My subject today is Ruth – a biblical character much talked about and already featured in an earlier Thought for the Day.
Andrew Jewell spoke one recent Sunday night of hearing the call of God coming in at the edges of our lives along with an awareness of the other world. Ruth was such an example of that: a young Moabite girl into whose consciousness there had broken an awareness of the world of God and of God Himself. We see her in contrast with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth had caught a sight of God. She had caught something from that other world, and it was almost certainly through Naomi. It might have been through her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law, but her subsequent behaviour with Naomi tells us something of what Naomi has meant to her. She has been stripped of all that could make life very sweet. She has lost her husband, her father-in-law and her brother-in-law, but she stays with Naomi. And Naomi also has been stripped of what could make life sweet to her: she has lost her husband and her two sons. She decides to return to her own country, which she left in the time of famine, to go back to the land of Israel. Her name means ‘pleasant’, but she feels life has been bitter, to the extent that she says: ‘Call me Mara’ (which means ‘bitter’), because of the suffering that has come into her circumstances. That suffering has come into Ruth’s circumstances too, but she is not bitter. Her name means ‘vision of beauty’. She seems to me to be one who has so caught the sound of the eternal call that it has captured her vision. She is determined to stay by Naomi and says to her:
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (Ruth 1:16)
‘Don’t ask me to leave – I want your God – I want to be amongst your people.’ She is not one who has reacted as many (even Christians) can do in difficult circumstances when they turn to blame God. She is not one who says: ‘Well, I’ll trust my own gods from Moab – I’ll not trust your God.’
‘No,’ she says: ‘Naomi, I want your God.’ What an example she is to us! Independent of life’s circumstances, she says: ‘I want God’ – even when Naomi is saying: ‘Ruth, what can I do for you? You stay in your own land, return to your own gods.’ How bitter Naomi had become in that hour that she said: ‘You don’t want to follow my God. Return to your own gods.’ But Ruth has seen enough to say: ‘No, I’m coming.’ And she comes with Naomi into Naomi’s own land and back to Bethlehem.
There is something about Ruth that attracts attention, that makes Boaz (the kinsman who ultimately was to become her husband) say to her: ‘The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ The draw of God is upon her soul. She is just a young girl, but she has caught the vision. She is not thinking of all that she’s lost: she is thinking of what she could find in God. What an example! To me she is like the life that Christ speaks of, into which the good seed of the word has fallen, the fruitful soil that will bring forth a hundredfold in reward. Boaz treats her with great kindness and gives her advice as she is gleaning: ‘Don’t go to any other field. Stay in my field with my harvesters and you’ll be safe: I’ll take care of you.’
When she goes back to her mother-in-law, Naomi says: ‘Where have you gleaned today?’
It’s a question that God could ask of us sometimes: ‘Where have you gleaned today? Where have you gleaned this week?’ In other words: ‘Where have you been gathering your food? Where have you been going, what have you been looking at and feeding on in your inner being? And the word comes to us from God: ‘Stay in My field. Don’t go into another field looking for something. Even if life has been difficult, don’t go to another field: stay with Me in My harvest field. Stay with My harvesters.’ And others can help us. They are there who have gone ahead of us, who know God better than we do. They are there to help us find the way. But Ruth had had to find the way by herself, initially. She had to have her own integrity and a decision made in her own heart: ‘I have seen the vision of beauty … visions of God – just a glimpse – and the draw of the eternal world is on me.’
Does it seem mystical language? You know, it is wonderfully true. What keeps a soul faithful to God ultimately is when we have caught sight of the vision of beauty, when we have caught sight of the eternal realm that makes everything in the world seem faded and tasteless, until nothing in this world seems sweet unless it has the touch of God on it, and then the simplest things seem rich and satisfying and sweet. So it was for Ruth: content to glean there in that field, humbly waiting, until the hour came when Boaz made her his bride. She makes us think of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will take His church to be His own Bride, a church – oh! let her be a people that have found Him and have loved Him and are not ashamed of Him, that have heard His voice calling:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart. (Hosea 2:14)
It’s a cold kind of religion until God has spoken to our hearts and our hearts have responded. It’s not then a duty; it’s not a set of rules; it’s not just a challenge; but it is a contract, a covenant between us and our God in our inner beings. It’s a covenant of faithfulness, for He will never be unfaithful to us.
And Naomi? She did suffer; her suffering was real. But she had been perhaps brought down into that land of Moab just in order to find Ruth and bring back that one who was to be the direct ancestor of Christ. And I don’t think she remained bitter. She found, and was told even by others: ‘Your daughter-in-law is better to you than seven sons.’
But let us beware as we travel through life, as the years pass upon us – don’t lose sight of the vision of loveliness. Don’t lose sight of that that first charmed your heart and caused you to follow Christ. Never let life become bitter because of circumstances. Never doubt God. And never lose the thrill of belonging to Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Thou vision of undying loveliness,
Once glimpsed, cannot by any be outshone.
No fragrant morning, noon or dappled evening
Compare in any facet with the Son.
My first verse comes from the Song of Deborah:
Listen to the village musicians
gathered at the watering holes.
They recount the righteous victories of the Lord
and the victories of his villagers in Israel
And another very well-known and loved verse:
Abraham staggered not through unbelief. (Romans 4:20)
Or in another translation:
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.
Both verses have been in my mind because on a Tuesday night in Greenock we have been rehearsing the mighty acts of God and the quite miraculous way He has kept and guided us as a church throughout many decades. That verse, ‘Abraham staggered not through unbelief,’ has been in my mind because it’s a verse that spoke to my father when we were buying the present Glasgow church and other buildings at the same time, and so we were stretching ourselves a bit with three different properties, and he felt that verse lived for him: He staggered not through unbelief.
It’s a lovely thought for Abraham. His faith was tested and tried until he became known as the ‘father of the faithful’, and he didn’t stagger – he didn’t waver – at the promise of God. Now if we stagger, it generally means that we don’t actually fall: when we stagger we can nearly do ourselves an injury, but we manage to avoid it. But Abraham didn’t even stagger – he didn’t even waver. And this whole principle has been on my mind, of the finding a trust in God, a belief in His action and a belief in His promises that means we do not waver at all in our hearts.
I do remember once in my own life being faced with a very difficult situation, and knowing that it was critical that I should not waver even for a moment, and that Christ could look into my eyes and I into His, and I would know that I had not doubted Him for a moment, and He would know that that was true. But very often we are content to have a kind of faith that staggers, and sometimes we can fall, until in many Christian lives there comes an acceptance of defeat. This can be defeat in various areas. It can be in the realm of giving into temptation to do wrong, and I think that basic Christianity teaches us there is a better way than that. In the case of maturer Christians there can be defeat in various circumstances of life that have not come about through our own choosing, but there comes a wavering in faith, a staggering through unbelief.
Faith works by love, and I think that over the years Abraham had discovered and believed in the faithfulness of God and the love of God. And here we surely have such a tremendous advantage, for we read:
God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
The love of God has been interpreted to us through Jesus Christ. Again, in the words of another lovely verse:
For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. (Romans 5:5)
And when we know that we are loved, but most of all, when we know we are loved by God! – take time to meditate on that, until that love fills our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and we act and live in the strength of it.
But we can be faced with real trial. We can be faced with that which really tests us. And in Isaiah we read of the occasion when the armies of the Assyrians under King Sennacherib came up to Jerusalem to beseige and destroy her, and the generals spoke in such a way that the people could hear them, shouting: ‘Don’t trust in God! Just come out, just surrender, and you then can live at peace.’ Is that not a true principle for us also? – that the enemy says: ‘Don’t be so extreme in your Christianity! Don’t be so serious in your separation to God, and trying to walk in His way. Just surrender a bit. You can’t trust Him.’
But Abraham believed God against all circumstances. And in Hezekiah’s time, these Jews inside the city were in a terrible position, because the Assyrian army had just swept everything else before it. They said: ‘Don’t think your God will defend you! He won’t.’ The story unfolds at some length. Eventually, during an interval when the army has departed for a little, a letter is sent to King Hezekiah:
Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria. You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone. They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way! Why should you be any different? (Isaiah 37:10-11)
The people were terrified, and Hezekiah was distressed. But we read this lovely verse:
After Hezekiah received the letter … and read it, he went up to the LORD’s Temple and spread it out before the LORD. (Isaiah 37:14)
Unlike Isaiah the prophet, to whom he had gone for help, Hezekiah wasn’t a giant of the faith at that time. He had gone first to Isaiah, but now he goes straight to God, to His temple, to tell Him it all - he shows it to Him. And so can we. We can just spread it all out before Him. We don’t need a great prayer of faith. We don’t need to work out any principle. We just say: ‘O God, You are my Father. You are my Saviour. You do actually love me. Here I am. Help!’
I love something that Billy Graham (such a man of God, used so deeply) said. When somebody asked him: ‘How do you pray to God? How do you do it – what do you say?’ he said: ‘I sit on my verandah for hours, and I look at the hills, and I just say: “O God, help me! O God, fill me with Your Spirit!” And I just say it over and over again.’ A great man of God, but he beseeched God to help him, God to fill him. And that’s what we do: ‘O God, help! O God, fill me with Your Spirit!’ and spread out the letter of life before Him.
What we find is victory. Victory in our deep inner spirit, not just in the outworking of circumstance, but in our deep inner spirit. That’s where Abraham found victory and walked with God. How much more, of course, does that apply to Christ! Could it be our inheritance too?
And what we find is that victory is very sweet. We can become used to defeat – and I am sometimes dismayed in reading modern Christian literature how it almost seems to me to be accepted that Christians will keep falling. But the Bible says:
He is able to keep us from falling. (Jude 1:24)
If we begin to accept the notion that we just keep on falling, then we will keep on doing it and accept defeat. But surely we can become addicted to victory, because it’s very sweet, the taste of victory. The passage about Hezekiah and Sennacherib once many years ago spoke to me and rescued me. I was a much younger Christian, still, I suppose, becoming spiritually stabilised in some ways. I was at a church Camp, staying alone in an old caravan, and God spoke to me through it. And I have never forgotten the sweetness of victory. It became an abiding principle.
What the victory led to was the opening up of Christ’s words, where He said: ‘I am the Good Shepherd. I am the door of the sheepfold. Come in by Me and you’ll find pasture.’ I found the pasture was very rich and very sweet. And this is the place to live, a place where we glorify God, because we trust in His unfailing love and faithfulness. He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. He so loved the world He gave His only Son. What more could He do to show to you and to me that He is our faithful Friend?
Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (John 19:17–18 NIV)
For some interesting material in the first part of what follows, I am indebted to Kathie Lee Gifford’s book The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi.
We are accustomed to thinking of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as being a tremendous demonstration of the power of God over the power of the enemy:
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it [that is, in His Cross]. (Colossians 2:15)
That is a wonderful picture of something like a Roman triumph. But what this book drew my attention to is how much that last day in the life of Christ mirrors a Roman triumph, particularly in the time of the emperors. A Roman emperor’s triumph was a bit like his coronation. Let me describe to you first of all what that was like. For the Roman emperor, the soldiers at the Praetorium (the government building that tended to have soldiers and his guard there) – placed their purple robe on the emperor, put a wreath on his head, and shouted: ‘Hail, Caesar!’ There was then a procession along the Via Sacra (The Sacred Way, in Rome) to the Capitoline Hill, on which stood the temple of Jupiter. There a bull was sacrificed by someone who had been carrying the means of putting that bull to death. The emperor would then be offered wine, which he would refuse. Then he would go up the steps of the Capitoline Hill, with one person on each side of him. The people would hail him as their saviour, and they would say: ‘Hail, Caesar! Lord and God!’ And then they looked for a sign from heaven to confirm his deity.
If you read Matthew’s gospel you will see the parallel, which would be very obvious to the people in Christ’s day, more so than perhaps it has been to us:
Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet [or purple] robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. Along the way, they came across a man named Simon … and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha. (Matthew 27:27–33 NLT)
They nailed Him to the cross, as we know, with a thief on each side of Him. And we know also the signs that came as Christ died. They had done all this in mockery, pretending they were acknowledging that He was a King. A fearful tragedy – hard for us to read it and to think of that being done to Christ, and to know that in their drunkenness they would be enjoying themselves and would get more confident the more they mocked Him. It is just a mirror sometimes of society and of the way that Christ and Christianity are still treated. But there He is in His lonely, shaming death on Mount Calvary. He has not come down from the cross, and there is no voice sounded to save Him; no legion of angels has appeared. It seems that He is dying in failure and in darkness.
They looked for a sign to confirm to them that their emperor was divine, and the worship of the emperor became a cult. But there as Christ is dying, the darkness has come over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour. There comes an earthquake – the veil of the Temple is rent in two. We read that the graves in Jerusalem were opened, and the righteous dead came out of these and were seen walking around the streets of Jerusalem. When the people saw ‘those things that were done, they feared greatly’, and the centurion said: ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’ We can feel something of the atmosphere of that there: just at the moment when they would expect their emperor to get a sign, there really are signs, fearful signs, that strike awe into the heart of even the centurion: ‘Truly – surely – this was the Son of God!’
And we see beyond the outward. We see through the veil, and we see what really was happening in the spiritual world. We know that the Lord Jesus Christ went down into Hades; we know that He led captivity captive; we know that He came back and ascended into heaven, bringing many sons to glory. We know, beyond the mockery of Him, that in actual fact it really was His coronation, that it really was and is His triumph, and that He appeared in heaven before God and lives there to make intercession for His own.
There comes into our lives also just that same reversal of a situation, and what seems for ill, when Satan seems to be having the upper hand and can be causing mayhem in your life as you are seeking to follow Christ, in actual fact will turn to good. As Joseph said to his brothers in Egypt:
‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.'
When we turn again to look at Him, we see the incredible depth of the triumph that is Christ’s as He goes into the eternal realm. And surely there comes to us a whisper, or a command, from Him: ‘Courage! Be not afraid.’ Our journey is into that eternal glory also. The Jews reckoned time from sundown to the next day: they were marching from evening to morning. And so are we. We are coming from sundown. We are coming through the church’s time of tribulation, but we are going towards the eternal morning, the eternal glory, when we shall see Him, and we will be amongst that number who crown Him Lord of all. We will taste there of His victory. We will see Him whom they pierced. We will see Him who is crowned, not now in mockery, but ‘with the crown wherewith His mother crowned Him in the day of His espousals’. ‘Go forth, ye daughters of Jerusalem, and behold Him.’ Shall we be amongst that number? To see Him crowned, to be one of those who crown Him now not with thorns, but with our love, with our obedience, with our gratitude. And oh, the crown that God gives Him! The crown of honour: ‘This is My beloved Son: hear ye Him.’ We shall awaken one day in the eternal morning; the darkness will be all behind, and it will be forever Light there in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. His triumph is complete, and the enemy is routed. We have no need to fear, but to believe in Him with all our hearts and share something of His triumph.
Blessed be His Name.
Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not. (Luke 22:31)
Many a sermon has been preached about Peter and these words spoken by Christ. I don’t know how we would feel if Christ had spoken them to us before a trial of faith. I’m not sure how Peter reacted; I think in some ways it maybe went over his head but came back to him afterwards. And I also think that we can very easily misjudge Peter. His denial of Christ is one of the best-known facts of the Christian story, as is Christ’s forgiveness of him. But Peter had come into a desperate hour. He came into deep waters beyond our knowing. Christ could have prevented it happening. He could have engineered circumstances so that Peter was nowhere near that judgment hall, nowhere near that hour when his weakness showed. That wasn’t part of the plan of God, or His plan for Peter and for the future. If you yourself have ever been in a dark place or a very difficult place where you could not find God, you could not immediately feel His help or His comfort, a place where you’re dependent on naked faith, you will know how difficult that can be, and how all the faith that you had and all the strength that you had can seem almost like nothing in your hour of trial and danger.
So it was for Peter. We know that in a difficult moment he denied Christ. I think that was just the spontaneous reaction of a panicked hour, and for Peter I think that a lot of the trial of his faith would be in the afterward. He found himself then in a dark and desolate place, terribly alone. No one could help Peter. We know that he wasn’t necessarily physically alone, because we find him coming with John on resurrection morning; it’s not that he was being ostracised by the other disciples. But he would be in his own spirit desperately alone. I wonder if he remembered sinking in the waves when he’d walked on the water, and how Christ’s hand had saved him. But there was no hand of Christ now: Christ was crucified. Who could help Peter? Surely these words of Christ must have come back to him: “Peter, I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.”
Have you ever been in any circumstance where you’ve come to the end of your own faith, and that whisper from Christ has come upon your ear, upon your spirit: I am praying for you. We know that we are not making that up, because we read that Christ ever lives to make intercession for us. You see, I think Peter had come to the end of human strength. A few hours before that, we have seen Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, and His strength, humanly, was at an end. It was the divine strength of the Son of God that brought Him through, and brings us through: Not My will, but Thine, be done. And so for Peter, he’s at the end of human strength, and he is flung out into a place where he becomes totally dependent on the prayers of Christ. The prayers of others might have been around him – but I think that their agony would be increased, having seen what had happened with Peter. I don’t think they deserted him, but they were in desperate need themselves. It is only the prayer of Christ that could intervene and save Peter in such an hour of such inner aloneness. And what comfort we find, because we will undoubtedly find as we follow Christ – and in fact the closer we are to Christ the more we will find – that there are hours when we are desperately alone in our spirit and there is nobody to help but Jesus Christ. We are dependent on a miracle, and we begin to find out what faith actually is: the faith that trusts when there seems nothing to trust, and no one near.
Peter comes through the whole experience, we know. We know the afterwards, but he didn’t know it at the time. And we can look and say: “Why did Christ allow him so to suffer?” There could be many reasons not known to us. Part of it is probably for our sake and our benefit. But what we do know is that Peter emerged from there with a compassion and a tenderness for others. He was particularly used in healing afterwards. And we know that he had that compassion, because Christ was able to entrust not just His sheep to Peter, but His lambs.
But the second thing, it seems to me, that Peter discovered was faith. He thought he had faith before, but he had really discovered the faith of the Son of God, the faith that Christ had in his Father – something of that, I think, came into Peter. He had found the faith of that Faithful Witness on high who speaks for us, who pleads for us. And to us that door opens also. Do not be panicked in the difficult hour, in the dark place of your soul, but rather listen for that whisper: I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not.
The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
And it delivered Peter. Somewhere alone on resurrection ground Christ found Peter, There is an interview, an appearing to Peter that we know nothing of, save the fact that it happened. What a moment! He appeared just to Peter, very early on resurrection day. And moments like that come to us also – just Christ. There is no one like Christ. There is no faithful friend like Christ. There is no one who stands by us as Christ does. Samuel Rutherford says: “No one knows all that lies between me and Christ.”
And as I was thinking of this matter, every daily reading that I happened to be looking at this morning had something about faith (not necessarily for this morning – it may have been the day before). Again I quote from Samuel Rutherford:
Faith has sense of sickness [that is, is conscious of its infirmities], and looketh like a friend to the promises; and looking to Christ therein, is glad to see a known Face.
Blessed be His Name.
On this week’s Sunday night livestream you will have noticed Andrew standing in front of the stained glass window which has featured in recent weeks at the end of our service. Now completed with a wooden frame around it, it is mounted in the outer vestibule of our Greenock church. It depicts a scene overlooking the Clyde and is ablaze with the rays of the sun. It is looking very beautiful, with the vestibule around it painted white to match the white and black floor, and it gives you a little glimpse before you can actually see it on the happy day when we are back at church. A memorial to Miss Elizabeth Taylor, one of our founders, it has engraved on it lines which she loved and wrote in an extract at the beginning of her Bible, from Myers’ poem St Paul:
So even I, and with a heart more burning
Faint for the flaming of Thine advent feet.
Quite coincidentally, the theme that I have for today is to do with light. What triggered the thought in my mind was two stories that I read in the autobiography of Elizabeth Sherrill, All the Way to Heaven. Many of you will have read it, but some may not, and the stories, which are really wonderful, bear repeating.
The first one concerns a married man with a young American family, whose little boy of five was knocked down and killed at a toll crossing. The father had had a difficult childhood, and having a family of his own had transformed life for him. Not a believer, he was in absolute agony over the death of his son, and he wanted revenge on the driver. The latter was a 15-year-old boy who had stolen his mother’s car keys and was now in prison. This father was pacing up and down the floor outside his bedroom in the darkness of the night, absorbed in his agony and wanting all kind of vengeance. Suddenly into that hallway there exploded light. It was powerful, it was radiant, it was life-transforming – and he knew that that light was Christ. In a moment the hurt of his childhood was healed, and all his bitterness towards the young man went. He and his wife took the young man under their wing, and he became like a family member in their home. This remarkable story illustrates the power of the light that was the Lord Jesus Christ.
The other occasion that Elizabeth Sherrill relates was concerning her own husband, who had just acknowledged that Jesus Christ was the Son of God about 48 hours before this experience. Immediately afterwards, due to be operated on the next day for a tumour in his neck, he had asked the rector in their church to pray for him and felt a tremendous searing flame go through his body. After the operation he was lying in the Intensive Care Unit in intense pain – because he had nearly died on the operating table. They discovered that the tumour had turned to a mere cinder. What had caused the trouble on the operating table was that his lungs had collapsed. But as he lay in intense pain there came striding in to his room the Lord Jesus Christ, and He came in the form of light. And all that John Sherrill could do was to pray for others in the unit, whose suffering was immediately relieved; his pain seemed irrelevant before that light.
God is light. Christ said: ‘I am the light of the world.’
We are invited to walk in the light. I think that many people, and perhaps many of us who have had any kind of revelation of God, in our spirit or with the naked eye, know that He is light, and it is what our hearts cry out for. That light is a wonderful light. It’s a light that brings warmth. To produce light without heat is something that even today we have not discovered. When I was a student I remember reading of the ancient Babylonians (and, I think, Egyptians) that they could produce light without heat, and I remember being told that we cannot do that. That was about fifty years ago. Nowadays we’re nearer it – but still can’t quite do it.
But the light that is Christ you would not want without heat. There’s a warmth in His light. There can be a dazzling ray brighter than the noonday sun. It can be a searing flame that reveals sin in us. But there’s always a warmth in it. He comes in His mercy and His grace with the warmth of that light that shines into our desolation. Light shines through best in the darkness. Some museums have gemstones where you can only see the gems glowing in the dark. And oh, how the glow of the radiance of Christ shines when He comes into our darkened, desolate hearts. For what is darker or more desolate than an unredeemed soul, an unredeemed heart? And in He comes. When we cry out to Him He draws near, and He pours in the warmth of His own being, His own presence, His own love, and He shines within us.
For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
It’s that light that lit the whole world that comes into our darkness, into our desolation, into our need, and into His world. I spoke very recently of the Covenanter who asked that God would throw His cloak over him, and the cloak that He throws over us is the one that our first father lost in the garden of Eden. He was clothed in light. It is wonderful when Christ draws near and we find He is embracing us in light. He chases away our darkness, fear and anxiety – He chases away all thought except of Him, and we are wrapped in a cloak of safety, in a cloak of light that was our first inheritance and was lost and that Christ has won again for us. He is the risen Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings.
And His Name be blessed.
There the Israelites sang this song:
‘Spring up, O well!
Yes, sing its praises!
Sing of this well,
which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
with their scepters and staffs.’
(Numbers 21:17–18 NLT)
This verse has been living with me all week:
‘Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it.’ (KJV)
The well was one that the Israelites had needed when they were journeying through the wilderness. It is a recurring theme throughout the Old and New Testaments: the well that satisfies. For us, of course, that well is Christ. He is the fountain in the midst of us. He is the only one who can satisfy. I think we are probably all aware at this present time that lots of things that can distract and amuse us, innocent means of recreation, have been withdrawn. The stimulation of companionship and activity have stopped for many, causing us to realize more and more how all our fresh springs are found in God and all our satisfaction is found there. Whether there is pain that has accompanied the circumstances of our lockdown or not, we find there is Someone who is accessible. There is something that satisfies, as does nothing other than the life of God, manifest to us in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. Christ Himself said, when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, in that well-loved chapter in John’s gospel, and asking her for water, that the water He would give would satisfy.
‘Anyone who drinks this water (the water in the well) will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.’ (John 4:13–14)
Because of circumstances at the moment, not being in church in the way we are used to, we become very dependent on that spring of water that is Christ Himself, and very aware of the necessity of finding it. Christ says that the water He gives will satisfy, and that it is living water. In Palestine most of their water was not living water, because they didn’t have very many rivers and fresh springs. A well had to be dug for the water to seep in from the soil around. But the living water was highly prized. It was used for ceremonial purposes, because living water is running water – it is a fresh spring.
I remember once being out on the hills climbing, when it turned out to be a very hot day. I had not brought any water with me, which is a huge mistake – but you tend to think that up there in the hills you will find some running water. At one point I actually thought: ‘I’m just going to try that stagnant water there.’ One little taste was enough – I thought I’d rather die of thirst than drink that! But living water is prized: if you find a clear stream flowing high in the hills it is wonderful when you are thirsty. When you get physically thirsty you can’t think of much else except your thirst until it is satisfied.
But there is a thirst inside us that can only be met by God and by that living water. C S Lewis says:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
How true that is! And Christ is that fountain. The verse in Numbers says: ‘Spring up, O well … sing its praises!’ Sing praise to our well, to the fountain that is Christ. ‘Sing of this well which princes dug, which great leaders hollowed out with their scepters and staffs.’ I have never seen the verse in this light before, but Christ is the well, and on Calvary’s hill our Prince dug the well out for us with His sceptre. The sceptre was His cross. And what a well He dug out for us! That is why we can drink of Him. That is why in our thirst we can go to Him and find, even as He promised, that out of our innermost being there come rivers of living water. There springs up inside us a life that we sense is eternal, not dependent on our circumstances. But oh, what is the price of that digging! We see Christ there at Calvary’s hill, refusing to turn back, because He wanted to give us water. He shared our lot with us. There came over me in mediting on this such an awareness of the love of God. He gives us fresh glimpses of that, of how He identifies with us in our humanity, in our walk through this world and all that that means. He identified with our needs. He identified with what brings us joy, yet knowing what would give us the true joy. He understands the human lot: He understands you and He understands me. And He would not turn back until He had made the fountain available for you and for me.
Are you thirsty at this moment? Are you strained? Are you in need? Or is there just welling up in you a song of praise to the well that the Prince has dug for you and for me?
That well is there in heaven also. It’s there He speaks to us. In Revelation we have that lovely word:
For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)
That fountain that is Christ, dug out on Calvary’s hill, is there in the very midst of heaven – the Lamb Himself. Can you imagine Christ’s pleasure as He leads us, His brethren, to the fountain of living water there in heaven to drink freely, and He wipes every tear from every eye? He says: ‘I know. I lived on earth. I understand. I have the fountain ready for you.’
Also, to change the picture a little, it’s a fountain that is filled with crystal-clear water that makes pure. And it is filled with the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
You say: ‘Is that really there in heaven?’
Yes. We read of the blood being sprinkled in heaven.
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which is not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood … He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. (Hebrews 9:11–12)
Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)
He took the blood there. It had to be there in heaven, or else we couldn’t be there. We are there on the merits of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That shed blood avails for us now. We need it. No matter how close we try to live to God, still here, clothed in our flesh, we need constantly the cleansing of that blood. And there’s a fountain filled with it. It is the answer to Satan’s cruelty, the answer to every arrow that he sends in our direction. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ avails. It is there in heaven, and it speaks for me and it shall do. Christ Himself is my life and my satisfaction. He is the fountain. He is the ‘flowing streams from Lebanon’, a ‘fountain of gardens’, to us. Come and drink till you’re brim-full of the life of Christ. Nothing can quench it. Nothing that is past, present or to come can quench the spring that is found in Christ.
In the words of what I suppose is my favourite hymn, which we have not had a chance to sing on a Sunday morning, but we shall do again:
O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted,
More deep I’ll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)
Because God’s children are human beings – made of of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. (Hebrews 3:14–18 NLT)
Isn’t the word of God in itself so powerful that we hardly need to preach at times? It speaks for itself. And these words are so moving: ‘it became him … in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings’. That speaks of the vicarious suffering of Christ – and it is the subject of vicarous suffering that I want to address.
There is suffering that comes into the life of a Christian just because we are human beings. There is suffering that comes because we are being faithful to follow Christ. People in an earlier time in our land and in other lands have known the severity of that suffering and persecution, but we can know it in our lives also. And there is a vicarious suffering, when we are suffering on behalf of another or others. It is suffering that we could escape: that we can either accept or walk away from. But the Bible is full of the instruction to care for others, and not to live just to ourselves. God said: ‘Who will go for Me?’ and Christ answered: ‘Here am I: send Me.’ He asked Cain: ‘Where is your brother?’ and Cain answered: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The answer to that is actually: ‘Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.’ And we can find at times that if we are being faithful to God and faithful to His instruction to bear one another’s burdens, there comes upon our spirits and into our lives suffering that would not be there otherwise, and a burden upon our spirit and a way for us to walk in the spiritual world that actually can make us feel quite imperilled and seems quite a hazardous way for us spiritually. We think of somebody like General Booth, who wrote:
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire.
He wanted to walk in the midst of desperate sin and misery, but be himself untouched by it, in the sense of unstained by it. There is a road that God calls us to walk that can actually be very costly in our inner spirit, and can leave us, as I said, feeling at times imperilled. I remember going to one of our people who was in a lot of need, to be with them and to try and help them. It came to me very clearly that they were being called to walk a road that we can only call the Calvary road. They had been sent into a very difficult situation. The action they were taking was leading to suffering for themselves and in their spirit in a way that’s indescribable and inescapable, because really they were part of the effort to rescue somebody else, and they were being used in the hand of God for that. There was no easy road out for them if they were to be faithful to God. And there was a sense of being identified with the Christ of Calvary. It is a tremendous privilege, and it is something that God does call us to do when we are being faithful to Him. These words can sound quite poetic: to walk the Calvary road. But there is nothing poetic at all about it when we are actually doing it.
Some of you may have read in this week’s news an illustration that perfectly illustrates this principle. It concerned a Portuguese man, Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Born in 1885, he was a Portuguese consul in Bordeaux at the beginning of the Second World War. Portugal was taking a neutral stance, and orders were sent to him that he was not to issue visas to any Jewish people. Jews were fleeing and trying to escape just before the fall of France, looking for ways to get to Portugal and then hopefully to America. His son said that his father disappeared for two days into his room, and when he emerged his hair was grey. He had made a decision that he was going to issue these visas, and he issued them to tens of thousands of Jewish people. They reckon that before the word came that the visas were not to be recognised, between ten and thirty thousand escaped with them to Portugal; many went on to America. But he himself was disgraced; he was stripped of his job, of his pension; he suffered abject poverty. By the time he died in 1954 he had only been kept alive by the Jewish soup kitchen in Lisbon. It wasn’t until 1966 that Israel recognised him as ‘righteous among the nations’, and in 1988 the Portuguese parliament withdrew the disciplinary charges against him. He suffered, but thousands of people were saved. It was vicarious suffering for another. What bravery! It takes courage to be a Christian.
I always remember my father taking me out into the deep sea – literally the sea, and I couldn’t swim – and saying to me: ‘Come on, you’ve got to be brave in this life.’ There are other kinds of bravery as well as that kind of physical courage, but I’ve never forgotten what he said to me: You have to be brave in this life. It has helped me many a time, and in many a spiritually difficult time, just to keep my nerve, and to keep courage.
Of course the One who is our great example and forerunner is Christ Himself. As I was meditating on this subject of vicarious suffering that comes into our lives, it made me think more and more of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was safe in heaven. He came to be made flesh and blood. He came into a place of sin, of suffering, of temptation, clothed with flesh like us, but Himself without sin. But He came to a place, it seems, of such danger, where you feel the very Godhead was imperilled, speaking reverently, as the Son has left the safety and security of heaven to walk the road that we have to walk in this world. And yet He was willing, because He had in mind you and me. What it cost the Father to send His Son! His Son was going to be hurt, was going to be wounded, was going to give a desperate cry: ‘Why have You forsaken Me?’ Heartbreak in the midst of the Godhead. But we know He never wavered, He never turned back.
And He said to His disciples and so to us: ‘Watch with Me.’ It is really He who is watching over a soul, and over the soul of another that you might be burdened for, and He says to you and to me: ‘Watch with Me.’ It would be so much easier to walk away and keep our own soul secure and safe. He says: ‘Can you not watch with Me one hour?’ Surely we answer: ‘Yes, Lord, it is our privilege to be invited alongside You. And truly Your promise will not fail, and You will keep us safe – safe in our spirit in any hour, as You kept Christ safe.’ He watched over Him in Gethsemane. He watched over Him every moment of all His sojourn here on earth. And He has gone back with many sons unto glory. And we will return to Him also. Our reward in that day will be to be with Him, and to know that we have kept tryst with Him, and kept watch with Him, and to be received by Him into the excellent glory.
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9)
I love the old version, but the new translation is also very appealing:
In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years. (NLT)
‘In all their afflictions he was afflicted’ – ‘In all their sufferings he also suffered, and he personally rescued them.’ These words are spoken of God and of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. In our sojourn in this world there are times when we feel a desperate need of God and of Christ Himself, and there is nobody else that we need or that can draw alongside us: there is just Himself. And with tremendous comfort these words come to us: in all their afflictions he was afflicted – in all their suffering he also suffered. It is the fact that Christ has suffered that makes Him our kinsman, able to identify with us, and wonderfully we with Him.
There’s an old story of a Covenanter that has been with me this week. It is of one of the most famous Covenanters, Sandy Peden. He was one of the bravest. Minister and prophet, he was a very godly and spiritual man. Much of his preaching ended up being done out in the hills and valleys of Scotland, and in areas not too far from where we are here in Greenock. He was sought after by the soldiers, the dragoons of the King, again and again, and they would have taken his life. He was in fact one who eluded capture. On one occasion when he was fleeing from the dragoons as an old man, he said, in the Scots tongue: ‘Lord, please cast your cloak over puir auld Sandy.’ God brought a mist around him that covered him from his enemies, and he escaped. And God brought around Sandy Peden not just a mist, but He enclosed him in His own presence, and that’s what He does for us. We sometimes say: ‘Lord, cast Your cloak over me – cast your covering over me. Shield me – shield me from the enemy.’ And He does that. But His cloak encloses us with Himself, where we are shut up with Him, and in there we are safe. ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted.’
It has also brought to mind a story I have read in a book of that title, and again it concerns a Highland minister, a very godly young man who was peculiarly anointed to bring the love and compassion of God to his congregation. Some of his fellow ministers, hearing him on one occasion, asked him the secret of his spirituality and power. He said: ‘Come home with me and I’ll show you.’ They came home for a meal which he prepared for them, and after the meal he said: ‘Come with me.’ He took them into one room in his house, and there was a child very sick, disabled and retarded, and actually tied to the bed (it was a long time ago). Then he took them into another room, and there was his wife in an alcoholic stupor. And he said: ‘That’s my secret.’ God drew near and walked with him in his affliction, and his heart became filled with the love of God and the compassion of Christ for others.
These words of Sandy Peden’s, ‘Lord, cast Your cloak over puir auld Sandy,’ take me to a particular part in the Bible. There are different passages that speak of the mantle of God, such as the mantle of Elijah coming down upon Elisha. But there is one part very beloved and very appropriate for this thought of Christ walking with us in our need, and it is in the book of Ruth. Ruth the Moabitess had said to her mother-in-law:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee … Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (Ruth 1:16)
And she really held to that resolution: ‘Thy God shall be my God.’ We hold on to that too: ‘Lord, You will be my God, and none other.’ There came that hour when she was in the land of Israel, an alien land, standing in Boaz’s field, and during the evening she said to him these lovely words: ‘Extend the corner of your mantle over me, for you are my near kinsman, you are my family redeemer.’ Such prophetic words! She was to be a forerunner of Christ – a forebear so far as natural descent is concerned. She is alone, with very little support, her mother-in-law actually dependent on her to bring support, and she says to Boaz: ‘Cast the corner of your cloak over me. You are my near kinsman.’ And we know that Boaz did that. He redeemed her, he married her, and they became forebears of King David, who was a forebear of Christ.
And to that Christ we come. We say: ‘Lord, cover me, extend the border of Your mantle over me … Lord, You know the way that I take. When You have tried me, I will come forth like gold.’ There is only one in all the world that we can totally lean upon and totally trust. There is only one whose mantle totally covers and encloses us, and it is the One who is our nearest kinsman, who is Christ. ‘Cover me, because You are my nearest kinsman … cover me.’
My subject is quite simple, but one that I think has to be reiterated. It is the preciousness of the Word of God.
As well as being a description of the Bible that we have in our hands, Word of God is a title given to God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men … And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–4, 14)
When John wrote his gospel, he began with these words, giving to Christ that title: The Word. It was a very familiar concept both to the Jews to whom he was writing and to the Greeks, because both nations had in common the concept of divine power associated with the Word. The Greeks associated the Word (Reason) with the governing power of the universe, and the Jews associated that Word with Wisdom. It was also substituted in their writings for the Name of God.
For us, a word describes or expresses a concept. We read that Christ is the Word of God, and He, as no other can be, is the expression of God. He came to show us who God is and what God is like. And the God that He showed was a tremendous revelation to the world into which He came and to us down through the ages. He showed that God was full of grace and truth, that He was a God who loved His world, a God who did not condone iniquity but found a way for us to be free, and free from the domination of sin and of the wicked one. And how grateful we are for that Word of God in both senses: for the Christ who is the very Word and expression of God, and for the way that that has been brought down to us, which is through the written Word.
The written Word of God is extremely powerful. We in our country have many Bibles. A lot of us will have many translations, and we will have had Bibles in our hands all our lives. When my generation was at school we were taught it regularly and probably heard it every day in school. The danger is that we can forget just how very precious it is, and at what cost it has been won for us.
I have been re-reading the story of the Reformation in England. How it really began was by the Word of God coming into the hands of the people. First of all the Greek New Testament began to come into the hands of the scholars, and as they began to read it they found the way of salvation. They found that they didn’t need anybody to mediate between them and God apart from Jesus Christ. This truth of the light of salvation of the gospel, as it broke upon them, they were willing to suffer for. It came down to the common people, the less learned, and we owe a tremendous debt to them and to those like Tyndale who determined that the gospel would be made known in English to everybody in the land. These people paid with their lives. Tyndale had to go into exile to get his Bible into English and brought back to our shores, but he was hunted down and martyred. Many of the ordinary people were very cruelly treated and burned at the stake. There is one outstanding example that always comes to me. It was of a widow woman, Dame Smith, who along with some of her neighbours had taught her children something of the ways of God and read to them from the Bible in English. She and others were arrested, and the menfolk were all condemned to be burned at the stake, but because she was the only one to look after the children she was spared. The man who had arrested her offered to escort her home in the dark. As he was taking her arm he felt something in her sleeve, and out fell a scroll, on which was written the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in English. Outraged, he took her back to her accusers, and she too was sent to the stake for possessing a copy of these words of Scripture in English.
It’s not that long ago: a few hundred years. The longer one lives, the more one realises that a hundred years is not nearly as long a time as it seems when one is a child. I had a grandmother who lived to nearly 100, and you feel that if her immediate forebears had all lived to nearly that age … it wasn’t so many generations back that people suffered so very deeply to bring us the gospel.
We read it and love it. I was very pleased when I tuned into the first of our Sunday School broadcasts last Sunday morning, and almost the first thing was that Johanna gave all the children a verse to learn. I was very pleased that they were learning a verse of Scripture every week, because the verses that we learn and that are ingrained in our conscious and our subconscious mind will come to our rescue again and again.
If you don’t know the Bible at all, you probably want to read it through and get an understanding of it, especially of the New Testament. But once we are familiar with the Bible it becomes exceedingly precious. We don’t need to get into any legalistic way of thinking where we must read so many chapters daily or at night. Sometimes a single verse lives, it lives in us, we meditate upon it, we find rich treasure in it, and we find it is the living Word of God: it has a power that no other writings have, because it is the living Word of God.
It is what Christ used as He was resisting the enemy, and it’s what comes to our rescue again and again. A verse will spring to mind that answers the taunts of the enemy; a verse will come to mind that brings comfort, strength, and direction. The living Word of God is powerful. Treasure it, love it, meditate upon it. Let it be to you and me food and manna.
In a verse that I came upon this week in a daily reading book, which is partly what has led to this, Peter speaks of
exceeding great and precious promises. (2 Peter 1:4)
In other translations, the promises are ‘precious and supreme’, ‘precious and very great’. We have to have read His Word to know something of what these promises are. Peter was about to be crucified, and he knew that, but he speaks of the triumph of his faith and the exceeding great and precious promises. We think of some of them:
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The Bible provides wonderful food and manna. Peter goes on to say in that same chapter that if we lead a godly life and obey the Word of God, an abundant entrance will be ministered to us into the eternal kingdom.
This is a week where a number of people known to some of us have died of various causes. Here in Greenock we have been so aware of the passing of Betty Logan. For her an abundant entrance has been ministered into the eternal kingdom. And so shall it be for all those who have followed the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me just leave you with a few verses from Paul’s writings that again bring to us the promises of God.
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–9)
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment (or the holy anointing oil) upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1–3)
The subject of unity is one that has been at the centre of the church of Jesus Christ right from the very start. Christ’s own words and the teaching of the New Testament are very clear on it. It is of course one of the areas in which the church of Christ worldwide gets most criticism, because there is such division. There is division in different denominations, and through the centuries there has been bitter division that has led to martyrdom on various sides of the debate – which is obviously totally contrary to the will of God and to the teaching of Christ.
Our present situation with Covid-19 is something that can draw us together, and yet at the same time we have been forced apart, and even to keep a distance from people. You will all have had the same experience as I have, if you’ve been out anywhere, in a shop, for example, of feeling that you are the enemy, and people are trying to avoid you. As we are scattered just now across our movement, the effect can be either of unifying or of keeping us apart. In many ways I think it has helped to unite us, because there is so much available now online and from various ministers and groups, and so there is a tuning into one another’s broadcasts, and that has had a unifying effect. But if something involving another person comes to trouble you, it can fester away, because you’re not actually seeing the person concerned, and often just seeing a person is enough to put something right, or to make us aware if there is any kind of division.
In the early church division was one of the problems that first arose, right in the very beginning after the Day of Pentecost. They were living as a community and having all things in common, but then a quarrel arose because the Grecian widows felt that they were being neglected when food and money was being handed out, and so the apostles had to take steps to appoint people who were full of the Holy Spirit to deal with this situation. Paul again and again refers to the need for unity, and he speaks of the difficulty in its coming because some are saying: “I am of Paul … I am of Apollos … I am of Cephas … I am of Christ,” and he says that such things ought not to be. We should aim to have unity:
Let us aim for harmony (or unity) in the church. (Rom 14:19)
… striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, forbearing one another in love. (Ephesians 4:53)
We know the strength that there can be in unity. I remember a story my dad used to tell. He was just a little boy, the youngest in a big family, and he felt he had to stand up for himself. He would be very young at this time. And he had a sister who had two admirers. He had heard her discussing them both the previous evening, and he was annoyed at her over something – she had probably tried to tell him what to do. And he stood up on the table when one of her admirers was in, and from there he repeated all the things that he’d heard his sister say the night before. I don’t know what she did at the time, but afterwards she spoke to him and said to him that whatever went on inside the family, and whatever discord there was, they were always to present a united front, and that what he had shown was disloyalty. And he remembered that lesson ever since.
We can present a united front, and there’s a strength in that, but the unity that God demands is something much deeper than a united front. It’s really right down into the roots of our being that there is the principle of oneness, as far as we can have oneness, each one being loyal to Christ, and that of course is the secret of then having a real loyalty one to another.
“But”, you say: “I can’t help it at times. Something has come to trouble.” Or: “It’s not reasonable, what the other person has done.” Or: “I just can’t help my reaction.” And Paul makes it so clear what we should do. He speaks of the love that we must have, a love that covers:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable (or is not easily provoked), and it keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Cor.13:4–5)
Isn’t that just the salient point? It keeps no record of being wronged. It doesn’t go over and over it in its mind, and hold it against another person.
The love that brings oneness is really the love of God – for that is the only kind of love that is able to be patient and kind and forbearing. What the Bible says is that that oneness is like the precious ointment upon Aaron’s head, or the holy anointing oil upon Aaron. Aaron was the high priest. He was the representative and forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our high priest. I began to meditate.
Why is unity so important? Why does that bring the anointing? Why is it like the anointing, and like the dew of Hermon and the dew that descended on the mountains of Zion where God commanded the blessing? He commands blessing where there is this oneness. You see, Aaron was the representative of Christ – and in Christ, in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is an essential oneness. And the more I began to think of this the more it seemed to me there is a mystery in there. In us, in our own beings quite apart from anybody else, there is not a unity. There are strivings within us. We can have different parts of our nature that really are at war with each other. But in God there is an essential harmony, an essential oneness, and into that oneness God has called us. Christ said: “Father, I pray that they may be one, as we are one. And in that oneness of God is the secret of tremendous blessing and of the anointing that is on Christ Himself, the Anointed One. And we know that that oneness with God, and the power of it, is something that Satan was aware of. It was that that he attacked with Christ. “If you are the Son of God, make these stones become bread … If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down … If you are the Son of God …” In other words, let there come even a flicker of a division in that oneness in the Godhead, and then our redemption would have been lost. He was never able to do that in the Godhead. The separation that came was not of Satan’s doing; it was by the will of God, and it was only that there might then become a oneness that would include us. O the graciousness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in total harmony and yet wanting us to be there. And in that harmony, as we enter into it with God, there comes a oneness into our inner being with Him that brings blessing, that commands blessing. What is that blessing? It surely is the very glory of God. As Christ says in His prayer before Gethsemane,
Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are…. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word [that’s us!]; That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them,
as thou hast loved me. (John 17:11, 19–23)
“The glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are … that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”
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