CHRIST IN THE APOCALYPSE
by John B. D. Page
ISAIAH’S PORTRAITS OF CHRIST
by J. Flanigan
FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS
by J. B. Hewitt
CHRIST – THE SUM OF ALL KNOWLEDGE
by James B. Currie
FELLOWSHIP IN MATERIAL THINGS
by Andrew Borland
by E. W. Rogers
THE SHORTEST CHAPTER IN THE BIBLE
by Mark H. Prior
THOUGHTS OF CHRIST
by Eric G. Parmenter
HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I MUST DECREASE
by R. J. Pantlin
A STUDY IN JUDE’S EPISTLE
by Tom Wilson
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
by Anthony Orsini
HYMNS AND THEIR WRITERS
by Jack Strahan
by JOHN B. D. PAGE
THE INCOMPARABLE CHRIST (iii) Reading: Revelation 22.16.
"I Jesus", said the divine Speaker, using the name of His Humanity, and He then supplemented it by ascribing to Himself the name "I AM" which, being emphatic in the Greek text, is a title and a declaration of His Deity. Hence, the two names, "Jesus" and "I AM" attributed to the one and same Person, contain the thought of His two natures, the one human and the other divine and, of course, He is not partly Man and partly God but He is totally Man and totally God, which is the wonder of His Incarnation.
There is another latent link between these two names when we remember that "Jesus" means "Jehovah saves" and "I AM" is the equivalent of "Jehovah". It was Jehovah’s work of salvation, wrought through Jesus not by His virtuous life, which was outward evidence of His sinlessness, but by His vicarious death at Calvary.
Although the name, "I AM", has been considered in an early article, its last mention calls for further meditation. Its importance should not be under-estimated irrespective of whether it is seen in the Apocalypse or the Gospels. In the three synoptic Gospels, Christ is presented in His Manhood, admittedly from different aspects in each, and so, with His Humanity in view primarily, it is used by Him only eight times. By way of contrast, in John’s Gospel where the Godhood of Christ is paramount, the Lord Jesus utters the name twenty-two times which is an unobtrusive confirmation of His Deity during the days of His flesh. The Name is not found in Acts or the Epistles, unless there is an obtuse reference to it in Phillipians 2.9ff where we are told that God has honoured Jesus Christ with "the name that is above every name", at which every knee will bow in submission to Him during the age to come, as suggested by one writer. In Revelation, the exalted Christ in heaven applies the name to Himself five times, that is, three times (if 1.8 is included) in the prologue (chapter 1) and twice in the epilogue (22. 6-21), but nowhere in the intervening chapters which form the body of the book, except in chapter 21.6 where it is ascribed to God at the close of the paragraph describing the new universe of the eternal state.
In assuming this Name, irrespective whether it was during His ministry on earth or now in heaven, Christ claims what is declared of Him in Colossians 2.9, "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily", upon which one writer comments, "Not the mere rays of divine glory gild Christ, but the complete orb of Attributes and Power of the Godhead indwell the Son". Such Attributes and Power of the Incarnate Christ were demonstrated in some instances when He uttered this great Name during His earthly ministry, and it may not come amiss to look at two from the synoptic Gospels and two from John’s Gospel.
One one occasion, as recorded in Matthew 14.22-23, the disciples were half way across the Sea of Galilee when a boisterous wind sprung up and their ship was tossed by the waves. Then unexpectedly during the fourth watch of the night (i.e., 3.00 to 6.00 a.m.), they saw Jesus walking on the tempestuous sea and He said to them, "Be of good cheer; it is I" (or, literally, ‘I AM’): be not afraid". Upon His pronouncing this unique Name, "I AM", the wind ceased and sea was calm.
When standing for trial before Caiaphas, the high priest (see Mark 14.61-64), Jesus was asked, "Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" In reply, Jesus said, "I am…". His answer was more than a confirmation of His Messiahship. By using the emphatic form "I AM …", for His answer, He not only made a claim to be Deity but He uttered the ineffable Name, which the high priest, recognizing it to be a breach of the law (Lev. 24.16), turned to the Sanhedrin members around him and said, "Ye have heard the blasphemy: …". In spite of his knowledge of the Scriptures, the high priest was blind spiritually and did not see the Defendant standing before him as the "I AM" Incarnate.
John records a dialogue between an immoral Samaritan woman and Jesus. To this woman, Jesus made seven statements, culminating in His uttering this great name. When she expressed eventually the hope of Messiah coming, Jesus said to her, "I that speak unto thee am He" (John 4.25ff). This was not only an affirmation of His Messiahship because, by omitting the italicized personal pronoun "He", Jesus said literally, "(I) that speak unto thee I AM". This matchless Name is found initially in the Pentateuch, and the woman’s knowledge of the scriptures was limited to these Five Books of Moses because the Samaritans used no others in their worship. Unlike the high priest, a devout Jew, she showed no resentment upon hearing the ineffable name uttered but she accepted Him as such and as Saviour.
Having been betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus was confronted on a dark night by armed soldiers and officers of the temple guard, and He said to them, "Whom seek ye?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth", and He replied, "I am He". With the italicized personal pronoun "He" omitted, He answered literally, "I AM". As soon as that great Name came from His lips, "they went backward, and fell to the ground" (John 18.4-6). In falling to the ground, these burly soldiers had no sense of guilt, but they were unknowingly overpowered by the hidden power emanating from the Person who was the "I AM", and so they fell involuntarily.
Not only was He betrayed, but also arrested, brought to trial, condemned and crucified — such was the venom of man’s hatred and hostility toward Him. But God, having raised Him from the dead, has highly exalted Him, and it is this glorified Man who speaks from heaven to the Patmos prisoner, declaring Himself to be still the "I AM" and, on the last occasion, He adds two more illustrious titles, "the Root and Offspring of David, and "the Bright and Morning Star".
(To be continued).
by J. FLANIGAN (Belfast)
7—"MAN OF SORROWS"
There are more than forty pronouns in Isaiah 53. There is no name. But the believer has no problem. The unnamed Sufferer can be non other than the Lord Jesus. It is the Rabbis who have the difficulty. Not being willing to apply the prophecy to Jesus of Nazareth they have sought for other explanations. Many are unhappy with the explanations which are offered, and for them the chapter is an enigma. "It is better", they say, "not to read it at all". Some have called it, "The Forbidden Chapter". For every believer it is a precious portion. For some of us it has a special precious-ness, for it was here that we first found the Saviour.
This great portrayal of the Sufferer begins properly in ch.52. By attaching the last three verses of ch.52 to the twelve verses of ch.53, we have fifteen verses which are readily divided into five sections with three verses in each. They form a pentateuch, and there is an intriguing parallel with that other great Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy.
At the end of ch.52 we have the Genesis section. Genesis is the book of Beginnings, as we speak of "Genetics". In the book of Genesis we have the beginnings of all that is afterwards developed in our Bible. Everything is there in germ form; in embryo. So it is with Isaiah 52:13-15. It is the seed plot of all that follows in ch.53. Here, in these few verses, there is portrayed the Servant’s moral glory, His lovely life. We have, too, His exaltation, His high position through resurrection and ascension. His sufferings are here too, His visage marred. His future glory is here, His millennial splendour, and His ultimate triumph. Everything is here in this "Genesis" portion, which is now to be expounded in ch.53.
The first three verses of ch.53 are the Exodus portion. Exodus is that book in which is portrayed the nation in unbelief. The arm of the Lord was made bare in their deliverance from Egypt. He divided the sea for them, and in a barren wilderness He gave them water from the rock and bread from heaven. But they persisted in unreasonable unbelief in spite of every revelation of Himself. How sadly does the prophet cry, "Who hath believed our report?". In a dry ground in Nazareth there grew a tender plant for the pleasure of Jehovah. But there was nothing pretentious, and none of the beauty that they desired. So they despised and rejected the revelation of God in Christ, and repeated the unbelief of the wilderness. There had lived among them One who was the great antitype of their Paschal Lamb, their Tabernacle, the Rock, and the Manna, but they did not recognise Him. "Who hath believed?".
The Leviticus section follows in verses 4-6. The great theme of Leviticus is, of course, the sacrifices and offerings. A sacrificial system allowed Jehovah to go along with the people, but all those offerings spoke of the Christ who was to come. He has come, and by one offering He has satisfied God and obtained for His people a perfect acceptance. It is an offering which renders all the others obsolete. It has superseded them. "He was wounded for our transgressions". "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all".
- I hear the words of love;
- I gaze upon the Blood;
- I see the mighty sacrifice,
- And I have peace with God.
The book of Numbers has been called, "The Book of the Desert". It is largely an account of the people of God in their desert sojournings. In this next section of Isaiah 53, verses 7-9, we have the desert experiences of the Lord Jesus during His last hours on earth. What a desert was that for Him. Oppressed and afflicted; prison and judgement; stripped and slain; death and burial. In it all He was silent and uncomplaining. The House of Caiaphas! The Roman Judgment Hall! Herod’s Palace! Meekly and unresistingly He trod the desert paths alone. He endured the mockery, the false witnesses, the spitting, the whipping post, the thorns, and all the shame. It is very possible that He was kept, for part of that night, in the common prison beneath the Palace of the High Priest. (Later, His apostles were to be detained in that same prison, Acts 5.18). When we read that, "He was taken from prison and from judgment", we may understand it literally. From the common prison at the House of Caiaphas, and from the judgment hall at the Fortress of Antonia, He was led out to Golgotha to be cut off out of the land of the living. Who shall point out His generation? Humanly speaking, He left nothing. A young Man of thirty-three years, cut off. Their intention was to bury Him, as they had crucified Him, with the wicked. But He was with the rich man in His death. Joseph of Arimathea attended reverently to the interment of the holy Body.
The closing book of the Pentateuch is Deuteronomy. It is the book of review and retrospect; of summing up and looking forward. So this closing section of Isaiah 53. As we look back we see the travail of the Blessed One, as Jehovah bruised Him. We see again the offering for sin; the pouring out of His soul unto death.
- My soul looks back to see
- The burden Thou didst bear,
- When hanging on the accursed tree,
- And knows her guilt was there.
But with joy we look forward too. We see Jehovah’s pleasure prospering in the hand of the Risen One. The spoils of Calvary are shared by God and Christ and His people. "I will divide . . ." "He shall divide . . .". It is the great peace offering. There is a portion for all. The Man of Sorrows is satisfied. His people are justified. God is glorified. Well might we read on into ch.54! "Sing …!" "Break forth into singing …!"
- Man of Sorrows, God of Glory,
- Wondrous path Thy foot hath trod.
- Cross and crown rehearse the story
- While we sound this note abroad,
- Calvary’s Victim
- Now adorns the Throne of God.
by J. B. HEWITT
The assurance of salvation is plainly written over the pages of the New Testament. The Epistles abound with the truth that we know we possess salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 10.9; Eph. 2.8). This assurance rests upon the Word of God (Jn. 20.31); the work of Christ (Heb. 10.14); and the witness of the Holy Spirit in us (Gal. 4.6).
THE STRONG FOUNDATION (Isa. 32.17; Psa. 27. 1-3; 46.1-3). Years ago preachers often said, "The blood of Christ makes us safe; the Word of God make us sure" (Ex. 12.13). Full assurance is built upon a scriptural foundation. The faithfulness of God and the promises of Christ are unassailable. The word in Isa. 32.17 is clear, "The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever". The Abrahamic Covenant as formed in Gen. 12.1-4 is confirmed in ch. 13.14-17; 15.1-7; 17. 1-8; the "I will’s" of promises have been fulfilled temporally and spiritually and all will be realised.
Faith sounds out its confidence and challenge — the Lord is Light, Salvation, and Fortress. There is therefore no need to fear or tremble. This covers the past (v.2), and reaches into the future (v.3), and so embraces all life (Psa. 27.1-3). In Psa. 46.1-3 God is the Refuge of His people (vs. 1-3). His strength and help (v. 1,5); His presence (v.5) and His power (v.8), makes all the difference between defeat and victory. What confidence is expressed in the words, "We will not fear – though – though – though" (v.2,3). It is the O.T. counterpart of Paul’s great utterance in Rom. 8.38,39. Our God is faithful (1 Cor. 1.9, 30).
THE SAVIOUR’S AFFIRMATION is most assuring. "We will never perish" (John 10.28); "never thirst", "never cast out" (John 6.35,37). "We have everlasting life"; "we are free" (John 6.54; 8.36). We rest on Him who completed the atoning work (John 19.30; Heb. 1.3; 10.14). Saved by His intercessory work (Rom. 5.10; Heb. 7.25). "He is able to succour", "to save"; "to keep" (Heb. 2.18; 7.25; 2 Tim. 1.12). "He is our Life" (Col. 3.1). With the man of John 9.25 and Paul we can say, "I know" (2 Tim. 1.12). Everything depends not on what we are, nor on what we do, but on Christ (1 Cor. 3.11,23; 1 Peter 2.4,6).
THE SERVANT’S CONFIRMATION John’s first Epistle is the book of assurance. He wrote his Gospel that we might believe and be saved (John 20.31). The purpose of the Epistle is that we may know that we possess life eternal (5.13). Seven times in chapter five we have the assuring words, "we know". The words, "know, knoweth, known and knew" are mentioned 38 times in this Epistle. The word "know" in 5.13 is the Greek work "oida" meaning fulness of knowledge, or to know perfectly. Christianity is a religion of certainties. Ours is a saving faith, and a knowing faith. It is not an intellectual faith, but a present active faith "unto you that believe".
Paul in Romans 5.1-11 reminds us that none of God’s blessings stand alone, Ours is a full salvation (v.1-11) and a free salvation (vs.12-21). We have peace with God, access to God in prayer, rejoice in hope of glory, the love of God, the Holy Spirit and the assurance that Christ died for us and intercedes for us. Study the fice "much mores" in this chapter. We have adoption, are joint-heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 8.14-17). The unfailing love of God (Rom. 8.38,39). Union with Christ (1 Cor. 6.15; 2 Cor. 3.5; Eph. 5.30). Others tell of full assurance of hope and of faith (Heb. 6.11; 10.22). We have a mental grasp of all spiritual privileges (Col. 2.2). Our prayers will be answered (1 John 3.22; 5.14,15). We ought, like Abraham, to be fully persuaded that what God has promised He is able also to perform. (Rom. 4.21).
A Corporate Witness, i.e., a number of believers together acting in unison, is the desire of God for His people on earth, and the desire of all saints who love their Lord. In Acts 2 we read of the birthday, first of "the Church which is His Body", of which every Christian is a member, and against which the "gates of Hell" shall not prevail" (Matt. 16.18); and secondly of the first local church, that into which man’s responsibility entered (1 Cor. 3.10), and which could be "defiled" or corrupted by man (1 Cor. 3.17). In verses41 and 42 we learn of four essentials for the building and maintaining of a local church, God’s corporate witness.
Firstly—Conversion to God. The Word of God through the Apostle Peter concerning Jesus whom they had crucified and whom God having raised had made "both Lord and Christ", so convicted them that they were "pricked in their heart" — (pierced thoroughly, Young), and said, "What shall we do?" Their experience was like Saul’s of chap.9, that changed his whole life. There was "repentance toward God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ". So they were converted—turned—the beginning of Christian experience.
Secondly—Identification with Christ. These folk had seen no beauty in Christ that they should desire Him; they had rejected Him, saying, "Away with this Man and release unto us Barabbas". So blinded and bitter were their hearts that all the mighty works done in their midst did not promote faith in them; but when they were pricked in their heart, the Holy Spirit convincing them not only of their sin but the shame of it, they welcomed God’s Word and "were baptized", i.e., they identified themselves with the One whom they previously rejected. Baptism is an outward confession of faith in Christ, involving not only the act of being baptised but a life in keeping therewith (Rom. 6.4). What I am, and what I do, is even more important than what I say. The believers were baptised in (or into) the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19.5), i.e., in association with the Lord Jesus. Thereby they became closely bound to the Lord Jesus. Such outward confession followed by life in keeping is essential for the building of a corporate witness for God.
Thirdly—Subjection to the Lord. These folk had served their old master well, and had done his will, but being converted and identified with their new Master, they sought to do His will. The Lord having His own way, He "added" them (ver.47). This the first local witness is surely our pattern. Could we look to Corinth, where man was taking the Lord’s place, and saints were being divided instead of being "added" (1 Cor. 3.3)? Well might the Apostle Paul exhort them to be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1.10). In 1 Cor. 1.1-2 they were "called saints with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (i.e., your Lord is my Lord and my Lord is your Lord). There is only one Lord (Eph. 4.5). To build a corporate witness for God it is essential for Christians to recognise and be in subjection to the one and only Administrator of a local church, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Fourthly—Perseverence. We have dwelt upon three essentials for the building of a local church; the fourth, itself fourfold, will maintain such a witness. "They continued stedfastly (i.e., they persevered")—verse 42. How the local witness is marred by Christians who do not continue! In the same year these early saints were threatened not to speak to teach in the Name of Jesus. Note their response to this test. "Now, Lord, behold their threatenings; and grant unto Thy servants that, with all boldness, they may speak Thy Word" (Acts 4.29).
They persevered in
(1) "the apostles’ doctrine". The commission given to the apostles (Matt. 28.19-20), "Go . . . make disciples, baptising … teaching …," had been faithfully carried out. God blessed their witness, in that these souls were converted, became identified with Christ, were subject to their Lord, and continued stedfasUy in the same teaching, with signs following.
(2) "and fellowship". This was not giving assent to a number of beliefs, nor joining a circle of activities, but a sharing in, a common partition in, mutual interests concerning their Lord. These will ever be recognised and enjoyed by saints walking in subjection to Him and obedient to His Word. It is not how we walk, but where we walk (1 John 1.7) that enables us to continue stedfastly in fellowship. "Can two walk together except they have made an appointment?" (Amos 3.3 R.V.). Association with the Lord Himself (Matt. 18.20) is the secret of that happy fellowship that maintains a local church witness.
(3) "and in breaking of bread". Love to their Lord would enable them to persevere in this. He had said, "This do in remembrance of Me". As they took the one loaf, how they would be reminded of their oneness (1 Cor. 10.7)! No bitterness could remain in the hearts of those who were in sincerity and truth remembering their Lord. How this would give power and strength to their witness!
(4) "and in prayers". They were found "where prayer was wont to be made". The need of persevering through all their trials, sufferings and sorrows brought them to their knees in deep exercise, and in this they continued, without which the local church witness could not be maintained. How we need to give heed to Heb. 10.25, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together". Alas for the evidence among us today of not persevering in prayer.
"Behold I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown (Rev. 3.11). Let us follow the example of those of old who "continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers".
by James B. Currie (Japan)
"Christ, in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2.3).
The words of John concerning our Lord Jesus, "many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21.25) are, by finite minds, often taken to be loving hyperbole. In the Colossian letter Paul gives the lie to that idea. Even among those who are completely loyal to the Person of Christ it may be that there are a few reservations tucked away with regards to the Apostle’s statement. "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ".
To combat the error of incipient gnosticism which would make of Christ a mere creature, albeit one of great dignity and position. Paul has stated that Christ, as to time and rank, "He is before all things" and, being possessed of all Divine Attributes it is "by Him that all things subsist or hold together". Simply put, without the Lord Jesus Christ there could be no material creation since "all things were created by Him and for Him" (Colossians 1.16-17).
Further, the words that follow almost immediately "it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell" (1.19) are given their full import in chapter 2 verse 9, "in Him (Christ Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form". No amount of exaggeration or hyperbole, no matter how well meant, can in anyway detract from this declaration. It stands in all its eternal verity. The Man, Christ Jesus, walking the paths and fields of Israel nearly two thousand years ago, possessed, unconditionally, all the essential characteristics of Deity.
God has used two vehicles in the revelation of Himself to men. The first is the one given in the physical creation all about us. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork" (Psalm 19.1). The second, and more detailed revelation of the character of God, is found in "the Man Christ Jesus" (John 1.18). While "Worldly Wiseman" gropes, so often blindly, to grasp the meaning of the material sciences the humble believer sees all knowledge summed up in the Lord Jesus. Just as the greatest intellects of the world plumb the depths of every avenue of learning with no limits confronting them so, in keeping with the record of Scripture, Christ is seen to embody the infinity of Creatorial God-hood and thus is, in Himself, the summing up of all knowledge.
The Word of God testifies to these facts :
- In the realm of AGRICULTURE, Christ is "the corn of wheat" (John 12.24).
- In ANIMAL HUSBANDRY Christ is "the Lamb" (John 1.29). In ANTHROPOLOGY Christ is "the Son of Man" (John 1.51 etc.).
- In ASTRONOMY Christ is "the bright and morning Star" and "the Sun of Righteousness" (Revelation 1.16; Malachi 4.2).
- In AVICULTURE Christ is the eagle (Deuteronomy 32.11).
- In BIOLOGY Christ is the Life (John 1.4 etc.).
- In ENGINEERING Christ is the Architect and Builder of the ages (Hebrews 1.2).
- In GEOLOGY Christ is the Rock (1 Corinthians 10.4 etc.).
- In HISTORY Christ is the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7.22).
- In HYDROLOGY Christ is the water of life (John 4.14).
- In JURISPRUDENCE Christ is the Lawgiver (Galatians 6.2).
- In MATHEMATICS Christ is the First and the Last (Revelation 1.11).
- In MEDICINE Christ is Jehovah the Healer (Luke 5.17). In PHILOLOGY Christ is the Word (Alpha and Omega), (John 1.1; Revelation 1.11).
- In SOCIOLOGY Christ is "the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 8.24).
- In ZOOLOGY Christ is "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5.5).
No mortal can with Him compare Among the sons of men Fairer is He than all the fair That fill the heavenly train. David’s words are very apt. "He is thy Lord; and worship thou Him" (Psalm 45.11).
by Andrew Borland
Fellowship in material things is amongst several spiritual activities described as well-pleasing to God. Uniting two allied aspects of sacrifice, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts thus: "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually … confessing to His name; but to do good and to communicate (i.e. share with others as in an act of fellowship) forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased". (Heb. 13.14-16). The underlying connection between the two types of sacrifice is noteworthy, for, evidently, it is the heart that rejoices in God which is stimulated to show kindliness and generosity towards others. Stringency in the spirit of liberality is attributable to a low conception of the position saints occupy in the economy of grace.
Moreover, the order and the terms of the exhortation should not be overlooked. God must have His portion first. Worship must precede every occupation if the latter is to be acceptable to God. The danger lies in our attempt to reverse the order of precedence. That worship, however, must not be conceived of in terms of material things. It is entirely spiritual, the fruit of the lips, rising from the inner man warmed by the appreciation of the place into which we have been brought by the work of our Lord. That is the entire theme of the epistle which calls Christians to "consider Jesus" (3.1). The depth and the sincerity of our worship can be judged by the extent of our sympathy with those who may be in material want. The Apostle John vigorously pronounced the same decision in words which admit of no misunderstanding: "But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 Jn. 3.17). Incisive words like these should shock our smug conceptions of an emotional worship which expends itself in mere vocal outpourings and finds no practical" sharing" with others. The heart that rests at the secret source of every precious thing not only sings but also reflects in deeds the nature of the God Who is the Giver of every good and every perfect blessing.
The same subtle connection underlies the entire argument of the most lengthy section of the New Testament devoted to this aspect of fellowship, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, the closing words of which are an unstrained outburst of impassioned worship, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift". The apostolic contention and appeal are consistent with the divine attitude towards mankind. The ungrudging generosity and bounty of God should be reflected in those who profess to be partakers of His grace and should produce a like desire "to do good". As in many matters for the regulation of the church conduct the letters to the church at Corinth supply much information concerning this phase of assembly fellowship, and offer instruction for the guidance of Christians in the matter of the discreet use of material means.
A fundamental principle regulating all Christian life is propounded and is particularly applicable to the stewardship of money. "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4.2). God is recognised as the ultimate owner of all. He dispenses gifts in the Church and material means to individuals. He does so at His own pleasure. The Christian is merely a steward, a "house manager" put in trust with a deposit, for the safekeeping and the proper use of which he will be held responsible. On the day of reckoning, i.e. at the Judgement Seat, he will be accounted faithful if the discharge of his duty merits the commendation of his Master. All life will be brought under review, and the stewardship of "this world’s good" will not escape the impartial Judge. Sobering thought for all, whether much or little has been committed to our trust!
The preacher of the gospel, too, is not without obligation in this connection. Chapter 9 of the First Epistle deals exclusively with the servant’s attitude to the gospel message. Several spheres of responsibility are indicated. He must keep his body under, if he would anticipate reward at the end of life’s race (24-27). He has a moral obligation to his fellow men. Necessity is laid upon him to preach the gospel, and his reward is that he has the joy of declaring the message of God without charge (18). How assiduously the apostle Paul strove to protect himself and his companions from the least shadow of suspicion of a mercenary spirit. He laboured night and day, working with his own hands, to silence the malicious criticism that he was enriching himself at the expense of his "converts". Acting thus he had all the more right and authority to offer to the Corinthians advice as to their obligations in the same direction.
The apostle felt at times a special burden to instruct believers on the principles which should regulate their attitude towards those who ministered to them in things spiritual. They had, he asserted, a financial obligation. A truth for which the apostle contended vigorously, not only in one but in several passages, is summarised in 1 Corinthians 9.44: "They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel". He maintained his contention with numerous assertions and illustrations. In the first place, the Lord had ordained that it should be so, and the apostles had acted on the assumption that it was righteous procedure for them to adopt (4-6). Secondly, observation provided him with several illustrations. The general of an army is obviously maintained by the monarch under whom he serves. The vinedresser rightly expects to be partaker of the fruits of his labours, while the shepherd derives support from the flock which he feeds (7). Furthermore, scripture enjoins such a principle. The ox was not to be muzzled at the threshing, while the farmer both ploughed and threshed in the hope that he would share in the produce of his own toil and care (9-10).
Such an array of facts was meant to impress upon the Corinthians their obligation to have fellowship with those who laboured in the gospel with them. More particularly had it reference to the justice with which the apostle might himself expect to receive material support at their hands. He had spared himself neither hardship nor indignity that they might be partaker with him of the blessings of the grace of God. Was it unjust, then, for him to expect a reciprocation in material good? He had sown spiritual things; was it loo much that he should reap their carnal things (9-11)? A similar metaphor was utilised to enforce the same truth upon the Christians in the churches of Galatia. The entire section in chapter six has its primary application, not to the worldly man who sows his wild oats, but to the believer who misuses the goods the Lord has committed to his trust. "God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6.7). To the rich in Ephesus similar warning and exhortation are given: "Charge them that are rich … that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate" (our "word-fellowship" again). Such discharge of one’s duty is described by the apostle Peter as acting as a good steward of the manifold grace of God (Pet. 4.10).
(1 Kings 21)
by E. W. ROGERS
I wonder how many of us would have behaved as Naboth did when he was approached by the Crown with an offer either to purchase or exchange his vineyard! Before we give an answer we should remember the self-confident boast of Peter followed by his lamentable failure, lest we be found boasting in the hour of ease and are found wanting in the time of testing.
Naboth’s vineyard had been inherited from his fathers: it was the heritage of his fathers and no substitute could be that. Our vineyard is not an earthly possession (for God is not now dispensing earthly blessing, but heavenly), but it is the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’, originally ‘spoken by the Lord’, and entrusted by Him to His apostles, and in particular to Paul. Paul in turn committed it to his ‘son Timothy’ who was enjoined to commit it to ‘faithful men", who in turn should be able to teach ‘others also’. So the inheritance passed from generation to generation and has come down to us.
Naboth’s inheritance was a vineyard, and a vineyard in Scripture is a sphere of responsibility. The husbandmen should keep it. The wise man saw the vineyard of the slothful had become overrun with weeds. It was that which should have produced wine which rejoices both the heart of God and man : it should have produced something for the heart of God and the good of man. How many weeds have grown over the"faith" with which we have been entrusted : weeds of human tradition.
Naboth was offered one of two alternatives. He could either sell the vineyard to the king, or else accept in lieu thereof another vineyard elsewhere.
In the one case the temptation was to turn into money the inheritance of his fathers, but this he would not do. "Godliness" was never supposed to be a means of monetary "gain". "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil", though many through ‘fair speeches’ make merchandise of their audiences. They do not regard the proceeds as "base gain". The history of Micah recorded at the end of the book of Judges, with its most solemn sequel should warn all against "selling the vineyard".
The other temptation was to exchange it; but this Naboth declined to do also. It would have been but to have had "the form" and to have denied the "power". It would have been tantamount to "turning the grace of God into lasciviousness" or something worse. It would have been "another gospel" lacking in vital and essential elements. Solomon’s golden shields are to be preferred to brazen ones, although the latter may look similar.
Ahab wanted to change the vineyard into a garden of herbs. He desired to alter its character altogether, so that instead of producing something for both God and man, it merely produced something for his own satisfaction. In his garden there was to be no "blood" of the grapes. His conduct resembled that of Cain who saw no need of the blood but brought of the fruit of the ground. How like Christendom which has caricatured "the faith" so that it is nothing like the original and has nothing for God therein!
POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS POWERS
The crown has limits, and this Ahab recognised, though Jezebel spurned them. She by craft set to work to accomplish the wish of the monarch so that she made herself the historic prototype of all who later and far too often behave as she did. Here the Political and Religious powers work together to bring about the downfall and murder of Naboth, and to confiscate his property. Let anyone read of the foul deeds of the Duke of Alva in the days of Philip of Spain and he will then see how those Auto da Fes were the extensive repetition of the murderous plan of Jezebel. A public assembly convened : false charges lodged; no defence allowed; a merciless and cruel murder; and property confiscated. Philip of Spain was dominated by the Roman church then. Later the Beast will still be ridden and dominated by the scarlet-dressed woman. Today he who has eyes to see must wonder at the co-operation in close liaison one with the other of the political and religious world.
The scheme succeeded. Jezebel’s wicked plot worked ‘according to plan’. Not a hitch occurred and time and again it is stated ‘Naboth is dead’. In the meantime God was silent; He did nothing. Wickedness flourished; the godly suffered. This is one of the mysteries of the present age, and should persecution against God’s people ever arise here in our country they must expect nothing different. His silence, difficult to understand as it may be, is not however without its salutary effects. It develops character and proves loyalty at least, while the one who endures becomes an example for others who follow.
THE WICKED TRIUMPH
The innocent suffer: the wicked triumph. This is no new thing. It is as old as the Bible. Abel was murdered while the murderer lived. The Lord Jesus was killed while the crowd had their wish. The prophets were slain and the martyrs were tortured and burned. It is a long and continuous problem. Why should we expect things to be different for us?
Jezebel’s wicked plot caused no concern on the part of the people of Naboth’s city. No word of protest was raised by his fellow citizens. Submissively they obeyed the order which ostensibly came from the throne, and although its gross injustice must have been apparent no demur was raised. Perhaps they had no sympathy with Naboth because of what they judged to be his obstinacy and bigotry. Here is another mystery, that of the silent submission of the mass of people to the crimes of those who are set in authority. Vox populi can do a great deal of evil, and can restrain a great deal also.
Ahab is informed by his wife that "Naboth is dead", and he is told he may now take the vineyard. But what of Naboth’s heirs? He had received the vineyard from his father, and his son should have inherited it from him. Jezebel, however, took care that the younger generation did not get the inheritance. This has, indeed, been the method of Rome for centuries. They seek the children but carefully keep the scriptures from them. This is a disturbing tendency of the present day, when children are uniformed and paraded on the first day of the week so that they cannot get to the simple Sunday School where the scriptures are taught. This, indeed, is all the more alarming seeing it occurs in days when there is a desire on the part of the authorities to "religionise" the people.
But God, although long silent, will not interminably remain so. He will recompense. The scarlet-dressed woman will be thrown off the Beast and burned with fire. The Beast will itself be judged at His hand. The day of vengeance will surely come. He will avenge His elect, the blood of all who have suffered will be required then. Judgment will commensurate with the crime. In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth they would lick the blood of both Ahab and Jezebel. Though silent now God is not ignorant. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the earth. His eyes are in every place beholding.
by MARK H. PRIOR, Chichester PSALM 117
Coming so close to the longest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 119) we are apt to overlook this little gem of God’s Holy Word, or, perhaps, to give it but scant consideration owing to its diminutive size; sometimes little things, however, may more than make up for their size by their sweetness and the magnitude and range of their subjects. So it is with Psalm 117, even as it is also with the shortest verse in the Bible—John 11.35, "Jesus wept"—what a weight of sympathy and Divine compassion is expressed by those two words!
Psalm 119, with 176 verses, deals with the important subject of the Word of God, and is by far the longest chapter in the Bible. Numbers 7, with 89 verses, is next in length, and a very important chapter it is—describing the dedication of the Altar. I wonder how many have troubled to read it through from beginning to end, without skipping over the many times repeated sections.
Psalm 117 comprises but two verses. Paul quotes it, with great delight, in Romans 15.11, and states that one of its objects is "that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy". So we see how important he considered the Psalm to be. In Acts 26.22, Paul states that in his witness for Christ he said, "none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come …" In his unfolding of the Gospel in the Epistle to the Romans he makes 26 or more direct quotations (including this one from Psa. 117) from the Old Testament to substantiate his teachings.
Three times the word "praise" is mentioned. The Psalm opens with "O, Hallelujah", or "O Praise the Lord"—so that we see it is a gladsome song.
Now there are three letters in the English alphabet that can be used by themselves as words. There is the indefinite article "A", lacking indeed in depth as compared with the definite article "the", or the possessive pronoun "my".* Then comes the personal pronoun—that great capital "I", which so often, with us, is bursting with quite unnecessary pride and self importance. The letter "0" is very expressive, and may be used as a word (sometimes spelt "Oh") as a cry of pain; a groan of sorrow; a form of address—as "O Lord"; a deep down desire of the heart; or as expressing great wonderment
- * An excellent example of its use is found in Exod. 12.3-5: "A Lamb"; "the Lamb" and "your Lamb".
I think the "O" of this Psalm expresses both the last named uses of the word—a deep desire that men, everywhere, would praise the Lord, but perhaps more than this, a very great wonderment that this poor world which had crucified Him, should be the objects of His merciful kindness. Well may we exclaim, "O"! as we see the display of His matchless grace towards us.
Let us now consider the range and magnitude of our little Psalm. We find that everything is in the superlatice, until at last breaking over all degrees of comparison we come to Him Who is beyond compare—peerless and supreme.
The most blessed occupation. Praise! Surely this is one of the loftiest priveleges of sinners saved by grace. Possibly "Worship" is a higher thought, but the greater includes the lesser, and there is nothing that we can do that is more blessed than Worship and Praise. When we praise a person we tell out his beauty, his worth, his fame, his excellent greatness, his deeds, his words, etc. We may thus tell these things out of full hearts into the ears of God our Father, when it is a valuable adjunct to worship; or we may praise Him before men, when it has the character of service.
The Lord. The One Who "is, and was and is to come", the Almighty. The One, Who in great humility came down and was manifested in flesh. Fairer than all the children of men. The writer of the Song of Solomon sought for great and wonderful things with which to compare Him so as to bring home to our hearts His greatness, His glory and beauty, but finding them all inadequate he exclaims ‘Yea, He is altogether lovely’. Supreme He is and beyond compare. We read of Him that God has set Him "at His own right hand in the heavenlies far above all principality all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come". And again, "He ascended up far above all heavens" and again, "God also hath given Him a name above every name". To what a glorious Person then does our Psalm lead us, and our Praise is to be about Him and directed to Him. Paul calls on the Gentiles to glorify Him (Rom. 15.9), and we know that whoso offereth praise glorifies Him.
All ye Nations. Thus the largest possible number of Gentiles are invited to praise Him. Alas! only too few avail themselves of this high privilege. The Psalmist seems almost to anticipate the words of the Lord, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature", for they could not praise Him unless they had heard of Him.
All ye people. The entire nation of Israel, too, is comprehended in this small Psalm, and the extensive commission that the Lord gave to His own in Acts 1.8 readily springs to our minds.
His Merciful Kindness is great towards us. Surely grace is the greatest of all reasons for which to praise God. When we think of how the world treated Him when manifested here below, the marvel is that it was not swept by judgment, but instead grace reigns through righteousness in a way that is truly Divine.
The Truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Surely it was that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ; so that this Psalm celebrates this wonderful fact. Truth is the very basis of all God’s dealings with this sinful world and His truth endures for ever. Therefore, the Psalm covers the longest time—Eternity.
To summarise we have:—
- —The deepest heart’s desire.
- —The loftiest occupation.
- —The One Who is Glorious beyond compare.
- —The largest number.
- —The greatest theme.
- —The longest time,
and all of these in the shortest chapter in the Bible, which concludes, as we now conclude our little short study, with the beautiful word ‘HALLELUJAH".
(for the busy Housewife) No. 7
by Eric G. Parmenter, Basingstoke
On the eve of Calvary when the hearts of men were being revealed, the heart of the chief priests, elders and scribes: the heart of Peter and of Judas (Matthew 26), the Spirit of God illumines the darkness with another heart that was altogether different — the heart of the woman who brought the alabaster box of very precious ointment to anoint the body of the Saviour.
Against the background of Judas Iscariot who had experienced the kindness of Jesus but whose heart was only for money, he had no heart for Christ. The deepest depth of his being was ever moved by the thought of gain. The woman who had a heart for Christ is introduced. She may have been a sinner, but her eyes had been opened to see beauty of Jesus, which led her to consider that nothing was too costly to be spent on Him. She had a heart for Christ, the lonely Man, the lowly Servant, the lovely Son of God. While the chief priests, elders and scribes were plotting against Christ — she was anointing His body, pouring out the precious contents of her alabaster box upon Him who was the all absorbing object of her heart. He was worth ten thousand worlds to her. Because she had a heart for Him, she felt that nothing was "waste" that was spent on Him. Others might murmur but she would worship and adore. Happy woman! Loving, Admiring, Adoring at the feet of Christ, captivated by His blessed person.
by R. J. PANTLIN
These are noble and startling words! They are the more so because of the person who uttered them. Was it some humble believer, living an obscure but godly life, deeply conscious of failure and weakness and unimportance? It was not!
The man who uttered these words was publicly commended by our Lord as no one else has been. It was to this man that the Saviour turned as a witness and said that "the witness which he witnessed! of me is true." We wonder whether our testimony merits similar commendation!
It was, moreover, this man who had the amazing privilege given him of baptizing with his own hands the Incarnate Son of the Living God. Our Lord declared him to be the greatest up to that time born of woman, and He publicly owned him as His forerunner.
It was such a man as this who uttered the above words, and who dare question his sincerity? The fearless John Baptist was not given to the deceit of false modesty.
But what personal advantage accrued to him by reason of this declaration? Judged according to man’s standards, none whatever; indeed, quite the reverse! John was then enjoying popularity; to be baptized of him "there went out Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about Jordan"; even numbers of the bigoted Pharisees and Sadducees sought him out. He was without doubt in the public eye with consequent distinction.
Yet he seemingly forever shattered all hopes of increasing personal prestige by these humble and simple words: "He must increase BUT I Decrease." Here we see John Baptist’s mission in its truest light; he had come to focus public attention not on himself, but UPON CHRIST. At a time when such attention was becoming increasingly given to him, he diverts it to a greater than he—our Lord Himself.
And this was not a grudging admission, wrung regretfully from the heart of a man acquainted with the inevitable. It was, rather, the warm glad testimony of a servant to his Master, of a faithful forerunner to the One whom he was to announce, and, above all, the sincere and humble confession of a man who recognized his Saviour and God.
For even when he announced that Blessed One to be the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," did not his own heart rejoice that his own salvation depended upon the fact and truth of his own utterance; and, though wonderfully privileged himself, to be numbered amongst His humble but adoring subjects?
These words were from one who was conscious of his own failure and wortlessness, yet conscious of the glory and pre-eminence of his Lord. These words were John’s life motto; they were the expression of his own private godly desires and they are, at the same time, a Divine pattern for every follower of the Master.
If it is to be He or I, there can be no question as to God’s answer; if He is to increase in my life and understanding then He will do so only as this poor self shall decrease. Two cannot occupy the first place; it must be He or I. What are our desires? He or I? Are others to see in me myself with all my imperfection and sin—or Him? Am I to hold the reins—or He?
Nay! rather shall our deepest conviction, desire and practice be;—HE MUST INCREASE, BUT I DECREASE.
- Make this poor self grow less and less,
- Be Thou my life and aim;
- Oh, make me daily through Thy grace
- More meet to bear Thy name!
by TOM WILSON, New Zealand
The writer of this short epistle describes himself as "the servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James". James was an eminent leader of the Church at Jerusalem (Acts 15) and half-brother of the Lord (Matt. 13.55). The writer, then, would be well known among the believers, and no doubt highly respected.
The tone of the letter is sharp and Jude’s attitude is to face the problem he mentions direcdy and without equivocation. Although it had been his intention to write of "the common salvation", his priority now was to deal with the serious difficulty they were experiencing because of false teachers among them who were undermining the faith entrusted to the saints. They would have to be rebutted.
In a word, the problem was apostasy. The faithful among them would have "to contend for the faith" — the key phrase in the epistle.
The first section (vv.1-16) exposes the problem; the second (vv.17-25) discusses how to deal with it While Jude was speaking about a problem in his own day, around 66 A.D. or soon afterwards, what he has to say is most relevant to our day, increasingly so as we approach the end of the Church dispensation.
Why to Contend for the Faith, vv.1-16
Vv.1-2. In his opening remarks he mentions three aspects of the believers’ position which would strengthen their faith. They were "sanctified", set apart as holy; "preserved" (or "kept"), upheld by God in every situation; and "called", chosen by Him through the Gospel. As they came to grips with the situation which confronted them, they would need three qualities which he also mentions: mercy, peace and abundant love.
V.3. This is the key verse—his purpose in writing. He puts aside his original purpose of writing about the salvation they shared to urge them to take a stand against apostate teachers — "earnestly contend for the faith once (for all) delivered unto the saints".
It is important to understand the difference between apostasy and heresy. A heretic is one who holds a belief, or beliefs, clearly contrary to Scripture; an apostate is someone who has not only forsaken the beliefs and principles he or she once held, but opposes them. Apostasy is much more subtle than heresy. Invariably, the heretic is clearly identified because he is outside the fellowship of believers. An apostate, on the other hand, may well be among the believers. He may well have professed salvation, been baptized, taken his place among the believers in assembly fellowship, won their confidence, and even be exercising a teaching and preaching ministry. Only gradually does his opposition and true position begin to emerge. Subtly, the "tares" begin to grow, gradually the truth is undermined and the testimony is torn asunder. What Jude is saying is that they have to take a stand — "earnestly contend for the faith".
V.4. He then develops the problem in graphic terms: "For there are certain men crept in unawares (by devious means)". They are ungodly because they oppose God’s truth. They wantonly misrepresent the grace of God, denying the Lord God ("Sovereign Lord", Newberry) and our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is important to notice that these men were actually among the believers. The "enemy within" is more dangerous than those who oppose us from without. The tragedy is that there are those who are undermining the teaching of the Word, yet claim to be upholding it Jude’s epistle shows that this is no new phenomenon.
Vv.5-7. False teachers will incur the judgment of God. Jude substantiates this from their history as a people. The disbelieving Jews in the wilderness wanderings, the fallen angels (probably "the sons of God" referred to in Gen. 6.4), the immoral inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned as cases in point.
Vv.8-11. Scathingly, he calls the false teachers "dreamers", "brutebeasts" ("irrational animals", Newberry) and "corrupt". They are like Cain who rejected God’s provision, Balaam who hired himself out to the enemies of God whom he purported to serve, and Korah who rebelled against God’s authority.
Vv.12-16. He closes his profile of apostates with six fearful metaphors: "spots" (or "sunken rocks") in their love feasts, causing believers to founder; "feeding (shepherding) themselves", leaving the flock to wander; "clouds without water", giving no refreshment to the believers; "trees without fruit", devoid of spirituality; "raging waves of the sea", causing upset and shipwreck; and "wandering stars", drifting off in their vain imaginations into oblivion. At this point he quotes from a non-canonical book, The Book of Enoch, which foretells the emergence of such people and declares that they will be judged when the Lord returns.
Finally, we have Jude’s own verdict They are "murmurers, com-plainers (grumblers)", undermining authority, "walking after their own lusts (evil desires)". They love to be heard, using great swelling words, and flattery which is the stock in trade of all who wish to deceive.
We live in a pragmatic generation which would judge such pronouncements to be unduly harsh. But consider the offence committed by apostate teachers: wilfully opposing and misrepresenting the truth of God. Such a reprehensible act can only be exposed in the most stringent terms.
For us, the solemn lesson is clear: we must never go along with those who by abusing the Scriptures are effectively undermining the people of God. There are such today. Indeed, this is characteristic of these last times: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the
latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4.1,2). They are intolerant of the truth: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4.3,4).
As we look out on our world we see radical change, resurgent paganism and rampant apostasy. Nothing is sacred. Even assemblies of the Lord’s people are being affected by this rash of evil. The Epistle to Jude says to us that if we would walk in obedience to the Lord we will "earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints". (To be continued).
- Worry is a burden that God never meant for us to bear.
- Heaven’s delights will far out-weigh earth’s difficulties.
- To show His love, Jesus died for me; to show my love I must live for Him.
- Work done well for Christ will receive a "well done" from Christ.
- God says, "Don’t wait!" Satan says, "Procrastinate!"
- There are two kinds of Christians—those who wait on the Lord and those who keep the Lord waiting.
- Where the human spirit fails, the Holy Spirit fills.
- A Christian never falls asleep in the fire or water, but he often grows drowsy in the sunshine.
- Backsliding stops when the knee-bending starts.
- The word "easy" appears only once in the New Testament and then in connection with "yoke."
- You show what you know when you act on the fact.
- Is what you’re living for worth dying for?
—Anthony Orsini, Florida, U.S.A.
by Jack Strahan, Enniskillen
"PEACE, PERFECT PEACE"
EDWARD HENRY BICKERSTETH (1825—1906)
Edward Henry Bickersteth was born January 1825, at Islington and was named after his father and grandfather. His grandfather, Henry Bickersteth, had been a surgeon in Kirkby-Lonsdale, Westmoreland. His father, Edward Bickersteth, was a minister in the Church of England, a godly man who, after spending much of his life in the service of the Church Missionary Society, gave the last twenty years of his ministry to the parishioners of Watton, Hertfordshire.
Edward Henry grew up at Watton Rectory. His childhood there was packed with activity and was unforgettable. The "Recollections" of his sister, Emily, permit a look-in on life at the Rectory in those days, "At 5.30 every morning an alarm clock went off and Edward who tumbled half asleep into a shower-bath and soon roused all his sisters by vigorous knocks on their doors. In an hour’s time, all were downstairs, the boys at work with their tutor… The rector himself spent part of this time in a retired walk, engaged in his devotions. At 7.50 he returned from his walk and gathered his children into his study where each one repeated passages of the Holy Scriptures of their own choosing, some of them learning whole books of the Bible".
During his days at Watton Rectory, Edward got to know the Saviour. On a Sunday afternoon, after months of spiritual hunger and struggle and while reading Krumacher’s "Elijah the Tishbite", he committed himself to the Saviour for salvation and entered into the peace and joy of knowing that he belonged to Christ. He was then fourteen years of age and soon afterwards dedicated his life to the service of God.
Edward entered Trinity College, Cambridge when he was eighteen and after four years of diligent study graduated B.A. with honours in 1847. He gained his M.A. three years later. After ordination in the Church of England he held two short curacies from 1848 – 1852, at Banningham in Norfolk and at Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Then after three years as rector of Hinton-Martell in Dorset, he was appointed to Christ Church, Hampstead.
At Hampstead, Bickersteth entered upon his labours with enthusiasm and with diligence. The work was large and his days were busy. Nevertheless he found time for those things which lay close to his heart. The preaching of the gospel occupied much of his time. He personally proclaimed its glorious message both indoors and in the open air and took a great interest in its progress in foreign lands. It was, indeed, a great joy to him when two of his sons gave themselves to overseas missionary service, one to India and the other to Japan. Thus busily, devotedly and faithfully, Bickersteth ministered to the people of Hampstead for thirty years and those years were fruitful for God.
In 1885, Bickersteth was appointed Bishop of Exeter and in that office he continued with all his wonted enthusiasm and diligence for fifteen years till ill health overtook him. This forced his resignation and he then moved to London. For over five years he suffered bodily weakness; nevertheless, through it all, his faith remained strong and on May 16th, 1906 he passed away from "earth’s struggles" to "heaven’s perfect peace".
E. H. Bickersteth was endowed with a fine poetic gift and throughout life devoted much of his time to the furtherance of hymnology. As a compiler his best work was his "Hymnal Companion", first published in 1870. As a composer, Bickersteth ranks among the finest of his day. His subject matter was diverse — some of his hymns were gospel, some missionary but most were written for the encouragement and comfort of the people of God. The features of his compositions have received fitting comment by Dr. John Julian"… there is a smooth plaintiffness and individuality in his hymns which give them a distant character of their own. His thoughts are usually with the individual, and not with the mass; with the single soul and his God and not with a vast multitude bowed in adoration before the Almighty. Hence, although many of his hymns are eminently suited to congregational purposes, and have attained to a wide popularity, yet his finest productions are those which are best suited for private use".
The best known of Bickersteth’s hymns is "Peace, perfect peace". Though often sung by collected companies of God’s people, it is a fine example of a hymn suited for private use; in this capacity it was a great favourite with Queen Victoria.
This lovely hymn was written by Bickersteth in August, 1875, during the period of his Hampstead ministry. At that time, the Bickersteths, as a family, had gone on holiday to Harrogate in Yorkshire. For some years the usual practice of the family at Sunday tea-time had been for each member to quote a hymn of their choosing and for father to conclude the session with one of his choice or of his own making. In the morning of the Sunday in question, Bickersteth had been to hear the vicar of Harrogate preach from the lovely text of Isaiah 26.3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee". In the afternoon he went for a solitary walk on the moors. The beauty of the phrase, "perfect peace" filled and flooded his mind. He then called on a sick relative and found him bravely fighting a terminal illness but ill at ease spiritually. Bickersteth’s afternoon’s meditation, "perfect peace", then took shape in verse and the sharing of it brought great comfort to his dying friend. Later that same afternoon at the tea-table he read to his family the lines of his completed hymn,
- "Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
- The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
- Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
- To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
- Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
- On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.
- Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
- In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.
- Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
- Jesus we know and He is on the throne.
- Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?
- Jesus hath vanquished death and all its powers.
- It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease
- And Jesus call us to heaven’s perfect peace".
"Perfect peace" is the English rendering of the beautiful Hebrew, "Shalom Shalom" of Isaiah 26.3 and bespeaks the inner tranquility of the human heart stayed upon and kept by Jehovah. That uninterrupted blessedness was the portion on earth of the Lord Jesus, amid the vicissitudes of life. In a world of sin, away from home, amind earth’s sorrows, subject to life’s pressures, and even when overshadowed by death, His heart enjoyed its perfect rest. He called it, "My peace" and, as a precious legacy, bequeathed it to His own (John 14.27).
This inner peace of the believer is daily assailed and threatened. Bickersteth in his hymn, however, assures us that for each distressing perplexity that comes our way, there is a corresponding Divine supply. The opening six stanzas, each in the form of question and answer, speak of,
- A peace amid earth’s defilement through Jesus precious blood,
- A rest amid earth’s pressure in Jesus perfect will,
- A repose amid earth’s struggles on Jesus priestly bosom,
- A serenity amid earth’s separations through Jesus present keeping,
- An assurance amid earth’s apprehensions in Jesus perpetual control, and
- A cheer amid earth’s gloom because of Jesus personal victory.
The closing stanza points onward beyond this world to "heaven’s perfect peace". The things that vex us now will then be no more — "no more curse" to blight that heavenly place, "no more death" to cast its long dark shadow, "no more sorrow" to crush the tender and broken spirit and "no more sea" to ever again cause another separation. The former things will have passed away; then God and the Lamb will reign supreme and every heart will know its "perfect peace".
- Though far from God by nature
- By Grace are we brought nigh,
- Cleansed by the Blood most precious
- From sins of scarlet dye,
- Henceforth with joy and gladness
- In singleness of heart
- Let’s serve our Lord and Master
- And ne’er from Him depart.
- As pilgrims in the desert
- May we each passing day
- Sustained by heavenly
- Manna Pursue our homeward way,
- Our one ambition ever
- That God be glorified
- While waiting for the morning
- When Christ shall claim His Bride.
- In glory then forever
- Shall we the praises swell
- Of Him who died to save us
- From an eternal Hell,
- Of Sovereign Grace the riches
- Shall God in us display,
- Then loudest Hallelujahs
- Shall sound harmoniously.
by James H. Wilkinson.