzinkovski in “With Christ in Soviet Russia,” tells of how he discussed baptism with a bishop who, being unable to defend the practice of Infant Baptism, confessed that the real aim is the holding of the masses of the people, saying, “If we abolish the baptism of infants the people would forsake us.”
Though we have made these quotations, we do not question the integrity of all who practice Infant Sprinkling. Many, we doubt not, do it conscientiously. Their own authorities, however, as we have shown, admit it is unscriptural. Let us therefore turn from men to God and to the Word of His grace, and let us keep the ordinance as delivered unto us by Him.
The word “temperance,” in 2 Peter i. 6, means a great deal more than what is usually understood by that term. It is customary to apply the expression “temperance” to a habit of moderation in reference to eating and drinking. No doubt it fully involves this, but it involves very much more. Indeed, the Greek word used by the inspired apostle may, with strict propriety, be rendered “self-control.” It gives the idea of one who has self habitually well reined in.
This is a rare and admirable grace, diffusing its hallowed influence over the entire course, character and conduct. It not only bears directly upon one, or two, or twenty selfish habits, but upon self, in all the length and breadth of that comprehensive and most odious term. Many a one who would look with proud disdain upon a glutton or a drunkard, may himself fail, every hour, in exhibiting the grace of self-control. True it is that gluttony and drunkenness should be ranged with the very vilest and most demoralising forms of selfishness. They must be regarded amongst the most bitter clusters that grow on that wide-spreading tree. But, then, self is a tree, and not a mere branch of a tree, or a cluster on a branch; and we should not only judge self when it works, but control it that it may not work.
Some, however, may ask, “How can we control self?” The answer is blessedly simple: “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me” (Phil. iv). Have we not gotten salvation in Christ? Yes, blessed be God, we have. And what does this wondrous word include? Is it mere deliverance from the wrath to come? Is it merely the pardon of our sins, and the assurance of exemption from the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone? It is far more than these, precious and priceless though they be. In a word, then, “salvation” implies a full and hearty acceptance of Christ as my “wisdom,” to guide me out of folly’s dark and devious paths, into paths of heavenly light and peace; as my “righteousness” to justify me in the sight of a holy God; as my “sanctification,” to make me practically holy in all my ways; and as my “redemption” to give me final deliverance from all the power of death, and entrance upon the eternal fields of glory.
Hence, therefore, it is evident that “self-control” is included in the salvation which we have in Christ. It is a result of that practical sanctification with which divine grace has endowed us. We should carefully guard against the habit of taking a narrow view of salvation. We should seek to enter into all its fullness. It is a word which stretches from everlasting to everlasting and takes in, in its mighty sweep, all the practical details of daily life. I have no right to talk of salvation, as regards my soul, in the future, while I refuse to know and exhibit its practical bearing upon my conduct, in the present. We are saved, not only from the guilt and condemnation of sin, but also, and as fully, from the power, the practice and the love of it. These things should never be separated, nor will they by any one who has been divinely taught the meaning, the extent and the power of that precious word “salvation.”
Now, in presenting to my reader a few practical sentences on the subject of self-control, I shall contemplate it under the three following divisions, namely—the thoughts, the tongue, and the temper. I take it for granted that I am addressing a saved person. If my reader be not that, I can only direct him to the one true and living way, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts xvi.) Put your whole trust in Him, and you shall be as safe as He is Himself.
(1) And first, as to our thoughts, and the habitual government thereof. I suppose there are few Christians who have not suffered from evil thoughts—those troublesome intruders upon our most profound retirement—those constant disturbers of our mental repose, that so frequently darken the atmosphere around us and prevent us from getting a full, clear view upward into the bright heaven above. The Psalmist could say, “I hate vain thoughts.” No wonder. They are truly hateful and should be judged, condemned and expelled. Some one, in speaking of the subject of evil thoughts, has said, “I cannot prevent birds from flying over me, but I can prevent their alighting upon me. In like manner, I cannot prevent evil thoughts being suggested to my mind, but I can refuse them a lodgment.”
But how can we control our thoughts? No more than we could blot out our sins, or create a world. What are we to do? Look to Christ. This is the true secret of self-control. He can keep us, not only from the lodgment, but also from the suggestion of the evil thoughts. We could no more prevent the one than the other. He can prevent both. He can keep the vile intruders, not only from getting in, but even from knocking at the door. When the divine life is in energy—when the current of spiritual thought and feeling is deep and rapid—when the heart’s affections are intensely occupied with the Person of Christ, vain thoughts do not trouble us. It is only when spiritual indolence creeps over us that evil thoughts—vile and horrible progeny!—come in upon us like a flood; and then our only resource is to look straight to Jesus. We might as well attempt to cope with the marshalled hosts of hell as with a horde of evil thoughts. Our refuge is in Christ. He is made unto us sanctification. We can do all things through Him. We have just to bring the name of Jesus to bear upon the flood of evil thoughts, and He will most assuredly give full and immediate deliverance.
However, the more excellent way is to be preserved from the suggestions of evil, by the power of pre-occupation with good. When the channel of thought is decidedly upward, when it is deep and well formed, free from all curves and indentations, then the current of imagination and feeling, as it gushes up from the deep fountains of the soul, will naturally flow onward in the bed of that channel. This, I repeat, is, unquestionably, the more excellent way. May we prove it in our own experience. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil. iv. 8, 9). When the heart is fully engrossed with Christ, the living embodiment of all those things enumerated in verse 8, we enjoy profound peace, unruffled by evil thoughts. This is true self-control.
(2) And now, as to the tongue, that influential member, so fruitful in good, so fruitful in evil—the instrument whereby we can either give forth accents of soft and soothing sympathy, or words of bitter sarcasm and burning indignation. How deeply important is the grace of self-control in its application to such a member! Mischief, which years cannot repair, may be done by the tongue in
a moment. Words, which we would give the world, if we had it, to recall, may be uttered by the tongue in an unguarded hour. Hear what the inspired apostle saith on this subject: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. ... The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3. 2-8).
Who, then, can control the tongue? “No man” can do it; but Christ can; and we have only to look to Him, in simple faith, which implies, at once, the sense of our own utter helplessness and His all-sufficiency. It is utterly impossible that we could control the tongue. As well might we attempt to stem the ocean’s tide, the mountain torrent, or the Alpine avalanche. How often, when suffering under the effects of some egregious blunder of the tongue, have we resolved to command that unruly member somewhat better next time; but, alas! our resolution proved to be like the morning cloud that passeth away, and we had only to retire and weep over our lamentable failure in the matter of self-control. Now, why was this? Simply because we undertook the matter in our own strength, or, at least, without a sufficiently deep consciousness of our own weakness. This is the cause of constant failure. We must cling to Christ as the babe clings to its mother. Thus alone can we successfully bridle the tongue. And oh! let us remember the solemn, searching words of the same apostle, James, “If any man (man, woman or child) among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” (chap. 1. 26). These are wholesome words for a day like the present, when there are so many unruly tongues abroad. May we have grace to attend to these words! May their holy influence appear in our ways!
(3) The last point to be considered is the temper, which is intimately connected with both the tongue and the thoughts. Indeed, all three are very closely linked. When
the spring of thought is spiritual and the current heavenly, the tongue is only the active agent for good, and the temper is calm and unruffled. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith regulates everything. Without Him all is worse than worthless. We must remember that the word is “Add to your faith” This puts faith first, as the only link to connect the heart with Christ, the living source of all power. Having Christ, and abiding in Him, we are enabled to add “courage, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity.” Such are the precious fruits that flow from abiding in Christ. But I can no more control my temper than my tongue or my thoughts; and if I set about it, I shall be sure to break down every hour. A mere philosopher without Christ may exhibit more self-control, as to tongue and temper, than a Christian if he abides not in Christ. This ought not to be, and would not be, if the Christian simply looked to Jesus. It is when he fails in this that the enemy gains the advantage. The philosopher, without Christ, seems to succeed in the great business of self-control, only that he may be the more effectually blinded as to the truth of his condition and carried headlong to eternal ruin. But Satan delights to make a Christian stumble and fall, only that he may thereby blaspheme the precious name of Christ.
Look to Christ to control our thoughts, our tongue and our temper. Let us “give all diligence.” Let us think how much is involved. Tf these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” This is deeply solemn. How easy it is to drop into a state of spiritual blindness and forgetfulness! No amount of knowledge, either of doctrine or the letter of scripture, will preserve the soul from this awful condition. Nothing but “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” will avail; and this knowledge is to be increased in the soul by “giving all diligence to add to our faith” the various graces to which the apostle refers in the above eminently practical and soul-stirring passage. “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
The Apostle John, who presents the Son of God, also notices many traits of the Lord’s perfect manhood.
Thirst (John 4. 7; 19. 28).
Fatigue (John 4. 6).
Love (John 4. 2, Gk. Philein).
To these might be added those traits of His manhood given by the other evangelists—
Hunger (Matt. 4. 2).
Joy (Luke 10. 21).
Sorrow (Mark 3. 5).
Anger (Mark 3. 5).
Perfect Man! “Jesus wept.” Immanuel in tears!
We must be careful to distinguish the word used in v. 35 of John xi., from the word used in vv. 31, 33. The latter is translated “bewail” in Rev. 18. 9, whereas the word in v. 35 refers to silent weeping. One has said, “It says just so much as that ‘tears fell from Him’.” Once, as we shall see presently, it is recorded that Jesus “wept with the sorrow of lamentation” (Luke 19. 41, the same word as is used in John 11. 31-33.
In John 11. 35, we have a pious, affectionate tribute of tears. The Jews were constrained to say, “Behold, how He loved ‘him’!” (v. 36).
Ponder the following (read the R.V. and note its margin):
John 11. 33—He restrained His tears.
John 11. 35—He relieved His tears in silence.
John 11. 38—He broke off (retained) His tears—they ceased to flow.
Perfect and complete self-control!
Thus Jesus shared their sorrow, whilst He knew the issue (compare vv. 4, 40, “The glory of God”). Deeply moved, the word of power and the act of power was with Him. Hence also we read in v. 15, “He was glad” and in v. 41, “Father, I thank thee,’’etc.
He was more than conqueror! His friends shared the spoil, as He had shared their sorrows.
Lazarus was raised and liberated. “The Jews ... believed on Him” (v. 45). Others desired to see Lazarus (chap. 12. 9), whilst “the chief priests consulted, that they might put Lazarus also to death” (vv. 10, 11 of John 12)
Come now to His sorrow and lamentation (Luke 19. 41). Here we have the compassionate lamentation of “the King” over impetitent Jerusalem, already overshadowed by impending calamity, of which its inhabitants were unconscious.
His “woes” had gone forth, as also He had sought to “woo” them in grace and love, now He “weeps” and laments their doom. It was drawing nigh! “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”
Their King, unknown by them, lamented their dreadful desolation. They are seeing Him for the last time, “until He shall come again in the Name of the Lord” (Matt, 23. 39).
A profound impression was made upon the mind of Jonathan; the events of past days, months and years, we can assume, had caused him much misgiving and concern. We should recognise that the standing of Israel, as the people of God, and their highest interests, were ever very close to his heart. The coming of David, his righteous indignation at the affront of the Philistine challenge, his surprise that such a situation could exist, his immediate unpremeditated response to the emergency, and sublime confidence in God, had deeply impressed Jonathan; indeed, not a word or movement would escape his notice.
Did Jonathan come to understand something of the purposes of God about the future ruler of His people? The fear of God, the fruit of a Godly life, was so evident in David. Did the Spirit of God exercise Jonathan’s mind in these matters? There were answering chords in the soul of Jonathan to those that vibrated so strongly in David’s words and deeds and conduct. Verse 1: “And it came to pass that when he had ended speaking to Saul that the soul of Jonathan was “knit” with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Verse 3: “And Jonathan and David made a covenant because he loved him as his own soul”—a step of great significance for Jonathan.
Verse 4: “And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him—princely attire, a status symbol—and gave it to David; and his garments, i.e. soldier’s dress (N. Tr.), all other attire excepted; even to his sword—symbol of authority (Romans 13 v. 4), and to his bow and to his girdle.” Nothing is kept back, all were essential and appropriate to a warrior king, and all accepted by David, who was to Jonathan a God-appointed deliverer and leader. Surely unreserved subservience is strongly implied here, though he was a much older man than David.
All these attitudes and actions of Jonathan are recorded under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and how should they not be pondered in the light of this and subsequent events; “Knit” in this setting is emphatic, suggesting both purpose and permanence, and indicating perfect accord. Jonathan takes the lower station, giving precedence to David. Preeminence is the New Testament word, and he did not spare himself when he accorded it as Divinely bestowed to David. “He must increase” says John the Baptist of our Lord Jesus, and I must decrease,” and Jonathan’s attitude to David corresponds to this under, we believe, the constraint of the Holy Spirit, and in accord with the settled purposes of God, see Gen. 49, v. 10, which He will surely bring to pass in His time.
Jonathan’s act was one of very rare humility, delightful to contemplate. He, who is heir apparent to the throne takes the lower place, and this is pivotal in the future relationship of these two Old Testament saints. The spiritual man holds lightly the honours and preferences that are dear to the carnal mind. David did not greedily grasp at them with their very grave responsibilities, when they were Divinely bestowed in later years. David, meaning “beloved,” had transcended Jonathan’s highest ideal, and Jonathan, meaning “gift of Jehovah,” was now surely God’s gift to David in view of the troubled years at hand.
Saul had in past years shown himself to be a man of valour and a deliverer of his people, ch. 14 vv. 47-48; now another is God’s choice as is now publicly evident. Cannot Saul also discern it? A like tribute to that paid to Saul is now paid to David, verses 6-7, and in the general acclaim David is given greater prominence than Saul in the refrain sung by women to the accompaniment of simple instruments of music. Saul has slain his thousands—a glowing tribute —and David his ten thousands—a superlative tribute. (Ten thousand is generally the highest scriptural numeral, see N.Tr. notes on Gen. 24 v. 60). Saul’s reaction to this is very grievous. Bereft of the Holy Spirit’s ministry he cannot now, as he once did, accept adverse opinion with humility; (ch. 10 v. 27 and ch. 11 vv. 12-13). The national interests are subjected to his personal prestige and power. No longer does he rule in the fear of God, but as a despot, ruthless and cruel and fear of Saul becomes abundantly evident. Vv. 8-9 make sad reading.
In v. 10, Saul is again seen under evil spirit domination, and David is the object of a fierce jealousy which he cannot control. While David ministers to Saul by skilful sympathetic use of his harp, he is twice assailed but is preserved. The remaining twenty or so verses of chapter 18 are briefly summarised in the last clause of v. 29: “Saul became David’s enemy continually;” contrasting so vividly with v. 30: “David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul so that his name was much set by,” “precious” (Marg. rend.).