Category Archives: The Gospel

Present Truth

The apostle Peter in his second epistle commends those to whom he was writing, acknowledging that they already knew the things he was writing about, and were “established in the present truth” (1:12). Even so, he wanted them to be able to have these things—this present truth—in remembrance. Thus, and very thankfully, we have his two epistles.

What is present truth? Perhaps we ourselves need to be reminded lest what was once truth present with us is now only a distant past we have forgotten. Or, perhaps we have put off into the future what is already present truth, and is therefore to be embraced by faith, and walked in now.

Peter has much on his heart this matter of spiritual memory, aware that living truth must be spiritually maintained, continually refreshed to the mind. And so he writes to “put you always in remembrance of these things” (2 Pt. 2:12). He writes to “stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (1:13). He is aware that very shortly he is about to put off his tabernacle for a permanent dwelling place, and wants those among whom he ministered “to have these things in remembrance” (1:15) after he is gone. In Chapter 3 he uses the same words as in 1:13, saying that in both of his epistles his intention has been to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Pt. 3:1).

And so in his second epistle he lays out for his readers how the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is supplied to them. It involves an ever-increasing growth in spiritual virtues beginning with faith—mark that: beginning with faith—and culminating in love, all of which will involve them, he says, “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is just after this that Peter writes the words we’re focusing on:

Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.

(Do you catch in this the fragrance of the great humility of this great man? “You’re already well established in these things; I’m just refreshing what you already know.”)

Present here is a Greek word which transliterated is parousei. It is an adjective, a qualifier. What kind of truth? Present truth. The Strong’s definition is “to be near, at hand.” That is, present.

The same word stem is found a little further on when Peter speaks of “the power and coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pt. 1:16). Strong’s defines parousia as “a being near, that is, advent.” In the King James Version it is translated coming, or presence. In 2 Pt. 3:4 and 3:12, and in several other places in our New Testament, it refers to Christ’s second coming. But the word is also used of the coming of disciples who had not formerly been present, and had now arrived (1 Cor. 16:17, 2 Cor. 7:6). It also means simply presence. “His bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10).

Present truth is truth that has arrived and is now here.

Vincent’s Word Studies points out that the phrase in 2 Peter 1:12 is also found in Colossians where Paul thanks God for their faith and love, and also “for the hope that is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you…” (Col 1:6). Or, as Vincent has it, “is present unto you. Has come, and is present.” Come is the Greek parantos, which has the same word stem as parousei in 2 Pt. 1:12.

So there it is. What is present truth? The word of the truth of the Gospel.

There was a time when this truth of the Gospel was not present. It was prophesied of by prophets who longed to see, but did not, “the things that are now reported unto you…” (1 Pt. 1:10-12). It was “kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest…” (Rom. 16:25). It was “hid in God” (Eph. 3:9)—the Good News of a very great salvation that would embrace both Jews and Gentiles in “the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed…” (Eph. 3:4,5).

That is present truth—the now of the wondrous Gospel of Christ.

With this in mind, let’s look at another place where the word present appears in Peter’s second epistle, and we have already alluded to it. It’s back in verse 9, where Peter has said, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins (2 Pt 1:9). According to Vincent’s Word Studies again, he “that lacketh these things” is he to whom these things are not present.” Present is the Greek parestin, which has the same word stem as the adjective in verse 12.

And so, the present truth for which Peter commended his readers is not present with the one who has forgotten the purifying from his old, his former sins. There is a lingering darkness in the conscience, the result of which is the stunted development of all the beautiful graces Peter mentioned. The one with whom these things are not present is blind and short-sighted—and forgetful. He has forgotten the foundational truth of the Gospel—that he was “purged from his old sins.”

Peter, tender and loving shepherd that he is, is doing some reminding here; this has been the object of his epistle. He is calling the flock of God, those who have obtained the same precious faith he himself had obtained, to remember that their sins are not with them anymore; they are old history.

When did this happen? It was the work of Christ at Calvary, who:

…When He had by Himself purged our sins sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb. 1:3).

How, then, was this wondrous work of Calvary effected in the lives of those Peter wrote to? It was simply, or shall I say purely, because they had “received like precious faith with us through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pt. 1:1).

Peter in his first epistle marks this same truth concerning Christ and those who receive and believe Him:

Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness, by whose stripe ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but have now returned unto the Shepherd and bishop of your souls (1 Pt. 2:24,25).

Note the before/after in these verses.  Note the now. You were as sheep going astray. Now you have returned unto the Shepherd and bishop of your souls. You were once sick with the mortal sickness of sin. He Himself in His own body bore the stripe that slew, and healed, that sickness. The result is that now you are dead to sins. That is present truth. Now you live unto righteousness. That is present truth.

That is the Gospel, and when received, when believed… God imparts to the believing ones His Spirit bearing witness to Christ and His completed Calvary work, thus purifying their hearts by faith (those are Peter’s words in Acts 15:8,9). And, hearts now no longer in darkness, hearts now wide open to the healing rays of the Sun of righteousness, begin to bring forth unto God the beautiful fruit of the Gospel.

It is tragic when the wondrous present truth of the Gospel has been forgotten, even more tragic when it is entirely relegated to the future, and the saints are taught that they can never be completely purged, cleansed, of sin as long as we poor mortals continue to dwell in houses of clay. No. That is not so. This cleansing is for here and now. One who believes the Gospel does not await Heaven for this cleansing, nor even a mighty move of the Spirit in the future—although we anticipate such things and know that many in darkness shall yet be brought into the present truth. Even so, for those who now believe, it is present truth now. It is present truth to be embraced by faith, and walked in… and built upon, and enlarged, and added to, from faith to virtue to knowledge to temperance to patience to godliness to brotherly kindness to love. It is present truth that means growing and abundant fruitfulness, and the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

Now The Good News

First the bad news: we wrote about that last time.  Now the Good News.  That is God’s order, which we see in the way He sets forth the day in Genesis.  First evening, then morning.  First darkness, then light.

The dimensions of the Good News are greater than the universe, so I am acutely conscious of the smallness of this blog entry.  But simply put, the Good News is light shining in the darkness—light that opens the eyes of the spiritually blind.  If it is just words (and oh, we have so much that is just words), people’s eyes will not be opened to see their grave condition.  Make no mistake: the bad news of man’s spiritual state is very bad news; any thought people have that things are not all that bad is a serious deception with serious consequences.  And people cannot be talked out of their blindness; their eyes must be opened so they may see and be convicted, and come to repentance, and turn from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18).

Here again is that passage in Ephesians we enlarged on last time, and notice again how Paul sets forth the bad news in the past tense.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3).

Why the past tense?  It’s because the people to whom Paul is writing are “saints… the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1).  They are no longer in Adam, but are now, joy of joys, in Christ.  And so he says that they were dead in trespasses and sins.  Now they are alive with the life of Christ.  Further, in the past they walked according to the age of this world and the spirit that has authority over the children of the disobedience.  They walk this way no longer.  They are no longer within that spirit’s domain.  They are not under his authority now.  They once had their conduct in the lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.  Not anymore.  They are no longer children of wrath.

What made this possible?  Paul hastens on to tell us.  He had introduced this passage with the words, “And you…”  Now come the words, “But God…”

But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace are ye saved);
And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus;
That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Following the bad news that Paul has first opened our eyes to, this is good news, exceeding good news!  It is mind blowing, in fact, stretching beyond its limits our capacity to comprehend it all.  I read this and other passages, and… am I dreaming?  Can this be true?  Can mortal eyes actually be reading this?  You mean those in Christ are no longer in the domain of sin and death? They are in another kingdom now, where grace and life reign?  Is that not a wonder?  Is that not astonishing good news?  Yes!  And cause for great joy!

Yet those words, “for His great love wherewith He loved us,” were written, I am sure, with tears, and we must go to other scriptures to find out more fully what this love involved.  If those to whom Paul was writing had been quickened together with Christ, and raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies, it was because through faith in Jesus and baptism into Christ they had become partakers of what God accomplished on the Cross of Calvary, where Christ was baptized into the death that Adam in his disobedience had brought upon himself and all his progeny. Since all those in Adam were dead in sin, Christ died to sin, so that all who are baptized into Him might be dead to sin and live unto God, unto righteousness (Rom. 6:1-11, 2 Pt. 2:24).  He who knew no sin—shoes off, please—was made sin for us, that we might become nothing less than the very righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

Back to the Ephesian passage: let’s continue to pay attention to some tenses, and the reason we are doing this is because all too often much of this is relegated to the future or to Heaven.  Not so.  Those to whom Paul was writing, those in Christ, were quickened (at a past point in time) together with Christ.  They were raised together with Him.  This is also the past tense.  When did this happen?  It happened when they were baptized into Christ.  (It is baptism in Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, not baptism in water, which is also necessary.  But this is a topic too large; it will have to wait for another time.)  Baptized into Christ they are no longer in Adam now.  They are in Christ; it is His resurrection life they are now partakers of.  Walking with Christ in resurrection life is the present reality of those in Christ (Rom. 6:4).  Further, they are even now seated together with Christ in the heavenlies.  This also took place in their baptism into Christ, since this is where He Himself is seated at the right hand of God.  Then comes the future, and what a future it is.  “…That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  It appears that it takes eternal life in the ages to come to explore this great salvation that is in Christ.

And so when Paul now pens everybody’s favourite verse, let us bear in mind what he has in mind—the immense dimensions of the salvation he has just been speaking of:

For, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.
Not of works lest any man should boast.

This is Good News—the salvation that God has freely prepared in Christ for any who are willing to receive Him.  Salvation by grace through faith is the wondrous gift of God in Christ.  (For salvation is not a product we receive apart from Christ Himself.)  And yes, His grace means the forgiveness of sins because of His death.  But much more, grace also means salvation from sin’s power in the life of an entirely new creation Man who is no longer under the reign of death.  They have “passed from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).  They have eternal life—even now (1 Jn. 5:13).  In due time this eternal life will catch up to their bodies (Rom. 8:23), but even while yet in mortal flesh, those in Christ have eternal life, and even now reign in the power of that life (Rom. 5:17).

What Does This Look Like?

 If this is the present reality of those in Christ—being made alive together with Christ, being raised up with Him, being seated with Him in the heavenlies—what does this look like?  What does reigning in life look like while we are yet in mortal flesh?

It looks like love.  Love is the primal characteristic of those who live, those in whom death no longer reigns.

We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.  He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him (1 Jn. 3:14,15).

Eternal life, then, reigning life, finds its expression in love.  In its many facets of patience, endurance, faith, forbearance, forgiveness, humility, obedience… love is revealed, reigning where sin and death once reigned, ruling where pride once ruled.  I think you may see where I’m coming from here, and where I’m going.  Remember (from last time) the route that Lucifer mapped out for himself?

I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.  (Isa. 14:13,14)

Christ took a different route.  He thought it not rapine—a thing to be taken and held by force—to be equal with God (Phil. 2:5-8).  Rather, He emptied Himself, becoming in the likeness of men.  No, not famous men, not rich men, not high men.  He took on Him the form of a bondslave.  And being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself even further, and became obedient unto death.  No, not a noble death, not a hero’s death.  The death of a despised criminal.  The lowest of the low.  The death of a cross.

That is a different pathway than the one Lucifer sought to take, and into which he invited Adam to turn and walk with him, to the ruin of the race.  Christ’s pathway was in the opposite direction—His motive was love—to the salvation of a new race.  Being found in fashion as a man, instead of seeking the heights, instead of seeking to ascend into heaven, instead of seeking to sit in a throne above the stars of God, instead of seeking to ascend above the heights of the clouds, Christ descended into the lower parts of the earth—which meant taking upon Himself the apron of a bondslave who washed the feet of others, always the duty of the lowest slave.  “I am among you,” He told His disciples, “as one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).  He called this service love (Jn. 13:1).

But then, His love going deeper, He went even further, and walked in obedience unto death, a death that was in His case unjust.  Yet this route took Him to the destination that Lucifer never arrived to by his own self-seeking route.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him… (Phil. 2:9).

His motive was love.  He is there for our sake, not His own, that in the power of His Spirit we may live as He lives, love as He loves—reign as He reigns, in our own cross, and in all circumstances, just as He reigned in His.  This, beloved, is the way of salvation—the way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of the Cross—the way love.  He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.  It was there on the Cross that He died to the root of pride in the heart of man.  His humiliation is our salvation.  Those who are seated together with Him in the heavenlies—it is His throne they are in, it is He who is exalted.  Gone now is any thought of exalting our own throne, gone is the Serpent’s poisonous thought of reigning above the stars; rather, we reign in the humility of Christ, knowing that the kings of God’s kingdom are servants of all, bondslaves who serve others in love, laying down their lives for one another in love.  As their Lord had done, so do they (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 3:16).  This is their greatest honour.

It is the lowliness and love of God in Christ that overcame the pride of the Serpent that man was infected with in the beginning.  Instead of the poison of the Serpent coursing through us—pride, envy, malice, hatred—the love and humility of God now flows in and through those who are in Christ, motivating all they say and do.  That is salvation.

And what is the purpose of all this—this so great salvation?  It is to the intent that God may be glorified in a Man who is His very image and likeness.  God said in the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” and formed Adam of the dust of the ground.  The Serpent determined to efface that image, and did.  So entered the bad news.  But God foiled the Serpent in his purpose, for, even before the beginning God had the Good News in mind, and in the fullness of time, brought forth out of Adam another Man.  His eternal purpose was not in Adam, but “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).  It is this Man who is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4, Heb. 1:3).  But when this Man came on the scene, Satan determined to efface Him as well.  He was foiled again.  This time utterly.  In the wisdom of God, the very cross upon which Satan conspired to have Christ crucified became our salvation.

And so it turns out that what we said about the Good News following the bad news—yes, that’s true, but God had the Good News in mind even before the bad news.  He could never have endured the bad news of what was going on in his creature man if He had not, before it all, prepared “a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:18).  This was God’s comfort of hope in the bad news He knew was coming.  The Gospel.  The Glad Tidings.  The Good News.  The Lamb of God.  Our Lord Jesus Christ.

First The Bad News

You know how it is in our cynical world: someone tells you they’ve got good news for you… and bad news.  They give you the good news but you’re already steeled for the letdown.  “What’s the bad news?”  The bad news that follows always eclipses the good news.

It is not so with God.  With Him, the bad news is first.  Then the good news.

Here is the bad news as set forth by the apostle Paul.

And you… who were dead in trespasses and sins
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the age of this world, according to the prince of the authority of the air, the spirit that now worketh in [energizes] the children of the disobedience;
Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

This is the grave diagnosis of the human condition.  Let’s look at it a little closer.  “And you,” Paul says.  He is writing to people who were once in Adam, but are now in Christ (Eph. 1:1).  What then was their former state?  What is the state of all those in Adam?  He says they are “dead in trespasses and sins.”  They are “the children of disobedience.”  Actually in the Greek it’s “the  disobedience”—Adam’s disobedience, which opened the door for an alien spirit to begin working in him, and consequently, because he was the head of the race, in all his progeny.  Every person born into the human race is in a state of spiritual death because the Serpent succeeded in exporting his own sin into the world through the disobedience of Adam.  This is what Paul says in Romans 5.  “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed through unto all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).  A few verses later Paul talks of death reigning (Rom. 5:14,17).  And so death is not just an event that terminates mortal life.  Death reigns over all those in Adam from the moment they are born to the end of their life.  Even while they go about their lives in this world, they are in a state of death.  They are, as we read here in Ephesians, “dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in times past ye walked…”  All those in Adam are, then, as all those in Christ once were, the walking dead.

That is their state.  And they are under a domain.  “…Wherein in times past ye walked, according to the age of this world…”  Being dead in trespasses and sins, their walk (their way of life) accords with this present age, which is an evil age—“this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).  This age has a prince over it whose domain is “the air.”  Paul is not really talking about the physical atmosphere of our planet, but the “atmosphere” of this present world system in which people attempt to thrive even while dead in trespasses and sins, building their world even while denying they are in a state of rebellion against God.  It’s all largely the attempt to be independent of Him, free of Him.  It’s the greatest of bondage, they are far from free; they are under the rule and authority of another, they walk “according to the prince of the authority of the air…”  Who is this prince, who has authority over the air?  He is a spirit.  “…The spirit that now worketh in [or, energizes] the children of the disobedience.”  It’s Adam’s disobedience, as we said.  But going deeper, it’s the disobedience of this angelic prince who rebelled against God some time prior to the events of Genesis Chapter One.  We are told very little in our Bible about this rebellion, but we are shown its essence in Isaiah 14 where the prophet is given revelation as to what happened in the heart of a heavenly being once named Lucifer.

For thou hast said in thine heart,
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,
I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will be like the Most High.

Note the refrain.  “I will.”  The insistence, “my throne.”   It was rebellion against the will of God, and the throne of God.  And back in the Garden of Eden this prince succeeded in bringing Adam into his rebellion.  The day that Adam bit into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was disobedience to God, and he died for it.  Actually it was Adam who was bitten that day by the poisoned-tongued Serpent.  In that moment the venom of the Serpent began to course through his being, and he died.  Now all in Adam have in their systems this Serpent’s poison, this prince’s fundamental principle: not God, but I.  Not God’s throne.  My throne.  Not God’s will.  My will.  I will, I will, I will…  They are the disobedient children of Adam’s disobedience, dead in trespasses and sins.

“…Among whom we all had our conduct in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3).

That is the bad news.  It is very bad news.  That is why our world is in the state it is in.  All those in Adam have been poisoned with the venom of the Serpent.  They are dead, and dying, because of it.  They are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18).  And no man has in himself or in all his worldly resources any serum capable of remedying this condition.

“And you…”  It was with those two words that Paul began to relay the bad news.

“But God…”  With these two words he begins to proclaim the good news that follows the bad news.  That is God’s order.  First the bad news.  Then the good news.  His good news is the Gospel—the Glad Tidings, the Good News—of Jesus Christ.  It is very good news, unspeakably good news, utterly eclipsing the bad news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romans Project

I have been a Christian for something like forty years.  Yet several years ago I realized I still did not have the book of Romans “under my belt,” although I loved certain passages of it.  So I began reading it, especially chapters five to eight, over and over again.  And again.  I have often gone away from my reading rubbing my eyes.  Surely I cannot be reading such things.  Am I dreaming?  This is astonishing truth.

That is why I want to encourage any who participate in A Mending Feast to become involved in The Romans Project.  It is a series of studies on the whole book of Romans by UK Bible teacher Ron Bailey and I highly recommend it.  I have found Ron Bailey’s teachings on Romans perceptive, clear, inspiring… and challenging.

It is in Romans that the apostle Paul lays out the most important thing in the universe: the gospel—the good news—of our Lord Jesus Christ.  With the indispensable help of the Holy Spirit, what Paul has written in this book may become revelation to us—light we can live and walk in, to the glory of God.

That is why I say, “become involved in” this project.  Passive listening will not accomplish much; God wants us involved in His gospel.  We are actively involved when we believe, that is, lay to heart, the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as laid out in Romans, and by God’s enabling grace, walk in the light we have received.

I realize that taking in something like this involves considerable time in a day when there are innumerable things that consume our time.  You sometimes hear people saying something like that.  “It’s so time consuming.”   May I suggest that involvement in this project is an opportunity to redeem some of that time.

The Romans Project has six sections, which are: Introduction.  Guilty.  Justified.  From Death to Life.  What About Israel.  The New Life.  Each section consists of a number of sessions.  The first series of sessions (nine in all) took place over the winter of 2013-2014.  The second series is now underway (winter of 2015).  They can all be found on a Youtube channel called Biblebase Romans Project:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGysPuyWzV6DI58gK7PWGYejmXXMUnJJs

 

For those who are into Facebook, notifications of each new session may be found at Friends of Biblebase:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/875185179188358/

 

For those not involved in Facebook, please check the Youtube channel for postings of new sessions, which are scheduled every two weeks till March, 2015, at which time there will be a break till the sessions are resumed in the fall and carry over into 2016.  The whole project (now in its second year) will be three years in the making.

Born To Die

The other day I was in a store when Charles Wesley’s famous hymn came over the sound system.

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn king…

I lifted my head and listened. It’s one of my favourite hymns and always stirs me deeply. I sometimes sing it to myself… even in summer. As I listened I watched others preoccupied with their Christmas shopping, even while astonishing words such as these were being sung:

Mild he lay His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

What words of wonder. Born that man no more may die? Born to raise the sons of earth? Born to give them second birth? I looked around me, and… why does this not arrest the other shoppers as it does me? Why are they not stopped in their tracks asking, “What is this, can I believe my ears? If this is true this is phenomenally Good News.”

The first who heard this Good News (that’s the meaning of the word gospel—good news, or good tidings) and later verified it to be true were shepherds watching over their flocks the night of Jesus’ birth. An angel of the Lord appeared to them in the dark of the night, first quieting their fear at the sudden appearance of the heavenly apparition, and then pronouncing:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Lk. 2:10,11).

Or, as the old Wycliffe translation has it:

I evangelize to you a great joy…

A great joy. There can be no greater.  Jesus.  A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

I realize that Wesley wrote this hymn with Jesus’ birth in mind—the incarnation. But it is actually Jesus’ death that accomplished this great salvation, and I am sure Wesley also had that in mind as he penned his words. Jesus was born… to die. To die on the behalf of those appointed to death. He died that man no more may die. He was raised from the dead in order to raise the sons of earth. He ascended to Heaven and sent His Spirit to give second birth to those who believe…

…To make us new creations over whom sin and death no longer reign, new creations who are partakers of His own eternal life.

It is utterly the most wonderful, astonishing Good News, and words fail to describe it, man having worn out all the superlative adjectives on lesser things.  As one who was once dead in sin myself, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.

And it troubles me, burdens me, in fact frightens me, that such joyful tidings have become no more than background music to busy shoppers.

But I understand why. It’s just words. Words they’ve heard so often, and, well, they just don’t seem to be true. And besides, they don’t really see the need for them to be true. For most, at least in our land, life is good, they are happy. So they continue in their unbelief because of the veil that lies heavily on the hearts of those who do not believe. There is a veil on their hearts that keeps them blind to the light of the Gospel, as the apostle Paul explained.

But if our gospel be hid (veiled) it is veiled in those who are perishing,
In whom the god of this world (this age) has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Cor. 4:4).

Them that believe not? Remember there are two states of unbelief. There is ignorant unbelief, the unbelief of those who have not heard the Gospel (1 Tim. 1:13), and there is willful unbelief, those who have heard and rejected the Gospel (Heb. 3:12, Rom. 3:3, Rom. 11:20). I think Paul had in mind here those who resisted his Gospel and were in a state of willful unbelief. But as with ignorant unbelief, even willful (that is, disobedient) unbelief can also be reversed upon repentance (Rom. 11:19-32).

But how shall those who are blind in mind be made to see? But that is exactly why Paul now goes on to show that we who do believe, and have an unspeakably valuable treasure within us as in “an earthen vessel,” are to become part of the shining forth of that treasure. What is the treasure? It is light. The light of the Gospel. Paul is talking about the Gospel in this passage (2 Cor. Ch. 4). The Gospel, the light of the Gospel… do we grasp what he is saying? The Gospel is not just a message in word only; the Gospel is the very light and life of Jesus Himself. And that Gospel must shine forth.

How does it happen? It happens when in troubles, distresses, perplexities, persecutions, things aimed to put the Christian down, the very opposite happens. The light within begins to shine forth. Paul sums it all up with these words:

For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11).

Made manifest: it means to shine forth as light. That’s what happens when the forces of darkness attempt to quench the light in those who live—earthen vessels with a treasure within them.

Jesus was born to die, and His death—mystery of mysteries—became the way of salvation. You and I who are born again as a result of that great salvation, we too must die… for His sake. We who were once dead in trespasses and sins and are now alive with the life of Jesus our Saviour… we who are born from above… it is not just so we may go safely and happily to Heaven above, but that we may now die with the dying of the Lord Jesus. When that happens, the greatest of mysteries takes place. The life of Jesus within begins to shine forth as light.  Minds once blind to the Gospel are now caused to see… and either turn to the light, or attempt to put it out.

And so, what of my crowd of busy Christmas shoppers? That is what they need, as do all the sons and daughters of earth. They need to see a demonstration of a Gospel with the kind of authority that has overcome sin and the whole domain of death that all those in Adam are born into. I wouldn’t attempt to judge who in that store were in ignorant unbelief and who in willful unbelief. Some who had heard the Gospel were no doubt in a state of willful unbelief. Most, I would say, were in a state of ignorant unbelief—yes, in spite of living in a society where Christian carols are piped over the store intercom, in spite of living in a land with churches on every corner, in spite of perhaps having heard many times what is called the gospel, a gospel that goes forth in word only. They have not yet seen the living Gospel shining forth.

They will only see Him as we ourselves, that is, we who live, are delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus might be manifested—shine forth as light—in our mortal flesh. That is the calling—and privilege—of those who live. It is to be delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the powerful eternal resurrection life of Jesus within us might shine forth in saving power. We who live must take up our cross and bear in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the Gospel of eternal life might be made manifest, that is, shine forth in us.

This is our calling, beloved Christian, for Jesus sake—that we become a shining forth of the Gospel to those beloved of Jesus the Saviour in the world round about us… a Gospel that will first open the eyes of their mind and utterly devastate them with the awareness of their need… and then save those who believe.

I am not much of a singer, but I just have to sing this old hymn by Charles Wesley, and I invite you to join me. I always like to punctuate the first line like this:

Hark! The herald! Angels sing!

(…Listen! Do you hear the herald—the angels crying out? Bringing the Good News?)

Here. I found the hymn with some good singers on Youtube. Let’s sing it together with them.

Heed The Harbinger

No, I am not referring to the popular book of our day, but to a man who in his own day was not very popular at all.  This blog entry is an excerpt from a writing by Edward Burrough, one of the early Quakers.  Actually they called themselves simply Friends; it was in scorn that their adversaries called them Quakers, for they saw them frequently trembling, and ridiculed them for it.

You and I know why they were trembling… or ought to know… by first-hand experience.

I came across this writing in Foundation Papers, a newsletter I get in the mail from contemporary Quakers who are seeking to return to the foundation the first Quakers established back in the 17th century.  That move of the Spirit of God shook the world, and as you read this excerpt you will see why.  You will see glimpses of a very powerful Gospel that in its going forth exposed how far the churches of that day, bound as they were in formalism and the traditions of men, had strayed from the original Gospel of Christ and the apostles.

Our old friend George Warnock used to say that the early Quakers were a harbinger of what is coming.  Harbinger?  Something that shows what is coming.

With this in mind, then—with what is coming in mind—there is only one thing we can and must do, and if we are wise we are doing this with the whole heart.  We are heeding the same proclamation that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ and the early apostles sounded, and which those early Quakers also sounded.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Edward Burrough was just 18 when he was caught into the powerful current of the Spirit that was moving through England at the time.  In 1658 when he was 24 he wrote this piece.  And just four years later he died in prison where, along with many other Quakers, he had been cast because of the living Testimony that dwelt in him.

Here is Edward Burrough’s Epistle to the Reader.  I have put in italics the portion that I found so moving.

The Epistle To The Reader
By Edward Burrough
London the 9. Mo. 1658

It is now about seven years since the Lord raised us up in the north of England, and opened our mouths in this his Spirit; and what we were before in our religion, profession, and practices is well known to that part of the country; that generally we were men of the strictest sect, and of the greatest zeal in the performance of outward righteousness, and went through and tried all sorts of teachers, and run from mountain to mountain, and from man to man, and from one form to another, as do many to this very day, who yet remain ungathered to the Lord. And such we were, (to say no more of us,) that sought the Lord, and desired the knowledge of his ways more than anything beside, and for one I may speak, who, from a child, even a few years old, set my face to seek and find the Saviour, and, more than life and treasure or any mortal crown, sought with all my heart the one thing that is needful, to wit, the knowledge of God.

And after our long seeking the Lord appeared to us, and revealed his glory in us, and gave us of his Spirit from heaven, and poured it upon us, and gave us of his wisdom to guide us, whereby we saw all the world, and the true state of things, and the true condition of the church in her present estate. First the Lord brought us by his power and wisdom, and the word by which all things were made, to know and understand, and see perfectly, that God had given to us, every one of us in particular, a light from himself shining in our hearts and consciences; which light, Christ his son, the Saviour of the world, had lighted every man withal; which light in us we found sufficient to reprove us, and convince [that is, convict] us of every evil deed, word, and thought, and by it, in us, we came to know good from evil, right from wrong, and whatsoever is of God, and according to him, from what is of the devil, and what was contrary to God in motion, word, and works….

…And also as our minds became turned, and our hearts inclined to the light which shined in every one of us, the perfect estate of the church we came to know; her estate before the apostles’ days, and in the apostles’ days, and since the days of the apostles.

And her present estate we found to be as a woman who had once been clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, who brought forth him that was to rule the nations; but she was fled into the wilderness, and there sitting desolate, in her place that was prepared of God for such a season, in the very end of which season, when the time of her sojourning was towards a full end, then were we brought forth….

….And we found this light to be a sufficient teacher, to lead us to Christ, from whence this light came, and thereby it gave us to receive Christ, and to witness him to dwell in us; and through it the new covenant we came to enter into, to be made heirs of life and salvation.

And in all things we found the light which we were enlightened withal, (which is Christ,) to be alone and only sufficient to bring to life and eternal salvation; and that all who did own the light in them which Christ hath enlightened every man withal, they needed no man to teach them, but the Lord was their teacher, by his light in their own consciences, and they received the holy anointing.

And so we ceased from the teachings of all men, and their words, and their worships, and their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion, in times before zealously performed by us, through diverse forms, and we became fools for Christ’s sake, that we might become truly wise. And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God; and we obeyed the light of Christ in us, and followed the motions of the Lord’s pure Spirit, and took up the cross to all earthly glories, crowns, and ways: and denied ourselves, our relations, and all that stood in the way betwixt us and the Lord; and we chose to suffer with and for the name of Christ, rather than enjoy all the pleasures upon earth, or all our former zealous professions and practices in religion without the power and Spirit of God, which the world yet lives in. And while waiting upon the Lord in silence, as often we did for many hours together, with our minds and hearts toward him, being staid in the light of Christ within us, from all thoughts, fleshly motions, and desires, in our diligent waiting and fear of his name, and hearkening to his word, we received often the pouring down of the Spirit upon us, and the gift of God’s holy eternal Spirit as in the days of old, and our hearts were made glad, and our tongues loosed, and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues, as the Lord gave us utterance, and as his Spirit led us, which was poured down upon us, on sons and daughters. And to us hereby were the deep things of God revealed, and things unutterable were known and made manifest; and the glory of the Father was revealed, and then began we to sing praises to the Lord God Almighty, and to the Lamb forever, who had redeemed us to God, and brought us out of the captivity and bondage of the world, and put an end to sin and death; and all this was by and through, and in the light of Christ within us. And much more might be declared hereof, that which could not be believed if it were spoken, of the several and particular operations and manifestations of the everlasting Spirit that was given us, and revealed in us.

But this is the sum: life and immortality were brought to light, power from on high and wisdom were made manifest, and the day everlasting appeared unto us, and the joyful sun of righteousness did arise and shine forth unto us and in us; and the holy anointing, the everlasting Comforter, we received; and the babe of glory was born, and the heir of the promise brought forth to reign over the earth, and over hell and death, whereby we entered into everlasting union, and fellowship, and covenant with the Lord God, whose mercies are sure and infinite, and his promise never fails. We were raised from death to life, and changed from Satan’s power to God, and gathered from all the dumb shepherds, and off all the barren mountains, into the fold of eternal peace and rest, and mighty and wonderful things hath the Lord wrought for us, and by us, by his own outstretched arm.

And thus we became followers of the Lamb whithersoever he goes; and he hath called us to make war in righteousness for his name’s sake against hell and death, and all the powers of darkness, and against the beast and false prophet, which have deceived the nations. And we are of the royal seed elect, chosen and faithful, and we war in truth and just judgment; not with weapons that are carnal, but by the sword that goes out of his mouth, which shall slay the wicked, and cut them to pieces. And after this manner was our birth or bringing forth, and thus hath the Lord chosen us and made us an army dreadful and terrible, before whom the wicked do fear and tremble; and our standard is truth, justice, righteousness, and equity; and all that come unto us, must cleave thereunto, and fight under that banner without fear, and without doubting, and they shall never be ashamed nor put to flight, neither shall they ever be conquered by hell or death, or by the powers of darkness; but the Lord shall be their armour, weapon, and defence for evermore. And they that follow the Lamb shall overcome, and get the victory over the beast, and over the dragon, and over the gates of hell; for the Lord is with us, and who shall be able to make us afraid?

That’s the end of the excerpt.  After I read it I just… it made me tremble, and it’s sackcloth and ashes for me till in our own generation we come to the reality of this Gospel—a Gospel not in word, but in power, a Gospel by which life and immortality are not just words on the pages of my Bible; life and immortality are brought to light and shine forth in power and total victory over Hell and death and all the powers of darkness… and our whole world quakes as a result of it.  Too far out?  But the harbinger has already arrived… some 350 years ago!

Those wishing to read the Edward Burrough’s full epistle may find it at: http://www.strecorsoc.org/docs/burrough2.html  Beware of other things on this site: there are many writings there which show how painfully far many modern-day Quakers have strayed from the truth by following what they called the light in their hearts, all the while utterly losing sight of the True Light Himself.

Edward Burrough’s epistle is also available at:  http://www.hallvworthington.com/Burrough/Burrough%20Mystery.html.  There is also a short biography of him on this site.

The Life That Killeth Death

The last few days I have been mourning the death of a friend.  Our friend Amanda, after a long fight with cancer, died a few days ago.

This was all the harder for many of us because we had been praying earnestly for Amanda, hoping she would be healed.  Yet our Lord did not heal her.  She died, leaving behind her a husband and twelve children… some so young they will never have known their mother.

I know few people who had the depth of faith this woman had.  On one occasion she made Job’s words her own:  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  So let me repeat what I said, this time more accurately.  Our friend lost a battle with cancer.  But she won the victory of faith.  For, she held her faith in Jesus to the end.  She died in faith.

In fact (again more accurately) Amanda didn’t actually die.  She fell asleep in Jesus.  This is not just a euphemism.  This is the way the apostles referred to believers who had passed on (1 Cor. 15.6,18).

For, to those who believe in Jesus, the power of death has been broken.  Jesus Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1.10).  The word translated abolished is a very strong word in the Greek.  It is katargeo, which is made up of three parts: kata-a-ergeo.  Kata is a prefix which is often used as an intensifier.  This is followed by a, which in the Greek is the negative (as in a-theist).  And then the stem ergeo, which means to work.  And so Paul proclaims that what Jesus Christ did on Calvary’s cross resulted in death being made totally unable to work.  For those who believe in Jesus, death totally does not work; death absolutely does not work anymore, is of no effect anymore… for those who believe in Jesus.

And Paul goes on to say that this is something that the Gospel is supposed to make manifest—not just tell us about, but actually make manifest.  Christ has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim.1.10).

So… this is the shape my mourning has taken the last few days.  Yes, I mourn for my sister, but more than that, I am mourning for the reality of this powerful Gospel—the Good News that manifests, that shines forth as light, the victory of Christ at Calvary.  Those who know the Good News ought to be walking in a Life that is totally triumphant over the whole kingdom of sin and death.  Is that the case with you?  With me?

Just today the lines of the poem that inspired the title for my blog came again to mind:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

(The Call by George Herbert, 1593-1633)

What’s this—a life that killeth death?  It’s ingrained in our thinking that death always triumphs over life, that death kills life.  And so we fear death.  But no, there is a Life that kills death, a Life that triumphs over death…

…Because it is a Life that leads in the Pathway of the Cross.  Jesus, walking in the Pathway of Life… this Pathway led Him to the Cross, where He accomplished the greatest thing that has ever happened in the universe.

He Hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.

Samuel Whitlock Gandy, 1780-1851

What paradoxes.  The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Life “that killeth death.”  This Life led Him to the Cross, where He “death by dying slew.”  Eternal paradoxes.  And entirely scriptural.  By dying, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ destroyed (there’s that same word again, katargeo) him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2.14).  He slew the Devil with His own weapon (as David did Goliath), and delivered those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

For, He became sin for us—He who knew no sin.  And that is what causes death—sin. It’s there in the whole family of Adam, from the tiny baby to the ancient man.  Sin.  The poison of sin is at work in the whole family of Adam.  It’s the sting of death.  “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15.56).  In other words, when somebody sins they have been stung by death.  Sin is the sting of death.  But Jesus took the sting out of death.  He became sin for us—your sin and mine—and died, taking sin down into the grave with Him.  He died unto sin.  He died for our sins.  He died for our sins—and rose again for our justification.  What a revelation!  Paul says that if Christ has not risen from the dead, “your faith is vain (futile), ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15.17).  The implication is that if Christ is risen from the dead (and He is), we are not in our sins.  If Christ is risen from the dead, this is evidence that the sting of death (sin) has been removed, and so we who believe in Him are no more in our sins.  And, therefore, what hold can death have on us?  And so Paul concludes:

Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.57).

What is that victory?  Yes, it’s the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.  But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what the Gospel is all about—or ought to be.  It ought to be a shining forth in our lives of the truth and victory that Christ wrought at Calvary, and which enables us to walk in Life even as He Himself walked.

I have to say that this is all too often not the case among us Christians, and so, as I said, I have been mourning for this.  I believe that if the Life of Jesus were more the reality we are walking in, my friend Amanda would still be with us.  I simply cannot accept that the present state of worldliness and weakness and sickness that is plaguing the churches is the will of God.

However, I know that my friend Amanda died in faith, and so, regardless what death seems still able to accomplish, it is faith that triumphs.  Death may be boasting over yet another of its victims, but faith has the last word.  For even though we see not yet the final victory over this the last enemy, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11.1).  Yes, the world is full of sin and sickness and death.  But faith is the victory.

…This is the victory that overcame the world, our faith (1 Jn. 5.4).

And this is why Amanda is not dead.  She is asleep… and waiting to be awakened.

See you later, Amanda.

Here is George Herbert’s The Call set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.