ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
JONATHAN AND HIS TIMES
by W. W. Fereday
THE SERVANT SONGS OF ISAIAH
by G. Hutchinson
BIRDS OF THE BIBLE (GENESIS)
by I. McKee
THE TRUTH OF GATHERING TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
by I. W. Gibson
THE DOUBLE OFFERINGS
by A. Summers
THOUGHTS OF TIMOTHY IN 2 TIMOTHY – No. 1
by S. Walvatne
MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH 9.6
by J. M. Flanigan
Assembly Testimony Bible Class
by J. Riddle (Cheshunt)
29) “THOU SHALT … THOU SHALT NOT”
Read Chapter 22
In the previous paper this chapter was divided into six sections and the first three were expounded.
4) PREVENTION OF ACCIDENTS, v.8
“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement (‘parapet’, JND) for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.” It has been said that “health and safety” have become the most feared words in the English language but, quite clearly, the Lord had this in mind, together with appropriate “building regulations,” long before it crossed the minds of our legislators! His Word is intensely practical.
While the “good neighbour” theme is certainly apparent here, we must not miss the spiritual lesson. C. A. Coates emphasises this in saying, “We must not forget to safeguard what we build so that there may not be a point of danger, and one would gather from this verse that it is the high parts of the building which most need safeguarding.” Sadly, many believers have been injured because the “parapet” of sound teaching has been missing, or the “parapet” of shepherd care, or in cases where assemblies are very proud of their orthodoxy and regard themselves as centres of excellence, the “parapet” of humility. We must not forget that in the spiritual realm, as in other realms, “prevention is better than cure.”
5) PROHIBITION OF MIXTURES, vv.9-12
In these verses, which should be compared with Lev.19.19, we have, first of all, three prohibitions:
i) Seeds were not to be mixed, v.9. “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.” There are, of course most important spiritual lessons here, but we must not overlook the sound reasons for this command, all of which emphasise the supreme wisdom of God. The writer is indebted to Mr. Tom H. Ratcliffe, author of Bible Plants, Fruits and Products, for his personal help in explaining this statute. Amongst other things, he points out that “seeds, according to their size, require specific sowing depths … A farmer would not be able to sow at the correct depth for both kinds (small and large seeds) together.” He continues: “The time taken for different seeds to germinate varies enormously … Seedlings of fast germinating types are likely to smother seedlings that emerge later.” Further: “If a harvested seed crop delivered to a seed merchant contains other crop species, it is classified as contaminated or adulterated. If the contaminants are pernicious and cannot be removed, the lot is condemned as waste.” Further, and most important, “The injunction given in the two said Scriptures (Lev.19.19; Deut.22.9) is vitally important in relation to the production of “fine flour” for use in the offerings. Without exception, the references to “fine flour” or “flour” always relate to “wheaten flour,” and it would be impossible to produce such fine flour if, for example, wheat and barley were sown together.”
Having noticed, once again, the supreme wisdom of God in the immediate context, we cannot escape some most important applications. Like Israel (see, for example, Isa.6), the local assembly should be a spiritual vineyard, where the “fruit of the Spirit” is produced. See Gal.5.22-23. It must be a place where “the words of faith and good doctrine” are not invaded by the “profane and old wives fables,” 1Tim.4.6-7, and where “all the counsel of God” is not displaced by men “speaking perverse things,” Acts 20.27,30. C. H. Mackintosh is not at all out of date in saying, “It is to be feared there is a terrible amount of “mingled seed” used in the so-called spiritual husbandry of the present day. How much of “philosophy and vain deceit,” how much of “science falsely so called,” how much of “the rudiments of the world” do we find mixed up in the teaching and preaching throughout the length and breadth of the professing church!” The “precious seed,” Ps.126.6, of the gospel has been jettisoned for “divers seeds,” and it is no longer generally accepted by professing Christians that men are saved alone “by grace … through faith,” and “not of works,” Eph.2.8-9. Our great bulwark against “divers seeds” is to hold fast “the faithful word” and to maintain “sound doctrine,” Tit.1.9.
ii) Animals were not to be mixed, v.10. “Thou shalt not plow with an ox or an ass together.” The immediate reason for this injunction lies in the cruelty of the arrangement. It would be quite inhumane for a strong animal and a weak animal to be yoked together during their work. But as before, the spiritual lessons are most important, it has been pointed out that amongst other things, the height and walk of the animals was different, and that it would be very difficult in these circumstances to plough a straight furrow, not to mention that the ox was designated a clean animal, Deut.14.4, but not the ass. All of this recalls the danger of the unequal yoke: “Be ye not equally yoked together with unbelievers,” 2Cor.6.14-18. It should be remembered that whilst this passage can be applied to marriage it refers in context to idolatry. On a positive note, Paul referred to an unnamed brother at Philippi as a “true yokefellow,” Phil.4.3. It is very important for fellow-labourers to pull evenly. After all, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos.3.3.
iii) Clothing was not to be mixed, v.11. “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.” According to an authority quoted by Jamieson Faussett & Brown, the “researchers of modern science have proved that wool when combined with linen … brings on malignant fevers, and exhausts the strength” in hot climates. It does seem, therefore, that in this case, as before, there is good practical reason for this prohibition. We know that in the course of their ministry the priests in the millennial temple will be “clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come upon them … they shall not gird on anything that causeth sweat,” Ezek.44.17-18. It has been said that wool suggests “natural warmth and energy,” whereas linen suggests “the fine texture of what is spiritual” (C. A. Coates). The entry under “Wool” in Morrish’s New and Concise Bible Dictionary calls the combination “an unnatural mixture, figurative of the working of the Spirit and the flesh in a Christian.” This does not seem unreasonable.
The three prohibitions above are followed by the command: “Thou shalt make thee fringes (‘tassels’, JND) upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself,” v.12. Since the meaning of the word “vesture” is literally “covering” (JND margin) some suggest that this refers to “tassels on the coverlet of the bed,” but Raymond Brown takes a nice mid-position in saying, “For most Hebrew people, the cloak and the four tassels served a dual purpose; it was an outer garment by day and a heavy blanket at night.” In this case, we need not look for any reason for the “tassels” other than the fact that they were a constant reminder of the necessity for obedience in the same way that the “ribband of blue” was to remind God’s people to “remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God,” Num.15.37-41. Whilst we are not in the habit of sewing tassels on our coats, we should certainly never forget that we are to be “obedient children,” 1Pet.1.14.
—to be continued (D.V.)
“Jonathan and his times”
by W. W. Fereday
Jonathan and his armour-bearer set out that day with a very simple bit of reasoning in their souls. “Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that Jehovah will work for us: for there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few,” 1Sam.14.6. To Jonathan the Philistines, whatever their numbers and prowess, were simply “these uncircumcised,” i.e. they were men not in relationship with God. On the other hand, Israel was in relationship with God, hence the twice-repeated covenant name “Jehovah.” Faith in Jonathan therefore could see no difficulty. If God was not with the Philistines, they had no real power; and if God was indeed with Israel, then almighty Power was at hand, if only there was faith to use it. How charmingly simple is all this! Have we learned the lesson? Do we deplore the lack of power visible in the Church today? Is not the Church still the temple of God, and does not the Spirit of God still abide therein? 1Cor.3.16. What do we want more, but just the simple faith to go forward in dependence upon Him?
Jonathan felt, and rightly, that if God was moving, numbers mattered nothing. “There is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few.” Gideon accomplished the deliverance of Israel with but three hundred men, furnished, not with weapons, but with pitchers, lamps, and trumpets, Jdg.7. Paul reminds us that “neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase,” 1Cor.3.7. Two or three humble men, without visible resources, moving about preaching the Gospel of Christ, were once described as “these that have turned the world upside down,” Acts 17.6.
Moreover, Jonathan had the consciousness in his soul of his link with the people of God — with Israel. Hence his words in v.12, “Jehovah hath delivered them into the hand of Israel.” We observe the same feature in David when he went forth to encounter the giant, “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel … He will deliver you into our hands,” 1Sam.17.46,47. In both cases there was no independent action. The faith was indeed their own, but they acted for and with the nation that God owned as His. Saul was utterly destitute of this feeling: hence his words in 1Sam.14.24, “mine enemies.” In all our labours and conflicts, let us never forget that we are part of a great divine unity, the body of Christ. The mass of our brethren may possibly be in a spiritually low condition, but they are our brethren nevertheless, and the Church, whatever its state, is still owned of God. We serve therefore as representing it, and for its edification and blessing.
Jonathan asked God for a sign, and He was graciously pleased to grant it. The two men proposed to discover themselves to the enemy, and if the enemy said, “Tarry until we come to you,” they would remain where they were, and see what God would do; but if the enemy said, “Come up unto us,” they would accept the call as assurance from God of a complete victory. Let us not miss the lesson of this sign. “Come up unto us” was the language of complacent security. A single boulder would have easily destroyed two men clambering painfully up rugged rocks, yet no boulder was rolled down upon them, so secure did the Philistines feel, and so deep was their contempt for the two climbers. Nothing is more deadly than a human sense of strength and security; but nothing is more blessed than a spiritual sense of weakness and dependence upon God. Let us cultivate the latter increasingly.
As soon as Jonathan and his armour-bearer reached the top they began to slay, and simultaneously Jehovah caused an earthquake. Panic ensued. The Philistines fled hither and thither, apparently killing one another as they went. Thus did God work for the discomfiture of the insolent foe.
Saul’s watchmen reported the commotion, but the King was not in the secret. Neither was the priest, who at the King’s bidding brought thither the ark, and began to inquire of God, receiving however no answer. God was not interested in these religious formalists, but was acting altogether apart from them, as He has frequently done down to our own day.
Success Invariably Attracts Numbers
Those of God’s people who had gone over to the Philistines (the inspired writer calls them in contempt “Hebrews,” not “Israelites”), and others who had hid themselves, now turned out to share the victory. Both traitors and cowards were now willing to identify themselves with God’s side, now that side was triumphant. It has ever been so; but immeasurably more pleasing to God are the godly minority who cleave to Him, and are willing to accept both reproach and peril for His Name’s sake. The God-fearing ones of Mal.3.16, and “the rest in Thyatira,” Rev.2.24, are examples of this.
The remainder of 1Sam.14 is rather the story of Saul than of Jonathan. The poor benighted King almost turned the victory into disaster. The meddlesomeness of flesh in divine movements is always to be dreaded. Saul’s foolish prohibition of all food until the work was finished led to frightful licence on the part of the people as all unnecessary prohibitions are apt to do. Jonathan had his eyes opened by disobeying his father (for he ate some honey); David says, on the contrary, “the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes,” Ps.19.8. This means that true enlightenment is found in the path of obedience to God.
The forms of religion were still acknowledged by the King; He built an altar, (the first he ever built to Jehovah), and instructed the priest to inquire of God about the further pursuit of the Philistines. Finding himself divinely ignored, he suspected divine displeasure somewhere; but he was so utterly far from God that the thought never occurred to his mind that he was the offender. How deceitful is the flesh!
When the lot was taken, he positively passed sentence of death upon Jonathan! Ignorance and folly could scarcely have gone further. But the common sense of the people revolted against the King’s stupidity. “Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid.” So the matter ended. Saul went home, and the Philistines got away without further chastisement. The whole chapter is deeply humiliating in its exposure of the helplessness and folly of religious flesh, and withal is blessedly exhilarating in its precious assurance of what God can do with even the feeblest instruments who are right in heart towards Him, and who are able to trust Him wholly.
From this point the history of Jonathan is interwoven with that of David. For some reason he played no part in the valley of Elah, although he appears to have been in the camp of Israel at the time. Was he not at that moment a vessel “meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work?” 2Tim.2.21. It does not at all follow that because a man is ready for God at one time he is ready at another. Faith in the choicest saints fluctuates seriously. We see this in Elijah very distinctly. But the sovereignty of God is the more likely explanation of Jonathan’s inactivity in the presence of Goliath. One of the great lessons of the Book of the Acts is that God acts as and when He pleases, using whomsoever He will. His time had come to introduce David to the people; accordingly the lad was brought forth in all the sweet simplicity of his faith, contrasting so completely with the ponderous formality and spiritual deadness of the man of the people’s choice.
—to be continued (D.V.)
The Servant Songs of Isaiah
By G. Hutchinson (N. Ireland)
PAPER 2 — Isaiah 49.1-13
The first Servant song, 42.1-9, portrayed the character of Jehovah’s Servant as meek and yet supremely able to establish justice on earth. His blessing was also seen to embrace both Jew and Gentile. In the second song the narrative again covers similar ground but there is a much clearer emphasis on the Servant’s initial rejection by Israel and then His subsequent blessing for the Gentiles. The final restoration of Israel as a repentant nation is a truth that is seen to draw out worldwide praise. In a section of the prophecy not without its complexities, this article briefly touches on four features:
DIFFICULTIES OF THE PASSAGE
There are at least two potential problems that need to be addressed in order to correctly understand the passage. The first difficulty is that of identification — who precisely is the Servant referred to in v.3 and throughout the song/poem? Though the nation of Israel carries this designation or title elsewhere in the prophecy, 41.8, the passage teaches that the Servant has a ministry toward the nation, v.4, and so the description cannot be of Israel. Rather the song and title of v.3 centres on the Lord Jesus Christ as Jehovah’s perfect Servant. The fact that He shares the same title as the nation is particularly interesting. It seems that a major focus of the song is to illustrate that whereas Israel continued to fail as a servant the same could not be said of Messiah!
A second potential difficulty in the song relates to its interpretation. How can a commentary that highlights the Servant being formed, v.1, and discouraged, v.4, relate to the Lord? The answers are more easily obtained when we remember that the passage relates mostly to the earthly ministry of the Lord (which, of course, has eternal implications). We recall how He was born of the virgin, a truth Isaiah himself foretells, 7.14, and how He grew weary from His labours, cp Jn.4.6. Therefore, accepting that the work of Jehovah’s perfect Servant is in view, we are best placed to understand the content and practical implications of the song.
DIVISION OF THE PASSAGE
The second song marks an important new phase in Isaiah’s prophecy. In the second part of the book, chs.40-66, it is often remarked that there are three major cycles consisting of nine chapters apiece, chs.40-48; 49-57; 58-66. David Baron and others have remarked that in each of these divisions they all end with a similar refrain “there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” 48.22; 57.21; 66.24. The Servant songs occupy an important place within this structure and three of the four are located in the second part, 49.1-13; 50.4-11 and, of course, 52.13-53.12. Therefore we are to learn that the Lord Jesus is not only Jehovah’s perfect Servant but also that He alone is able to triumph over evil and bring peace. Ch.49 commences the second part of the book’s concluding section and the readers’ attention is drawn to Messiah’s ability to bring worldwide salvation. In terms of an internal division to the second song, there appears to be a threefold phase:
• vv.1-4 Outline The Stature Of The Servant;
• vv.5-7a Present The Service Of The Servant;
• vv.7b-13 Show The Success Of The Servant.
DETAILS OF THE PASSAGE
Having earlier identified the Servant in v.3 to be none other than the Lord Jesus, it is clear that He is initially the speaker in the song (until v.6) and then Jehovah Himself interjects and reveals His Servant vv.7-12. As the Servant’s character and work are unveiled, the conclusion is one of universal praise, v.13. There are a number of approaches to interpret this particular song. Historically, it seems to draw a sharp distinction between Cyrus, who had been raised up by God to liberate the nation from exile in Babylon and Messiah who not only restores the nation but brings about universal salvation, 49.6. Prophetically, the song covers a kaleidoscope of divine truth. The first coming of the Saviour is documented as He was born, serving Jehovah throughout His earthly sojourn but ultimately facing rejection and persecution by Israel. Thoughts then turn to His focus on the Gentiles and the song concludes with the final blessing for all those who associate themselves with the Servant. Notice how the Apostle Paul applies the words of v.8 to the present dispensation of grace in 2Cor.6.2. Nonetheless, the soul is particularly nourished when we consider the song from its devotional setting. Consider the following features of the Servant:
His calling: The opening verse indicates that the perfect Servant was called before His birth and our thoughts turn to 9.6 as we remember that though He was the “child born.” He was also the “Son given.”
His concealment: Having spoken of His entrance, the Servant also considers how Jehovah had made preparation for His work, v.2. Not only had He been hidden in the shadow of Jehovah’s hand — indicating nearness and intimacy — but also in His quiver. Regarding the period of concealment, it has been suggested that it may relate to the thirty years prior to the Servant’s public ministry and may also have a more current application — His present work in Heaven prior to His second advent. The purpose of the concealment was not only to increase the impact of the Servant’s ministry but also to convey thoughts of Jehovah’s care and protection.
His character: The song unveils the Lord as Servant, vv.3, 5-7; Saviour, v.6; Sovereign, v.7, and Shepherd, v.10. As in Mark’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus is much more than the Perfect Servant, cp Mk.1.1, 11.
His communication: The Servant remarks that Jehovah had made His “mouth like a sharp sword,” v.2. The weapon in mind is that of a small dagger used for close combat — consider the reference in Jdg.3.16, 21-22. We recall the Saviour’s words during His first coming as He mingled with the people and spoke gracious words that penetrated the heart, cp Lk.4.22; Jn.7.46. The believer today is to enjoy fellowship with God and thereby communicate with words that are warm and weighty.
His confidence: The Servant speaks of His discouragement in v.4 as He laboured and experienced a little blessing. He came to bring Israel back into fellowship with God but they would not be gathered, v.5; cp Matt.23.37. However, despite the discouragement there were no recriminations as the Servant retained confidence in both His commission and the One who sent Him, v.4b. How instructive and encouraging for believers today! We have a sympathetic High Priest who can enter in to how we feel, Heb.4.14-16.
His commission: Though the initial focus of the Servant’s ministry was to Israel, the song reveals that God’s intention is to bless Jew and Gentile alike, v.6. The song anticipates the future repentance of Israel as the catalyst for worldwide blessing, v.8. Also, notice the extent of the blessing as it extends to the “land of Sinim,” v.12, which may be a reference to the Far East (possibly China). However, there are allusions to the cost of the Servant’s work as He is despised and abhorred, v.7. As Christians, we are not to expect an easy passage in a world that rejects the perfect Servant.
His conquest: By the middle of v.7 the thrust of the song turns to victory. Rulers will bow in worship as the Servant’s work is finally vindicated and the words reflect the truth of Phil.2.10, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” The victory stems from both the Servant’s labours and Jehovah’s faithfulness. Harmony with heaven remains the only recipe for progress in our Christian service.
His covenant: The Servant is again viewed as the basis of the covenant relationship between God and His redeemed people, v.8; cp 42.6.
His compassion: As the Servant liberates the world from the grip of sin it is clear that he combines wondrous power with a tender hand — for “He … shall lead them,” v.10.
DELIGHTS OF THE PASSAGE
The second song of Isaiah is filled with sublime truth. There is redemption for this world despite its sin and rebellion toward God, vv.6-7. The perfect Servant found His resource in God, v.5, and we will search in vain if we look for alternatives to help in our Christian service. There is also recompense for God’s Servant as His work is ultimately blessed, v.7b. In the coming kingdom, of which the song beautifully concludes with descriptions of millennial glory, vv.9-12, there will be refreshment even in unlikely places, v9. The believer can also enjoy an oasis in this world of sin, see Ps.23.2. Ultimately, our association with Jehovah’s Servant brings rejoicing, v.13, for in His presence there is always joy, Ps.16.11.
—to be continued (D.V.)
Birds of the Bible (Genesis)
by Ian McKee (N. Ireland)
We have considered Adam’s initial review of all creatures, including the abundant variety of bird species, when each was classified and named, Gen.2.19,20.
Some 1,650 years later another man, Noah, reviewed all creatures, including the fowls of the air. The circumstances were different. Adam’s species review was of nature in all its pristine glory. Noah’s review was of nature marred by the fall through sin. Yet God would provide for the continuation of life beyond the pending flood by means of the ark that He instructed Noah to build.
Clean Birds and Not Clean Birds
General references to birds are found in Gen.6.7,20 and Gen.7.3,8,14,21,23, although the careful reader will discover that a new distinction is now introduced additional to Adam’s creatorial or biological classification: namely “clean” and “not clean.”
In Gen.6.19,20 we read “And every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind …”.
However, when we come to Gen.7.2,3 we have the additional instruction, “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.”
Clean and not clean! Clean and not clean beasts! Clean and not clean birds!
The listing of what constitutes clean and unclean must wait until Lev.11. However, it is only in relation to bird species, in Gen.8.7-12, that a specific example is provided from each category: the raven as representative of the “not clean” category; the dove representing the “clean”. What constitutes the difference? Essentially their characteristic diet, habits and utterances.
Not surprisingly it is the diet, habits and utterances of men and women that characterise them as either clean or not clean. The old adage remains true: sow a thought and reap an action; sow an action and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny!
Gal.5.19-23 contrasts the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the Spirit.” This dramatically highlights opposites in relation to diet, habits and utterances: in essence the “not clean” and the “clean” — a principle of classification first outlined to Noah and graphically illustrated by the two species of birds.
The raven is the largest of the passerines, or perching birds. It is the most impressive member of the crow family with black plumage, thick bill and shaggy throat feathers. When flying high up, its long, narrow wings, projecting neck and head and wedge-shaped tail give the raven a distinctive black cross-shape silhouette. Often it is its deep and guttural voice, almost a bark, which is audible at long range that draws attention to it. Ravens will eat almost anything: seeds and fruit, small animals and birds (they will also plunder nests for eggs and young) as well as carrion and refuse.
The ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. But it was not until the first day of the tenth month that the tops of the mountains were seen. Then at the end of another forty days Noah seeks to establish the external environment: “And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth,” Gen.8.7.
Why did Noah select a raven to be his eye in the sky? Because of its size, looks and stamina? Did Noah make the same mistake as Samuel did later in relation to selecting a king? Size and impressive looks are not everything! “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart,” 1Sam.16.7.
Surely Noah was not unfamiliar with the habits of ravens? The fact that they had entered the ark as a pair (and not by sevens, the male and the female) denoted the raven as unclean. Its potential usefulness to Noah was negated by its appetite for corruption. It found plenty of carrion to feed on and was perfectly at home in a scene of death and destruction, in the loneliness of the exposed mountain tops.
Did Noah overlook that propensity? If so, why? Could it be that during the year in the ark Noah had concluded that the raven’s character had undergone a fundamental revision? Clearly it would not have acted like a typical raven in the ark, which gave a preview of millennial conditions when nature definitely was not “red in tooth and claw.” But when those restrictions were removed the raven’s true character reasserted itself. In seeking to pursue natural liberty, it remained enslaved to its base appetites.
This reminds us of the unregenerate state of man, with the flesh content with the world under the judgment of God. For the saved person the old man, all that we are in Adam, was crucified with Christ, Rom.6.6. However, while a new nature is imparted on conversion, the flesh is neither removed nor improved, but will remain with us until the end of our lives upon earth.
Noah should have learned from his misjudgment in relation to the raven. But he did not, with sad consequences. The raven’s true nature reasserted itself in a changed environment. The flesh will also reassert itself when allowed to do so. Regrettably Noah’s subsequent lapse, involving drunkenness and nakedness, evidences that fact. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” I Cor.10.12.
Lord willing, we shall consider Noah and the dove in the next paper.
—to be continued (D.V.)
The Truth of Gathering to the Lord Jesus Christ
By Ian W. Gibson (Winnipeg, Canada)
The Truth of Gathering in Simplicity — Luke 22.8-14
One of the defining Scriptural principles in relation to a New Testament local assembly is the truth that the believers gather simply to the Name and Person of the Lord Jesus. The Lord is at the centre of every gathering of the saints; our gathering centre is Christ Himself; He is the One who is “in the midst” of His people both now and will be also in the future, Matt.18.20, Heb.2.12. This is a truth that will keep and preserve the believer in God’s assembly for the rest of life, or until our Lord returns, regardless of any possible causes for discouragement that may exist. When this truth of gathering makes real impressions upon the soul, there will be produced strong convictions about the assembly so that there will be no desire to leave.
If the conviction of being gathering to the Name of Lord Jesus has never been firmly developed, then there is the likelihood of following in the path of others who drift away and eventually cease to attend. It may be they profess salvation but never take the step of being received into the fellowship of the assembly, and then simply stop attending the meetings, or if they have been received into the fellowship, their attendance becomes increasingly episodic and inconsistent, until it ceases. However, this truth of gathering to the Lord Jesus will keep us in God’s assembly, because it gives a unique distinctiveness to the local assembly, compared with so much else that exists in our day and generation. Surely the grandest and the most blessed truth connected with local assembly fellowship, is that of gathering simply to the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. No other name can be owned and being gathered to His Name adds a dignity that can be found nowhere else.
It is a Scriptural principle all through God’s Word that it is His purpose and desire to simply draw His own people around Himself. In the past, it was His earthly people, the children of Israel, who were gathered around Him. We see that in the tabernacle in the wilderness where God dwelt among His people and they gathered around Him, Ex.25.8, “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” The entire camp of Israel, and their 12 tribes, was organised around the tabernacle in a very orderly way; Num.2.2, “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.”
Presently, it is God’s heavenly people, the Church, who gather here on earth in local companies, around the Person of God’s Son. In Lk.22, we have a delightful illustration of the simplicity of gathering to Him. The Lord instructed Peter and John to go to prepare the Passover, and they were directed to “a large upper room furnished,” v.12. In a way which involved no great activity of the flesh, “they went, and found as He had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him,” vv.13-14. Clearly the twelve disciples were the invited guests of the Lord, He was the divine Host. He gave the instructions regarding the preparation of the place, v.8, that “guestchamber” where He would eat the Passover with His own, v.11, and He made all the arrangements for the twelve to be in His presence, to be “with Him,” v.14, as His invited guests. So it is, in the gatherings of the local assembly, that our Lord desires our presence, when we can simply be with Him as a company, and be His invited guests.
In v.10, we note there was a guide, to lead Peter and John to the place; it was “a man … bearing a pitcher of water,” and the Lord’s instruction was “follow him.” Normally in those days this would be a woman’s occupation; to see a man doing this was somewhat extraordinary. Scripture uses water as a type of the Holy Spirit of God, Jn.7.38, and the Word of God, Eph.5.26. Thus this man, with the pitcher of water, would be a picture of the Spirit and the Word of God guiding a soul to the gathering centre, and all who obey the Word of God will find the assembly. The truth of gathering to the Lord Jesus Christ ultimately (like all divine truth) must be divinely revealed to the believer by the indwelling Spirit; “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit … for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God,” 1Cor.2.10. Believers in the Lord Jesus must, therefore, be sensitive to the teaching of the Spirit of God and the Word of God, and be prepared to receive such divine truth. The only reason any of us had desires to be gathered to Him in assembly fellowship, is because we have a divine Person within us, Who desires only to bring us to Christ. As sons of God, we are characteristically “led by the Spirit of God,” Rom.8.14, and we follow the Spirit’s leading and guiding into that upper room, to know and enjoy the privilege of being seated “with Him,” in His holy presence.
In v.12, in the expression “a large upper room furnished,” we note three spiritual features of the local assembly, as a place prepared by Christ, where we gather unto Him. The local assembly is, firstly, a “large” place, not in terms of absolute numbers of believers, for many assemblies are just a few, “where 2 or 3 are gathered together,” Matt.18.20. But “large” in the sense that there is room in the local assembly for all types of men and women, those who are saved and baptised and thus “added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,” Acts 5.14. What characterises a local assembly is that there are believers from many different backgrounds, different cultures and different races and nationalities, and they gather as a company of brothers and sisters in the Lord. Any distinctions, divisions or prejudices that human society would recognise, are all set aside, and all the saints together are able to equally enjoy gathering to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Secondly in v.12, the local assembly is an “upper room,” or an upper loft, which means it is above the level of the street. How important it is to remember that when we gather to the Lord Jesus, we must never bring in to the assembly anything that is of the street. The language, dress and behaviour of the street should not be displayed in the local assembly. Sometimes, sadly, the local assembly is brought down to the level of the street, such that saints behave like unsaved men. But to be “with Him,” we go up above street level, to an “upper room,” to gather to Him where He is.
Spiritually, when we gather as an assembly, to praise and worship God the Father, we leave this world and the level of the street far behind: Heb.10.19, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” We enter into the heavenly sanctuary, Heb.8.2, “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.” When we worship, we are above the level of the street, spiritually we enter into the holiest, into heaven itself. Let us never lose appreciation of this truth, for the danger is that in our worship we bring Christ down to the level of the world, so that what is regarded as “worship” is indistinguishable from worldly entertainment. God desires to lift us up above the street, to the level of purged worshippers, to “draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water,” Heb.10.22.
When Christ first found us, in His grace, we were at the level of the street; in the language of the Samaritan , Lk.10, He came to where we were. But if we are now going to gather to Him, to enjoy fellowship “with Him,” as His invited guest, He will lift us up above street level, and give us all the dignity that is linked with being sons of God. That means, therefore, that whatever I am at street level really matters nothing when I gather to the Lord Jesus in the local assembly. I might be a very important person, have all kinds of titles, degrees or letters; I might have accomplished much at street level, but when we gather to Him in the upper room, all that is left behind — we are all equally brothers and sisters in the Lord, and sons of God, a title that is far superior to any earthly title. All the titles and accomplishments of men are of no spiritual value in the assembly, where we gather simply to the Person of the Lord Jesus.
Thirdly in v.12, the local assembly is “furnished,” the tense is the perfect participle (Newberry), which means “having been furnished.” The local assembly is a place that has been divinely furnished by God, and fully furnished with nothing less than the presence and Person of Christ. We have all that we will ever need when we gather, when we have Christ, our risen and glorified Head in our midst. We do not need to bring in things from outside, from the world, to equip or furnish the local assembly. It is obviously sensible to have a suitably comfortable venue to gather in, but we do not need overly elaborate, ornate buildings, grand furnishings, stained-glass windows, beautiful organ music and choirs, men dressed in robes and fine garments etc. That is what pertains in much of Christendom, but it is all just man-made religion, and based upon what pertained in a past dispensation under Judaism, which God ended at Calvary. In this present age of the Spirit, the local assembly needs not to be furnished with any of these things, for with Christ in the midst it is divinely furnished, it is fully furnished with His holy presence, and we can enjoy His presence with nothing of the distractions of man-made religion.
To the world and to unbelievers, there is nothing about the assembly to attract, it appears weak and unimpressive. But as God’s beloved Son is given His proper and pre-eminent place in our midst, as we gather to Him, it means everything to God, and it delights the heart of His Son. This is the simplicity and beauty of gathering, as we do presently in local companies, to the Person of the Lord Jesus. We seek to continue steadfastly gathering unto Him, until He comes again, when the entire Church will be raptured out of this world, and we will all gather around Christ for a blessed eternity.
In the subsequent papers, God willing, we will look further at this truth, as it is brought to us in Scripture; the truth of gathering in prophecy, in picture, in promise, in pattern and in prospect.
—to be continued (D.V.)
The Double Offerings
by A. Summers (Scotland)
In these three articles the offerings in Leviticus that require identical pairs of animals to be offered, will be examined. By this is meant offerings in which two animals of the same species and sex were offered in one ceremony as part of one offering. The best-known example is the goat upon which “the Lord’s lot fell” and the “scapegoat” in Lev.16. This chapter explains that the congregation of the Children of Israel were to provide “two kids of the goats for a sin offering,” 16.5. Thus although there were two animals one of which was slaughtered and one led away into a “land not inhabited,” 16.22, they were treated under the Law as one offering. However, this arrangement is not unique. In Lev.12 the mother of a baby boy or girl brought a pair of turtledoves or young pigeons in the day of her cleansing. In Lev.14 the priest used a pair of birds, probably sparrows, in the ceremony that marked the readmission of a leper who had been cleansed, to the Camp of Israel. In the articles that follow the reasons for this unusual feature of the offerings will be discussed. Before embarking on that exercise it is necessary first of all to say a little about the usual state of affairs.
As a rule the offerings found in Leviticus are single offerings. Thus for example in ch.1 where the burnt offering is detailed, the narrative proceeds on the assumption that a single animal is being offered. With the bullock, “If his offering be … of the herd … he shall offer it …” Lev.1.3. Regarding the sheep or the goats, “if his offering be of the flocks … he shall bring it …” Lev.1.10. Although it is sometimes asserted that pairs of turtledoves or young pigeons were offered in the burnt offering, Lev.1.14-17 does not support this. “And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the Lord be of fowls then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off his head and burnt it on the altar … and he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers … and he shall cleave it with the wings thereof but shall not divide it asunder. And the priest shall burn it upon the altar.” This assumes that a single bird is offered.
The Meal Offering entailed the provision of basketfuls of flour, cakes, loaves and handfuls of corn but out of this a single memorial was taken and placed on the altar, Lev.2.2,9,16. The remainder, really the bulk of the offering, save for the incense, went to the priest. The Peace Offering in ch.3 consisted of one animal as did the Sin and Trespass Offerings. Even when the sin was committed by the most responsible member of the covenant community, the High Priest, 4.3, the law of the Sin Offering prescribed the offering of a bullock, the most valuable of the clean animals. The Law might have sought to underline the gravity of his sin by requiring many bullocks to be slain. The Law might have offered as an alternative the sacrifice of two or more sheep. Instead a single offering is prescribed.
Perhaps the most striking illustration of this principle is to be found in ch.5 where the Law deals with the person who was unable to bring a lamb for a sin offering. This person was commanded to bring instead “two turtledoves or two young pigeons,” 5.7. Superficially it would look as if the Law was creating an exception to its requirement of a single sacrifice. In fact however, the law preserves the principle by stating “one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.” Thus although the Law required two animals to be brought of the same sex and species, it did not permit a duplicate of one offering.
This consistent emphasis on one offering is striking and is designed to teach an important lesson. That lesson is the sufficiency of the Lord’s death once for all on Calvary — “by one offering hath He perfected forever them that are sanctified,” Heb.10.14. Although as we shall see at various points in Israel’s history people did bring multiple burnt offerings and multiple peace offerings (see e.g. 1 Kgs.3.4) it is striking that this is not provided for in the book of Leviticus. To be fair Leviticus does not expressly proscribe duplicate offerings. But even if we allow that an offerer was not transgressing the Law by bringing multiple offerings, it remains the case that in Israel’s history thereafter multiple sin offerings were never brought. It seems to have been appreciated that the offering that predominantly spoke of sacrifice for sin was a singular and distinct sacrifice.
The absence of duplicate offerings is apparent again in Leviticus ch.8 when Israel’s priesthood was inaugurated. The Lord prescribed two offerings for them. The sin offering was offered in the form of a bullock, 8.14, and this was followed by the offering of a ram for a burnt offering, 8.18. It is perhaps at this point necessary to briefly distinguish these two offerings. The sin offering as we learn in ch.5 was designed to deal with sins of “ignorance” and not for sins in general or for the sinful nature of the offerer. The burnt offering although it undoubtedly dealt with sin, 1.4, was different in emphasis. Unlike the meal, peace and sin offerings, which were only to a limited extent burnt on the altar, the burnt offering was almost entirely for the altar. Skin was removed in the case of the bullock, 1.6, and the crop (gullet) and feathers in the case of the birds, 1.16, but that apart, the offering was laid in its entirety on the altar. This emphasises a degree of abandonment to God unparalleled in the other offerings. It is small wonder that the burnt offering has been viewed as the clearest depiction found in the Levitical offerings of the supreme sacrifice of Christ.
The combination of the sin offering and burnt offering is characteristic of the double offerings in Leviticus — see e.g. Lev.14.19,22,31; 15.5,30; cf. Num.6.11. The order is usually the sin offering first and the burnt offering second. This inverts the order of Lev. chs.1-6 where God lays down the ritual of the burnt offering first and thereafter the sin and trespass offerings. The explanation for this is not hard to find. It is clear that the burnt offering was in its own way the highest expression of appreciation of God. As such it heads the list in chs.1-6. However, before man can enter service for God his sin must be dealt with and thus the sin offering precedes the burnt offering. That is not to say that God’s appreciation of the Lord Jesus of Whom all these offerings speak, was usurped by the sin offering. We know that every morning a burnt offering was placed on the altar, Ex.29.38-42. Thus before any sin offering was placed on the altar a burnt offering had preceded it. Everything that was done at the altar was begun with the offering that spoke most fully of God’s appreciation of Christ. Equally every day ended with the burnt offering. The complete surrender of the Lord Jesus and the sweetness of the savour to God was the foundation of the Levitical offerings.
The law of the offerings is marked by diversity. The offerings are divided into five broad classes as noted above but within each class there is further variety so that an offering may be a bullock, a goat, a sheep or a bird. Each animal depicts a different aspect of the death of Christ. The nuances are developed further by variations in age and sex. Thus in some offerings a “young bullock,” Lev.4.3, or a “kid,” Lev.4.23, is required. In others a female as opposed to a male is required, Lev.4.28; cf “the red heifer,” Num.19.2, or either a male or female, Lev.3.1. When therefore two identical animals are offered it is necessary to observe that the general rule in the book of Leviticus, namely that each offering is distinctive and unique is not followed.
In the next two articles the identical offerings will be examined, DV.
—to be continued (D.V.)
Thoughts of Timothy in 2 Timothy 1
by Steve Walvatne (U.S.A.)
An aged veteran weighs anchor and sets his sail for the eternal port that is home. His prison chains will soon be exchanged for glorious liberty: “For I am already being poured out, the time of my release is come …” 2Tim.4.6, JND. But before embarking, his mind’s eye casts a wistful glance at the embattled soldier left behind. “Timothy,” he groans, “my beloved child.” v.2, RV.
So begins this last letter from the apostle Paul. Wrung from his heart, its tone is tender, while its theme is tough. Men like Phygellus and Hermogenes, Hymanaeus and Philetus, were but harbingers of increasing evil, therefore Timothy must commit the truth unaltered to faithful men, who shall be “able” or “competent” to teach others also, 2Tim.2.2.
Reports of desertion and declension would grieve Timothy, but Paul’s immediate extremity and imminent execution would strike a sharper blow. The dual weight of sorrow and responsibility would press hard. And so it always is, whenever the torch of testimony is passed to the next generation. Knowing this, Paul ached for Timothy: “I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring (having “a homesick yearning,” H.C.G. Moule) to see thee, 2Tim.1.3, 4. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me … do thy diligence to come before winter,” 4.9, 21.
But here, Scripture falls silent. We do not know whether Paul saw Timothy again, or if (as Albert Barnes writes) “there were any Christians present to witness the closing scene, and to sustain him by their presence and their prayers.” Yet, we do have these final words teeming with timeless instruction. In them, the apostle ponders particulars concerning Timothy and seeks to strengthen “his hand in God,” 1Sam. 23.16.
First, he recalls Timothy’s Tears: “Being mindful of thy tears,” v.4. Paul’s arrest was likely swift, offering scant opportunity to collect the few items he possessed — his cloke, his books, and the parchments, 4.13. But as abductors tore him from Timothy’s side, he witnessed something that did go with him. Coursing down Timothy’s cheeks were tears; true tears from a true child, 1Tim.1.2, JND. They were windows to Timothy’s soul, manifesting a soft spirit at a time when many were growing hard, 3.3. While not a word of Timothy’s, written or spoken, is recorded in Scripture, we have here that which neither tablet nor tongue can express. The Psalmist said: “… Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in Thy book?” 56.8. God has a bottle to hold and a book to unfold the heartfelt tears of His people. Such tears “will be given back one day to those who shed them, converted into refreshment by the same Power which of old turned water into wine” (A. MacLaren).
Timothy’s tears did not signify susceptibility, but rather suitability for service, and Paul treasured them. He himself was a man of tears. He persevered with tears, Acts 20.19; pleaded with tears, Acts 20.31; Phil.3.18; penned with tears, 2Cor.2.4; prayed and parted with tears, Acts 20.36-38. The pages of Scripture are soaked with the tears of godly men and women. It is said of George Whitfield that people “could not hate the man who wept so much over their souls” (J.C. Ryle). Oh that this exemplified us more!
Then Paul turns to Timothy’s Testimony: “The unfeigned faith that is in thee,” v.5. Pretence (“feigning”) is false profession, a form that’s hollow, and it was infiltrating the church like a bad disease. Timothy stood against this influx of falsehood with a faith that was “unhypocritical.” His testimony was proof of inward reality, Phil.2.22; it not only confirmed legitimacy, but loyalty. Paul could dispatch him and trust his judgement, for the older man’s spirit was evident in the younger. “He worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do,” 1Cor.16.10. “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state,” Phil.2.20.
Some, while genuine, can never be entrusted with responsibility because they lack the devotion and discretion necessary for spiritual work. Not so, Timothy — Paul appreciated his unfeigned faith. These words were a commendation of the highest sort. He “saw with delight the maturing grace of his beloved companion” (Robert Johnstone). Assembly overseers experience similar joy when they observe spiritual growth in fellow believers, especially in the young. How good to be deemed not only true, but trustworthy as well. The Lord said of Abraham: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him,” Gen.18.19.
Next Paul notes Timothy’s Teachers: “Thy grandmother Eunice and thy mother Lois,” v.5. Not a single detail of Scripture is recorded in vain, so we may be certain that the role these women played in Timothy’s development was substantial. Nothing is said of his Greek father, Acts 16.1, perhaps due to limited influence or the fact that he died when Timothy was young. Yet with discipline and unity of spirit, these two Jewish women instructed Timothy in Old Testament truth: “From a child (brephos, a “babe”) thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation,” 3.15.
Order and Scriptural instruction should epitomize the Christian home, with every activity subordinate to those of the assembly. Modern notions of permissiveness are a flagrant denial of Scripture, Prov.13.24; 19.18; 29.15,17; 31.27. “A self will,” wrote Susannah Wesley, “is the root of all sin and misery … whatever checks and mortifies it, promotes (the child’s) future happiness and piety.” Christian parents must beware, for the devil like Pharaoh, seeks to drown our young in Egypt’s current, Ex.1.22. May our prayer for the children echo William Cowper’s words:
- Lord we tremble, for we know
- How the fierce malicious foe,
- Wheeling round his watchful flight,
- Keeps them ever in his sight.
- Spread Thy pinions King of kings,
- Hide them safe beneath Thy wings;
- Lest the rav’nous bird of prey
- Swoop and bear our young away.
—to be concluded (D.V.)
Meditations in Isaiah 9.6
by James M. Flanigan (N. Ireland)
PAPER 1 — A CHILD IS BORN
Our Bible has an intriguing way of saying so much in so few words. Not only so, but how often is such profound truth conveyed in such simple language. This well-known verse is a perfect example of both of these features and its opening clause demonstrates both the brevity and the simplicity in which the profundity of the birth of Messiah is presented.
The eight beautiful clauses of Isa.9.6 are a panorama of the whole Messianic story, ranging from the manger to the millennium, from the swaddling bands to the sceptre, and indeed from eternity to eternity.
A Child is born! Such an event must be repeated a thousand times every hour of every day, world-wide. Usually it is an occasion of rejoicing and as the Saviour Himself noted, it brings that joy which follows the sorrow and anguish of the mother’s travail, Jn.16.21. Again and again, in a myriad languages in every corner of the globe, the glad news is told, “A child is born.”
But the Child of Isa.9.6 is no ordinary Child, nor is His birth an ordinary birth. This Child is the Child of the divine promise, which had been given in Eden as soon as our first parents had sinned and a Redeemer was needed. The promise was repeated through the ages and generations which followed and many details concerning the promised birth were given to and through the prophets.
The nature of the Redeemer’s birth was to be unique, for He would be the Seed of the woman, born of a virgin, Gen.3.15. He would be of the seed of Abraham, Gen.17.19, of the tribe of Judah, Gen.49.10, and of the house of David, Isa.11.1. The very place of His birth was predicted, Mic.5.2. He would be born in Bethlehem, and so accurate was this prediction that it is added “of Ephratah.” To distinguish the birth-place of the Child from another Bethlehem, in Galilee, this Bethlehem is always identified as Bethlehem Ephratah, Bethlehem in the Land of Judah, Bethlehem of Judea. There must be no uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the place where the Child would be born.
After long centuries had come and gone, at last the appointed time arrived for the fulfilment of the promise. It was Gabriel who brought the message to a virgin maiden in Nazareth, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee … thou hast found favour with God and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son,” Lk.1.28, 30-31. Mary’s Child would be miraculously conceived in her virgin womb and after nine months she would bring forth her Son at the right moment and in the right place. “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son,” Isa.7.14; Matt.1.22-23.
However, there was an apparent human problem. Mary lived in Nazareth, in Galilee, but Bethlehem of Judea was some seventy miles away, five or six miles south of Jerusalem. How, or why, should a girl in Mary’s condition journey so many miles through difficult and sometimes hazardous country to Bethlehem in the Land of Judah? Apart from the physical weariness which would be entailed, it was well-known that travellers often fell among thieves in such country, Lk.10.30. How would the older women of Nazareth feel about such a venture at such a time? Was it safe? Was it wise? Was it practical? Well it had to be. But how?
That often quoted expression of J.N.Darby provides the answer, “God is behind all the scenes and He moves all the scenes which He is behind.” How evidently this was to be borne out in the birth of the promised Messiah. There was an Emperor in Rome and a carpenter in Nazareth who ordinarily had little in common but both were to figure in the birth of Mary’s Child and the hearts of both men were in the hands of a sovereign Lord. The Caesar was moved to issue a decree that all in his little world would be taxed. To this end there must be a general enrolment for the taking of a census and to facilitate the enrolment every man must register in the town of his fathers. Caesar the Emperor was sovereign in his own domain and Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth must obey. Accordingly, being of the house and lineage of David, he must travel, with Mary his betrothed wife, to the City of David, Bethlehem of Judea.
How they travelled we do not know. It may well have been by the traditional donkey or mule. Somehow they journeyed south, up to Jerusalem and then onward to Bethlehem. Most likely Joseph had made the journey many times over the years, when, as a pious Jew he would have travelled to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts. But now he was accompanied by a young wife soon to give birth to her first Child. It must have been an anxious time but Mary was a godly maiden who had earlier said, “Be it unto me according to Thy word,” Luke 1.38. She has given to all who follow a fine example of perfect acceptance of the will of God whatever the cost.
Eventually they arrived at the appointed place, only to find that there was no room for them in the inn. They were directed to an out-building, perhaps indeed a stable, and there the ancient prophecy was fulfilled, “A Child is born.” Mary wrapped the Infant in the customary swaddling bands and laid Him in a manger cot. It was a lowly beginning to a lovely life that was to bring so much pleasure to God.
A Child is born! We shall have to observe however that in the birth of Mary’s Child there is enshrined the mystery of the Incarnation of a divine Person. There are things here, in the simplicity of the manger, which are too great for human intelligence. How reverently it must be said, a few pounds of flesh and blood, a tender little new-born life, but in this tiny body dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, Col.2.9. The Ancient of Days has become an Infant of time. Well do we sing, “O the wonder of it all!”
What practical lessons there are for us in this account of Messiah’s birth at Bethlehem. Here we learn that the purpose of God will always be fulfilled, however unlikely that might appear to men. Here too we may see how blessed it is to be in the path of His will for us and here we may know just how great is the privilege of being in the right place, at the right time, and in the right condition to be involved in the working out of the plans of that supreme Sovereignty which arranged the Birth of the Child at Bethlehem in the Land of Judah.
May we ever bow to His will as Mary did, content to suffer whatever the cost may be if only we may please Him.
—to be continued (D.V.)
Good Tidings from Heaven
I stood reverently, silently, awed by the pathetic loveliness of the scene — a garden of graves. Perfect parallel rows of white concrete headstones, traditionally rectangular with a slightly curved top, stood erect above a narrow strip of soil adorned with small flowering plants. At the bottom of each grave there was a small wooden cross with a poppy placed in the centre.
It was a summer afternoon in Holland but the sky was a monotonous grey and it was raining softly — like tears falling. There was a chill in the air too, a feature fitting of most graveyards. Freshly fallen rain and floral fragrance could be faintly smelt.
It was a silent place, broken only by the noise of soft footsteps over the short, damp grass, or by the song of a lone bird. It was a silence that was sombre, a silence that was searching, a silence that pervaded my very being.
I walked slowly from grave to grave, reading each painful, pathetic, poignant epitaph. “Abraham, Adams, Allen, Andrews, Armstrong, Atkinson …” — sons, fathers, brothers, husbands; young and not so young; lieutenants and privates, side by side in a foreign land.
Some inscriptions conveyed a positive message:
“He died that others might live.”
Some celebrated the worth of the deceased:
“You are a cluster of memories framed forever on my heart.”
“To the world just one, to us all the world.”
What loss, what loneliness, what heart wrenching, what joys once known and now forever gone do they silently tell?
I begin another row. A different headstone stands before me – no name, no age, no rank, no date of death, no message from a loved one. Instead I read:
A SOLDIER OF THE 1939-1945 WAR
KNOWN UNTO GOD
Who are you? You are somebody’s son. Did anyone miss you? How did you die — a bomb, a bullet; weakness, sickness; cared for or alone, unnoticed? Why did you go to fight anyway — compulsion, bravado, courage, duty, conviction, love?
I stand back and survey the entire scene. You are all in eternity and yet you speak to me in time. Then my thoughts turn to another scene, referred to in God’s Word as Calvary or Golgotha where an only Son died, in shame, suffering agonies unknown, bearing guilt not His own. Hated, despised, falsely accused, spat upon and surrounded by His enemies, yet demonstrating love unparalleled for the most undeserving, for a world of lost sinners, for you and wondrous grace, even for me. Many who lie in the graves before me, died needlessly but His death was essential that the penalty of sin might be borne and “that we might go at last to heaven, saved by His precious blood.” Jesus, the Son of God died that we might have eternal life. God willingly gave Him, even though He knew the world would treat Him with contempt. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all …” Romans 8.32.
My friend, may you learn that getting to heaven will not be achieved by anything you can ever do, but depends alone upon the value of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, when He “offered Himself without spot to God …” Hebrews 9.14. Why should you suffer for sins when Christ has died for them? “It is enough that Jesus died and rose again for me.”
NEW TESTAMENT THINGS CALLED ‘GREAT’
- Weight of glory, 2Cor.4.17;
- Grace, 2Cor.9.14;
- Greatness of His power, Eph.1.19;
- Riches of His grace, Eph.2.7;
- Abundance of His grace, Eph.2.7;
- Joy, 1Pet.4.13; Jude 24;
- Promises, 2Pet.1.4.
by H. A. Barnes (England)
‘GREAT’ DIVINE ATTRIBUTES IN THE PSALMS (see Psa.104.1)
- Goodness, Psa.31.18; 145.7;
- Glory, Psa.138.5;
- Mercy, Psa.145.8; 86.13;
- Power, Psa.147.5;
- Tender mercies, Psa.119.156;
- Merciful kindness, Psa.117.2;
- Name, Psa.99.3.
by H. A. Barnes (England)
God is willing to fill you out of His inexhaustable fulness — but it will be to do His will — He will not fill you for any other purposes.
Now unto The King Eternal
(the late Frank Squires, Plymouth, submitted by his son)
- From all eternity The King,
- ’Tis of Thy majesty we sing;
- Thy blood-bought ones on earth now raise,
- By Thee, the sacrifice of praise.
- Angelic hosts, unfallen, above,
- Know not Thy wondrous, so great love;
- They do Thy will — obediently,
- We would it do — responsively.
- For Thou, alone, hast our sins purged,
- Proving Thy love by being scourged;
- Thy suffering agony below,
- Those three dark hours, Thy love to show.
- ’Twas wrought in grace and love divine,
- Though majesty was ever Thine;
- Thou poverty on earth didst see
- To make us rich eternally.
- Now all-excelling majesty
- Is seen, exalted Christ, in Thee;
- Undimming radiancy Thou’lt wear,
- Since Thou, for us, our sins dids’t bear.
- Upon the throne so worthily,
- Thou hast triumphant majesty;
- No more are thorns thrust on Thy brow
- But victor’s crown from God hast Thou.
- This place of high renown’s been won
- By Thy subjection, though the Son;
- Obedient Thou e’en to that tree,
- How merited Thy victory!
- The vastness of Thy work alone
- Is by the Father truly known;
- Yet, by the Holy Spirit’s might,
- Saints comprehend breadth, length, depth, height.
- And with surpassing knowledge know
- That love of Thine, shown here below;
- We wait Thy call above to see
- Thee, unveiled Christ, in majesty.
- In that all perfect scene above,
- Unsullied sphere of light and love,
- With fitting praise all heaven rings
- Thou ‘Lord of lords, and King of kings’.