To Obey Or Not To Obey

That is the question. As I write this, a pastor in Edmonton, Alberta is being held in jail on charges that he and his church are not complying with regulations that authorities have set in place in the attempt to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The pastor was given the option of bail while awaiting his trial but refused to receive it because one of the conditions of bail was stopping church services. Initially the church had not been required to stop gathering, but to adhere to the limitations authorities in Alberta have set in place, like social distancing among limited numbers when they gather, and wearing masks. It was for not adhering to these that the fines were issued, and then when in spite of the fines the church continued to ignore the regulations, authorities took the further step of stopping the services.

Most churches in Canada are cooperating with health authorities but some are not. In addition to the Edmonton church, I’ve heard of a handful of other churches in Canada that are disobeying the regulations. They give two reasons for this. (My readers in other nations will see readily enough that what I have to say in response to these reasons is applicable beyond the borders of Canada.)

1. They state that the regulations contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Well and good, even the apostle Paul used his Roman citizenship to advantage when he was about to be flogged (Acts 22:25). But what about the rights of other Canadian citizens? Do they not have the right to be protected from the virus? There is no provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prevents authorities from putting in place regulations for the public good. On this basis, one lawyer opined, the argument that the regulations contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would not stand up in court.

2. They state that these regulations contravene what God requires of them, and so their conscience dictates that they must do the will of God regardless of government regulations.

It’s this matter that I want to speak to more closely, and it will mean “flying my colours” openly, at the risk that some will see me as having joined forces with the enemy and flying the Jolly Roger.

Certainly it is true that the Christian’s first priority is to do the will of God. And how does a Christian determine the will of God in this matter? Yes, our conscience must be our guide. But the word of God is to guide our conscience. So what does the word of God have to say about this? Here’s what Peter has to say:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Pt 2:13,14 NKJV)

That is clear, isn’t it? Ordinances set forth by man are to be submitted to—for the Lord’s sake. To refuse to submit is to find yourself disobeying the Lord Himself.

I hear the protests. “But there’s no evidence masks even work.” “Most people hardly even get sick.” “This is really hard on many people, too hard for some.” I am no expert on such matters and they could be true enough, but arguments such as these are not grounds for not complying with the ordinances. Even though the regulations make life hard for many people, and their effectiveness is hotly debated, according to the word of God to not comply is still disobedience.

I am aware that the Bible exhorts Christians not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). And that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But this latter verse is the apostles’ response to having been commanded not to teach in Jesus’ name at all. This was the second time they had given the authorities this response. The first time, the authorities had also “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18,20).

That was absolutely the right decision, and, the grace of God helping me, I will be among the first to disobey any government regulation that forbids Christians to have anything to do with the name of Jesus. But no such thing is being laid on Christians in Canada at this time; we are only being asked, as citizens of the country we love, and in which all have freedom of worship, to do our part in a very hard time that is affecting the whole of society. We are not being told we cannot gather in Jesus’ name. Surely we grasp that. It is a matter of being in a pandemic. Unlike many nations of this world, like China, where churches are again being boarded up or torn down, Christians here are still granted religious liberty, as are those of other religions.

There are other instances in the Bible when believers rightly defied the authorities. To cite just two. Nebuchadnezzar decreed that all were to bow down before the statue he had made. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to obey. They did the right thing at the risk of their lives. Daniel disobeyed Darius’ statute that no one was to ask a request of any god or man, but only of the king himself. Daniel forthwith entered his house, opened his windows toward Jerusalem as was his daily practice, and prayed openly to God, for which act of disobedience he was cast into the lions’ den. The pandemic regulations are obviously not like these two instances. Christians are not being required to worship an idol or stop praying in Jesus’ name.

Respect God’s ministers

Now to add a word regarding the health authorities in our society along with our elected officials here in Canada. Have our authorities made the right decisions in all respects? Perhaps not. But I think they are doing their best to deal with a serious pandemic. (Are some of them hypocrites because they themselves don’t comply with the regulations? No doubt, but the hypocrisy of a few is no argument for us to follow suit.) I do not charge, as some do, that these regulations are actually aimed at suppressing religious freedom. This accusation is simply not the motive behind what our elected officials are doing, and it deeply grieves the heart—and the Holy Spirit—when Christians themselves echo the words of those who revile our elected officials, on social media calling them Nazis and Gestapo, or  commies in what is now Chinada. That is shameful. If that’s the way you think maybe you need to spend some time in a nation governed by a truly oppressive regime where Christians are actually persecuted. Please, dear brothers and sisters, mind your comments on social media. The Lord is listening in. We are not to “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” Even Michael the archangel “in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 8,9 NKJV).

With that Scripture in mind, let me share this now. A while back I watched a YouTube cell-phone video clip in which three ministers came to the door of a house in Calgary in order to deliver a court summons to a Christian leader who had been fined for disregarding the regulations on gathering. It was the man himself who had videoed the incident, no doubt with the intention of making it public, and I was dismayed at the way he, a supposedly Christian leader, treated these ministers, calling them Nazis and Gestapo and ordering them summarily to get off his property. Hardly the way to treat ministers, is it. Terrible disrespect. Ministers? In fact they were bylaw officers of the city police force, people the apostle Paul calls God’s ministers. Here is the passage:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  (Rom. 13:1-4 NKJV)

That’s quite something, isn’t it. (Remember it the next time God pulls you over for speeding.) To resist the authorities is to resist the ordinance and the “ministers” of God Himself. Paul wrote this to Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1,2).

So, my fellow Bible believers, this matter is something the inspired writers of Scripture were big on.

A testimony to guard and a neighbour to love

Yet I read of another church, this one in Calgary, that continued to gather in their church building even after being fined for contravening the “ordinances” that authorities have put in place. Along with the fines, this church received a letter from the local community association politely and respectfully asking them to please comply with the orders for the benefit of the whole community. The pastor and elders apparently refused this request, upon which the community association, which had been conducting their regular meetings in the church building, told them they would now find somewhere else to hold their meetings. So, this church has damaged their testimony in that community.

And what does Peter have to say about that? The passage I quoted above begins with a “therefore.” Let’s read it again. “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” What is the therefore there for? This:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake… (1 Pt. 2:11,12).

There it is. Submitting to man’s ordinances is “for the Lord’s sake,” it is part of conducting ourselves honourably among those in the world around us because it is His name we bear. In the matter of the pandemic ordinances, then, we have the name of Jesus to protect, we have a testimony to guard…

…And a neighbour to love. In keeping the ordinances just like anyone else, we are saying to our neighbours, we love you, and want to do our part in keeping us all safe.

I hear you saying, “I do love my neighbour and all these regulations are hurting my neighbour.” Amen, our motive must reach beyond the boundaries of our own church community. But be careful that the way you are going about this does not injure your testimony in the eyes of your neighbour, who is upset because you are not doing your part to make this whole pandemic thing history. Your concern does not make it right to disobey the authorities. Go about this God’s way. Get hold of Him in this. And make your concerns known to the authorities, and in this way hopefully have regulations changed. Go about this like Pastor Sam Chua of Westlynn Baptist Church in North Vancouver. What a refreshing attitude, even though in neighbouring British Columbia Covid-19 restrictions have been even more strict than those in Alberta. Note what he says at the end about those who are “taking matters into their own hands.”

The Edmonton pastor is in jail because he has taken matters into his own hands. Is he then among those who are blessed when they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake?  Or, is he making himself a martyr while in fact being dealt with justly, as any citizen who had broken the law would be? Brothers and sisters, the day could well be not far off when here in Canada Christians are persecuted for their faith. Let us guard our testimony in this day so that we are ready for that day.

Finally, I want to say that this was difficult for me to write. Even though I have taken my stand on the foundation of Scripture, I know that many very genuine and very sincere Christians are deeply impassioned by all this, and may not find what I’ve written easy to receive. It hurts me to think that what I’ve written will cost me their friendship. If so, it will be only on their part. I will continue to hold them dear to me.

 

 

 

Beulah-land

Christians in the 19th century Holiness movement called the experience they sought the “second blessing,” or “entire sanctification.” They also described it (I discovered this in Forty Witnesses[i] an out-of-print book of their testimonies) as the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Amen, this is just what it is), perfect love, salvation now, perfect peace, the rest of faith, entering into the rest, entering Canaan…. From these we see that the second blessing, as one of them testified, was something that meant more than an experience. It meant entrance into a life. Another way they described it was entering Beulah-land. What, I wondered, was this about?

Andrew Murray met with some of these people during his visit to the United States in 1877. While Murray was helping D.L. Moody in one of his after-meetings, an elderly man approached them and asked, “Brothers, may I ask you whether you enjoy the full rest?”[ii] Murray later wrote in a letter to his sister Ellen that he gave the man what he called “an honest answer,” adding that in further conversation the man opened his understanding to see that this rest was to be found, not in looking for a further experience, but in Christ Himself, and that “I should say at once that I am dead to every thought of discontent and dissatisfaction. The Holy Spirit who has been given to me in His fullness is equal to every need and emergency.” Therein is the secret of the full rest the old Holiness man passed on to Moody and Murray.

It was 18th century Methodist leader John Wesley’s teaching on sanctification that accounted for this experience being called the “second blessing” or “second work of grace” because it was something further to justification by faith. The Holiness people often referred to the second blessing as “a free, full, and present salvation,” words that hark back to Wesley’s proclamation of a “free, full and present salvation from all the guilt, all the power and all the in-being of sin.” (That was me you just heard saying, “Amen” again.) Because of this testimony Wesley’s followers (called Methodists) were reviled, were persecuted, were treated as the off-scouring of all things, even as (where have we heard this before?) their light and salvation went forth into all the world and their numbers multiplied. Even into the 19th century, though it meant being identified with the despised Methodists, believers from other denominations, hungry for more of God, began seeking this “holiness” experience. In one testimony I read somewhere (can’t recall where), a certain woman was in a quandary because she was aching for more of God, but what could she do, it was perfect scandal to associate with Methodists; she said she “had sooner gone to Hell than to a Methodist meeting.” But finally her hunger compelled her to go.

It’s a story for another day to consider what happened to all that, and why in our day the Methodists are no longer reviled and scorned and hated. Nor are the Holiness people wherever they are. Nor are the Pentecostals who early in the 20th century were also despised (even by the Holiness people before them). It’s the same sad refrain that has been sung throughout the history of the churches…

…And of Israel of old, who, tiring of being different from the nations around them, instead began to court their favour and their gods, and in doing so ended up exiled among those nations, her own land left desolate without inhabitant.

Beulah-land

 It was this sad situation that Isaiah had in mind when he prophesied of… what’s this? A coming wedding? Really? What kind of God is this? He is a God who will not rest till He has the desire of His heart. Here is the prophecy. Note the inclusion of the Gentiles in this, revealing that it is prophetic of the New Covenant. I will put in parentheses English transliterations of the Hebrew names:

For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
Thou [Isaiah is speaking of Zion] shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken [Azubhah], neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate [Shemamah]: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah [my delight is in her], and thy land Beulah [married]: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.
For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee… (Isa. 62:1-5a)

Here then is where the Holiness people got their reference to Beulah-land. They saw entire sanctification as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy in which the desolate land of Israel, mourning because she had no one to drink of her milk and taste of her honey and enjoy all her riches and blessings, for her children were in captivity in Babylon far away… the day would come when she would no longer be called Shemamah, desolate, but Beulah, married. For her children, her sons, exiled among the nations, would return, would be “married” to her. Even so the Holiness people themselves saw that by the second blessing, the sanctification of the Spirit, they had entered into and, indeed, had become married to all the riches, all the provision for every need, all the abundance… of the blessed “land” of salvation in Christ. His salvation—and that a full salvation—was no longer a “land” afar off, but nigh, so nigh that they were now married to it. They had entered Beulah-land.

Indeed, this is cause for great joy, is it not? Yes, it is. But Isaiah’s prophecy enlarges:

…and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

Or as Darby’s Translation has it:

…and with the joy of the bridegroom over the bride, shall thy God rejoice over thee. (Isaiah 62:5 Darby)

Conviction came upon me as I read this. Am I, are we, marrying Him just for “his money”? If so we are missing out on His own joy, the joy of the bridegroom in His bride. It is this, His joy, that was to become her joy. In all this wonderful blessing and provision and salvation, God Himself is rejoicing in His marriage to Zion. His delight is in her. It is a picture of Christ becoming “married” to those once alienated from God. He has now joined them to Himself, and they to Him, they are now so one with Him—married to Him—that all that is His, all that He has, His riches in glory, the abundance of His “land,” His full and free and present salvation, His victory, His peace, His rest, His joy, His very love for others… all that is His, becomes their own. In fact only thus, married to Him, does it become their own. As one of the old Holiness witnesses testified:

I am proving, as never before, that salvation is a Divine Personality—more, far more than a blessing. It is the internal revelation of THE BLESSER in the infinitude of His attributes, constituting within my soul a never-failing and ever-springing well ‘springing up unto everlasting life.’

Here then is a Selah for us. Rebekah the betrothed bride who came from Mesopotamia in the camel train with Abraham’s servant saw in the distance one walking in the field in the eventide. She asked the servant, “What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?” “It is my master,” he told her. In his writing The Journey of the Bride our old friend George Warnock observed, “It appears she had noticed him before the servant did.” It’s because she was on the lookout for one whom having not seen, she loved. Is our love like that, beloved? The Bridegroom yearning for His Bride goes forth into the field “to meet us.” Are we for our part looking for, anticipating, watching for Him? Or are we leaving it up to some faithful servant of the Lord to do our watching for us and alert us of His appearing, all the while preoccupying ourselves with the raiment and jewelry of gold and silver we’ve already received? Is it His gifts and riches we are in love with? Or Himself?

The Day of the gladness of His heart

In his book Abide In Christ, Andrew Murray has one chapter called, That Your Joy May Be Full. Here is a brief excerpt from it:

These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might abide in you, and that your joy might be full. (Jn. 15:11)

Let us hear what the Saviour has to say of the joy of abiding in Him. He promises us His own joy; “My joy.” As the whole parable refers to the life His disciples should have in Him when He ascended to heaven, the joy is that of His resurrection life. This is clear from those other words of His (Jn 16:22): “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” It was only with the resurrection and its glory that the power of the never-changing life began, and only in it that the never-ceasing joy could have its rise. With it was fulfilled the word: “Therefore thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps 45:7). The day of His crowning was the day of the gladness of Heart.

This last sentence arrested me; I was pretty sure I knew where it came from, and went looking for it. Sure enough:

Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart (Song 3:11 KJV).

That is prophetic, as Andrew Murray said, of the joy with which the crowned and ascended Christ sent forth the Spirit to espouse a bride to Himself. He had loved righteousness and hated iniquity, though it meant for Him the cross. He had endured the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). What was the joy that was set before Him? The hope of a wedding! What was the joy, the gladness, of the resurrected and ascended and crowned Christ? It was the day of the gladness of His heart, when He received the Crown for which He had endured the cross. Now crowned with the Oil of gladness, He sent forth His Spirit to join His bride to Himself, giving her Himself in giving her the Spirit, the arrabon, the surety bringing nigh and guaranteeing her that He is hers, and she His:

…in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth–the good news of your salvation–in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, which is an earnest [arrabon] of our inheritance, to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1:13,14)

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest [arrabon] of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Cor. 1:21,22)

This, then, is what baptism in Holy Spirit, entire sanctification, the sanctification of the Spirit, assures us. In modern Greek arrabon means engagement ring, but I don’t think that quite fits the New Testament usage of the word, for in those days a betrothal was a virtual marriage (as in the story of Joseph and Mary). Some translations of arrabon have “first installment” or “down payment.” But the “earnest of the Spirit,” or better, “the earnest, which is the Spirit,” is more than that. It is the faithful God’s guarantee, His surety, bringing nigh the hope of His heart and of ours—as we for our part continue chaste and faithful till the great day of presenting—the marriage supper of the Lamb when the bride of the Lamb and the Lamb are eternally one, and all that is His is hers. She with Him… they are heirs together of all things.

We know that in an ultimate sense this and much more is yet to come. The marriage of the Lamb is yet to come in its fullest sense. But let this not hinder us from real-izing even now the union with Him by the Spirit that brings nigh what is yet to come, and enables us to walk in it by faith. [iii]  Beulah-land is not for a distant day, nor for a distant Heaven after we die, as in the lyrics of the teary song. Beulah-land is Christ and Heaven brought nigh. Let’s be diligent lest we fall short of this and continue all our days in the wilderness. That is unbelief. We see ourselves as still in the wilderness, that “the promised land” of our inheritance is yet future. But Israel in the wilderness is not a pattern prophetic of New Covenant saints, but rather of what we are NOT to follow (1 Cor. 10:1-11). And Paul proclaims that by what God accomplished in the Cross of Christ, He has not only “qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” but by His Spirit has also “delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:12,13 NKJV, emphasis mine). That is Beulah-land, beloved. Let us walk therein, for Paul was not just setting forth a promise, but a reality to be realized by faith. Yes, the day of fullness certainly comes. For the Methodists and the Holiness people and the early Friends and others in the past who had a hearing ear, that day had dawned. How keen is our hearing in this our day? How sharp is our eyesight? How hot is our love—for our Lord and for all those He loves and died for?

For, Isaiah’s prophecy is still not complete. He opened the prophecy by saying that God will not rest till He has accomplished something. His intention in renaming His land Beulah-land, His intention in the marriage of the Bridegroom and the Bride, is that Zion’s righteousness (the Lord Himself) go forth as brightness, and her salvation (the Lord Himself) as a lamp that burneth. Do we grasp this? It happens because He is no longer hidden away in distant Heaven, He is nigh, He is one with His bride, His glory is revealed in her, He is shining forth in Zion! God says He will not rest till He has accomplished this. Such is His love for this sin-ravaged world. Yes, to some extent this has already happened. In measure. But look at our world now. It pains the heart to look. Do you and I ourselves not ache with God’s own ache for the Light and Salvation of Zion to go forth? How many of us have this perpetual cry of God on our own hearts, and are among the watchmen who themselves refuse to rest, day and night continually reminding God and giving Him no rest till He does what He has promised to do? That is how Isaiah ends his prophecy:

I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD [that is, are the Lord’s remembrancers], keep not silence,
And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. (Isa. 62:6,7)

____________________________________

[i] Here is a pdf of Forty Witnesses:

Forty Witnesses – Salvation from Sin

[ii] From Andrew Murray, Apostle of Abiding Love, by Leona Choy

[iii] Please see my writing Realized Eschatology:

https://amendingfeast.org/2020/09/21/realized-eschatology/

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures Of Eternal Life

 

In this increasingly unstable world of ours, and growing darkness, let us be mindful of Jesus’ words that are both a promise and a warning. He warned that “the thief cometh…” He is referring to what one has called the “cosmic thief,” the Devil. This thief is intent on one thing, which he loves to do under cover of darkness. “The thief cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy…” The thing we must get hold of here is that it’s His own flock that Jesus is warning; it’s these that the thief has his malicious eye on. But in the same breath Jesus now adds, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). This is his precious promise, and it becomes the heritage of those who hear the voice of their Shepherd and follow Him as He goes out before them. This is their part; it is His part to lead them into His green pastures of abundant life, and protect them there. No lion or bear or thief can touch them when they do their part, and when He does His part. Let us do our part, then. Let us never for a moment stray from the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls! I’m not saying we should have no interest in what’s going on out there in the world. I’m saying let nothing tempt us to distance ourselves from the protection of our Shepherd’s loving presence. I say presence because it is in Himself that the abundant life is found. “I am come that they might have life…” Let nothing in this world, then, nothing great or small, seduce us to breach even for a moment the life-link with our loving Shepherd in the high pastures of Israel—our spiritual heritage in Christ Jesus. If we do we have set ourselves up not for provision and protection but for robbery and destruction.

With this in mind, I hope to open more fully to our understanding what the abundant life in Christ is like so that this becomes our one desire—and our determination that nothing shall move us from it. Let’s read a verse of Scripture:

And this is the promise that He has promised us—the land of Canaan. (I Jn. 2:25 NKJV)

“Wait a minute,” I hear you protesting, “that’s not what it says.”

I’m glad to see you know your Bible, we’re off to a good start. Actually it reads:

And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.

But do you see where I’m coming from? Canaan was the earthly land of promise that God promised Israel of old. He gave the promise initially to Abraham, and faithfully brought the descendants of Abraham into that abundant land after first enjoining upon them the Sinai Covenant. This was all a type of what was to come. It is eternal life that He promises the New Covenant people of God. That is to say, life in Christ. “…God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11). This is the New Covenant “land”—the Son of God Himself, a “land” characterized by eternal life.

Eternal life? We have shortchanged ourselves if we think of eternal life solely as life without end. Certainly it is life without end, but it’s far more than that, it’s far more than something we enter into once we have died and gone to Heaven. Eternal life is a heavenly heritage we begin to enter into while yet on earth. But obviously it’s far more than an earthly plot of ground. Yet eternal life is like the earthly land of Canaan inasmuch as reality is portrayed in a picture book. That’s how I like to describe the Old Testament part of our Bible. It’s a picture book given to children prior to the New Covenant reality that has now come. Of course those accounts in the Old Testament are not fairy tales, they are not fiction; they are true accounts of people on terra firma. But they were prophetic of a spiritual reality to come.

What does eternal life look like?

So, what does the Picture Book have to say about the promise of eternal life? What is eternal life like? Here from the Picture Book are some descriptions of eternal life:

And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not,
And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not,
Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Dt. 6:10-12)

In other words, the provision of the land was not the result of their own work. It was wonderfully all there already in the land. Here’s another:

For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. (Dt. 8:7-9)

Again, we see that the land was a prepared land; in it the people of God would lack nothing, there was abundant provision for every need. Joshua confirmed the same at the end of his life:

And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. (Josh 24:13 KJV)

And so the people entered into the land of their inheritance only to find it just as they had been told. The provision of every need was ready at hand. In fact God called this land “the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you” (Dt. 12:9 NKJV). None of this would involve their own works. Even the warfare they accomplished in this land was the result of the Lord—and Joshua (their Jesus)—going before them. “The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said” (Dt. 31:3).

Even so, eternal life is the prepared life, the very life of Christ, the ever-present salvation and provision for our every need. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). It is the kind of life and salvation in which our walk is a prepared walk, our works prepared before us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We are new creations in Christ and we walk by the rule of new creation life—steps that are prepared before us. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

It is all that He Himself might be glorified in our lives.

The Bishop of the land

That heading might throw you; I know what the word bishop brings to mind. But bear with me. Let’s read a longer passage. I love this one:

But your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD which he did.
Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go to possess it;
And that ye may prolong your days in the land, which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs:
But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven:
A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,
That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.
And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. (Dt. 11:7-15 KJV)

That’s what their earthly inheritance was like. And this is what the heavenly heritage of eternal life is like. It is a land, a life, “which the Lord thy God careth for…” What do you mean, Lord? I mean this: “…The eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year…”

Careth is the Hebrew darash, which more literally would be seeketh after, or searcheth. I’d really like us to get the sense of this, so let’s look at some other versions:

 …A land which Jehovah thy God is searching; continually are the eyes of Jehovah thy God upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the latter end of the year. (DT 11:12 YLT)
…A land about which the LORD your God is continually concerned, because the eyes of the LORD rest continually on it throughout the entire year. (ISV)
…A land the LORD your God looks after. He is constantly attentive to it from the beginning to the end of the year. (NET)

Do we get the picture? Let’s string those together. His eyes are continually upon this land, He is continually concerned about it, He is constantly attentive to it in order to look after and take care of this land moment by moment.

Here’s another—this one from Brenton’s English translation of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament:

…A land which the Lord thy God surveys continually, the eyes of the Lord thy God are upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

The Septuagint Greek for surveys is episkopeo, which the Apostolic Bible Polyglot (a translation that codifies the Greek Septuagint with Strong’s numbers) actually renders oversees. “A land which the Lord  thy God oversees continually.” What a thought! Eternal life is a land, a domain, that God continually oversees. Strong’s defines episkopeo as “to look diligently, take the oversight.” From this we have our English word bishop—overseer, one who sees over, one who watches over the flock with a view to its care and protection. “For ye were as sheep going astray,” says Peter, “but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pt. 2:25). Or as the New King James Version has it, “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” He cares deeply for the welfare and wellbeing of our souls, our lives, therefore continually watches over us day and night, mindful of the very best for us in the pastures of eternal life, just as He did the land for which He cared, His eyes searching it attentively with a view to giving it His loving care and attention.

“…For the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.”

This, beloved, is what eternal life, life in Christ, is like. It is like “…a land of milk and honey… a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” That description from the Picture Book gives us through a glass darkly an insight into eternal life. It is life which is life indeed in the “land” of our inheritance. “Life, and that more abundantly.” Life in Christ. Eternal life. God is overseeing this land, the heavenly Canaan, to do it good that He may do us good. He keeps its care in His own hands. Gone are the days in Egypt when we watered our plots with an irrigation system entirely in our own control. Not so now. Not in this land. This land is the Rest of God; the days of toil to bring forth our bread by the sweat of our brow are over. This our new land is watered with the rain of Heaven, of which God alone is in control.

Did I hear you catch your breath just here? You mean leaving this entirely to Him? Yes, it means absolute and utter dependence upon Him alone. If that seems risky it’s only because we don’t know Him very well. Once we know and believe the love that God has for us, who would have it any other way? For we come to see that it is a God of lovingkindness and faithfulness who promises this kind of life and rest, life eternal, upon our entering into and abiding in His “land” in total dependence upon Him. Only in His “land” is this kind of life, eternal life, to be found. Upon putting our trust entirely in Him we bid goodbye forever to our unrest, to our doubts and fears. We cease from our own works and labours and strivings and the world with all its cares. Our lot is now to rest entirely in Him and simply obey His leadings, His commandments, thereby enjoying the life of abundant fruitfulness and total victory over every enemy.

This is just what 19th century Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith had to say upon what she called her “entrance into this life.”

I have found it to be more and more true, every day of my life, that Christ is a  complete and ever-present Savior, and that if I but commit all my interests to Him, I have, as a dear child once said, nothing to do now but “just to mind.” To say “Thy will be done” seems to me, more and more, the sweetest song of the soul. The deepest longings of my whole being are met and satisfied in God. He is enough! Believing, resting, abiding, obeying—these are my part. He does all the rest. What heights and depths of love, what infinite tenderness of care, what wise lovingkindness of discipline, what grandeur of keeping, what wonders of revealing, what strength in weakness, what comfort in sorrow, what light in darkness, what easing of burdens I have found, what a Savior, no words can tell!
Hannah Whitall Smith, 1887

That is beautiful, is it not? This is a description of eternal life, the prepared life in Christ, wherein our Saviour’s part is to do the saving; our part is simply to mind Him with ready obedience, and even for this He provides the needed grace. Who can but love Him with all the heart and soul and mind and strength?

 

 

 

Guessing and Fearing the Future?

In 1785 the poet Robert Burns penned his famous To A Mouse after plowing through the home a mouse had made under what was left in the field after the crop had been taken off. The mouse scurried away in a panic, leaving Burns to reflect on the plight of his “fellow mortal.” He sees in the upending of this poor little creature’s world what all too often comes upon his fellow men also, who build their lives under the security of what is but a clump of dry grass… and suddenly the plowshare upends it all and the wind blows it away. Burns’ line on that has become a familiar and oft-repeated aphorism: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley [go oft awry]…”

He continues his lament with, “…an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy.”

It’s these lines and the last verse of To A Mouse that came to my heart as 2020 comes to a close. Burns draws his poem to a close envying the mouse because it has no comprehension of the past or the future, whereas he looked back “on prospects drear,” and forward, “tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!” Many of us look back on 2020 just like that; we look back and see the ruin that this plowshare of a pandemic has wrought in our world. Then many look forward, and though they canna’ see, they guess and fear.

We need not guess. We need not fear. There is another plan beyond the plans of mice and men—God’s eternal plan in the Lord Jesus Christ—and it cannot go awry. We may look forward with great hope and confidence and God’s promised joy that the world cannot give and nothing can take away.

Praying all the best for you all in 2021.

Here’s To a Mouse in the original Scots dialect followed by an English paraphrase https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_a_Mouse :

(They are shown side by side on Wikipedia.)

The original Scots:

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

Thy wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

The English paraphrase:

Little, cunning, cowering, timorous beast,
Oh, what a panic is in your breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With bickering prattle!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering paddle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth-born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, that you may steal;
What then? Poor beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse green foliage!
And bleak December’s winds ensuing,
Both bitter and piercing!

You saw the fields laid bare and empty,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! The cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter’s sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

Majestic Lowliness

Long ago while watching over his flock at night, a young shepherd looked up at the starry sky, overawed by it all, as many of us have been as often as we have looked up. David the sweet psalmist of Israel took up his lyre and began to sing to the One who created it all:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet… (Ps 8:3-6)

“What is man that Thou art mindful of Him?” Many of us have wondered that too. Why, God? Why are you interested in man? In me? There’s a lot compressed in that beautiful psalm—being made for a little lower than the angels, then being crowned with glory and honour…  What is all that about? And this—Thou visitest him… What’s that about?

It means more than to just pay a visit to someone. The word has the thought of watching over, attending do, caring for with deep concern.

Here is how it is best described. There came a day when the One who created the moon and the stars that David with great wonder was looking up to… He came down:

And the word became flesh…

Who is this—the Word?  Let’s read this more fully.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Jn. 1:1-3 NKJV)

And then down to verse 14:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father), full of grace and truth…

That astonishes me, overawes me. The Word by whom all things were created—all things in heaven and in earth, whether visible or invisible (which would include the myriads of angels) as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 1:16—this One became flesh, became human, and “dwelt” among us. The Man Christ Jesus born in Bethlehem was God dwelling—“tabernacling,” or tenting, you might say—among men.

How lowly of God, the God who created all things, that He should do this, become incarnate as a human being. The whole story of Jesus’ birth is… how can I describe it? It is majestic in lowliness: it turns to tinsel all other majesty. He did not swoop down from Heaven full grown, a king in royal robes. He was born a helpless baby, the firstborn of a virgin teenager espoused to a poor carpenter. They had come to Bethlehem  because Caesar Augustus had called for a world-wide census and Joseph was required to register there.

Bethlehem itself was not a great city, it was a little town:

 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. (Micah 5:2)

You can be sure that in calling for this census, the great, the majestic, the august Caesar, the ruler of the whole known world at that time, whom all in his empire were to worship as god… you can be sure he knew nothing of this ancient prophecy. There’s something else he didn’t know. The very idea of being anybody’s servant would have been contemptible to him, yet here he is, unknowingly serving the purpose of the August God of Heaven and earth who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”

Enter Joseph of the lineage of David, and Mary, who called herself a handmaid of the Lord (Lk 1:38). It’s not likely they had this prophecy in mind when they set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But they knew they were in the will of God, and were simply complying with what Joseph was required to do.

There was no room for them in the local caravansary; many others had returned to Bethlehem for this same purpose. So Jesus was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. His first visitors were shepherds who had been watching their flock by night when an angel declared to them the Good News of His birth.

This is the Word by whom all things in Heaven and earth were created? Born like this?

Yes. It was all part of the God of immeasurable greatness revealing Himself in  great lowliness. How could one so incomparably great but do otherwise?

Yet this was only the beginning of His identifying Himself with man. Here is the incarnation in the words of the apostle Paul:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:5-11).

What depths of lowliness are these? He who created all things was born a human being, and going further, humbled Himself unto death—not an honourable death, but the death of a despised criminal, so that no human being fallen to the depths of sin and depravity should be beyond the reach of His arm and His heart.

I bow the knee, dear Lord, I bow my knee—and my heart. You are mindful of man. You demonstrated it by visiting him. I know this personally. You showed yourself mindful of me years ago, and visited me in a time when my world had caved in around me… and You are with me to this day. I am so thankful. I love you, and worship you, thankful that where broken hearts humble themselves to walk with You, “the dear Lord enters in.”

I love that old hymn by Phillips Brooks. Here’s a link if you’d like to sing it along with me. I’ve followed it with another: Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy. It’s not really a Christmas song, but it’s what His incarnation ultimately meant.

O Little Town of Bethlehem – Carols (A Christmas Project) Lyric Video – YouTube

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see Thee lie
Above Thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And, gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the Holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Maker of the Universe by Phil Keaggy – YouTube

The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.

His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o’er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

 

 

He Knows What He Will Do

“Himself knew what He would do.” This was a favourite quotation of a woman whose name, if she had gone one way, you would very likely know as well as any other famous artist. But since she didn’t go that way, it’s likely you’ve never heard of her. I’ve asked a few friends. “Have you ever heard of Lilias Trotter?” I get much the same response. “I think I’ve maybe heard the name, that’s about all. Who is she?”

I’ll leave it to you to find that out by reading a short biography. I’ll just say here briefly that Lilias Trotter came to a time of crisis in her life when she had to decide what she would give her life to—her art or her Lord Jesus. Born Isabella Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) to affluent parents in Victorian England, she had early shown an exceptional talent in art, leaving her father and mother with little wonder as to what direction her life might eventually take. Then when she was 23, famed art critic John Ruskin viewed some of her work, and with perceptive and far-seeing eye was sure he knew what direction her life should take. In her own words in a letter to a friend, Lilias wrote that Ruskin had persuasively convinced her that if she would forsake all else and devote herself to painting, under his tutelage she “would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”

The problem was that Lilias also early had been a spiritually sensitive girl with a growing desire to know the Lord. As a young woman she attended what were then called the “deeper life conferences” (later the Keswick conferences) in which she heard words by which the Son of God’s love laid hold of her heart. She had also become involved in Christian outreach work in London, among other things seeking to help the many women who could not find work, some of whom had resorted to selling themselves.

Here was a love, then, that she would have to part ways with if she were to give herself to her art. She loved her art… and she loved her Jesus. She agonized over this, often on her face before God, until finally she knew clearly that she could not do what Ruskin asked. “I see clear as daylight now,” she wrote again, “I cannot give myself to painting in the way he means and continue to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.’”

And so to Ruskin’s great disappointment and the dismay of her family and friends, Lilias Trotter turned down his offer, for a few years giving herself to her Christian work in London. Then one day in a gathering she heard a missionary appeal on behalf of those in North Africa who had never heard the name of Christ. Deeply stirred, she heard the call, shortly thereafter sailing away to Algeria where she spent most of the rest of her life as an obscure missionary known only in Christian circles, as far as this world is concerned famous only to God.

Over the years from her base in Algiers Lilias Trotter established many missions. She also wrote and published a few devotional booklets. Parables of the Cross. Parables of the Christ-life. Many of her writings are accompanied by beautiful watercolours, for she continued to paint all her life—but not as her one great love. That was reserved for Another. Much of the inspiration both for her art and her writings came to her from nature. Another of her writings called Focussed is inspiration she received while considering, of all things, a dandelion with its face upturned to the sun. Focussed with its challenge to “turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him” became the inspiration of Helen Lemmel’s beloved hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face…”

Lilias also kept journals, to this day largely unpublished. They must be a treasure trove of wisdom and truth if the gems in now-published selections from them are any indication. It’s in these that the quotation I introduced appears again and again. Let’s look closer at it now.

He knows what He will do

I’ve transposed into the present what in Scripture is in the past: “He Himself knew what He would do.” You’ll recall where these words come from:

When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

Philip cast about in his own mind for the answer to this, and Andrew added his contribution with an observation about a lad who had five loaves and two fish. However, Jesus had not asked this because He was looking to them for suggestions.

 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. (Jn. 6:5,6)

What Philip and Andrew did, isn’t that all too often what you and I do? We look to our own so-limited resources to resolve the impossible needs about us without considering what our Lord has in mind. Not so Lilias Trotter. Somewhere along the way when faced with an overwhelming need, her Lord had revealed to her that “He Himself knew what He would do.” This became a… what shall I call it… this became a habit of mind to her in all things—a looking to Jesus, anticipating His wonderful workings.

Here now is a quotation from A Passion for the Impossible, The Life of Lilias Trotter, by Miriam Huffman Rockness:

To Lilias this meant that even when there were no outward signs of encouragement, she would keep a listening heart tuned to her Father’s voice, then faithfully do what He said. As she loved to say, “He knew what He would do.” This meant complete rejoicing when His purpose was revealed in the proving of His promises.

That’s because what He does unfailingly meets the need. Perhaps someone is thinking, “Of course Jesus knows what He will do, the problem is that I don’t know what He will do.” But if we know that He knows what He will do, this ought to entirely change our outlook. It ought to inspire in us the faith that anticipates Him doing what He will do. And so instead of labourings and strivings, connivings and schemings, frettings and worryings and wearyings… trying to figure out what do to, we cease from all that and rest confidently in Him.

And it becomes a habit of mind with you and me to trust that our Lord Jesus Christ knows what He will do. He Himself has a mind, has thoughts and plans, knows what He Himself will do in any and every situation. He wants to involve us in that. Let us cease from ourselves, then, cease from looking to our own mind, so poorly lit as it is. It’s a bad habit of mind, a pattern of thinking that can be hard to kick. Let us be persistent, then, and give ourselves to a good habit of mind—He knows what He will do. Let us dwell on this. Let us nurture our minds with this. Let us surrender all to Him, trusting Him. Fully. It is rest to us when we do this, when this is our outlook, our habit of mind. He knows what He will do. When faced with the many difficult things in life that we so deeply long to see resolved, let us look to Jesus. It is rest to do so. Rest. We may not know what to do and may not know what He is doing either, but we rest our confidence in Him, rejoicing in Him, anticipating that He knows what He will do, and, as with Philip and Andrew and the other disciples, will in due time involve us in His doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Just Jihad

We are hearing again of beheadings. Here’s another:

A group of Muslims asked [a certain priest] to share his views on Christ and Muhammad.  [The priest], fully aware that ‘showing disrespect for the Prophet’ was a capital offense, declined. But when the Muslims persisted, promising to protect him, he told them that Muhammad was one of the false prophets foretold by Jesus, and a man whose marital activity had rendered him a moral reprobate.  His questioners, deeply offended, reported him after all, and [the priest], holding to his statements, was beheaded.

You are wondering where this happened, thinking that you must have missed this one in the midst of the recent reports of beheadings in France by followers of Muhammad. But no, this happened in Andalusia (present-day Spain and Portugal) during the Islamic reign of Abd al-Rahman II (832-852). The priest’s name was Perfectus. Conflicting accounts of Muhammad’s “immoral marital activities” may be found readily enough online. But speaking against that along with calling Muhammad a false prophet cost Perfectus his head. Found guilty of blasphemy against the Prophet, he was executed in 850, beginning a time called the al-Andalus “epoch of the martyrs” during which many others, both men and women, were executed for standing true to their Christian convictions.

When news of Islamic persecutions and beheadings began making news two or three decades ago I thought this was a new thing being carried out by Islamic “radicals” with a political and moral agenda. They hated (justifiably I felt) the corruptions coming into their society from the western world, and they were seeking to deal with it.

My view—that this was a new thing—was a very ignorant one, but typical, I would say, of myopic western thinking. For one thing, and maybe I am speaking more for myself than others, what we in the West know of history is enough to have us sent to the back corner of the schoolroom with the dunce hat on our head. Further to that, though, we Christians in the West are inclined to view world events from the very short-sighted perspective of our own day. Our eschatology—our understanding of the end-times—is seen through the lens of present-day events that we are sure will bring upon us the fulfillment of prophecy—great shakings, upheaval, devastation. However, not too many years ago I made an eye-opening discovery upon reading Ted Byfield’s twelve-volume history The Christians, lent to me by a friend. Let me tell you, there’s a lot of devastation and upheaval behind us. And a lot of blood. In some of the things you read of back in the Dark Ages, “blood to the horse bridles” is not necessarily a metaphor. Yet we tend to view the four horsemen of the Apocalypse as something to be fulfilled in the future. With emphasis on the word fulfilled that is no doubt is true, but these horsemen have been riding throughout the earth for a long, long time. In past centuries there have been invading conquerors and war and famine and pestilence so severe, so overwhelming, so devastating, that with blood flowing like water, and corpses piled high on every hand, those left living were sure it was the end of the world.

Along with this history lesson, I learned also from Byfield’s The Christians (the source of my quote about Perfectus) that the Islamic jihad we hear about so often now goes back a long way too.

Islamic jihad

Jihad is an Arabic word simply meaning “struggle,” but which in the Qur’an is used with reference to the Islamic holy war with its objective of bringing all the world into submission. That is the meaning of Islam—“submission to the will of  God.” Its fundamental tenet is “There is only one God, and Muhammad is his prophet.” All the world is to submit to that. Muhammad the founder of Islam was born in Mecca about 570 and died in 632. In 610 he claimed that the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a cave near Mecca and began reciting to him messages purportedly from Allah. Many such appearances throughout the course of his life resulted in the Qur’an. During the 150 years following his death the sword of Islam brought into submission a vast area of the known world, most of which by that time was “Christian,” at least in name. More than half of what was known as Christendom was conquered—all of Arabia and Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), Palestine, north Africa and then Spain. The Muslims moved swiftly across Mediterranean north Africa conquering all before them from east to west till they reached the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where their leader charged his horse into the foaming surf brandishing his sword and crying Allahu-Akbar—God is great. He shouted into the wind that only the ocean stopped him from going further.

Further, of course, would be North America, where on September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists resumed this man’s quest, and the twin towers of the World Trade Centre came down. Hearing the news, many Muslims throughout the world shouted Allahu-Akbar, rejoicing in their victory toward the goal of Islam. It is with this continuing goal in mind that we in the West began hearing the threat, “We are coming—soon—to a neighbourhood near you.”

Islam appeared unstoppable back in the Dark Ages. They had such easy successes that they felt invincible; surely Allah was with them. From North Africa they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 into what is present-day Spain, and within a few years were largely in control of the Iberian Peninsula. From there they looked north beyond the Pyrenees into Europe. There they were stopped in their tracks. Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer) stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe at the battle of Tours in southern France in 732, a victory that determined the course of western civilization.

My personal conviction is that God allowed the Muslims to conquer most of Christendom back then because it had fallen into great apostasy. I am not alone in my conviction; here is a quote from The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent: “Mohammedanism was a judgement on idolatry, whether pagan or Christian.” Indeed, true Christianity was then for the most part unrecognizable in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. The “Christians” were continually fighting with one another—not just with words, with weapons. Rome and Constantinople (now Istanbul) were chronically at war; all their resources were exhausted in their conflicts with one another. As a result they were easy prey for their new enemy. And Rome and  Constantinople were just the two major players; there was infighting among countless other factions. I noticed over and over in Byfield’s history that the writers attributed Islamic victories to the fact that the armies of “Christian” states and kingdoms were perpetually at one another’s throats.

…Hello? Is it any wonder that Islam, according to several online sources, is the fastest growing religion in our day? Is not Christianity in a state of apostasy in our day as well? Are not we Christians hopelessly divided one from another? Apparently there are something like 30,000 registered denominations in the western world alone. What a grief that is. And we wonder why we are so weak in the face of the foe. It appears that “divide and conquer” is a tactic our Adversary the Devil continues to use very successfully. Not that we in our day resort to the sword like our primitive forebears, of course. We are more civilized now.

“Christian” jihad

Finally the 11th–century Christians did unite to deal with Islam. Warring factions forgot their differences under a new banner—the Crusades. The first of the Crusaders left Europe for Palestine in 1096 to “liberate” Jerusalem from the Muslims who held it, knowing of course that there was much spoil to be gained in the bargain. After a three-year journey and a five-week siege they sacked Jerusalem in 1099 and literally annihilated its population of Muslims and Jews, holding Jerusalem till 1187 when Saladin retook Jerusalem. It is all a sad and sickening story drenched in blood. I felt deeply ashamed to read that “Christians” had done such a thing. In fact I couldn’t continue reading that volume. I had to set it aside. But as Byfield himself states in his preface, the Crusades were not unprovoked—a teaching much in vogue these days; we’re taught now  that malevolent Christian forces entered Palestine bent on regaining Jerusalem even if it meant destroying innocent peace-loving Muslims. Not so. The Crusades were provoked by the earlier Islamic invasions.

That does not by any stretch justify the Crusades—a “Christian” kind of jihad. The Crusader’s sword bathed Palestine in Muslim blood, and Jewish blood as well, all in the name of Jesus Christ, supposedly. No wonder His Name is blasphemed among those peoples to this day. Jews and Muslims have never forgotten this. In fact I saw in one news report an ISIS leader labelling the western powers they are fighting against “Crusaders.”

They are certain they are just in doing so; they are echoing Saladin when they do so. In regaining Jerusalem from the Crusaders, Saladin was embracing the updated definition of jihad—just war, coined that by a contemporary, Islamic legal scholar al-Sulami in his work The Book of Holy War.

The “Christian” Crusaders—from the Latin crux, cross—they too had proclaimed themselves just in going forth under the banner of the cross to liberate Palestine from the Muslims.

What a grief of heart it all is.

The only just jihad

What kind of beast it is that rages about devouring men and women and beheading innocent children I know not, but I know its origin. This also I know. This beast cannot be stopped by all the military might of the world. It cannot be defeated by carnal weapons of any kind. The only One capable of permanently stopping such a beast is…  a Lamb.

These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and they who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14).

Ultimately only one Warrior is able to defeat Islam—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Lamb of God, leading His armies clothed in white who go forth under His banner with His secret weapon—the Cross. As someone has said, when the Devil finally brought onto the field the greatest weapon in his arsenal—death—the Lord met him with His—dying. Do we know this, dear brothers and sisters? Then let us take up our own cross and join Him in that dying. Let us be numbered among those who are with Him, so that our world may come to know fully the outcome of that Great Battle, and share in its spoils. Who are those who are with Him? The called, and chosen, and faithful. The first two we leave to Him. The third is our part.

Let us be faithful, then, even though—it is with a great cry of sorrow on my heart that am writing this, as there was on the heart of the man of God who, having been part of a great move of the Spirit himself, wrote toward the end of his life—“It seems that no revival or move of the Spirit ever has or ever will accomplish the Herculean task of breaking the denominational hold” (G.W. North, 1913-2003). This breaks my heart. Especially the words ever will. Because prophetic Scripture reveals an army of faithful soldiers who are one with one another and with their leader the Lamb of God; they are going forth together with Him to certain victory. Let us be in that army brothers and sisters. Now. Let us not be intimidated by past failure. Let it not discourage us. Let us who love the Lamb of God and His cause hear Him sounding the Trumpet of war and, with broken yet valiant heart forsaking all—including the denominationalism that divides us one from another—put on the armour of light and take up our cross and go forth under His banner certain of victory and singing His song. His war is the only just jihad, the only just war. His objective is world conquest. Victory is certain.

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself.
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:11-16 NKJV)

There it is, brothers and sisters, fellow soldiers in Christ. In righteousness He judges and makes war. This has absolutely nothing whatever to do with spilling by sword or bullet or bomb the blood of human beings for whom Christ died. He rides forth with His armies to deal finally and forever with all evil, not with carnal weaponry, not with earthly weaponry, but “with the sword of His mouth.” And so, surely we know that those who fight with carnal weaponry have no part in His war. That is not how He accomplished the triumph of Calvary. He triumphed over all evil… at Calvary. Now He rides forth in a robe dipped in blood—His own. What a dread thought. He goes forth with the armies of Heaven to wreak upon an unbelieving world the victory and judgment of Calvary. He is making wondrous incursions among His former enemies these days; we hear more and more, and it is wonderful to hear, that many from Islamic countries are turning from darkness to light and are joining the Lamb in His just jihad even though it cost them all to do so—family and friends, living and live itself. Does this not provoke you and I to jealousy and inspire us to do the same? Let’s go forth to the battle singing the victory song. We will yet be able to sing this song right through to the end, yes, even the third verse of it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2kbZQtYUzw

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Refrain
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.

 

 

 

The True Shophar

 

There are no words to describe the overwhelming need for the sound of the shophar in this hour. Heaven must hear it. The earth must hear it. Must hear the voice of the true shophar of God.

What do we mean by the true shophar? Let’s start with some background. The apostle Paul called Israel under the law (the Sinai covenant) children. “Even so we when we were children…” (Gal. 4:3). It may well be said, then, that the old covenant was a picture book for children. Do we grasp this? The old covenant is filled with pictures—types and shadows, representations of reality. God gave these to His children anticipating the day when He would reveal to them the reality that inspired the pictures. This is one of the themes of the new covenant book of Hebrews.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. (Heb. 10:1)

The law, then, contained shadows of good things to come, and not the very image of those things. In The True Worshippers I enlarged on this, showing that the Scriptures speak of these shadows as “figures of the true” (Heb. 9:24). That is, figures of the reality that cast the shadows. It is vitally important to understand this usage of the word true in Scripture; it is contrasted not only with false but also with type and shadow. We read that Christ the new covenant high priest is a “minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Heb. 8:2). In other words the tabernacle of Moses, central to the worship of the old covenant people of God, was not the true tabernacle; it was but a figure of the true. This is not saying that it was false; God Himself had ordained it, but He ordained it only as a type, a shadow—and only for a time—till in His appointed time the True Tabernacle should come on the scene.

We also read of the true bread and the true vine. These also have their corresponding contrast not only with that which is false, but also with that which is type and shadow. Christ Himself is the image, the body, that cast those shadows (Col. 2:16,17).

It’s in this sense that we must understand the significance of the old covenant shophar. That instrument was but a shadow of a spiritual reality.

Let’s see first what the Picture Book has to show us about shophars.

The Old Testament Hebrew has two words translated trumpet in the King James Version. The first is chatsotserah, which appears 29 times. Here is its first instance:

Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps. (Num. 10:2)

If the priests blew with but one trumpet the leaders were to gather to the tent of meeting; if with two, all the camp was to gather (Num. 10:3,4). And when the cloud over the camp lifted and moved on, the trumpets signaled the order in which the tribes encamped around the tabernacle were to follow (Num. 10:5,6).

The silver trumpets were also used to alert the Lord of His people’s need for His help against their enemies.

And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. (Num. 10:9)

That’s interesting, isn’t it. The trumpets were also for God to hear.

They were also sounded, once again for God’s ears, “in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God” (Num.10:10). Let us take special note of this. The trumpets in the mouths of the anointed priests were to provide as it were a consciousness of God, an awareness of His remembering that His people were offering these offerings before Him, that is, in His presence, before His face.

The other Hebrew word for trumpet is shophar, which appears 72 times, the first of which is at Sinai when along with thunders and lightnings the “voice of the trumpet [shophar] sounded “exceeding loud, so that all the people that was in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16).

No doubt it was an angel who sounded the shophar that caused the people to tremble; we read later that it was blown by the priests at Jericho, where it brought the walls down around their trembling enemies:

And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets [shophars] of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. (Josh. 6:4)

It’s here we discover the shophar was made of a ram’s horn.

The shophar was vital to victory. It was shophars that Gideon’s three hundred were armed with (Jud. 7:16). And Nehemiah had by his side one who was ready to “sound the trumpet [shophar]” if they were suddenly attacked when the wall was being rebuilt (Neh. 4:18).

The shophar had other uses as well. It was sounded on the day of atonement to proclaim the Jubilee (Ex. 25:9). It was blown when Solomon was anointed king (1 Ki. 1:39). It was blown in God’s appointed times—the new moon or solemn feast days (Ps. 81:3). It was used along with the silver trumpets, as when David and all Israel brought back the ark:

Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the cornet [shophar], and with trumpets [chatsotserah], and with cymbals, making a noise with psalteries and harps. (1 Chr. 15:28)

All these instances were types, shadows, that were prophetic of a spiritual reality to come.

Moving from type to true

I say prophetic of a spiritual reality yet to come, and it’s Christ and the new covenant I have in mind, but even in the Old Testament of our Bible we discover that the transition to that reality had begun to take place. It was the voices of the prophets that became the shophars of God.

Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet [shophar], and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. (Isa. 58:1)

What then is a real shophar, a true shophar? “Lift up thy voice like a shophar…”

And this from Jeremiah:

Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet [shophar]. But they said, We will not hearken. (Jer. 6:17)

God is saying that the voice of the watchmen He set over His people was “the sound of the shophar.”

God had also made Ezekiel a watchman with the voice of a shophar. God told him he was to “blow the shophar” to warn the people when because of their iniquities He was sending the sword of their enemies against them. The one who hearkened would “deliver his soul,” the one who did not, the sword would “take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.” Furthermore, if the watchman did not blow the shophar of warning, the blood of those who were slain, said God, “will I require at the watchman’s hand.” (See Ezekiel 33:1-7.)

Again, just what specifically did God mean by the watchman blowing the shophar?

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. (Ezek. 33:1-7).

How clear that is. The watchman’s warning—the voice of the shophar—is a word he speaks from the mouth of God Himself, a word that brings nigh the very Presence and consciousness of God Himself. No wonder all the trembling, then, at the voice of the shophar. God is nigh; it’s this that He intends the voice of the shophar to convey.

So I must say something that needs to be said. We can blow the ram’s horn till we’re blue in the face and out of breath. With what result? Being blue of face and out of breath. That’s all. For God does not hear that kind of shophar, nor is He brought nigh in it. I realize that we’re living in a time when it’s very difficult for many to accept this, and some will no doubt be offended by it. That is lamentable.

So now my two-fold plea.

Oh for teachers that will teach God’s people that the new covenant involves us, not in types and shadows, but in a realm of spiritual reality called truth.

And oh, new covenant family of God, whether Jew or Gentile, let us be no longer children. Joel prophesied, “Blow ye the trumpet [shophar] in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand…” If there was ever a shophar blown, it is that—Joel’s prophecy. And Isaiah’s. He cried, “Hear O heavens, and give ear O earth…” That too is the voice of the shophar. The true shophar. The shophar of God. Do we want the heavens to hear our cry in this desperate hour, and the earth around us? Then let us cry to God to make shophars of us, that we may lift up our voice to Him like a shophar—that anointed voice propelled by the Breath of the Spirit of God from deep within, whether in prayer to God or prophecy to men. Be sure that God will hear this kind of shophar. And so will those around us, and tremble at His Presence.

 

Realized Eschatology

I know how you feel, the first time I read those formidable words I needed aspirin too. But be of good cheer, I soon discovered that I didn’t need to be a theologian to understand this. In fact if we walk by faith and not by sight we ourselves are involved in realized eschatology. I’ll explain what it means in a moment, but first, let’s read a helpful insight by Bible scholar F.F. Bruce (1910-1990). He is commenting on the heroes of faith in Hebrews Chapter 11:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 ASV). Our author might well have proceeded from Ch.10:39 to the exhortation, “Therefore… let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Ch. 12:1) but first he encourages his readers further by reminding them of examples of faith in earlier days. In Old Testament times, he points out, there were many men and women who had  nothing but the promises of God to rest upon, without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled, yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking. It is, he says, the hypostasis of things that are hoped for…. That is to say, things which in themselves have no existence as yet become real and substantial by the exercise of faith. (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1964, pgs 277,278)

Now for our definition of realized eschatology, and it’s actually quite simple. Eschatology is built from two Greek words in the same way zoology, psychology, and archaeology are built. The suffix logos, meaning originally word, has in English come to imply study. The prefix eschatos means last or final, as in “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1). So eschatology involves the study of end times, and because “we know in part,” it has produced endless debate over things like the rapture and the tribulation and the second coming and what has been called the millennial kingdom. (We’re not getting into any of that here.)

In general usage realize means to understand something. “I realize that, I understand.” But in realized eschatology it means made real. And obviously there comes a time when eschatological things are no longer in the future, God is faithful, God is true, and so they have finally arrived, they are at last fulfilled, made real. But does this mean that these things are held in abeyance till their time arrives? Not for those who by faith realize them now. In the above quote F.F. Bruce wrote, “The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future, but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith.”

That is the essence of realized eschatology, and it answers a question that was to me for years a great perplexity—why the inspired writers of the New Testament often speak of a present possession as something yet to come. If I have eternal life now, why is it yet to come? If the kingdom is here now, why is it yet to come? It’s a matter of realized eschatology—by faith living now in the good of the great salvation yet to come. It means walking now in what God has promised down the road. Yes, their wonderful fulfillment is yet future, but they may be realized even now by those whose love for God and faith in Him lays hold of His promises; we are so sure of Him who promised that we walk in the good of the promises before their fulfillment has arrived.

I am borrowing from F.F. Bruce when I use those words. Commenting on Abraham’s faith he wrote, “To Abraham the promise of God was as substantial as its realization. He lived thereafter in the good of that promise.” (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, pg 296)

Now let’s look at another comment on realized eschatology by  F.F. Bruce. (I think you may be realizing that I quite like him.) I’ll quote the Scripture he is referring to first.

Giving thanks to the Father who did make us meet for the participation of the inheritance of the saints in the light, who did rescue us out of the authority of the darkness, and did translate us into the reign of the Son of His love” (Col 1:12,13 YLT).

…When he affirms that believers have already been brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, Paul gives us an example of truly realized eschatology. That which in its fullness lies ahead of them has already become true in them. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). The fact that God has begun a good work in them is the guarantee that it will be brought to fruition in the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil 1:6). By an anticipation which is a real experience and not a legal fiction they have received here and now the glory that is yet to be revealed. “The inheritance of the saints in the light” has not yet been manifested in its infinite wealth, but the divine act by which believers have been rendered meet for it has already taken place. The divine kingdom has this two-fold aspect through the New Testament. It has already broken into this world by the work of Christ (cf. Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20); it will break in one day in the plenitude of glory which invests Christ’s parousia. Those who look forward to an abundant entrance in resurrection into that heavenly realm which “flesh and blood” (the present mortal body) cannot inherit (1 Cor. 15:50) are assured at the same time that this realm is already theirs. (F.F. Bruce, Ephesians and Colossians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, 1957, pg 189)

I love the way Bruce expresses that our being transferred “into the kingdom of the Son of His love” is “not a legal fiction.” It is not merely a standing. It is a state, a reality, a fact, not a fiction, that we are now in that kingdom which is yet to come in its plenitude.

And so… realized eschatology. Doesn’t this give us an insight into the heart of God and His divine “impatience” (if I dare use that word)—He just can’t wait—to see that those who love Him and desire by faith to please Him enjoy even now in this present evil world the riches of His glory that has not yet arrived?

Facets of realized eschatology

This truth—that things to come, end things, eschatological things, may be realized even now by faith—shines throughout Scripture in many beautiful facets of the Jewel Christ Jesus. Here are a few of those facets, which I will just touch on and leave for you to explore further.

  • Our salvation

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:27,28).

Our Salvation, then, is yet to appear. But He has also appeared:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Tim. 1:8-10 NKJV).

Notice that: “…who has saved us…” A present possession. And so we are saved, yet await the coming of our Salvation.

It is a very great salvation, and we are its heirs, as we read in Hebrews 1:14. “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?”

Again from Bruce: “The salvation here spoken of [in Heb. 1:14] lies in the future; it is yet to be inherited, even if its blessings can already be enjoyed in anticipation. That is to say, it is that eschatological salvation which, in Paul’s words, is now ‘nearer to us than when we (first) believed’ (Rom. 13:11) or, in Peter’s words, is ‘ready to be revealed in the last time’ (1 Pt. 1:5).” (F.F. Bruce, Hebrews, pg 25)

  • The life to come

“For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). By “the life to come” he means the eternal life for which we wait with great expectation.

But even now those who believe have eternal life. John 3:16 you will know by heart. Here’s another. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13).

  • The resurrection

The “life to come” is resurrection life. But in order to participate in this last-day resurrection we must first be realizing eternal life in our mortal bodies. For Jesus said, “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last [eschatos] day” (Jn. 6:54). (It is a spiritual reality—the bread and drink of life—that Jesus has in mind when He talks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. See John 6:62,63).

Yet God has provision for us to walk in resurrection life before that great day. Martha told Jesus that she knew her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last [eschatos] day” (Jn. 11:24). That was good theology. Yet Jesus’ response was, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

This of course is the mainstay of the Christian life and walk that we read of so often in the epistles of Paul, that “in Christ” we realize resurrection life before the day of resurrection. Baptized into Christ we are made alive together with Christ, and are raised together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies… (See Eph. 2:4-10, Col. 2:11,12, Rom 6:1-4).

  • The kingdom of God

“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:18). So that kingdom is yet ahead.

But the kingdom of God that is yet to come is at the same time now present. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Here Paul speaks of that kingdom as a present reality. Jesus speaks of it as present and growing to fullness in the earth (Mk 4:26-29.

Yet its fullness is utterly beyond the capacity of a body of flesh and blood. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:50). Along with those in the grave, our present bodies must be changed, and will be changed “at the last trump” so that in glorified bodies we are enabled to inherit and enjoy the fullness of the kingdom of God.

  • The adoption

Similarly, the fullness of the adoption, the “son-placing” awaits the redemption of the body from its bondage to corruption. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.  And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22,23).

Even so, we who have received the Spirit of God’s son realize the adoption now. God is even now our own Father. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).

  • The regeneration

Jesus speaks in Matthew 19:28 of “the regeneration.” This has in view the new creation; a regeneration has taken place, and the whole creation (the universe) has been released from its bondage to corruption. It is a promise long standing. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come to mind” (Isa. 65:17).

But—how amazing is this—“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). And so we who are born from above realize regeneration even now, although it has not reached our mortal bodies. That is yet to come. (See Titus 3:5 and John 3:3-8.)

  • The City of God

It is a city which is yet to come. “For here have we no continuing [abiding, lasting] city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14).

Yes, but we have come to the City which is yet to come. “But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Heb. 12:22). Even now, then, we may walk the golden street of this City, and drink of the pure stream of the water of Life and eat of the fruit of the tree of Life.

  • The marriage of the Lamb

This City is a Bride whose marriage is yet to come. And “blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-9). That day is coming!

O day of wondrous promise!
The Bridegroom and the Bride
Are seen in glory ever;
And love is satisfied.

Yet that union is realized even now in those who are “married to Another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4).

Oh what wonders. It is all just too much. Wonders yet to come. The same wonders now realized in those who walk by faith.

And this I say—that only those who seek to realize now by faith what is yet to come will enjoy these wonders when the hour comes that they are fulfilled.

That hour surely comes, the hour of fulfillment comes. And love is satisfied, and the Christ of glory who is the origin in whom and from whom all the facets of truth shine forth, He who is the source and sum of all the promises, He whom our soul loveth… we see Him face to face. And are joined with Him in everlasting union to become together the revelation of the glory of God.

Yet—let us never get used to this grace of graces—He whom we see not yet has by His Spirit come to us so that even now we may realize that joining, that companionship, that friendship, that fellowship with Him in which we delight and He delights as much as we do. He loves being with us. Here and now. Daily, day upon day. Till the end of the age. Really, what more could one wish?

Well, yes, I know. But let it be with us as William Gurnall wrote of a dying saint, “He was going to change his place but not his company.”

 

From When To If

If my title has given you hope that this might be a welcome diversion from the many troubles of the day, I am pleased to tell you that this is much more than that. This is about a transition that ultimately is God’s answer to all the troubles of the day, which spiritual detective work uncovers to be the doing of that one little three-letter culprit sin.

Multitudes in our world about us have dismissed the very concept of sin. Christians on the other hand acknowledge sin and are thankful that God in Christ has forgiven them their sins. Yet sin is so much with us that they are sure we can never really be rid of it till we die. I don’t think I could count the number of times I’ve heard Bible believing Christians confidently assuring me (and themselves at the same time, I suspect) that as long as we are in mortal flesh we will always sin. In the minds of so many it’s incredulous, presumptuous, even blasphemous, to maintain otherwise.

But what does our Bible actually say, fellow Bible believer? To insist on this completely misses the fundamental difference between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant, which God did away with because there was something it could not do.

Let’s look first at a verse from the Old Testament, which, with additions over the centuries, was the Bible of the Old Covenant people of God. This verse is part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple he built when the Old Covenant was still in effect.

When they sin… 

When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to a land far or near… (2 Chr. 6:36 NKJV)

That’s all we need to read for what we are considering. Here is that same fragment from Young’s Literal Translation:

When they sin against Thee–for there is not a man who sinneth not—and Thou hast been angry with them, and hast given them before an enemy, and taken them captive have their captors, unto a land far off or near… (2 Chr. 6:36 YLT)

Do you see what this is saying? “When they sin against You…” Some of our English versions (including the old King James Version) have if here, but a check into the Hebrew original reveals that when is the correct translation. The context itself requires when, because Solomon immediately adds, “for there is no one who does not sin.” In other words, it’s inevitable that the people under that covenant would at some point sin against God. It’s because the Old Covenant had no provision to do away with indwelling sin.

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. (Heb. 10:3)

That stands to reason, doesn’t it. To actually take away sins would require a better sacrifice than the blood of an animal.

Now this from the New Testament, and you will see immediately the significance of the title.

If anyone sins…

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.  (1 Jn. 2:1,2 NKJV)

Again, the same passage from Young’s Literal Translation.

My little children, these things I write to you, that ye may not sin: and if any one may sin, an advocate we have with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one, and he–he is a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world…  (1 Jn. 2:1,2 YLT)

If anyone sins…” So we are not in the days of when anymore. Solomon if he were with us today could not say “there is no one who does not sin” for there is provision in the New Covenant that was not there in the Old. Now it is not when. If. And here the context itself requires if. John has just said that what he has written is “so that you may not sin.” What a marvel, how can this be? What is it that John has written? He has written of God’s provision for the walk free of sin—walking in fellowship with Him in the light in which is the continual cleansing of the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:5). What marvellous light. That’s what Peter calls it. “Marvellous light” (1 Pt. 2:9). It is new-covenant light. Under the New Covenant it is not a matter of when one will sin; those who are in covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ are able to walk free of sin all their days, though yet in mortal flesh.

In addition to the Scriptures in 1 John, many other New Testament passages bear witness to this provision—that because of what Christ accomplished on the cross in putting away sin “by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26), and making that accomplishment ours by baptizing us into Himself, sinning is no longer inevitable.

 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:1-4 NKJV)

For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:10,11 NKJV)

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Rom. 6:18 NKJV)

I’ve just quoted excerpts here; please read that whole chapter carefully and prayerfully—and believingly—as well as the following one and the chapter between them (Romans 7).

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1-4 NKJV)

Walking according to the Spirit—this is just what John is thinking of with his words about walking in the light. This is God’s new-covenant provision to walk the sin-free walk.

There are many other passages as well. Yet, as I said, I don’t know how many times I have heard Christians who love their Bibles say that as long as we are in mortal flesh we will surely sin, we’ll only be free of sin when we die and go to Heaven. If that is so, the death of Adam is more powerful than the death of Christ. And if that is so, the New Covenant is no better than the Old, and Christ died in vain.

He did not die in vain. The New Covenant is better than the Old.

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… (Heb. 8:6-8 KJV)

Please read that whole chapter as well. Oh, read, read your Bible, and the Holy Spirit helping you, believe what you are reading. God has done away with the Old Covenant, and brought in a New Covenant with provision—the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus—enabling one to live without sinning. What a wonder. It is not necessary to sin. It is not inevitable.

But it is possible to sin, for we continue to be moral beings with the ability to choose, and we live in a world that is arrayed against the righteous. This means temptation, and therefore the possibility of sinning. But if one does happen to sin, God also has provision for this. We have an Advocate before Him who is Himself the propitiation—very, very briefly, the penalty payer—for our sins; therefore God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Note this, not only faithful, but faithful and just because of that propitiation—He would actually be (perish the thought) unrighteous not to do so—to forgive and to cleanse so that we may be restored to fellowship with Him and continue our course in His new-covenant light.

Wonderful provision… if it is necessary. How tragic, then, how worthy of great lamentation, that the greatest transition that has ever taken place in the history of man continues to be questioned, even denied, by so many believers. Let it no longer be so with us, beloved. Let us be stirred, awakened, to a fuller faith that is grounded upon the word of God. Let us become more fully believers in Jesus, believers who know that the weakness of mortal flesh is not too strong a hindrance for those in new-covenant relationship with God, those who, abiding in Christ, walk in the Spirit, walk in the light, walk free of sin, “walk even as He walked” (1 Jn. 1:6).

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A note anticipating a question about 1 Jn. 3:9, which in the King James Version is,  “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” This cannot be saying that it is morally impossible for a born again person to sin, for this would put the born again beyond the Son of God Himself, who certainly could have sinned. For we are told that He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). If Jesus was not beyond temptation, He was certainly not beyond being able to sin. Yet He did not sin. Thank you, Jesus. Further to that, the Greek tenses in 1 Jn. 3:9 make clear that this is not stating that it is impossible for a born again person to commit a sin. The sense of the verbs is that sinning is not a continual practice, is not “hard wired” in them, as it was before they were born again. Here is 1 Jn. 3:9 in the English Standard Version: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” And so the born again are by the grace of God put on the same footing as the Son of God. They are free of sin. Yet they may be tempted. And since they may be tempted, they may sin. But if they sin…

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