The verse that I have for today was given to one of our founding leaders, Miss Taylor, when she had her original call from God relative to the early days of our church. The verse is that spoken by God to Moses at the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army behind and the Red Sea in front:
Speak to my people that they go forward.
It is a verse that often lives for me and has come back again: I know I spoke recently of the people moving forward and keeping fire burning at these times. When God said that to Moses he was in a seemingly impossible situation, with the army behind, the Red Sea in front. Indeed he didn’t know, I think, that he was going to wander for forty years in the wilderness with the people, and all the hazards that they had to face: the drought, the dangers, the attacks from enemies. Perhaps the worst thing that he had to face was the people and their rebellion, and the difficulties that were created because of that. It was a difficult time for Moses; it was a difficult time for them all. But he was to keep the people moving forward until one day they came into the promised inheritance in the land. And so for us, at this time and at any time, it is vital that we keep that forward look. But if you consider something of what they met in the wilderness, in the different experiences which we do not have space to go into here, they actually encountered God. Some of their deepest encounters with God were as a result of their rebellion. How we can identify with that! Our rebellion has brought us ultimately to the cross of Christ and to the Saviour.
The experience I want to refer to here is when they had murmured against Moses and against God, loathing the light manna that they were eating. The result was that fiery serpents were sent amongst them, and they were bitten by them and they died – and then they cried out for help. Moses was told to lift up the serpent in the wilderness. This is referred to by Christ:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. (John 3:14)
When they looked at that serpent, they were healed – which in some ways seems a strange thing, but we can understand it because Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us and hung upon a cross, and we have come there and found His forgiveness from the wound of sin, which is the worst wound of all: the one that becomes putrefying, corrupt, and destroys. We look at Christ, covered with our sin and yet still with His own righteousness, and we find healing.
And there has been on my spirit all week, since last weekend particularly, a sense of that healing Christ. He heals physically, we know that – and we actually had a wonderful narrative of that healing power in our Zoom meeting where Hugh Gilchrist, one of our earliest members, told us again of the healing of his brother-in-law, something that happened maybe over sixty years ago, but Hugh could still not speak of it without tears. The wonder of it: his eyes being destroyed by the acidic substance that had got into them along with a molten piece of lead, and when he was prayed for by Mr Black, though not a believer his eyes were healed, and within hours he was released from hospital with two whole eyes. The healing power of Jesus Christ!
He heals us again and again in our body. But he carries out an inner healing which is transforming for life. I’m aware that many at this time are beginning to struggle with the current circumstances. I also know that some of you who have had the illness have suffered deeply in it if you have had a bad bout of it. Some people can become quite traumatised by it. But whatever has caused the trauma, and whether it is our own nature, and whether it is something quite minor or major, there is one source of healing. Again and again there has come over my spirit that One who is the Healer: the beauty of the healing of Christ. He is intensely personal in His coming. He doesn’t come to us en masse, but he comes to you and to me in our individual walk in life. Let Him come and touch you wherever you are just now. It may be that something quite trivial has touched you, and yet it is not trivial to you. He knows. He is anointed for healing.
I often think of Christ coming out of the tomb on Resurrection morning, His garments redolent with healing spices. Remember how Mary had anointed His feet with that precious ointment, and He said: “She has anointed my body against the burial.” She didn’t know, but these spices that were poured out on Him speak to us of healing also. Jesus Christ, the mighty to save.
“Who is this that comes from Edom … travelling in the greatness of His strength?” (Isaiah 63:1)
It is Jesus Christ, the mighty to save.
Believe no evil of Him. Let no whisper from your own heart, from the enemy, destroy your relationship with Jesus Christ. He is perfect. His love for you and for me is perfect. And Christ Himself has said that no sparrow would fall to the ground without the Father knowing and caring, and of how much more value are we than many sparrows! Just think of it: two sparrows were sold for a farthing, and five sparrows for two farthings – it’s as if the fifth sparrow were of no value, just thrown in. If our heavenly Father knows when one of them dies, how much more does He care for you and for me?
Try Him, try Him now. Let that healing balm flow over your spirit into your inner being, where He knows the stress and the strain. He knows your reactions, He knows your needs, He knows your need of physical healing. Try Jesus. He is never found to fail. His grace is sufficient for you and for me. That grace is all-abounding.
Let me bring to you again a quotation from Professor Finlayson, whose book The Cross in the Experience of our Lord I would recommend to you if you want to know something of the deeps of the sufferings of Christ. He speaks of the traditional notion in Scotland that when you find a mountain beside a loch, the loch is as deep as the mountain is high. That is just a fancy, but as he says:
The mountain of God’s grace rises sheer from the ocean of Emmanuel’s suffering and sorrow, and they measure the same.
Blessed Saviour! Try that healing Christ, and let His beauty and His garments, His fragrance, close around your spirit now.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means
hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
This is a wonderful verse, and even more wonderful because we know that it was spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. When He says that we have power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and that nothing shall by any means hurt us, we know this cannot mean that nothing shall ever hurt our body. What He means is that it will not hurt our spirit: our spirit can remain unscathed in the midst of life, including spiritual life and at times spiritual conflict.
When we went into lockdown, I think I’d had a hope in my own heart of a time of really deep, sweet communion with Christ. Now it’s not that this cannot happen: at times I find Him very accessible. But I also discovered that the devil has not gone into lockdown, and he has not disappeared. Many of you in the midst of this time will have found that also. There’s a tremendous sense of the protection of God and the overshadowing of Christ. But the enemy comes like a scorpion. If you look at the picture of a scorpion, it is not a very pretty sight. It’s not a huge creature. It’s an arachnid with a sting in its tail; its tail seems to arch over its back and has the sting at the end of it, which means that if we tread upon it it will definitely sting us, sometimes fatally. Christ says: “I give you power to tread on the scorpions.” Sometimes missionaries have found this literally true, but for most of us it’s not in the physical but in the spiritual sense.
What are these scorpions? Well, I think at this time there can be many arrows that will come to sting our minds and our spirits, arrows sent from the enemy but aided by our own personalities. One of these arrows that’s very much in my mind today is the arrow of fear, anxiety and worry. Some are more prone to this than others, but at this time it’s one that can be used, and that the devil uses, to exploit us, because it is one that can affect many people, but very much those who already are prone to it.
I have already been told by one of you who’s a scientific expert that we have our own level of happiness to which we constantly return: that in spite of any joys or sorrows in life we have our own median that we return to. I suspect it’s the same with anxiety. Some of us are, mercifully, reasonably free from it – sometimes maybe too free from it! – but others are very prone to it even if there’s nothing to worry about. And I feel very compassionate for such at this time, because I think it must be a extra struggle.
The Lord Jesus Christ said that He has given us power over the power of the enemy, and to tread upon these scorpions that disturb our peace and disturb our spirits. How do we do that? We have to resist the enemy. Now sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that we actually can resist fear, that we can resist anxiety, we can resist worry, as we would resist a very obvious temptation to sin. And if we resist, the enemy is actually forced to flee.
We find such reassurance from those who have gone before us. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul knew what it was to be fighting fears within and without. He knew what it was to have to resist. One of the ways that he did it was by disciplining his mind. He said: “Let the mind of Christ be in you.” He brought every thought into captivity to the mind of Christ. Paul had a brilliant mind, but it had led him very astray, into persecuting the church of Christ. He didn’t trust it any more. But also the devil had a very handy weapon like a scorpion to sting Paul with. He had persecuted the church of Christ, leading to their deaths. Paul had to train his mind, crucify it, bring it into subjection to the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. That way he found peace, and he looked ahead of him and not behind him.
I don’t think we’ve got anything to sting us as severely as Paul had, and yet he found the means of resisting the enemy. It is the way of victory for us again and again. If you are a prey to fears and anxiety, or any other of the arrows that come, cultivate this disciplined mind that is centred on Christ and open to receive inspiration and thoughts from Him. Christ understands. He lived on this earth amongst men. It is prophesied of Him in the Psalms - in prophecies fulfilled many times but certainly on His cross:
They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the
fire of thorns. (Psa 118:12)
“Compassed me about like bees” – stinging bees, stinging of mind, stinging of spirit, I think to the very end, till the glorious hour when He cried: “It is finished!”
He received help when He was here on earth. We find Him in the wilderness being tempted by these stinging arrows. And we read that lovely verse:
And the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. (Matt 4:11)
They strengthened him there in that wilderness. And we find in even greater trials, there in Gethsemane, again:
There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:43)
It is a beautiful and amazing picture, that an angel from heaven could strengthen Christ. We don’t know in what way an angel could minister to the Lord Jesus Christ. But we know it’s recorded for us. As Professor Finlayson so beautifully puts it, there just on the eve of His suffering, in the midst of it, He had a “message from Home”: a messenger came from the Father to comfort him.
We have a messenger from home. Our messenger is not an angel; our messenger is Christ Himself. And He comes Himself to minister to you and to minister to me, to calm every fear, but more than that to take the poison out of the stinging arrow, stinging scorpions of the enemy, and to give us a place of power over the power of the enemy. It’s all from Him. We are not victims, we are not helpless prey to his attacks, but we find that as we are resisting him there flows into us the peace of Christ Himself. It is the One who has trodden down strength who speaks to us. It is that One who said to John on the isle of Patmos: “Fear not. I am He that liveth – that liveth and was dead.” The power of these words “Fear not” lies in the one who speaks them to us. It is as we look at Him – “Well, Lord, if You say, ‘Fear not,’ there is nothing to fear” – there is nothing to fear, for there is Christ.
His love is so over His whole church all across this world in these days, and over the world: He cares. He knows the end from the beginning. What we do know is that there are many more in our country tuning into services than ever come to church. His Word goes out.
In the words of a wonderful verse from the Psalms:
The God of Jacob defend thee, send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee. (Psalms 20:2)
Our help comes from the sanctuary, the dwelling place of God – so it must be effective.
May God bless us all.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (Songs 2:3)
“His shadow”, of course, is the shadow of Christ. In the midst not just of the present day but of any time in our life – but I have found it particularly so just now – there comes a longing just to be with Him. There is so much going on … and so much can be said … and we want just to hear His voice, just to come to Him. He speaks to us through many channels, and for that we thank God: through His Bible, through the spoken word. But oh, the bliss, when we turn in our spirit and we come, and we see Him. As the disciples of John said to Christ: “Master, where do You live?” and He said: “Come and see,” I think He says that to us again and again: “Just come and see. See Me, see where I am.” And His fruit becomes very sweet to our taste.
His fruit is not sweet to our taste if we are eating too much forbidden fruit, or if our lives have become very cluttered with the things of this life, even the legitimate things. But His fruit becomes very sweet when we begin to look for it; we find there is fruit both new and old laid up at our door, which He shows to us. He said that He would send His Holy Spirit, who would show to us the things that relate to Him. When we begin to seek Him, the Holy Spirit begins to minister into our spirits, and He shows to us in a way that is indescribable something of the beauty of God, the beauty of Christ, and the fruit that He alone can give.
And we think: well, what are these fruits? There is the fruit of forgiveness, which is one of the sweetest. There is the fruit of peace. There is the fruit of power over sin. There is the fruit of power over the enemy. There is the fruit of His love – and we rejoice greatly in that.
But there is another fruit which He gives, also related to that. It is the fruit of love for God, and love for Christ. And it is not one to be neglected. It is one to be sought for. The Holy Spirit begins to show us that One who is full of grace and truth. And there begins to well up in our hearts an overflow not only of gratitude, not a sense of duty to Him, but an overwhelming love for Him. It is only the Holy Spirit who can really reveal to us these aspects of Christ, the very person of Christ, causing love to begin to grow in our hearts.
If we seek for this fruit then God surely will give it to us, and it will begin to grow. It grows, as all fruits grow, in the soil of Calvary, where His love is poured out and engenders a love for Him. We see that in His followers in spite of their frailties. We see it in Mary Magdalene as she waited there in the garden in the early morning, looking, searching for the body of Christ. To her it became the garden of unveiling, and she saw the risen Saviour. Why was she there? She was there because she loved Him. She had been forgiven much: she loved much. She just loved Him, not now thinking of what He could give her but just of who He was. And so to her was given that first revelation on the Resurrection morning.
We think of those two, Adam and Eve, in an earlier garden. They had eaten a forbidden fruit – and what a miracle that in our heart there comes a love for the fruit that is of Christ Himself, and we seek for Him in our fallen condition, yet brought back to Him.
And we can see how much Christ values our love. He said: “The Father Himself has loved you, because you have loved Me.” That is still true. We see in His treatment of Peter that what mattered, I think, more to Christ than anything else was that Peter loved Him, and that Peter would acknowledge that he loved Him – acknowledge to Himself, a strong man would acknowledge this, that at the very root of his being, in spite of all appearances, what was driving him was a love for Christ, a belief in him. And when Christ said to him: “Peter, do you love Me?” the response was: “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” And again and again he had to say it.
And so Christ looks at you and at me for that fruit, that we will be driven by a love for Him that will cause us to endure things that we wouldn’t otherwise endure, that will cause us to remain faithful in all sorts of circumstances, but more than that, that just draws us into the very deeps of His presence, and makes us hungry for Him as for nobody else, and makes us insistent that we will find Him.
Looking down through the centuries at the martyrs we can see again and again that what was at the root of their being was a love for Christ. Some of the most famous martyrs were actually slaves, slave girls, the most lowly and despised, like Blandina in the south of France – yet she was famous; she was thrown to the wild bull because she would not deny the Christ that she loved. And when they interrupted the process to try even then to make her recant, they found that she was in an ecstasy of love and praise to God.
It is a very sweet fruit. “I sat down under His shadow” in coolness, to find rest from the heat of the day – the heat of circumstances around us or within us, and we find shelter and shadow under His tree, in Him, and His fruit becomes very sweet.
As I was meditating on these matters, two verses in my reading from Daily Light seemed so appropriate:
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9–10)
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Some lines from Tersteegan’s poem “Satisfied” speak eloquently:
Draw me to Thee, till far within Thy rest,
In stillness of Thy peace, Thy voice I hear –
Forever quieted upon Thy breast,
So loved, so near.
By mystery of Thy touch my spirit thrilled,
O Magnet all Divine;
The hunger of my soul forever stilled,
For Thou art mine.
For me, O Lord, the world is all too small,
For I have seen Thy face,
Where Thine eternal love irradiates all
Within Thy secret place.
And therefore from all others, from all else,
Draw Thou my soul to Thee …
… Yea – Thou hast broken the enchanter’s spells,
And I am free.
Now in the haven of untroubled rest
I land at last,
The hunger, and the thirst, and weary quest
For ever past.
There, Lord, to lose, in bliss of Thine embrace
The recreant will;
There, in the radiance of Thy blessed Face,
Be hushed and still;
There, speechless at Thy piercèd Feet
See none and nought beside,
And know but this – that Thou art sweet,
That I am satisfied.
It has been some weeks now into this lockdown, and we don’t expect to be out of it any day very soon.
But God has not changed, and we find Him very near when we seek Him. At this time in our nation’s history, businesses are very concerned and anxious about how they are going to fare and what will happen in the afterward. The church of Jesus Christ is not a business. The church of Jesus Christ is a living thing. It is composed not of buildings but of people, and of people whose hearts are truly in love with God, and have found Him and have found His salvation. And I think that we have a choice with what we do during this time, and what our expectation is.
What has been impressed upon my spirit, and very much so over this last week, is to expect the church of Christ – not just our own church but the church of Jesus Christ – to emerge stronger and more alive: but that is dependent on our keeping a flame alive inside us. It is dependent on our not sinking into a certain insularity, which could easily happen because of the lifestyle that has been imposed on many of us. If you are one of those who is having to work very hard, perhaps in the front line, then you think you are not sinking into insularity, and yet you can become very enclosed in the world of ‘work, eat, sleep’, and just trying to keep going from day to day.
For others who may be in the shielded category, it would be very easy to become actually shielded from life, and to find it hard to pick up the threads again. And for all of us, as we are living in smaller groups and have less contact with one another, what is vital is that we do not see the church as just marking time during this period, but that it will actually grow, not only numerically, but in its faith and in maturity, to come into the full stature of a grown man or woman in Christ Jesus.
It caused me to think of the early church. There is a book about the growth of the church of Christ whose title, The Spreading Flame, I have always found very inspiring. In it, F. F. Bruce describes something of the early days of the church and how unlikely it seemed that it would take root and grow.
He says: ‘An observer in the middle forties of the first century might have concluded that the new movement had come to stay. He might even have considered the possibility that it would spread within Judaism until it had covered the whole Jewish world. By the middle fifties he would have seen, to his surprise, that it was spreading swiftly through the Gentile world and was being eagerly accepted by Gentiles. He would have shaken his head, however, in the middle sixties, as he saw it coming into conflict with the imperial police. That would put an end to it. But the events of the later sixties and the early seventies decided that, though the struggle might be long, the Roman empire and not Christianity would capitulate in the end.’
During those 250 or 300 years of the early church, she was a very living church, and (as the author says) the visible church and the true church of those who really knew Christ were more or less one. And we know that with Constantine embracing Christianity, at least in theory, it became an accepted religion, and ultimately there was a serious decline over succeeding centuries, until again and again God has intervened and moved.
In the words of the apostle Peter:
Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. (1 Peter 4:12)
That early church was born in fire. Peter knew there was a fiery trial of persecution breaking on the church of Christ that could have extinguished her. But in fact the fire enacted a purifying process: it was a refining thing.
The fire also caused the church of Christ to spread out. As people were persecuted they spread into different parts of the empire. I read during the time of the Australian bush fires recently that there is a phenomenon whereby the fire is used to explode seed, particularly in eucalyptus trees, so that the fire actually causes ultimate growth and fruitfulness. And so it can be for us, that instead of the fire of trial and present difficulties making us closed down and in on ourselves, thinking that the enemy has shut the church doors, we rather think that God is at work, and it is a time of opportunity when there can be real growth inward as well as outward, if we keep our look Godward and outward to our fellows.
We think of the church of Jesus Christ: it was the exploding fire that caused the seed on Calvary to take root, to grow, to spread. As one of Amy Carmichael’s colleagues said as they were looking at the grave of Ragland, an early pioneer missionary to India: ‘The best plan for growth is Christ’s own plan.’
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides by itself alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit. (John 12:24 KJV adapted)
That is Christ’s own plan. He fell into the ground and He died. It didn’t look as though that tiny group that He had left would be able to spread His teaching. And we see how ultimately it came into conflict with the exceedingly strong power of the Roman empire, but nothing could quench the love that was deep in their hearts and zeal for Christ. The seed exploded with the fire of the suffering of Christ, and it exploded on the day of Pentecost with the coming of the fire of the Holy Spirit. And, praise God, that fire has never gone out.
I would say to you, to all our congregations and others who may read this: ‘Is that flame burning brighter now than when we last met together? Has it become an even more single-minded flame to God Himself?’ It means to be at His disposal, to fall into the ground and die: that is, to die to our own natures, ourselves, our pettiness at times. The things that can loom so large at other times have faded into insignificance at a time like this. And we say: ‘Lord, I want to be obedient. Bind me to Thee. Bind me to the cross of Calvary, that I’ll grow straight and strong and true, that Your church will grow straight and strong and true, bound to that cross of Calvary, till it will be said of Your own church and of our lives (because the church is made up of individual lives):
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (Songs 8:5)
That is the way to become the seed of corn that dies, to die to ourselves and our own natures and our own desires. It is to lean on Christ, and be the church coming up out of the wilderness leaning upon her Beloved.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? (Songs 6:10)
It shall be the church of Jesus Christ: we do believe it.
Blessed be His Name.
My theme has arisen from a conversation with one of the congregation about the ways of God, in the course of which I quoted some of my favourite lines from the hymn associated with Samuel Rutherford:
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The years of banishment when his mouth was shut were the years when his richest letters were written, letters that are still read hundreds of years later.
Looking back over life there comes a knowledge and a tremendous sense of the hand of God, and of plans and ways that we would not have chosen but that God has actually led us in for His own purposes.
I know the thoughts that I think toward you … thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jer. 29:11)
The ways of God are very wonderful. Something we always have to remember is that His thoughts for us are only good (and I say this many a time to a person). Always remember you don’t need to be afraid of the will of God, for the will of God is always what is best. He designs it for our happiness, not to harm us. He brings us in ways that are for our good and not to bring hurt into our lives. Hurt comes into life, but that is the result of the Fall, and He uses it for His own purposes.
Job found the truth of that. In the darkest of circumstances, in a desperate condition, he uttered wonderful words: “He knows the way that I take, and when he has tried me I shall come forth like gold.” We know, looking back now at Job’s life, the gold that came out of it. And that gold was the knowledge of God and of Christ. He said these wonderful words: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” I know that He lives. How comforting these words are to us, and how comforting the thought of the plan of God, especially at a time like this.
A lovely illustration of this comes from Andrew Jewell. He told this to me a few months ago, but I don’t think he has used it in preaching, though I have given him ample time to have that opportunity that I am taking now! In the course of his work he sometimes uses a design connected with a project carried out by a teenage boy. The boy decided to trace three years of the trajectory of a planet, and he found when he looked at the final graph that it had made a beautiful flowerlike design of exquisite intricacy and delicacy. The sight of it is such that it has moved people to tears and given them a feeling that they have not understood but that we do recognize as a sense of God, because it shows the hand of the great Creator, and His design. Think of the perfection that came out of the simple tracing of a planet’s trajectory. And how much more does God weave a plan for us that is perfect.
Of course we say: “Well, it doesn’t always work like that; we mar that plan.” And indeed we do. And there is somebody who tries to make sure that we mar that plan – because we have an enemy. Our adversary, the wicked one, has got a plan also: and his plans for our lives are not good plans. His plans for God’s world are not good. But God always outmanoeuvres Satan.
Satan sets traps for us. But in the words of a verse I came across this week:
When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn. Wherever I go, my enemies have set traps for me. (Psa.142:3)
I think the verse spoke to me because I felt I had fallen into a trap, not set for me by any enemy other than the wicked one, but as a consequence I had acted a little unwisely, and on reflection I wished I had done something different. But I found great comfort in reading the psalm, and just knew that God knew and understood. It was a fairly minor matter. But even in major matters of life when we have made mistakes and have fallen into traps that the enemy has set, we remember how he tried to set traps for Christ, sometimes through the scribes and pharisees, sometimes himself coming to Christ in the wilderness, and sometimes even through his friends, like Peter. But he never was able to trap Christ. We would love to be able to say the same, but we are but human – and God remembers that we are but dust. So what does He do? He weaves even our mistakes, even the times we have fallen into a trap, and somehow weaves it all into a whole, so that in the end we shall look back and see that He made something beautiful out of something that was not beautiful, because the beauty that is imparted to us is the beauty of Christ Himself.
We look at Christ as our great example, and we know that God had a plan for Him. If we had seen that plan of God and had been in Christ’s place we would have said: “This plan is not a good plan, this plan is full of suffering,” and indeed we would have said: “I cannot walk that way.” But of the Lord Jesus Christ it is prophesied:
In the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will,
O my God. (Psa. 40:7–8)
He is our great Forerunner, and He imparts to us a delight in the will of God. He delighted to fulfil the Father’s plan: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” (Jn 4:34) And He went through the Cross. But He came out the other side in the wonder of Resurrection life and His triumph.
And we, in the circumstances in which we are now – they are nothing like Christ’s, are they? They are not easy, but they could be much worse. And there will be an Afterward. God has promised us that in the Afterward “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” (Joel 2:28) He is pouring out His Spirit even now upon us in our individual lives and homes and in our walk with Him, and on us as we come together on occasions like this. And what will be that Afterward? We find ourselves closer to God and not further away, more dependent on Him as individuals, perhaps less dependent on one another – and yet we will rejoice greatly to meet again and to find ourselves still with the glory of God being revealed, and the wonder of His own presence. He is a wonderful Saviour. We can say like Job: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in my flesh I shall see God.” And we will bless the hand that guided and the heart that planned, even before we get to Immanuel’s land.
To quote from John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.
All is best, though we oft doubt,
What th’unsearchable dispose
Of highest Wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Blessed be His Name, Amen.
My vineyard, which is mine, is before me. (Songs 8:12)
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” (Isaiah 27:3)
These verses bring to us very vividly the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, who keeps His own vineyard. His vineyard is His church: His church worldwide, His church in our country, and our own churches. He is the Lord of the vineyard. And if you are in any way a gardener or a vine dresser, you will know how precious you can be about your garden and your flowers. I remember reading in Amy Carmichael that she had made a garden, I think a kind of indoor garden on a tray, which she had given to somebody else to keep, but when she came back after a length of time it had all withered and died. She remembered thinking to herself that if that other person had made the garden themself they would have kept it better; they hadn’t cared for it.
How comforting it is for us to remember that the vineyard of the church is Christ’s own. It is His own planting, and it is planted in a rich and fertile soil, rooted deeply into Calvary. He is the Master; He is the One who cares; He loves His church. It’s a tremendous, incomprehensible love for all mankind, and so how much for those who are His own! And He waters His vineyard night and day lest any harm it. I pray that all of you where you are in your own home are finding that there is water, the living water; that Christ is caring, God is caring, for you; and that your soul is being fed wherever you are, whether you are a new Christian or a mature one. We need that daily manna, we need the care of Christ.
And in this let our confidence be rooted, that He loves. In the face of all anxiety, worry and fear for the future, we are in the hands of a loving heavenly Father, and all is well, for He is a safekeeper.
But there is another verse that says:
They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept. (Songs 1:6)
This verse also brings to us immediately a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He keeps His vineyard in the sense of our lives, but He didn’t keep His own. He gave it, He suffered, He was a willing sacrifice. He shared our sorrows and far more that we cannot share in. He did not please Himself. He left His Father’s side and came to a world of woe, worse than what we are experiencing just now.
While following the book of Leviticus recently in my Daily Reading Bible, I have been reading some chapters quite carefully and am very struck by the fact that in the Aaronic priesthood those of his family who had any scar, any blemish or any physical defect at all, were not allowed to minister in the Holy Place. No animal could be offered that had the slightest scar or blemish upon it: each one had to be perfect.
And I thought of how these people must have felt who were not allowed to minister as their brothers were – how rejected they must have felt, and with what a different view of God than what has been given us through Christ! The holiness of God had to be emphasized – and it still is to us. Our way of approach is through Jesus Christ, who is the perfect sacrifice, and because of Him we can approach God and find Him as our heavenly Father.
And I thought of the Lord Jesus Christ: His form was marred, His visage was scarred, more than any man’s. He was not presented in an outward sense as perfect. He was wounded so that He was hardly recognizable. He could say: “I am a worm and no man.” And yet in becoming that sacrifice, with such suffering, He has opened a door for all the lame, the blind, the halt, the weary, the burdened, the sinful. Blemished within and without, with all our defects, we find the way into the Holy Place is not barred; indeed, the way into the very inner sanctuary, the deep presence of God, is open to us because of that Christ who, while a bleeding sacrifice, was innocent and perfect in His inner being.
And from Him there still shines out to us the perfection of beauty, the perfection of holiness, that causes us to become one with Him and with His Father.
You might be finding at this time God very close to you. It might suit your temperament to have a lot of aloneness and solitude. But there are others that will be struggling: struggling with temptation, struggling with their own temperament, struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. Come to Him just as you are. Come and find the great Redeemer. Come and find the solace, the comforter, the strengthener, the peace. Remember again His words to us:
“Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” (Matt.14:27)
Amen. God bless you all,
Easter greetings to you all at a very different Easter.
Usually at this time of year we would be having a baptismal service, the church would have been crowded and we would have been celebrating the bringing in of the harvest, the fruit of the gospel in our midst and many professing their faith in Christ and the wonderful truth that Christ has died and has risen again.
The text in my mind for today is a well-known and well-loved one;
‘We would see Jesus.’ (John 12:21)
It’s probably one of the earliest texts that I remember seeing because, as a very tiny child, I was taken to services in a pub in Port Glasgow - I would have said ‘converted pub’ but it wasn’t very converted! It still had wines, beers and spirits across the windows, but inside on the wall behind the platform were these words, ‘We would see Jesus’ and I studied them as a child many times.
They were the words that were spoken in John’s gospel by the Greeks that came to Philip shortly before the crucifixion and said to him ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’
They have also been made particularly meaningful to many of us in Struthers Memorial Church as they were the last sermon spoken by our minister before he died, two or three days after preaching this sermon. As he spoke on that occasion I remember he held his arms wide open and said that he longed to embrace us all in the love of Christ. His own natural sight by then was growing dim but two or three days after saying these words; ‘We would see Jesus,’ he saw Him face to face. As his earthly vision had grown dim, his spiritual acumen and seeing had grown sharper as he brought to many of us the awareness of the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For many of us, where we are now, much has been stripped from our normal lives and we have been deprived of our gatherings together. Solitude with Christ is wonderful; to find Him in the aloneness is exceedingly precious but when we come together it is like the putting together of live coals and there can come an intensity of God’s presence and, for those who are newer to the faith, there is tremendous strength that comes from gathering together. But just as these people came to the disciple Phillip and said to him ‘Sir, we would see Jesus,’ that is the cry in many of our hearts, probably an increasing cry for many of us - we would see Him. We have had glimpses but we would see Him far more clearly.
We long to see some of our loved ones again but this is nothing compared to our longing to see Him. But we do not choose the way he reveals Himself to us, that is His choice.
For some currently working in the danger line there will be an increased awareness of that Man of Sorrows who has carried our griefs, who has borne our burdens, who understands the need of this present hour and that none of us are unaffected by it. We are all affected in different ways. For many of us in the church we have friends or relatives who are deeply involved in the caring services and for whom our prayer goes up continually to God.
And so, at a time like Easter, we are particularly aware of that Man of Calvary who shows Himself, to us in His crimson robes, dipped in blood, but robes that speak to us of His victory, speak to us of forgiveness and cleansing and righteousness and we are aware of that Man who has tasted grief for us; The Son of God.
However, this resurrection day, we cannot but be joyful in the knowledge of that risen Christ - in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, He has arisen again. His garments are white, they are splendid, they are glistening.
He is still Lord. He is Lord of this world in its brokenness, in its grief, in its perplexity. He is unmoved, he is unchanged. His arms are wide open to embrace us, to embrace you, to embrace those who are seeking for help and asking, perhaps for the first time in their lives, ‘Where is Peace?’. Asking, perhaps, some of you in whom they see that peace, asking for its source and echoing these words to Phillip; ‘We would see Jesus’.
We lift our eyes and we see Him - we see Him as He lives at the right hand of the Father and makes intercession for a world in need. He has not left our world. He is making intercession for our church, for our lives and our prayer is that increasingly we will show Him forth that others may say to us; ‘We would see Jesus.’
'I will take Him' sung by Gordon Tyler
'When I Survey' sung by Emma Rukin
Blessed be His name,
This is Palm Sunday, normally a time of rejoicing, albeit with a knowledge of a coming sorrow, but it is a time of rejoicing in the Christian calendar and we would normally be together, praising God.
This Palm Sunday is different and yet it actually yields us more of an opportunity to identify with something of Christ’s own spirit and the faith of the son of God, that one who is the Faithful Witness spoken of by the apostle John in the book of Revelation. (Rev. 1:5)
Faith is the rope between us and God.
Spurgeon speaks of the fact that without faith there is no link between us and God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. He that comes to God must believe He is and He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (Heb 11:6)
We follow Him who rode into Jerusalem, full of faith that His kingdom would come, although a dark valley lay between Him and the realisation of that vision.
He said; ‘The cup that my father has given me, shall I not drink it?’
So, while others were proclaiming Him and praising Him and rejoicing, we see Him riding in on the donkey and we can feel something of the isolation and loneliness of His spirit. He knows that the praise will change soon to shouts of ‘Crucify Him’ but His inner being is apart with God, that together with God He may accomplish His task.
O the forlornness of the Godhead as the separation looms.
Now we - though separate one from the other, and feeling at times very isolated in our inner spirits, a prey betimes to the Enemy's attack - we cannot be separated from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Neither things past, present, or to come can separate us from Him.
(cf Romans 8:38-39)
Let us be much apart with Him in our spirits over this Holy Week and draw courage and strength from our beloved Captain who was made perfect through suffering.
God bless you all,
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
I have always loved the letters of Samuel Rutherford the Covenanting minister, but understand as never before his grief when he was separated from his flock in Anwoth and banished to Aberdeen, where he was forbidden to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. But, as he said,
“E’en Anwoth was not Heaven –
E’en preaching was not Christ.”
His prison and solitude became to him the banqueting house of his King, even Christ. So in these days of social distancing, when we cannot any more receive into our homes our dear friends and relatives, when you let them knock and leave parcels at a closed door, the verse from Revelation (above) comes with a wonderful comfort.
He is the one guest whom we can receive and make welcome. Into hidden deeps inside us He comes, and never need we feel solitary, for he sups with us of an evening.
And for those not shut in, but out in the front line of danger, take comfort from the Apostle Paul, who whether in prison, where the Lord appeared to him, or in the midst of a mob wanting to kill him, could say:
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
With deep love, and may God bless you abundantly,
Even though I was sitting in an empty church on Sunday night, it was wonderful to sense God with us all. It is a strange time for everybody, some isolated and others overloaded with work, all cut off from the assembling of God’s people, which can bring such stress. But he is calling on us to walk with sure feet, leaning on our Beloved. As the Spirit of God moved over the deep and brought life, so have I felt Him breathing over you, dear people, and I know that in house after house there is a gathering round the family altar, and prayers for the country and our congregations are going up before the thone of grace. Over every dwelling God would hover and create a covering. We may be passing through the Valley of Weeping, but afterward come the autumn rains.
You are all in my heart and spirit. I have your names before me that I may continually keep you in prayer.
With deep love, and may God bless you abundantly,
And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and a shining of a flaming fire by night: for above all the glory shall be a covering. (Isaiah 4:5 KJV; New Year Word 2007)
What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. (Psalm 84:5-7)
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Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.