THE THINGS WHICH ARE
by Dr. J. Boyd
DANIEL THE PROPHET
by C. J. Atkins
by J. G. Hutchinson
CAMEOS OF CHRIST (4)
by J. B. Page
CHANGE AND DECAY
by R. McClurkin
by J. G. Good
ABRAHAM—FRIEND OF GOD
by R. W. Beales
by DR. JOHN BOYD
THE LETTER TO THE CHURCH IN SARDIS Rev. 3:1-6
SARDIS, a city 50 miles east of Smyrna and 50 miles south of Thyatira, was the capital of the kingdom of Lydia, renowned for its wealth under Croesus. After its capture by Cyrus of Persia it gradually fell into decay. Twice the city was taken by a surprise attack at night. Its downfall was accelerated by an earthquake and pestilence in A.D. 17, some eighty years before the Lord sent this epistle to the church there. The letter suggests that the church was likewise deteriorating.
The Lord addressed Himself to the church in Sardis as the One “that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.” He is possessed of the seven-fold fullness of the Holy Spirit (1:4). This fullness of the Spirit in His seven-fold operations was prophesied of Christ in Isaiah 11:2. John in his Gospel (3:34) reminds his readers that God gave to Christ the Spirit not in partial measure, but in His fullness. He is seen, too, as the One who controls, who guides, who has the disposing of the seven angels (1:20). The Lord “has” the seven stars. This is different from His introduction to the church in Ephesus (2:1), where He is seen as “holding” the seven stars. When He holds them, it is for their comfort, protection and guidance, but here possession is in view. Just as He “hath” the Spirit, so He “hath” for His own the seven angels of the churches. The seven Spirits of God indicate the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the seven stars point to the fullness of the Lord’s possession of all angels everywhere. It would seem as though the seven Spirits speak of His divine ministration of gifts, and the seven stars the human manifestation of that ministry. Through Him the angels would possess the seven-fold fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus the deadness of the church could spring to life and activity.
The Lord knew their works—how they occupied themselves. He does not give details of these works. Possibly He alone could perceive them, so scanty were they, and so far from fulfilment (v. 2).
But the Lord had some comments to make on the character of the church. It had a name, a reputation that it was living. This implied that the members had life, that it was a living assembly. But the Lord said that it was dead, that is, as regards activity for God. They were like the sister in 1 Timothy 5:6, who through giving herself to pleasure was dead as far as the accomplishment of anything for God was concerned, even though alive. This all would seem to suggest that their deadness was evident in their works. We cannot say that the church in Sardis was dead, that is, composed of merely nominal Christians, and without spiritual life, for v. 2 tells of things that were ready to die, implying some life. Rather, their deadness referred to their lack of activity for God, the deadness of those who were asleep.
The church is exhorted to be watchful; to be alert; to waken out of the sleep of inactivity in God’s service; to appreciate their true condition in the sight of God. They must rather seek to establish on a firm basis any works that remained of all they had once attempted for God, but which were (R.V.), at the time of the Lord arousing the church, ready to die—neglected and about to be relinquished. The Lord found no evidence of their works being fulfilled, brought to a satisfactory conclusion in God’s sight. We are not told why their works had not been completed. Was it lack of faith (Matthew 17:20), or lack of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), or because they had been attempted in the energy of the flesh, not in the energy of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:8-10)7
We are told in v. 3 of a three-fold way as to how this strengthening should be done,
- Remember, not what, but how you received the deposit of the gospel entrusted to you, in view of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Timothy 1:12). Let your minds go back to the early days of your faith, and recall how you received the Word, with affliction and joy in the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 1:6). A recollection of former days, when exploits were done for God amidst a great conflict of sufferings, would surely help to strengthen the determination to serve God more faithfully once again.
- Retain what you heard. Hold the teaching—guard it well by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14), and fulfil its ministry.
- Repent. Turn away from your stupor and carelessness to zeal in God’s service. Be on the look out for opportunities to serve God. Develop ministrations which you have allowed to lapse.
The Lord shows how He will deal with them if they fail to obey His exhortation. If they continue in their slumber He would come as a thief, unannounced, and visit judgement upon them. It is interesting to remember that at least twice in the history of Sardis the city had been captured in the night time by soldiers scaling the heights on which the city was built, heights which they thought were impregnable, and which had been left unguarded. Does the Lord here make reference to the history of the city, so well known to them, in order that He might stir them into watchfulness? The church in Sardis, unless the believers repented, would not be aware of the time of the Lord’s visitation until it occurred.
Yet, in v. 4, the Lord has some words of commendation, even for the church in Sardis. A few names, a few persons in the church, had not defiled their garments. The garment in scripture is a picture of the public life of the believer— what is seen by men. These few in Sardis had kept themselves pure, upright, faithful to God and to His service. The remnant had not been defiled by sin, through contact with the world (James 1:27), or through the lust of the flesh (Jude 23). Thus the garments may be defiled from the inside or from the outside.
For keeping their garments unsullied a similar blessing is vouchsafed to them hereafter. Because they had maintained their testimony they were accounted worthy to walk with Christ in white garments in the heavens above, the place of whiteness—the white head of the Lord (1:14), the white stone (2:17), the white garments (4:4), the white robes (7:9), the white cloud (14:14), the white horses (19:14), the great white throne (20:11).
Next follows the Lord’s promise to the overcomers, those definitely born again (1 John 5:5, John 10:28), those few who had kept the faith. The reward of v. 4 is repeated to the individual overcomer, and enlarged upon. There is a threefold promise:—
- “He shall be thus arrayed in white garments” (R.V.). He who had kept his garments undefiled in time will walk with Christ in white garments in eternity. He is worthy to be thus arrayed, for the way in which he conducted himself on earth.
- “I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life” (R.V.). His name at any rate will not be erased from the book of life. Such is the force of the emphatic double negative. The teaching of scripture is that the names of all are written in the book of life at the foundation of the world (Revelations 17:8). This is also called “the book of living” (Psalm 69:28). From this book there is a process of erasure going on during life, as the individual finally and definitely refuses the light (Revelations 3:5). Moses asked for his name to be erased from God’s book as an expression of his desire to bear Israel’s punishment (Exodus 32:32). For a similar thought compare Paul’s desire for a like fate (Romans 9:3). Those whose names remain in the book go into “the holy city Jerusalem” (Revelations 21:27). Those whose names are not found therein will go to the lake of fire (Revelations 20:15). Those in Sardis who were real overcomers, assuredly born again ones, would definitely be amongst the names remaining for blessing.
- “I confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” The Lord would do this as He confers on them His blessing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
The message of this letter is intended to be heeded by all who hear or read it, an injunction that applies to us all today. Let us examine the assemblies with which we are associated to see if this picture represents us. How many assemblies, how many individual believers, do not finish the tasks God has given them! They start these tasks, possibly with enthusiasm, but their zeal and activity soon wane. Can the Lord say of us, “I have found no works of thine fulfilled before My God”? It is possible that we have a name that we live, but only a name, and that we really are dead as far as God’s work is concerned. We never bring anything to perfection for God. Let us remember the early days, just after our conversion, and turn again with our former zeal to God’s service. Thus shall we make our calling and election sure. Thus shall we know that our names are still in the book of life.
by the late C. J. ATKINS
Ch. 4—Nebuchadnezzars Humbling and Restoration—recognition by Gentile power
AFTER the sight of one “like a son of the gods” walking in the midst of the fiery furnace, the mighty Nebuchadnezzar made a decree threatening death to any of his vast kingdom and people who should speak amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. Eight years later, a completely changed potentate issued a further decree, speaking peace to “all the peoples, nations and languages that dwell in all the earth” (ch. 4:1). With a completely changed heart, he speaks of signs and wonders “wrought toward me,” and he acknowledges “the most high God…. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion from generation to generation” (v. 2, 3).
God has spoken to Nebuchadnezzar first by the image of his dream with the interpretation showing himself as the head of gold and the reminder of “a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (ch. 2:44), again by His intervention to deliver those of His people who would not bow before the vast image for universal worship (ch. 3:24, 28) and God spoke a third time by a dream given in ch. 4. “God speaketh once, yea twice though man regardeth it not…. he openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction, that He may withdraw man from his purpose and hide pride from man; he keepeth back his soul from the pit” (Job 33:14-18). Thus the Almighty God who had set him up in power as His servant to fulfil His purposes, deals with the king when his heart was lifted up in pride, to deliver him from the pit. After his humbling, the chastened monarch relates God’s dealing with him. He tells how he was at rest and flourishing in all his power when God spoke by a dream to bring fear to his heart (ch. 4:4-5). In contrast with his previous dream, the king remembered all its detail, but in view of the complete failure of the Babylonian wise men before, it is significant that they were called to interpret the dream. It would suggest a reluctance to admit the wisdom and power of Daniel’s God over the gods of the land. As the dream was a message from the ever-living God it is not surprising that once again the Chaldean magicians were powerless. “But at the last came Daniel” (v. 8). Little would he care for the flattery of the king as given in v. 9. If his respect for Daniel’s insight was sincere, why had he not called him first.
The vision of the vast spreading tree was an apt picture of the king. Its vastness and strength, reaching unto heaven and stretching to the ends of the earth, providing shelter and sustenance to all, well portrayed the king in his position as protector and provider for the nations. But as the vision showed the “watcher, and an holy one came down from heaven” (v. 13), it must surely have reminded him of the former vision and the “stone….cut out without hands” (2:34), especialy when the cry of the holy one changes to the personal figure, his branches, his roots “his heart be changed” (v. 16). Apprehension must have caused the fear and trouble (v. 3), as the sentence is declared “by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men” (v. 17). Though often lifted up in pride Nebuchadnezzar would feel the force of these closing words. His family now so mighty, was of humble origin, his father Nabopolassar was not of royal birth, but of obscure parentage. In an inscription he says that he was “the son of a nobody…. the weak, the feeble.” The sting of this would be recalled by the angelic messenger’s words.
His fear would not be lessened by the fact that on hearing the dream Daniel’s thoughts troubled him—for one hour as the A.V. records. Whilst he watched the prophet’s troubled face, his fears would mount, even though he could speak encouragingly “let not the dream or the interpretation trouble thee” (v. 19). Reluctantly the prophet speaks, courteously seeking to shield the king, yet faithfully warning and even venturing to advise. How the king would recognise his position as the dream is explained (v. 20-22), but what a climax as the interpretation tells of his shameful humiliation even though there was the consolation of care and restoring (v. 23, 25, 26). Having moved in the close circle of the king’s confidence, knowing his power and cruelty, Daniel is touched with sympathetic feeling and boldly ventures to press the warning, to accuse, and to advise; “break off thy sins by righteousness… shew mercy… there may be a healing of thine error” (v. 27margin).
It is difficult to imagine the reactions of the mighty emperor. Fear, anger, impotence would all be mingled. It is notable that whilst rewards were showered upon Daniel after the former interpretation, and even by the powerless grandson Belshazzar after Daniel had read his doom, on this occasion resentment prohibited any such reward, even though the king must have had misgivings as he recalled the command “hew down the tree… let his heart be changed from man’s and a beast’s heart be given him.”
Whatever his reaction, the mercy of God in granting a period of respite for demonstration of a turning toward the advice given did not lead to any change, and all the pride bursts forth as he walks overlooking the majestic Babylon one year later. “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built…. by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty” (v. 30). Instantly, even as he voiced the words, the watcher struck, as the voice from heaven spoke “The kingdom is departed from thee…. until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (v. 31, 32). Following the stroke, the demented king for seven years acted as a brute beast out in the fields eating grass as oxen, unkempt and filthy. He who had imagined himself a god in chapter three becomes a brute beast in chapter four. Meanwhile his courtiers maintain his kingdom. Possibly for fear of the action of Evil-Merodach as his successor, the officers of the realm contrived to reserve the kingdom; probably the story of the dream and interpretation led to an expectancy so that all the resoect formerly given by the highest officers of state would lead them to await his restoration. As the dream foretold, the stump must be left carefully banded with iron and brass to permit a restoring.
Then after the seven years of degradation, after seven years of looking downward as a beast, Nebuchadnezzar says, “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven”( v. 34). He was moved, as understanding returned, to bless the Most High and acknowledge Him whose dominion is everlasting.
Thus having learnt the lesson, his kingdom is restored to him—“my majesty and brightness returned to me: and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me…. and excellent greatness was added unto me” (v. 36).
This story is also prophetically symbolic. Nebuchadnezzar speaks himself in clear testimony “unto all peoples and nations” (v. 1). He who rejoiced in cruel unmerciful warfare is changed to speak “peace be multiplied to you” as he witnesses to the great signs and mighty wonders of the most High. Evidently a work of grace had been wrought in his heart. Thus at the time of the end, when Gentile power,— prefigured by Nebuchadnezzar—reaches its most bestial stage in exaltation and pride, the Most High will step in and humiliate and judge, and then will follow restoration and acknowledgment and God will show the One “who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” 1 Timothy 6:16. When the Stone descends to crush the Gentile empires, and to fill the whole earth (ch. 2:35), then “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord…. unto Him shall all nations seek; and His resting place shall be glorious” (Ps. 11:9-10). “The nations shall know that 1 am the Lord….when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes” Ezekiel 36:23.
by JAMES G. HUTCHINSON
In this article it is not my intention to speak of the Lord’s people as Pharisees. God’s word would teach us to speak carefully about His children. “Speak not evil one of another” is the word from James 4 verse 11. Note how Paul addressed the erring Corinthians, “My beloved brethren,” 1 Cor. 15:58. I rather want to draw attention to how the Lord Jesus warned His disciples of the possibility of becoming LIKE THEM. It would seem the same thought was with David in Psalm 28 who prayed that he might not become like them that go down to the pit.” He was not one of them but could become, almost unknown to himself, like them. So if the Saviour warned His disciples in this manner, it should teach us a solemn lesson and inspire care, lest we become like the Pharisees.
Who were the Pharisees? Mr. George Gould (Senr.) said, “they were like an oil painting, the further you were from them, they looked the better.” We will not go too close, but I trust close enough to see the dangers and try to avoid them.
They became prominent after the ministry of the post exilic prophets. They were a group of pious God fearing people who deplored the departure of God’s people and the things of Babylon. They seemed resolved to carefully learn God’s law and meticulously observe it and in turn teach others and almost by any means see to it that God’s people would keep it and never again depart from Him and His ways. Originally their motives were good but see the outcome; brethren take heed!
They were not all hypocrites, certainly many were and none came under the scathing denunciation of Christ as they did. But some I feel were not in this class, Paul in sincerity could say, “I am a Pharisee” and no hypocrite was he! I take it they were deceived as were their devotees. The Lord Jesus said, 44 Blind leaders of the blind.” Professing to know and aspiring to lead, they were deceived and deceiving others. And so to open eyes and to enlighten all concerned, the Lord speaks to the multitude and the disciples about being “unlike them.”
We may well ask why? Matthew 23, verses 2 and 3 will answer this for us. “They sit in Moses’ seat,” that is, in the place of teachers and teach what is good, the law of God, respect and obey this, but do not as they do, for they say and do not, they do not practice what they teach.
Well then, what were their practices?
- “They trusted in themselves” (Luke 18, 9). Christian life commences with a personal trust in the Lord and many are the encouragements to Christians to continue thus, namely, “Trust ye in the Lord forever.” The Pharisees were different, “Trusting in themselves,” self-opinionated, self-confident, always right, making no mistakes, knowing everything, so different to the converted Pharisee who said “we are not sufficient.”
- “They despised others,” that is, set others at nought, this was what Herod did with the Lord Jesus, this Paul warned the Roman Christians against, chapter 14. The weak setting at nought the strong because he ate meat, the strong despising the weak because he ate not. His weighty and searching words in verses 4, 10 and 12 are worthy of prayerful thought.
It does not seem that it was an hatred of sin that caused the Pharisees to despise, rather it appears to be a supposed sense of moral and religious superiority. Did Job’s friends suffer from this, Job 12, 2, possibly the same spirit as in Isaiah 65, 5. How easily it could mark any of us and be done by looks, words or, as Micah did with David, “in her heart.”
- “They love the uppermost rooms—and chief seats”. There is in many places a great difficulty in getting local Christians to occupy the front seats in meetings. It would be good if they would consider others and, without having to be asked, occupy seats other than those at the back and make it more pleasant for strangers. But this is not what the Pharisees did, they sought place and prominence wishing all and sundry to “bow and scrape” to them. Satan would take advantage of this weakness in human nature when he suggested, “ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3, 5). It was a constant source of trouble amongst the disciples “which of us shall be the greatest! Diotrephes was so marked by it that John and other labourers in the gospel were not allowed into the church (3rd John 9 and 10). Had you asked him, Diotrephes might have said, well; days are dark and there is much departure, I’ll have to be careful who preaches here and with whom I have fellowship.” He might have deceived men but not God who saw his heart and said, “he loveth to have the pre-eminence,” fond of being first!
After a good many years in public service for the Lord in a variety of places, one has to come to this conclusion, many of the problems between assemblies, servants of the Lord and local Christians are due to this “place seeking.” Often Pharisee-like, there is pretence, they may, to help themselves, hurt others, “devour widows’ houses.” Oh what pretence “long prayers” so many look grave, talk wise, shake the head, etc. and all the while God seeing the heart would say “love the pre-eminence.” What a rebuke when we turn to Philippians 2, 1-8. May God cause it to speak to us.
- “They make outward show” (Matthew 23, 5).
“To be seen of men” “Outside cup—platter clean.”
“Whited sepulchres, beautiful outwardly but not so within.”
“Sound a trumpet” “pray at street corners.”
Edersheim suggests Monday and Thursday were market days in Jerusalem and it was on those days the Pharisees fasted and disfigured their faces. But the disciples were taught “do not sound trumpet,” “pray to the Father in secret,” “when ye fast, anoint head.” The emphasis being upon reality and sincerity, not show.
In brokeness and contrition before God, David cried out: “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.” May God grant us grace (for our hearts are deceitful) to keep from preaching, teaching, praying, giving and associations just to make a show before men but rather to be like one “who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.”
The writer asked a fellow labourer after a conference prayer meeting if the prayer he offered was to God or his brethren, his immediate reply was, “some told me they were glad I prayed that way, there were some present who needed it!” Didn’t the New England newspaper describe a prayer as “the best ever offered to a Boston Congregation.”
- “Compass sea and land to make one proselyte” It is excellent when zeal for God’s glory will cause the saints to compass sea and land to see sinners saved and God’s children helped. But this was not the motive with the Pharisees, they wish to increase their numbers and strengthen their influence and, says the Lord, if they succeed and make a proselyte, he will turn worse than themselves. It is often noticed that mere followers, at times, go much further than their leaders. Sometimes the leaders know where to draw the line, the followers do not. John the Baptist would labour and preach but with no thought of becoming a leader or creating a party, rather, in John 1, 35-39, we see he points men away from himself to Christ. The great evangelist and assembly builder, Paul, foresees the danger (Acts 20, 30). We see in 1 Corinthians, chaps. 1-3 that long ere he departed, this was seen. The Corinthian assembly was pervaded by the spirit, in chapter 3/4, the apostle gives the reason for it. “Are ye not carnal” Some might have said. We like Paul’s pioneer spirit, another, I like the oratory and ability of Apollos, while yet another says, Peter’s legality appeals to me but to them, the apostle’s weighty word, despite all their knowledge and ability and picking and choosing was “Are ye not carnal?”
It could be that an honest solemn prayerful consideration of this before the Lord would show that many, perhaps blindly but nevertheless in a real way, have this attitude, and we do well to hear our Lord’s words, “Be not like them.”
- “Omit Weightier Matters” (Matthew 23/23) “Tithe, Mint, Anise and Cummin,” was this at all asked for by God? while that—that God was explicit about, they omitted— judgment, mercy and faith. One needs to be careful, lest an idea would be given that some parts of scripture are essential and some are not. “All of God… and is profitable.” 2 Timothy 3:16. But how easy it is to be obsessed with one side of things and become “lobsided.” It could be almost unknown to us, so deceitful are our poor hearts. Samuel said to Saul while sacrifice is good, to obey is better. Isaiah 1-11, 16 and 17 teaches the same important lesson, as will Micah 6:6-8.
In seeking to help the Corinthian assembly, the apostle, in chapter 13, points out to them that while ability, knowledge, oratory, liberality and even conviction (“body to be burned”) are good, if the possessor of all of these has not “charity,” all else is of no value. Amidst all the gift and ability around us and profession to believe this and that, may God help us to search our hearts, lest we Pharisee or Corinthian-like “omit weightier matters.”
- “Strain at gnat and swallow a camel.” So critical and severe on others, they seek to strain out a gnat or remove mote and all the while “swallow a camel” and still have “the beam.” This could possibly be illustrated if the occurrences of certain truths indicate how much God intends His people to think about them.
- “They add to God’s Word” (Matthew 15:9). “Traditions of Men.” There are good traditions, 1 Corinthians 11.2, the apostle commends the saints for having kept these, as were the Thessalonian saints in the second epistle, chapter 2, verse 15, but what the Pharisees did was so different, they imposed upon the Word of God men’s ideas.
It is incumbent upon us to accept and observe all the Word of God. Nothing short of this is sufficient but it is equally serious to add to what God says (Revelation 22:18,19).
This is what Eve did with such disastrous results, this is what Christendom has been doing for centuries and what confusion, in many cases the truth of God is so obscured that multitudes live and die in darkness. A certain group of professing believers in recent years so put the word of their leading teachers before the Word of God and let us note how it led to division, sorrow in homes and families and, in the eyes of the world, God was dishonoured. We in the assemblies of the Lord’s people would need to take care here also. A well known and sincere servant of God, when asking overseeing brethren for a scriptural explanation of their actions was told, “we need no scripture, turn to page so and so in an issue of a magazine, that is our authority.” “Brethren these things ought not so to be,”
While grateful for helpful magazines, let us remember, no magazine, it matters not who the editor is or who contributes to it, is the mouthpiece or official organ for the assemblies, God’s unerring Word is our final court of appeal, “to the law and to the testimony.” All the Word of God for all the people of God but not with it the traditions of men.
It was the enlightening delivering power of the Word of God that delivered Luther, Knox, Darby and many of our forefathers from the darkness and deadness of the world’s religion. Let us all, those who take a liberal view and those who take a conservative view, search our hearts honestly before God and seek grace from God in light of the Judgment seat of Christ to see to it, “we be not like the Pharisees” but daily more like our blessed Lord whose face we soon shall see.
by JOHN B. D. PAGE
“Where I am”
In a discourse towards the close of His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus refers to heaven as “My Father’s house” (Jno. 14:2). The under-lying imagery is not a nobleman’s mansion but the temple of His day, for He somewhat surprisingly spoke on an earlier occasion of this great edifice in John 2:16 as “My Father’s house,” although it had been enlarged and beautified by an Edomite king who had usurped the Jewish throne. This outstanding building, the centre of Jewish worship, was a familiar sight in Jerusalem as its gold clad roof and walls sparkled in the sunlight. Unlike its predecessor, built by Solomon, it had neither the ark of the covenant nor shekinah glory in the holy of holies, and yet our Lord saw in it the similitude of the heavenly temple, even heaven itself.
In the 14th chapter of John, after a brief predictive statement of His ascension into heaven, our Lord makes a promise to return for His people—“I will come again…,” in which He uses the first (not the third) person singular. By so doing, He implies not a remoteness but a close relationship with those whom He will receive unto Himself, and so He has not Israel but the Church in view. The Lord adds, “And (I will) receive you unto Myself,” which will be in response to the trumpet call when we shall be caught up to meet Him in the air.
More than a reception to meet the Lord in the atmospheric heavens will be the purpose of His coming again. For, from the place of meeting in the air, He will take us into His Father’s house, so that “where I am,” He continues, “there ye may be also.” This is the third occurrence of the phrase, “where I am,” which He uses four times during His earthly ministry, “Where I am,” so the Lord said to His distressed disciples, signifying a place in His Father’s house, that is, “within the veil” of the heavenly temple, “whither as Forerunner Jesus entered for us” at His ascension. There, as our High Priest, He now represents us and intercedes for us at the throne of grace. Thence, He will one day emerge and receive us unto Himself. Under the old economy, the high priest entered on the day of atonement “within the veil” of the tabernacle and later the temple, and how the Israelites longed for him to leave and come into view! That is the Old Testament background of Hebrew 9:28, and we too should be looking expectantly for our Saviour and High Priest to appear the second time for the consummation of our salvation.
When the day of His coming again dawns, He will receive us into the Father’s house, so that, as He said, “where I am, there—‘within the veil’—ye may be also.” Our ultimate destiny is that we may be where He is!
We now turn to the first occurrence of the phrase “where I am,” found in John 7:34. To unbelieving men sent by the Pharisees and chief priests to arrest Him, Jesus spoke of His ascension into heaven after which, He said, they would seek Him but not find Him. Then He explains, “where I am, thither ye cannot come.” These men were mystified by His use of the phrase “where I am,” and His being beyond their reach. In their perplexity, they argued that He would go to Jewish people dispersed among the Gentiles, and so be inaccessible in some distant land. To materially minded men with unrenewed minds, the Lord Jesus did not make known the true meaning of His words. In any case, the ungodly are excluded from the Father’s house, which is for the Lord Himself and His people. Later, to His disciples He revealed the real significance of the phrase, as we have already noted.
Let us turn to the second occasion when Jesus used the phrase. After briefly relating service to discipleship in John 12:26, the Lord Jesus looks to the special feature of life beyond, for He says, “where I am, there shall also My servant be.” It matters not how humble the dwelling the servant of the Lord may now occupy, for ultimately he will be in the Father’s house where Christ is now!
To this promise, the Lord Jesus adds, “if any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.” In this statement, the believer is set forth as a worker. The emphasis is upon the words “serve” and “honour”; the former concerns life on earth whilst the latter relates to life beyond.
In this verse, our Lord has the servant in view. Looking back, it was as sinners that we came to the cross where Christ died for our sins. But looking ahead, it will be as servants that we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Then our works will be judged and classified as “good or bad,” and accordingly we shall receive the commendation of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Until then, let us seek to serve the Lord in such a manner that we shall receive “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
It is ever the Father’s will to glorify His Son. When His work on earth was finished. He was then glorified. When we shall have finished the course and the work that the Lord has given us to do here on earth, then may we “receive a full reward” (2 Jno. 9), for nothing less than a full and complete reward will mean the greatest glory to Christ, Whom we now serve.
The theme of being where Christ is, in a future day, is continued and taken a stage further by our Lord in His high priestly prayer in John 17, at the close of which He gives expression to the consummation of all that has preceded in His prayer concerning those that are His. In His prayer, He declares the divine will for His people, and it concerns not the present but the future. Referring to His people corporately, “that which (not, whom, AV) Thou hast given Me,” He then reveals His purpose for them individually, “that they (not, that which) may be with Me.” To be with Him ultimately, is what Christ promised His disciples on an earlier occasion (14:3), and what He now affirms in prayer to His Father to be His will for them. This will necessitate departure from this life on earth, but “to be with Christ… is far better” (Phil. 1:23). Our Lord, however, appears to have in view not the departure of individual believers by way of death but the rapture of all the saints into His presence, the realisation of “the blessed hope.”
Praying for believers individually “that they may be with Me,” our Lord locates their final destiny by adding the phrase “where I am” (Jno. 17:24), its fourth and final occurrence. He gives expression to not only where believers will be ultimately but the purpose of their being there, “that they may behold My glory.” We shall be there not as workers but as worshippers, gazing upon the glory of the Lord, Whom we have loved and served on earth. Not outside but in His presence, where He is, we shall behold His glory. The word “behold” used by our Lord is here “used of experience, in the sense of partaking of” (W. E. Vine). In that day, each of us will be “a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” (I Pe. 5:1). We shall not only see but also share His glory! We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
For the high priest of old, it was “within the veil” of the temple (previously the tabernacle) where only he once a year beheld the shekinah glory and even then it was veiled by a cloud from burning incense. But we, in that coming day, shall be where He is—“within the veil” of the heavenly temple—and there we shall gaze upon His glory, not in symbol but in His Person. The hymn writer’s thought will then be a reality—
- ‘Without a cloud between’;
- To see Him face to face;
- Not struck with dire amazement dumb,
- But triumphing in grace.
With nothing between, we shall indeed behold the glory of our Lord, not for time but eternity.
by ROBERT McCLURKIN
WE live in a world of change. Politically, socially and morally the world is changing. The spirit of Nationalism raises its head on every continent, resulting in dictatorial regimes, more cruel than the Colonial powers they displace. Morally the standards are lower than ever. Society is rotting at the core. Sin is not only condoned but endorsed. Every rule of decency is broken with shameless pride. The result is that chaos and disaster prevail on a universal scale. Leaders and statesmen are staggered as they see no way to stop the incoming tide of lawlessness which tends to overthrow the accepted standards of justice and decency.
It is a cause for alarm that this spirit of change, and to change, is insidiously creeping into the assemblies of the Lord’s people. Ethical standards are lower than ever. That spiritual sensitiveness that recoils from everything that is low and mean and unjust is rare. The standard of appraisal is perverted by external criterions that fail to recognize the spiritual worth and godly character of saints.
To the spiritual and observant mind it is obvious that many of the changes taking place among us neither add to the dignity nor the unity of the testimonies that meet simply in the Lord’s Name.
The principles of the New Testament assembly can only function properly when characterized by spirituality and simplicity. As spirituality wanes, godly simplicity is displaced by fleshly innovations which religiously entertain and appeal to the carnal mind. Godly and exercised saints wonder where it will all end.
Enforcing many of these changes has not only caused friction and confusion among the saints but some of them infringe on divine principles and lead to the obliteration of those features that distinguish the New Testament Church.
Let us think of some of these for the consideration and prayers of God’s people. Think of the truth of
that God has entrusted to godly, matured and scripturally qualified overseers. In many places this has been displaced by the business meeting where every babe or novice has an equal voice. The spiritual judgment of godly, experienced shepherds is set aside for a system of voting that appeals to the worldly and untaught. When we examine the New Testament we learn that temporal problems as well as spiritual were put into the hands of matured and qualified men who had the confidence of the saints. We know of course that some men have used the truth of oversight to gain power and impose an unscriptural dictatorship on the saints. But two wrongs never make a right. Whether it be oversight or deaconship, godliness and maturity are demanded by the
Word of God and the saints are to acknowledge what the Holy Ghost has appointed. Then, consider the matter of
Distinguished gift that may take on an itinerant nature is given, not to do the work of the saints, but to equip them to do their own work (Eph. 4:11-12). Such men went forth to plant assemblies and to water them with periodic visits. Their aim was to establish the saints in the truth of God and foster the development of local gift; then leave them to function for the glory of God. When such men went into an assembly to remain for a year or two as Paul and others did it was for the purpose of defending the saints against the inroads of false doctrine or to guide them in the exercise of discipline or other serious matters. Not one of these men ever became evangelist, pastor and teacher to an assembly to the stifling of exercise of local gift. The assemblies of the New Testament were planted and watered by itinerant preachers who moved on and allowed the faith of the saints to work.
When the spirit of pioneering disappears and the assemblies become stopping places for the tourist and professional preacher, many of them with lesser gift than that possessed by the local assemblies they use along the way, then a spirit of laziness settles down in some meetings resulting in a craze to encourage young men, preferably with a college degree to become a pastor. The excuse is that such is needed to do the visiting in the neighbourhood that brethren working with their hands have no time to do. But it invariably ends up with the pastor becoming evangelist and teacher as well. This leads to the discouragement of all local exercise, it feeds the spirit of laziness and has often led to division and confusion among the saints.
Another dangerous change today is associated with a change of emphasis on the importance of the Lord’s supper. For many years the Lord’s supper was considered by the godly as the most important meeting of the saints. This emphasis was the secret of the preservation of assemblies from doctrinal error. At this meeting the physical circle was looked upon as the symbol of the Lord’s presence in the midst of His gathered people and the Word of God was prominent, both in the worship of the saints and in exhorting to practical Christian living.
Today the emphasis is changing. Many are content to see such a meeting rushed through without the Word of God being opened to make room for other meetings to follow.
This lighter emphasis on the Lord’s supper is much in evidence at times by some who will absent themselves from the feast, yet turn up at the second meeting to listen to a sermon or teach a Sunday School class.
Another change that is not for the good of the work of God is found in the Sunday School or the young people’s meetings. The old fashioned children’s hymns that built up a body of truth in the souls of the young have given place to chorus singing. Many of these are as empty and light as a feather and many downright silly and childish. Religious entertainment is edging out the Word of God and prayer. Are the golden shields of truth being replaced by shields of brass? Better dim gold than the shining brass of change and decay.
The perfect balance of experience and energy that should blend to the glory of God has been almost destroyed by a separation of the old from the young. Both sides perhaps are to blame. The old for failure to encourage and train the young in the ways of God and the young for cultivating a rebellious and independent spirit against the old. The steady hand of experience should be on every meeting of the local assembly.
We are not opposed to changes, provided they do not infringe on divine principles or destroy the dignity and reverence of the assembly. But we see nothing of God or of Christ in that ruthless determination to change everything and destroy the old land marks of assembly life and testimony.
Our need today is not more machinery or a ceaseless change of methods. We need God. For our poverty we need the gold of the knowledge of God; for our nakedness we need the character of Christ, and for our ignorance we need the eye salve or the intelligence of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 3). Without Him there is vacuum and defeat. With Him we can go forward to victory. It is for us to make our choice. Will it be machinery or God, religious externalisms or Christ, fleshly energy or the power of the Spirit of God? God help us all to bring Him into our lives, our homes and our assemblies and go forward with Him to meet the hostility of all our foes.
by J. G. GOOD (Widnes)
THE idea of occasional fellowship is popular and practised in many quarters today, as the word “occasional” suggests this applies to the type of fellowship desired by many of the Lord’s People, as a result many attend the Gatherings where and when they feel inclined to do so. When we look into the New Testament this is not the fellowship which was enjoyed by the early Church.
In Acts, ch. 2, verses 42-44, we read “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers” and again “they that believed were TOGETHER.” The fellowship of Christians in the early Church was not spasmodic but continuous and a permanent bond.
Again in Acts, ch. 9-26, a word is used which tells us the kind of fellowship that Paul sought with the Saints at Jerusalem, “he attempted to join himself to the disciples,” the word join meaning “to glue or cement together” (Vine). Verse 28 of the same chapter, “he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem,” with them coming in to Worship, to enjoy the privileges, going out to Service, to share the responsibilities.
There is a great danger today of attending on a Lord’s Day morning only, others seem to think that certain meetings are for brethren, and others for sisters. Little wonder there is so much spiritual poverty among the assemblies of the Lord’s people; perhaps this is indicative of our own barren state.
In Psalm 84 where we have the Priest verses 5-8, the Pilgrim verses 5-8 and the Porter verses 9-12, we read the sparrow hath a home, and the swallow a nest; the sparrow was a permanent resident, the swallow a temporary visitor. What are we to the local assembly, permanent and regular, or temporary and merely birds of passage?
May our fellowship be real and regular with the saints of God, so that the word so often repeated my be a reality, “it was good for us to be here.”
- “We love to come before Thee, Lord
- On earth no happier place
- We love to sing with one accord
- The riches of Thy Grace.”
by R. WOODHOUSE BEALES
Chapter 25—The Death of Abraham
AFTER the above incidents Abraham takes to himself another wife in place of his beloved Sarah and thus shews to us the permanent nature of the quickening of body which God had given him, which is remarkable as well as having possibly, a dispensational bearing for those who are not averse to this thought. This shews to us too the origin of the Midianites (See 37:28, a significant combination) and the supreme position which Isaac had (vv. 5 and 6). Ishmael, it is true, comes in for brief mention at this death and burial of the patriarch and his generations are given, twelve princes, according to God’s promise to him, and also their territory, which appears on the map to be desert country in the main. Whereas Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi in the South country, from which he had come to meet Rebekah.
It is most interesting to follow the history of the progeny of Ishmael. In 1 Chronicles 2:17 we meet Amasa whose father was an Ishmaelite and yet related to the family of David through marriage, a man who at first took sides against David, but later was received and to be installed as captain, but who was foully slain by Joab, another close relative. Later another Ishmaelite (I Chronicles 27:30) was in David’s employ and over the camels, one of the “rulers of the substance which was David’s.” This chapter reveals many strangers and foreigners whom David had attracted to himself.
- (John in the Island)
- My soul was thrilled to hear the Voice anew,
- As I beheld the lamps of golden hue;
- And in the midst a Form Divine did scan,
- The blessed Son of God and Son of Man.
- His head and hairs were white, as white as snow,
- His eyes a flame of fire of piercing glow;
- I looked and looked again and loved to see,
- The glorious Lovely Man of Calvary.
- Fine brass as furnace fire His feet did shine,
- Reminding me of His dread Judgment time;
- His Voice the Voice of many waters’ sound,
- Foretelling depths of visions to abound.
- Within His right Hand seven stars appear,
- The Angels of the seven Churches dear;
- From out His mouth a sharp two edged Sword,
- The Word of God with grace or judgment stored.
- I then beheld and longed to view that Face,
- Its dazzling splendour as the sun in space;
- But No! for human frame it could not be,
- To gaze upon such wondrous Deity.
- Earth, time and sense and Patmos Isle gave way,
- Falling unconscious at His Feet I lay;
- Till Lo, the Mighty Hand and gentle Voice restore.
- FEAR NOT! I LIVE, WHO DIED, AND LIVETH EVERMORE.
- —William M. Mullan, Dublin.
- Do we need a sin offering? He was made sin for us. Do we require a trespass offering? He is the propitiation for our sins. Do our souls long for sweet communion with our Lord? “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast.” And by Him, our true Burnt Offering, let us offer up the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name. In Him are found all the “sacrifices of righteousness.” He is the all-sufficient One. More than this I do noe require; less than this I dare not bring to God. — C.A.
- No temple made with hands His place of service is;
- In Heaven itself He stands, a heavenly priesthood His:
- In Him the shadows of the law are all fulfilled, and now withdraw