Short Articles 2
A second series of short articles on all aspects of Christianity
- both devotional & doctrinal
"They had gathered every man according to the measure of his eating" (Exod. 16: 18).
The Scriptures speak both of the love of God and of the love of the Father. It is the same love, but the direction it is described in the Scriptures as taking is very different. The love of God is a very wide thought: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only–begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish but have life eternal” (John 3: 16). It is a love that has opened up a way of salvation for the lost, for God “desires that all men should be saved and come to [the] knowledge of [the] truth” (1 Tim. 2: 4). The love of the Father is presented differently. The Father is never said to love the world. He has a world or sphere of His own, outside of which His affections are not said to travel. The focus of the Father's love is in His own beloved Son: “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things [to be] in his hand” (John 3: 35). This is the One whom He has loved “before [the] foundation of [the] world” (John 17: 24). And yet, wonderful fact, you and I also are objects of the love of the Father! How you may ask? The Lord Himself furnishes the answer: “the Father himself has affection for you, because ye have had affection for me” (John 16: 27). Now God loved us when there was nothing lovable about us: “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, (we too being dead in offences,) has quickened us with the Christ” (Eph. 2: 4, 5). He loved us because of what was in Himself, for “God is love” (1 John 4: 16). However, the Father loves you and me because of what is in us. He has found something in us in which His heart has unbounded delight. What is it? Nothing but the little spark of love to His Son which He has kindled there for Himself.The Tide
The Christian has a new nature which causes him to swim against the tide of this world. Hence, “they think it strange that ye run not with [them] to the same sink of corruption” (1 Pet. 4: 4). There is also a tide in Christianity. The Galatians, when first converted, plucking out their own eyes would have given them to Paul, receiving him “as an angel of God” (Gal. 4: 14). But the apostle closes his ministry lamenting that “all who [are] in Asia … have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1: 15). The tide had turned. They sought “their own things”, he sought “the things of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2: 21). That tide is here again, fiercer, faster, and deeper than ever. You cannot alter it—that is God’s work. Your place is to strive against it, cost what it might and however weary and lonely the journey.Unwavering
The days in which we live are days of rapid change: “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12: 4). The professing church is changing too. As never before, it is loosening its ties to Biblical doctrine—a departure which gathers pace almost daily. Principles held for centuries (even if only nominally) are being rapidly overthrown, and the so–called ‘historic faith’ is being consigned to history. To stand against the tide is to be labelled a crank or a fundamentalist, something that the masses are being conditioned to view as roughly on a par with Middle–Eastern terrorism.
To give up the Bible leads in one direction only—the giving up of Christianity. England has had an open Bible for centuries, and has received much blessing by it. Her culture, her government and her laws have all been formed, to a greater or lesser degree, by the teachings of Scripture. And as she has progressively abandoned her heritage, so society had descended into a modern Sodom and Gomorrah—crumbling towards an amoral nightmare.
Whatever the world or Christendom does, the responsibility of the true Christian is clear. He is to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude v3). In the “midst of a crooked and perverted generation” he is to be a light in the world, “holding forth [the] word of life” (Phil. 2: 15, 16). And if he loses his friends, his freedom or his livelihood on account of faithfulness to Christ, then he will remember that “all indeed who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3: 12). Such a stand will be far from easy, hence the pressing need for each individual Christian to be “rooted and built up in him” (Col. 2: 7). These things are real. Do not delude yourself that they are for others to be concerned about. The onslaught will be fierce and unrelenting. “Let us” then, “hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering” (Heb. 10: 23, my emphasis).
When we come to ask ourselves “Where did I learn this?” it is astonishing to find out how much we have imbibed from man, and not directly from the Word of God. All that we have learned from our youth up must be tested and proved by Scripture. Where we find it is true we must learn it over again from God. Where it will not stand the test of His Word, we must give it up, and be thankful to do so.
'It’s impossible!’ “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18: 27).
'I’m too tired.’ “Come to me, all ye who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11: 28).
'I can’t figure things out’. “Confide in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own intelligence; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will make plain thy paths” (Prov. 3: 5 – 6).
'I can’t do it!’ “I have strength for all things in him that gives me power” (Phil. 4: 13).
'Why is this happening to me?’ “But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose” (Rom. 8: 28).
'I can’t manage’. “But my God shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 19).
'I’m afraid’. God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion” (2 Tim. 1: 7).
'I am worried’. “Cast all you care upon him, for he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5: 7).
'I feel all alone’. “He has said, I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee” (Heb. 13: 5).
'Why aren’t things easier?’ “My grace suffices thee; for [my] power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 9).
“For me to live [is] Christ” (Phil. 1: 21) – this was how the apostle Paul could honestly sum up his life. Nothing else mattered. Such single–hearted devotion to Christ is often our great lack. He must be before the soul as the first and supreme object of the life. The need of souls or the good of saints are good and worthy matters, but they must never become our focus. A desire to serve will not keep my feet in the narrow path with Christ. If service does not flow from whole–hearted committal to the Lord then sooner or later we will be turned aside to the things of earth. Christ and Christ alone is to be my object. Anything else, however valuable in itself, can only serve as a distraction.
Love for the Lord is not measured by profession or emotion, but by obedience: “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me”. The divine response to this is “but he that loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will manifest myself to him” (John 14: 21). Yet there is a deeper love than that manifested in keeping commandments. It is that love which takes account of all of His Word, whether definite command or not: “If any one love me, he will keep my word”. The response to love of this sort is correspondingly greater: “my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him” (v23). It is evident that there is a fullness and permanency of communion here not found in the case before. The Lord commended the Philadelphians because they had “kept my word” (Rev. 3: 8)—not a proportion of it, but His Word as a whole. Of course, the saints there did not know it all, but nonetheless His Word as a whole was before them. There is a Scripture which many would fight for as essential truth without really believing the import of it: “Every scripture [is] divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3: 16)? Every Scripture? Are we sure that this is really true—true of prophecy, true of history, true of type, and true of parable? Yes, even of the genealogies of Chronicles and the lists of David’s officers, and the cities of Israel conquered by Joshua? Let us be absolutely honest with ourselves and with God. Are we feeding on all the Word—or not? Is it not more often true of us, as regards Scripture, that “there remaineth yet very much land to take possession of” (Josh. 13: 1)? May we weigh and consider these things!
Many talk of the necessity of seeking guidance in the light of the presence of God and that is right. How, however, shall we know that we have actually been in His company? The point is clearly an important one, otherwise the guidance will have come from elsewhere—our own imagination, or through the unconscious influence of the thoughts of others. The proof of our having been in the presence of God will be that we shall keep the Word of God. I cannot understand one presuming to go into the presence of God with some question, and leaving his Bible behind! It is all very well to speak about weighing things in the balances of the sanctuary, but we must not forget that the Holy Scriptures are the balances of the sanctuary whereby everything has to be weighed, adjusted and settled in the light of God’s holy and gracious presence.
The way for God’s dear saints to get their difficulties divinely solved is through prayerful meditation on Scripture in God’s holy presence: “From thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false path. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path ... The entrance of thy words giveth light, giving understanding unto the simple ... Every scripture [is] divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, fully fitted to every good work” (Ps. 119: 104, 105, 130; 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17). We need the reality and sobriety of the Holy Spirit, and the certainty of the Scriptures of Truth—not some mystical experience of the mind.
It is common practice for Christians to speak of ‘full–time service’ and the ‘call’ necessary before setting out on such a pathway. Now there undoubtedly are occasions when the Lord distinctly calls and sets us apart for some particular service He has in mind for us, but it is my belief that all Christians are called to full–time service when they are converted.
What to do we mean by full–time service? For many it means a career occupied with things sacred rather than things secular, but you will find no such distinction in the record in the NT Scriptures. All believers (not just clerics) are priests (see Rev. 1: 6), while all (not just so–called lay–persons) can have secular occupations—even Paul worked as a tentmaker (see Acts 18: 3). Having got their freedom from sin, believers are not taken on as part–time workers for the Lord, but as “bondmen to God” (Rom. 6: 22). What is a bondman? One who is a slave, having no will of his own. He is a full–time worker. When did we become such? When we became the Lord’s!
The mistake has been to assume that it is only preaching, teaching, witnessing, visiting the sick, missionary work and the like that counts as serving God. Not so. Paul says “everything, whatever ye may do in word or in deed, [do] all things in [the] name of [the] Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him” (Col. 3: 17). Thus the Roman galley–slave might live and die in his awful predicament, and yet still be in full–time service to God. Every painful pull on the oar, if done unto Christ, would be recognised and treasured in heaven. Let us not delude ourselves—full–time work is not so much about what we are doing, but whether we are doing it for God. I am just as much in full–time service when in the factory or the bank as I am when in the pulpit or the mission field. I am a bondman.
It is a very solemn thing to turn the back on God. It is said of Jeroboam that he cast God behind his back (see 1 Kings 14: 9), while the people themselves cast His law behind their backs (see Neh. 9: 26). Judgment followed on both the king and on the nation—God will not be so treated. Yet God is not willing that any should perish—even those who have turned their backs on him. If man uses his back to spite God, God uses His with man’s blessing in mind. As to Christ it says prophetically, “I gave my back to smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (Is. 50: 6, my emphasis), and His suffering is the means whereby God can righteously cast all the sins of the repentant sinner behind His back (see Is. 38: 17).
Tears and Joy
When the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid in Ezra’s day, the people were stirred in heart. In their godly exhilaration at this slight measure of recovery, they “shouted with a great shout to the praise of Jehovah” (Ezra 3: 11). But all were not so exuberant, for “many of the priests and Levites and chief fathers, the ancient men that had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice, [when] the foundation of this house was laid in their sight” (v12).
Youth is the period of enthusiasm and exuberance of spirit, while age is the time of sobriety and serious contemplation. Young men are apt to be upbeat and looking on to the future; aged men are likely to be reminiscent and unduly occupied with the past. The old see the ruin; the young see the future. It is often difficult for youth to comprehend the fears of the old and experienced regarding any new work in which they are involved. It is equally hard for the elder men to recognise any special work of God entrusted chiefly to the young, and in which they can no longer share. Such are too quick to forget their own youth, and too ready to put the brake on those who don’t see things as they see them. The young need grace to profit by the godly, sober counsels of the fathers, who, in turn, also need grace to rejoice in what God is doing through those who are still immature. Critical, fault–finding old men can be a great hindrance to young brethren, whose ardent faith and love is easily chilled by continual carping on the part of their elders. On the other hand, cheery, fatherly brethren, who are ever ready to see God’s leading in any fresh work of His Spirit, can be both helpers and counsellors of great value to their younger brethren.
Thus there is room for both weeping and shouting. As we think of the failure of man to hold fast the truth committed to him, we must shed tears. As we note the matchless grace of God, rising above all failure, and ever raising up a fresh testimony to His truth in times of declension, we may well shout for joy. The two are not discordant, but blend in one majestic strain: “the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people” (v13)—joyous, youthful shouters, and weeping patriarchs sounding out together to the praise and glory of the God.
The salutation of the mighty Persian king to the humble priest of God in Ezra 7: 12 is worth pondering: ”Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, an accomplished scribe of the law of the God of the heavens, and so forth”. How different their titles! Yet in God’s sight, how much higher was Ezra’s rank than that of him who vaingloriously designated himself by a title that properly belongs to Christ alone (see 1 Tim. 6: 15)! Who, living at that time, would have supposed that in the course of centuries the name and achievements of Artaxerxes would be largely forgotten, and yet Ezra’s name and work is as familiar to millions as if he had lived but yesterday? There are many such contrasts in the Word of God. Neither Ahasuerus nor the Pharaoh of the Exodus are certainly identified today, but no one makes a mistake as to Mordecai or Moses. Better by far to be a child of God and to walk with Him, than to wear earth’s proudest diadem!
It is right for some brethren to be treated as pariahs: “But if any one obey not our word by the letter, mark that man, and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed of himself”—though the apostle takes care to add “and do not esteem him as an enemy, but admonish [him] as a brother” (2 Thess. 3: 14, 15, my emphasis). To guard against excessive zeal in such discipline, Paul spells out exactly the nature of the disorderly behaviour that warrants it. Few there are that are pariahs in today’s Church for the reasons the apostle gives. There are, however, many pariahs in the Church—but they are pariahs for the wrong reasons. Paul himself became a pariah, not only to his own countrymen, but also, sadly, to his fellow believers: “all who [are] in Asia, of whom is Phygellus and Hermogenes, have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1: 15). In the same epistle, he prophesies of a time when professing Christians “will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4). Clinging to the pure and unadulterated Word of God is to choose the pathway of an outcast. It is against such a background, that Paul exhorts Timothy to exhibit a spirit of power, not of cowardice, to take his share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, to strive diligently to present himself approved to God, and to abide in the things he had learned. As another has said, if you are not prepared to stand on your own, then you are not prepared to stand.
Scripture is wonderfully exact. Take the Lord’s words in John 12: 24: “Except the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, it abides alone; but if it die it bears much fruit”. Again, the sower puts the seed into the ground, but what he “sowest is not quickened unless it die” (1 Cor. 15: 36). So does the living germ become extinct in order to bring forth the harvest? Does the grain of wheat perish in order to bring forth fruit? Yet where would the harvest be if the life were extinguished in the seed?
Some of us have imagined that ‘death’ here is merely a figure of the burial of the seed in the soil, and that actual death itself is not meant. There is no need to bend the words of Scripture in this way. There is indeed that of the seed which is cast off as refuse and decays—the outer casing. The germ within puts off its earthly tabernacle but far from becoming extinguished by so doing it is set free to spring up in life and bear fruit. As I said before (and it bears repeating), Scripture is wonderfully exact.
A cloak, a few books and some parchments are all the possessions we ever hear that Paul had (see 2 Tim. 4: 13), and yet, he speaks of “having nothing, and possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6: 10). To the Philippians saints he writes that “my God shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 19). What a verse! Moody is said to have spoken of this verse as a blank cheque: the firm—“my God”; the promise— “shall abundantly supply”; the amount— “all your need”; the capital— “according to his riches”; the bank address—“in glory”; the signature—“in Christ Jesus”. All your need! Spread it out before the Lord—needs for your body, needs for your soul, needs for yourself, needs for your family, needs for the present and needs for the future—all your need. It is quite impossible to catalogue all, but God promises to meet it all. Paul says, look how my God has supplied me—my God shall supply you. The same God is our God. Think of that.
Mistaken For Christ?
The old man lying on the couch had spent nearly all of his adult life ministering the truths of God to his fellow believers. He was probably more well–versed in the Scriptures than any I have ever known. Now his health was failing and his mind was forgetting much of what he had learned and ministered. He spoke to me of John the Baptist and the facts recorded in Mark 6: 14, 16 when Herod thought that the Lord was John the Baptist risen from among the dead. With tears streaming down his cheeks he asked ‘Would anyone mistake me for Christ?’ It was the last time I was to see him and more than forty years have since passed but the question has stayed with me. Would anyone mistake me for Christ? Would anyone mistake you, my reader, for Christ?
The oblation or meat offering was not only flour, it was to be “fine flour” (Lev. 2: 1, my emphasis). In fine flour there is not only no roughness—no grit—but there is perfect evenness, fit emblem of the Lord Jesus as man. In Him there was no unevenness. He was always even, always the same, and unchanged by circumstances. In Him one day’s walk never contradicted another, one hour’s service never clashed with the next. In Him every facet of His character was in perfection: none was in excess, none was out of place, and none was wanting. His gentleness never became weakness, His elevation of spirit did not become indifference of others, His anger was always measured, and His affection was not sentimental.
Turning from Christ to ourselves we do not need to be shown our unevenness. If we are one thing when alone before God then we are quite another before our brethren. In solitude we strive and pray against the very defect of character we display in public. In one circumstance we are backward, in another hasty, in this place unmoving, in that place wavering. It is the same with even the best and most beloved of Christ’s servants. Why is it that in Paul, Peter and John we mark one aspect of character particularly—Paul his mind, Peter his zeal, and John his affection—while such a thought never occurs to us in considering our blessed Lord? The reason is simply that Christ was perfect. In His devotion to His God and Father, there was no unevenness—no one thing to be singled out where everything and all were perfect. He was fine flour.
First and Last
Both Moses and John gave warning not to add to or take away from the words of the books that they had been inspired to write (see Deut. 4: 2; Rev. 22: 18, 19). Besides this, there are many other remarkable links between these two great men of God. Moses was the first writer in the Bible and John was the last, for all that John wrote came after the rest of the NT had been completed. Moses begins the Bible with five books and John closes it with five books— his Gospel, three Epistles, and the Revelation. Moses opens the Bible with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1: 1), which goes back to creation. John’s Gospel opens with “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1: 1), which goes back to before creation, to the One who was ever there, and who created all. The first plague upon Egypt recorded by Moses was the turning of the water into blood (see Ex 7: 17), a miracle of judgement. The first sign recorded by John in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was the turning of the water into wine (see John 2: 1-12), a miracle of grace. Moses wrote of the first creation, the fall of man, his banishment from Eden, the entrance of death, judgement pronounced on Satan, and the promise of the seed of the woman. John wrote of the new heavens and the new earth, the heavenly paradise, the woman’s seed victorious, the curse removed, Satan’s doom and the Last Adam and His Bride in eternal glory.
Inspiration relates not just to the broad sense of a passage but also to the words (see 1 Cor. 2: 13). Never imagine that God uses words merely for variety’s sake. Thus while the Bible speaks of ‘the Holy Spirit’, ‘the Spirit’ and the ‘Spirit of the Lord’, it is not right to assume that these can be used interchangeably, and that there is no purpose in using one term in one place and not another. If Scripture refers to “[The] Spirit of the Lord” (Luke 4: 18) and “My Spirit” (Gen. 6: 3), then the language assumes a background of other spirits. This is not the case with ‘the Spirit’ (there could be just one), while ‘Holy Spirit’ not only suggests other spirits, but spirits who are not holy. Now in Genesis 1: 2 we read that “the earth was waste and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (my emphasis). Why not ‘the Spirit’ instead of “the Spirit of God”? Because there is a background of other spirits! Thus while we cannot say when the angels were created, what we can assert is that they were there before “the first day” (Gen. 1: 1).
As regards prayer, the believer is to “ask in faith, nothing doubting” (James 1: 6). However, this is not a magic formula whereby if we believe that God will give us something, then we will get it. The context of the passage is one of lack (see v5) and God is always willing to supply what we really need (see Matt. 6: 32). Too many look on God as rather like Ali Baba’s genie of the lamp and that by ‘claiming the promise’ they can get what they want. Genuine faith may be in operation (for faith is simply believing that something is so), but in many cases it is not faith in God. They may think they are believing God when they pray—but what are they believing Him about? Just believing He will accede to their request—any request—simply for the asking is not the teaching of Scripture. Asking in faith according to the Bible supposes a knowledge of God’s will, so that we ask for what is right. Thus “if we ask him anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him” (1 John 5: 14, 15). We get what we ask for because we ask for the right things.
Slander is to say things about another that are not true, or are only partly true. The last days will be characterised by the presence of “slanderers” (2 Tim. 3: 3)—a Scripture that refers to the world, or, at best, mere profession. Indeed, we live in an age where modern communications facilitates the spread of untruths about people, whether unintentionally or maliciously. However, that such wickedness should also be found in the Christian circle, that circle gathered round One who is the truth, is appalling. Twice the apostle Paul writes that the women in the assembly were not to be false accusers (see 1 Tim. 3: 11; Titus 2: 3)—for though females are not the only ones marked by this peculiar sin, they are particularly prone to it. It is but a short step from gossiping (literally overflowing with talk—see 1 Tim. 5: 13) to slandering.
The original word used for a slanderer is highly revealing. You do not have to be a Greek linguist to see that diabolos has a decidedly sinister ring to it. To be a slanderer is, in effect, to take the name of the Enemy of God’s people for the exact same word is used for devil as is used for slanderer. The Devil is the living embodiment of his name, for he has been a slanderer from the beginning, casting aspersions on the character of God (see Gen. 3: 5), and being ever after characterised as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12: 10).
Beloved we need to imitate not “what is evil, but what is good” (3 John 11). The Lord was characterised by “words of grace” (Luke 4: 22). On occasion, he was highly critical of others (see Luke 20: 46-47), but his words never strayed into exaggeration, the portrait that he painted was perfect in its accuracy, and his motives were ever pure. Let us take our character from Him and not the Devil!
Who Made God?
The majestic opening of the Bible is perhaps the most well–known verse in Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1: 1). On reading this, the Christian has no more questions to ask with regard to the foundation of the universe. Science, however, will immediately propound a question that it believes is unanswerable: ‘Who made God?’
As believers we need not be dismayed by such a sneering challenge—it only exposes the stupidity of those who consider themselves to be wise. Science is the study of the material realm, but “God [is] a spirit” (John 4: 24). When science asks ‘Who made God?’ it is asking a question that it cannot answer, because the question is beyond its remit. The believer, however, can answer the question because he is in receipt of a divine revelation—and this is the answer that that revelation gives: “Before the mountains were brought forth, and thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from eternity to eternity thou art God” (Ps. 90: 2). Thus God wasn’t made—He was always there. I grant you that this is difficult for our finite minds to take in, but God only demands we believe everything He has said—He does not demand we understand everything.
The concept of God that the scientist has is no better than the pagan idolaters of Rom. 3: 23. He looks at creation (though the term itself is distasteful to him), and imagines that God (if He exists) can also be understood in the same way. The question ‘Who made God?’ Is actually one of the most ignorant and foolish that can ever be formulated. God is the creator; He forms no part of the creation. The question the scientist needs to ask himself is ‘Who made man?’—and he will at once be faced with his responsibility before God and his need of a Saviour.
In the Beginning
The Lord’s table proclaims and asserts the oneness of the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 10: 17), and therefore everyone whom you can confidently recognise as having a link with Christ through His death has a divine right to take his or her place at that table.
There are few grounds given in the NT on which you can refuse a professing Christian. Firstly, doctrine of such a character that you cannot recognise a man or woman to be a Christian at all—the person who does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh (see 2 John 7). Secondly, a man or woman who is a wicked person (see 1 Cor. 5: 13)—immoral, abusive to his brethren or covetous. Thirdly, if a person is associated with those who hold serious error—for in so doing he partakes of their wicked works (see 2 John 11).
The early Church was very simple. All the medicine was in the bottle, but there were no labels. For instance, there were Christians in Rome but no Romanists. Men believed in bishops, but there were no Episcopalians. There were lay preachers but no Methodists. Many held the truth as to baptism but there were no Baptists. Men trembled at the word of God but there were no Charismatics. The Church was an army of salvation but there was no Salvation Army. Christian hearts were enlarged to one another but there were no Open Brethren. There were those who were very careful to preserve the holiness of God’s house but there were no Exclusive Brethren. In those days, saints gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus and no one dared to use a label of sectarian nature. They had the goods without the labels.
I am of Christ
The doctrine of inspiration is seriously undermined when the authority of one part of Scripture is exalted above another. To do this is to practically deny that the whole is made up of “words … taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2: 13). Now of course we have to take account of the fact that there are two testaments, and that an individual book may have more application to one particular group of saints at a particular time than another, but that is not the issue here. What I am seeking to address is the attempt by Christians to evade the force of incontrovertibly Christian doctrine by saying “What has most authority over my soul are the words of Jesus”. What do I mean? I mean the attempt to set the writings of Paul against those of Christ! But the words of Christ, and the words of the apostle are equal in weight and importance, inasmuch as both are recorded and given to us by the same Holy Spirit; and are therefore equal in authority. That authority is divine, and no difference can be made between them without jeopardizing the very essence of inspiration. Indeed the attempt to exalt one above the other runs counter to the words of the Lord Jesus Himself. Thus in John 14, the Lord Jesus refers to what “I have said to you” (v25, my emphasis). Then in chapter 16, he goes on to say, “I have yet many things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now. But when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth” (vs 12, 13, my emphasis). Again, the very first words of the book of Acts speak of “all things which Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1: 1), my emphasis), clearly implying that the teaching continued after His departure from this scene. The apostle’s doctrine (see Acts 2: 42) is thus vindicated, and the attempt to lower its value exposed as contrary to the words of the Master Himself. ‘I am of Christ’ (see 1 Cor. 1: 12) is equally as bad as ‘I am of Paul’. It is, of course, quite true that the apostles were not infallible, but that is not the point in question. Their doctrine, as recorded on the pages of Scripture by the Holy Spirit is of equal weight to what is recorded of the Lord in the Gospels.
The other day I saw in a window a picture, underneath of which were the words ‘The Doctor’. It was a simple picture, but it moved me deeply. It showed the interior of a poor dwelling place—a mere hut. Upon a couch lay a sick child, and by the side of the bed sat the doctor with his eyes fixed earnestly and benevolently upon the fevered child. I stood a long time by that window looking at the picture. I thought what a grand thing it was that this man, schooled in all that may be known of the human body, its ailments, and their remedies, should be so interested in that poor, sick child. There was nothing in that room that the doctor wanted. There was no money or pleasure there for him. No, but that which was writing deep lines of thought upon his noble face was the suffering of the child—the child that was nothing to him, except as its little body was racked with pain. That pain cried out to the doctor, cried out to the physician in him, and he was there with all the resources of his skill and his great informed brain, the servant of that little heap of anguish.
And then I thought of Christ. I thought of how He said that “They that are in sound health have not need of a physician, but those that are ill. I am not come to call righteous [persons], but sinful [ones] to repentance” (Luke 5: 31, 32). I thought of how the Lord Jesus came here, to “save his people from their sins”—“Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, ‘God with us’ ” (Matt. 1: 21, 23). Last of all, I thought of how, just as the doctor hated disease, so God hates sin, and yet “God commends his love to us, in that, we being still sinners, Christ has died for us” (Rom. 5: 8). Truly the Great Physician.
It is interesting to see how Ezra describes the two outstanding prophets of his day: “Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo” (Ezra 5: 1; 6: 14). Haggai is called “the prophet” as though pre–eminently that, while his companion prophet is simply referred to as “the son of Iddo”. As men generally speak, Zechariah was the one who possessed the greater claim to the prophetic office, for it is he who unfolds in a wonderful manner what lies ahead for Israel and Judah. It is this opening up of the unseen future that is generally thought of as prophecy. Yet prophecy in the Word of God is not so narrowly defined. A prophet of God is one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the hearts, reaching the consciences and exposing the evil that may have come in. “He that prophesies speaks to men [in] edification, and encouragement, and consolation” (1 Cor. 14: 3). Now this was exactly what Haggai did. His conscience–arousing messages were distinctly of this character, and so he is pre–eminently “the prophet”. Zechariah’s needed ministry of future things was equally of God, but it was subservient to the rousing words of his brother prophet whose ministry was in view of the state of soul in God’s people. A ministry like Zechariah’s will always be more enjoyed than one of the character of Haggai’s. Carnal believers often find great pleasure in listening to dispensational and eschatological discourses, but what such really need is the trumpet–like call to consider their ways (see Hag. 1: 6), rather than eloquent and stirring discourses about things to come. A Haggai may not be so popular with the mass as Zechariah, but his ministry arguably is a more needed one. This is not to undermine the importance of the foretelling of the future, but truth needs to be kept in proportion.
The superficial reader delights in so–called ‘proof texts’ because they help systematize Scripture according to his own pre–conceptions. The more reflective student values supposed ‘difficult texts’ because he knows that they are a sure help in developing a more refined and nuanced doctrinal position.
An argument is not necessarily won by the production of a ‘proof text’ (or even several). Indeed, a failure to understand this is probably why so many theological debates fail to reach a harmonious conclusion—each side can cite Scriptures that are seemingly favourable to its position, and will not allow other Scriptures to undermine that favoured position. Both camps thereby remain entrenched where they are. The proof text is exalted and the difficult text degraded. In saying this, I am not trying to reduce the importance of individual texts (provided they are read in context), or implying that individual texts cannot be conclusive in an argument. What I am saying is that individual texts are evidence in building a case, and, where there are other relevant texts, then all must be considered and presented together. If there is resistance to engaging with all that the Bible has to say on a subject, then we may be sure that the original proposition is either wrong or in need of some adjustment. As the Lord Jesus Himself said “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10: 35)—meaning, that we have to engage with all texts, ‘difficult’ or otherwise. Those who ignore or evade awkward passages are, sadly, more interested in maintaining their own ‘interpretation’ than listening to the divine Author Himself.
Any human language comprises a multitude of different words. Irrespective of the actual language, man requires many words to convey what is in his mind. Unless it is the answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a posed question, man generally cannot state what is in his mind with a single word. Well might the Lord Jesus say, in connection with another matter, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19: 26). In marvellous contrast, God has expressed His mind in a single word—for in John 1: 1 the Lord Jesus Christ is called “the Word”. All that God wishes to communicate to man finds its complete expression in Him. He is the Word, the perfect manifestation to men of the mind of God. Likewise, when He, who is the Word was asked by men “Who art thou? The reply was “Altogether that which I also say to you” (John 8: 25). Unlike other men, there was no divergence between who He was and what He said. His words were the complete expression of Himself.
The Church and the Bible
About 100 years ago a Hebrew scholar was given a special introduction to the chief librarian of the Vatican library with a view to the study of its Hebrew manuscripts. The scholar requested that his friend (who was also learned in the ancient Hebrew language) be allowed to accompany him. During his time in the library, the friend examined the ceiling which was gaudily painted with pictures of all the councils of the Church from the Council of Nicaea to that of Trent. In the first picture, denoting the Council of Nicaea held in 325 AD, he noted that no prelate or potentate occupied the chair. The Bishop of Rome and the Emperor of Rome had both declined to preside over the council. Only the Bible was placed on the chair. In the succeeding pictures of the various councils, man became more and more prominent and the Bible more and more insignificant. In the second picture, the Bible was placed by the side of the chair. In the following pictures the Bible got smaller and smaller until at the Council of Trent in 1545 AD it had vanished altogether. While this was unintentional, it nonetheless provided a fitting symbolical representation of the relationship between the Church and the Bible. As the one increased in authority, the authority of the other decreased.
Baptism is never presented in Scripture as a test of fellowship. By this I do not mean that an unbaptised person should be accorded the privileges of Christian communion (how could this be, seeing he has not formally committed himself), but that the mode and timing of the act are made critical in a way that Scripture does not recognise. That there are differences of opinion on the subject is abundantly clear, but to make the "unity of the Spirit" dependent on the "unity of the faith" (Eph. 4: 3, 13) is to make fellowship narrower than the Bible makes it. The critical thing with respect to baptism is the name to which we have been baptised. Thus in Acts 19 Paul encountered disciples who had only been baptised to the baptism of John. When these heard the Gospel, however, "they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus" (v5). Baptism is the uniform of the profession (see Gal. 3: 27), and what matters most is that I have the correct uniform on, not how or when I put it on.