Following last week’s reference to the revival in Rwanda, we find these verses from the first epistle of John:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)
And intermingling slightly the Authorised Version and the New Living Translation:
He that says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loves his brother abides in the light and does not cause others to stumble (there is none occasion of stumbling in him). (1 John 2:9-10)
If you have read anything about the Rwanda revival you will know that almost the hallmark of it was the phrase ‘walking in the light’. They very early discovered that walking in the light before God meant walking in fellowship one with another, and the only way to be in real fellowship one with another was to walk in love. That in fact is what John is saying. We are to walk in the light and have fellowship with one another. The one who that says he is in the light but hates his brother is not walking in the light; he has to love his brother, and then he’ll abide in the light.
This is a truth that we are very familiar with in the evangelical Christian world and even in broader Christian belief. Had it been adhered to through the centuries, the history of the church of Jesus Christ would be entirely different. But we come down to where we are, and we think, well, we know this.
We do know it, and I think many put it into practice up to a level. But the level that God requires, and what He means by walking in the light and walking in love one to another, refers to a much higher standard than ours.
Sometimes for me it’s as if a shutter opens in the spiritual world so that I catch just a glimpse behind it for a moment or two, and a truth comes home at a deeper level. When it happened in this instance, I suppose it was in thinking of the revival in Rwanda, but also of various situations that keep occurring in our walk with God and in a church, that can interfere with our peace. It is what the enemy has always sought to do in the church of Christ: to sow discord and disunity. I thank God for all the unity that is amongst us as a church and as a fellowship. It’s very strong; the bonds are very deep and very strong. But God always calls us to come up higher, and there is a quality in that love He would have us have one for another that empties us of any judgmental or critical spirit. Not that we don’t see the truth clearly, but we can see the truth as simply as we can see it, say, in our own child, and it does not interfere with our love for them. There is a love that covers and seeks to protect, though we might want to change them. God is the One who can effect changes in us.
We think: ‘That sounds good,’ and I hope if you are reading this today that you too will catch a glimpse of an even deeper way of walking in love.
But then we think, ‘How do we do this far more than we already are?’
I think the only way is to have been the recipient of love, and not primarily love to one another, but love from God. For love begets love, and it’s in the love of God shed abroad in our hearts that we learn how to walk truly in the light. The light is beautiful. As I noted at the time, it was a sunny morning when this talk was originally recorded. Sunshine lifts the spirits. But what is the light of God like? And what is it like when we discover that living in the light means living first of all in the heart of the love of God? The apostle Paul speaks of it. And John of course speaks of it not only in his letter, but earlier on in his gospel:
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end (or: he began to show them the full extent of his love). (John 13:1)
The occasion is the last Passover that leads into the Last Supper, when He took a towel and washed their feet. He began to show them the full extent of His love. Such is that love that we need the Holy Spirit to reveal it to us and to give us softened hearts and receptive spirits to truly receive it. It is when we become recipients of that love that we understand more about really walking in it, and one with another.
One of the most famous converts of that Rwanda revival, used ultimately all over the world, was Festo Kivingere. He hated everything to do with the revival and was quite violent to any of his family who were for it, but when confronted wonderfully in vision with the cross of Christ he broke to God and was flooded with His love. As I was thinking of all these matters I opened a book about him, and this was actually where it opened. He says in describing his conversion:
There is no qualification for the love of God other than that you are a sinner, completely finished. God in love has taken the initiative to
meet you where you are.
A whole new world had opened before me. Love ran through me and filled me with such a sense of freedom and joy that I wondered what to do.
I got off my knees, still crying, but now with joy.
He sang all the little songs that he thought he had forgotten, like ‘Jesus loves me, this I know’, in the sheer joy and freedom that the love of God brings.
And so He would have us imbibe it. Paul says:
I show unto you a more excellent way … Now abideth these three: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:13)
Paul was the recipient of that love. Having been such a persecutor and sinner, he is so changed, and his letters breathe the love of a spiritual father to his spiritual children – love and forgiveness.
These two go together. Forgiveness is not enough. We can forgive another’s faults, but be quite cold about it, doing it in a merely dutiful way. One time my father had been deeply wronged by someone. He knew he was meant to forgive, and he felt he could forgive only at the end of a hatchet. It came to a place where he said to God he was willing to forgive, and God said: ‘I’m not interested in your forgiveness; you have got to love him.’ He broke to God and he loved the person. (Many years later he was able to do a very good turn for the man in question.) I believe from that day on he entertained no bitterness towards any human being. The love of God did fill his heart. It can fill our hearts too.
You might never have really been flooded with that love. You’ve been afraid to believe, you didn’t quite know it was there for you as an individual. He loves to be sought for, He loves to show Himself to us. Ask Him. Think about Him, think about Christ, and your heart will begin to be open to that deep love of God. Perhaps you do know it (many of you, I know, do), but it keeps getting spoiled by the difficulties of the way, by our own reactions, by things that disturbs our peace. Have a resolve between you and God that you’re going to stay in that secret place where the love of God is filling you and causing you to return love to Him. You’re going to stay in there whatever happens outside, around you, even affecting you, but it’s not getting inside to disturb your peace that is rooted in the mutual love between God and the soul.
They went on that night to the first Communion as Christ began to show them the full extent of His love that would open to them on Calvary. The road into deep communion with God and His Son is as we believe that the Father has loved us, that He loves us and will love us to the very end. But Christ emptied Himself of all but love, and He would show to us this most excellent way. So shall we walk in the light and in love one to another. It’s not sentimental love, but that love of God that is unbreakable and unquenchable – many waters cannot quench it. Blessed be His Name. Come and drink, come and feast on Him.
The verse for today is well known and one on which I have spoken many times in the past. What I have to say today is quite simple but has come to me very deeply and in a very current way, which is why I want to speak of it now.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)
Another translation is:
Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.
How true it is: where there is no vision, where there is no constant keeping God in our sights and our focus there, it’s very easy to grow lax and careless in our way of living and thinking. But where there is vision (and this is true of any sphere of life), where the heart is set upon a goal, there is discipline and there’s a training towards the fulfilment of that goal. It’s a very current subject just now, isn’t it, because of the problem with external examinations for school pupils and the difficulty in keeping pupils working towards the goal, when you’ve in fact removed some of that goal in the sense of taking away the external exams.
In the spiritual realm it is absolutely vital that we have vision, and that not in a vague sense. The vision always is God: every other vision stems from Him. He opens our eyes and sometimes gives us a very specific goal to aim at, but it’s all contained in this endeavour to find and to live at the heart of the life of God, and in the heart of His will. Because we are separated it would have been very easy for us each to follow our own vision, ‘every man doing that which is right in his own eyes’. Thank God, He has very wonderfully covered for us as a people, and He has kept the eyes of many of us still very trained upon Him, indeed more so in some ways than in the past, because of our acute dependency on Him to keep us alive spiritually. It is quite wonderful to see this happen. While listening to two of you singing the other night, I was realizing how the anointing is deepening rather than lessening on many lives (though not all) during these difficult days. What is vital for us is that we never sink into an attitude of mind that we’re just marking time, like a train that has stopped at the station for hours, but that rather we are travelling on into that that God has prepared for us, and our current situation is no mistake: it’s part of the pattern. I’m not saying it has all come from Him, but any circumstance has to get past Him before it gets to us, and He weaves it into His own plan and pattern.
The day gets wearisome – doesn’t it? – in this third lockdown. But God. He suddenly transfers our gaze from the world around us, and we become vitally aware again of the spiritual world. Really what drew my attention to this text was that at our Zoom meeting on Tuesday night last week, which we end with a time of prayer, there was a lovely atmosphere, a lovely covering, but just suddenly I felt a rush of power and anointing of God, and vision, and a certainty of the horizon being filled with that God who is a consuming fire, the God who is all-powerful, and suddenly the spiritual world was throbbing with life and all around, and it took me for a few minutes completely out of the limitations of our present circumstances.
I have been re-reading the books about the Rwanda revival; they stand many readings. For the church in Rwanda there came a wonderful revival that went on for many, many years. But before it came there was a dark hour, the darkest before the dawn. There was famine in the land at the time a young missionary went out there, called Dr Joe Church. He went straight into this situation of famine where the conditions were utterly horrendous, with desperate suffering and desperately hard work for these medical missionaries in particular: heartbreak and toil, and at the same time seeing that the churches at times could be full of people, but with no certainty that any of them were actually born again. And in his heart and in the hearts of some others, including some of the Africans, I think particularly from Uganda, who were truly saved, there came a desperate desire for more and for the moving of God. As a student at Cambridge he had been one of a group of young Christian men who were on fire for God (some of whom were out there with on the mission field with him by this time). They believed in the teaching that was coming from Keswick of holiness and of the fullness of the Spirit. They used to have missionaries come and speak to them at Cambridge, and many a poor missionary would have been devastated to know that after their visit the students would get together and pray: O God, never let me become like that – because there were missionaries who had got very dry on the field and very lacking in the fire that perhaps had once motivated them. These ardent young lives prayed that they would never lose that sense of fire and vision.
And so now they sought for God and began one by one to discover that what they needed was the fullness of the Spirit. They were truly saved. They were sanctified and they had known real touches of the Holy Spirit. But at the end of their tether, in desperate conditions, they needed the Holy Spirit. And He came on them one by one. This is shown in different ways, but it is always accompanied by a new power: power to live and an efficacy in preaching the gospel. In actual fact the Holy Spirit began to move in ways that seemed independent of human channels, but really much of it would be related to the prayer that was going on. And He came in convicting power, devastatingly convicting power, that brought men and women to the feet of Christ. Then those who had in some cases been professing salvation revealed that in fact their life was still full of superstition, witchcraft, occult practices and immorality. They were deeply converted, filled with the Holy Spirit, and so revival spread. It brought with it a lot of trouble inside the church – that’s usually where the main opposition comes from – and they were not easy years, but they were wonderful years of wonderful fruitfulness. The darkest hour had come before the dawn.
What has been impressed upon my spirit for us is that we keep making progress. Frances Ridley Havergal, famous Christian writer and singer (many of whose hymns we still sing), as a little girl lost her mother when she was eleven years old. But she always remembered her mother had said to her again and again: ‘Fanny, get yourself ready, prepare yourself, for what God is preparing for you.’ And that is our responsibility just now, to prepare ourselves for what God is preparing for us, that we are ready to step into the blessing that He will bring and is bringing. What was impressed upon my own spirit was to seek for a greater enduement. We’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit, so we ‘understand’ what people are meaning when they speak about the fullness of the Spirit … but we don’t really. We have a little, tiny understanding. O to be flooded and to have that vision, that there is a greater enduement for His church and for us as individuals, no matter what age we are, young or old: we’re not going to coast to a finish, those of us who are a bit older, but rather to come in eventually to the harbour at full tide, borne along on a mighty tidal wave of the Holy Spirit. He says:
I know the plans that I have for you, plans of good and not of evil, to give you a hope and a future.
Take courage. The road is brighter ahead, not darker. The glory of God never decreases. It remains the same, but our perception grows. Moses viewed the Promised Land, but one day he stood in it by the side of Christ. And that is our goal: to be at Christ’s side, in the harvest field, for His glory.
Our theme today is quite a simple one, and yet it’s one that we never come to the end of. It’s quite simply the loveliness of Christ. Beginning to meditate upon it, I find there are so many strands that they are actually quite difficult to separate out and choose from. But I’ll do what I can and see where it goes.
When I was growing up, in fact for many, many years, there was a sign on my uncle’s farm. According to my memory, on the one side it said: ‘What think ye of Christ?’, and on the other: ‘He is altogether lovely.’ And it had an effect on me; it just was always there in my consciousnesss. Never despise wayside pulpits. My husband Wesley’s father had a farm with a different text on it, but I think one was: ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.’ Many years later one of the family was talking to someone who said that they had been brought to Christ partly if not completely through that text. Alison Speirs, known to us all as the minister of our Glasgow church, was a thorough atheist in her youth, but in the months leading up to her conversion she was pretty pierced by a wayside text that said: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.’
But to come back to my uncle’s wayside sign, the answer to the question ‘What think ye of Christ?’ – ‘He is altogether lovely’ – is from the Song of Songs, when the daughters of Jerusalem ask the Bride:
What is Thy beloved more than another beloved?
and she answers:
His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Talk of the loveliness of Christ in language such as this can be like mere words to us, until the day comes when we actually have caught a glimpse of Him in His sanctuary. We sing that lovely piece sometimes:
Within the veil I now would come,
Into the holy place, to look upon Thy face;
I see such beauty there, none other can compare;
I worship Thee, my Lord, within the veil.
The ‘veil’ within which we are invited to come speaks of that veil in the Temple that separated the general populace and even the priests from the Holy of Holies. Christ has entered in there, we read, into the heavenly places. He has ‘rent the veil in two’ so that we can come into a place of real beholding of the Godhead, shown to us in the face of Jesus Christ.
I think there are different roads by which people come into this place of beholding. For some of us it happens in a moment after yielding our life to Christ. There comes a moment when we are in the Spirit and into a new place, a new realm that we didn’t know existed, in which something of the loveliness of the face of Christ is shown to us, and life is never the same again. We are captivated by Him and by the beauty that shines out – Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. And we know, surely, something of the loveliness of Christ and of that face that attracted the disciples and made them leave their means of living and follow after Him and say: ‘We’ve found the Christ. We’ve found the Lamb of God.’ And so have they done through the ages. But we come, I think, by different roads into appreciating and really understanding in our hearts and in our spirits, as well as in our minds, the loveliness of Christ. The very creation around shows the hand of a Creator who loves beauty. And He is the One who is altogether perfect. I know that Isaiah says: He has no beauty in him that we should desire Him. That is what He seemed like to those who hated Him without a cause. But to those who loved Him and to those now who love Him, He is the altogether lovely.
The bride in the Song of Songs says: This is my beloved, and this is my friend. Isn’t that a lovely title for Christ? My friend. He calls us his friends. Often when addressing His disciples He called them His friends. And they who hated Him called Him the friend of sinners.
Thou art the sinner’s friend,
So I Thy friendship claim.
To have a friend, and one who can be altogether trusted, is often the desire of the human heart. If a friend lets us down or betrays our trust, the friendship is never quite the same again. We look for one on whom we can rely, and also one who will not look for our weaknesses, and will not point a finger at us. Not that we want them to be blind, but we prefer them to be the kind of person who will overlook our weaknesses or take them into account and still give us loyalty and friendship.
It is said of someone I read of that they had led a life better than perhaps had been expected of them. When asked the secret of it they said: ‘Well, I had a friend.’ They had a friend who set a high standard. C. S. Lewis speaks of the days before his conversion, when in the army during the First World War. He had a friend who was moving towards Christianity, and he discovered that this friend took for granted the Christian virtues of chastity, truth, honourableness. C. S. Lewis was not living like that, but he didn’t want this friend to know, and indeed he began to adjust his life to match his friend’s standard.
How much more is that the case for us with the Lord Jesus Christ? He comes alongside us to be our friend, and we begin to discover how true that that friendship deepens. There are passing friends whom we don’t know very well and who don’t know us well. But there are others who get much further into an understanding and a knowledge, and they become close friends as we get to know them. Often as we get to know a person we become less friends with them, or we become greater friends.
Christ doesn’t need to get to know us. He knows us, and yet He does not turn away. And He allows us to come further into His sanctuary so that we begin to know Him. He that regards purity in his heart … has the king for his friend (Proverbs 22:11). If we regard that, and if we basically clean our lives up in every aspect of living, we find that Christ, the friend of sinners, is the King, and the friendship of the King is worth having. As we get to know a friend, we get to know their faces better, and whatever they might have appeared like to us originally, we begin to see no flaw in them. There is an attraction, because of their personality that outweighs any defects they might have. With Christ, the innerness of His being is altogether lovely, and so is the countenance that is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in spiritual places. Someone said of Garibaldi, a very courageous, charismatic leader in the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century: ‘I have today seen the face of Garibaldi, and all the devotion of his friends is made clear as day to me.’
Who hath once seen or in the least descried Him
Dimly and distant, hidden and afar,
Doth not despise all excellence beside Him,
Pleasures and powers that are not and that are?
The beauty of that face of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has in it all the facets one could ever look for. The kindness, the love, the strength, compassion, loyalty, purity, sheer loveliness … He is perfect in His beauty.
Thou vision of undying loveliness,
Once glimpsed, can not by any be outshone;
No fragrant morning, noon or dappled evening
Compare in any facet with the Son.
This one thing can we do, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 27: we can come within the temple to desire the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him; to be like Mary of Bethany who unashamed poured out what was most precious, the ointment, upon Christ. And we can break our lives open in a cascade of love to that one who is altogether lovely.
In her recent Conference address Diana alluded to a remark of mine earlier in the year. Having no recollection of it, I later checked my texts (I probably keep more texts than anyone I know!) and discovered one that had been written following her online communion service (5 July):
It was a lovely service this morning yet again. In particular, I found something profoundly stirring in the thought of people all over the world linked to us. Trying to capture just what it was, I felt it was this: we sometimes think of the love of Christ flowing across the world ‘out there’, but this morning it felt as if the world was being brought inside under the same canopy of His love that we were experiencing.
Re-reading it, I thought it might be worth sharing and perhaps expanding. Although there was probably no particular verse of Scripture in my mind at the time, there was a definite feeling associated with the word ‘canopy’ that was likely to be scripturally based, and so I went in quest of its actual use. Very rapidly I found what I was looking for.
‘Canopy’ in this context spells both protection and a love that unites those under its embrace. Its equivalent in Hebrew is huppah, a word still in use today.
We encountered it memorably in an earlier New Year Word (2007):
And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a covering (canopy: huppah). (Isaiah 4:5)
An alternative rendering is that over everything the glory will be a canopy. In either case, the idea of protection is to the fore. The older translation (KJV) actually used the word defence.
But the word means even more than this. It is specifically used in two instances in the Old Testament to denote the bridal chamber, and to this day it refers to the canopy under which a Jewish wedding is conducted – a practice that goes back centuries into the mists of time. It is an awning supported by four posts, representing the shared home or chamber of the couple entering into mutual commitment. Thus we have a reference to the bride and groom coming out of their chamber or closet or retreat (huppah) as required by a solemn assembly (Joel 2:16).
A wonderful metaphorical application of this meaning of the word occurs in the psalmist David’s celebration of God’s manifest handiwork in the heavens:
[The sun] is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber (huppah), and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. (Psalm 19:5 KJV)
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding (huppah). It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. (Psalm 19:4–5 NLT)
Here the sun is like a bridegroom inspired by joy in his bride to set out on his exultant daily journey.
In both of these instances, in Joel and the Psalms, there is a leaving of the shelter or retreat to engage in the ordained activity, be it solemn assembly or joyous sowing of heat and light. And there is a sense in which we know this principle very well as it applies to us. We love to nestle in the shelter of God’s protective love and to commune with Christ in the inner chamber of the soul, but we are called also to engage in work and warfare, in the ordinary duties of life and in emotional and spiritual conflict. This can cause a feeling of distance between the place of shelter and the place of outward activity and struggle. But in fact we have not left the canopy of God’s love, and as we turn to Him in the midst of daily life we can sense again the sweet impartation of His grace, the reassurance that His Presence is near.
In the sense in which we do go forth, could it be as the Sun? Could it be like Christ Himself? Being with Him we become like Him. It is His love, and the assurance of that love, it is His very Person, that sustains and strengthens us on our mission and on our journey. And indeed, if we refuse to embark on whatever He calls us to do, or if we lag in the doing of it, we also lose that keen sense of being under His canopy of love and protection.
Diana’s response to my original text vividly illustrates the way in which the two aspects are harmonised. She wrote:
That's a lovely thought of others coming under the same canopy. Could feel rivers flowing worldwide from Calvary at the end.
What I had originally pictured as two contrary movements – the bringing in and the sacrificial outpouring and the outgoing of the Evangel – is but two aspects of the same wonderful reality. As we go forward into this New Year, strengthened and inspired by what has been a remarkable online Conference (literally ‘a bringing together’), we are all under the protective canopy of the love that flows from Calvary.
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