The seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the apostles supplies us with the historical background to this letter of Pauls to the church at Thessalonica, and should be read carefully prior to the closer study of the letter itself. Paul adhered to the practice of going to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles, so that after three weeks, witnessing in the synagogues, and being harassed and driven out by the Jews, ch. 2, verses 15 to 17, he turned to the Gentiles and found a more ready response, for many believed. Because of the jeopardy which he had placed himself and others in, he left Thessalonica hurriedly, though reluctantly, and went on to Berea. From there he went on to Athens, but in heart he was still in Thessalonica. How were they faring? Would they endure the persecution he knew them to be suffering? Had his hurried departure been misunderstood? Would he be misjudged as to his motives? It was for this cause he sent Timothy back while he himself went on to Corinth. There he waited patiently for his return, which when he came brought news that was both comforting and encouraging and he writes to tell them so, and to instruct them in things he had obviously been unable to do because of his hurried departure, ch. 3,1-8.
Of the 89 verses that comprise this letter, some 26 refer to Paul and his associates, 45 to the Thessalonians, and the remainder to Christian doctrine, chiefly in relation to the Lord's second coming, from which we gather that Paul's desire is to see the features of Christ reproduced in them. (See chapter 4, verses 1-12). In persuance of this one aim, he unfolds to them some of the deep underlying motives for his behaviour, for example is better than precept.
Here are six things that characterised this prince of preachers, which, if observed by all would-be preachers today would greatly enhance their effectiveness in the Lord's work.
1. HIS CONFLICT.
See ch. 2. verses 1 and 2.
2. HIS CONVICTION.
See ch. 2. verses 2 and 3.
3. HIS CLARITY.
See ch. 2. verse 5.
4. HIS CONSCIENCE.
See ch. 2. verses 5 and 10.
5. HIS COMPASSION.
See ch. 2. verses 8 and 9.
6. HIS CONDUCT.
See ch. 2. verses 9 and 10.
1. HIS CONFLICT.
The memory of the shameful treatment and outrage suffered at Philippi as well as the experiences at Thessalonica- must have been fresh in his mind but were never strong enough to deter or discourage him from his task of preaching the gospel. Paul had been fortified against this from the very first. The words of the Lord Jesus through Ananias at his conversion was "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my sake." After a very brief period of witnessing in the synagogues at Damascus, the Jews there were so infuriated at his preaching that they watched the city's gates day and night to kill him. Acts ch. 9, 1-25. Wherever he goes it is the same. Antioch in ch. 13. Iconium, Lystra, Derbe in ch. 14. Philippi in ch. 16. Corinth in ch. 18. Ephesus in ch. 19, etc, in every city, bonds and afflictions abide me, he says. Yet none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself. Acts 20, vs. 22-24.
To take sides openly on the side of Christ in an hostile world will involve persecution in some measure, but ought we not to expect it? should we run away from it? If any man suffer as a Christian the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon him. He that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. II Tim. ch. 3 v. 12.
There is also another aspect of conflict, i.e. the spiritual, see such scriptures as Ephesians ch. 6. verses 10-18 : II Cor. ch. 10, verses 3 and 4. From this there is no discharge.
2. CONVICTION, v. 4.
The dictionary definition is 'a settled belief.' Paul was never in doubt as to the dignity conferred upon him in being entrusted with the gospel, of which he was not ashamed, v. 4. But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; In II Tim. 1 v. 11 he speaks of being appointed a preacher, and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles. Again, in I Cor. ch. 4 v. 1. Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. As such, he is aware that he will one day give an account of his stewardship. In writing to Timothy he enjoins him to keep that which is committed to his trust. I Tim. ch. 6 v. 20, and again. The things which thou hast heard of me the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. Is this the reason why he uses the phrase 'This is a faithful saying' so much in the pastoral letters? To Paul there could be no substitute for the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Nothing could be added to make it more attractive.
Are we today losing confidence in the message we preach? or determined not to know anything among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I Cor. ch. 2, v. 4.
3. CLARITY, v. 5.
In this he employed no flattery, no cover up methods, no deceit, no persuasive words of man's wisdom, no endeavour to please his hearers, no guile, (if II Cor. ch. 12 v. 16 seems to be a contradiction, see Weymouth's translation.) his endeavour at all times was to speak words easy to understand, that by them he might teach others also I Cor. 14 v. 19. In the world of music, no instrument makes sense unless there is a meaningful variation in the sounds produced. So also in the military field. If the trumpet give an uncertain sound it fails in its purpose. It is useless. See Num. ch 10 verses 1-13. The example of Ezra might be emulated here when reading the scriptures or preaching. "They read in the book of the law of the Lord, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading, and they made great mirth because they had understood the words that had been declared unto them.' Neh. ch. 8. verses 5-12. Surely, all who preach and pray publicly should endeavour to make their voice heard, or how can those who listen say 'amen'?
(To be continued)
Eternal life has been erroneously regarded by some as synonymous with immortality. The mistake is a serious one, because it confounds what God has given to all men in the way of nature with what His grace bestows on those who believe in His Son. By the divine in-breathing at the beginning God was pleased to confer upon our race a character of being which is inextinguishable. This we call immortality ; and it is possessed by all men alike, whether their eternal destiny be one of bliss or woe.
Eternal life is a totally distinct thing. It is most certain that the contemporaries of our Lord regarded it as an immense boon to be earnestly desired; the various questions that were addressed to Him concerning it leading us to this conclusion. All his enquiries seemed to be of one mind in supposing it to be the reward of human effort; the earnest young ruler of Mark x. and the cautious lawyer of Luke x. both putting their question in the same form : "Master, what must I DO to inherit eternal life?" It was natural that they should speak thus; for among men every desirable thing is only obtained by money or toil. Yet if they had realised man's true condition in God's sight, and their own condition in particular they would have expressed themselves differently. Has not the Spirit of God described men as "dead in trespasses and sins?" (Eph ii. 1). What can the dead do? Did not the Saviour liken men to a debtor who "had nothing to pay?" (Luke vii. 42). What price can bankrupts render?
The truth is, eternal life is the gift of God. As Paul expresses it: "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. vi. 23). Here we have the principle on which God grants this inestimable boon. It is not the reward of good works, or it would be a debt (Rom. iv. 4); it is the gift of sovereign love to those who could neither do nor pay anything in order to secure it. The ground on which eternal life is given is fully expressed in our Lord's familiar words to Nicodemus, recorded in John iii. 14-16. His cross the satisfaction of God's righteousness and the mighty expression of God's love, has made it possible for Him to confer eternal life on all who obey the Gospel.
Eternal life has two aspects. Scripture speaks of it both as a present possession and as a prize to be gained at the Lord's coming. The one aspect is to be found in the writings of John; the other in the writings of Paul. John's words are most explicit: "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life" (I John v. 11-12). This is a great reality, to be enjoyed here and now by every believer. Its grand characteristic is the knowledge of the Father and the Son. Paul's language runs differently :
"The end, everlasting life" (Rom. vi. 22). Is this contradiction of the teaching of the beloved Apostle? By no means. Paul's thought includes the body as well as the soul; it looks on, therefore, to the glorious moment of the Lord's return when the bodies of all the objects of His love will be instantaneously transformed, and become instinct with eternal life even as their souls are now. As the same inspired writer strikingly puts it in II Cor. v. 4 :
"Mortality will be swallowed up of life."
FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS (5) THE MERCY OF GOD
by J. B. HEW1TT, Chesterfield
The contemplation of God's mercy fills our souls with humility and praise, two virtues acceptable in the sight of God. The word "mercy" and its synonyms occur over three hundred and forty times in the Bible.
Our God is rich in mercy; "it is everlasting," tender, plenteous, great and abundant. Read and meditate on Psalm 136; "for His mercy endureth for ever."
Mercy is warm affection demonstrated to the needy, helpless and distressed. It is compassionate treatment of an enemy. It is that adorable perfection in God by which He pities and relieves the miserable. Mercy reminds us of our miserable condition as children of wrath, and we cry out, "God be merciful to me a sinner" Luke 18. 13, 38.
Mercy is part of the character of God and is greatly to be praised. Psa. 136.1 ; 59.16; 62.12. His mercy is great Numb. 14.18; 1 Kings 3.6; plenteous Psa. 86.5, 86.15; 103.8; tender Psa. 25.6; 103.4; Luke 1.78; high as the heaven, Psa 36.5; 103.11; manifold Neh. 9.27; Lam. 3.32; new every morning Lam. 3.23; sure Isa. 55.3; Micah 7.20; filling the earth Psa. 119.64; abundant 1 Pet. 1.3; rich Eph. 2.4; over all His works Psa. 145.9; and are everlasting Psa. 103.17. Well may we say with the Psalmist, "I will sing aloud of Thy mercy." 59.16.
Wherein differs the "mercy" of God; from His. '"grace'"? Exod. 33.19. These words have much in common and yet there are shades of distinction between them. The mercy of God has its spring in the Divine goodness. Grace views man without merit; mercy views him as miserable.
This distinction is seen in the divine dealings with the unfallen angels. They are the objects of God's free and sovereign grace, but He has never exercised mercy toward them. Think of their election 1 Tim. 5.21; and of their preservation from apostacy, when Satan rebelled and dragged down many of the celestial host. Rev. 12.9. It was in grace that God made Christ their Head. Col. 2.10; 1 Pet. 3.22. Think of the exalted position which has been assigned them, Dan. 7.10; and their honourable commissions from Him. Heb. 1.14. God has dealt with the holy angels in grace, for they have not merited His favours.
Mercy and love are distinguished. Love may be for an equal; mercy can only exist for an inferior. The GENERAL mercy of God, is extended to the entire creation. Psa. 145.9; Acts 17.25.
God does show TEMPORAL mercy to the wicked but this is confined strictly to the present life, "for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good." Matt. 5.45. We rejoice in His SOVEREIGN mercy exercised through Christ and reserved for the heirs of salvation, it is regulated by His sovereign will Rom. 9.15.
It is manifested in God sending His Son as the dayspring from on high Luke 1.78. The Lord Jesus did not bring the mercy of God to us; it was the mercy of God that brought Christ to us. The Lord Jesus is the channel of mercy, but not the cause of mercy. The merits of Christ and His atoning work make it possible for God to righteously bestow mercy upon us, and save us Titus 3.5 Saul of Tarsus is a good example of the mercy of God in salvation 1 Tim. 1. 12,13. Our regeneration is due to the mercy of God Eph. 2.1-4; 1 Pet. 1.3.
Even the punishment of the wicked is an act of mercy. It is an act of justice, vindicating the honour of God; an act of equity, they are made to suffer the due reward of their iniquities Psa. 143.12; 136.15; Rev. 19.1-3. The Lord Jesus is the true Mercy-Seat and we have fled to Him for mercy Rom. 3.25. His vicarious death was an absolute necessity John 12.24; 8.28.
MERCY DELIGHTED IN
Let us rejoice in the spiritual mercies assured to us as the children of God. "He is plenteous in mercy and truth." Psa. 86.15. Is merciful to His people Deut. 32.43; to them that fear Him Psa. 103.17; Luke 1.50. By trusting in our God mercy shall compass him about Ps. 32.10.
Mercy is promised to the returning backslider. Jer. 3.12; Hos. 14.4; Joel 2.13; to the afflicted Isa. 49.13; 54.7. It was shown to Jonah and Nineveh Jon. 4.2. Our God is the Father of mercies 2 Cor. 1.3, and showed mercy to Epaphroditus Phil. 2.27, and to Paul, 1 Tim. 1.13.
Daily we experience the preserving, pardoning and sustaining mercy of our God. Exod. 15.13; Psa. 21.7; 59.16. His mercy is
M — manifold,
E — everlasting,
R — rich,
C — cheering, and for
Y — you.
Meditate on other Divine attributes. His foreknowledge, sovereignty, patience, love, faithfulness and wrath.
THE ETERNAL SONSHIP OF CHRIST
by JOHN NELSON DARBY
1 John 5 : 7
Though I have ever held this verse, to say the least, to be very doubtful from the course of the meaning, it is not to discuss this at present I write, but another point of importance—the use of the term Son.
There are those who, objecting to the term Son as applied to the divinity of our Lord, stand on the verge of, if not slipping into, confusion of the Person's.
It is the name of the Person, not the nature; and the Person is 'personally known to us, fully in the revelation of God in Jesus.
'But while no man knowing the Son but the Father, the manifestation of God in the Son—in Jesus—makes the language of man scarce preservable from error, if we wish to affirm things separately, of the natures when affirmed about the Son, yet is that which is revealed very distinct. But it is spoken about the Person into which the man was brought, and therefore is rightly spoken of Jesus, and the connecting point of faith, not to know there is a Son. bat that Jesus is the Son of God.
Nevertheless the works of God as such are directly attributed to the Son before the incarnation of, or rather in Jesus, and therefore we are justified (much more than justified) in speaking of the Son as we do in' the Trinity.
'Thus Heb. 1 has "spoken to us by the Son, ... by Whom also He made the worlds." We are therefore justified in speaking of the Son as before the worlds.
Again in Col. 1, where His whole personal glory is brought out—"In Whom we have redemption" (His dear Son) ". . . the forgiveness of sins : Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature : for by Him were all things created which are in heaven and upon earth . . . all things were created by Him" (i.e., the Son) "and for Him; and He is before all things," (the present state) "and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body" (His official glory), "the church, ... the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased"—not the Father, this much misleads, but — "the Godhead that in Him" (the Son) "should all fulness dwell" (to wit, in Jesus) — for in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
The Father dwelt in Him, and the Holy Ghost was upon Him in all its fulness of indwelling presence.
Could there, I need scarce say, be separation, but He was not the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, but the Son.
Though He did His works by the Spirit, and the Father that dwelt in Him did the works, all fulness dwelt in Him.
He was the Son, and by Him all things were reconciled, His actual efficient work.
In a word. God was in Christ, but there again we have the warrant for the speaking the name of His Person, as revealed to us of the Son as before the worlds, "In Whom"
Again, that our Lord was addressed as the Son in His Godhead is further manifest as it is said and written, ". . . unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, 0 God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom."
They therefore seem to err who do not give the title of Son to our Lord as connected with His Godhead, if they say this name is known to us only through His manifestation in the flesh.
I believe so surely, both of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost alike unknown to us before we knew them by the indwelling and revelation of Jesus, God manifest (in the flesh), illustrating His character and opening out the fulness more revealingly.
I feel it would be opening a gap for evil to acquiesce any further in this, for the Scripture does not acquiesce in it, though as stated below it is not only sound but blessed and glorious truth. But it is better to acquiesce in nothing but Scripture, for one does not know where it would carry one.
The Word was personally known to us as the Son revealing the Father by the Spirit, and we beheld that the glory of the Word was the glory even in Jesus of the only begotten with a Father, His nature, inheritance and dignity the same, though while humbled He gave the glory all to Him in all that is revealed in this.
I fear using the fountain of blessing and glory in men's cavils, distortion, and pride.
But I say we are scripturally justified, and bound to silence these cavils, in speaking of the Son as acting in His creative capacity in the Godhead before the worlds, although we know that Person, or any Person, by His incarnation in which centered the unfolding of the mystery.
But we are bound to hold to this most important and essential (strictly speaking essential) truth as connected with the revelation of anything and subjection to any truth at all, for all blessing flows from believing and receiving from the Father, by the Son and through the Holy Ghost—thus the revealed, known and worshipped source of all blessing, the sum of the mystery of godliness. God manifest in the flesh.
Nor is it less important that we should understand Son to be the name of the Person, not of the nature, for as we see that by Him He made the worlds. God over all blessed for evermore, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today and for ever," competent to sit in the glory of His Father's throne, and sitting there in the glory which He had with Him before the world was.
So also we know that "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law," than which indeed as magnifying the law nothing can be more wonderful; and "then shall the Son also Himself be subject to Him that did put all things under Him."
If we ask how can this be, we have the evidence of that in the fact of His having been so before; and thus the Lord secures and settles our faith, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit bringing us into blessing by giving us the facts of faith realized when they might be difficult of intelligence as to their internal possibility from our narrow nature and might be said to be contrary to natural possibility.
So it is written, "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour."
If we say He were not the Son till the incarnation, then do I utterly lose the link of connection of His being sent from above, for then were it only after He was a Man in the world that He was sent about as a Man, but no. He was sent into the world— not to multiply passages, which are innumerable, for our connection with God hangs upon it.
If therefore the name Word be applied to our Lord previously so as to deny the relationship of Son instead of, as I have said, further illustrating what He is. Whom none knoweth but the Father, then I say that is using the testimony of "the brightenss of His glory" to destroy a distinct glory and the first glory and blessing of Christianity, i.e. in relation to us.
Moreover the full glory of our Lord's headship hangs Upon the recognition of this truth, for as Firstborn of every creature it is by Him all things were created. So that the headship of creation in the Son rests upon this "for by Him ..."
'Hence we strike at the sphere of our Lord's glory if we strike at the creative Sonship.
It is most important therefore as regards our relationship to God — that first link in the chain that brings us to God, gives us fellowship with the Father, and is the spring therefore of all this very point.
The Father sent the Son ... it is what each were, the Sender and the Sent. I know nothing previous to this.
It is the Son that is the "brightness," only I did not know this nor Him till the incarnation, nor did a Gentile till the resurrection, nor indeed any till it pleased God to reveal it in Him, though there are full glimpses of it and statements in the Old Testament.
Nor did I know the Father a bit more, nor the Holy Spirit in His indwelling, though holy men spake by Him.
No more than I know the Son till taught of Him (though He made the worlds), nor the Father till the Son reveal Him.
But the office of Christianity is to reveal the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to make known this relationship in the Godhead (in our enjoyment of the results) into which the creature is brought in blessings in the intelligent. Spirit-taught and quickened church, the personal fulness of Him Who being such filleth all in all because the fulness dwelt in Him.
This is most important as regards His glory because the creative power is thus associated with redemptive power— is associated with, as the basis of the headship glory.
The 30th of Proverbs vv. 1-6 is a most important passage, humbling us to profit, and yet opening to faith what man cannot enter into—a very important passage.
I have made this memorandum not to prove (it is known by communion in my own soul, i.e., to myself, communion with the Father by Him), but to show its importance because of the destructiveness of breaking the blessed link. The Word is our most important revelation of what He the Lord is—most important.
The Son is another most important revelation, of what He, Jesus, is — the revelation, the name, the truth of His relationship in person in God, or in the Godhead.
If we do not see Him in this with the Father, we lose all the value of it in Him as incarnate.
It is another revelation about Him ....
No one can give me the partakings of the divine nature.
No one can call me into this relationship in integral blessing unless he be in it vitally, unless he be in it in His union with the Father . . .
Therefore the holy thing born of the virgin is called the Son of God, and in Him the fulness is manifested ever of God, and yet we are adopted into it further.
Officially the Word, might I not say, constitutes the apostle-ship, the Son the priesthood of Christ, both exercised as a Man, but in both competent for it from their respective characters. In a word. He is the Son.
As to any question arising from the term "begotten," it is only weakness itself, for if we argue from the Word, He was a Son before He was begotten, for the resurrection was the day He was begotten, yet was He not a Son while walking on the earth ?
When He made the worlds He was a Son. I know Him as a Son in all that He is, and His acts, through some of them here. "Though He were a Son" — I see it as clearly as God's own truth, and it is in this I 'have to be receptive of truth by God in grace, not judging by my poor incapable intellect.
The love of the truth is a great matter in subjection of spirit, not to lay down the imaginations of man, but to be thankful for the communion of God, and not to depart, or bear departure from the Scriptures.
When we have to speak. God's Spirit will teach us what to say. As for me, I feel I may err in every word. I resist utterly when the truth of God is set aside, yea I trust ever will. by His grace.
As for me myself, I am but as the beasts that perish incapable of these things to know them. As revealed they are all my blessing, for God is revealed (reveals Himself) in them to me, so that one is taught of God's Spirit. I could not depart from them. I hold them fast with life. They are between me and my God in thought. I defend them and I do not discuss them with men as questions. I speak of matters of faith which have been made known by faith to me, as God gives me utterance, and I recur to His word to guard as it teaches them where His Spirit is. I hold it vital to hold the Sonship before the worlds. It is the truth.
(The language of J.N.D. is always difficult to follow, but we thought our readers would like to see his firm belief in the Eternal Sonship of Christ.—Ed.).
by W. W. FEREDAY
The great Apostle of the Gentiles was most emphatic when he wrote "without holiness no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. xii. 14). The nature of God being immaculate in holiness none can tread His courts who do not answer morally to that nature. It is impossible that anything defiling should enter there, or anyone who works abomination.
Holiness may be distinguished from righteousness thus :
the latter is consistency in one's relationships ; the former is an inherent abhorrence of iniquity, and delight in what is excellent and good. Measured 'by such a standard as this, every member of our fallen race stands disqualified by nature from the presence of God. In this "there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. iii. 23). It would be as reasonable to expect to gather figs of thistles, or grapes of thorns, as to look for natural holiness in a single action of the first man. It is the 'beginning of good things with a man when this is frankly and humbly acknowledged before God.
Here Christ comes in as the sinner's only hope. Himself the Holy One of God, on whom death had no claim, and for whom judgment had no meaning, in His grace He condescended to suffer and die for the sins and unholiness of others. Risen from the dead. He is presented by God to all as the One who meets every need. To the Corinthian believers the Spirit wrote : "Of Him (God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification (or holiness), and redemption" (I Cor. i. 30). Every believer has in Christ a new and absolutely holy life and nature, which enables him to delight himself in God, and which fits him for the divine presence for ever.
Holiness in the daily life flows from the realisation of this. The true Christian yearns to be practically consistent with what God has made him in Christ. He does not occupy his mind with himself, but with Christ, to Whose image he earnestly longs to 'be fully conformed. He looks no longer for any good thing in the flesh ; instead, he treats it in faith as a crucified thing, and seeks to develop his new man by the power of the Holy Ghost. He keeps before him continually the important exhortation in I Peter i. 15-16, "as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in' all manner of conversation (or behaviour); because it is written. Be ye holy, for I am holy." In accordance with this, he yields his members "servants to righteousness unto holiness" (Rom. vi. 19). Affliction, when it comes, he welcomes as discipline from God, sent for his profit, that he may become a partaker practically of God's holiness (Heb. xii. 10).
What a wonder-working God is ours, who is able to take up sin-stained children' of the fall, and produce in them a nature and character which answer in every respect to His own! The beginning, or first step, in the path of true holiness is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Would you permit a brief comment on part of the article entitled 'JUSTIFICATION,' that appeared in the Sept./Oct. 1979 issue of 'Assembly Testimony.'
The passage under question is as follows:
"The Apostle James has been thought to contradict in his epistle the Pauline doctrine of Justification by faith. Whatever difficulty the reader may find vanishes immediately when the fact is grasped that Paul is occupied (in Rom. 3-5) with the justification of the ungodly, while James (in Ch. 2) speaks of the justification of the godly. The one is before God and the other is before men. God justifies the ungodly on the principle of faith; it is of grace alone, works being altogether excluded: the godly justify themselves (i.e. their confession) before men by their good works."
The point under review is the assumption that James 2 "speaks of the justification of the godly . . . before men."
Consider the incidents associated with the justification of Abraham and Rahab mentioned in James 2 v. 21, 25. Did any human eye witness Abraham offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? Would such an act justify Abraham before men? Would men not rather have condemned Abraham for such a barbarous murder?
Or consider the case of Rahab. Would her fellow-citizens have justified the act of receiving the messengers and sending them out another way? Would they not rather have condemned her as a traitor? And on what grounds could you classify Rahab the harlot as godly?
The conclusion is obvious; "IT IS GOD THAT JUSTIFIES" Rom. 8. 33 and NOT men.
It is true that James does not contradict Paul; faith and work cannot be divorced. Paul commends the Thessalonians for "your work of faith" Ch. 1 v. 3, and writes to the Galatians in Ch. 5 v. 6 of "faith which worketh by love." But what Paul strenuously resists is the Judaistic error of justification through "the works of the law." Paul puts it positively in Romans and negatively in Galatians.
"We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" Rom. 3. v. 28. R.V.
"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law" Gal. 2 v. 16.
Yet what Paul just as strongly commanded was that "they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works" Titus 3 v. 8. This is a matter that he refers to again and again. e.g. Eph. 2 v.10; I Tim. 5 v.9; I Tim. 6 v.18; Titus 2 v.7; Titus 2 v.14.
Nor indeed was Paul the originator of such teaching on "good works," he was but "consenting to sound words, even the word's of our Lord Jesus Christ" I Tim. 6 v. 3, for did not He teach ...
"'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
We conclude then that Paul makes a world of difference between "good works" and "the works of the law."
PRAYER AND THE PRAYER MEETING
by C. H. M.
In considering the deeply important subject of prayer, two things claim our attention : first, the moral basis of prayer; secondly, its moral conditions.
1. The basis if prayer is set forth in such words as the following : "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (John xv. 7). Again, "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." (1 John iii. 21, 22). So also, when the blessed apostle seeks an interest in the prayers of the saints, he sets forth the moral basis of his appeal—"Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." (Heb. xiii. 18).
From these passages, and many more of like import, we learn that, in order to effectual prayer, there must be an obedient heart, an upright mind, a good conscience. If the soul be not in communion with God—if it be not abiding in Christ—if it be not ruled by his holy commandments—if the eye be not single, how could we possibly look for answer to our prayer? We should, as the apostle James says, be "asking amiss, that we may consume it upon our lusts." How could God, as a holy Father, grant such petitions? Impossible.
How very needful, therefore it is to give earnest heed to the moral basis on which our prayers are presented. How could the apostle have asked the brethren to pray for him, if he had not a good conscience, a single eye, an upright mind —the moral persuasion that in all things be really wished to live honestly? We may safely assert, he could do no such thing.
But may we not often detect ourselves in the habit of lightly and formally asking others to pray for us? It is a very common formula amongst us—"Remember me in your prayers," and most surely nothing can be more blessed or precious than to be borne upon the hearts of God's dear people in their approaches to the mercy-seat; but do we sufficiently attend to the moral basis? When we say, "Brethren, pray for us," can we add, as in the presence of the Searcher of hearts, "For we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly?" And when we ourselves bow before the throne of grace, is it with an uncondemning heart—and upright mind—a single eye—a soul really abiding in Christ, and keeping His commandments?
These, beloved reader are searching questions. They go right to the very centre of the heart—down to the very roots and moral springs of our being. But it is well to be thoroughly searched in reference to everything, but especially in reference to prayer. There is a terrible amount of unreality in our prayers—a sad lack of the moral basis—a vast amount of "asking amiss."
Hence, the want of power and efficacy in our prayers— hence, the formality—the routine—yea, the positive hypocrisy. The Psalmist says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." How solemn this is! Our God will have reality; He desireth truth in the inward parts. He, blessed be His name, is real with us, and He will have us real with Him. He will have us coming before Him as we really are, and with what we really want.
How often, alas! it is otherwise, both in private and in public! How often are our prayers more like orations than petitions—more like statements of doctrine than utterances of need! It seems, at times, as though, we meant to explain principles to God, and give Him a large amount of information.
These are the things which cast a withering influence over our prayer-meetings, robbing them of their freshness, their interest, and their value. Those who really know what prayer is—who feel its value, and are conscious of their need of it, attend the prayer-meeting in order to pray, not to hear orations, lectures, and expositions from men on their knees. If they want lectures, they can attend at the lecture-hall or the preaching-room; but when they go to the prayer-meeting. it is to pray. To them, the prayer-meeting is the place of expressed need and expected blessing—the place of expressed weakness and expected power. Such is their idea of "the place where prayer is wont to be made;" and therefore when they flock thither, they are not disposed or prepared to listen to long preaching prayers, which would be deemed barely tolerable if delivered from the desk, but which are absolutely insufferable in the shape of prayer.
We write plainly, because we feel the need of great plainness of speech. We deeply feel our want of reality, sincerity, and truth in our prayers and prayer-meetings. 'Not infrequently it happens that what we call prayer is not prayer at all, but the fluent utterance of certain known and acknowledged truths and principles, to which one has listened so often that the reiteration becomes tiresome in the extreme. What can be more painful than to hear a man on his knees explaining principles and unfolding doctrines? The question forces itself upon us, "Is the man speaking to God, or to us?"
All these things must be taken into account; but, allowing as broad a margin as possible in which to insert these modifying clauses, we must still hold to it that there is a very deplorable lack of reverence in many of our public gatherings for prayer.
Can aught be more unseemly than to see a number of people, sitting, lolling, lounging, and gaping about while prayer is being offered? We consider it perfectly shocking, and we do here most earnestly beseech all the Lord's people to give this matter their solemn consideration, and to endeavour, in every possible way, both, by precept and example, to promote the godly habit of reverence at our prayer-meetings. No doubt those who take part in the meeting would greatly aid in this matter by short and fervent prayers; but of this, more hereafter.
WE shall now proceed to consider, in the light of holy Scripture, the moral conditions or attributes of prayer. There is nothing like having the authority of the divine Word for every thing in the entire range of our practical Christian life. Scripture must be our one grand and conclusive referee in all questions. Let us never forget this.
What, then, saith the Scripture as to the necessary moral conditions of prayer? Turn to Matthew 18. 19. "Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."
Here we learn that one necessary condition of our prayers is, unanimity — cordial agreement — thorough oneness of mind. The true force of the words is, "If two of you shall symphonise"—shall make one common sound. There must be no jarring note, no discordant element.
If, for example, we come together to pray about the progress of the Gospel, the conversion of souls, we must be of one mind in the matter—we must make one common sound before our God. It will not do for each to have some special thought of his own to carry out. We must come before the throne of grace in holy harmony of mind and spirit, else we cannot claim an answer, on the ground of Matthew 18.19.
Now this is a point of immense moral weight. Its importance, as bearing upon the tone and character of our prayer-meetings, cannot possibly be over-estimated. It is very questionable indeed whether any of us have given sufficient attention to it. Have we not to deplore the objectless character of our prayer-meetings? Ought we not to come together more with some definite object on our hearts, as to which we are going to wait together upon God? We read in the first chapter of Acts, in reference to the early disciples, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren." And again, in the second chapter. we read, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place."
They were waiting, according to the Lord's instructions, for the promise of the Father—the gift of the Holy Ghost. They had the sure word of promise. The Comforter was. without fail, to come; but this, so far from dispensing with prayer, was the very ground of its blessed exercise. They prayed; in one place; they prayed with one accord. They were thoroughly agreed. They all, without exception, had one definite object before their hearts. They were waiting for the promised Spirit; they continued to wait; and they waited with one accord, until He came. Men and women, absorbed with one object, waited in holy concord, in happy symphony—waited on, day after day, earnestly, fervently, harmoniously waited until they were endued with the promised power from on high.
Should not we go and do likewise? Is there not a sad lack of this "one accord"—"one place"—principle in our midst? True it is, blessed be God, we have not to ask for the Holy Ghost to come. He has come; we have not to ask for the outpouring of the Spirit. He has been' poured out. But we have to ask for the display of His blessed power in our midst. Supposing our lot is cast in a place where spiritual death and darkness reign. There is not so much as a single breath of life—not a leaf stirring. The heaven above seems like brass; the earth beneath, iron. Such a thing as a conversion is never heard of. A withering formalism seems to have settled down upon the entire place. Powerless profession, dead routine, stupefying mechanical religiousness, are the order of the day. What is to be done? Are we to allow ourselves to fall under the fatal influence of the surrounding malaria? Are we to yield to the paralyzing power of the atmosphere that enwraps the place? Assuredly not.
If not, what then? Let us, even if there be but two who really feel the condition of things, get together, with one accord, and pour out our hearts to God. Let us wait on Him in holy concord, with united, firm purpose, until He send a copious shower of blessing upon the barren spot. Let us not fold our arms and vainly say, "The time is not come." Let us not yield to that pernicious offshoot of a one-sided theology, which is rightly called fatalism, and say, "God is sovereign, and He works according to His own will. We must wait His time. Human effort is in vain. We cannot get up a revival. We must beware of mere excitement."
All this seems very plausible; and -the more so because there is a measure of truth in it; indeed it is all true, so far as it ,goes : but it is only one side of the truth. It is truth, and nothing but the truth; but it is not the whole truth. Hence its mischievous tendency. There is nothing more to be dreaded than one-sided truth; it is far more dangerous than positive, palpable error. Many an earnest soul has been stumbled and turned completely out of the way by one-sided or misapplied truth. Many a true-hearted and useful workman has been chilled, repulsed, and driven out of the harvest-field by the injudicious enforcement of certain doctrines having a measure of truth, but not the full truth of God.
Nothing, however, can touch the truth, or weaken the force of Matthew 18. 19. It stands in all its blessed fullness, freeness and preciousness before the eye of faith; its terms are clear and unmistakable. "If two of you shall agree upon earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done of my Father which is in heaven." Here is our warrant for coming together to pray for anything that may be laid on our hearts. Do we mourn over the coldness barrenness, and death around us? Are we discouraged by the little apparent fruit from the preaching of the gospel— the lack of power in the preaching itself, and the total absence of practical result? Are our souls cast down by the barrenness, dullness, heaviness, and low tone of all our reunions, whether at the table of our Lord, before the mercy-seat, or around the fountain of holy Scripture?
What are we to do? Fold our arms in cold indifference? Give up in despair? Or give vent to complaining, murmuring fretfulness, or irritation? God forbid! What then? Come together, "with one accord in one place," get down on our faces before our God, and pour out our hearts, as the heart of one man, pleading Matthew 18. 19.
This, we may rest assured, is the grand remedy—the unfailing resource. It is perfectly true that "God is sovereign," and this is the very reason for seeking divine power; perfectly true that "we cannot get up a revival," and that is the very reason for seeking to get it down; perfectly true that "We must beware of mere excitement;' equally true that we must beware of coldness, deadness, and selfish indifference.
The simple fact is, there is no excuse whatever—so long as Christ is at the right hand of God—so long as God the Holy Ghost is in our midst and in our hearts—so long as we have the Word of God in our hands—so long as Matthew 18. 19 shines before our eyes—there is, we repeat, no excuse whatever for barrenness, deadness, coldness, and indifference—no excuse for heavy and unprofitable meetings—no excuse whatever for lack of freshness in our gatherings or of fruitfulness in our service. Let us wait on God, in holy concord, and the blessing is sure to come.
If we turn to Matthew 21. 22, we shall find another of the essential conditions of effectual prayer. "And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
This is a truly marvellous statement. It opens the very treasury of heaven to faith. There is absolutely no limit. Our blessed Lord assures us that we shall receive whatsoever we ask in simple faith.
The apostle James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us a similar assurance, in reference to the matter of asking for wisdom. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But"—here is the moral condition—"let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall obtain anything of the Lord."
From both these passages we learn that if our prayers are to have an answer, they must be prayers of faith. It is one thing to utter words in the form of prayer, and another thing altogether to pray in simple faith, in the full, clear, and settled assurance that we shall have what we are asking for. It is greatly to be feared that some of our so-called prayers never go beyond the ceiling of the room. In order to reach the throne of God, they must be borne on the wings of faith, and proceed from 'hearts united and minds agreed, in one holy purpose, to wait on our God for the things which we really require.
Now, the question is, are not our prayers and prayer-meetings sadly deficient on this point? Is not the deficiency manifest from the fact that we see so little result from our prayers. Ought we not to examine ourselves as to how far we really understand these two conditions of prayer, namely, unanimity and confidence? If it be true—and it is true, for Christ has said it—that two persons, agreed to ask in faith, can have whatsoever they ask, why do we not see more abundant answers to our prayers? Must not the fault be in us? Are we not deficient in concord and in confidence?
Our Lord, in Matthew 18. 19, comes down, as we say, to the very smallest plurality—the smallest congregation —even to "two;" but of course the promise applies to dozens, scores, or hundreds. The grand point is to be thoroughly agreed, and fully persuaded, that we shall get what we are asking for. This would give a different tone and character altogether to our unions for prayer. It would make them very much more real than our ordinary prayer-meeting, which, alas, alas! is often poor, cold, dead, objectless, and desultory, exhibiting anything but cordial agreement and unwavering faith.
How vastly different it would be if our prayer-meetings were the result of a cordial agreement on the part of two or more believing souls, to come together, and wait upon God for a certain thing, and to persevere in prayer until they receive an answer. How little we see of this! We attend the prayer-meeting from week to week—and very right we should;—but ought we not to be exercised before God as to how far we are agreed in reference to the object or objects which are to be laid before the throne? The answer to this question links itself on to another of the moral conditions of prayer.