A Divine Movement And our Path With God Today
You Have Kept My Word
The more we understand what is implied in the keeping of Christ's Word, the more we will realise its importance. To really keep Christ's Word implies going on with Him in steady progress, not wilfully permitting any part of it to be dark, unfruitful or in vain for us; not allowing ourselves to be robbed of difficult books or chapters. We often permit this to happen without a thought about it, as if God had given us too large a Bible and we were confused rather than served by the largeness of His gift. Do we really believe that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3: 16)? Are we sure that this is true of prophecy, history, type, parable, even of the long genealogies, of the lists of David's officers, of the cities of Israel, etc.? Are we personally seeking to make all of it profitable to us?
Let us be absolutely honest with ourselves and with God. If we do not accept the profitableness of all Scripture, are we not denying in some measure the doctrine of God's inspiration of Scripture? If so, then we are not "men of God" for whom all Scripture is fruitful (2 Tim. 3: 17).
Is this not a serious matter? Take the admonition from the typical history of Israel. Was it not evil that Israel, brought into the promised land by God's power, failed to possess it all? Is it not a serious matter that for us also, "there remains very much land to be possessed?"
Two things - apart from unbelief as to the inspiration of God's Word - are used to argue against the above, but they are both evil, unbelieving arguments. However, since they sound reasonable, they need exposure.
The first is an old argument of Isaiah's day (Isa. 29: 9-11) against the divine vision. Delivered to the learned with the request to read it, the answer of the 'learned' is, "The book is sealed." So today, man's argument is, "The language can't be understood: history, type, parable, are strange speech. People everywhere disagree as to the interpretation. How can we succeed where so many have failed? What good is guessing?"
Of course, no good can come from guessing, for uncertainty as to truth makes it dangerous to proceed or even to stand still. The plain duty of every Christian is to keep on the firm ground of known truth. Scripture has been used so carelessly as to make it the mere plaything of the mind, hardly to be taken seriously. However, there is certainty at every point for anyone who, in faith, will seek it.
"If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God ... and it shall be given him" (James 1: 5)
"If any man wills to do His (God's) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God..." (John 7: 17)
If we believe that God deals truthfully with us, the above verses must be true. So, let us use the greatest care as to the interpretations that we accept. Otherwise, free license is given to the imagination.
The second argument, which also is as old as Isaiah, is the most widespread and the most dangerous. It is the language of the people, not of their leaders. It appears as the language of humility: "I am not learned, so I can't understand." This denies the all-sufficiency of the Holy Spirit as the Teacher of Christians, or it denies His presence with His people. It makes the understanding of God's things to depend on a man's education or on his I.Q., instead of on the Holy Spirit. It makes Christ, who dwelt among the poor and the needy, now to only reveal Himself to the educated, intelligent and wealthy. It makes the Lord's disciples, those unlearned Galileans, an anomaly for all future times. It gives the intellect a huge practical advantage over the heart and conscience - the moral being. It makes the learned the judges of truth for the unlearned. It makes Scripture filter through the minds of the learned before it is fit to be the living ministry of God to others. Thus, it subjects the many to the few, and fulfilling its own argument, makes Scripture inaccessible and impracticable for the mass of mankind. What wonder if, under the influence of such a belief, people find what they expect to find - a closed instead of an open Bible. What wonder if the Holy Spirit, grieved and limited by the unfaithfulness of Christians, will not "lead us into all truth" (John 16: 13).
The above isn't intended to discredit learning or to deny the right place of intellect in the things of God. In spite of sin, one who believes God must believe that God has made his understanding, reason, imagination, conscience and heart all for Himself. Consequently, when one receives the gospel and is in real nearness to God, all these things are made alive and greatly enlarged. Let a man really desire to know this God who has revealed Himself to him; let this desire be his top priority in learning, and then every bit of truth that he learns will be the means of daily strength and growth - not monstrous as when only the head develops, but the growth of the mind, heart, conscience, all alike and together, on towards the perfect, always proportionate man.
This learning from God is the privilege of every Christian, regardless of his social-economic-educational position. Christ said, "Labour not for the food which perishes, but for that food which endures to everlasting life" (John 6: 27). This food is spiritual knowledge - knowledge of the highest kind, which is needful for the proper control of every other kind of knowledge. Since "all things were created by Christ and for Him" (Col. 1: 16), it is not possible to see things aright until we connect them with Him for whom they were created. Then, all natural science will become spiritual science; all -ologies will work into theology. What value will the world be to me if it is not God's world? Since the world and even the universe were made to manifest Him, how great should my interest be in them! Christians are partly guilty for the neglect which has allowed the natural sciences to become the possession of unbelieving men. So, instead of Christianity standing firm on the two feet of Nature and Scripture which both testify of God, it limps along with one useless foot a burden on the other.
Knowledge? Yes, labour for knowledge, but first get Christ who is the key to it, and then the whole field lies open to you. Take possession for Him of all things. Labour, be loyal, be in earnest: "every spot that the sole of your feet shall stand on shall be your own." Labour more earnestly for spiritual food than for what you call your 'necessary' food. Every instinct of your spiritual nature desires spiritual food and if these are denied, starved, neglected, you will dwarf yourself spiritually and become satisfied with what is almost starvation. Only eternity will reveal to you the extent of your loss, but then, it is too late.
As I have said, I believe that God has since the mid-1800s opened up the Bible to us in a remarkable way, and now He is testing us with it. Alas if we turn away! Are not these newly-revealed truths for us? Do we have faith in Him who has given them to us, that He has not mocked us with His gift? Shall we be bewildered and oppressed by the greatness of these riches? The field is boundless, but its green pastures and glorious distances invite us to explore them. Where are the people who find in the labour needed for this exploration, the necessary exercise for spiritual health and vigour? Here are endless beauties and glories, so little realised, which can be the possession of all of us because they belong to all of us! Do you say that your measure only can be small? Beloved, have you earnestly tried to find your measure?
Are you positive that you have reached your God-given boundary line? Could you tell God that you are honestly and with your whole heart working hard to learn with Him all that He has for you? If so, God's rule, given in several places including Mark 4:25, will apply: "To him who has, shall more be given." Where, then, will your limit be found?
Think of what God has done for us in giving us these things! Here is continuous occupation for us. Is that a loss or a gain? With the necessity of much occupation with the things of the world just to get daily food and clothing, is it loss or gain that we should have, at the same time, an equal necessity for spiritual things?
It is a necessity. "Labour not for the food which perishes but for that food which endures unto everlasting life" (John 6: 27) was spoken by lips that cannot lie, and here, the spiritual labour is said to be the more necessary. Who will disagree with the Lord? Who will say that this rule applied only to the Galilean peasants who could follow Him, not because of the miracles, but because they ate of the (spiritual) loaves and were filled, and does not apply to the hard-worked masses of today!
The necessity for this spiritual labour is inherent to the spiritual life itself, and has its corresponding reward and blessing. Among other things, it balances and relieves the natural labour. The weight of the earth's atmosphere presses on the average-sized man with a force of about 14 tons, yet we are not conscious of it because, as the air penetrates the body, there is an equal force acting outward. In like manner, the pressure of natural things can be met by the opposing pressure of spiritual things so that we may walk at ease and in freedom. I'm sure that you will find this true, for spiritual occupation increases our faith and spiritual energy, enabling us with divine power to meet life's demands.
Our spiritual land is good, but it must be cultivated for its value to be realised. Then, the profits from it will make it impossible for us to be spiritually poor. Unworked, however, our heavenly inheritance still will leave us in spiritual poverty on earth. Since we need so much occupation with our own things to meet the constant demands on us in the world, God in His faithfulness to us has not put the truth into creeds which we might easily learn by heart and lay aside, nor has He written everything out so plainly that there is no difficulty in understanding it. Bitter arguments have raged about even basic fundamentals. It is better in God's thought, that we should have constant need for reference to, and the most careful study of our Lesson Book, caused by exercises of the most painful nature, than be allowed to sink into spiritual laziness.
Most truth is not in the plain language of the epistles. The Lord taught much in parables. The book of Revelation uses symbols almost entirely. The Christian truths in the Old Testament are taught in types and history, which we are taught to allegorise. The man of understanding in Proverbs is expected "to understand a proverb and its interpretation, the words of the wise and their dark sayings" (Prov. 1: 6).
So, "if you cry after knowledge and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures, then shall you understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2: 3-5). We even are told that "it is the glory of God to conceal a thing" (Prov. 25: 2) - hiding it where a diligent person can find it as a reward. All this implies a personal labour that cannot be delegated to another, although we all are to help one another in it. God does not recognise a laity to be spoon fed once or twice a week, taking with little question what is given them. God does not recognise a division of labour - worldly things for the common people and spiritual things for a special class. No, we personally are to "be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height" (Eph. 3: 18). Indeed, we need every Christian to help us understand the Scriptures.
Of course, there are God-given teachers. No one with Scripture before him could deny that. But Scripture does not restrict teaching to the teachers, any more than it confines evangelising to the evangelist. It is the intended glory of all these special 'gifts' to enable those whom they (the teachers, etc.) speak to, to do without them - to send men from themselves to Christ. Sitting at His feet, then, we hear Him say, without reference to any special gift, "one is your Master (Teacher), even Christ, and all you are brethren" (Matt. 23: 8). Teachers are special helps given to the entire Church by the ascended Lord, and he who undervalues the help given, dishonours the Lord from whom the teachers have their mission and qualification. But men often turn special help into special hindrances and this often has been done with teachers. The moment the teacher is allowed to give authority to the truth - making it true because he says so - instead of the truth he teaches giving him authority; the moment the teacher is allowed to come between men and the Word, instead of bringing them to the Word; the moment the teacher is made the substitute for personal labour in the divine Word instead of a help and encouragement towards personal labour, then there is perversion of the gift and disaster follows! The whole evil of the Church teaching - man's rule usurping God's rule - has come in this way. Clergy and laity are thus formed.
The message to Philadelphia presses on us that Christ's Word, which all Scripture is, is given to His people, and those who keep (obey) it are commended by Him. What I have been urging is that, for this, they must know for themselves what it is that they are to keep. All Scripture is before them, and they cannot have the spirit of a Philadelphian if they willingly allow any of it to be taken from them; if their Bibles are willingly permitted to lack, as it were, whole pages, perhaps whole books of what is inspired of God for our profitable use. Further, the need for earnest, untiring labour in the Word is what is insisted on as necessary for all progress, for the maintenance of spirituality and for a right state with God on the part of all of God's people, not of just a special class.
Let me further press the last part of this theme. What a new state would begin for us if we would find that between our necessary work in the world and our still more necessary and fruitful occupation with Scripture, our time was so fully taken up that we would have little or none remaining for anything that was not absolutely productive and profitable; if all that was idle, vain and frivolous, disappeared out of our lives; if the newspaper (radio, TV, etc.) were supplanted by fresh discoveries in the things of God. Peter exhorts us that "laying aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and all evil speaking, [we should] as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word that we should grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2: 1)
God does not desire us to remain babes. The milk is to make us grow up spiritually. Peter conveys to us in these words some of that energy which, under God, had helped to make him, the unlearned Galilean fisherman, a leader in divine things. We are to be, he says, as ardent after the Word as a newborn babe is for milk! The one business of a newborn babe is to get milk. Is the Word of God sought and longed for like that in your life?
Then notice the exhortation concerning the incompatibility of spiritual occupation with "all malice and guile and hypocrisies and envies, and all evil speaking." If the Word of God is feeding our souls, all evil things will pass away just as the dying leaf falls, crowded out by the new bud. Psalms 1:1 gives us a delightful picture:
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful."
This is the negative side, but the positive side follows, and the power is in this:
"But his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law does he meditate day and night" (v. 2).
This is a sweet and glowing picture. Look at the result:
"And he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he does shall prosper" (v. 3)
It would be a blessed thing if that picture was true of each one of us.