A WORD FOR TODAY
"And Moses said to the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them); and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou Lord art among this people, and that thou Lord art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which have heard of the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness. And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now" - Numbers 14:13 - 19.
This is one of the great prayers of the Bible. This is perhaps the
most remarkable of the prayers of Moses for which he is so
honourably commended in the 99th Psalm. The prayers in the Bible are
a singularly instructive study. It is most useful to seek them out
and read them one by one, beginning with Abraham's prayer for Sodom
in Genesis 18 and going on to the prayers of the book of the
Revelation. One matter that will strike you in such a study is that
so large a proportion of the great prayers of the Bible are
intercessions. While all true prayer is welcome in heaven, a special
welcome awaits the prayers we offer, not for ourselves, but for
others. It is plain that in this kind of prayer Moses excelled. He
had occasion again and again to plead for the people, that God's
wrath might be turned away from them and he never failed to rise to
these occasions. One of the most striking occasions is before us in
The scene was Kadesh-Barnea, on the northern edge of the great wilderness, and on the southernmost border of Canaan. After having encamped for twelve months in the wilderness of Sinai, where they received the law, the congregation marched north through the desert. In a few weeks they reached the border of the Land of Promise. They saw the land, but they did not enter it. "They could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). First, they would not trust God's word regarding the land but would send spies to see it and bring a report. When the spies returned, they would hear only those of them who brought a bad report; then, they proposed to reject Moses, choose a captain of their own choice and return to Egypt. In every view you can take of it, this was a most perverse rebellion. The Lord's words were sharp and threatening: "I will smite them... and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they" (Numbers 14:12).
This was not the first time that Moses had heard such words, for this was not the first instance of perverse unbelief by the congregation. When the Israelites were still in the wilderness, and while the thunders of the law were still ringing in their ears, they took occasion of the absence of Moses to break into idolatry. You remember how Moses acted on that occasion - how he pleaded with the Lord for the people - how he would take no denial, refusing to separate his fortunes from those of his brethren, and going so far as to beg that if the people were to be destroyed, the Lord would blot him also out of His Book. You will notice how that prayer prevailed. The Lord not only pardoned the people's sins but rewarded the faith of Moses by granting him a clearer revelation of His name and glory than man had seen before (See Exodus 32:11-13).
Now turning to the prayer itself, "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now". What Moses pleads for is that the Lord would forgive the people, revoke the sentence and fulfil the promise He had made to them. The remarkable points in the prayer are not the favours requested but the arguments by which the prayer is supported. Let us weigh them carefully.
Firstly, Moses urges the glory of God's name: "And Moses said to
the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it (for thou broughtest up
this people in thy might from among them); and they will tell it to
the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou Lord art
among this people, and that thou Lord art seen face to face, and
that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them,
by day time in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.
Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations
which have heard of the fame of thee will speak, saying, Because the
Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he sware
unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness".
In effect Moses says "Will it not have a great effect on the
nations if our march to Canaan is marked with success?. Will the
heathen not see that the God of Israel is the Most High, that His
promise is sure, and the people is blest who put their trust in Him?
If, on the contrary, we perish miserably in the wilderness, will not
the heathen exult over us and blaspheme Thy great name? Have pity
therefore on Thy great name" (compare Ezekiel 20:13-14). You see the
scope of the argument from the name of the Lord. It is as
appropriate to us in our times as ever it was to ancient believers.
When the Lord taught His disciples to pray, the petition which comes
first is "Hallowed be thy name" and that reminds you and me of the
place which the glory of God's name should have in all our thoughts
and desires. Even in the seeking of other things, we should seek
them in connection with this supreme end - the glory of God's name.
I might illustrate this from any of the great benefits which are daily sought of God, for example, deliverance from temptation. I do not say that it is wrong to seek this for the peace and comfort of our own hearts. An Old Testament saint did so in the prayer, "O that thou wouldst keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me" (1Chronicles 4:10); and I am sure that the prayer of Jabez was a good prayer. Nevertheless, it is better to say, "Lord, keep me from evil that I may not by deed or word bring dishonour on Thy holy name - that I may not give occasion to unbelievers to reproach the Christian's hope, or cause the weak in faith to stumble."
I might speak to the same effect about other matters. It is well to say, "Lord, grant me growth in knowledge and holiness, that my joy may be full"; but it is better to say, "Lord, help me to be wiser and holier that I may commend the Lord Jesus Christ to all who see me". This argument from the glory of His name, when it is urged sincerely, imparts a high tone to our supplications and has great power with God.
Secondly, Moses next pleads the Lord's promise: "And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation". The reference here is quite unmistakably to the great declaration of the name of the Lord in Exodus 34:6-7, when the people, having set up the golden calf, were condemned to be destroyed, and Moses, standing in the breach, cried to the Lord for mercy. You will remember that the Lord not only granted the mercy that was sought, but made Moses' intercession the occasion for showing him His glory and declaring to him His great name, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and will by no means clear the guilty". The scene was one that Moses could never forget. How it must have been brought to his mind at this point when for the second time he hears the people condemned to perish for their rebellion. He finds in it encouragement to plead again with God for the people. He, as it were, reminds God that it is His prerogative and glory to forgive and to be merciful. Moses reminds God of the way that He had spoken to him, of the things that marked out His glory. Blessed be God, He had declared His name to Moses and He has given us a yet greater and fuller declaration of Himself in Christ.
The more firmly we grasp God's name - the gospel of His grace - the more likely we are to be able to pray as Moses prayed. More particularly, Moses prayer teaches us to plead God's promises when we pray. These are the best arguments before God. There is great force in the reasoning in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "He hath said... so that we may boldly say" (Hebrews 13:5). What the Lord has promised to give in answer to prayer, we may ask without fear.
Thirdly, Moses pleads the Lord's former mercies. "Pardon, I beseech
thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of
thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even
until now." Moses remembers the miracles wrought in Egypt for the
deliverance of Israel, the passage of the Red Sea, the twelve-month
sojourn in Horeb, and he remembers the mercies of the journey from
Sinai to Kadesh. These show what the Lord can do. Moses pleads all
this as an argument why the Lord, having brought the Israelites thus
far, should not forsake them now.
I draw attention to this because you will find the same remembrance of past mercies running through all the greater prayers of the Bible. Indeed this is one characteristic which distinguishes the prayers of the Bible from the prayers that you find in other devotional books. Those of the Bible contain so much narrative. You will have observed this in the Psalms. A large proportion of these call to remembrance events in the past history of Israel; certain of the longest are historical from beginning to end - historical, be it observed, without ceasing to be really prayers. The same feature is found in many of the other prayers scattered through the books of the Bible. The explanation is not far to seek. God's works in relation to His people, next to His word, are a revelation of His mind and the devout commemoration of them is fitted to strengthen faith and encourage prayer.
The bearing of this on ourselves is important. Take careful note of God's dealings with you and with others. Recollect and plead them, especially in intercessions for the people of God. The history of God's people has been marked by great deliverances and blessings and we are to keep His great acts in mind and gather encouragement from them to hope in God. When dangers befall, let us cast ourselves on God. Remembering the years of the right hand of the Most High we will confide in Him and when the tempests and dangers have done their work in humbling us and stirring us up to seek God with greater devotion of heart, they will be stilled and the sun will shine forth again.
I would not have referred to the intercession of Moses for
unbelieving Israel as a subject for meditation today if I had not
believed that there is in it a message from God for us. I assume
that I am addressing a company of praying people. I assume that
everyone here was careful this morning to enter the secret chamber
and speak with God, alone in prayer; and that your secret chamber
will see you on your knees again before you sleep. I assume that in
your families also you will have called on God's name this morning.
Let me ask then, whether you remember others in your prayers? It is an astonishing privilege and favour that the Lord invites us to pray for others. I would press this question. Do you make intercession for your friends, your brethren, your neighbours? Do you habitually think over their condition, and spread it before the Lord in secret? I know very well how peculiarly apt we are to avoid this kind of prayer. Yet on the other hand, is there not great weight due to the circumstance noted at the beginning that such a large proportion of the Bible prayers - prayers that come to us with the seal of God's approbation - belong to the intercessory class? Some close observers of the Lord's ways have recorded it as their experience that their intercessory prayers have been answered more distinctly than their prayers for themselves.
It is even more important that the whole church should not be forgotten in the prayers of Christian people. I admit that the position of Moses differed from ours in that he was specially the leader and prophet of the chosen people and therefore had a special responsibility in relation to their needs, but all are exhorted to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee" ( Psalm 122:6).
There are two great errors into which men fall in this matter.
There are some who though they are professed Christians do not
concern themselves about the prosperity of the church at all; they
are not grieved for her afflictions and divisions, and take no
interest in her fruitfulness. That is surely a great error; and yet
how common it is! How often the pettiest piece of this world's
business awakens more serious and lively interest than the
weightiest business or trial of the church of God.
There is another evil, not quite so common perhaps, but just about
as mischievous. I refer to the prayer-less zeal which passes with
some for Christian public spirit. These are men who take a great and
even consuming interest in church affairs. They think much about
such matters, take a prominent part in furthering them, and will
even open their purses and give freely for their advancement. They
are exceedingly zealous; but their zeal is after all, only a party
zeal. There is no breadth of godliness, no spiritual life in it.
They do not labour fervently in prayer to God for the church. Of
these two evils I do not know which is the greater - which is the
more mischievous in its effects, or the more dangerous to the
persons concerned Let it be our endeavour to shun them both.
On the one hand, open your heart to take an interest in the cause of Christ's truth and Christ's church - an interest like that which Christ Himself took, as it is said of Him, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up" (Psalm 69:9 & John 2:17). On the other hand, let ours be a prayerful zeal - a zeal which will constrain us, like Moses, to plead with the Lord for mercy and a blessing on His people. There is something fatally wrong with that interest in the things of the Lord which does not habitually express itself in importunate intercession and which does not nourish its fires in secret communion with the Saviour.
"MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"
This psalm evidently contains two parts; one of humiliation (from verse 1 to 21); and one of rejoicing (from verse 22 to the end). Both portions are of the very deepest interest to the believer. The Psalm gives most of the inward experiences and feelings of the blessed Lord.
The head of the first section of the psalm might then, I think, in outline be:
- 'Utterly forsaken of God, I cry to Him; whom, though forsaken, I vindicate;
- God was faithful to Israel who in faith drew near to Him but I am forsaken as having degraded myself to a point lower down than man ("I am a worm and no man").
- Mocked by man and scorned, though a true witness for God,
- surrounded by terrors and cruelty,
- full within of weakness,
- surrounded by the wicked, crucified,
- My Person and circumstances put to shame.'
Satan in the temptations had tried Him as Son of God and as Son of man, but could find no dross of lust in Him. All was in perfect obedience to God and to the bondman position that He had taken. Man - good and bad man - had tried Him, but all was perfect. Now at the end of His course here below, Satan, man and God all try Him: He is perfectly subject unto God, even unto death, the death of the cross. But more than perfect subjection comes out: forsaken of God He does not forsake God: this is more than any mere creature could do. No mere creature has springs thus within itself, so that cut off from supplies from on high, it can still serve in subjection. Forsaken of God, a mere creature must collapse in ruin.
If thus perfectly subject, if thus divinely glorious in power, for
whose sins was He thus smitten? Not for His own, that is clear. He
was perfect as Man and was Son of God too; He had no sins of His
own, He was by nature apart from sin. For whose sin and sins was He
then afflicted and bruised? Faith knows the answer. I pray that the
various kinds of sufferings of the Lord, as here presented, may be
noticed. They all meet together in the Psalm, as they did in the
Lord's experience on the cross. Yet they are distinct from each
other. Let us look at them in order.
1 The sorrow of the forsaking
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou far from my salvation, from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry by day, and thou answerest not; and by night, and there is no rest for me" (v. 1 & 2)
This forsaking by God - was there anything like it for sorrow? What was like it in the whole of the life of the Lord? It presents Him in a quite distinct place and position. He had of His own accord taken the cup of wrath due to others. He was the Just One in the place of the many unjust. He was bearing all the waves and billows of God's wrath against sin. Man had in the garden of Eden refused to be subject to God, had set God aside and has set Satan as director in place of God. The Lord, the seed of the woman, who alone knew no sin, was made sin for us, took upon Himself the consequences of this first root-sin of Adam, and all its ramifications. He was treated as though He had been the person that had alone done any or all the evil, and He experienced the consequences of being forsaken. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Sin in man is always godlessness, the denial of God in His place as supreme. Who could take the place and the consequences of the man who had done this? Let a mere creature be treated according to its deserts and withering in the darkness and blackness of despair would be the prelude to the lake prepared for the devil and his angels. Yet all the consequences upon the wicked give no adequate measure of what the result of such an insult to God is. But the beloved Son, He in whom God was always well pleased, He was competent to take up the question of insulted Deity; He, God manifest in flesh; He the blessed Son of man, took up the question in His own Person, of His own voluntary accord - took it up too, not in independent will of His own, but as the servant of His God and Father. Never really, was His conduct more perfect, more according to His Father's good pleasure, than when He took this cup of wrath due alone to others, when He yielded Himself; "Him who knew not sin" was "made sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21) yet the sin that He had taken up made Him taste what it was to be forsaken.
We must remember, too, that with Him there was no exaggeration of language, as there is with mere man. He presents facts and no human language could ever express what He felt when He said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?". My sin and sins being borne by the Lord meant that the light of God's approbation was shut out from Him. He was God manifest in flesh and therefore could have no sin, could see no corruption, but with our sins laid upon Him, the spotless perfect victim - there could be no enjoyment by Him of expressed complacency and approbation from on high. My sins shut it out.
The bullock of the sin offering (see Leviticus 16:27-28), was thrust out of the camp, and seemed to mark everything unclean, though the blood might go inside and go before and upon the mercy seat, where God dwelt between the cherubim. Sin is a breaking off from God and its judgment is God's breaking off from it. What sin is in its real character I only learn from the Lord forsaken by God, upon the cross.
I could wish there was now-a-days a little more appreciation of God's estimate of sin: it would deepen the soul and tend to set it more decidedly in its proper position as against Satan, the world, and the flesh, and for God and God alone. It is impossible for me to measure what the Lord endured - it is a depth that knows no sounding - when He bore the wrath due to my sins in His own body on the tree; when He cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
That sort of sorrow is altogether of its own kind. No one as yet ever tasted it save the Lord. And He took the full, whole portion as at the hand of His God and Father. It is restated again, later in the psalm: "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help" (v.11) and "But thou, Jehovah, be not far from me..." (v 19) Was there ever sorrow like unto His sorrow!
2. The sorrow of the contrast between the way that the faithful had been delivered in the past and the fact that there was no deliverance for the Lord
"Our fathers confided in thee: they confided, and thou didst deliver them... but I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men, and the despised of the people" (vv.4-6)
What a contrast there is between the shelter that the believing line of witnesses had ever from God (in whom they, in their measure, trusted) and the way that all God's billows and waves rolled over Christ, as the One who for God's sake (that He might be free, without any compromise of His holiness, to justify the sinner) and who for man's sake too, has thus gone down into the depths, below man's level, "that through death he might annul him who had the might of death, that is the devil, and might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14 - 15). All that He might rifle the grave and bring away with Him the key of Hades and death; as He said to John: "Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living one: and I became dead, and behold, I am living to the ages of ages, and have the keys of death and of Hades" ( Revelation 1:17).
That He might break the power of Satan, set aside the power of the
world, draw the souls of poor sinners to God, He became "a worm, and
no man". What thorough humbling of Himself - obedient unto death,
the death of the cross!
3. The sorrow of the reproaches of the wicked
"But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and the despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying: Commit to Jehovah - let him rescue him; let him deliver him, because he delighteth in him!" (vv 6 - 8)
Wicked men round about Him were against Him, though He was bearing
their judgment before God. And His perfect self as a Man could take
notice of all the little things from man as much as the great things
from God! Reproach of man; contempt of the people; the laugh; the
scorn; the pouted lip; the taunting repartee - He saw, He felt it
all. It was not God's wrath against sin; but it was rather part of
the sin against which God's wrath came; the grand expression of it -
to which the wrath was obviously due. In the wrath, He was all
alone, and none with Him: in the taste of the sins then swelling
like a flood against Him, a Mary, a John, holy women, a Joseph, a
centurion, a Nicodemus might have their portion and drink it with
Him. The wrath was His and His alone to bear.
4. The sorrow of the contrast between past nearness and present distance
"But thou art he that took me out of the womb; thou didst make me trust upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother's belly. Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help" (v 8 - 11).
This contrast may form part of the experience of a man of God. Job,
Jeremiah and others might share it in measure - but who shined under
it in the way that Jesus did? In mere men it showed all too often
their love of ease and their self will. Job was irritated and cursed
the day he was born; Jeremiah sunk through faintheartedness into
like sin. Timothy was faint hearted. In contrast, the Lord's light
only shone out the more brightly.
5. The sorrow of weakness and helplessness
"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my palate: and thou hast laid me in the dust of death" (v 14 &15).
On the cross the Lord had a sense of weakness and helplessness and He felt weakness as none other. One who is weak or naturally helpless does not feel weakness in the same way as He who was the perfection of strength and power- He is the One who upholds all things by the word of His power, yet on the cross He felt utter weakness. There are points marked out in the psalm which none but He could fully know. Expressions like, "I am poured out like water... my heart is...like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels... thou hast laid me in the dust of death" seem to me language which as to its fullness was suited only to Him, the Mighty One of God, when on the cross. He was "crucified in weakness" (2 Corinthians 13:4).
6. The sorrow of crucifixion
"For dogs have encompassed me; and assembly of evil-doers have surrounded me: they pierced my hands and my feet" (v.16).
To the Lord, as an Israelite, the Messiah and the King of Israel, the perfect Israelite, the cross, a Gentile death and a cruel one, must have been far more sorrowful than to the two thieves. They, of course, felt the pain of the kind of death and of death itself in a bodily way; but beside feeling much more acutely than they did, His mind, His heart, His zeal for God, His love for Israel, His pity for sinners and for Gentiles all gave their part to His weight of suffering. His mother, His disciples and others at the cross all enlarged its dimension too.
There was, too, for Him the legal curse of God's righteous
judgment; as it is written "Cursed is everyone
hanged upon a tree" (Galatians 3:13). But this curse of the
law was not the same thing as the wrath, when He cried out, "My
God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He only of the
three that were crucified together, could, or did bear that wrath
and the agony of that wrath and the agony of the cross of wood was
infinitely less than the sufferings consequent upon the wrath of
Anyone who takes in by faith the words of John: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believes on him may not perish but have life eternal" (John 3:14 - 15) is doubtless saved. If he has studied the accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels his own soul as cleaving to and loving the Lord, will learn lessons about:
- what man - good and bad - is;
- what the religious world, even that of God's setting up in Israel, is;
- what high priests and elders are, when they are but mere men;
- what civil government (in Herod and Pontius Pilate and suchlike) really is; and
- who the prince of this world is.
While the conscience, heart and mind may be thus enlarged and formed as to things down here, he will not find, save in the cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" that which touches on the settlement of the question of sin before God; nor even so does the lesson go far enough, without light from the Acts and the epistles to give settlement to his own soul. For the forsaking is but one side of the subject. It shows the side of rejection and judgment of sin by God, but not at all the side of how He can curse the sin and bless the sinner. The counsel and plan of God came not out in the scene as enacted on earth but in the results seen in heaven and announced thence by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.
For man to know the divine certainty and eternal necessity of sin - his own sin - being cursed by God is a lesson, and a great one to learn; and it is taught on Calvary, there where Satan was allowed to have his own way, and to lead man to show out his hatred towards God in the crucifixion of Christ, and where God gave the penal consequences to His Son to bear. Our helplessness as to our sins and as to self is taught then and there. But it was from heaven after the resurrection and ascension that such truth came as: "Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in him" (2 Corinthians 5|:21).
God's counsel and plan and grace by the cross come out in such passages (in the Acts, Epistles and the Revelation) as these: "And it shall be that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus the Nazaraean, a man borne witness to by God to you by works of power and wonders and signs which God wrought by him...him given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye, by the hand of lawless men have crucified and slain. Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death, inasmuch that it was not possible that he should be held by its power...This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof all we are witnesses, having therefore been exalted by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which ye behold and hear....Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
And having heard it they were pricked in heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptised each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 3:22-42).
Without such additional light the conscience would not get peace. I note, too, that crucified together with Him, buried together with Him, raised up together with Him and made to sit together in heavenly places in Him (see Colossians 2:12 & Ephesians 2:6-7), clearly is not merely the cross of Calvary and the curse born by Him in His forsaking but is the doctrine of God and heaven about faith in an ascended Lord, and is entered into through the gift of the Holy Spirit who is the seal and earnest of the inheritance.
Until the soul can say, "He who knew no sin was made sin for me,
and forsaken for me, that I might become the righteousness of God in
Him"; the soul cannot have conscious intelligent peace with God. It
does not see how the sin was cursed, though the sinner was saved.
God's character was thus revealed. For the soul to be at peace in
itself it must know God aright and so be able to share His peace
with Him, His who rests in the Son of His love. When this peace is
known then it is seen that the truth, holiness, justice and equity
of God is as much for the believing sinner, as is His compassion,
mercy and grace.
It is a subject of the deepest and most solemn kind that the One who, as the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, should lose down here the consciousness of the complacency of God, and that too, at the very time when He was doing the most arduous and difficult part of the work that was given to Him to do down here; so that instead of God's nearness to Himself, it was God's distance and being afar off in forsaking that He tasted when He bare our sins. Yet in all He would say, 'Though forsaken, I do not forsake', and, 'Treated as made sin, I vindicate Him that has done so'.
In all He stands supreme, the centre of heaven's adoration and the centre of ours.
G. V. Wigram (1805-1879)
Extracted from an address at Woolwich, 1863.
THINGS OF WHICH WE ARE TO BE CERTAIN Part 2.1 Peter 1:1-9
1 Peter 2:4-7
1 Peter 3:1-4
1 Peter 4:14-17
1 Peter 5:10-12
The last time we were together we were speaking about the things of
which we are to be certain as the apostle John speaks about
them. I would like to call attention this evening to the
things of which we are to be rightly confident as Peter speaks about
them. I suppose if Peter had given a title to this epistle, it
would have been what we read last, because he says he has written,
"exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in
which ye stand". And I would like to draw upon these passages
in Peter's epistle to speak to us about the 'true grace of God'; and
not just that, but, 'in which ye stand'. There is a need to
stand. The believer needs to stand and be confident.
There is very little in the world in which to be confident, and we
cannot really put confidence in one another beyond what the work of
God entitles us to do. But we can have confidence in God, come
what may. And we can have confidence in His beloved Son, come
what may. And we can have confidence in His Holy Spirit, come
what may. If not, of course, we are not on christian ground at
all. Dear fellow believer, if you have once given your heart
to the Lord Jesus Christ, and your life to Him, it is no good
forever looking back to see whether you had a good basis for doing
so, no good keep on digging up the tree to see whether the roots are
still there. You have got to put your confidence in Christ,
and thank God He is worthy of your trust and can be relied
So Peter writes very feelingly. We have to remember who Peter was. Evidently according to scripture, a simple man from the Galilean countryside, and yet taken up by God Himself to know the Lord Jesus Christ personally when He was here, and to minister the word, both to those who had never heard of the Lord Jesus and, equally important, to minister to those who had heard of His name and had embraced Him as Saviour, but now needed to be preserved as they went through this troubled world. Peter writes to believers, 'the sojourners of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,' christians who were scattered. It has an echo in our own day. We know plenty about christians being scattered. It is easy to close your mind to it, perhaps when you come into a room like this, you are very thankful to see christians who are not scattered but who are drawn together. But believers are scattered, not always knowing how to find each other, let alone how to walk together. Believers in these days know plenty about what Peter called the dispersion. I know, of course, that when he wrote they were Jewish believers who had been scattered abroad, no doubt following various persecutions. Peter writes as a shepherd, in love for them prompted by the heart of God Himself, to assure them that actually all was well, and that there were things that they could rely upon. Dear friend and fellow-believer tonight, I would like you to be quite sure that there are things that you can rely upon and that you have made them your own. Not like things that are lying on a shelf, or stored away in the bank, but things that are really in your heart and have given you peace and confidence to go forward day by day.
Now I want to draw a little upon each of the chapters from which I have read, and I want to speak first about the foundations of the gospel, to point out where Peter began. He began by calling these scattered saints back to familiar truths of the gospel. He says that they were, 'elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father'. That is a most comforting thing. To be assured in your heart, that before the world was, and long before any of us were in it, that God had taken forethought for us, and knew about us and made provision for us. Some people have made themselves very miserable about election and predestination and all those things. As far as I can see, when they are spoken of in scripture they are meant to be very comforting things, to give us assurance that nothing has happened by accident but that God has taken forethought, long before, so that you and I might come into blessing and be happy. Then God has done some things which were necessary to make that happiness substantial, 'by sanctification of the Spirit'. God has worked in the hearts of those that love the Lord and He has set them apart for His own use. That is the essential thought in being sanctified. You are set apart for God's use. J.N. Darby remarks that although there are one or two occasions in scripture where being sanctified is a progressive idea, (where you are moving on and getting more sanctified, if you are, day by day) the key thought about sanctification in scripture is that it is something done once for all, done by the Spirit of God so that those that love the Lord should be truly set apart for God's use. commend that thought to you: it is not one that I have invented, it is one that is in scripture that a man of God has pointed out. And I trust that it comes, too, as a comfort to you that it is God's work - 'by sanctification of the Spirit'.
Then it is, 'unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ'. Now we are getting down to the working out of the gospel. First of all the obedience of Jesus Christ. Yes, I know that is presented to draw us into it, so that we might be obedient ourselves. But none of us would be here but for the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, the scripture tells us, became obedient, even unto death (Philippians 2:8). Let us remember that the Lord Jesus never needed to go that way for Himself. He went that way for us. All believers on the Lord Jesus find themselves, therefore, on common ground, the ground of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, there is the sprinkling of His blood. That gives full assurance and peace. I trust that has brought full assurance and peace to you. It is possible to spend a lot of your life worrying about whether your sins are really forgiven, whether you have really come into God's favour, and whether all will be well in eternity. Scripture does not intend that you should spend your life worrying about where you stand with God. The gospel presents what God has done in Christ. My peace and joy lies in believing it. Not in doing anything to help it along, not in trying harder, not even in searching the scriptures to understand the doctrine of it better. That is an attractive occupation for those who love the Lord, but salvation does not lie that way. Salvation lies in accepting at its face value what God tells me about Christ and what He has done. As Peter says, 'Grace to you and peace be multiplied.' That is his way of saying that he wants believers to be happy in God and to enjoy the peace which only He can afford.
Now Peter tells us that God has done something else for believers. God, he says, 'has begotten us again to a living hope'. There is an entirely new beginning and it has lying as its prospect, a hope that is founded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead. You see what a full foundation the gospel lays for what Peter has to say. The gospel, absorbed into our souls, lays the foundation for everything. I have never been able to understand those who set the gospel at one end of the scale and the truth of the church at the other. As far as I read in scripture they are both aspects of one glorious truth, and they are both equally to be laid hold of and appropriated in the measure in which the Spirit may give us the appreciation of them. Then the truth of the gospel and the church are to be worked out together in your soul history, and with those with whom you have to do. What lies ahead is something fully assured and utterly different from what marks this scene; it is 'an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance' and if you were to change each of those words to their opposite you will see how different it is from this world. This world is corruptible, this world is defiled, and this world is fading. Take a look, not a very long one, and you will not be in much doubt that that is true. By contrast there is another world: incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, and it is your inheritance. It does not wait now for anyone to die. The Lord has already died; the blessing rests on what He has already done, the inheritance still to come. It is, 'reserved in the heavens for you, who are kept guarded by the power of God'. I will pause there for a moment, but you will see that I have not finished the sentence. While we are here we need to be preserved. No believer is safe on their own. Left to yourself you will fall into disaster. Satan will be busy drawing you aside if he can. He is very successful in his efforts, so Peter says we need to be, 'kept guarded by the power of God'. The power of God is there to preserve you and me, day by day, so that we should not fall into sin; not fall into disaster; not disgrace ourselves, but should be kept guarded: the power of God is sufficient to do so.
I said I had not finished the sentence - 'kept guarded by the power of God through faith'. If you do not lay hold of the power of God, if you do not draw it into your life by faith, then you will get no advantage from it. The power of God will be there, but you will be leading your life independent of it. To make it your own you must use faith and use it every day. To fail to do so leads to disaster. The power of God is known in the mind but it is not laid hold of and used. The faith is lacking, and it is, 'faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.'
Now Peter begins to speak of the attractiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of attraction to Him which is the great preservative. He speaks of Him, 'whom, having not seen, ye love; on whom though not now looking, but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and filled with the glory'. Peter assumes that those that love the Lord will be glad to hear His name; will have their hearts touched when He comes before them. Some of us were in France a week or two ago and we went to call on an old believer. Her face was lined with age and weariness and sickness, but when we spoke of the Lord that dear sister's face was changed. You cannot put that on and pretend it, either it is there or it is not. Dear friend, how about you? When we speak of the Lord - I challenge my own heart as much as anyone else's - is your own heart uplifted, are you thankful, are you drawn in heart to a Man far more attractive than any you have met down here? That is how God would have it to be. He presents Christ to you to fill your heart; to satisfy you and to comfort you when things are not going too well. He is, of course, the occupation of the heart of the believer when things are going well. Peter is speaking to those who have trials; when the trials of life come think of Christ and His glory, think of Him as humbled here, having been an example, as Peter says, your model, but think of Him exalted. Mr. Darby has a little note to help us - 'ye exult with joy unspeakable' but it is not the 'ye' that are filled with the glory, it is the joy! Joy is filled with the glory of the Lord: the present place which is His.
I want also to point out that Peter has some things to say about the effect of the gospel in his soul. This is not exactly an epistle where you would look for the doctrine of our salvation. I suppose, generally speaking, the epistle to the Romans would be a better place to look for that. But Peter has some things to say about the atoning work of Christ. One of them is, 'ye have been redeemed ... by precious blood ... the blood of Christ'. That was something that Peter had got in his own soul; as having kept company with the Lord and knowing the circumstances and detail of His death, he said it for himself and he said it for others who loved the Lord, 'redeemed ... by precious blood ... of Christ'.
In the later chapters of the epistle he has other things to say. He says, 'who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree' and, 'by whose stripes ye have been healed.' I think that is a very affecting phrase. The blows that men laid on the Lord, they do not redeem us from sins, but the character of what the Lord Jesus suffered on the cross is gathered up feelingly in saying, 'by whose stripes ye have been healed.' And dear fellow believer, may I ask you now, whether you are healed, and consciously so? Do you carry the wounds and trials of days gone by around with you as a burden still to bear? Are you embittered with life? Some people are; some christians are. The Lord has died so that you and I might be delivered from bitterness and worry and gloom. 'By whose stripes we have been healed.' Make sure that you are not carrying needless burdens around with you. Yes, of course into the past has come much of sorrow, much of folly: it always did. Those of us who have had part in those follies, well, we feel them. There have always been things to look back on with sorrow, 'years that the locust hath eaten' (Joel 2:25). Things that you have done that you should not have done and things that others have done to you that they should not have done. 'By whose stripes ye have been healed', set up before God as God meant you to be. And all those sorrows and burdens lifted from your heart because of Christ. He has taken them away in His death.
Then Peter says, 'Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God': another feature that Peter came to enjoy as he thought about the work of Christ. See how the gospel expands as you let it have a place in your heart. It did with Peter; what he had got he spread out for others to enjoy as well. So that would be another question. Do I know that I am brought to God? However simply and however humbly (and surely it should be simply and humbly, God is greater than our hearts and we need to keep simple, we need to keep humble) do you know that you have been brought to God? If so you will be able to say at least something of what you have found in God's presence, what you have found Him to be. 'Taste and see that Jehovah is good' (Psalm 34:8). Is that what you have found, when the Lord brought you to God? It is meant for all believers, 'that he might bring us to God', but make it personal first; what did you find when you came to God? If you can give at least some little testimony of what you found then it is true for you that the Lord has brought you to God.
In the second chapter Peter presents a house, not a house that you can see, exactly. This building we are in tonight is not the house of God. Nor is any church or chapel the house of God. It could not be because God's house is made of living stones, 'yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house'. Now what about that? I spoke earlier of the 'true grace of God'. Surely there could be nothing more gracious than that God should take on men and women and build them up into a dwelling place for His own habitation. That is how it is, and the Lord has the chief place there. He is spoken of as the corner stone, and He is spoken of a little later as the head of the corner. Both are dignified titles that show the right place that the Lord has in the dwelling place of God Himself. You and I are called to fit in there, and make our contribution as living stones. Solid and reliable in character, but alive. It is the work of God - living stones. Dear fellow believer, is that how you see your place? You might say, I could never attain to it. God never asked you to attain to it. He asked you to come to Christ and if you do you will find that you are a living stone. 'To whom coming, a living stone, ... yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up'. God never asked you to improve yourself, He asked you to come to Christ. And as I do so, in true belief and faith of heart, and indwelt by His Spirit, I find my part in this dwelling place, where God desires to dwell. I want to fit in there. The last thing I would want to be is awkward in God's habitation. God sets the building round about Christ; there is no awkwardness with Him; I say it reverently, there are no sharp edges with the Lord or His dealings with us. He is what He is: the love of God and the glory of God shine in His face. We are called to fit together with Him. Dear fellow believer, as you come to find your part and make your contribution to this dwelling place for God, and seek by the grace of God and by His Spirit to fit together, to be here as a contributor, you can be confident of the work of God. We have our good ground of confidence in the Lord, 'he that believes on him shall not be put to shame.' Being put to shame, of course, is a very dreadful thing. It is having to write off all your hopes, to tell the people that you know that after all nothing has worked out. But Peter says to these scattered saints, those that believe, 'he that believes on him' will not be put to shame; will always be able to say that they are trusting in Christ and in His work and the true grace of God. They belong in a place which takes character from Him and which Paul tells the Ephesians is to be, 'a habitation of God in the Spirit.' (Ephesians 2:22).
In the third chapter Peter speaks first to the wives. Let us not think that he is only interested in wives and requirements of them, because he has something to say to husbands as well. But I paused where I did because I wanted to speak about the hidden man of the heart. You see, the Lord is not publicly glorified, He is not vindicated yet. In the meantime there is one place where He is to be glorified - in the hearts of those that love Him. What Peter says here is an invitation to wives. Peter is speaking sympathetically to people who were converted and their husbands were not. Well, that still happens. He is speaking of what would commend somebody in those circumstances, and would commend any believing wife and indeed any believing husband, every parent and child; it would commend every believer - they should have the Lord Jesus Christ as the hidden Man of their heart. Why is He hidden? You might not have occasion to show every time what is in your heart, but you know, and the Lord knows what is in your heart, the hidden Man who is there. Of course, your love for Him will come out as you have to do with others. The first thing is that He should have the first place in your heart. Is there nothing for husbands to do? Yes, there is. Husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, as fellow-heirs of the grace of life. That is a happy home, where both husband and wife are believers, both love the Lord and find they have something to share. I commend it to every husband and wife, believers in the Lord Jesus; make sure that this is something you are sharing. God intends that it should be; the true grace of God in which ye stand has this as one of its features, the grace of life for you to enjoy. And if you are considering marriage - and that is a very natural and orderly thing to do, God looks sympathetically on those that are desiring a husband or wife in the Lord - then think about what marriage is to be, so that you might be looking forward to being fellow heirs of the grace of life. Those of us that have found it, in however simple a measure, can give thanks for it and commend it to you as being an excellent thing. But that is how it has to be: the husband and the wife both loving the Lord. I do not go further than that, I am not raising other sorts of questions tonight, I am raising the question of the hidden man of the heart, and love for Christ going before all other forms of happiness. My wife and I often say to each other as we hear of people whose marriages come to disaster, we would fear to take up marriage were it not for a link in the Lord. That is what makes all the difference. I commend to you that that should be the foundation of your partnership, a true link as yokefellows in the Lord.
Now just a word at the end of the fourth chapter, 'Let none of you suffer indeed as murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or as overseer of other people's matters; but if as a christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this name.' This is a practical word to a christian. Peter is clearly aware of these conditions from the fact that believers might reach this awful point of being a murderer or thief or evildoer, or as overseer of other people's matters. I often pause over those last few words. Let us not suffer for being overseers of other people's matters. We are in our place, let us keep within it. But he says, 'if as a christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this name.' I think there are three references to being a christian, in scripture: where the disciples were first called christians (Antioch, Acts 11:26), Agrippa who was almost persuaded to be a christian (Acts 26:28), and the man here that might be suffering as a christian. How affectionately Peter speaks, 'let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this name.'
Then he adds, 'For the time of having the judgment begin from the house of God is come'. How solemn that nearly two thousand years ago Peter should be speaking in this way. In the second chapter he has spoken of the house of God in its most dignified character, a place where we are all to fit together, where we should all be happy - no hindrance and no trouble there. But now Peter says there is a house of God here on earth where there needs to be the parting of the ways, a judgment. Judgment means distinguishing between right and wrong: cleaving to the right and forsaking the wrong. 'For the time of having the judgment begin from the house of God is come'. I commend to you to read the passage in Ezekiel that is in his mind (Ezekiel 9:6). You may say that Ezekiel is rather difficult; well, read those chapters, (Ezekiel 8 onwards), you will find them very interesting, very profitable and with a very definite bearing upon the present state of the church. The house of God is a place where there is concern for right and wrong. Dear fellow believer, do not allow one to get smudged into the other in your mind. Scripture gives us ample basis for distinguishing what is right and what is wrong. We are to cleave to the one and to forsake the other. And we are not to keep company with evil either. We are to keep company with what is good. So Peter gives one of the most severe words in this epistle - 'the time of having the judgment begin from the house of God is come; but if first from us, what shall be the end of those who obey not the glad tidings of God?' Peter brings it right home to us saying, 'these are the standards that God would have in His church; what must it be for the outsider?' Let us think of what is due to God in His church, and be concerned to pursue it. You make sure that that is what you do. It costs a great deal! Many of us have found it much easier not to do right, but God will not have it and His government follows us, follows us to this day actually, because of not being sufficiently concerned for what was right in the house of God. I commend to all of us; but particularly I would say make sure as younger believers that you learn these lessons. They are in the bible; they are set out by much better men than me. Men who were prompted directly by the Spirit of God to minister the word, telling us that there is the house of God down here and it is the place for distinguishing right from wrong. If you do not care about it, God does, and God will do what needs to be done if you will not do it. He looks for His people to take responsibility, make sure that you do.
Now at the end of the epistle, Peter says, 'But the God of all grace', he is very conscious of grace, 'who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, when ye have suffered for a little while, himself shall make perfect, stablish, strengthen, ground'. You might say, Peter, one of those words would have been enough. Well, he wants to make sure that the point goes home. God will do all those four things: make perfect, make absolutely solid and reliable, establish and strengthen and ground, so that you do not get overturned, do not get distracted, but are maintained. What Peter said he was doing was exhorting and testifying and if you look back through this epistle you will find that is exactly what he was doing. He was exhorting; that is to say he was stirring up the hearts and minds of those to whom he wrote. He was testifying, he was bearing his own witness that what he said was true, that this is the true grace of God, in which ye stand. No ifs, no buts; 'this is the true grace of God in which ye stand.' Dear brethren, I trust that we know what we stand in. Stand upon Christ, rely upon Him, upon His completed work and the thoughts of God about Him. What is needed for us is to lay hold of them by His Spirit, make them our own, cleave to them, pursue them as we go through life here, for His name's sake.
26th February 1994