A WORD FOR TODAY
FOUR ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN LIFE
2 Timothy 2:1-9, 15.
I want to draw your attention this evening to different expressions and metaphors that are used in Paul’s second letter to Timothy to refer to Christians and the Christian life. First, the soldier; then the runner, thirdly, the farmer, husbandman or vine grower; and finally, the skilled workman. They all are mentioned in this passage in this last recorded letter of the apostle Paul. I would like to say a few words about the figures themselves and then how some of the features illustrated by them were seen in perfection in Jesus and how they ought to be seen in us.
Paul first refers to the soldier. He had encountered Roman soldiers many times and as he writes he was being held as a prisoner in Rome. These soldiers belonged to a very imposing army. In the book of Daniel, the great image seen by Nebuchadnezzar had legs of iron, an allusion to the strength of the Roman Empire. (Daniel 2:33, 40). That scripture speaks of the iron breaking in pieces and subduing everything. The Roman Empire was a very strong empire in its day and its soldiers themselves had to be tough. It was not an easy job to be a soldier in the Roman Empire. Soldiers were away from home for a long time and discipline was very severe. Paul here refers to the endurance of a soldier rather than his conquests or winning glory in battle and stresses the importance of avoiding entanglements to please him who had enlisted him. Next, he refers to the athlete. Just as in our day, when the Olympic Games have been revived, Paul knew there was a tremendous spirit of competition to win prizes in the games of the Roman Empire. Paul mentions striving lawfully in these games because there were rules attached to them and participants, if they infringed these rules, would forfeit their prizes. We can relate to his comment since in our day there are concerns about people taking steroids and other things that would disqualify them from gaining the prize.
Then he refers to the farmer, the husbandman. Then the life of a farmer was a tough life and a life-long process with no modern mechanical aids There was the annual ploughing and planting; keeping the weeds away, guarding from wild animals and so on, before partaking of the harvest. These were figures well-known to Timothy and we can relate to them in our day too.
Finally he refers to the craftsman, “cutting in a straight line the word of truth”. It is difficult to cut in a straight line: if we are given a pair of scissors and instructed to cut a line across a piece of paper most of us would find it difficult to make a straight cut.
These figures refer to different aspects of the Christian life that, I think, we need to hold in balance. Some of these figures are the opposite of others. For example, the Old Testament speaks of taking our spears and swords and making them into ploughs and ploughshares (see Isaiah 2:4). Yet another scripture speaks of the opposite process, taking the ploughshares and beating them into swords (Joel 3:10). In farming there is a steady process that is going on day by day, week by week whereas a soldier may be fighting enemies using a lot of energy over a short time. Thus there is a balance in our Christian life: a believer should be both a soldier and a farmer.
Contending in the games would involve speed whereas working as a craftsman would involve care and precision and be time consuming to complete a good job. Paul probably had such personal experience because he made tents. I expect he had to cut out the cloth carefully before he sewed pieces together to make a tent.
I think there is a need of balance with us who are Christians. We see perfection and evenness in Jesus but there is the need of balance with us. It is striking that Paul speaks of all these features before his instruction concerning being separate from evil in verses 19–21. When I was young I used to hear a tremendous amount of ministry about second Timothy 2. I still think it is right to refer to the latter part of second Timothy 2 as providing guidance for believers today. Let us remember that “Every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
So I refer first of all to the soldier: “Take thy share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”. When we think about the life of Jesus, the Bible does not say He was a soldier. He certainly did not take arms such as a sword or a spear. But one feature of His life was endurance. “Consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself” (Hebrews 12:3).
We read very little about Him until He was about 30 years of age. But once He was anointed by the Holy Spirit and the Father’s voice had declared His delight in Him, He began His public service. We then read about Jesus in conflict, first of all with the devil who tried to turn Him from the path of the will of God. But Jesus did not heed the tempter. He quoted scripture. He used the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and Satan had to shut up and leave Him for a season (Luke 4:13). Then we read, too, about Jesus being attacked by the emissaries of the devil, the demons who tried to disrupt His ministry. Jesus had to rebuke them.
We read too about the opposition Jesus encountered from the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, people who knew the Old Testament well. They often tried to trip up Jesus. But think about Him in His endurance in His life of public service here. We too are told to “run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1) and our great model is in Jesus. Think about Him going on to the cross: think about what He endured there at the hands of men, the shame and the scorn and the spitting! He is indeed the one who endured contradiction from sinners against Himself.
So Paul says, “Take thy share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”. Paul refers to himself as a soldier in chapter 4 when he says, “I have fought the good fight”. He knew what it was to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ and he looked forward to the reward of his Master. Then he refers to other believers as fellow-soldiers, including Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25) and Archippus, who perhaps was in the family of Philemon in Colossae (Philemon 1:2).
I wonder if we have ever thought about our Christian life as being that of a soldier? We preach that people might be saved, that people might repent of their sins, that they might come to Jesus and know the joy of having their sins forgiven and of having a hope for eternity. But what about being a soldier? Are you a soldier? Am I a soldier? We read in Numbers that when men of Israel reached 20 years of age, except for those in the tribe of Levi, they were numbered that they might have part in the army. They were to be soldiers. They were to stand in defence of the testimony: stand in defence of the Ark and the tabernacle and all the precious things in it.
There are things to be stood for. It is not easy to be a Christian, to stand for the rights of Christ today. But Paul says, “Take thy share in suffering”, in other words, we are not only to believe in Christ but to endure the suffering for Him also. Paul says that in his letter to the Philippians, “to you is given, as regards Christ, not only the believing on him but the suffering for him also” (Philippians 1:29).
When the gospel first came to Philippi a business woman called Lydia took Paul into her house after she became a believer. I wonder if her business continued to prosper after she gave hospitality to Paul and his three companions who had come to spread the gospel. When Paul and Silas got out of gaol they returned to Lydia. By supporting these servants of God, she would have been a good soldier of Jesus Christ. This service of a soldier applies to sisters as well as brothers. When Paul refers to Aquila and Priscilla he says about them, “for my life staked their own neck” (Romans 16:4). The word ‘neck’ is singular. This man and his wife defended the interests of the Lord in this world. It was not easy then to be a Christian when believers were a very small persecuted minority in the Roman Empire. But these two people were good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Then Paul adds another statement: “no one going as a soldier entangles himself with the affairs of life, that he may please him who has enlisted him as a soldier”. In the Roman army: these soldiers were away for months, perhaps years. Away from their family – they did not entangle themselves with the affairs of life. They were very focused in what they had to do. They were under orders from their commanders.
Many things can hinder us from being true to Christ, from being soldiers of Jesus Christ. There is an interesting illustration in the book of Judges. When Gideon was mobilising an army God brought in several tests for those enlisting. One of them was that those recruits had to go and drink from a spring. The people were thirsty so most of them knelt down by the water and drank with their heads down and obtained plenty of water. Others lapped like a dog, “with their hand to their mouth”. Only the ones that lapped were chosen by God to be in Gideon’s army (see Judges 7:4-7). There was nothing wrong with drinking the water. Most of us here have various interests in life – hobbies or other activities that might be perfectly legitimate. But I think the question for us whether young or old is: ‘are we going to be diverted from being soldiers of Jesus Christ and standing firm for His rights by other things that might occupy us?’ That is a constant challenge for us all.
Jesus Christ has enlisted you and me to be in His army. It is a wonderful privilege to be in the army of the Lord, to stand for Him and to please Him. If we are believers in Jesus, our daily question should be, ‘How can I please the Lord?’ How can I please Him in the things I do at work, in my studies and in my relations with my neighbours, with my friends with my relatives and my fellow Christians. Paul then refers to those who contend in the games, “he is not crowned unless he contend lawfully”. I would encourage us in our activities to make sure we contend lawfully. I remember at one stage in my life someone saying in a Christian meeting, ‘We do not want any more edicts’. I know what the person meant and I know why he said it. It is certainly not our job to make edicts for one another, it is not our job to have man-made rules. But there is such a thing as the commandments of God and believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should heed them. Each of us should learn from the scriptures what pleases the Lord and activities that do not please Him. A number of His commands are stated in John’s gospel and in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Let us not ignore them!
We never read in the gospels about Jesus running. Jesus often did things for people immediately but I do not find any reference in the gospels to Jesus running. However He is described, in Hebrews, as our Forerunner. He has gone into heaven, He is at the right hand of God, He is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek and through Him we have an anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:20, 19).
Hebrews also speaks of our running and looking steadfastly on Jesus. We should be running in the race from earth to heaven, running towards Christ. I do not mean we run literally. In fact, Paul speaks of running in his letter to the Philippians when he himself was chained in prison. He speaks there of pursuing, going after “the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He was a man who was running. He was not giving up the race. Later on in this letter to Timothy he says, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). He had been in the Christian race and he was conscious he was not going to be in it much longer. He is encouraging Timothy not to give up, not to flag. He wanted to rekindle what was in Timothy and he says of himself as an example, “I have finished the race”.
Well, what about this race. Are you pursuing? What are you pursuing? It speaks in Ecclesiastes of pursuing the wind. Think of all the things that people go in for in this life: the sports; the entertainments; the money making – they are just like pursuing the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Reading parts of Ecclesiastes is rather depressing because it speaks about what is under the sun and says, “all is vanity and pursuit of the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17; 2:14; and more). If you are in the Christian race you are not pursuing the wind. You are running towards Christ. You have a wonderful hope before you, the hope of being with Christ. It is a great thing to be in that race.
Then endurance is important. We are told to, “run with endurance the race that lies before us, looking steadfastly on Jesus”. This would include cultivating our links with Him through prayer and study of the word, keeping in good company, Christian company. All these things are important, yet simple things to do and they are part of running in that race. It is also important to pursue what is good with others. “So then let us pursue the things which tend to peace, and things whereby one shall build up another” (Romans 14:19). I think that includes practical aspects of keeping meetings going. Today some people have had to clean the hall, arrange the seats and prepare the food. So let us pursue peace and things that encourage God’s people to continue in this race, the Christian race.
Paul next refers to the farmer: “the husbandman must labour before partaking of the fruits” . Must labour! We are all sowing, everyone is sowing. Paul says in Galatians, “Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap” (Galatians 6:7). It is important, particularly when we are young, to remember that we reap what we sow. The Lord takes account of brothers and sisters that seek to follow Him, even if they do not understand too much, even if they make many mistakes. God will bless your life if you seek to follow Jesus and support His interests.
The book of Proverbs has much to say about cultivation of the land – that would be the physical land of Israel and the Book contains several warnings about being a sluggard. A sluggard is a lazy person and does not bother cultivating his land, does not plough the field when it should be ploughed. The result is that instead of reaping a well-earned harvest for himself and others there would be nettles and thistles. (Proverbs 24:30-34). There is a need of we Christians working and labouring but it involves hard labour. In our personal lives it is important to cultivate what is right, to read the Bible and buy the truth. Someone earlier spoke about the importance of searching out things. Go in for the Lord’s things wholeheartedly and there will be a product that comes in your own personal life.
Jesus, when He was here, often used the illustration of the farmer – the farmer going forth to sow, to sow seed. And then the product came. Jesus sowed when He was here on earth. He sowed things in the disciples that He chose. He said to Peter and Andrew, Come after me, I will make you fishers of men. These disciples became equipped for their later work. He corrected them and He helped them. Sometimes they quarrelled among themselves but Jesus carefully nourished them to achieve results for the glory of God.
Somebody once said that God has more to do in us than by us. Sometimes He uses discipline in our homes, in our health, in our circumstances so that we might produce fruit that will be for the glory of God. The Epistle to the Galatians refers to the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23). And that is what God wants to produce in us. He gives us the Holy Spirit not only to link us with Christ in glory but to help us while here so that we might produce fruit in our lives that will be for the glory of God our Father and for our happiness too.
So let us think about this, “the husbandman must labour”. It is true in Christian service - service to one another, service to God’s people and towards all. Sometimes people say, we do not see any result. Sometimes sowing or planting takes a while to come to harvest. I was hearing this week about someone who persuaded a prisoner to obtain a Bible and enrol on a Bible correspondence course. The prisoner’s wife had become a believer but he was not interested. After he came out of prison, he said, ‘I went in there with a heart of stone; I have come out with a heart of flesh’. God is able to do things through the service and lives of believers. Here was a believer who gave someone a Bible and a study book. She did not see any immediate result but did see a result of the end of the day. I would encourage everybody here to do some sowing, to scatter some seed. To do a little shepherding – seeking to encourage any of the Lord’s people who might be discouraged, perhaps visiting God’s people. I have often found when going to see ill believers in Jesus and wondering what I might say yet leaving them far more encouraged than when I arrived.
This farming process is ongoing with a view to what is for the praise of God. I would encourage everybody here to be concerned to do a little cultivation – and to keep at it. Not just doing it once and forgetting about it but keeping at it wherever you live, with whom you meet. Seek to cultivate what is of God in believers and seek to sow some seed to others in view of their blessing and for the glory of God.
Paul also refers to the skilled workman when he says, “strive diligently to present thyself approved to God, a workman that has not to be ashamed, cutting in a straight line the word of truth”. That is an interesting expression, “the word of truth”. The Bible is the word of truth.
I link the expression “the word of truth” with what Paul says to Timothy earlier in this chapter, “The things thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also”. These things that Timothy had heard from Paul would have been the word of truth. Paul skilfully uses the Old Testament many times to show how these scriptures pointed on to Christ. Paul also was given a distinctive ministry from the Lord Himself that he had passed on to others in view of there being a result for God. Paul exhorts Timothy who was also a Christian teacher, to cut in a straight line the word of truth. He had preached with Paul in Corinth and elsewhere. (2 Corinthians 1:19).
Now we are at the end of the Christian era during which many human concepts have been introduced. There is great ignorance today about the Bible and what the Bible says even in the land in which we live. Many ideas people have about God and Jesus and what the Bible teaches they have gleaned from films and other media which are often woefully inaccurate. There is a great need, first of all, to get to know the scriptures. I would encourage us all to keep reading the scriptures. Whatever our means of study the main thing is that we do study the scriptures so that we might learn what the word of truth is.
And then there is the question of how we apply the Holy Scriptures – cutting in a straight line the word of truth. It is very easy to deviate from what is of God. Timothy would probably have heard Paul speak to the Ephesian elders, telling them what would happen after his departure, “there will come in amongst you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29, 30). In other words, teaching would be introduced to lure them from the Lord, and from the truth.
But there is God’s standard. We have a wonderful standard in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The Spirit of God saw to it that, before the canon of the New Testament was finished, Peter would refer in his second letter to our beloved brother Paul and that what he wrote was scripture. What Paul wrote is just as much part of the divinely inspired word of God as the Old Testament. So we have God’s standard and we need to test things spoken and written by this standard. The Bible says, “let one speak … and let the others judge” (1 Corinthians 14:27, 29). It is important to have discernment and to check up things as to whether they are accurate from the Holy Scriptures themselves.
Even the apostle Peter, after he was commissioned, deviated from the straight line and the apostle Paul had to rebuke him. If that happened with Peter it shows how easy it is for me to err from the truth. So let us be guarded. Let us recognise the tendency within our own hearts to err and seek God’s help to speak the word of truth.
We see, of course, perfection in Jesus. He always cut in a straight line the word of truth. It is amazing to study the statements of Jesus Himself. For example, people asked Jesus, shall we “give tribute to Caesar or not?” Now, they were trying to test Him. If He had said, ‘No’, He would have got a black mark. If He had said, ‘Yes’, He would have had a black mark but Jesus answered them skilfully: He cut in a straight line the word of truth, He said, “Pay therefore what is Caesar's to Caesar, and what is God's to God” (Luke 20:22, 25).
It is good to finish by thinking about what Jesus said. He always cut in a straight line the word of truth whatever the circumstances. He knew when to be silent, He knew when to speak. Think of Jesus before the Sanhedrim; He kept quiet until He was adjured and then He made a wonderful statement about Himself and His coming glory (see Matthew 26:62-64). When He was before Pilate, Pilate tried to ask Him questions but he said very little and Pilate marvelled. Sometimes it is right to keep quiet but it is important when speaking to cut in a straight line the word of truth.
I commend these simple thoughts to you. These figures depict four
aspects of the Christian life and as we adhere to them we will
become mature Christians and be here in a balanced way for the
service of the Lord until He come. May the Lord help us all for His
An address at Hampton, 2 March 2019
THE LORD’S SUPPER - As the expression of fellowship“I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Christ?
The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
For we being many are one bread and one body: for we all are partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:15-17).
The chapter from which these verses are taken seems to be much less familiar to most Christians than the chapter which follows it. There may be two reasons for this: first, its true meaning is but little understood owing to the present public state of the church; and secondly, it is in some respects much more searching than what we get in chapter 11, and if accepted, would involve a breaking loose from unsuitable associations and links.
It is one thing just to sit down and partake of the Lord's Supper as a formal and proper and enjoyable matter, and quite another to accept the fact that our doing this really touches our daily life and path in all its details, and affects all our associations and surroundings. It is a blessed moment for us when we are prepared to admit this. We shall see, as we glance at the chapter now before us, how all this comes out, and may the Lord make it very simple and plain to each reader, how much the enjoyment and understanding of what is presented in chapter 11 depends upon the honest and hearty acceptance of what we have in chapter 10. There is always in Scripture a definite principle of order in the unfolding of truth, and perhaps nowhere is it more apparent than in the case now before us.
It is evident, on reading the verses quoted above, that the main thought contained in them is “communion”, or, as the same word is more correctly translated elsewhere, “fellowship” In “the cup of blessing which we bless”, or give thanks for, we express the fellowship of His blood, and in the bread which we break there is that which is expressive of the fellowship of His body.
A little explanation of the terms in which this is set forth will
help us to grasp the meaning. The simplest idea of “fellowship” is
that of “partnership”. In fact, in most cases ‘partnership’ would
not be at all an incorrect translation of the word. This idea is
actually conveyed elsewhere in the New Testament, as we see in the
following instances, where the word used is substantially the same,
varying only in the form:
“Which were partners with Simon”( Luke 5:10)
“He is my partner and fellow-helper” (2 Corinthians 8:23).
“If thou count me therefore a partner” (Philemon 17).
A partnership, as we all know, is the combination or association of those who are partners. The idea is too familiar to us in daily life to need explanation, beyond saying that while it involves a common participation in whatever benefits are to be derived, there is also the very important point of sharing in the responsibilities which attach themselves to the position.
If we apply the principle just stated to the passage before us, the meaning becomes immediately clear. The cup of blessing of which we drink, and the bread of which we partake, set forth in a twofold way the fellowship or partnership of believers; and that which characterises or marks this bond, and is indeed the seal of it, is the death of Christ. On the one hand, we have the immense gain of it, as that which glorified God and set us free from the dominion of sin and death. On the other hand, as being identified and bound up together, as it were, with Him who was rejected and put to death here, we have to be separated from the course of things around us in which we used to find our pleasure.
It is not that we cannot do our work here but that the link that has been set up between us and Christ now puts us as much outside the things of the world in their social or religious aspect as was the case with the Lord Himself when He was refused and put to death.
Now the object of chapter 10 is to make this great truth a reality amongst the company of believers. It is not merely the presentation of a doctrine to be accepted, but something to be practically worked out in the path of the Christian. In the earlier part of the chapter Paul carries our thoughts back to the journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness. There was that amongst God’s ancient people which answered in some respects to what we understand by fellowship. They had all come out of Egypt under the value of the Passover lamb, they had all been under the cloud and had all passed through the sea. (See verse 2.) The Passover lamb set forth their own deliverance from death and judgment, the cloud was the visible sign of God's presence, indicating that He had brought them to Himself (see Exodus 19:4), and the Red Sea was God's way of their deliverance from Egypt and the destruction of the enemy’s power.
Moreover, the Israelites had had the manna from heaven and the water from the smitten rock (see verses 3 and 4). At every point they had had the benefit of God's intervention on their behalf, just as we have had. That was one side of the fellowship or partnership, but now what do we see as to the other side? How about their accepting the responsibility to walk here for God, in testimony for Him, and in separation from evil? It is a sad exhibition of what is in the human heart. The brief and pointed summing-up of it is contained in verse 5: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: but they were overthrown in the wilderness”.
The details of their failure (verses 6-10) present one of the most humiliating pictures within the compass of Scripture, and the Spirit of God uses it, through the apostle Paul, as the basis of an affectionate and earnest appeal to the Christians at Corinth to be faithful to their fellowship, and to do nothing, or link themselves with nothing, which would in any wise bring their fellowship into reproach.
This serves to bring out a point which is of interest and importance, namely, that while the actual partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or the breaking of bread, is only of weekly occurrence (evidently, in scriptural usage, the first day of the week), the fellowship of Christ's death is maintained perpetually. A Christian is always in it. It is that which marks him off from the course of things around, and he cannot get out of it, though he may shirk his responsibility and grieve the heart of Christ.
It is in connection with this that the expression “The Lord's table” is used in verse 21. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It sets forth figuratively that with which the Christian is in fellowship—his place of fellowship, so to speak, in contrast with “the table of demons”, which was expressive of that with which the heathen were identified. So that it is correct to say—and it is well worthy of consideration—that a Christian is always at the Lord's table, though of course he is not always breaking bread. If this fact were accepted and remembered, what a mighty influence it would have over our associations and our ways generally, and how careful we should be to be faithful to our fellowship!
With what different feelings we should meet together for the
breaking of bread on the Lord’s Day if the fellowship of Christ's
death were practically and faithfully maintained day by day in our
pathway through the world. Oftentimes we are painfully conscious,
when we come together, that there is but little in our hearts that
is in real unison with the Lord. Perhaps there has been much in our
associations—or, it may be, in our service—during the week with
which we would not like to link His name, and we can hardly expect,
when we come together in assembly, that there can be that freedom of
heart which will enable us to enjoy His company.
Nothing really helps us so much in maintaining this faithfulness to our fellowship as an intelligent grasp of the true significance of the Lord's Supper. This is evidently what Paul means when he says to these Corinthians: “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say”—verse 15. He invites them, as it were, to enter intelligently with himself into what is divinely meant by “the communion of His blood”, and “the communion of His body”.
In this two-fold view of Christ's death we have, first, His blood
shed—that which was for God in expiation, and at the same time the
expression of God's love, for it was “the blood of the new
covenant”, in which the great purposes of God's love are set
forth (see 2 Corinthians 3); and secondly, His body given—that is,
the whole condition of man as in Adam judged and set aside when the
blessed Lord Himself in perfect grace took upon Himself our
responsibilities on the cross. We who believe in Him can with
grateful hearts see in His death the closing-up of our history here
before God as men in the flesh. Many other scriptures illustrate
this, as for example:
• “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ” (Romans 7:4). That is, the condition to which the law applied (man “in the flesh”) had been ended for God by Christ's death.
• "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once”(Hebrews 10:10). Here, as in the previous passage, His death was the removal before God in judgment of the whole condition for which the Old Testament sacrifices had been provided.
An intelligent entrance into these wonderful realities awakens in the soul the response of affection to Him who gave Himself in order that the purposes of God’s love should be carried into effect.
Then we are prepared to accept a path of separateness and devotedness to Himself. This path is, no doubt, in some respects hard and distasteful to ourselves naturally, but it becomes easy and delightful as we learn to appreciate the immense gain which comes to us through the death of Christ, and the greatness of His love who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
As a result of taking up for ourselves, heartily and with distinct purpose, this path of testimony, we begin to enjoy the sweetness and attractiveness of the Lord's Supper itself, as we partake of it week by week.
"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