A People Prepared for the Lord

A People Prepared for the Lord

Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-18; Rom. 11:2,4; Luke 1:17; Acts 19:1-6.

What I would like to say is gathered up into this little clause in Luke 1:17 –
“…to make ready for the Lord a prepared people”.
That is put in different ways, but that is a fairly accurate and literal translation.

The vocation of this Elijah-John the Baptist instrument is said to be the making ready for the Lord of a prepared people. Even John the Baptist did not exhaust the declaration about his coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, that there still remains something of that to be accomplished. I am not going to discuss or argue about that. I take it for granted as a settled thing, and that the end-time will see something after that nature, the work of Elijah-John the Baptist as in a vessel.

What I want to come to very quickly is this particular factor or phase of that ministry or that vocation – a prepared people, a people prepared for the Lord. In the main, there are two things which I want to suggest as being characteristic of that prepared people. It is very difficult for us to understand how anyone without prejudice, with an open heart and a sincere and honest spirit, can fail to recognise in the Word of God throughout, that at an end-time the people of God are not all marked by the same measure of preparedness for the Lord. The Lord Himself has made that perfectly clear in His own teaching and in His own parables, and throughout the Word, in the Old Testament and in the New, that there is a people in the midst of the people of God who represent a measure of preparedness for the Lord. They have a fitness, suitability, beyond what is general; their testimony is something more definite, positive and utter. It is very difficult to understand how anybody can fail to recognise that.

Further, it is difficult to understand how people can fail to see that such a company, such a prepared people, stand in a particular and peculiar relationship to God’s thought and purpose, to meet a need which He has in a representative and vocational sense, to serve Him in a peculiar way, for that is also made amply clear to anyone who will be honest with the Word of God. To put that quite concisely, while they may not be an elect of the elect, there may be no such thing recognised, the fact remains that God must have a people prepared for Himself, and that the whole company of those who are His are not prepared, as seen in the Word of God at any end-time in the past or in the end-time yet to be. But the Lord has His heart and mind concentrated upon such a people and they are to Him a peculiar treasure, a special vessel, not because He intended them to be that as apart from the rest, but because the rest are not prepared to pay the price. The rest are not wholly following the Lord; they are following at a distance.

Now, the ministry as represented by Elijah and John the Baptist and then by the two combined in the same Spirit, has to do particularly with this company in the midst of the whole body of the Lord’s people to be prepared for Him, prepared for His coming. If we are willing and open and honest before the Lord, we shall see that that is so more clearly as we see the particular features of such a company or of such a preparedness – the state which He is seeking.

Two Features of a Prepared People
We will proceed, then, to see those features. For the present, just two. But it is an interesting thing that the seven thousand to which the Lord referred were not brought to light, until the time when Elijah came into view. These two things came into view at the same time. The Lord is saying to Elijah, “Return to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Elisha to be prophet in thy room.” I have heard it stated that this was the Lord setting aside Elijah as a repudiated prophet because of his breakdown and failure; that the Lord is saying, ‘You are not going to be prophet any longer.’ I do not accept that for a moment, because Elijah went on for some considerable time after this had happened. But the point is that Elisha came into view then, and almost in the same statement the Lord said, ‘Yet I reserve unto myself seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to Baal!’ ‘Have not’ – they are in existence. They were brought to light in the moment that Elisha was brought to light; the two things came into view at the same time, and that gives us the key to this whole matter of the nature of this people. Here we speak in the type, but we pass over and see the spiritual side of this actually in a moment.

What does Elisha represent? We ought to know quite well the particular significance of Elisha. “Knowest thou that the Lord will take thy master from thy head today?” Elijah was the head. Upon that head the anointing rested. “Grant that I may receive a double portion of thy spirit.” That anointing was to be transferred to Elisha. “Anoint Elisha in thy room.” And when Elisha saw Elijah go up in the chariot of fire, the sons of the prophets said, “The spirit of Elijah does rest upon Elisha”, and they bowed themselves to the ground. The mantle of Elijah was taken up by Elisha. That is the first thing. Then you follow Elisha, and you find that the outstanding characteristic of Elisha’s life and ministry was life, or resurrection life. All the way through, in all those miracles and everything that Elisha did, was in very various forms an expression of resurrection life. He was the power of life conquering death. Now you have got your two things. Elisha signifies the government of the Holy Spirit and the power of resurrection life. Of course, we know that those two things are one, but they are two phases or aspects of the one thing.

Now note. You come to the New Testament. John the Baptist comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. “He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth”, said Gabriel: “The spirit and power of Elijah”. He took that spirit up, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, he carried things on to Him who was the life; the power of resurrection.

We pass into Acts 19, and it is very interesting. “Into what were ye baptized?” said Paul to those disciples. “Into John’s baptism”. John’s baptism! What was in John’s preaching, what was John’s attitude, what was his ministry? To transfer everything to Christ – “…that they should believe on him that should come after”. And when the transfer was made, what happened? They were baptized into the Lord Jesus; the Holy Spirit came upon them. What was it that Paul recognised there at Ephesus among those disciples that made him ask that question, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?” Well, he evidently discerned a lack of life, a lack of power. The marks of the Holy Spirit’s presence were absent, and when John fulfilled his ministry, so to speak, that is, got them over into the Lord Jesus, there was at once the power of the Spirit, the anointing, and the power of resurrection life; the difficulties were overcome, those tragic absences were made good. You find at once that there are manifestations of the Spirit in life.

The Government of the Holy Spirit
We said that the seven thousand came into view when Elisha came into view. The remnant, the people prepared for the Lord, came into view with Elisha, which means, in simple language, that the marks of a people prepared for the Lord are absolute government by the Holy Spirit, and the power of resurrection life. That means a good deal more than you and I have yet recognised. I suppose all Christians, if they are worthy of the name, would confess to the reality of the Holy Spirit, the need of the Holy Spirit, and would go a long way in their recognition of the Holy Spirit’s Lordship and government, and probably every day, every morning, before they go out, they acknowledge the Holy Spirit and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and enablement for the day. That is true of the great mass of Christians, of the general company, we may say of all, speaking generally, who are the Lord’s people, but it means something infinitely more than that.

Evangelical Christianity, recognising the Holy Spirit and writing libraries of books on the Holy Spirit and the ministry and work and power of the Holy Spirit, is still not subject to the Holy Spirit in an utter way. It makes its plans, it organises its work, it sets up its system of Christian activities, and of course commits it to the Holy Spirit and asks the Holy Spirit to bless it and to come upon it and use it, but that is not the government of the Holy Spirit. You cannot in the first instance make any plans if you are Holy Spirit governed. You cannot organise Christian work in the first instance if you are Holy Spirit governed. You cannot lay out a programme for anything in the first instance in relation to the Lord if you are Holy Spirit governed. The first thing is the surrender of everything to Him and getting it by revelation of the Holy Spirit, and not by using your own natural wisdom or judgment or enthusiasm, your good desire for the Lord, and so arranging things for the Lord and asking Him to preside at your arrangement. I do not know if this applies to us, but I am working up to another point where we are concerned.

The real government of the Holy Spirit is a deep thing. It is a very deep thing and a very utter thing, and we must realise that the Holy Spirit always works along the line of revelation, and not along the line of reason at all. When the Holy Spirit does things, you get a lot of blessed and wonderful surprises, and even the most evangelical men are afraid to trust the Holy Spirit. Get a convention and a lot of speakers; you are going to have your convention and you are going to have your messages. How many are there of such who will utterly trust the Holy Spirit in this matter and not arrange subjects to be spoken of? Leave it for the Holy Spirit, leave the men with the Holy Spirit and find where the Holy Spirit is speaking and give a clear way to that. What happens? Why, the Holy Spirit will see that the same thing is being said. You will have a wonderful revelation of the one mind of the Spirit in all. That is how it was at the beginning, and it is a very blessed thing to see that and you have to say, ‘This is nothing but the Lord! We have not compared notes, arranged subjects, got up a programme, but the Lord is leading us all in exactly the same way!’

The Lord is of one mind. I only mention that to indicate what I mean by the Holy Spirit having utter place and government, and this represents something which is not by any means general among the Lord’s people. It represents a position and a life in the Spirit which belongs to a few among the Lord’s people, and we may say with confidence and emphasis that a people prepared for the Lord is a people wholly and utterly governed by the Holy Spirit. This is something more than acknowledgment of the Spirit and the need of the Spirit, but where it is truly a matter of the Holy Spirit and nothing else. Man is set aside, all man’s business abilities are set aside and the Holy Spirit does His own work in His own way by His own means and is being allowed to do it. That is a position of which a great many Christians are afraid. They have never learned that real deep work of the cross which puts a man right outside and leaves the full place for the Spirit. Man must come into this somehow; he must put his hand upon it, he must somehow order it, arrange it, govern it and be in it, and so far as that is true, the Holy Spirit is limited.

A people prepared for the Lord will be a people under the anointing in this full sense in which only the Holy Spirit has His way and His place, and does the ordering and arranging. It is a very difficult life for the flesh and that is why the divide comes, and until the flesh has gone through a deep and terrible breaking by the cross, there can be no real full life under the anointing. Well, that is a price; it costs, but oh! the Lord gets something from that! Who is there among us who would for one moment say the Lord does not get something special out of a life or a company of the Lord’s people who are immediately and wholly under the government of the Holy Spirit? We can put this in various ways.

Many are praying for the fulness of the Spirit, the power of the Spirit, the guidance of the Spirit, those marks of the Holy Spirit superintending. They are crying to the Lord for that. But what does it mean to come through to that? It means a terrible breaking by the cross in the natural realm; it is impossible otherwise. There is no Spirit-governed life in the full sense which has not gone through the depths of the cross to break the natural strength, natural wisdom, and all the resources of nature as it is brought into the very work of God. No, we have to go out, just as, when the glory filled the sanctuary, the priests could not remain – they had to go out. In the same way we have to go out. The servants of the Lord have to go out if the Holy Spirit is going to fill all things and wholly occupy the place. We have got to get out. We know what that means – our being displaced even in the work of the Lord. There is no room for us and the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit and us, no room for the two.

You say, ‘Well, where do we come in instrumentally?’ The position is just this, that, when such a state does obtain that the Holy Spirit is really having His full place, He may be using us, but our position and consciousness will be more of that of spectators than instruments. We shall be saying, ‘It is marvellous, it is wonderful!’ We may be instrumental, but we shall in our inner consciousness be more in the spectator position than in the instrument position. We have to say, ‘It is the Lord!’ Oh, the terrible tragedy when men begin to be used of the Holy Spirit and themselves become conscious of being used in the service of the Lord. Our days are numbered when we show signs of being conscious that we know we are being used. Oh no, there is not room for both us and the Holy Spirit. A people prepared for the Lord is a people who give the Lord the Spirit not some room, but all the room. That means much more than it sounds, because I am quite sure the things I have said would be accepted and admitted by the majority of Christians, but there is a great difference between recognising that the Holy Spirit must be Lord and must have full place, and getting there!
Resurrection Life
Then the second mark of this people prepared for the Lord is the power of His resurrection – resurrection life. All Christians would accept that, but here again there is a big gap between the truth and the reality. This is again something which carries with it the utter draining of our own resources, so that He and He alone becomes our life for spirit, mind and body. The power of His life has got to be witnessed to in us by our very being and in that company by its very history. There is something here which lies very deeply in the Word of God. There is a simple statement – “The righteous shall hold on his way” (Job 17:9). That is a simple statement, but what are we going to say to people who do not hold on their way who are the Lord’s? Are we going to say that all who have fallen out in the way, broken down in the way, turned aside, were never the Lord’s? I see this, that to get right through to the end when all the powers of evil have focused their attention upon you if by any means they can destroy you or put you out, means something more than a nominal Christian life or even an enthusiastic life with the Lord. It means nothing less than the very power of His resurrection. In this matter where the highest interests of the Lord are centred, and therefore the most definite concern of the powers of darkness are centred, the getting through will represent nothing less than the mighty power of His resurrection.

To put that in another way: everybody who is in that will at last have to say, ‘Well, it is a miracle that we are through! Our history has been one of concentrated and unyielding antagonism of the enemy to destroy us; we are through, it is a miracle!’ But what is the miracle? It is the miracle of His risen, indestructible, incorruptible life. Will you tell me that all Christians are living on that basis today and that they all know the power of His resurrection, and are all a testimony to that resurrection life? You do not know very much about Christians if you say that is so. I say that such are few comparatively, but they represent this people who must be, or God is defeated, God is cheated, God is disappointed. There must be a people like this. God has had them in every age and He will have them at the end. It will not be all His people. It will be a prepared people. Elijah passed on seven thousand to Elisha, reserved unto the Lord, a people coming under that anointing on resurrection ground to live wholly in the power of the Spirit and in the power of Christ’s resurrection. John the Baptist passed the people on, so to speak, to the risen Christ – Jesus came up out of the Jordan. Paul passed John’s disciples onto the risen Christ – baptised, raised together – resurrection. A people prepared for the Lord, a people like this marked, among other things, by these two great features: nothing is man-ordered, arranged, planned, programmed, governed, but everything is directly under the Spirit’s government and knowing in a growing way the power of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus as an inward reality.

You can view this from the two standpoints. You view it from the standpoint of what the Lord requires as made clear throughout the Word. This is what the Lord is after. This is the position and the condition which the Lord has set as His goal in a people, a people who, because of the Holy Spirit being pre-eminent, declare that the power of man and nature has been set aside, and a people in whom, because the power of His risen life is manifest, declare that the power of death is set aside. The flesh, nature and death are ruled out by the Holy Spirit and the power of the resurrection. The Lord has revealed that this is the kind of people He is after.

Now view it from the other standpoint. Is not that exactly what the Lord does when He really does get hold of a people? Or let me put it this way: when really we accept all the implicates of the cross (when we recognise what the cross of the Lord Jesus really does mean beyond its substitutionary work, beyond what He did for us; all that realm of what the cross means as wrought in us) two things at once start to work in us and they become the course of our spiritual history. The one is the setting aside of the life of nature, even in the work of God, in the Lord’s interests, so that we come sooner or later to the place where we cannot work for the Lord, we cannot speak for the Lord, we cannot organise anything for the Lord. We know there is a veto on it all; it is all staked by the cross of the Lord Jesus. To speak requires the Holy Spirit; to work, the Holy Spirit; to do anything for the Lord, the Holy Spirit, or nothing at all. That becomes our spiritual experience.

And then the knowing of resurrection; being forced, compelled, to know the power of His resurrection. We are not going to survive unless we do. Again and again, scores, perhaps hundreds or thousands of times in our spiritual history we come to a place where for us it is an end, unless the power of His resurrection comes in. That is our spiritual history and it is wholly in keeping with what God has revealed as His thought for a people prepared for Him as, to use the words to Elijah, ‘reserved unto the Lord’. Reserved! I do not want to create a new phrase, a new title, ‘the reserved people’, but here it is, something held as necessary to the Lord’s deepest and fullest thought, a people who had no outward compromise with Baal, but not just that (although in our very being is a compromise with Baal), I do not want to turn inward with that statement, but as we go on with the Lord and we obtain more light, it becomes perfectly clear that when you and I as natural people get into the things of the Lord, there is at least the infinite and imminent peril of our becoming exalted above measure.

The very work of God, the things of the Lord, have become the sphere in which more men have been ruined by their own pride, conceit and self-assertiveness than in any other realm, and there is that compromise in us with something that is evil. When you speak of kissing Baal, you at once think of something exceedingly wicked, sinful, terrible. Not one of us would bow the knee to Baal. But every time we ourselves come into evidence, that is Baalism. Baalism is the link with what is satanic, and in our unregenerate nature, there is a link with what is satanic. Satan comes in among Christians and Christian workers along the line of pride and pride comes from place and that is found in the realm of the things of the Lord. It is a happy hunting ground for position and recognition. It is all there in principle.

The Lord spoke with Thyatira, you remember, about Baalism, about Jezebel, and called it fornication. You need not make that literal at all, either in Baalism or fornication. It may be quite a spiritual thing. What did Balaam do? What was his sin, his crime? He got ‘kudos’ (glory, renown, Gk.) out of divine things. That is all; that is the end of it. Personal gain out of the things of God. He loved the reward, something for himself out of the things of God. And is there any one of us who has known the Lord longest who would say, “There is none of that in me”? Those of us who know ourselves best know it is a most perilous thing to be used of the Lord. The sphere of great divine blessing is the sphere of most danger to us. Even Paul (and who will place himself alongside of Paul?), after being taken up into the third heaven and shown unspeakable things, is not so empty of the peril of self or self-exaltation, as to make it unnecessary for the Lord to drive a stake through to keep him from being exalted. It is always there in the most used, the most blessed, the one who knows most of heavenly things; it is still there.

And so the people prepared for the Lord is a people well crucified to the flesh and knowing the Spirit alone and His risen life. That is true to the Word and true to spiritual experience, and if there is to be a ministry at the end in that direction it will be by an instrument like John the Baptist in the power of Elijah. John the Baptist went to prison and was beheaded. His life had to go in order to bring in Christ in fulness, in order to pass things on to Him who was the life, who was the resurrection. These things are a parable; I think we can see the spiritual truth.

Well, what is the comfort? You say that it is depressing, very severe, difficult and advanced. Not at all. The comfort is that we are in it. How many of you can say, “Well, whether I have recognised the teaching or doctrine, or not, I know something about the experience!” If so, take heart. The Lord has His hand upon you in relation to that people reserved for Himself, a people prepared for the Lord.

Published in: on March 19, 2016 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Aspects of the City

A few verses from two places, one in the Old and one in the New Testament. In the Old, the first book of the Kings, chapter 7:

“Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished all his house. For he built the House of the Forest of Lebanon; the length thereof was a hundred cubits, and the breadth thereof fifty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits, upon four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams upon the pillars. And it was covered with cedar above over the forty and five beams that were upon the pillars, fifteen in a row. And there were prospects in three rows, and light was over against light in three ranks. And all the doors and posts were square in prospect, and light was over against light in three ranks. And he made the Porch of Pillars: the length thereof was fifty cubits, and the breadth thereof thirty cubits; and the porch before them, and pillars and thick beams before them. He made the porch for the throne where he might judge, even the Porch of Judgment; and it was covered with cedar from floor to floor. And his house where he might dwell had another court within the porch, was of the like work. He made also a house for Pharaoh’s daughter, whom Solomon had taken for a wife, like unto this porch. All these were of costly stones, even of hewn stones, sawed with saws, within and without, even from the foundation unto the coping, and so on the outside unto the great court. The foundation was of costly stones, even great stones, stones of ten cubits, and stones of eight cubits. And above were costly stones, even hewn stones according to measure and cedar wood. And the great court round about had three rows of hewn stone and a row of cedar beams, like as the inner court of the house of the LORD and the porch of the house.”

The New Testament book of the Revelation chapter 21 verse 2:

“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Verse 10: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, having the glory of God. And her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Having a wall great and high, and having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel…”

16: “And the city lieth foursquare, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth; and he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs; the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal.”

19: “And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones…”

In both of these representations we have that which is symbolic of the place where the Lord delights and purposes to dwell. The greater than Solomon is building His House and a House also for His Bride. The King is building the City where His throne is to be.

We read carefully these descriptions of Solomon’s buildings and of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City. We can clearly discern three outstanding characteristics: one, strength; the second, beauty; and the third, costliness. These are the three major characteristics of that in which the Lord will dwell. He is most concerned for these things and He works with deep and patient application to have them the expression of Himself, of His own thoughts.

Strength! Very evident in Solomon’s building, the element of strength: those mighty stones, those weighty stones and those great cedars of Lebanon. It is all the impression of strength. It’s taken a long time to secure those stones, they have a long history, indeed it might be impossible to trace the beginning of those stones. That rock-like substance goes back a long way and has a long history. Those cedars of Lebanon were not planted yesterday, they speak of many a testing storm, many a long year of growth. There’s nothing superficial about these things, nothing light and fancy about them, nothing will be able to carry them away; they’ll stand, they’ll endure. They are the embodiment of the very principle of patient endurance. There’s eternity in their very constitution. They have passed through many a tempestuous testing; they are here in the House because of that. The King will dwell there because of that. They have been exposed to the elements, they have never been coddled and covered and protected from adverse elements; they’ve been exposed to all the forces that could destroy. Here we have strength.

Look at that mighty City. Twelve thousand furlongs does not convey very much to our minds until we begin to sit down and remember that this is a cube. When you sit down and think about it, and I leave it for the mathematicians to work it out; length, breadth, and height – equal. Today, day by day we are impressed, almost shocked, when we read and hear of thousands of millions of pounds or miles… You know, this City if you work it out, runs into thousands of millions of cubits; thousands of millions of cubits! I just mention it in order to emphasize this fact of weightiness, the substantial, the enduring aspect.

Dear friends, I think I need hardly say any more, your minds are interpreting and applying as I speak; isn’t this the history of the true people of God? Is it not? The Lord does not put us in glass houses to grow us, to be His trees; the Lord does not protect us from the storms, the adversities; He exposes us to the bitter winds and the scorching suns of adversity and trial. The Lord is working in us that which is according to His own Nature – eternity, the enduring, the everlasting God – that which will not be easily or hardly carried away. He is putting substance in you. Oh, today we fear that the appeal to become Christians is so often in terms of having an easy or a good time; being happy and enjoying yourself; well, thank God for ALL divine joy, but this is true to the House, to the City, that the first thing the Lord is working toward and seeking to work into His people is that substantial, steadfast, enduring faithfulness that is according to His own nature. Substantial! Oh for substantial Christians that don’t need coddling and nursing and running after all the time; being pandered to to get them to go on or stand up. Men and women like cedars of Lebanon; like the hewn stones – weighty, accountable, responsible to carry weight – and all that is meant by strength.

I can only remind you again of what a large place that has in the Word of God: be strong, be strong in the Lord in the strength of His might, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Think again. Want to understand why the winds are allowed to blow so fiercely… the storms? To get us away from that natural, easy-going-ness or cheapness, lightness, frivolousness and to make us people of weight. Strength – through testing, through adversity – strength… to endure throughout all ages.

There is much which is going to be carried away in the last great testing, and if, therefore, trial and adversity is the only way to deepen us, to put caliber into us, I suppose we must expect more of it as the time shortens.

Beauty, not staying to say much about it but it is so evident in these representations, isn’t it? Beauty. The Lord is also at work in this matter. The Lord wants that which is His dwelling place, the place that He is making for Himself for His own habitation, to be attractive, to be admirable, to be grand, to be something to be wondered at. I suppose the one word that covers this whole sphere of beauty is the word “grace”. Grace! If suffering is unto strength, then grace is unto beauty.

If you and I have a true apprehension of divine grace, real heart appreciation of the meaning of divine grace, there will be something about us that is not ugly, repulsive, but something beautiful, something mellow. Beauty is not fierce. Beauty is not cruel. Beauty is not hard. Beauty is in the right sense, soft. Perhaps mellow is the best word. You and I as we go on with the Lord unto His end, ought to be losing our natural hardness of judgment, of word, of attitude, and taking on more and more of the mellowness of grace. Look again at these descriptions, perhaps particularly that of the City and see how outstandingly is this characteristic of beauty.

Beauty! It’s a mighty thing, an almost over-awing thing in its strength, its power to resist and endure and stand, and yet it is one of those wonderful things about the Lord, the Lord Jesus, and it’s one of those wonderful things about anything or anyone in whom He fulfills His purpose – is the combination of strength and beauty. The balance of strength – it’s not all strength and it’s not all softness – marvelous balance in the Lord Jesus, look at Him! These two things brought together… and that is what the Lord would have.

And finally, costliness. How costly was Solomon’s building, the gold of Ophir! There was a great, great cost bound up with those houses that he built, with the city, the foundation of the walls; all manner of costly stones… something very precious, something very valuable to the Lord. Here there is nothing cheap, there is nothing cheap in what is of God. Remember that! Everything that is of God is costly. It has a great price attached to it. There is nothing here contemptible, mean; it is the embodiment of suffering – costly stones.

Notice that on these twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb and the first was jasper, clear as crystal. Who was the first of the apostles? Simon Peter. Jasper, clear as crystal; all the mixture has gone out – transparent, clear – but what suffering! Look at him: “he went out and wept bitterly”. Peter in his letters has quite a lot to say about fiery trials to test us, to try us. Peter knew suffering. Yes, but you see it produced something very precious, valuable and costly to the Lord. Was it not Peter who used that word, “unto you that believe is the preciousness…”? If you again think of the Lord’s ways with us, you cannot fail to see that the Lord is prepared to use a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of money in order to get essential spiritual value.

Those of you who have read the life of Madam Currie, the discoverer of radium, will remember the tons and tons and tons of stuff that men would call rubbish, heaped into that backyard there; collected, collected tons of it, you might say mountains of it, out of which to get the tiniest grain of radium. When it’s all reduced, just this little fragment of radium out of tons. Ah, but look at the cost of radium in those days; look at the power, the virtue in radium! The Lord seems like that, He is prepared to use tons and tons and tons and tons to get one fragment of this essential nature of Himself: preciousness. It’s intrinsic energy, there is something about the nature of the Lord that is tremendously potent; the potency of Truth, the potency of Love, of God.

Now, while the Lord wants us to be scrupulously careful about money, our use of money, our care of money, He would never for a moment be sympathetic toward carelessness in that realm, He himself sometimes seems to draw upon the resources, the material resources and the financial resources, so fully, so deeply in order to turn to account for some spiritual measure and this is what I’m trying to say to you. You and I must look at everything in the light of spiritual value; that is how He looks at it. Nothing with the Lord is of any value only in so far as it results in something of Himself. You may have your millions, I don’t suppose any of you have, but if you had your millions, that to the Lord is nothing; He says, how much does that represent of Me? You may have your little and have to look at every shilling that you spend, but there may be, in your use of it, something of the Lord, for the Lord and so the Lord looks upon a widow’s mite in the light of spiritual value, while He looks upon the Pharisee’s plenty without one thought or word of pleasure. It’s everything in the light of spiritual value where the Lord is concerned.

Think of the matter of time, what a lot of time the Lord takes! How we get upset over this matter of time… it is one of our big problems that the Lord is so slow, waits so long, takes so much time! That’s real trouble with us isn’t it? Always trying to hurry the Lord; no, if it requires time to get what He’s after, He will take eternity to get it, He will take a lifetime to get it. You see, the whole thing with the Lord is just real value, the cost of things.

And we could speak much about suffering, much about suffering… how much suffering the people of God know. It’s a problem, the sufferings of the Lord’s people, but if Paul is right, here’s the answer: “Our light affliction which is but for a moment…” and you can only talk like that if you can see the other, the rest: “that worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” eternal weight of glory! That is the end, the object, the goal. Our light affliction; it isn’t light at all, it is very heavy affliction unless we can see what the Lord is after and then perhaps affliction will be seen in a different way.

So here we are: costliness. The Lord is after this true value and when He gets that, these characteristics, when He gets them – strength and beauty and real preciousness, costliness – the process will be fully justified.

Published in: on May 27, 2014 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Oil for the Light

Oil for the Light

The book of Exodus, chapter 27 at verse 20: “And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, without the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute for ever throughout their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.”

Oil for the light. It is my growing conviction dear friends, that the greatest need of our time is a true knowledge and understanding of the Holy Spirit and His work. Such knowledge, if spiritually apprehended, would really solve by far the greater number of the problems which beset Christians and the church today. If only we really lived in the good of the indwelling Holy Spirit with all that that means as a matter of light… how different everything would be.

So I say again, the pressing need of our time is for such knowledge, such understanding. And so, what follows this morning is just touching on the very fringe of that matter; not by any means an attempt to cover it or exhaust it.

This simple fragment: “thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring pure olive oil for the light…” You notice this is a command to the Lord’s people. This is an imperative. This is a necessity. This is indispensible, this is essential – a command. It is not optional, left to choice; this is an obligation: “Command the children of Israel that they bring oil for the light”.

Now, first of all note the place of the light. The lampstand, as you know, was in the holy place, between the outer court and the most holy place. It was in that place which in type is a between place, a place between heaven and earth, heaven and the world – there’s the outside and there’s the inside. There is all that is here in this world on the one side, on the other side there is all that which is essentially heaven – the very presence of God. And in between heaven and earth, this light was to be a place which united heaven and earth and yet divided them.

I think the meaning is what our Lord meant in His great prayer. It seems to me that He was standing very much in this position when He prayed in John 17: “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world, and yet… and yet they are in the world, these are in the world. I come to Thee, they are not of the world.” It is so familiar a truth, almost a hackneyed phrase, “in the world but not of it”. Here is an in-between place which is the place of believers in this present dispensation at this present time. It is our place between heaven and earth in a very real sense. Well, we know that don’t we? We know that on the one hand we are here in this world, right enough and it’s very real. And yet it is just as real that we don’t belong to it, we are not of its life, we’re in an in-between place. We know that we’re not yet literally and actually in heaven, and yet and yet! Somehow or other we are deeply linked with heaven. The place between… that is where the light was to be or where the light was; a place which divides heaven and earth and yet brings them together.

There were no windows in that place. No windows in the holy place. No provision was made for natural light. Natural light was excluded. But for this lampstand, it would have been totally dark. All that was there represented in type and symbol, all the values and functions of that place were only possible, capable, of being effective by a light which was not the light of nature.

The Light of the Spirit

The light is produced by the oil. That is very true and touches very closely upon my opening remark. This holy place, this in-between place was symbolic of the position in which Israel were just at that time, they were out of Egypt but they were not yet literally and altogether in the land of Canaan. They were in an in-between place and oh, how they needed the light of heaven for that wilderness journey!

There are two aspects of the Christian life. In Christ it is true we are seated in the heavenlies, but Peter will tell us that we are still pilgrims and strangers; we are sojourners – always the two aspects. And on this side, the peculiar, peculiar position of God’s people at the present time: the pilgrimage aspect.

And this is true to very positive teaching in the New Testament. In this life God has made no provision for natural light. If you and I are going on our way to reach God’s full end then natural light, for one thing, will be no good to us, but for another God has ruled it out. He has made no windows. That’s the argument of the first letter to the Corinthians isn’t it? “The natural man receiveth not the things of God and neither can he know them”. And the whole force of the chapter in which those words occurs, is: “God has made no windows for that – your reason doesn’t come in here, the light of your natural judgement is not allowed here. It is all excluded. The light that is here is the light from the oil. It’s the light of the Spirit.”

So the argument of the first letter to the Corinthians is the argument about the Spirit, isn’t it? And about what is spiritual for guidance, for judgement, for counsel, and for the knowledge of everything of the Lord. No place for natural light, yet God’s own provision for light which is better than that, it’s God’s own light.

Now look at the contents of this place, the holy place. Well, in addition to the lampstand, the golden lampstand, you know there was the golden altar of incense and then there was the golden table of bread, of the loaves. Simple symbols that help us to understand the meaning of the light, the functioning of the oil. Just this, dear friends, and of course we know the symbolism is that the oil is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is our light for the things of God. But this light is not just unto itself. It is to throw its rays upon, to light up, to illumine this whole matter of prayer.

And I’m quite sure I carry you with me when I say what a tremendous  need there is that the people of God should know how to pray in the Spirit. If only we knew how to pray in the Holy Ghost! That’s a New Testament phrase: “praying in the Holy Ghost”. We need that. We shall never really get very far without that. We’ll be going round in circles. And you see the Lord from time to time called a halt in this journey for the setting up of the tabernacle again, with everything that it contained. But right in the centre was this thing: the light in the holy place upon this matter of intercession and prayer – the altar of incense. It is as though the Lord was saying, “we can’t get any further until we have put a new emphasis upon this matter of prayer in the Spirit, praying in the Holy Ghost”.

Our future, our progress, our fresh stages will require that we get into the Spirit of prayer again and we get prayer in the Spirit. Now, it’s difficult for me to convey all that I am feeling about that, but dear friends, you will grasp the point. If in our prayers and in our own prayer life privately, and when we came together, we come together for prayer as the Lord’s people, we were really praying in the Spirit, how much further we should get! Instead of praying in our own judgements, our own feelings, our own impulses, our own ideas, our own  reasoning – what ought to be, what we think should be and so on – and uttering a lot of things out of our own natural light. If the Holy Spirit got hold of our praying and we prayed in the Spirit even one thing, how much further we should get! See, I do not believe it is possible to pray a thing in the Holy Ghost without an issue, without something happening, without something being reached and some moving taking place.

Look again in the book of the Acts. That’s just what it was, you see, they prayed in the Spirit. And that does not mean that they just prayed in a kind of feeling, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of light, you see. And the Holy Spirit knows what God wants. He knows all the purposes of God, all the designs of God, all the ways of God, all the times of God. He knows when the time is due for such and such a thing. He knows exactly how that thing ought to be done. He knows it all, He’s the Spirit of light! Pray in the Holy Spirit and you pray right on to the things that God intends and they must be.

And I can do no more this morning than just make this appeal: that you and I seek the Lord yet more earnestly that our prayer life shall be in the Spirit, illumined by the Spirit, that we shall pray in the intelligence and the understanding of the Holy Spirit.

So the oil for the light has a relationship to prayer in the Holy Spirit. On the other hand this light was thrown upon the table and the bread. And that surely indicates that we must feed upon the Word of God in the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This is the extra factor that is so necessary, I feel perhaps more necessary today than ever, if that’s possible.

You can take this book, the Bible, and from the same book, using exactly the same Scriptures, get a hundred different positions, even every one of which is in conflict with the other. That is what has been done! That is what is being done. You see nearly all the different aspects and forms of Christianity today build themselves upon Scripture, support their position by Scripture, and very few of them can stand together. They are contradictory if not antagonistic to one another, they take one thing out of the Word of God and you get these different views which are absolutely in conflict with each other and yet built upon Scripture. And that can be extended over so many things, so many ways.

Well, what are we to do? How are we to know? Not by leaving the Scripture and arriving at our own conclusions and judgements, but we need the Holy Spirit to tell us what the Scripture means. There’s something, you see, extra to the Word. The Spirit gave this Word and He knew what He meant by it. And He never meant two conflicting and contradictory things. He’s not like that. The Spirit’s mind is one mind. Always very consistent is the Holy Spirit, and there are no contradictions in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is concerned; there are in our natural light interpretations or apprehensions.

Do you not see how important it is to bring oil for the light? That in the Word of God upon which we have got to feed (it is our Bread) Christ has come to us as the Bread in the form of the Word, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word…” every Word! Christ is the living Word as the living Bread. But oh! We need the Holy Spirit to illumine this Word and to interpret, and to convict, to save us from contradiction. Ah yes, but the Holy Spirit has no windows for our reasoning and our interpretations – natural light. Here everything is shut up to Him; shut up to Him – everything else excluded.

Well, our time is gone. I think you see what I meant, the tremendous importance in our day of the Holy Spirit – knowing the Holy Spirit. My last word is this: beaten. “Bring pure olive oil beaten for the light”. There’s got to be definite exercise about this matter of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the illumination of the Holy Spirit. It just does not happen and come about. It does not just come about, we’ve got to get down to this matter in real exercise and energy and make, shall I say, a business of it: “Lord, Lord, rule out my judgement, rule out my feelings, rule out my likes and my dislikes. You come by Your Spirit and have absolute pre-eminence in my heart, in my mind as I pray, as I read Thy Word”. See? It’s business,  beaten out, real exercise about the place and the work of the Holy Spirit in our personal life with the Lord and in our collective life.

Let us long to hear that note in our prayer gatherings, a real laying hold of the Lord, “Now Lord, tonight in this hour we must come into the mind of the Spirit about things…” A real laying hold of God, beating it out. “Command the children of Israel that they bring pure olive oil, beaten… for the light”.

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment  

The Time is Shortened

The Time is Shortened

“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both those that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it…” 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

It is necessary that we should not misunderstand Paul’s words, for he would never contradict himself. He who wrote: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church…” would never write anything that set aside or lessened the force of such a grand description of marriage relationship. Clearly he did not wish to minimise the importance of marriage; nor did he mean that weeping or rejoicing or other human activities should be obliterated; his remarks are set over against the existing situation in Corinth and they are introduced by the word ‘But’. “But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened” (RV).

In his letter the apostle had been forced to deal with many unhappy features of current experience in the Corinthian church. There were so many inconsistencies, even contradictions, and so much which denied the Lord, that it was as though he became utterly wearied of it all and felt obliged to cry out in protest against using so much time and energy on the quibblings and carnality of God’s people. He felt that he could not afford the time which he was having to give to the negative task of admonishing, correcting and remonstrating. He wanted to get busy with the positive matters of life in the Spirit, and groaned at the sheer waste of time produced by the internal conditions at Corinth.

For this man, who ever had his eyes on a wider horizon, there was still so much to be done. Paul was so aware of the tremendous forces at work against Christ and against His testimony that he felt that they were in an emergency situation. In his day there were signs of a great crisis in which Christian testimony might be curtailed; he sensed in the very atmosphere the tension which eventually brought him to martyrdom. Being conscious of the emergency state in which public witness, the work of the Lord, would be severely suppressed and the antagonistic forces would overflow the world in their attempt to destroy the testimony of Christ, he could not refrain from crying out about it to his brethren: “But… the time is short!”. He wanted them to get clear of their internal problems and difficulties so that they could buy up all possible opportunities for Christ. We need to be freed from self-preoccupation, so that we can redeem what time there is, for at best it is all too short.

I suggest to you that in this connection the Scripture is very meaningful for us now. There are so many problems, questions, differences of opinion, personal clashes, but…! ‘But’ brothers and sisters, ‘the time is short – too short to be wasted on things of secondary or third-rate importance.’ Even marriage, the sorrows and joys of life, possessions, fashions, earthly interests – it is not that they are wrong but they provide a subtle snare to distract us from the real business of our Christian living. Nothing, from the inner circle of our domestic relationship to the widest circle of world events, must ever be allowed to interfere with our testimony for Christ. Those blessed with wives must not allow them so to fill their lives that the happy domestic circle becomes a preoccupation which absorbs all their time.

There are some that weep, but they must not let their sorrow paralyse them with regard to the Lord’s interests. There are those who can rightly rejoice, but they must watch that their delight does not subvert them, so that they give it priority and find themselves turned aside from their main concern which should have been for the glory of Christ. There is much in the world which can rightly interest. The Corinthians had already been told that “All things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world…” (1 Corinthians 3:22). But Paul also told them that they must not abuse this gift, not use it to the full, not let it be their prime concern. Brethren, the time is short, and we must not allow anything in any department of our lives to encroach upon the interests of the Lord.

This is the cry of a man looking back and knowing that for him time would not last much longer. Paul was always feeling the cold hand of the past reaching out to remind him of those wasted years which he so deeply regretted. He had spent such a valuable part of his early life in travelling along the wrong road, fighting against the Son of God; and he deplored those barren years. How much energy – and religious energy at that – had been utterly wasted! His soul was filled with sorrow about the failures, the lost opportunities of the past, and he was stirred to make sure that this should never happen again. He cried out in protest against the possibility of further shortening. Life is not as long as all this, that one can afford to have more failures, more lost time, more misspent energy. Life here on this earth is all too short. The man who looked back and grieved over those periods of his experience when his energies were bent on a course which brought no glory to his Lord, had to cry out in dismay at the prospect of still more waste.

It is also the cry of a man who was looking around, being made conscious of the overwhelming need which everywhere abounded. Paul was deeply distressed over the crying spiritual need of Christians who seemed so muddled and powerless, as well as over the appalling condition of men without Christ, multitudes who had no vital experience of the transforming power of the gospel. And time was passing so rapidly. The demands on every hand were so great that it seemed most culpable to give them anything less than full and undivided attention. So it is today. Only the gravely insensitive can fail to register the seriousness of the circumstances which surround us.

The needs are so great and the important thing to remember is that our remaining time is very short, and so are our opportunities for doing the Lord’s work. It seems that the Corinthians were so taken up with their own affairs that they failed to realise how spiritual opportunities and values were slipping from their grasp. Paul was aghast that this should be so. He was no passive spectator himself, no self-interested neutral, but a man who realised the supreme importance of working the works of God while it was still day. He cried out against the paralysing work of Satan among Christians and the great power of darkness in the world. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving”, he affirmed (2 Corinthians 4:4), and this darkening, blinding work of the devil forced him to warn his brothers that the time was drawing to an end.

His words were also the appeal of a man looking on into the future with eager expectation but who yet appreciated how much still remained to be done in these shortening days. His own course would soon be finished, and he felt that if he spent all the moments of all his days in utter devotion to Christ, it would still be woefully inadequate and he an unprofitable servant. The time was so short that he knew that at the end he would feel regretfully that if he could have his life all over again he would use it to so much better advantage. This might be a general and very natural emotion, but for Paul the important thing was to minimise it and be saved from unnecessary regrets at the end of his brief career. So it was that he urged his brothers at Corinth to join with him in making everything subservient to the one great consideration of the work of Christ.

Some of them were doubtless still young in years and therefore not so conscious of the swift approach of the end of earthly life, but the call to them was just as valid, for at best life passes all too quickly and the Spirit of God would surely impart to them something of His own urgency to buy up every opportunity for glorifying Christ. The Christians of those days lived in constant expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus in glory. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” they were told, the trumpet would sound for the termination of the gospel age (1 Corinthians 15:52). The Second Coming has not yet taken place, but to many of us it appears quite imminent, so that more than ever we need to take note of the fact that the time is shortened.

It may well be that as we move rapidly towards that great day we shall find that there will be a closing in upon Christian testimony, with all kinds of new limitations being imposed on the servants of the Lord, and then Paul’s ‘But’ will be even more relevant. It stands over against all the petty and unworthy preoccupations of Christians like those Corinthians who were inclined to fritter away the precious moments still remaining to them in unprofitable disputations and childish self-indulgence. Most of the matters raised in this letter would never have arisen if the believers had kept their priorities right and not forgotten how rapidly time is diminishing and eternity drawing near.

The same applies – and even more so – to our own day and age. Brothers, there is no time to spare for the many unimportant and time-wasting differences and disputes which beset the Church of Christ and dissipate its energies. There is something far more important on hand. The Lord’s interests demand that we have done with all that has no eternal value and get on with the real business of life, which is the bringing in of the kingdom and of the King.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Vital Ministry

A Vital Ministry in a Day of Transition

”Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).

”For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”

”And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:13-14).

Elijah and John the Baptist are in view in these passages of Scripture, and much for our help can be learned from their experiences.

In the first place, we must take account of their ministries. The two men are brought together in a mysterious identification by the Lord Jesus, and from various fragments it is quite clear that their ministries were one in principle and nature; that is, in a day of fairly general spiritual smallness and weakness, these two servants of God were His instrument and vessel for making a way and a place for Himself in greater fullness. They were way-makers for the Lord, pioneers and pathfinders for His larger purposes and desires. In the familiar words used by John: ”He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). That was the key to the ministry of both Elijah and John the Baptist, the increase of the Lord amongst His people.

Both lived in a time of transition. The principle of transition is clear, firstly, in that Elijah is brought over into full view at the very end of Malachi’s prophecies, at the close of the Old Testament, an end-time, a period of transition unto the Lord’s coming; in that case, of course, His first coming. But I do not think that what the Lord said about Elijah, in Malachi and later, was exhausted by the first coming of the Lord; the great and terrible day of the Lord is still to come.

We will not enlarge too much on details, but be content to note that that time of transition was governed by the ministry of both these men, and was marked by the gathering out of a real people from among the professing people of the Lord. Malachi makes that perfectly clear:

”Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His Name . And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, even Mine own possession, in the day that I do make” (Mal. 3:16-17). Out from the professing, religious realm there is seen in these words to be a true people for the Lord.

Undoubtedly that was the mark of John’ s ministry, for tradition, formalism, legalism were the dominant features of religion in his day, and it was against these that he hurled his weight to secure a people unto Christ in fullness, in utterness. He sought a transition from one spiritual state to another, and, in the light of a change of dispensation, to secure a people wholly for the Lord. That wants dwelling upon very much more fully, but I think that is enough to give us the clue to the ministry of these men and to relate them in a vital way to our own day – another end-time transition period that is surely ushering in another coming of the Lord and that also is characterized by the need for the gathering out of a real people from among those who profess to be the Lord’s. We may expect that what was true in the experience of Elijah and John in their day will in principle be found in God’s dealings with instruments of His choice today.

It become clear then that for such a great purpose, to make a way and to make room for the Lord, God had, and has, His instruments, known to Himself and secretly under His hand being prepared. Elijah comes on to the scene mysteriously, almost out of nowhere, after deep secret preparation and discipline. John has spent all his life in the wilderness waiting for the day of his appearing to Israel. Something has been going on in secret. God has had these men in hand in deep preparation, vessels to meet this particular need in the time of transition – transition from a state which the Lord can no longer accept as answering to His known will to a state which will satisfy Him.

He must have a vessel for such a purpose. It may be individuals, as it often is, but it has also through the ages proved to be a corporate vessel, a company of the Lord’s people prepared in this way. These instruments, known and secured by God in secret, have, in a secret history with Him, been learning to know the Lord as their heavenly sustenance. Elijah, at a time when earth could not provide any sustenance, was sustained from heaven. John the Baptist, in the wilderness for many years, where he had to know the Lord in loneliness and apart from men, was having to learn the Lord as his heavenly life and his heavenly provision. Such is the preparation, the equipment, of any vessel to serve God in this greater purpose of His heart.

Published in: on February 1, 2014 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Threshing and Balance

Threshing, and the Lord’s Balance

“Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow continually to sow? doth he continually open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and put in the wheat in rows and the barley in the appointed place and the spelt in the border thereof? For his God doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a sharp threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is ground; for he will not ever be threshing it: and though the wheel of his cart and his horses scatter it, he doth not grind it. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:23-39).

“I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid… They also that err in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmur shall learn doctrine” (Isaiah 29:14, 24).

“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22).

This parable that we have read from Isaiah is related particularly to spiritual understanding, in connection with the meaning of the ways of the Lord with His people. The context of the passage is concerned with the faithful company of the Lord’s children, who, in the midst of many unfaithful ones, were suffering for their faithfulness. That is always a difficult thing to understand; it is very testing of faith. It was because of this perplexity, in the presence of such suffering, that the Lord gave His servant the word of this parable.

The general meaning of the parable is clear enough. Men apply to natural processes their inborn or acquired wisdom – wisdom born either of instinct or of experience – as to what should be done with this and that, when it should be done, and how it should be done; but they often fail to recognize two things. Firstly, that the wisdom by which they are so acting has come from God – ‘This also cometh from the Lord’; and secondly, that, behind the very things that they are doing, expressing the wisdom or knowledge that they have acquired, whether by learning, by experience, or by training – behind what they are doing, because it is God-given wisdom, there is a spiritual meaning. They do many things, and they do not see the spiritual meaning of the things they are doing. I have often felt, and sometimes said, that I wish that all the experts in the different realms of knowledge and science – medicine, biology, physics, and so on – could see through their expert knowledge to the spiritual interpretation. Isaiah is saying here, that behind things that are done in nature – in this case, the operations of agriculture – there are spiritual meanings.

The Meaning of the Plough At the beginning: “Doth the plowman plow continually to sow?” Well, the answer of common sense is, No, of course he does not! He would be a madman if he ploughed, and then went on ploughing all through the year; if he did nothing else but plough, or harrow his ploughed ground. Does he do that continually? No; it is a job that has got to be done – the breaking up, the turning over, the exposing to the elements, the harrowing – it is an essential operation, but it is not continued indefinitely. It is something to be done, but it has its time and place, its beginning and its end.

The Lord is speaking to His faithful people who are feeling that they are under the plough; furrows are being cut deep into their souls; they are being turned up and turned over, laid bare, exposed, broken, harrowed. The Lord says, even to faithful people: ‘This is necessary we are looking ahead to a harvest, to real values; this is an essential aspect of the work. But… take this comfort: this is not going on for ever.’ Under the hand of the Lord it is periodic, and it is timed. It comes into the individual life of the child of God; it comes into the life of a company of the Lord’s people; and, as history shows, it comes into the experience of the whole Church. From time to time, down through the centuries, it seems that the action of God once more is cutting deep, overturning, breaking up. It is the hard way toward some fresh harvest. But the word of the Lord is: ‘My dear people, remember this: I am the Man with His hand on the plough: I have this whole thing in hand, it will not go on for ever.’ It is something necessary – everybody will agree with it in nature; we agree with it, surely, in grace – but it has its time limit; and when that phase is accomplished, the Lord terminates it, and says: Now, that is done and we can get on with the next thing.

The Sowing of the Seeds Now the parable goes on with the seed. You notice that four kinds of seed are mentioned here. And it is a very interesting thing, though it is difficult to detect this in our translation, that the verbs used are chosen definitely and specifically in relation to the kind of seed. Fitches, the ‘love-in-a-mist’ or ‘devil-in-a-bush’ of our gardens, the smallest of them all, are sown broadcast. The ‘cummin’ is also very small, but a little larger. The fitches are said to be just ‘scattered’; but for the cummin another verb is used: it is ‘distributed’, sown more carefully than the other. And when you come to the barley and the wheat, it is ‘dropped’ into holes; it is given more particular care as to where it is put. It is not just broadcast; it is planted.

Now, probably you can see something through that. The Lord’s people vary. I do not think that the parable is intended to discriminate in values. Everything has its own value, and everything has its own worth, its own significance. It is all a part of the great harvest. But supposing we look at the fitches and the cummin, not as something of less importance, but perhaps as those who are smaller, shall we say, in the immature or child stage. I think they comprise by far the larger number of the Lord’s people, scattered abroad. They are the Lord’s people in general, scattered broadcast over the earth – “the field is the world” (Matt. 13:38) – and because they have not come yet to a point of greater maturity, or to the phase where something more is to be realised, the Lord deals with them in His own gracious way.

The Harvesting of the Seeds Notice what follows: how the fitches and the cummin are dealt with in one way; the wheat and the barley are dealt with in quite another way. To the little fitches and cummin no cart wheel is taken; no threshing machine is employed; it only just needs the gentle tap of the rod. So easily is the work done with these that the harder dealings of the threshing-floor are not called for. They are but children. Now, is this not true of the Christian life? Sometimes you wonder why some people get away so easily; so many Christians get off with it so lightly; the Lord does not seem to deal with them as He deals with others – perhaps with you. Well, all right, their time has not come. Of course all parables break down, you cannot change fitches into wheat; this is where all parables have their limitations. Within a certain general realm, where there is the intrinsic value to the Lord, the Lord’s dealings, for the time being, are apparently very light and easy-going; it is just the staff, it is just the rod, it is just a pull-up here and there, without anything very drastic. The Lord deals with people according to their measure. At a certain stage their measure is this, and the Lord deals with them accordingly.

A Question of Measure But, immediately the question of greater measure, and greater value, comes into view (sometimes that comes into view very early; sometimes it seems to take much longer) – as soon as greater values, like wheat and barley, come into view, the handling of the Lord is very much more drastic. “Bread corn is ground”. If it is a question of the value of ‘bread’, then those who are going to be ‘bread’, that is, food, for the people of God, are going to have very drastic handling by the Lord. If you feel the Lord is handling you in that way, bruising, hammering, using the flail on you, I say it to you emphatically, that is a hopeful sign. The Lord is meaning something more of value in your life for others. It is ‘bread’ corn that is bruised.

Many young Christians do not understand when we speak to the Lord’s more mature people about the difficulties and the sufferings of the Christian life. They think that we are a bit morbid, and making the Christian life something complicated and hard. To any such young Christians I would say: If you are the Lord’s, the Lord will deal with you appropriately to where you are spiritually. He will not be too hard on you; He may be very gentle with you, He may just correct you with the rod, quite lightly, because so far you are just in that category of the ‘fitches’ and the ‘cummin’. But remember, it may not always be like that. The Lord who wants the most, and whose heart is set upon ‘bread’ for His people – that over the whole earth His people should receive strength, sustenance, building up, through your ministry, individually or collectively – if it is going to be like that, to satisfy that desire of His heart, you are going to have a difficult time; you are going through the ‘threshing-floor’; you are going to know the ‘bruising’.

If the Lord is not able to do that, and He has to keep us on the elementary, easy-going basis, where we are all having a happy time, and the Lord very rarely does anything corrective and stringent, it is not a compliment to our spiritual life. It may just mean that He is not able to do all that He would do if He could in this great need of bread. So, if He really does turn His cart-wheel upon us , if the hoofs of the horses stamp upon us, if the flail gets to work, it is because He is looking upon us as bread-corn, something by which He is going to serve Himself in the interest of others.

An Explanation of Discipline That, very briefly and imperfectly, is Isaiah’s parable. Now, if you look, you will see how that worked out with this company. The suffering remnant – suffering not because of their own unfaithfulness, but because of the unfaithfulness of the nation as a whole, suffering under the Lord’s hand, being dealt with, disciplined – it was that remnant which was the Lord’s key to the whole later situation. It has always been like that. The key to the situation of all the Lord’s people is a remnant, a company, who suffer together with Him, and who allow themselves to go through the discipline that is necessary.

What is the Lord saying, perhaps to you, in the parable? Perhaps you have had a harder time than many people, and you do not understand it. You have perhaps said: Is this necessary to the Christian life? Look at all these other Christians; they do not have my difficulties and troubles. Well, the parable explains it. The whole point of this parable is spiritual understanding. The Lord deals with His people in different ways. Yes, these others are His people, but, but… so far they just cannot serve Him in the way in which He wants to be served, and so He is dealing with them, quite gently, in their category, in their measure; but you may be chosen to something more.

The idea has been very common in Christianity, that it is a great and wonderful thing to be ‘mightily used of the Lord’! Oh, to be a great evangelist! Oh, to be a great teacher! Oh, to be a great Christian worker! Let me tell you, that is an entirely false conception. The truth is that those who serve the Lord most truly go through the deepest suffering. The balances are truly kept by God – extra suffering, extra usefulness; little suffering, little usefulness. That is how God keeps His balances, and that is what is here, implicit in this story. You may be having a more or less easy time. I do not want to dishearten you by saying it may not always be so, but if you really want to be of greater use to the Lord, remember it may be by a deeper discipline of the Lord. And if you are having a particularly difficult time, most likely it is because the Lord is going to meet need more fully through you.

Published in: on November 15, 2013 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  

The Altar of Incense

The Altar of Incense

Reading: Exodus 30:1-10.

In reading through the book of Exodus you will be struck with the strange break of continuity, that, passing from the most holy place into the holy place where three vessels are found, the table of shewbread, the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense, the account stops with the lampstand. Then there is the lapse in these chapters from 25 to 30 before the third vessel in that part is mentioned. So we have this considerable space between, occupied by a great many things, before that third vessel in the holy place is taken up. I think the order of things gives us the clue to this, for it is not an accident, not just that the writer omitted or forgot and then came back again remembering, but there is government, and the very order of things here is full of valuable significance.

The Order of Things Let us note, then, the order of things as set forth by the Lord. The Lord began in the most holy place with the ark, and then the mercy seat. Then He passed into the holy place, to the table of shewbread and the golden lampstand; and then He took up the matter of the curtains of the tabernacle, and the coverings; then the boards, the sockets, the bars; then the veil; then the door of the tabernacle. From there He passed to the great altar, the altar of burnt offering. Then He dealt with the court, its pillars, its hangings, its sockets; then with the gate of the court. After that He spoke of the olive oil for the light; and then of the priesthood; firstly Aaron, and then Aaron’s sons, the garments of the high priest, the garments of the priests, the breastplate of Aaron, the robe of the ephod to be worn in the most holy place; and then of the consecration of the priests; then of the daily offering; then the altar of incense.

It is remarkable to start right at the centre of things, the most holy place, and work outwards to the very circumference, taking up everything as to the components, as to the ministry, as to the offerings; omitting only one thing, leaving it to the end: the altar of incense. No one who thoughtfully reads this account can fail to be impressed with that, and no one would ever think that it is because this altar of incense is of such insignificance that it can be left to the end. The reverse is the truth.

A Priestly People All this of which we have been speaking as coming in between chapter 25 and chapter 30 is, on the one hand, a revelation of Christ in relation to man’s fellowship with God. It all has to do with how God brings man into fellowship with Himself in Christ, how man’s desire and man’s need and the very object of man’s being is to be realised, that is, fellowship with God. That is all set forth in this very comprehensive order in type. On the other hand, it is all a revelation of the church’s vocation, the vocation of the people of God as a priestly people. It is a wonderful vocation. The priestly vocation of the Lord’s people is to me one of the most wonderful things that God has ever revealed. It is amazing that God has brought man into fellowship with Himself in a priestly ministry in this universe, to embody and express in a spiritual life the wonder of redemption, of a redeemed universe by the blood of Jesus Christ. The church’s vocation is to embody and express not only in doctrine or in word, but in spiritual power and influence, the great fact that this universe is redempto-centric, that redemption is at the heart of this universe. That is the essence of the familiar phrase, “hath made us a kingdom and priests (that is, a holy nation; that is, a holy church) unto our God”. This is all, then, a revelation of the church’s vocation in that capacity.

Grace and Glory There is one little phrase in Scripture which gathers up all that this tabernacle and its system represents. It is the little phrase in the Psalm: “He will give grace and glory” (Ps. 84:11). The acacia wood always speaks of the grace, that is man in fellowship with God. The gold overspread, covering, encasing, is the divine glory. The two things are brought together, grace and glory. You find the whole system is shot through with that twofold blessing of God. You can take it as a key. The grace of God issuing in the glory of God! The glory of God resting upon us because of the grace of God!

The Altar of Incense Now we come to this altar of incense, and as it comes in where it does in this remarkable way after the whole thing has been comprehended and set forth, it shows one thing so very plainly and emphatically. It is almost as though the Holy Spirit had just suspended that and said, “Now then, we will just hold this for a minute. Let Me go over everything, touch on everything, and give you a full revelation. That is tremendously important, and it shall come in when I have set out everything else.” So it comes in there, and declares its own emphatic message, that everything is carried on and made effectual through prayer. That is, in prayer which is in virtue of the precious Blood, for the blood of atonement is sprinkled upon the horns of the altar and the altar itself. There is a very clear prescribing of that here in this account, and it is prayer in virtue of the blood of Jesus which touches everything, affects everything, makes everything of living value, and causes everything to be effectual. Paul’s phrase is “everything by prayer”.

You see how everything in these chapters is made to lead up to this altar. Everything is taken hold of and eventually leads to this altar, and then you see the immediate association of this altar of incense. Look again at this account, and you will find that it is before the veil that is by the ark of testimony; it is before the mercy seat that is over the testimony; it is beside the table of shewbread, beside the lampstand.

The Value of Prayer Prayer in virtue of the blood of the Lord Jesus touches the deepest things, touches everything and is associated with everything. It is as though the Lord were saying, “Yes, there is an atonement; in the most holy place atonement has been made. Yes, there is a mercy seat for communion. Yes, there is every provision. But for a daily value of that, a prayer life is essential.” All this is ministry by prayer, is entered into by prayer. There is nothing — however great and comprehensive the divine provision may be — which can be known independently of prayer. Find a prayerless life, and all the great, wonderful meaning of God’s provision in Christ is of little real value. There is no entering gloriously into God’s great provision where prayer life is at low ebb. Whether it be communion with God, that communion is in prayer; whether it be in testimony to the world, that testimony is made effectual through prayer; whether it is in feeding upon Christ, the Living Bread, that is by prayer. You say, The Word! Yes, but what is the Word without prayer? If you divorce your Bible from your prayer life you simply have a Book of laws and instructions, a manual, and you become merely theological or doctrinal. But prayer in association with the Word makes the Word live and makes it of spiritual value.

Notice what the Lord said: “When Aaron dresses the lamps in the morning, he shall offer incense” (verse 7). What does he do in dressing the lamps? He takes the snuffers. Some wick has got a bit dry and used up, and it is smouldering and smoking and filling the atmosphere with something that is not pleasant, and that is the flesh. This old man does get up, and this flesh life does manifest itself from time to time. Even though we have the Spirit, the flesh becomes unsteady at times, and there is always the possibility very near at hand of the flesh and the self and the old nature filling the air with something obnoxious, unpleasant, smoky and smouldering. That has got to be trimmed every morning by prayer: “Lord, trim the smouldering wick of my fleshly lips, of my fleshly doing; trim my nature, Lord, this morning. Cut off that which is me, which if not cut off today will make for much that is regrettable, and fill the day with cloudy, smoky, smouldering flesh.” Aaron trimmed the lamps with prayer every morning, and every evening when he lit the lamps he offered incense (verse 7-8). There is always darkness about, ready to encroach and overcome the heart which is God’s sanctuary, and it has got to be withstood lest the light which is in us become darkness.

The Lamps — the Testimony So the lamps have to be lit against the darkness, the light has to be maintained as a testimony against darkness. How? By prayer. The light of a testimony; to use the words of Paul about this world: “in the midst of which we shine as lights in the world”. Our testimony, the testimony of Jesus in us, can be overpowered by darkness around us, but it has to be maintained by fresh supplies of the oil of the Spirit continually. How are the fresh supplies of the Spirit received? How is the light of testimony maintained against the darkness? By prayer.

Now you see the testimony is in view here: “When he trims the lamps… when he lights the lamps”. That lamp is the lamp of the testimony of Jesus in the believer, in the church, so that the testimony of Jesus is always in view. Prayer is related to the testimony of Jesus. That is the basis of prayer, the maintenance of a clear witness, a clear testimony to Him in our lives. As we have said, if the prayer life is weak, then the revelation of the Lord Jesus in us will be weak, and rather than being a revelation of Him it will be a manifestation of ourselves, and that is the thing the Lord says has got to be trimmed.

The Horns — Power and Strength Then we read: “… the horns thereof shall be of one piece with it” (verse 2). The more perfect translation of the phrase would be, “the horns shall be itself”. “One piece”. Of course, that is what it means; not something made apart and joined on, but as wrought of one piece. But the literal translation is very emphatic: “the horns shall be of itself”. The point is this. You have prayer in view, and this altar, and the horns in Scripture are always types of power, strength, and the strength is of itself, the strength is of prayer; prayer is strength. Power is not something apart from prayer, not something made in itself and given to us. Power is a part of prayer, and prayer is power. It is  one thing. We have to learn more and more the power of prayer, and the prayer of power.

The Blood of the Sin Offering Finally, the blood of the sin offering shall be sprinkled on the horns of the altar (verse 10). That blood is always in the Scripture a witness against what is of the old creation, to cut it off, and to bring in a new creation; a witness against the earthly, the worldly and the fleshly, and therefore the satanic; a witness unto the heavenly, the spiritual, and that which is of the Lord. It means here that the blood of the sin offering being sprinkled on the horns and on the altar makes everything heavenly. Our prayer life has got to be on a heavenly basis. It is not enough just to be praying for our earthly affairs. It is so easy to get up in the morning and hurry through a few words asking the Lord to bless us and ours, and our earthly things for the day, as though these things of this life were all. Oh, no! The Lord would have prayer touching things heavenly, things spiritual, related to that which is not of time but of eternity, not of this world but in relation to His eternal, heavenly intentions. He would have us separated from the merely temporal. There is a place for bringing those before the Lord, but they have got to be lifted in relation to the heavenly and not be dealt with as things in themselves. The blood makes everything heavenly, separating from the old creation. There is a very great deal of the old creation in our prayers; it is our convenience, our deliverance from inconvenience and discomfort, our salvation from what would bring us a great deal of trouble and sorrow. That is the motive behind a good deal of our praying. “Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today!”

But supposing the Lord would lift us into something altogether new through sorrow, are we then going to pray that prayer? No, our prayer must be: “Today, Lord, I want that which is of greatest account in relation to spiritual values and if that must be by way of trial and adversity, I do not pray to be delivered from it.” I say, “Lord, there is power to carry me through, and by prayer I come into touch with that power to carry me through the trials of every day in relation to the meaning of the trial.” That is heavenly praying. That is praying with your heart in heaven. “If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Now the life of the believer is to be, therefore, one with heavenly interests always in view, and our prayer life is in relation to those interests.

Warfare in the Heavenlies Where prayer counts most vitally and effectually is in the heavenlies. Ephesians makes that perfectly clear: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Then, providing for that warfare, he gathers it all up, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. The warfare is in the heavenlies, and the prayer is most effectual there. That is where the power is indeed against the spiritual forces, and that blood brings us out there as our protection for a realm which is spiritual and therefore counts for most. The place of the altar of incense, the holding of it to the end till everything else has been brought in, gives to prayer tremendous significance.

Now one closing thought. There was to be a crown of gold round the top of this altar of incense (verse 3), and that crown speaks of the glorifying of the Lord Jesus as the Victor. “But we behold… Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). The crown of the Victor over sin and death and the reason for that victory in this connection is in Isaiah 53: “He made intercession for the transgressors.” The implication is that by His intercession for the transgressors in His cross He won. There were transgressors doomed under judgement, and His cross was a great work of intercession for the transgressors — and we were among them. By intercession in His cross, His great ministry of intercession in giving Himself, He saved us. You and I are today in Christ, saved men and women, because of the intercession of the Lord Jesus. He triumphed in intercession for us, and as High Priest He ever lives to make intercession, and every day we are living in the benefit of His continual intercession. That is the point in the crown of gold, the crown of glory. Now the Lord is calling us into that ministry. It is not only to share the travail, but to share the glory, not only to share the humiliation but to share the crown, and the crown is not just some objective thing given to us but for the Lord to come and crown our lives. That is to be His seal upon us, and He will say, “Well done! As I have overcome so you have overcome; share with Me My throne.” If that can be because my life was a life of prevailing prayer, that is the glory of it; and even now to know what it is to prevail in prayer is glory; it is the crown of glory.

Now you see there is a glory connected with prayer. The Lord calls us, then, to consider our prayer life, because everything depends upon it. It must be the time for trimming the wick, the works of the flesh. It must be the means of keeping the light clear and strong against the darkness and it must be the means of power, the ground of power, and of prevailing. The Lord use His word, then, to bring us back, if needs be, to the strength of a full prayer life.

Published in: on August 17, 2013 at 1:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Final Call of God

The Final Call of God

History is marked by a recurrent crisis which has three aspects. Whenever God has considered that the time has come for judgment, that ordeal by fire has involved these three issues. Judgment is not only penalty or punishment; it is firstly discovery and uncovering. Then it is discrimination and putting things in the category to which they belong because of what they are. Finally, it is passing sentence accordingly, and fixing destiny. This is clearly observable in all the Divine visitations in the history of nations and of the people of God. It will be fully and ultimately true of the last phase of this present world-history – disclosure, discrimination, destiny.

We have a very clear and definite instance of this represented in the fiftieth Psalm.

It has not yet been finally settled as to what part of history this Psalm belongs. Who this Asaph was is not certain. The conditions referred to in the Psalm do not very well fit into the national situation in the time of David and Solomon, when Asaph was the leader of the music. They are more like those of a later time when that glorious epoch had passed and the glory faded.

But it does not really matter; the Psalm embodies God’s work of judgment at any time of visitation, and the aspects are clear.

Firstly there is the delineation of His fullest and highest thought; that which is His standard, His desire, His joy; that which is His satisfaction.

“God… hath spoken… Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty…”

God has an object and a pattern to which He is committed, and this is the background against which His judgment is placed. God cannot judge until He has clearly shown and revealed that which He desires and that for which He has made every provision. Judgment will ever be according to the will of God, as revealed and known; or, at least, as made available to knowledge.

In this Psalm, as in so many others, and in the Prophets, Zion is the synonym for that which embodies the full pleasure and satisfaction of God’s heart and mind. In the New Testament, Zion is no longer any earthly point, but is synonymous with the Church ideally; which, again, is Christ in corporate expression (Hebrews 12:22,23).

This Divine conception and intention has been fully and gloriously revealed to a whole dispensation through the last ‘Letters’ of the Apostle Paul. We have this revelation, and it will be over against this revealed mind of God that judgment is to take place. In the sovereignty of God there is a great renewal of attention being drawn to these ‘Church’ Letters in our time. Perhaps never was there such a large place being given to these writings as at this present time. Upon this basis the judgment will rest, as in the case of the churches in Asia (Revelation 1-3), for it is here that the fullest and ultimate thought of God is revealed and presented. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty…” Then immediately follows – “Our God shall come… a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him”.

Three things characterize this ‘coming to judgment’. We take them in reverse order.

(1) “But unto the wicked God saith…” (verse 16). “Now consider this, ye that forget God” (verse 22).

Fearful things are said as pending for the ‘wicked’ who are described as those who ‘forget God’: those who have not God in their thought when so many evidences of Him abound.

(2) The middle section has to do with the judgment of formalism: the judgment to uncover and reveal what is merely outward and formal. Here is a whole system of ritual; sacrifices, altars, priests, and ceremonies. The fiery ordeal will show how much there is in the religious world, that is, of “truth in the inward parts”; whether it is a matter of the very life and character, or merely a system of rites and practices. Here is a massive structure of profession which will collapse and become ashes in the day when “Our God shall come”.

(3) The gold secured and preserved.

“Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (verse 5).

The last call of God, as judgment is pending, is a call to Himself. Here then is the call of God in our time.

The last movement of the people of God is to Himself: not to a movement as such; not to a teaching or interpretation of truth; not to a sect or party; not to an enterprise or mission – but to Christ. The final true and Divine movement is to the Lord Himself. The sheer pressure of the conditions in the gathering storm and tempest will demand a leaving of all lesser interests and objects, however good a purpose they may have served hitherto, and a moving toward the Lord Himself. ‘Things’ divide; the Lord unites. ‘Things’ must pass; the Lord abides. The time comes when all the means and accessories which the Lord has sovereignly used will cease to avail. This includes all the organized side of Christianity, and the Lord will force the issue as to how much there really is of Himself.

The basis of this phase or aspect is the ‘covenant by sacrifice’. It rests upon the Cross as rooted in the very life of His people.

“GATHER… UNTO ME… BY SACRIFICE.” If this little paper could have any influence with the several thousands who receive it, this would be what we would desire, for our whole position from the beginning of our ministry has been that of the Lord above all else. It is not merely negative, as against this and that, or wrongly exclusive, as for some particular form or fellowship; but Christ in all His fulness. We may feel that devotion – more or less – to the forms or sections of Christianity is often a limitation to the Lord; but we would say: ‘Make the Lord Himself your supreme object: to know Him, and to increase in His fulness; and all else will take its measure of value from that.’

So, not other than as spiritual movement, we would take up this Divine call.

“Gather my saints together unto me” – with the emphasis upon “together” and “me”.

Published in: on July 5, 2013 at 10:39 am  Leave a Comment  

The Watchword of the Son of Man

We are to consider briefly that solemn watchword of our Lord’s life on earth by which the stages of His advance toward His ultimate purpose were governed and marked: for He went toward that ultimate purpose by stages governed by a consciousness which found its expression in a familiar phrase, “Mine hour.” That was the solemn watchword of our Lord’s life and progressive movement into and unto His ultimate purpose, and we shall look at some of those movements as defined by that expression.

1. The Sign of the Ultimate Purpose.

In the first place let us turn to John 2. You know this is the account of the miracle of turning water into wine at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the thing upon which everything turned was this utterance, “Mine hour is not yet.” Mary, His mother in the flesh, had come to Him saying, “They have no wine.” Whether she was anticipat­ing a miracle on His part or not, we need not stay to discuss. Probably not, for His answer is illuminating. It is very harsh in our English language, which does not convey a certain softness that really was in His own words. Our language simply bluntly puts it this way, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet.” Literally He said this, “What is there in common between you and Me,” which being expounded means this, you are thinking of one thing and I am thinking of another. Your mind is in one realm, My mind is working in another. You are wanting one thing, I am after another. What is there in common between thee and Me? We are in two different realms of thought, of inclination, of intention, of desire. That, I say, is very significant and very suggestive, as the original language makes it perfectly clear that that is what He said, and therefore you come to this conclusion, that He had a mind, a very clear mind, a made-up mind, a settled mind as to what He would do.

What He was after and the thing that was going to happen had a significance in His mind which far transcended anything that was in the mind of anyone else: there was really no com­parison or relationship between these other thoughts and His. He had something in mind which they did not discern or perceive. When you realise that this was the beginning of His ministry, and that this was the first manifestation of that Divine Sonship in its sovereignty, then you have a clue; you recognise that He is making this first thing a very, very significant thing indeed; that in His mind this is full of eternal significance, and no one else saw that, but He knew, and He was moving in a definite and deliberate act and stage toward that ultimate thing which He was now projecting in this positive and definite way. Now you break the thing up, and you find that the key-words are, “Mine hour,” and the last word, “manifested His glory.” Then the miracle, or the sign, as you notice, had wine as its occasion and basis. Wine is a symbol in the Word for blood and life, very often interchangeable words, and very often synonymous terms. As we gather around the Lord’s Table we recognise that the wine is the symbol of the blood which contains the Life, and this symbol was the basis and the occasion of this sign, or act, which issued in His glory relative to His hour, and marked a definite stage toward an ultimate purpose.

Here He ceases to be a private person, and crosses the line into public life, and from this moment He was a marked man. On the one hand, sought after because of certain benefits which He was considered capable of bestowing; on the other hand, sought after for His destruction; but from this moment He was out in the open, and it was this deliberate stepping across the line with this thing which was in His mind relative to “the hour” that committed Him to the battle which had its consummation in the last declaration of this watchword: “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be delivered into the hands of wicked men and should be crucified.” He crossed the line in Cana of Galilee and related this to the first expression “Mine hour,” “the hour,” and in between you mark the stages, the progress toward that.

Now what is the thing that is in His mind? Everything that the Master did was deliberate. There was nothing casual; there were no side-shows in the Master’s life; there was nothing that was merely incidental. Everything was in the direct line of His ultimate purpose, and He would not accept an invitation to a marriage festivity just on sentimental grounds. This thing was not a social incident in His life, it was brought right into direct line with His ultimate purpose, and that is why the whole thing was made to centre in this “Mine hour.” This beginning of signs related to His glory. Then if He takes hold of this thing and turns it thus to be a sign, the meaning of this is that He projects, as it were, upon the screen, all the purpose of His coming, a marriage relationship upon a basis of Life, and that Life as found in His blood, and the ultimate Purpose looms into view.

The hour in which He is glorified is that when He gets that which stands in relationship to Him as a bride, and it throws you right on into that unveiling through Paul, “Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.” That is the end of this. His hour is related to that, and His glory is related to that. In simple words, it is this that the Son of Man requires for the manifestation of His glory, that church which stands in this relationship to Him upon a basis of One Life for which He gave Himself. He takes hold of this which other­wise would have been an ordinary occasion of social festivity, He turns it to account and makes of it the occasion of the sign of His ultimate Purpose. “This beginning of signs” – that is what it signifies here, and the miracle of death and resurrection by which He gets His church, is foreshadowed, fore­seen in this – the Life poured out, the basis of a union. “Mine hour.” That is “the hour,” and He has, as we have pointed out, deliberately stepped out to that.

As we pass on, let us take with us this central thought. It is a Life which is in question which is to be shared by a corporate company in a marital union with the Lord Jesus in His Resurrection; a Life, a triumphant Life, by which the church is secured triumphantly over death. Now we cannot stay for anything more about that, but we take up the clue and pass on with that in our hands.

2. The Security of the Ultimate Purpose.

The next is in John 7:30: “They sought therefore to take Him: and no man laid his hand on Him because His hour was not yet come.”

What was His own later comment upon that?

“I lay it down of Myself, no man taketh it from Me. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This commandment have I received from My Father.” “No man laid his hand upon Him because His Hour was not yet come.” The Hour of His authority for laying down that Life. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ was not just to be murder. The murderer was out, he of whom the Lord said, “he is a murderer” was out to murder the Son of God, and he is seeking all the way through to bring about His untimely death, His destruction, and you notice how varied are his methods. The first temptation – “Cast Thyself down for it is written He will give His angels charge concerning Thee. In their hands shall they bear Thee up lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.” You see he was trying to bring about His undoing and His death by not keeping in the way of God. If the Lord had acted upon the basis projected by the devil, the angels could not have upheld Him, He would have been dashed to pieces. That would have been the untimely end. The Master saw through it, and from that first time of temptation onward the devil is out to murder, but the death of Christ is not murder. His death, when it came about, was to be deliberate and in the will of God, and therefore victorious, not defeat.

Now, as you have the sign of the ultimate Purpose in the first occasion, here you have the security of the ultimate Purpose: that that Life cannot be touched by man; that Life is a thing which man cannot interfere with. The laying down of that Life is a deliberate act of authority, and in the same authority it will be taken up again, the triumph of that Life in Resurrection, because it is in the will and purpose of God, and neither devil nor man can touch that. It is a very blessed thing, beloved, to know this as a practical thing, that if we possess that Life and are keeping in the way of the Lord, there can be no untimely end. Everything will be deliberate, however it may appear. The murderer is defeated, the Purpose is secured in that Life, the triumph of that Life as it is kept sheerly in the way of the Divine will. Get out of that and deviate, and you have no guarantee of protection from the murderer. Keep in that, and “no man laid hand upon Him”; “His hour was not yet.” The security of the ultimate Purpose is in that Life maintained in the will of God.

3. The Law of the Ultimate Purpose.

Pass on hurriedly to the 12th chapter. The Greeks enquired for Him saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” His response to the enquiry is, “the Hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die,” etc. Perhaps [there is] no more familiar passage to us than that – a corn of wheat issuing in the Resurrection Body; the Son of Man thus glorified; the triumph of Christ over death in a bodily form. It is true that in an isolated capacity and apart altogether, He triumphed personally over death, but that is not the only method of God of demonstrating the fact. The fact of His triumph over death is also in a corporate Resurrection Body with all the members sharing that Resurrection Life. That is the testimony to the fact that He has risen; that is also an Instrument by which it is to be proved to the universe that He is alive from the dead.

The law of that ultimate Purpose is here seen – “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.”

The sign of the ultimate Purpose; the security of the ultimate Purpose; the law of the ultimate Purpose. What is that? Life through Death.

Now we are so familiar with this truth that it hardly needs further emphasis or words, but, beloved, let it be said as we pass on that everything to the most minute detail which relates to that ultimate Purpose of God has to be born in the power of His Resurrection. All relationships! Oh, how we are tested upon that! A relationship, and the Lord calls upon you to let that relationship go. The Cross and your position in relation to the Lord Jesus costs you that, and that is to go down into death. The relationships are all tested down there, and then, what is of God comes back, it must survive. What is not of God we become quite content to do without. We come up in the victory of His Life.

If a thing has been sown of God in the grave of the Lord Jesus, it is in the power of a Life that cannot see death, which cannot see corruption; it will come up, but this time on a higher level. That is the history of many a personal experience. That is the continual order, the cycle of the law of this progress of the ultimate Purpose, and I think the Church will be baptised into a deeper death just before the Lord comes than ever it has been before, and then it will go higher than ever; it will not be able to get any higher, it will bound to the utmost heights. This is the law of the ultimate Purpose which is wrought out in individual lives in every relationship, in every thing. It results in this, that you do not come back to the single plane, you come back to the multiple plane – increase – the one corn changed to the many, all sharing One Life.

4. The Basis of the Ultimate Purpose.

Let us now turn to Matthew 26:18. Here the Master is preparing for the Passover, sending a messenger to a certain man He evidently knows in secret, and He says to this man, “My time is at hand; prepare Me a place where I may keep the Passover.” The Passover. Here the Blood is again in view, but what is the most conspicuous thing relative to this particular Passover Supper and the shed Blood? It is a covenant. Do we not read, “This is the new covenant in My Blood which is shed for the remission of sins.” The blood of the Eternal Covenant. It is a covenant in view; now in the Passover. Tracing this thing through the Word, as in the case of Israel and the Passover, it was in that blood of the lamb, a covenant between the Lord of Life and His people as against the lord of death and his authority, and in that covenant with His people made in the blood of the Passover Lamb they were secured from the tyranny of “him that had the power of death, that is the devil,” and were brought out from death into life, from darkness into light, from bondage into liberty, from shame into glory, from desolation into fruitfulness.

That covenant was the basis of their emancipation, and all that is bound up now with this – a new covenant in My Blood – is the covenant between Himself, the Lord of Life and His own elect ones by which they are going to be made victorious over death in their union with Him as members of His Body, as seen in the other side of the supper; the covenant with His Church by which death is robbed ultimately, finally of its power. Here you have the basis of His ultimate Purpose, and, beloved, it will be upon the basis of that covenant in His Life that we are maintained victorious. That is, here you have the thing made in the Blood and in the Life of the Eternal Son of God, Whom “God brought again from the dead by the blood of the Eternal Covenant,” which is the absolute ground of your victory. “He is a God Who keepeth covenant.” This covenant is an Everlasting Covenant, the Eternal Covenant of a Life which cannot see corruption, and upon that basis we are bound to go through triumphantly. He will not break this covenant with us. This covenant stands to bring us into that union with Himself which is going absolutely to triumph.

Now you see what He secures here in His covenant is a basis; that relationship in Life by which He is going to work out all that was wrought in the Cross, and in the Resurrection. We have anticipated this, but here the stronger emphasis comes. How is He going to demonstrate throughout the Kosmos that He has triumphed over death? In those who are in covenant relation with Him upon the basis of this One Life! So He sits down with His disciples, and in this testimony He declares that oneness in His death and in His burial and in His Resurrection – victory! “God says what is true of Me is going to be true in you, that is, victory over death and here I make the Covenant which cannot be broken that we together are going to display this victory of this Life throughout the universe.” A Covenant in Life. That is the Hour. “Mine Hour is at Hand.”

5. The Mind and the Method of the Ultimate Purpose.

Now let us turn to John 13. Here you have the account of the feet-washing. “Jesus knew that His hour was come. And that the Father had delivered all things into His hands. He came forth from God and went to God.” How rich that is! But that is the basis of what is going to take place now. All things delivered unto Him of the Father, knowing that He came forth from the Father and returned to the Father. Upon that basis He rose from the supper and took a towel, laid aside His garment, girded Himself and poured water into a basin and washed the feet of the disciples. Then cometh He to Simon – knowing that the Father had given all. And then this remarkable statement so full of significance, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know afterwards.” Then this must be a symbolic act, and mean a sign. It is a sign of Jesus. It ranges the ages, and it ranges the eternities, and could truly be paraphrased in this way:-

“He rose from His Throne; He laid aside the garments of Light; He took the poor towel of our humanity and wrapped it around His glorious Person, and poured His own Blood into the basin of the Cross, and set Himself to wipe from the universe the foul stains of sin.” Or put round the other way, He is about to lay aside the garment of humiliation, enter into the presence of God, girded to make abiding intercession in virtue of His shed blood for the maintenance of a life, walk, work, and fellowship of holiness on the part of His servants.

That is what is signified in this. Oh, you say, that is imagination taking flight. Oh, no, come again to Philippians 2. There He is in the throne with God. “He thought it not something to be grasped at to be on equality with God; He emptied Himself; laid aside the garments of glory. He rose from His throne of equality with God and took upon Himself the form of a servant, being found in fashion as a man.” There is the towel of our humanity (in essence He was always equal with the Father, but in ministry He accepted our dependence). He came forth, poured His blood out to wipe the stains of sin from the universe; that is why there is this basis, “Knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and He came forth from the Father and returned to the Father.” You see that is the background of this thing. “What I am doing thou knowest not now,” but they did know afterward. All this said to them, this is the way of the highest service, not to be important, not to be high and lifted up above everyone else; for this was a blow at their attitude at this very time, when no one would take upon himself the form of a slave and wash the others’ feet; but this is the way.

Now recognise this one central thing. Pride was the source of all human sin. Satan started this awful thing there. “Thou saidst in thine heart, I will be equal with the Most High,” he who had no right to it, and sought to grasp at that. He who had the right to it did not think it a thing to be grasped at, and saw a need for laying it down, so He rebukes them thus. Pride was the source of all human sin, and the wreckage of the world; so Christ must needs provide an antidote for the source of sin. What is that? His own humiliation. He reverses the order, and ends all this work of the devil by and in His humiliation. Now He says in effect to them, and to us, Do you want to remove the ground from the devil, pride must be torn from your hearts, and you must pour yourself out unto death; pour yourself out for the sake of the Name, and for the sake of others. Position, prestige, reputation, these must be of no concern whatever. The spirit of victorious service is this. So here you have the mind, and the method of the ultimate Purpose. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped at to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond­servant, being made in the likeness of men; and as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, the death of the Cross. Wherefore (knowing that He returned unto the Father – this was the way up; this was the way back to the glory – He came forth from God and He was going unto God, and all things are His) God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name above every name.”

6. The Instrument of the Ultimate Purpose.

“Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son” (John 17:1).

John seventeen is a chapter of great range. Back to the past Eternity (5), on through all time (23), unto eternity to be (25). Heaven, earth, hell, believers, unbelievers, and the Evil One, are all touched.

With all these in full view the Great High Priest stands by the altar of the Cross and prays. He is praying a prayer of universal and timeless dimensions. And yet He focuses it all upon a point in time which He calls “The Hour.” To what does that eternal hour relate? To the glorifying of the Son, Who is praying! What is one of the prominent factors in that glorifying? That the world might know that He had been sent by the Father, and that He should be believed on in the world!

By what means will that be brought about? What will be the ultimate proof that He came, and coming, accomplished His work successfully? By the triumphant manifestation of His own one Life by which the “Church – which is His Body” is constituted a living organism through that deathless and indestructible Life. The heart of this far-reaching and many-sided chapter would seem to be the constituting of an effectual testimony to the Lord Jesus to the nations in and through the Church in virtue of His Cross. This testimony is seen to have as a primary and basic truth, the organic oneness of all members of Christ. The nature and pattern of this oneness is revealed in verse 21. It is oneness in God and in Christ. It is not merely the presenting of a united front to the world, but the impact of a mighty Presence.

Christ dwelt in the Father; had His life in the Father in the days of His flesh. He said “I live by the Father.” It was the effect of this that demonstrated the oneness. The oneness is a spiritual power not an organised force. A world governed by “The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” will not bow to a common testimony to objective truths, however many may represent them. The conviction that Christ has come rests upon the abiding power of His imparted Life which is the common possession of all who are truly His by new birth. To know God and Jesus Christ Whom He did send is a matter of Life (3). It is not life resultant from knowledge, but knowledge resultant from Life. When the Lord Jesus prays that the world may know and believe, He makes that consequent upon the living manifestation of the believer’s union with and abiding in the Father and Himself, which relationship would issue in a common witness to the living reality of Christ.

This then is a full consecration chapter, based upon His own model – “For their sakes I consecrate Myself” (19). There may be different aspects of the oneness in the chapter. Verse 21, in basic oneness in Christ. Verse 11 may be that manifest oneness as on the Day of Pentecost. Verse 23 is a process and a consummation, ultimate oneness. The glorifying also is threefold. There is the glorifying of the Father in the Son, verse 1. Then the glorifying of the Son in the church, verse 10. Finally the glorifying of the church in the Son, verse 24.

Now all this is gathered up into the “Hour” which is the hour of the Cross, and the Cross is necessary for it and basic to it. The common participation in the Life of the Lord demands the end of the self-life. It is the self-life that obscures the glory of Christ. The whole trend of the flesh is to take the glory from Christ. The “flesh” is the principle of the fallen humanity by which initially and continuously the Adversary robs God of His glory, and mars that which was made for His glory.

The background of this prayer is the “Evil One,” working through fallen human nature, splitting it into unholy rivalries, schisms, factions, partisan­ships, jealousies, suspicions, hatreds, conflicts, and what not. Christ has come to deal with this spiritual background, and lay a new foundation of a oneness which is deeper than intellect or emotion.

If there is one element in the seventeenth of John more than another, surely it is the spirit of selfless humility. It is just as important – if not more so – to get into the spirit of this chapter as into the words, and this humility so deeply breathed is the key to all the teaching. It is the offset to the pride which is the world-spirit, and from which the disciples themselves needed deliverance. Pride is the root and cause of all divisions. There has never yet been an external rift amongst the Lord’s people which did not have its source in pride somewhere. Pride blinds. Pride therefore provides a ground for deception. Often this deception makes the proud believe that they are the humblest and most selfless. Pride’s firstborn is jealousy, and jealousy tears in fragments and gets on with no one.

The spirit of subjection to Christ as Christ is subject to the Father is the most potent force in fellowship. A “holding fast the Head” as Head is a vital law of the “Body” of Christ, for thus all the members find their oneness.

Thus when the Lord Jesus prayed this great “Father Glorify,” He linked it with “The Hour” when by the Cross, through utter consecration to the will of the Father, in the power of an endless life, “through the eternal spirit,” He met the great arch­enemy of God and His ultimate purpose for a people out of whom all the discord and enmity is utterly eliminated, and who live in a love which has been made perfect: and He secured that end when He destroyed the works of the devil by His Cross. The means by which that testimony is veiled are legion, but in every case the contradiction is by reason of something either less than or extra to that Divine Life and its operations.

When “movements” as the enterprises of men take the place of the spontaneous movement of the Spirit of God; when teaching as such moves in advance of real spiritual hunger and becomes merely mental; when men become the centre of an encirclement instead of the Lord Jesus; when even a “testimony” is more than “The Person” of the Lord; then divisions are bound to come. Thus we

It was when “no one called the things that he possessed his own” that a spirit prevailed which afforded Christ His supreme opportunity for being glorified. That spirit must extend to everything in life, ministry, position, salvation, revelation. All must be held for Christ and to Him.

7. The Cost of the Ultimate Purpose.

Finally we come to Matthew 26:45. “Sleep on now and take your rest, the hour is come.”

It is significant that following upon a prayer for oneness and fellowship in and with Himself, so deep and strong that “neither life nor death, height nor depth, things present nor things to come” could destroy, the Lord should find Himself without a single wakeful helper in the hour of His deepest need. He is going to have His heart’s desire, but on the one hand He has to pay the price, and on the other something has to be done to get it on the stable rock of the Divine and off this insecure sand of the human.

He must “tread the winepress alone,” this is where they “cannot follow Him now.” They did not yet realise what was going on. The mighty issues were not perceived by them. He alone knew all that was involved, and while His human nature cried out for companionship and co-operation, He and only He could go those “few steps further,” to that deep “yonder.” He was tasting a desolation essential to His office and work which no other one need ever taste in the same measure. There is a fellowship, however, in His sufferings which, while not being of an atoning character, relates to the outworking of what He has done.

As with Him, so with His servants, one of the deepest points and the greatest costs is loneliness. The loneliness where no one else is able to appreciate what is going on, what God is doing, what is the meaning of the strange features which are apparent.

Before there can be true fellowship and oneness in the great spiritual realities, a fellowship of a lesser sort has to break down, and then ensues this costly isolation before eyes begin to be opened, and understanding is given. There will then come into being a fellowship over which death has no power.

The price of leadership in these things is terrible loneliness, but the end makes it worth while.

He who was cut off from the last human companion in the Garden is at length seen encompassed by “a great multitude which no man can number out of every nation, and tribe, and peoples, and tongues.” Any loneliness which may come to us in fellowship with Him now will not issue in our having a company of our own, but something far greater; it will have helped in the securing for the Lamb that was slain, the reward of His sufferings. It will be an ample reward for us to be standing by and with increasing intensity and emphasis cry:

“Crown Him! Crown Him!! Angels Crown Him!!! Crown the Saviour King of kings. “Bring forth the royal diadem, And Crown Him Lord of All.”

Published in: on May 31, 2013 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  

David’s Mighty Men

“And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant. And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants” (2 Sam. 21:18-22).

This is a part of the recounting of the deeds of David’s mighty men. What I want you to note is that there were a number of giants – apparently of the family of the original giant, Goliath – who were dealt with by these men of David; and alongside of that, in order to get us into our right and proper and up-to-date position,

I recall to your minds the familiar words of Ephesians 6:10-12. “Finally, be strong in the Lord… Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities,… against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies”. It is upon the relationship of these giants to the original giant, Goliath, that I want you to focus your attention.

A Corporate Answer To The Enemy’s Challenge You know that David himself first came into view in relation to the throne in connection with this original (and what we might call, inclusive) giant. It was in his victorious combat with Goliath that David was first taken account of publicly, and this marked his first step toward the throne of Israel, in relation to which he had been anointed. Now we have moved on some considerable distance, and the security of that throne is seen to be the issue at the time of these mighty deeds.

When these mighty men come into view, they, as in the case of David, are seen in relation to the throne and to him who is destined to occupy it. But the movement is one from the personal to the corporate. In David’s case, it was personal. He fought a lone battle with Goliath; he was a lone figure on that field. When the giant challenged, all the people fled, but David moved out alone to accept that challenge and to answer it. But here, in the portion of the record with which we are now dealing, everything is corporate; but it is the same issue. It is all gathered up into a company.

The one giant, the inclusive giant, has been fully dealt with and beheaded, but he has left some of his offspring, and they are all giants; and now the giant in corporate expression is being met by the corporate expression of the throne. That sets us very clearly in ‘Ephesians’. We know that in the beginning of ‘Ephesians’ it is declared that the Lord Jesus has been raised up and set far above all rule and authority; the personal and the individual is an accomplished thing.

But at the end of ‘Ephesians’ the Church comes into view in exactly the same connection, the issue of the throne as challenged by giants – principalities, authorities, world rulers, the great ones in the spiritual realm – as well as by the hosts of the lesser wicked spirits gathered around. I think that is perfectly clear. So that it is this company called David’s mighty men who are brought in to meet the residue of the giant, to take up the same great issue of the throne and of him who is to occupy it. These giants are to be dealt with by the company as the giant was dealt with by the individual.

The Embodiment Of A Spirit David’s mighty men are not so much a class of people as they are the embodiment of a spirit. They express a spiritual state, a spiritual life. In Ephesians, it is the Spirit. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might”; and it is so clearly, in that letter, by the Spirit that we are strengthened with might into the inward man. Now there are two things to be noted about these mighty men.

Committal In Love To A Person Firstly, they are committed to David. You cannot fail to see how they loved him, the devotion of these men to David himself. We shall come upon that again before we are through, but you will recall that some of their exploits were especially related to some breathed desire of his heart. It was to himself that they were devoted, and that was quite a discriminating feature. You notice that when the giant Goliath shouted, the people fled (1 Sam. 17:24). Why? Because they were mainly there for the benefits that they could get for themselves. It was a matter of how things affected them.

That is the thing that is found in Israel’s life so continually – when things were not favourable to their interests, then they were anywhere but in the right place and condition. They were all over the place because personal interests were so much in the ascendant. But these men were not at all concerned about their personal interests and how things affected them. It was David alone who mattered to them; and so when others who had lesser interests would flee because of the difficulty, because of the greatness of the adverse conditions, these men saw the adversity as an opportunity for proving their love for their lord. They were committed to him. It was, in principle, love for the Lord.

Committal To God’s King And then, of course, they were committed to his throne. Read carefully the things that are said about them, and you will find throughout that their loyalty was not just because of David as a person, but because they knew God’s place for that person, because they had come to see that he was the man chosen of God to occupy the throne. The throne was for them the throne of the one of God’s choice. They had to come to that through discipline, and to arrive at the point where Saul no longer held the ground for them.

They saw that David was God’s man for the throne. They were committed therefore to him on the double ground of Divine destiny and of personal devotion. I am sure that simple truth needs no emphasis; here. We occupy ourselves much with the proclamation of those two things – that the Lord Jesus in Himself personally has won our hearts’ allegiance, and also that we have come to see that He is the One Whom God has chosen for the place of supreme authority throughout this universe unto the ages of the ages; and we are committed – to Christianity, or to the Lord – not for merely personal reasons. If we were, when a giant loomed up we should very quickly be off the scene; the test, you see, is that.

The Lord is really working very hard with us to try and woo us from our personal interests in Christianity and in our relationship with Him, because when things which touch us here on this earth and in our personal lives are threatened, we very often lose faith. We go down, we scatter spiritually, in the presence of an uprising threat to our interests here, even though we are Christians related to the Lord. We have to brush aside the consideration of how it affects us, and take a position in the interests of the Lord. It is a very testing and very important thing.

We must say, ‘It does not matter how it affects me, but how is the Lord going to suffer over this? What does the Lord stand to lose if I flee, or if this thing gains the ascendancy? How is it going to affect my Lord and to touch the great fact of His throne?’ So these mighty men of David are distinguished from the general company of those who very largely are Christians for the sake of the blessings of Christianity and who are driven from the field by the enemy because their blessings are threatened. These mighty men speak of those who have got beyond that point of personal consideration and have seen the interests of Christ and the purposes of God centered in Him for universal dominion.

Corporate Responsibility For Throne Interests There was a sense – and this gets very near to the heart of it – in which David had to be saved and succoured by these men. You notice in verses 16 and 17, one of these giants, in a set of new armour, marked out David and made him his object of destruction, and David was involved in very great peril. The man who had slain the original giant was now in peril from one of that giant’s offspring, and one of the mighty men came to David’s rescue and succoured him and slew the giant. Then David’s men said to him, ‘We cannot afford to lose you; you keep back and let us deal with this; we will come between you and this sort of thing.’

You will say it is a wrong interpretation to put the Lord Jesus in David’s place there – ‘Lord Jesus, You keep out of this, we are going to look after You!’ Yet there is a sense in which that is right where the Church is concerned; the very interests and honour and glory and throne of the Lord Jesus are bound up with the Church. The matter is no longer His alone, and there is a sense in which He stands to lose if the Church fails – in which God would say about His Son, ‘This is not the time for you to come out personally; you have done that; this is the time for the Church to take up your interests.’ David’s life, David’s throne, were put into the hands of these men, and they saw their responsibility, and how great it was, and what David stood to lose if they did not take definite action about it.

There must be a company of the Lord’s people who rise to that level, who see that the tremendous significance of the throne of the Lord Jesus is in their hands. In one way it sounds a presumptuous thing to say, but you see what I mean. If we do not take responsibility over this matter of these evil forces in their assailing, if we are not strong in the Lord and do not move out against the principalities and powers, it is not only ourselves who are going to lose, but our Lord also. His throne is going to be affected. He has now, in a sense, made us responsible for the final issue, which is not personal but collective and corporate.

So there must be a people (actual numbers are mentioned in David’s case but we must not take that literally: they represent a specific inner company) who have seen the mighty issues of what is presented in the Letter to the Ephesians – those eternal counsels of God concerning Jesus Christ, and the place of the Church in those counsels as instrumental for their full realization – and have got through all personal interest in the matter of blessings, and are now committed to their Lord and to God’s intention concerning Him, and realize that the responsibility is with them. That is what I feel is the Lord’s word to us at this time – not to be just ‘ordinary’ Christians, but to realize that God must have a company of His Own, in the midst of the general rank and file, who answer to David’s mighty men, to take up the ultimate issues of Christ’s Lordship on His behalf.

The Lord is involved in these battles into which we are precipitated, and they are not just our battles, they are the battles of the Lord. There are situations and propositions which present themselves which are gigantic; they are paralysing if you can be paralysed. When Goliath started to shout, the people were literally paralysed – if that is in keeping with being able to run away! But all their strength went in the presence of this man’s showing of himself. You can be petrified by some of the situations that the enemy brings about as tests of faith. And then what is it going to be? Well, one deciding factor will be whether we consider ourselves or our Lord; whether at once we begin to feel sorry for ourselves, get down on to our own ground – which is just what the enemy wants to bring about – or whether we say, ‘Well, the Lord’s name and honour are involved in this; the real issue here is the Lordship, the Sovereignty, the Ascendancy of the Lord’ – and, as they did, meet the situation on that ground.

They did not always wait for these enemies to come and start the thing. When the enemies loomed up before them, these men took the initiative. I am the last to suggest that we should be careless and frivolous over attacking spiritual forces. We can do that to our undoing; and I also remind you that this is a thing which it is very dangerous to do individually. This is the business for the Church – the corporate assault upon situations which loom up and which could literally paralyse and put out of action. The Lord must have people like this in whom there is the initiative of His Lordship.

Suffering For The Body’s Sake There must be some to meet the situation – may I use the word? – in a vicarious way. There are all the others, there is all Israel; but so many cannot stand up, they have not got the spiritual position, the spiritual measure; they are in spiritual weakness, and for them anything in the way of severe or extra trial or difficulty finds them at once paralysed and helpless. Is the enemy going to create a universal situation like that? No, for the sake of the Church there must be those who take this position of the mighty men vicariously for the sake of others, the strong to bear the burdens of the weak, to take the initiative on behalf of the Church for the Church’s sake. I am sure that amongst the mighty men of the Lord Jesus the Apostle Paul has “attained unto the first three,” and he was one who said “for His body’s sake, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).

He filled up that which was lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His Body’s sake – vicarious suffering, not for sin, which is Christ’s alone, but for the Church’s victory. You are not unfamiliar with the large place in the New Testament given to the matter of spiritual strength and courage. I think that these stories are written in the Old Testament about David and his mighty men not as nice little picture book stories for the children, but as typifying what God means by courage, spiritual boldness, being strong in the Lord.

There they are as great illustrations of these very passages which we have read from Ephesians. The message of the Lord to us is that He needs a company who, having seen what is involved in the spiritual warfare, will graduate out of the position of personal interests and personal blessing, and for the Lord’s sake and for His people’s sake take up the matter of the warfare with spiritual forces, and break a way through for the Church.

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment