by Thomas Wilson, Scotland.
Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord
By the power of grace Divine.
Those words have often been the prayer of earnest men and women since first Fanny Crosby penned them in 18751. Yet in the New Testament the word "consecrate" only occurs twice in the A.V. Both occurrences are in Hebrews, once in relation to the Lord Jesus, "the Son who is consecrated (or perfected) for evermore" 7.28, and once about the way, "He hath consecrated (or inaugurated) for us" 10.20. However, usually when we use the word "consecrate" we are not using it in the sense of those two references. This paper will deal largely with the usual sense in which we use the word "consecration".
In the Old Testament, the A.V. translators use the English verb ‘consecrate’ to translate four groups of Hebrew words, which together give us a rounded sense of what is involved in consecration to the Lord, something the Lord Jesus expects of every child of God.
Consecration Demands Holiness
Often when we use the verb "consecrate" we use it almost as a synonym for "sanctify", "to make holy". Indeed an English dictionary would offer them as synonyms. One of the Old Testament’s common words for "consecrate" is also translated "sanctify" in the A.V. It points out the need to be clean, to be holy. It is used of men like Aaron: "… anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them" Ex.30.30. What that meant for them is set out in the context. V.29 in particular speaks of the holy vessels like the ark, the table, the altars and the laver: "And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be most holy …". Being most holy they would be fit for the holy place where only the sanctified priest went, or for the holiest of all where Jehovah dwelt between the cherubim. In that verse the word "sanctify" is the same Hebrew word translated "consecrate" at v.30, and the adjective "holy" that occurs twice is also from that same word group. Clearly then Aaron and his sons were to be clean, or holy, as the standards of the sanctuary demanded. Although it does not use the same Hebrew word, the demands of Isa.52.11 are about consecration: "Touch no unclean thing … Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord". Those men like Aaron and his sons, who were being given this task, were expected to keep themselves apart from anything that would defile.
In a dangerous world, the Christian needs to be aware of how much there is that is unholy. We cannot choose to rub shoulders with what is unclean and not be defiled. The company we keep can defile, as Paul’s citation from Isa.52.11 shows in 2 Cor.6.17. The command to every Christian is to be separate from those who would defile: "… come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord". It is not only in the Old Testament that God says: "Be ye holy, for I am holy" Lev.11.44; 19.2; 20.17; but this is quoted in the New Testament in 1 Pet.1.16, "ye shall be holy; for I am holy". God is the God of Whom Mary said: "He is mighty … And holy is His name" Lk.1.49.
We have the noblest of motives for responding to that requirement of both Old and New Testaments: "Be ye holy, for I am holy". We know that the work of Christ has sanctified us: "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" Heb.13.13. Where the heart is touched by the suffering of Christ that we might be holy, love actively responds in desires after holiness. It is love that draws us outside the camp unto Christ. Love knows there will be reproach and love is prepared to pay that price to be holy. True consecration is the outcome of deep love for Christ that manifests itself in holiness of life in a reproachful world. It keeps the Christian out of the alcohol-fuelled pleasure domes of this world and from the immorality that so often accompanies an abandoned lifestyle. Even in this day, consecration demands holiness. Only as the saint of God breathes deeply of the atmosphere of the Holiest will he be holy in life, a requirement in all who would be consecrated to the Lord.
Consecration is Separation to the Lord
A second group of words is used about consecration in the Old Testament. A man or woman could make a voluntary vow, the vow of the Nazarite, to be set apart to the Lord in a special way, Num.6.2. For a period of time they would abstain from particular things that might make them unclean. Even approaching the dead body of a near relative was forbidden. In their society, man or woman might normally drink wine, but they were to consume no "liquor of grapes" or eat anything "from the kernels even to the husk" of the grape, Num.6.4. The vow also required the separated one to let the locks of the hair grow, v.5, so that all who came into contact with the consecrated would know that they were not just separated from things that could be harmful, like wine or death, but were separated to the Lord. And if accidentally, the vow was broken, for example, by one dying very suddenly beside him, it would also become known, for the head was to be shaven and the head consecrated once more, Num.6.9,11. Nazariteship was demanding, and in the main men and women only had energy to sustain such a demanding exercise for a short period. But devoted hearts had that opportunity to be separated to the Lord.
The New Testament does not encourage vows in this realm. In the period covered in the Acts, we see that as Jews turned from their traditional ways of worship, some practices were only given up slowly. Vows were one such. Indeed we read of Paul "having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow" upon him, Acts 18.18, and of his being associated with four men who had "a vow on them" as they went into the temple "to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification" Acts 21.23-27. Both passages would appear to describe a Nazarite’s vow, the minimum period of which at that time was 30 days. However, it is noteworthy that the New Testament does not legislate for, or speak approvingly of vows. Our Lord Jesus draws attention to some who took vows, but only to condemn them for showcasing their piety, whilst neglecting the weightier matters of the law, Matt.15.4-6; Mk.7.10-13. It may have taken Jewish Christians some years to give up vows, but God did not, and does not, desire His people to bind themselves legally under vows. What He does expect is consecration in our being separated to Him and so from the defiling world around.
However at the time Moses wrote, the Nazarite vow was "a sincere and proper expression of the ancient Hebrew faith". Those who so vowed, whether male of female were to be respected and their example of separation to the Lord observed. Indeed Amos laments the awful degradation that marked Israel in his day. He considered every true prophet and every Nazarite to be the outcome of a deep work of God in their souls that He might provide in them an example of what honoured Him. He records what the Lord said about them: "I raised up of your sons for prophets and of your young men for Nazarites." Yet the nation, knowing well that the Nazarite’s vow required total abstinence from wine or strong drink or anything related to the fruit of the vine, deliberately "gave the Nazarites wine to drink; and commanded the prophets" not to prophesy, Amos 2.11,12. They went out of their way to bring breakdown upon those men God had raised up. We learn important lessons in those words of Amos:
- That God Himself exercised His own to undertake voluntarily the vow of the Nazarite, Num.6.2
- That the Nazarite’s distinct discipline of life would have an effect on others: some would set themselves against them, others would support them, even to meeting the financial burdens the vow entailed – the cost of the sacrifices – they would be at "charges with them," Acts 21.24
- That the vow would be for the pleasure of God; it would be "unto the Lord" Num.6.2.
The rituals of Numbers chapter 6 belong to an age that ended with the death of Christ, although, as we have noted, there was a transition period during which some still clung to those ancient rituals. Notwithstanding, the Lord does desire that we please Him now in lives that are not temporarily consecrated to Him, but are characterised by such devotion from the moment of conversion onwards. Until Christ, only a few great men and women were Nazarites. Manoah’s wife and her son Samson, Judg.13.7,14; 16.17; Samuel, 1 Sam.1.11 and John the Baptist, Lk.1.15 were Nazarites, and so were separated unto the Lord. But since Christ, all great men and women are separated unto the Lord. Having given us His word and the indwelling Spirit, the Lord has provided all that is necessary that our lives be wholly consecrated to Him. He is not asking for periodic or intermittent consecration, nor will He be satisfied with an episode of separation to Himself. He demands "our hearts, our lives, our all" throughout the rest of our time. Admittedly, failure might occur in our living, as could have happened in the experience of the Nazarite, Num 6.9-12 but there is provision for recovery that our lives might again be characterised by consecration to the Lord.
Separation for the believer has to be described in both negatives and positives. He (or she) will abstain from all that stimulates the world. The use of alcohol and drugs is part of what stimulates the world, but the intelligent believer will see other stimulants at work in lives around him. Gross immorality is the addiction of many, so are mixing in the right social settings, attending sports events, cinema and theatre. So many other less addictive practices stimulate the worldly man or woman. They fashion the life of the unbeliever and continuously alter thought patterns until practices the Word condemns unequivocally are tolerated and eventually absorbed into the warp and woof of the life. No generation has ever needed to hear more clearly than this generation the call to separation.
But the consecrated believer will know well that there are positive aspects of separation. The Lord would have that consecration express itself in at least three distinct (and positive) ways:
- "If a man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine" Jn.7.17;
- "If a man love Me, he will keep My word" Jn.14.23, (R.V.);
- "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you" Jn.15.7.
How exemplary that kind of life would be to every on-looking saint and how it would convict a sinful generation. Consecration is separation to the Lord and from all that would dishonour Him. It requires the exercise of the will Jn.7.17 and the energy of love Jn.14.23 and the enjoyment of continuing communion with the Lord Himself, Jn.15.7. In the privileged day in which we live, it is the "sincere and proper expression" of our faith. Publicly it may begin with baptism and association with the Lord’s people in assembly fellowship. It will provide further external evidence of its inner reality. Consecration is separation to the Lord that affects the inner recesses of the heart and not just the outward behaviour others observe. And it delights the heart of Christ, for it is for His peculiar pleasure.
Consecration Means Hands Full With the Work of the Lord
Consecrated people are never lazy people, is the stark lesson of the third word group we should note. This is well illustrated in Aaron and his sons: "… consecrate them … that they may minister unto Me in the priest’s office" Ex.28.41. That word "consecrate" means "to fill the hands" or "to be occupied with". In the case of those priests, there were times when, ministering before the Lord, their hands were literally full. The "ram of consecration" Ex.29.22,26, literally filled their hands. But in a fuller sense, for them consecration did, and for us must mean occupation with the Lord’s service and interests. For every priest of Aaron’s line, consecration involved standing "daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices" Heb.10.11. It also required being compassionate to those who were "ignorant" and them that were "out of the way" Heb.5.2. By statute, they were also allotted other tasks such as dressing the lamp in the holy place, Ex.27.21; 30.7. We find the high priest with the ephod called to the presence of David that he might inquire of the Lord, Ex.28.30; Num.27.21; 1 Sam.23.2,4,6. Theirs was the added responsibility of teaching the people "all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses" Lev.10.11. Thus we read 1100 years later: "The priests’ lips should keep knowledge" Mal.2.7. Indeed if anywhere in Israel there were to arise "a matter too hard" for the judgement of the citizen of the land, they would come to the priests for a judgement and follow their sentence, Deut.17.9-11. The priests had much to do that the service of Jehovah might continue and His people be supported and guided aright. Literally with the ram of consecration, and metaphorically with their sundry duties, their hands were full. So too should ours be!
Were the apostles’ hands not full when they summoned the multitude of believers to announce: "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables" Acts 6.2? They were not shying clear of administering the distribution of support to widows associated with the Jerusalem assembly; rather it was in order that they might give themselves "to prayer and the ministry of the word". They knew that prayer and the ministry would wholly occupy them. We look at what was accomplished in a generation by those apostles. Measure it in miles travelled to reach perishing sinners. Measure it in souls saved in the short period covered by The Acts of the Apostles. Measure it in assemblies established. Measure it in the contents of our New Testament. Only one conclusion is possible: their hands were full, far too full to be serving tables.
Immediately Acts 6.2 provides us with a precedent we should follow. We observe that consecration will not only require hands full with the work of God, but that under the guiding hand of God we make appropriate choices. There are many ways to be busy but not all of us should be busy in the same way. We are differently fitted for service, 1 Corinthians chapter 12 teaches, and there are many avenues of service. Whatever the Lord has allotted to us, we should labour to the point of weariness, lest He has to exhort us: "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it" Col.4.17. To be effective we should seek the Lord’s guidance as to what He would have us do. Then our labours will be fruitful.
Timothy was marked out by Paul as one who worked the work of the Lord, as Paul also did, 1 Cor.16.10. That was praise indeed! Paul’s hands were full. He carried a tremendous burden of sufferings. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 he lists not only "labours abundant", but also stripes, imprisonments, beatings and privations beyond normal endurance. And having catalogued his affliction, he adds: "Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" 2 Cor.11.28. If Timothy worked as Paul did, his hands must have been full. All of us, whether older as Paul was or younger as Timothy was, ought to have full hands when there is so much work to do. We know that we can only work "while it is day" Jn.9.4. This is our day of service when our hands should be full. Dorcas’ hands were full and those widows who mourned her death were clothed through the skill and persistence of those hands, Acts 9.39. Mary’s hands were full of much service to servants like Paul, Rom.16.6. Consecrated Christians have full hands.
When we came to Christ for salvation, we confessed:
- Nothing in my hands I bring.
- Simply to Thy cross I cling.
A sinner can only come to God with empty hands. He dare not bring the fruit of his own labours as Cain once did. But at the moment of salvation, the Lord consecrated us to Himself that our pure hands might be filled with His noble service. For each of us the Lord has saved, there are those "good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" Eph.2.10. The perfect example of such a walk was seen in the One who went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him." Acts10.38. How kind those healing hands, and how full! For our hands there is work to do. We hear the exhortation that was first heard by Saul: "… do as thy hand shall find" 1 Sam.10.7 (Newberry). Consecration demands that our hands be full.
Consecration is Giving Selflessly to God
The final group of Old Testament words that we shall consider relates to things as tangible as a field or animal being consecrated to the Lord. This fourth word group is from the verb ‘to exclude’, and so expresses the total surrender "to God in an irrevocable and unredeemable manner" that cut off the consecrated things "from use and abuse on the part of men"2. The word group emphasises the exclusive rights of God. Leviticus chapter 27 legislates for a field or animal being consecrated to the Lord. The field or the animal became His. Mic.4.13 also uses the language of consecration about the spoil of battle when the Lord will rout His enemies in that coming day when He establishes His kingdom on earth. All that spoil will be consecrated "unto the Lord of the whole earth". In that day no one will look on the spoil as theirs, to be used for their private gain or pleasure. No more should we in our day consider anything as our own. All that we are and have should be consecrated to the Lord.
At the moment of conversion a number of events occurred simultaneously. At that moment we were given the right to rejoice that our names were written in heaven, Lk.10.20; Rev.20.15; 21.27; the adoption of sons became ours to enjoy, Eph.1.5; we were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Eph.1.13; we became heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, Rom.8.17, and many other blessings were bestowed upon us. At that very time it also became true that we were no longer our own, but were "bought with a price" 1 Cor.6.19-20. We know that we can neither blot out our names from the book of life nor rescind our adoption nor remove the seal nor disinherit ourselves. And we cannot undo that transaction that made us irrevocably the possession of God and of His Christ. All that we are and all that we possess belong now to Another, who will not give up His rights. At the moment of conversion all was consecrated to God. In the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 6 that means that the body that might have been defiled by fornication is the body that God has claimed as the temple of the Holy Spirit. In that context the exclusive rights the Lord has acquired by redemption are exercised in such a way that there are practices in which the saint dare not indulge. His consecration recognises the need to glorify the Lord in his body. But consecration owns those rights go beyond the use of the body.
When the apostles were giving witness of the resurrection with great power and great grace was upon all the saints, we read that not one of the saints said "that ought that he possessed was his own; but they had all things common … neither was there any among them that lacked" Acts 4.31-35. Their distribution to meet every need of the poor among them was the evidence that they recognised that their material goods were actually held in trust on behalf of the Owner. They realised that those goods were consecrated to Him and, as stewards of His possessions, they should act wisely and to His glory in distributing heaven’s provision to the needy. Indeed when two of their number moved hypocritically to enhance their reputation among those wholly consecrated to God, Peter exposed how they lied to the Holy Spirit and reminded them: "Whiles it (their possession) remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine power?" Acts 5.1-4. He does not take them up on the ground they professed. They claimed to own the Lord’s rights over what they once saw as their possession and used it for their own ends. Their action was a denial of the exclusive consecration they professed. They could not say:
- Take my silver and my gold,
- Not a mite would I withhold.
- (F. R. Havergal)
Deliberately, as part of an agreed plan, Ananias and Sapphira had "kept back part of the price". They did not see that what they once saw as their own was now consecrated exclusively to the Lord. But we rightly sing about our consecration and our commitment to hold back nothing. The prodigal about to leave his father’s house said, "Give". The redeemed soul, having returned from the far country, notes that the Father still gives, but in response is able to say like Naaman: "… take a blessing of thy servant." 2 Kgs.5.15.
The passage in Mic.4.13 looks forward to the rights of the Lord Jesus being extended beyond the saints of this period. It reveals what will come to pass in the day when He arises to judge this earth, an event that will not come until after the Rapture of His Church and the subsequent Great Tribulation during which He will pour out His wrath upon this earth. Micah records a glorious promise to Israel of the power their nation will exercise after the Lord comes in power. During the Great Tribulation it will seem as if the extermination of that nation that so many have plotted, is inevitable. But that nation will crush its enemies, says Micah. Israel will be like a wild bull but with iron horns and brass hooves so that the many that have crushed the nation, they will crush into powder. What will happen to the spoil of that victory?
When Jericho fell there was much gain. All that was therein was to be "devoted … to the Lord" and no one was to claim any of it, Josh.6.17; 7.1, 11-26. Achan perished for his disobedience to the Lord’s command, disobedience that made evident his disregard for the Lord’s right to dispose of Jericho and its wealth in whatever way He had determined. When the Lord exercises His exclusive rights in that day, Micah observes that He will do so as "the Lord of the whole earth" Mic.4.13. "… since there was a nation" Dan.12.1, the great powers have accumulated wealth, much of it dedicated to the glory of their leaders. They have strutted around their palaces glorying in what they have built with the riches of the nations they plundered. They have assumed the right to acquire riches and to display their splendour ostentatiously, never thinking that "the Lord of the whole earth" might disapprove. In that day, the wondering universe will learn that God does disapprove. They will also learn that at Calvary the Lord paid the price not only for our redemption but to acquire the world, as He taught in His parable of the treasure in the field.3 As He has rights over these redeemed souls of ours that we own in our consecration, so He has rights over this world and will arise to exercise those exclusive rights after the Rapture. Then He will claim from the godless nations "their gain … and their substance". Zechariah also testifies to this great event, in which testimony he elaborates on the gain and the substance of which Micah speaks; he says "the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold and silver and apparel, in great abundance" Zech.14.14. All that is devoted exclusively to the Lord will be plucked out of those grasping hands. No such reluctance should be seen in us. We own the greatness of the Lord’s victory and gladly should yield to Him what He has placed in our hands.
- Nought that I have, mine own I call,
- I’ll hold it for the Giver:
- My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
- Are His and His for ever.
(J. G. Small)
We know that consecration means yielding up to God what He has committed to our trust. It means refusing to subscribe to the world’s mantra that indulging our selfish tastes is right for we deserve it. It means finding joy in giving, learning that "It is more blessed to give than to receive" Acts 20.35.
The four Old Testament word groups open to our understanding some of the features that comprise what we call ‘consecration’. But what of the two New Testament words that occur in our A.V. translation as ‘consecrate’?
The Son Consecrated Forever More
This telling phrase of Heb.7.28 is not describing a life consecrated to the will and purpose of God, in the sense that has been occupying our study. Undoubtedly, only the Lord Jesus expressed in absolute terms all that God seeks in one consecrated to Himself. He met fully the demands of holiness. He was the Holy One of God and moved through this world untainted by its sin. He was wholly separated from all that would have been offensive to His God and uncompromisingly separated to His God. No Nazarite could have sustained devotedness of life as He did. His hands were always full with the service of God; indeed He completed the work His Father had given Him to do, Jn.17.4. And He gave willingly, holding nothing back in life or in death, who "poured out His soul unto death" Isa.53.12. But the phrase of Heb.7.28 is not reflecting those aspects of that life we consider.
The verb "to perfect"4 occurs in the Hebrew letter at 2.10; 5.9; 7.19,28; 9.9; 10.1,14; 11.40; the cognate adjective at 5.14; 9.11; the noun at 6.1. Three of the occurrences relate to our Lord Jesus personally:
- "… to make the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings" 2.10
- "And being made perfect5, He became the author of eternal salvation" 5.9
- "… the Son who is consecrated6 for evermore" 7.28.
One glorious Person is introduced to the reader’s view under words of unfathomable depth. This One is "the captain of our salvation", "the author of eternal salvation" and "the Son". His being made perfect is under consideration. The Christian knows that these verses are not suggesting that there ever was moral or spiritual imperfection in Christ. The verses comment on the Lord’s experiences as a Man. It is evident in each of the three verses that the Lord is not actively framing the circumstances in which He is involved. In each case the active Person is His God: He is making perfect, or has made perfect. The emphasis on sufferings is also seen in each of the references. Men played a part in the sufferings of the Saviour, but they are strangely absent from these verses. We see that the Lord would know sufferings before Calvary, at Calvary and, having suffered there, His curriculum of sufferings is over. What a perspective on the life, death and exaltation of Christ! How important to glory in our God having brought His great plan "to an appointed accomplishment" is what is conveyed in each of the three verses. That is the sense of the verb "to make perfect".
The writer delights to observe that the word of the oath has established the Son as priest. It came after His curriculum of suffering was over and His once-for-all offering made for His people’s sins, Heb.7.27,28. The word of the oath did not make Christ Son, but it made the Son priest to serve "with the perfect zeal of filial affection and delight."7 V.28 does not identify who are in the good of His priesthood but the next verse does; Heb.8.1 we read: "We have such an high priest …". Love delights in this One, "the perfected high priest" whom God has brought forth "to comfort and sustain the contrite heart … He is presented by the Spirit to our faith for the establishing of our confidence and the holding fast of our joy in Him."8
As we reflect on consecration, we learn in the Son that God is at work where His pleasure is secured. He has prepared a path for us, one that could mean suffering. Each step of that path we must complete before we are asked to take the next step along the pathway of consecration. We should note, as we do so, that each step could bring blessing to others. As we look off unto Jesus, we see how God is able to bring that to pass.
The Consecrated Way
The other New Testament occurrence of the word ‘consecrate’9 is in Heb.10.20: "… a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, His flesh". The R.V. translates as "dedicated" the verb rendered "consecrated" in the A.V. Indeed the same Greek verb is translated "dedicated" in Heb.9.18. Clearly this verb does not directly help us understand what the Bible teaches about consecration. However, without the opening up of the way into God’s immediate presence we would be unable to enter God’s presence to worship, an important response of every consecrated heart. The newly-slain way gives us every encouragement to draw near to God in the calm confidence that the work of Christ has opened that way "for us" and given us the standing we need: the "full assurance of faith … our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" Heb.10.22. These privileges that belong to every believer were the unfulfilled yearnings of earnest hearts from Moses until Christ. Our enjoyment of them is an index of our soul. The one consecrated to the Lord will know much of His presence. He will commune much with Christ and delight in the praise of the One who has afforded to His own the opportunity "to live the rest of their time, not to the lusts of men, but to the will of God" 1 Pet.4.2.
Consecration really began with God: it was in His heart to have a people capable of communion with Himself. It was the work of Christ that secured us for God that we might be a peculiar people, a people for His exclusive pleasure. As we have noted, we were consecrated to the will of God at the very moment of conversion. But practically its effects are only seen in our lives when we do as the churches of Macedonia did – give our own selves to the Lord, 2 Cor.8.5. Only as we engage in holy, active, selfless service to the Lord can we truthfully sing in Fanny Crosby’s words:
Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord
By the power of grace Divine.
- 1. Brightest and Best. New York: Biglow & Main, 1875.
- 2. Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament Vol.1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Reprinted 1991: p.485.
- 3. In the context the Lord interpreted "the field" in which the treasure is hidden: "The field is the world" Matt.13.38.
- 4. Greek teleióo
- 5. Aorist participle passive, notes Zodhiates.
- 6. Perfect participle passive, notes Zodhiates.
- 7. Arthur Pridham Pridham on Hebrews Second Edition, Enlarged; published William Yapp, London undated: p.184.
- 8. Arthur Pridham, ibid: p.183.
- 9. Greek egnainízo, ‘to inaugurate’. It is used in the LXX of the dedication of the altar and the temple.