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THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
"I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you"
(Job. 42. 5).
The climax to that drama which is the Book of Job comes at this verse. All the arguments and debates, all the wisdom and knowledge, displayed by Job’s three philosopher friends, had contributed nothing to his understanding of God. It was experience, the effect of all that life brought him of good and evil, prosperity and suffering, happiness and heartbreak, which enabled him at last to see God. His bitter comment upon the philosophy of suffering as expounded by the three "I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all" is matched only by the scornful, peremptory demand of the Almighty "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" Job started out in life believing in God and the overruling benevolence of God. What he got in return was an overwhelming succession of disasters that led him at last passionately to exclaim "O that you would hide me in the grave". But at the end, he was able to say what perhaps very few men in any age have been able to say; "Now my eye sees". The whole tenor of the Book of Job reveals the outstanding thesis that held his belief firm that God is working to a purpose which involves progress and development through discipline and endurance. It is a purpose that transcends the events and time-span of this earthly life. Whatever may be the apparent evidence to the contrary it is true of God with respect to every man that "He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold" (Job. 23. 10).
There are so many today who look at their Christian background in the light of what they know of modern science and the wisdom of this world. They find the two apparently irreconcilable, and jettison their faith in consequence. God cannot be defined in terms of the measurements used to define things of daily experience and they decide God does not exist. They have never heard in modern times of One coming from another world to live among men for a spell and return whence He came, so they declare such a happening is impossible. The existence of such other world, asserted in the Christian Scriptures, cannot be demonstrated with a radio telescope or mathematical calculation so they refuse to believe in the possibility. This is happening in an age when every incredible wonder becomes commonplace within a few years of its invention or discovery. This present time with all its discoveries should surely be the period in which men could be expected the most readily to admit not only the possibility but even the probability of a sphere of life and power still unperceived by man.
The position is more tragic when a person who loses faith is one who has stood before his fellows as a minister of the Gospel. There have been a number in recent times. The fact that the stand is usually honest and sincere does not minimize its tragedy. "We do not know who God is; Jesus was a good man but only a man. Resurrection? Impossible!" Contrast the calm confidence of the Apostle Paul at the end of a long and arduous life when he wrote "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded"; and that of the ancient patriarch "Now mine eye seeth thee". Is there not a real likelihood that such assurance is positive knowledge due to being actually attuned with that other world and that such men may have bridged the gap that no manmade detecting instrument and no philosophical investigation can ever bridge?
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THE MIRACLE BOOK
The Holy Scriptures have been described as a miracle of diversity in unity. The Bible is its own great evidence for its Divine origin and authority and we cannot consider these two great facts without being tremendously impressed with its diversity and its unity.
First there is the diversity of language; the Old Testament was written in Hebrew; a portion of it in Chaldean, while the New Testament was written in Greek. There is a diversity of authorship. These Scriptures were not written by one person nor by a company of men collaborating with one another. Men with greatly diversified mental calibre, training and occupation were employed in writing them. Moses was a shepherd, Joshua a soldier, Samuel a seer, David a king, Solomon a philosopher, Amos a herdsman, Daniel a statesman, Ezra a scribe, Matthew a tax collector, Luke a doctor, John a fisherman, Paul a scholar. There is a further diversity of place in which these Scriptures were produced; they have come to us from the desert of Sinai, the wilderness of Judea, the banks of Chebar, the city of Zion, the public prison in Rome, and the Isle of Patmos. There is no literary phenomenon in the world to be compared with this book, the Bible. Not only so, but there is diversity of form. In Genesis there are stories, in Leviticus there is ritual, in Deuteronomy oratory, in Ruth romance, in Samuel and Kings national history, in John drama. The Psalms are sacred hymns, in Proverbs we have ethics, in Ecclesiastes philosophy, in the Canticles (Song of Solomon) a love song, in Joel and Habakkuk rhapsody, in Isaiah and Jeremiah prophecy, in the Gospels biography, in Acts Church history, in the Epistles doctrines, in Revelation the Apocalypse. All these forms of literature make up this great spiritual classic. From the standpoint of diversity of subject matter also, is there any other book in the world to be compared with it? In the Bible we read of God, of men, of angels and demons, of Jews and Gentiles, of Christians and pagans, of saints and sinners, of the church and of the world. We read of peace and war, of friends and foes, of blessing and curses, of holiness and sin, of honour and shame, of faith and unbelief, of time and eternity, of life and death, of love and rage, of Heaven and Hades. These and countless other subjects are brought to our notice within the cover of this extraordinary volume.
We are not impressed, however, with any sense of incongruity; there is an eminent fitness in the relation of these tremendous themes to one another. Nor were these writings produced at any one time. They do not belong to any one age; they come to us as the growth of many centuries. Is there any other book in the world that can be compared with this as to its diversity? Were the number of subjects treated or their equivalent brought together in any other book? No publisher would take the risk of publishing it and no purchaser would ever buy it and yet the Bible is the most widely circulated book in the world. Other books have a season, they have a run and then we hear of them no more, but this book lives on through the ages. It out-lives all other literature and is the queen of all literature.
Notwithstanding all this diversity the Bible is nevertheless a sublime unity; every part is essential to the whole, and it all originates in the will and revelation of God. The two Testaments are essential to each other; they brood over the mercy seat as did the cherubim of gold of old, each answering to the other. "The New is in the Old contained, the Old is in the New explained". Genesis and Revelation are essential to each other; Genesis is the book of commencement, Revelation the book of consummation; Genesis anticipates Revelation and Revelation consummates Genesis. Each part is related to and corresponds with every other part. Genesis and Matthew are the two great beginnings. Exodus and Acts tell us of the making of the people of God in Israel and the Christian Church. Leviticus and Hebrews tell us of the priestly way to God. Joshua and Ephesians, tell us of the inheritance of God's people. Daniel and Revelation point beyond the rise and fall of the world's empires to the coming of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
As an illustration of this correspondence, take the first three chapters of Genesis and the last three of Revelation and it will be found that each of these take subjects but in the reverse order. In Genesis 1 we have the first Heaven and Earth in Revelation 22 the last Heaven and Earth. In Genesis 2 we have husband and wife. In Revelation 21 the Lamb and the Bride. In Genesis 3 the sentence is pronounced upon Satan and in Revelation 20 the sentence is executed. It is little wonder that the Devil attempts to have us believe that the one book is all myth and the other is all mystery.
The Word of God is not a dead letter. Hebrews speaks of the Word of God being alive, and Peter speaks of the Word of God that lives and abides forever. We can no more leave the Bible alone or leave it out of our reckoning than we can leave Christ alone. Christ does not derive His value from the Bible; the Bible derives its value from Christ. Only through the Bible can we get to Christ; our eternal knowledge of Christ comes through the Bible.
The Bible is built up in an extraordinary way, not to be accounted for by accident or chance, and the Testaments are in sequence. For instance, in the Old Testament from Genesis to Esther our interest is aroused and we are led on through all the books to the sublime end in the Apocalypse of John. We are impressed as we read the amazing diversity, yet it unfolds and presents itself as a sublime story. All these stories are one story, all these revelations are one revelation, and all these records are one record. Across the whole of the Old Testament you may write the word 'expectation', and across the whole of the New, 'realisation'. In Genesis there are origins, in Revelation there are issues, and all the way between, from Exodus to Jude, there are processes leading from those origins to those issues. The revelation of God to man has been made in history and everywhere in Holy Scripture there is historical continuity and sequence. There is historical unity in Scripture and there is prophetic unity. There could have been confusion and contradiction, as there is in modern human prophecies. But there was not, and could not have been any collusion among the writers of Holy Scripture; and there is no contradiction.
There are four great themes of prophecy - the Messiah, the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church. Some treat of one, some of another and not a few touch upon them all, but there is an amazing harmony everywhere. There is no contradiction among the voices. In the Old Testament there are predictions and in the New Testament there are fulfilments. In the Old we get types, in the New anti-types. The whole of the Old is leading up to the First Advent and the whole of the New is leading up to the Second Advent. There is prophetic, structural and historical unity everywhere in Scriptures. We also have doctrinal unity. Were men left to themselves, harmony of doctrine would be impossible, but these many writers across the ages were not left to themselves.
Everywhere in Scripture we find God. Some would have us believe that He was the tribal deity of the Hebrews, but this is not so. He is the God of all men, and the New Testament shows that He so loved, not just the Hebrews, nor just the Church, but the whole World; "He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Everywhere in Scripture man is a sinner. The Old Testament does not present man as half beast on his way up to morality and the New as a man made like God; both Testaments teach that Christ is the one and only Redeemer and his Cross our only hope. Redemption is in the Old Testament anticipated, in the New it is accomplished. From the Acts to the Apocalypse it is applied. It is the one great theme that runs throughout all the Scriptures. It is the note that dominates in this orchestra from start to finish. We also have spiritual unity. Think of its range, of its vision, of the sublimity of its themes. Think of the loftiness of its ideals, of the power of its appeals. The horizons of the Bible are infinitudes and immensities. The current coin of this is Faith, Love and Hope. Think what the Bible has done for individuals. Think of countless numbers who, were they with us still, would say "this one thing I know - that whereas I was blind now I see." No man ever came to say that by studying philosophy or science, but many have done so through an acquaintance with the Word of God. Think of what the Bible has done for the Church of God and for national life; for where the Word of God is accepted and believed there is emancipation and deliverance from degradation and from cruelty. It has turned the demons out of cruel hearts and made men sober and kind. If the Bible is to be judged by what it has accomplished, then verily it is the Book of Books and the Word of God. It does not need our apology or our special pleading; give it a chance and it will demonstrate its own character and its own power.
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STRAIGHT FOR THE GOAL
Thoughts upon total surrender to Christ
"My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal - my reward the honour of my high calling by God in Christ Jesus". (Phil.3.13,14 Phillips) Paul in this part of his letter to the brethren at Philippi is using the Isthmian games as an illustration of the Christian life. Paul was whole hearted in everything he did. He put his whole mind and body into the persecution of the Church. When he became a follower of Jesus Christ he embraced the new faith with all his heart, just like an athlete in the games. For him, anything less than his best was useless. The Laodicean Church was condemned because its members were neither hot nor cold in their attitude in following Jesus. The task given to Paul could never have been done better than he did it. Jesus called him to a wonderful work that brought out the highest qualities. It also brought unparalleled suffering but he counted it a privilege and knew that his reward was secure in Heaven. His speeches recorded in the Acts of the Apostles together with his letters to the Churches show that he had remarkable intellectual ability. In spite of physical limitations he accomplished so much while under severe stress, for the sake of Christ. He took a major part in interpreting and explaining the life and work of Christ and their relation to the Old Testament. In God's providence he was foremost in planning the spread the Gospel and he personally pioneered much of it. He preached Christ, and based his message upon Moses and the prophets. His training and education prepared him for the immense task and he was utterly faithful in doing it.
Paul was born in Tarsus in Cilicea, beneath the shadow of the Taurus mountains. From there he saw the Greeks ships sail in and out a busy harbour. He saw the grandeur of creation as storks flew across the Mediterranean. He could turn and look inland to see high hills and the floppy eared goats grazing on them. He saw the values of Roman rule and grasped the understanding of Greek philosophy. He saw the value in the twin cultures of the empire into which he had been born. This is shown in his words and actions yet he neither glorified nor was he ashamed of them. The boundaries of men's rule were like the boundaries of land and ocean to Paul, established by Almighty God and he respected them whatever his feelings about them.
Paul was born a Jew, but also a Roman citizen. Of the tribe of Benjamin, he may have been called after Saul, Israel's first king, who also was of that tribe. There is evidence that he came from a fairly wealthy family who may have disinherited him when he became a disciple of Jesus. Yet he retained the connection with his sister in Jerusalem. It has been suggested that he had been married and was a member of the Sanhedrin but the Scriptures do not give us much help in that respect. He certainly had a good education beyond the average boy of his time. After early training in home and synagogue he was despatched to Jerusalem to discover the finer points of Mosaic Law. At the feet of the liberally minded Gamaliel this earnest, perhaps narrow-minded young man, was able to learn from the finest Jewish scholarship. This gave him the background that he was to need in later life and through the power of the Holy Spirit he pursued his work for Christ in fullest measure. He alone was able to see the moral consequences of such a teaching and to lay the foundations of new concepts of the Kingdom of God which none of the earlier leaders of the church had done. Yet Paul was no fanatical revolutionary in society and he saw the need for obedience to authority. Cultural change came slowly. All this the apostle did in his short thirty years of ministry and he could only have done it by complete dedication to Jesus' calling on the Damascus road. It was no idle boast that he was able to say, "I have fought a good fight". It was the sober truth, he had fought ruthlessly. He had fought against evil and sin, against selfishness and conceit, against narrow-minded bigotry of the Jews and the total permissiveness of the Gentiles. The battle had been within his own life not against his fellow men, and certainly not against his brothers and sisters in Christ. It was by example that he showed others the way. He had run the race without deviation and according to the rules. He had stripped off everything and not allowed the closely fitting 'sin' to hinder his progress but had kept his eye upon Jesus and awaited with joy that moment when the veil would be drawn aside and he would see his Master face to face.
Paul shows none of the repugnance common among Jews towards the Grecian games. He had sufficient knowledge of them to use them in illustrating the Christian walk. He must have seen the runners moving as if their very lives depended on winning. But his was not a competition as if there were so many places to be filled and they must do all they could to beat the next person. The illustration was intended to teach that we must give all and we've got to take the prize, which Paul describes in Phil.3.8 as winning Christ - and that prize was beginning to be realised now - "knowing Christ Jesus my Lord".
In writing to Timothy (2 Tim.2.3-6) Paul teaches the same kind of lesson in three illustrations. The first is that of a soldier, who endures hardness and does not become involved in the normal interests of civilian life. This was highlighted following two world wars when soldiers were totally absorbed in winning a war and found it hard to return to normal life after several years in a foreign country. Resuming the responsibilities they left behind was very difficult for some. The lesson for the child of God is similar to that shown in Jesus' parable of the Sower and the soil which was full of weeds that deprived the plants of the real crop of water and air. So many things, taken for granted by ordinary people, that seem harmless in themselves, distract attention from life with Christ.
Paul then uses again the illustration of the athlete in a race. Here there is emphasis on keeping the rules and the lesson lies in discipline. A Christian must be self disciplined, able to do what is right even when by nature he would rather do something else, particularly with the pressures of contemporary society and 'keeping up with the neighbours'. Discipline speaks of pattern and purpose in life and this is that which only Christ can give. In the Christian life there is no place for the chaos and the aimless 'getting and doing' that afflicts human life today.
Thirdly, Paul draws a rural scene in which a farmer only obtains the best rewards when he works really hard with no let up for frivolous things. A Christian must be diligent to the point of allowing nothing into his life that will not contribute to his life in Christ
Paul refers to boxing at the games, not in the sense of attacking someone else but again in the matter of self-discipline. Pummelling himself was not shadow boxing (1 Cor.9.26). He writes as if he were two persons, as he does in Rom.7.14-20 Paul the apostle is attacking Saul the Jewish teacher who couldn't keep the Law. The old nature has to be punched until it knows that it is completely beaten. Too often, through the history of the Church even until this present day, Christians have imagined that their opponents are fellow Christians who hold different interpretations of Scripture from their own. This is not so. A.B Simpson's words remain true -
There is a foe whose hidden power
The Christian well may fear;
More subtle far than inbred sin,
And to the heart more dear.
It is the power of selfishness,
The proud and wilful - I
And ere my Lord can live in me
My very self must die.
This was the fight that Paul took seriously and in which he ultimately triumphed. The whole of this passage speaks of Paul being totally absorbed in his life with Christ. Anyone who has truly been in love with a spouse will know what Paul felt. Yet this is not a withdrawal from the world that offers only a monastic way of life. Christ was actively interested in the world and in the people around Him but always, without exception, his interest was concerned with God's will and His kingdom. Hence His words, "Strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt 6.32 NRSV). A job of work, a career or even one's own business can be a contributor in our lives to the Kingdom of God. But they can be a distraction which destroys spiritual life. The same applies to our relaxation and past times. It can also apply to Christian service and some forms of Bible study. They can all divert attention from Christ himself for none of these things can transform our lives. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do that.
However great the self-denial and suffering endured by a Christian, it is but light affliction for the eternal weight of glory. That glory will be the shining with a character like that of Christ to a world that has known nothing of His beauty. Now is the time when that character is being formed in us. Is that the absorbing interest of our lives? Are we going straight for the goal.
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