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The Lord’s last words recorded in John’s gospel are ‘Follow thou me’. This is a simple statement comprising:
A verb – the action ‘Follow’
The subject – who does it ‘Thou’ – that is you and I, as well as Peter
The object ‘Me’ – that is Jesus.
This is really the essence of Christian life
Issue No 5
Address by Paul Burton at Malvern, 26 May 2018
When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He says to him, Feed my lambs. He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He says to him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. He says to him, Shepherd my sheep. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, art thou attached to me? Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, Art thou attached to me? and said to him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I am attached to thee. Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say to thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst where thou desiredst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and bring thee where thou dost not desire. But he said this signifying by what death he should glorify God. And having said this, he says to him, Follow me. Peter, turning round, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also leaned at supper on his breast, and said, Lord, who is it that delivers thee up? Peter, seeing him, says to Jesus, Lord, and what of this man? Jesus says to him, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.
The reading this morning focused on two words: ‘Hear him’(Matthew17:5). In this occasion, we have three words: ‘Follow thou me’.
I do not believe that God intends that there should be anything complicated about Christianity. It is profound and inscrutable, beyond our human minds to comprehend in its fullness – but it is simple to the eyes of faith.
Each gospel writer leaves us with different words of the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s last words recorded in John’s gospel are ‘Follow thou me’. This is a simple statement comprising:
A verb – the action ‘Follow’
The subject – who does it ‘Thou’ – that is you and I, as well as Peter
The object ‘Me’ – that is Jesus.
This is really the essence of Christian life. The Lord Jesus in His wondrous grace and saving power has called us to follow Him. It is no more complicated than that. Of course, we have the epistles. They were written before these words were written, but not before they were said. In the epistles there are long words and deep thoughts. The thoughts of God and His blessing for us are immense. That is one of the reasons we have reading meetings so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can understand God’s wonderful thoughts for us. But God does not want us to merely understand His thoughts, He wants us to experience and enjoy His blessings as well. The questions are:
How are we going to enjoy what God in His love has purposed and prepared for us?
Why do we struggle, and why do we find following Jesus so difficult?
For a start, we experience and enjoy them by simply following Christ.
Imagine a local assembly filled with persons who follow Christ and hear and do His word; then imagine the church as a whole, and even the whole world following and obeying Him. This wonderful world of peace, order and joy will be seen in a coming day. It speaks of ‘these are they who follow the Lamb wheresoever it goes’ (Revelation 14:4). Now, let us now look around our Christian companies: and we have to humbly admit that things are not as they should be. It cannot be because the Lord has asked us to do something complicated or unclear. The simple word is ‘Follow thou me’.
This was not the first time that the Lord had asked Peter to follow Him. He had already been following the Lord for a little over three years. Earlier, when Peter did not know Him anything like as well, the Lord had said, ‘Come after me’ (Matthew 4:19) – and Peter had obeyed. So had Andrew, James, John and the other disciples. Peter had had three years’ experience of the Lord’s love, care and companionship. Many followed the Lord because of what He had done for them: having been cured of blindness, deafness, leprosy or demons. However, the gospels do not suggest that any of the twelve chosen disciples followed the Lord as a result of such miraculous healing. However, there must have been something more than the disciples saw in Jesus.
Matthew is another example. As far as the scripture records, Matthew was sitting doing his job, taking the taxes, counting the money and keeping records. We know nothing of Matthew’s prior experience with or knowledge of the Lord. However, when Jesus just says to him, ‘Follow me’ (Luke 5: 27).
I think that what caused these beloved disciples to leave what they were doing, was that they saw something about that Man that they had never seen before. He had no great outward personality or charisma (Isaiah 53:2) nor did He make promises of outward greatness or power. Here was a Man in outward humility, with no natural distinguishing features that would mark Him out. Yet there was something different which caused these disciples to follow. So what makes us follow the Lord Jesus? We have put our faith and trust in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the One who suffered and died for us. That alone would make Him worthy to be followed. He is worthy, but there is something deeper.
If we are going to be enduring, constant, faithful followers of Jesus, we have each for ourselves to answer the question, ‘How much does the Lord Jesus Himself mean to me?’. In John’s gospel, the Man Christ Jesus is the absolute centre: persons like the woman in John 4 were drawn to Him, not just because of what He did but because of what He was. The woman said, ‘Come, see a man’ (Matthew 17:5). Such was the humanity of Jesus: He thrilled the Father’s heart in every step, thought and movement. He also thrilled the hearts of those who followed Him. Peter illustrated this in John 6. The Lord had ministered His word, but there were two completely opposite results. Many of the disciples said, ‘This word is hard. . . and walked no more with him’ (v.68). Peter had found an all-absorbing object in the person of Christ, a kind of Man that he had never come across before. Peter continued following.
At one point, Peter had said, ‘We have left all things and have followed thee; what then shall happen to us?’ (Matthew 19:27). Now Peter was asking what was going to happen to them. The Lord had spoken of receiving a hundredfold. In (John 21) we see the Lord giving Peter another commission and He re-issues this challenge to follow, for the Lord would be physically here no longer. What was the Lord offering Peter from a natural perspective? There was nothing for his personal benefit. Jesus said, “I want you to be a shepherd”. Peter might well have answered, “Lord, that is a little bit odd. You took me up to be a fisher of men. I know about fishing, that is in my blood. Now you are telling me to be a shepherd. I do not have any experience of being a shepherd”. In fact, Peter was probably the most qualified person there to be a shepherd having spent three years with the Good Shepherd, observing the greatest, most skilful and wonderful Shepherd there has ever been. The Lord effectively says, “Peter, you are going to have a career change. You are now going to be a shepherd. It is will be hard work: you are going to have to feed My lambs; you are going to have to shepherd My sheep; you are going to have to feed My sheep. Then, when you get old you are going to have your liberty taken away, ending up in prison, and ultimately Peter, you are going to die for Me. But despite all that follow me.”
At first, Peter did not get the full point of what the Lord was saying. ‘Peter, seeing him [John], says to Jesus, Lord, and what of this man? Jesus says to him, If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.’ (John 21:21-22). The Lord is saying to Peter, “Let Me make it absolutely plain and clear to you: ‘Follow thou Me’: nothing else matters”. We must give Peter the credit for honouring His Lord: in the main, he followed his Lord faithfully. His link with Christ and his valuation of that blessed Man kept and preserved him. Peter was a true follower of Jesus Christ, even to martyrdom.
How about each one of us? Your comfort zone or personal choice does not enter into it. The Lord’s word is: ‘Follow thou me’– a very direct command that comes to each of us individually. it is right to value one another, but ultimately our Christian pathway is defined by how we follow Christ personally. As we follow Christ we find that there are others are following Him too: we are all heading towards the same destination because we are following Him, not one anothe.
When we come together we have a single objective, following Christ. That is what unites us. Each one of us will have received the command, ‘Follow thou me’. It is not a complicated command: the big question is, ‘How?’.
We might say that if Jesus were here, it would be easy to follow Him – if He walked out of the door, we could all follow. I think the gospel suggests that it would not make it any easier if Jesus was physically here or not. The Lord Jesus in His wondrous grace and in His infinite wisdom has given us things to help us. Peter says ‘Christ…leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). We have Christ as a model before us, and we can follow in His footprints. In virgin snow, where no one has walked before, a person’s footprints are clear, and we can follow them easily. The Lord has left us clear footprints:
There is a footprint of suffering.
There is a footprint of wondrous grace.
There is a footprint of perfect humility.
There is a footprint of utter dependence.
There is a footprint of complete trust in God.
There is a footprint of prayer.
There is a footprint of devotion.
There is a footprint of righteous indignation.
All of those things were seen in the life of Jesus here. A follower of Jesus Christ has been given a perfect example in the life and footsteps of the Lord Jesus. Hence we can ‘follow in his steps’.
We cannot see Him physically; we have to use what we call faith. That is the difficult bit, needing concentration and a committal to follow Christ. We cannot set our path automatically like a plane on auto-pilot. There has to be a day-by-day commitment to follow Christ. My scripture for that is Hebrews 12:2, ‘Looking steadfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith’. The Spirit will help you. If you still struggle and find it too difficult, put your hand out and Jesus, in His precious, condescending grace, will take it and lead you, if necessary, by the hand. Hebrews tells us that one of the reasons he came into manhood was so that He may take hold of the seed of Abraham by the hand (see Hebrews 2:16). But He will lead us together to a very glorious place, into the greatest and most wondrous privileges that we can ever know. The heart of God is full of blessing and happiness for us. God has called us to be happy. I am not sure how much we believe that what Christ has in mind for us is the very best.
Let us not think that His voice is different in our sphere of responsibility here from our sphere of privilege. Sometimes we divorce the two. It is the same blessed Person who leads us, whether it is in the difficulties of the wilderness path here, or in the joy and privilege of going with Him to the Father and entering into that sphere of praise. The character of the leading might be different, but it is the same Person. The better we know how to follow Him, the greater we will know the blessing.
In summary, we have had two messages in our meetings today:
‘Follow thou me’.
I leave these thoughts with us all, for His Name’s sake.
Revised by Paul Burton and checked by others. All scripture quotations are from the Darby translation
‘And thus we shall be always with the Lord’. Oh, dear brethren, to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus, to be like Him, to have a body of glory like unto His body of glory and to be with Him, no more to go at all out, forever with the Lord!
Issue No 3
Address by Philip Mason at Malvern, 2 December 2017
And Peter said to him, Lord, sayest thou this parable to us, or also to all? And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and prudent steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give the measure of corn in season? Blessed is that bondman whom his lord [on] coming shall find doing thus; verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he has. But if that bondman should say in his heart, My lord delays to come, and begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he does not expect it, and in an hour he knows not of, and shall cut him in two and appoint his portion with the unbelievers.
The elders which [are] among you I exhort, who [am their] fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of the Christ, who also [am] partaker of the glory about to be revealed:shepherd the flock of God which [is] among you, exercising oversight, not by necessity, but willingly; not for base gain, but readily; not as lording it over your possessions, but being models for the flock. And when the chief shepherd is manifested ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory.
But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are fallen asleep, to the end that ye be not grieved even as also the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus has died and has risen again, so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. (For this we say to you in [the] word of [the] Lord, that we, the living, who remain to the coming of the Lord, are in no way to anticipate those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in [the] clouds, to meet the Lord in [the] air; and thus weshall be always with [the] Lord. So encourage one another with these words.)
I want to say a few words, dear brethren,about the coming of the Lord Jesus.
I said to a young brother recently, ‘The Lord’s coming can’t be long now’. That challenged me: do I really believe that the Lord’s coming is imminent? And if I believe it, what difference is it making to my life? Not long ago, I was speaking to an elderly sister who said she lay awake in the night worrying about the troubles amongst the brethren, and wondering what was going to happen. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice instead, if we woke up in the morning thinking, ‘The Lord is coming today!’. If I knew that somebody important was going to visit, I would want to be ready. Now, what if that important Person was the Lord? Would I have to change my plans for the day? Would I have to change my occupation even? I might think there was no point in going to work, but that would just be lazy. I think if I knew the Lord was coming today, I would want the Lord to find me doing what I ought to be doing to fulfil my responsibilities here. But it would be the busiest day of my life. For a start, to be ready, there is quite a lot I would have to set right in myself.
We read in Luke 12 of the bondman who said in his heart, ‘My lord delays to come’(v. 45). J N Darby wrote[‡], ‘The expectation of the return of Christ is the exact measure (the thermometer, so to speak) of the life of the church.’If we thought that His return was imminent, our hearts would be burning within us. But if we lose sight of His return, we grow cold, and our spiritual state declines. This bondman didn’t say out loud that his lord delayed; he said it in his heart. Then he started ‘to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken’(v. 45). I know personally what it is to lose sight of the Lord’s coming, and to treat those around me in a way in which they should not be treated. May we all be assured that the Lord is coming soon: it will change our behaviour; it will change us.
In 1 Peter 5:1, we read of ‘the glory about to be revealed’. The Lord’s second coming, as we have been taught, has two parts. First of all there is the rapture, and then there is the appearing when the Lord Jesus comes to establish His millennial kingdom upon this earth. The glory will be revealed then. This world has not yet seen the glory of the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus was here, His pathway was a pathway of humiliation, a pathway in which He glorified His Father. Few like John apprehended it. He could write, ‘We have contemplated his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten with a father’ (John 1:14). Those on the mount of transfiguration saw something of the glory of Christ as He was transfigured before them. But that was not public. The full glory of our Lord and Saviour will be seen when He comes to reign, and establish His kingdom in righteousness upon this earth. He will take up what was denied Him when He was here. What a time it will be when the Lord Jesus takes His rights, and reigns from shore to shore, the whole earth in subjection to Him. The physical change here will be dramatic. We are told in scripture, ‘The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as a rose’(Isaiah 35:1). There will be moral changes too: ‘The earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah’ (Isaiah 11:9). Revelation 20starts, ‘And I saw an angel descending from the heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent who is [the] devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, that he should not any more deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed’ (v. 1-3).
Christ will rule directly upon this earth, centred in Jerusalem as scripture tells us, and we will reign with Him. ‘ifwe endure, we shall also reign together’(2 Timothy 2:12). We have our part in testimony now; in that future day, we will have our part with the Lord Jesus in His glory. We will be ‘partakers of the glory about to be revealed(1 Peter 5:1)’. We do not know when this will be, God only knows that, but I believe it will not be too long now, before the Lord takes up His rights and establishes His rule over the earth.
The Thessalonian saints were concerned about what was to come. The Lord’s coming is mentioned in both Thessalonian epistles in all but one chapter. It says of these Thessalonian saints that they had ‘turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,and to await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead, Jesus, our deliverer from the coming wrath’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). They were reminded of the coming wrath. When the Lord Jesus comes and takes up His rights on this earth, there will be dreadful judgment upon those who have rejected the glad tidings – those who have risen up against Him under the power of Satan. But we, like the Thessalonians, have put our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, and have been delivered from the coming wrath. The knowledge of this should make us urgent to present the glad tidings, warning people of the peril that theyare in if they reject God’s free offer of salvation.
These brethren were in some consternation about those that had died (or fallen asleep). Paul didn’t say, ‘You don’t need to worry about those that have died because they are in heaven’. He uses the words ‘with Him’(ch. 4:14). Elsewhere Paul tells the saints that the dead in Christ are ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord.’(2 Corinthians 5:8), in a state that is ‘very much better’(Philippians 1:23). Those that have died are free from the effects of sin. They are in the presence of Jesus, but, being asleep, are not responsive to Him at the present time, though they will certainly be in a coming day. He says, ‘God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus” v 14. They will come out with Him when He comes in to reign, they will be with Him: ‘the armies which are in the heaven’(Revelation 19:14).
Whilst we look forward to that second coming, this is not our present hope. Our hope is in the coming of our Lord Jesus to take us to be with Himself, what we call the rapture. After talking of those who fall asleep, the apostle goes on, ‘(For this we say to you in [the] word of [the] Lord, that we, the living, who remain to the coming of the Lord, are in no way to anticipate those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in [the] clouds, to meet the Lord in [the] air; and thus we shall be always with [the] Lord.So encourage one another with these words.)’(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). The Lord is waiting, at the present time, for the Father’s word to come out to gather up all of His own to be with Himself. Then He will come Himself: He is not going to send anyone else. The two men in white clothing said to those who were watching the Lord Jesus go up into heaven, ‘This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall thus come in the manner in which ye have beheld him going into heaven’ (Acts 1:11).
We have a three-fold cord:
The assembling shout, a shout that will gather all of the Lord’s people together.
The Archangel’s voice, which will be unmistakeable, and
The trump of God, which will be heard by everyone who is meant to hear it – none will miss it.
This shows the value of every blood bought saint, none of whom will be left,because each has a place in the divine plan. All are precious on the sight of God, His work, having begun in each, will have been completed unto Jesus Christ’s day (See Philippians 1:6).
The rapture will be a witness to the resurrecting power of the Lord Jesus, for allthose who have been laid in the grave, committed to His keeping until His return will be gathered up. He will raise them. We ‘shall be caught up together with them in the clouds’, (or ‘on the clouds’as in Matthew 26:64). The Lord Jesus will come as close as He can to this earth, without touching it, orbeing seen by those who had rejected Him. Then He will ‘transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory’ (Philippians 3:21). That will be wonderful, dear friends.
What a scene it will be! The differences amongst Christians, the breakdown that has existed down through the years of this present dispensation, difficulties that have taken years to sort out, if they have been sorted out at all, will be settled in the twinkling of an eye. Why? Because every eye will be looking at Jesus. Surely, if we all were currently looking at our Saviour, waiting for that assembling shout, taking our direction from Him, would not these intransigent differences fall away now?
‘And thus we shall be always with the Lord’. Oh, dear brethren, to be in the presence of the Lord Jesus, to be like Him, to have a body of glory like unto His body of glory and to be with Him, no more to go at all out, forever with the Lord! That is our portion; that is our hope. Let us lift our eyes, dear brethren, and look to the Lord Jesus. Let us follow Him. Let us seek to be here for Him, and witness to His return. The Lord will have His rightful place; His glory will be revealed; His rights will be acknowledged, and His name will be honoured. Then all will see Him, and at ‘the name of Jesus every knee should bow, … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord to God [the] Father’s glory’ (Philippians 2:10-11). Let us bow to Him now!
‘So encourage one another with these words’. Let us be encouraged, and may the word be blessed for His name’s sake.
Address by Paul Burton Warrenpoint Northern Ireland – 7 October 2017
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. As to] every branch in me not bearing fruit, he takes it away; and [as to] every one bearing fruit, he purges it that it may bring forth more fruit. Ye are already clean by reason of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, thus neither [can] ye unless ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye [are] the branches. He that abides in me and I in him, hebears much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing. Unless any one abide in me he is cast out as the branch, and is dried up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall come to pass to you. In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and ye shall become disciples of mine.
As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you: abide in my love. If ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have spoken these things to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy be full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends if ye practise whatever I command you. I call you no longer bondmen, for the bondman does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things which I have heard of my Father I have made known to you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have set you that ye should go and [that] ye should bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should abide, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
One thing that is absolutely fundamental to your Christian life and to mine, defining us as believers – is our personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not minimising or belittling other blessings, because they are very precious, but I believe that if you strip away everything else, our relationship with Him is that which defines and forms us as believers. All other blessings and the promises of God flow from that. Of course, we do not stop there, but if we haven’t started there, or if in some way we have moved away, or lost that fundamental link with Christ, I think we will have missed the point of true Christianity. We may well be carrying on an outward form, but with no living reality. Without a personal, individual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, what is our life?What arrested me in this passage is that the Lord says in John 15:5, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’.This whole passage speaks of that vital intimacy of our relationship with the Lord Jesus. As we challenge our hearts and minds as to the relationship we have with Lord Jesus Christ, we realise that if our relationship is broken, everything else becomes meaningless.
I want to start at Verse 1because the chapter does not start with us, it starts with Christ: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman’. John presents things in a very lovely way. The bible finishes with Revelation, and the scriptures are beautifully and personally signed by the Lord with the words, ‘I Jesus’ (Rev 22:16). I think perhaps John’s gospel was the last scripture to be written. It seems to me, in its personal presentation of Christ, to be morally the final testimony of the Word of God to us. If Revelation gives us the Lord’s signature perhaps we can think of John’s gospel as the signature block. When you receive a letter or email, you get the writer’s name and job title at the end, followed by his or her professional qualifications. Often the qualifications contain more letters than the name!
John gives us titles of the Lord, such as, the Word, and, the Lamb of God, that are not developed elsewhere in scripture. But in the ‘I am’s’ of this gospel, we have His great qualification and skill to be working in His ‘Father’s business’.
In ch. 6 you have hungry and famished persons. Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’(v. 35). In John 9, if you get a man who is blind and cannot see, Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world’(v.5). There were persons who said that they were not blind, and the Lord had to say to them, ‘If ye were blind ye would not have sin; but now ye say, We see, your sin remains’(v.41). They needed a Saviour, so He goes on to say, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’(John 10:11). To disciples in need of instruction He is ‘the Lord and the Teacher’ (John 13:14) and to a confused person like Thomas Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6).
So we find that the Lord has the resources to meet every need. When He says, ‘I am the true vine’, (ch. 15:1),He is saying, ‘I am the resource that will answer that barrenness, emptiness and drought in your heart as you walk through a spiritually lifeless scene.’ There are times I feel like that. I may have been occupied (sometimes necessarily so) with things that are not fruitful, things that have not brought life, peace or satisfaction. The Lord Jesus would say to us ’I am the True Vine’ so that we may be revived and refreshed again.
But how do we get the blessing of the Lord as the True Vine? The Lord answers that in three simple words, ‘Abide in me’(v. 4). Now If I were to sum up what I said earlier on as to our personal, individual relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ, they would be the three words, ‘Abide in Me’. That is not a difficult thing. It does not need a whole course of doctrine and theology. Just, ‘Abide in Me’.
If I broke off a branch or a stem from a plant or tree, and thought that I could just connect it back to the main plant every now and again and it would keep alive, you would tell me that I was being very foolish. The moment you break the connection, the source of life is gone, and that part of the plant or tree will die. Perhaps sometimes we think we can equate Christianity with modern technology. We think it’s like recharging a mobile phone battery. We plug ourselves in once a week, get a spiritual charge, then unplug ourselves, go away, and then come back next week and plug in again. Christianity does not work that way.
Abide in Me. Not once a week, not once a day, but every minute of every hour of every day of every year. You may ask, how do I abide in Him? I am not going to try and give you a step-by-step guide because I don’t think that’s the way Christianity works. God does not give us a process or a set of instructions to follow, in order to abide in Christ.
We might become like the Pharisee in Luke 18. He thought he was doing what God wanted him to do: ‘I fast twice in the week, I tithe everything I gain’(v. 12). Somebody had given him an instruction manual for walking with God, and he thought by following it, he would be justified before God. But it would appear that this man had no real link with God at all. Then there is something even more solemn. The Lord speaks of those of whom it is said, ‘Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied through thy name, and through thy name cast out demons, and through thy name done many works of power? and then will I avow unto them, I never knew you. Depart from me, workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:22-23). There are persons today who maintain that you have to have done these things in order to prove that you are a Christian and have the Spirit but the persons the Lord was referring to were clearly not abiding in Christ. I would also say as a warning, let us be very careful what we attach the Lord’s name to.
All I can say about abiding in Him is this, that you need to have your own relationship with the Lord Jesus. Make it real, and make it constant. You will say, ‘How can I possibly do that? Are you saying that you want me to sit in a room all day, read my bible, kneel on my knees and pray, in order to be able to say that I’m abiding in Christ? I have to work or do my studies at school, how can I always abide in Him?’
My answer is that you have been given the blessed Holy Spirit who will help you. You can abide in Christ while doing the most mundane things in secular life. The Holy Spirit is a divine Person living in you, and it is He who gives you that abiding link with Christ. You don’t have to be talking to the Lord Jesus, or thinking about the scriptures every minute of the day to be abiding in Him. What it does mean is that you have a spiritual power linking you livingly with Christ every moment of the day. We have to learn to listen to Him and understand the promptings of the Spirit of God in us.
What comes out of this is our walk, and scripture speaks a lot about our walk. There is a close connection between walking and abiding. We see this in1 John 2:6, ‘He that says he abides in him ought, even as he walked, himself also so to walk.’ So even if I can’t tell you how to abide in Him because you have to come to that yourself, I can tell you that evidence of your abiding in Christ will be seen in your walk. Your walk is very important, and you learn to walk as a consequence of abiding in Jesus.
We have many mothers here. A mother will have been used to putting her very young baby down knowing it will stay exactly where it was put, because it has not learnt to move yet. Then there comes a point in the infant’s development when you put it down and it no longer stays in the place you have put it. It begins to learn to move for itself and life is never quite the same again. A new element of watchfulness has to enter into the care of a little one. The Christian life is a bit like that, before you could ever learn to walk as a believer, you were in Christ.
I want to take you back, if I can, to that moment that you trusted Him. That you knew you had that personal relationship with the Lord Jesus – that you were His. When you could just settle down in His arms and all those worries and fears are gone. Did you ever want it to go away? You were abiding in Him and what better place is there than in the Saviour’s arms?
I know that this scripture I am about to refer to is in a different context, but in the Song of Songs, the lover said, ‘When I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go’ (Song of Songs 3:4).Did you not feel like that when you found Him at the start of your Christian pathway? Christ’s love embraced you, and it was so precious to you that you held Him and you would not let Him go. Go back to that moment, and remember what Christ meant to you. He meant everything to you, didn’t He? Such was the joy of having Him.
But then life goes on. Things have to be worked out in your responsibilities here. You can’t just sit there in the embrace of the love of Christ and ignore everything going on around you. The Lord has not asked us to do that.
Let us return to the analogy of the little child. There becomes a point in time when they are not just content just to be left where you put it. It begins to explore; first crawling, then walking. Generally, a child learns to walk from the arms of the parents. Have you ever taught a child to walk by standing it up, and physically moving one leg and then the other? There is a beautiful verse in the prophet Hosea where God speaks of this as though He was a parent with a child; ‘And I it was that taught Ephraim to walk, — He took them upon his arms, — but they knew not that I healed them’(Hosea 11:3). I remember a brother saying that it’s like a real father holding a tottering child as it begins to find its legs. He goes behind with outstretched arms while they take the first two or three tottering steps and then collapse in a heap into his arms. Thus is the loving, patient care of our Lord and Saviour as we learn to walk. How gracious He is! He doesn’t teach us in a mechanical way; He doesn’t give us the manual and say, ‘Put forward one foot and then the next, then the next”. You learn through the experience of life with Him. You learn to walk as a believer and God is very gracious, even when we fall. How often we fall into those arms that gently pick us up and teach us to walk again!
Our child begins to walk, but it still doesn’t have any real awareness of its surroundings. If you left the gate open unsupervised, it would run right out into the road. As a young believer you begin your Christian walk, but you don’t understand the dangers around you. God is very gracious and protects you. He may use your Christian parents to provide you with an environment of care and protection, even though you may kick against such restraints.
Then as you develop, you begin to walk independently. You don’t see many teenagers on reins, though those of us who are parents may sometimes wish we could still keep them; but we have to leave them to develop their own responsibilities in life.
Now young believer, you have developed your link with Christ. You are beginning to exercise the walk of faith. God has given you faith, and he’s asked you to walk, as an individual, responsibly in faith, before the Lord. You do that by developing your abiding link in Christ. You do not have to rely on someone telling you what to do. You have the privilege and joy of walking here in faith, with Christ; but it is also a responsibility. You belong to Christ and you have to prove that walk of faith yourself. But remember, it is never to be outside of that exhortation; ‘Abide in me’.
In that walk of faith you will find company with other believers, John’s writings tell us that. If we abide in Him, we will walk as He walked; ‘if we walk as He walked we shall walk in the light; if we walk in the light, as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another’(1 John 1:7). The fellowship is a very precious blessing, but it does not remove my individual responsibility of abiding in Him. We cannot rely on the mere structure of theChristian company for our spiritual life. We cannot find our abiding merely through the company of others. It is rather our individual, personal relationships with the Lord Jesus Christ that are the source of our life in a Christian fellowship. If those ‘abide in me’ relationships are maintained, what joy and vitality there will be! But if they are not maintained, there will be no lasting life. Please don’t just rely on others links with Christ to maintain the life of the company. Your personal, maintained committal to Christ, abiding in Him, is vital to your spiritual life, and also the encouragement and joy of those you have the blessing to walk with.
The scripture goes on to say, ‘Abide in my love’(v. 10). I am not going into that subject now. I am just leaving you with the words, ‘Abide in me’. That is your responsibility, privilege and joy as a believer, and it is mine too. It is the bedrock and foundation of your individual Christian life individually and as worked out with others. ‘Abide in me’. Do just that, for His name’s sake!
Adapted for Publication from an Address by Jim Macfarlane at Warrenpoinnt, N Ireland, 2 July 2017
For me to live [is] Christ, and to die gain; but if to live in flesh [is my lot], this is for me worth the while: and what I shall choose I cannot tell. But I am pressed by both, having the desire for departure and being with Christ, [for] [it is] very much better, but remaining in the flesh [is] more necessary for your sakes. . .
ThoughIhave [my] trust even in flesh; if any other think to trust in flesh, Irather: as to circumcision, [I received it] the eighth day; of [the] race of Israel, of [the] tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews; as to [the] law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the assembly; as to righteousness which [is] in [the] law, found blameless;but what things were gain to me these I counted, on account of Christ, loss. But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ; and that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith, to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if any way I arrive at the resurrection from among [the] dead.
Brethren, I do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing — forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, [looking] towards [the] goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.
For this Melchisedec, King of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from smiting the kings, and blessed him; to whom Abraham gave also the tenth portion of all; first being interpreted King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy; having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but assimilated to the Son of God, abides a priest continually. Now consider how great this [personage] was, to whom [even] the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth out of the spoils. And they indeed from among the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have commandment to take tithes from the people according to the law, that is from their brethren, though these are come out of the loins of Abraham: but he who has no genealogy from them has tithed Abraham, and blessed him who had the promises.
For it is borne witness, Thouart a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec. For there is a setting aside of the commandment going before for its weakness and unprofitableness, (for the law perfected nothing,) and the introduction of a better hope by which we draw nigh to God. And by how much [it was] not without the swearing of an oath; (for they are become priests without the swearing of an oath, but he with the swearing of an oath, by him who said, as to him, The Lord has sworn, and will not repent [of it], Thou[art] priest for ever [according to the order of Melchisedec];) by so much Jesus became surety of a better covenant. And they have been many priests, on account of being hindered from continuing by death; but he, because of his continuing for ever, has the priesthood unchangeable. Whence also he is able to save completely those who approach by him to God, always living to intercede for them. For such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens: who has not day by day need, as the high priests, first to offer up sacrifices for his own sins, then [for] those of the people; for this he did once for all [in] having offered up himself. For the law constitutes men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the swearing of the oath which [is] after the law, a Son perfected for ever.
Now a summary of the things of which we are speaking [is], We have such a one high priest who has sat down on [the] right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens; minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord has pitched, [and] not man.
But now he has got a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is mediator of a better covenant, which is established on the footing of better promises. For if that first was faultless, place had not been sought for a second.
Hebrews 8: 6-7
But Christ being come high priest of the good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, (that is, not of this creation,) nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, has entered in once for all into the [holy of] holies, having found an eternal redemption.
And the tabernacle too and all the vessels of service he sprinkled in like manner with blood; and almost all things are purified with blood according to the law, and without blood-shedding there is no remission. [It was] necessary then that the figurative representations of the things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with sacrifices better than these. For the Christ is not entered into holy places made with hand, figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us: since he had [then] been obliged often to suffer from the foundation of the world.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness for entering into the [holy of] holies by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and [having] a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering, (for he [is] faithful who has promised;) and let us consider one another for provoking to love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom [is] with some; but encouraging [one another], and by so much the more as ye see the day drawing near.
A short time ago, one of our elderly sisters in Dundee[*]was taken to be with the Lord Jesus. In the epistle to the Philippians Paul speaks about transforming our ‘body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory’ (Philippians 3:21). This dear feeble sister, almost 91 years old, had a body of humiliation; it was physically feeble, and it was a merciful release for her. Although she found it very difficult to communicate, in the days just before the Lord Jesus took her to be with Himself, her husband had occasion to refer to this well-known passage in Philippians 1 which we read first. Our brother said to her, ‘… having the desire for departure and being with Christ…’. In spite of having communicated nothing coherent for quite some time, she added, with total clarity, ‘which is far better’ (v. 23KJV). He was very encouraged by that. Now if she was as feeble as that, one might say that would not be difficult, but I do not think that was the kind of comparison that the apostle was intending to make here.
I’d like to engage us with ‘Better Things’. My desire is that we might be able to get some impression of the access we have in Christianity to those better things.
Another comparison we might make is with the apostle’s circumstances. Paul was a prisoner of the Roman Empire at this time. This must have been a very unpleasant experience, so the prospect of ‘being with Christ, for it is very much better’ might be compared with that; but I don’t think that is the comparison he had in mind either. Paul said in chapter 4, ‘I have strength for all things in Him that gives me power’ (v. 13), and a little further down: ‘I have all things in full supply and abound’(v.18). That doesn’t sound like someone miserable, sitting chained in the prison in Rome. What Paul referred to were good things, and if the apostle was saying that being with Christ was very much better than those, it must be very good indeed!
A characteristic expression in the Epistle to the Hebrews is ‘better things’(ch. 6:9, 12:24etc.). Later we will also consider Hebrews as the ‘book of the opened heavens’.
I would like to digress and say a little bit about the Jewish law, because it is the background to the Epistle to the Hebrews. The epistle was written to Jewish believers whose background was the Jewish law. I think that it is fair to say that the law that was given to the Jews was a mark of God’s favour to them. It may have made demands, but it was a system by which a man could establish himself as righteous before God. In principle, the Jewish law was a good thing, but Hebrews is about what is better than that. Indeed Paul said that the law was more than ‘holy, and just, and good’: it was spiritual (see Romans 7:12-14).
Galatians 6:7tells us, ‘whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap’ . This shows that there are moral consequences to all of our actions. Any person who does right or wrong will reap accordingly: it is a law of the moral universe. In the New Testament, I don’t think that it is retributive.
So, in the physical universe: if you apply a force to a moveable object, it will start to move in the direction of the force and accelerate until an opposite force slows it down. That always happens: the acceleration is a consequence of the force. In the same way, reaping what one sows is morally inevitable. A Jew knew that: the law was in the inspired Word of God, and he must give consideration to it in all his actions. That was in his favour.
We read in Philippians 3because it speaks of the transformation which the apostle Paul experienced. As Saul of Tarsus, he had been proud of his national and social distinctions: ‘of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee. As to righteousness which is in the law, found blameless’(v.5-6). He had reckoned that his compliance with the requirements of the law had given him personal distinction. However, after his encounter with Jesus, he had a completely different view. ‘I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ’(v. 8). Included in what Paul counted filth was his pride in his blamelessness as to the requirements of the law. (Of course, the law itself could not be counted loss and filth).
Paul was proud of being a Pharisee. The Pharisees advertised, at every turn, their strict conformity to what Moses had indicated. For example, they made broad their phylacteries[†], and could quote the law to justify their actions. The Lord Jesus was hard on the Pharisees, but gracious to the moral wrecks.
At one point He condemned them for advertising the fact that they tithed everything, even ‘mint and rue and every herb’(Luke 11:42). That is just like saying that a tenth of the salt and pepper that you put on your meal was set aside and dedicated to the temple system. They were as fastidious as that. But the Lord Jesus, when speaking to them in respect of this, said they were ‘teaching as their teachings commandments of men’ (Mark 7:7). I find it interesting to look at the original in the prophet Isaiah and see how he phrases it, ‘Your fear of me is a commandment taught of men’(Isaiah 29:13).
Their contention would have been that this was part of their Jewish tradition. There was the law that was given by Moses, but over the centuries, up to the point when Isaiah was prophesying, they had added a vast superstructure of additional regulations built on top the law that Moses had given. At that time, it was generally regarded as the ‘oral law’, handed down by those who were initiated, scribes (doctors of the law) and Pharisees. Later this was to be codified into writings such as the Talmudand the Midrash. They had taken the law and manipulated it, setting out many further requirements, claiming the same authority as the Torah, God’s law given by Moses. Moses’ law was relatively straightforward, and necessarily so, because everybody, however simple and uneducated, had to be able to understand what God required. But these people had dedicated the whole of their lives, not only to what Moses commanded, but to the great edifice of additional doctrinal interpretation. The Lord referred to this in the ‘traditional teaching’ when he referred to the washing of vessels (still practiced by many Jews), and the reference to ‘corban’ negating God’s commandment (See Matthew 15:3and Mark 7:10-13). This traditional teaching was ultimately used to contradict the Lord Jesus, the only one who glorified God by fulfilling the law in its letter and spirit.
This is something that I think we have to consider, because it has not happened only in Judaism: it has happened in Christianity as well. We can all, I am sure, relate to this
I would like to speak briefly about one of the leaders in the Reformation, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565)[‡]a Frenchman. He was very significant in the reformer community in Geneva. If you go to Geneva, to the Reformation Wall, there are four statues of men who were central to the Reformation. Farel is one of them, along with Calvin, Knox and Beza. Farel undertook a translation of the scriptures from Latin into French. The religious authorities of the day objected to this, because if the people knew what was really said in the scriptures, their control would be diminished. However, the bishop of Meaux, near Paris, was favourable to Farel’s activity. One day Farel and the bishop’s conversation turned to the vast system of complexity that had been built up around the Roman Mass. The bishop’s comment to Farel was that these things were added, one at a time, for the best of reasons. Farel’s reply to him was that when Peter said to the Lord, ‘Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee’ (Matthew 16:22KJV), he said it with the best of intentions but the Lord’s reply was, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ (v.23) I just leave this little anecdote with the brethren, because I think it’s something that we need to consider. Christianity is a simple matter and it must be within the scope of everyone: what comes within everyone’s scope are better things! Better things are simple things.
To return to Hebrews, those addressed were from the same background as Paul– institutional Judaism. Hebrews is an interesting book, quite different from most other books of the Bible. For example, the author’s name is not given – that is not surprising, because the force of its introduction is that the one who speaks is God. ‘God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in [the person of the] Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). That’s who the speaker is: God in the Person of the Son.
The writer of Hebrews told his readers in Chapter 1that he was going to be speaking about better things, starting with the One whowas ‘[the] effulgence of his glory and [the] expression of his [i.e. God’s]substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, having made [by himself] the purification of sins, set himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high, taking a place by so much better than the angels, as he inherits a name more excellent than they’(Hebrews 1:3-4). He was going to take up the system with which the Jews were familiar and show that the real spiritual heavenly substance of them was in what God had established in Christ. They would get the profit and benefit of better things, for their blessing.
As we read Hebrews, we are introduced to better things. We understand them because of our direct connection with God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Laying hold of these better things, we ultimately become true worshippers.
The Lord Jesus told the poor woman at the well that God was looking for true worshippers – those that worship in spirit and truth (See John 4:24). So the writer begins with another priesthood. In this connection, I draw your attention to Hebrews 7:25, ‘Whence also he is able to save completely those who approach by him to God, always living to intercede for them’. This makes the purpose of the new priesthood clear: to lead those who have received salvation in their approach to God by Him.
It’s an interesting development that the writer gave in these earlier verses. Basically, he said that Aaron’s priesthood had been superseded. Aaron’s priesthood was represented in the person of Abraham, Aaron being in Abraham’s loins (see ch. 7:5). Normally, in the Jewish system, tithes were paid to the priests, that is to Levi and the system of priesthood represented by him. But Abraham paid a tithe to Melchisedec, one who was representative of the Lord Jesus in a new system of priesthood. In other words, the old Aaronic system has been superseded.
The other function of the priest, is to sustain us in infirmity. We need that service all the time. It says of this new Priest according to the order of Melchisedec, ‘For we have not a high priest not able to sympathise with our infirmities, but tempted in all things in like manner, sin apart’ (Hebrews 4:15). What distinction lies upon those who are served by Him! ‘Such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens.’ (Ch. 7:26)
The other characteristic of the Epistle to the Hebrews is its being the book of the opened heavens[§]. So there is a new priest and, in the summary given in the opening verses of chapter 8, we learn that the new Priest has ‘sat down on the right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens’ (Hebrews 8:1). Not only is the Lord Jesus the new High Priest who goes in to God and sustains those who are there with Him, but He is mediator – the one who acts for God towards men. He is ‘mediator of a better covenant, which is established on the footing of better promises’(v. 6) – two ‘betters’ in the same verse!
Chapter 9begins by setting out the Jewish thought of a sanctuary, ‘a worldly one’(ch. 9:1). The material things of the old system were a figurative representation of the things in the heavens. Both the material and the heavenly sanctuaries had to be purified by blood, but ‘the heavenly things themselves [were purified] with sacrifices better than these’(v. 23). Figuratively, the holy of holies was the place of the presence of God: it was not accessible. The ark of the covenant was there, and access to it was permitted only once a year, by the high priest alone, ‘with blood not his own’ (v. 25). In the new arrangement, ‘Christ being come high priest of the good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, . . . has entered in once for all into the [holy of holies], having found an eternal redemption’ (v. 11-12). So access was not just once a year, with an offering which was repeated each time, but He, our Great High Priest, has gone in once for all in the efficacy of His own blood. Hence we have access with boldness into the holy of holies, where the sense of the presence of God compels worship.
The new worshippers are introduced in Chapter 10. The Lord has gone in: now there is a worshipping company that can also go into the presence of God in total suitability. As we enter in as worshippers, we are sustained the Great High Priest.
I conclude by reading briefly from the end of Chapter 6, referring to the blessing of Abraham, as an introduction, in its reference to Melchisedec, to the four chapters with which we have been engaged : ‘Wherein God, willing to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his purpose, intervened by an oath, that by two unchangeable things, in which it was impossible that God should lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, which we have as anchor for the soul, both secure and firm, and entering into that within the veil, wherein Jesus is entered as forerunner for us, become for ever a high priest according to the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:17-20).
These are inspiring words: may everybody here have some sense of the enormous elevation, privilege, and blessing, of having this confidence referred to in these last few verses of Chapter 6.
[†]Phylacteries consisted of a small leather boxes containing the four passages in which frontlets are mentioned (Exodus 13:2-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Deuteronomy 11:13-22), written on four slips of parchment. These were fastened with leather straps, with one box on the heart and the other on the brow. They were worn commonly during the act of prayer (hence the Hebrew name tephillin– prayers). The Pharisees, in their ostentatious show of piety, made either the box or the straps wider than the common size (Matthew 23:5), and wore them as they walked to and fro in the streets, or prayed standing (Matthew 6:5), that people might see and admire them. (From Ellicott)
Reading at Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland 7 October 2017
I am thankful to God, whom I serve from [my] forefathers with pure conscience, how unceasingly I have the remembrance of thee in my supplications night and day, earnestly desiring to see thee, remembering thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; calling to mind the unfeigned faith which [has been] in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also. For which cause I put thee in mind to rekindle the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion. Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but suffer evil along with the glad tidings, according to the power of God;
2 Timothy 1: 3-8
Thou therefore, my child, be strong in the grace which [is] in Christ Jesus. And the things thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also.
2 Timothy 2:1-2
Yet the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, [The] Lord knows those that are his; and, Let every one who names the name of [the] Lord withdraw from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, [in separating himself from them], he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work. But youthful lusts flee, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and senseless questionings avoid, knowing that they beget contentions.
2 Timothy 2:19-23
I testify before God and Christ Jesus, who is about to judge living and dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, proclaim the word; be urgent in season [and] out of season, convict, rebuke, encourage, with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time shall be when they will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables. But thou, be sober in all things, bear evils, do [the] work of an evangelist, fill up the full measure of thy ministry. For Iam already being poured out, and the time of my release is come. I have combated the good combat, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will render to me in that day; but not only to me, but also to all who love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:1-8
Martin Cook: When the apostle Paul wrote to his child Timotheus, they had known each other for approximately 14 years. There was a very strong bond between them. They had laboured together; they had travelled together. They had known joys; they had seen increase; they had introduced the testimony into Europe, they had spent much time in Greece and Asia (which we now know as Turkey). The word of the Lord had increased, especially in Ephesus. Six years before this epistle was written, Paul had called over the elders (Acts 20), warning them that grievous wolves would come in after his departure, not sparing the flock (see v. 29). It says, ‘they all wept sore; and falling upon the neck of Paul they ardently kissed him,specially pained by the word which he had said, that they would no more see his face’ (v. 37-38). How they loved him! Two years before this second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote to the assembly in Ephesus, speaking about the highest truths. Now all in Asia, including Ephesus, had turned away from Paul. They were ashamed of his chain. They were turning their minds to other things. Timothy felt it; Paul felt it.
Beloved brethren, let us all think about what these brothers were experiencing. It was something never known before in the history of the testimony. Up to this point the church had been viewed in its pristine glory. There had been much rich teaching to the glory of God, but Timothy was witnessing the breakdown of the church publicly. Paul now writes to encourage his beloved child in the truth. He would say, ‘I want to remind you of the faith that was in your grandmother, and in your mother, and I want to rekindle the gift of God which is in you.’ The note says ‘to revive, to rekindle, what is drooping. The whole subject of the epistle is energy in the darkening state of [Christendom – no! – the darkening state of] the assembly.’ See Note e 2 Timothy 1:6). If much energy was required then, how much more is required now?
I spent quite a bit of time deciding what to read: I would like to have read the whole book! There are some beautiful expressions in it such as, ‘Have an outline of sound words’ (2 Timothy 1:13), and ‘cutting in a straight line the word of truth’(2 Timothy 2:15). These scriptures motivate us to go in for what is precious. The apostle is saying to Timothy, ‘Look, I am writing, not just to rekindle what is in you, but to encourage you to look forward’. Chapter 2 is a wonderful springboard: when all in Asia had turned away from Paul, you have an example in Onesiphorus of someone who was not ashamed of his chain. He said he ‘sought me out very diligently, and found me’(Ch 1:17). Paul follows that with, ‘Thou therefore, my child, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Andthe things thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also’ (Ch 2:1-2). Charles Coates says this scripture, ‘is not connected with gift but with fidelity …. You are to cherish what is passed on to you, and to pass it on faithfully. … That is the true apostolic succession.’ (CAC Outline of Colossians Volume 9 Page 252). If it were ‘gift’, it would be limited to a few, but fidelity is open to all.
When we look at theconfusion and breakdown, we can no longer see the assembly in entirety: what we see is more the ‘great house’. All believers are in the great house, and each of us is to be faithful to the Lord where we have been set. There is, however, a way out of the confusion.
When I was young, the 1960’s[i]had just come to a close, and I used to cringe every time 2 Timothy 2 was referred to. We had viewed it negatively, but it is actually very positive, because it shows the way out of the confusion – naming the name of the Lord, and calling on His name with those who do so with out of a pure heart. ‘Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace’ (v.22). And Paul follows, ‘I testify before God and Christ Jesus, who is about to judge living and dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, proclaim the word; be urgent in season and out of season, convict, rebuke, encourage, with all longsuffering and doctrine…do the work of an evangelist, fill up the full measure of thy ministry.’ (ch 4:1-2,5). Maybe you will say, ‘I’m not an evangelist’. Neither am I. But we can all do the work of an evangelist.
Paul then writes, ‘For I am already being poured out, and the time of my release is come’(v.6). He is saying ‘Timothy, I commit these things to you as I pass off the scene. Be found among those who love His appearing’.
Beloved brethren, I set these things before the saints with a desire that we might be energised together, and get some of Paul’s burning zeal. What was committed to faithful men, has come down to us. Let us not fail in this, our day. Let us hold fast what is precious and move forward in power, because ‘God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion’ (ch. 1:7)
David M Crozier (Father of David Crozier): What you say is both true and positive. We have thought of 2 Timothy 2 as a code, but it is not code. We have been occupied in recent times with rules and regulations: we do not want rules and regulations, but a greater appreciation of Christ. The guidelines for the exercised soul are in this second epistle
Martin Cook: I like that. We have the guidelines, to do what is right before God in simplicity and dependence
David Crozier (Son of David M Crozier): The letter is written to an individual, to a company as, for example, the Corinthian epistles were. In the breakdown, is it not for each individual to take up the truth in a spirit of wise discretion, and go forward in relationship with the Lord
Martin Cook: Thank you for pointing that out. One said to me recently, each one of us should read 2 Timothy as if it was written to us personally. Each one must take responsibility to fill out what was enjoined by the apostle.
David M Crozier: We have been taught the individual comes first. Then we find that there are other individuals with whom we can share things. In this hall there are many individuals. We have links with one another, personally, in the truth, and in Christ. This is precious
Martin Cook:Christianity is worked out in fellowship with one another: ‘With those’(ch. 2:22). In Matthew 18:20, the Lord came down to the smallest possible number – two or three, but thank God full Christian fellowship can be enjoyed even in those conditions.
Grahame Smith: It is interesting that Paul goes upstream to Timothy’s mother and grandmother. We can look back on those who have gone before in the testimony. There have been those who suffered, even martyred. It is, said others have laboured and we have entered into their labours (see John 4:38). We are to labour in unfeigned faith. Can you say something as to ‘unfeigned faith’?
Martin Cook: It means real faith, and we need it. It is faith that counts the cost with the Lord. I like what you say as to going upstream, because we can all go upstream. There were those who prayed over us when we were young. My grandmother and my mother prayed for me. I have no doubt that there are sisters here at this very time, praying in their spirits, that we might be kept in the truth.
Daniel Roberts: These four epistles, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, are rightly called ‘pastoral epistles’. Paul was acting as a shepherd, and do you think that the necessary service of the shepherd has been lacking in recent times?
Martin Cook: I think that that is helpful. In Philemon, we read of the problems that existed between two brothers, a master and a servant. Paul helped to bring them together, taking responsibility when he said, ‘If he have wronged thee anything or owe anything to thee, put this to my account. I, Paul have written it with mine own hand; I will repay it’ (Philemon v.18-19). We have to take responsibility when something like this arises.
David Crozier: I agree with going upstream, but do you think Grahame, that we need to be discriminatory as well. The Lord was very definite about those who made void the word of God by their traditional teaching (see Mark 7:13). We need to receive the word and test it, like the Bereans, against scripture. If it is right, we make it our own.
Grahame Smith: It is important today to be fully persuaded. We can tell the dear young people[ii]here, how much the Lord values those who are fully persuaded. And it is really good, in a meeting like this, to look around at them and see in their faces that that they are fully persuaded. They enjoy what is being said, and work out the truth in love together.
Martin Cook: You asked the question as to ‘unfeigned faith’. Did you have something specific in mind?
Grahame Smith: I think what you said about reality is very testing. I find that it is so easy to say the right things, but God looks beyond what I say, He looks upon the heart. He values reality. Timothy would have been brought up in a household with unfeigned faith. Also, he had a good report with the brethren in Lystra and Iconium. He was seen to be committed to the Lord and His interests: his faith and his living link with the Lord were evident.
Robert White: Would ‘unfeigned faith’ link us with Christ directly? It links us with another Man where He is.
Martin Cook: It is very important we have a living link with another Man. The secret of the overcomer’s power is the link that he has with another Man in another world.[iii] It is not just something passing and transient.
Robert White: Some of us have been close to persons who have failed us. We have gone on with them, but we found that we could go along them no longer. It is a painful when these relationships break down, but the our link with the Blessed Man, never breaks breakdown. That is ‘the life which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 1:1).
Martin Cook: I think many of us in this room share that experience. We have looked up to older brethren, but have had to leave them, sadly finding ourselves no longer in fellowship with them. The Lord would encourage us to cultivate our links with Him. ‘The life which is in Christ Jesus’ is a beautiful expression, and I would like more help about it. I believe it is the promise of life, and God does not deliver promises that He cannot fulfil. He has promised us a living link with a Man in the glory: He has done it, and this link is not going to break down.
Peter Mutton: Would you say something as to the mental and emotional state that Timothy was in at this time? It would seem as if Timothy was in a pretty depressive state at this point. Paul addressed him as his child in Christ, reminding him of his bright beginnings.
Martin Cook: Contemplating these Scriptures, that is something that has been on my spirit. The mental and emotional state is important – we recognise it, but we are not to be occupied with it. As I said earlier, Paul was experiencing something that he had never known before. He had seen the early local assemblies established, spending three years ministering in Ephesus. Paul told Timothy to remain there, to prevent strange doctrines from coming in. But they came in, and Timothy would have come away thinking, ‘I’ve failed. I have not been able to help the dear brethren in Ephesus’. Some of us feel like that as to recent matters[iv]. We have had to part company with many dear brethren: we have not been able to help them.
Peter Mutton: The man whom Timothy looked up to was in prison, the assemblies were decimated, the ship was sinking: it was no surprise that he was disheartened. I remember in 1970ithat my recourse was not the Lord, it was to novels, because the platform on which I stood had been knocked away. When things break down, I can indulge the flesh, or I can turn to Christ. Thank God, the Lord knows those that are His. How do we encourage one another, especially the young people, in these difficult times.iv
Martin Cook: We are hurt: we are disappointed; we are suffering, and we are feeling things. We are in reduced circumstances that we are not used to. It is therefore important that we keep close to the Lord and to one another.
There is a beautiful verse in the last chapter that is on my heart. ‘Take Mark, and bring him with thyself, for he is serviceable to me for ministry’ (ch. 4:11). Think of Mark: he had gone back from Perga of Pamphylia, and had not gone on with Paul to the work. You might say, ‘he has failed’. And a bit later, there arose very warm feeling between Paul and Barnabas, because Paul thought it not good to take with him one who had abandoned them (see Acts 15:38). Now in 2 Timothy, Mark here was a recovered man. If you think about it, Timothy was Mark’s replacement and there could have been a little bit of rivalry or difficulty between them. But Paul says, ‘Take Mark, and bring him with thyself’. Come to me as brothers in the Lord, because Mark is profitable for me for ministry’.
Honestly, if we are feeling downcast, or if we are feeling sorrowful, something which a brother reminded me of recently. Another old brother gave in his last word in a ministry meeting. He said, ‘If you look in you are disgusted; if you look round you are disappointed; if you look up you are delighted’. Let us look up together and find that the site in heaven is glorious. Beloved brethren, Stephen saw it, and it sustained him through martyrdom. The apostle was living in the light of the life which was in Christ Jesus. Paul is saying ‘Timothy, ‘Lay hold of eternal life.’
David Crozier: I was wondering what happened to Timothy after this? Though Timothy was at a low point here, he didn’t give up, didn’t he?
Martin Cook: No, Paul says ‘Use diligence to come before winter. (ch. 4:21). Literally, if you look at the commentaries like Elicott (who says, ‘If he delayed, the season of the year would put off, perhaps hinder altogether, his voyage’). He was to come before winter storms closed the Mediterranean to shipping. Brethren, I don’t think that things are going to get easier. Let us strive earnestly in the good conflict of faith; let us seek the company of one another. Timothy was coming back to Paul who says, ‘The cloak which I left behind me in Troas at Carpus’s, bring when thou comest, and the books, especially the parchments’(v. 13). These things were of value: we might enquire as to what these things are. The books maybe the ministry; the parchments may be the scriptures. The cloak was the measure of the man: ‘Fill up the full measure of thy ministry’ (v. 5).
Philip Mason: I was thinking about Peter Mutton’s question. Isn’t it part of the war that goes on within us – between the natural and the spiritual. Paul reminded Timothy of that gift of God – faith. He might have lost sight and the gain of it, but is reminded of what the Spirit was capable of. The work of God does not become depressed. Do you think that is what we need to remedy this condition?
Peter Mutton: It is interesting that there is a physicality to it here. Paul says, ‘I want to put my hands on you’. There is something wonderful about the brother who goes out of his way to say, ‘You just need a bit of encouragement: we want you back to what you were’.
Some Critical Questions
David M Crozier:
So as individuals:
What really is the basis of our walking together?
What do we look for?
Why do we walk with one another?
Why do we not walk with plenty of other bright Christians?
Martin Cook: The basis of our Christian fellowship is the death of Christ; the bond of our fellowship is the Lord; the power is the Holy Spirit. Others can help us.
David M Crozier: We are not drawn towards one another because of natural affection for one another. There is something more permanent than that.
David Crozier: Every believer on the Lord Jesus who has the Holy Spirit, is a member of the body on the basis of the death of Christ. However, we don’t enjoy the highest level of fellowship in the Lord’s supper with most. I think that the questions that my father has asked are absolutely fundamental. We need to explore them.
Martin Cook: I think what you say is important and fundamental. Our link is with all believers who have the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They all form part of the body of Christ, and are in the fellowship of God’s Son. We all partake of that one loaf: that speaks of the unity of the body. We are not talking about physically eating the bread at the supper, but understanding what it is to have part in the body of Christ.
The breaking of bread is not the only expression of fellowship: it is the most intimate expression of fellowship. We have to be wide in our affections. If you walk down the street in Warrenpoint, you can enjoy fellowship with other believers. You can talk about the Lord, and His things, and that is fellowship. You can have them to your home, and eat with them – these are all expressions of fellowship. But you should not put all expressions of fellowship on the same level as the breaking of bread, otherwise you only have fellowship with those that you break bread with, and that would be sectarian.
Paul Burton: We talk about ‘being in fellowship’ and ‘our fellowship’, and terms like that. The fellowship exists – that it is important. We did not create it, nor did we recreate it, and if we tried to do so, physically or ecclesiastically, it would not be right. The Lord has created
it: our privilege and responsibility is to walk in the light of it. In the simplest way of looking at it, it is formed of those who love Christ – believers who have received the Spirit. I know there are other considerations, but that is the ground of gathering of believers. As to our part in the body, it is God’s sovereignty, and we have no part in that. We have all been baptised in the power of one Spirit into one body. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Nobody receives anybody into the body; nobody excludes anybody – it is God’s matter. But when we come to practical fellowship, as we have in Corinthians , there is the side of responsibility. It is not for us that to make the rules; but to test everything, ‘Is it in accord with the death of Christ?’ It is for us, first individually, and then as we find others, to seek to be faithful to Christ in the power of the Spirit, to walk simply as believers.
John Purdy: Is the Supper the rallying point? Paul himself said, I received from the Lord, and he didn’t hold back what he had received.
Martin Cook: As to the expression of fellowship in the breaking of bread, J B Stoney said, that it is the right and title of every believer to have part, on the other hand there must be nothing sanctioned that is unsuitable to the Lord. (JBS Volume 1 pages 57-58)
Daniel Roberts: We can take a point of doctrine, practice or judgment, and make that the basis of fellowship. J N Darby said that we are not a voluntary association of believers, meeting together on the basis of a certain point ofdoctrine that we have espoused. (See JND French letter no 95)
Martin Cook: Malcolm Biggs has some very helpful writings on Fellowship (Principles Relating to Christian Fellowship– Fundamental Truth Booklets No 6[v], and more fully in Fellowship, its Nature and Possibilities v). I would commend these to the brethren. He cites an example of what you are saying. He says that there is a company that maintains that baptism is the basis of fellowship. You cannot have part in that church unless you have been baptised as a believer. Baptism is, of course, fundamental to Christianity, and contrary to what some people say, we do not hold ‘infant baptism’ but ‘household baptism’. All who are born into a Christian household are baptised in faith that they will come into these things for themselves. In making adult baptism a condition of fellowship you create a sect. This is an example of what you were saying: you bring in some creed or aspect of teaching, and say that this must be adhered to before you can have fellowship.
David M Crozier: We made 2 Timothy 2 a creed. That is where we fell down, didn’t we.
David Crozier: Is it worth looking at the context of the scripture that we so often quote in in 2 Tim 2. We get, ‘But profane, vain babblings shun, for they will advance to greater impiety, and their word will spread as a gangrene; of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; men who as to the truth have gone astray, saying that the resurrection has taken place already; and overthrow the faith of some’(v 16-18). The context is of two brothers from whom Paul had had to withdraw because of what they held and taught, undermining the very basis of the church, even of salvation and overthowing the faith of some. They had to be left to the Lord. We cannot say that they were not believers: they were certainly not acting as believers. Paul viewed what they were doing seriously, and he says, ‘You need to withdraw from persons like that’.
Martin Cook: What you say is absolutely correct. There were two persons there who were saying that the resurrection had taken place already. Paul says, if there are persons like this, we cannot enjoy fellowship with them.
Jimmy Gray: If we look at the Corinthian epistles and the carnal and worldly state that the Corinthians Christians were in, moral and fleshly things that we recognise in ourselves, Paul views the situation as recoverable and goes to great lengths to help them.
But the situation in 2 Timothy 2 is totally different. The position could not be recovered. The church publicly had turned away from Paul: there were things there which should never have been there. Ministry was unable to correct it. Now we have the great house where there are vessels to honour, and vessels to dishonour, and who are we to say who is which. But our responsibility is to withdraw from iniquity, because there is so much in Christendom at large, with which we cannot have fellowship.
Martin Cook: In Corinthians, you can see the difference between the iniquity and inconsistency. There were things going on in Corinth which were not right, but they were not gross evil. People were taking their own supper and eating judgment to themselves. Paul says, ‘These things aren’t right’. But when it comes to a person behaving characteristically and unrepentantly in an evil way, you cannot go on with them. The wicked person must beremoved (see 1 Cor 5:13), in view of repentance and restoration.
Robert White:? How do we recognise what is dishonouring to the Lord’s name?
Martin Cook: That is a challenge. As Jimmy Gray says, the situation that had arisen in 2 Timothy days was irrecoverable. We are never going to get all believers together again, are we? There are many dear believers here in Warrenpoint, who go to different churches and belong to different nominations. We have to find a way in which we can gather simply, according to scripture, in dependence. But I don’t think I’ve answered your question.
That they may be One
Ben Bodman: Should we not have in our hearts, the desire that all believers should be together. Otherwise we are negating what the Lord Jesus says five times in John 17 – that they may be one. Whether we are able to, that is another matter. But you have got to start off with the fact that in your heart, that this is the Lord’s desire. I must have that as my goal.
Martin Cook: I used to wrestle with what you say as to John 17. I thought that the Lord’s prayer had not being answered, as I looked at the breakdown in Christendom. But the Lord’s prayer hasbeen answered in the one body here. ‘That they may be one’: they areone. There is a common bond that unites all believers and that cannot be broken in upon. We need to hold to that.
Jimmy Gray: Thinking of the expression, ‘That they may be one, as we are one’(John 17:22), the line of the hymn helps meOne in thought, in plan and purpose,
There is a oneness between the Father and the Son, that we are called to share in. God is working in many places, and in many hearts, there must be a oneness in His work. When the scripture says, ‘The Lord knows those that are His’(2 Tim 2:19), He can look upon the spiritual and moral oneness that is secured in the souls of all believers – something that we cannot see. Looking historically at Israel, when the kingdom divided it remained divided, and God’s word to Rehaboam (Solomon’s son) was, ‘This thing is from me” (1 Kings 12:24). Now in our dispensation, there is a certain governmental consequence that has come upon Christendom. We have to accept it, and recognising the breakdown, be thankful that the firm foundation stands.
Ian Purdy: It is the collective that has broken down. That does not stop us linking in love with individuals.
The Unity of the Faith
Ben Bodman: There is a unity which cannot be broken, and which will always exist – the unity of the Spirit. There is also a unity that needs a bit of effort to work at: the unity of the faith. And, as Ian said, that is what we are challenged on: as we disagree, how we can work on that unity, while still retaining the unity of the spirit?
Martin Cook: it is a real challenge: it is a constant exercise is diligence to use ‘diligence to keep the unity of th Spirit in the uniting bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3).
Jimmy Gray: It is important to carry every believer in our hearts and affections. How we do this practically, has its limitations. We have to accept things.
David M Crozier: In relation to what Grahame has been saying, do you think it is important not to think that we have arrived at the final solution. We should never claim to be setting up what the church should be. We should simply desire that we provide conditions proper to the assembly.
Ian Purdy: The first thing that unbelievers should be able to take account of in a company of believers is that they have love amongst themselves. ‘By this shall all know that ye are disciples of mine, if ye have love amongst yourselves’ (John 13:35). This does not mean that we don’t have any difficulties, or disagreements – love is seen in how we meet these difficulties. It is like a family: love that gets us through all the disagreements. In love things are settled quickly, so you do not have long term problems. Do you not think?
Martin Cook: I think so. Practically speaking, I don’t know how a married couple can get on together without a link with the Lord. We work things out. We have our differences, but as we call on the name of the Lord we own His authority, and things become adjusted
Connor Crozier: We have been talking about other believers, but I wondered in our local companies whether we should do the work of an evangelist more. If we truly believe in what we are speaking about, and I believe that we do, and if our love for the Lord Jesus is so great, would we have less problems if we were more concerned about the work of the evangelism? Alan McSeveney gave a challenging ddress here. He asked us if we cared that there are a lot of people not going to heaven. The Lord is coming again, to rapture His saints, and it must be soon.
I wonder sometimes if our companies are places where we genuinely want to bring people, or do we want to keep ourselves to ourselves. We often think, ‘What if this?’, or ‘What if that?’. Are we leaving the work of the evangelist to other people? If we were more evangelical, and in God’s goodness more from different backgrounds came, we would find that they brought many more problems and issues. We would need help in working these out with such people.
Martin Cook: We need to start is on our knees. I challenge myself as to how keen I really am to speak to others. If I pray for the Lord to give me an opportunity to speak to a soul, He will give me the opportunity, and in some cases, I will find myself linking on with the work that the Lord is doing. I find myself talking to some of my driving school pupils: some are ready for me to read the scriptures with them, or to speak to them, or possibly to pray with them, because God has been working. May the Lord help us so that we can link on with what He is doing in another person.
The trouble is, if we are absolutely honest, we are scared. If someone walks through the meeting room door, we feel that our comfort zone has been invaded. It shouldn’t be like that: we should be ready to embrace those that the Lord sends us. Is there the state amongst us that would allow the Lord to add to us? We must be very humbled about the fact that we see so few additions.
Connor Crozier: It has been said to me that our local company is not to be a museum for good people: it is a hospital for the broken. We can look around the room, and say we are a broken people. Although 99% have been brought up in Christian households, can broken people, who do not even know the Lord, come into our meeting rooms and say, ‘These people love us regardless of our backgrounds’?
Ian Purdy: Following your analogy, there are some hospitals that specialise in certain things. When I see somebody, I start to list the things that disqualify myself, and say that I am not really the right person. But what we need to realise is that we belong to the hospital that has got the top Doctor. He has the answer to everything, and everybody. We are in a hospital that can deal with every case because we have the Doctor that can meet every case.
Martin Cook: That requires unfeigned faith. Otherwise doubts are going to come in, aren’t they? But you’re absolutely correct in what you say.Grahame Smith: Do we see with the Samaritan (typically the Lord) in Luke 10: he came up to the man who fell into the hands of robbers, and had everything he needed to meet the condition. There was the power to take him to the inn, (and we never read of him leaving it.) Paul had similar affection, didn’t he? In Acts 20:10he enfolded Eutychus in his arms.
Martin Cook: Have I got the oil and the wine; have I got the beast? But we do need to keep things in alance: remember Paul’s chain. There is the reproach of the Christ. So we don’t embark on campaigns of popular evangelism. We have the opportunity for as much evangelism as we have the capacity for. But, at the same time, we do have to accept that we are in a broken day. We are not going to revive a model church in Warrenpoint, or anywhere else. We need to be exercised to identify with the work of God wherever it is, and seek to further it, because we never know how far it will go under the Lord’s hand.
I was walking down the road the other day, and I saw a young girl squatting down on her haunches talking to a chap who was just sitting on the street, and I thought to myself, ‘Could I do that?’ I don’t know whether she was a believer or not, but she clearly had a desire to help that young man sitting there on the street. Jason, you have some experience about that sort of work: how do we draw alongside souls and help them. How do we open our doors and our hearts to people?
Jason Wain: I think it starts with desire. If you don’t care, how is anything going to happen? You’ve got to want to help persons, and if you do not have that desire, you can get it by asking for it. Their coming into the room to hear the gospel and getting saved is one thing. It is of course another thing for such to come into fellowship.
Martin Cook: If we are not really praying for the blessing of souls, we should be. We should be praying for assembly minded believers to be walking through the door. Do we pray that there may be households where we live, who are set for the pleasure of the Lord. Let us be on our faces – ‘Lord we have failed to build up’. There is a beautiful scripture in Isaiah 58:12, ‘Thou shalt be called, Repairer of the breaches, restorer of frequented paths’. We need to start healing a few breaches, brethren. To do that we need to be on our knees.
Ian Purdy: Does the work of evangelism come from care for souls? But it starts with ourselves. We can’t expect to evangelise other persons if we don’t care about one and another that are in fellowship to start with.
Martin Cook: Shepherding is vital.
Calling on the Lord out of Pure Heart
David M Crozier: Can I bring you back to the scripture, ‘Calling on the Lord out of pure heart.’ What ws the purpose of that?
Martin Cook: That is a real exercise. I know what it is for my heart not to be pure. As Peter Mutton said, we go to something natural, be it a book or whatever, some interest I have naturally, some pursuit, some lust or desire to satisfy my longing. But I need to get before the Lord, and say, ‘Lord I own my weakness; I own my failure. Please help me to be here to be occupied with Thyself, and be engaged with others in the enjoyment of the truth’.
David M Crozier: Should we not be single minded for the Lord Jesus in simplicity of heart. This is not a complicated thing, but it is a real thing.
Paul Burton: We started with Paul’s exercise to rekindle. As to love for souls, love for the gospel, love for one another, for the truth, love for Christ, how are we to rekindle?
Martin Cook: Hasn’t it got to be predominately love for Christ? All those other things are necessary, but what link do I really have with the Lord. Am I close to Him
John Purdy: I was thinking of the word that came to Jeremiah, ‘Thus saith Jehovah: I remember for thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown’ (Jer 2:2). God never forgot those.
Martin Cook: ‘I remember for thee’: all of us can admit that we have had a brighter day. We can say ‘Lord, I’m not what I should be. I know I fail; I know things are difficult, but, Lord help me to set forward what is for Thy pleasure’. We need to be rekindled in our affections.David M Crozier: There is a verse somewhere, ‘For of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matt 12:34). Do you think that if our hearts are pure, it will be seen in our speech?
Martin Cook: I think you’re right. ‘They recognised them that they were with Jesus. (Acts 4:1
Grahame Smith: Does it start with the thought of purifying? The Lord credits some in Sardis with not having defiled their garments. In this defiling world, it is a constant exercise to keep undefiled. Paul speaks about purifying yourselves. If I want to please the Man in the glory in my walk, I will shun defiling things.
Paul Batchelor: You read in Ch. 4:3‘For the time shall be when they will not bear sound teaching’. Can you help us as to what ‘sound teaching’ would be?
Martin Cook:I never thought that I would witness, men rising up amongst us, speaking perverted things (see Acts 20:30). I feel very humbled by that. As to sound teaching, Paul writes: ‘Have an outline of sound words, which words thou hast heard of me, in faith and love’ (2 Tim 1:13). Let us hold primarily to the scriptures. I know David (Crozier Jr), you are very keen that we must substantiate things by scripture. We have a wealth of teaching which is based on scripture, sound words that can build up and establish the Lord’s people. We need them and I would recommend them. In 1934 Malcolm Biggs wrote to a younger brother (Stuart Price)[vi], who asked him for help as to what he should read. He gave him a list of ministry, but he said, ‘Make JND’s Synopsis your daily companion. There is something about JND’s Synopsis which is unique: it will give you an outline of sound words. It presents scripture in context, not all the truth, but the foundation of it.
Paul Batchelor: I was just wondering if it links with the verse which says, ‘Yet the firm foundation of God stands’ (ch. 2:19). The foundation is stable: it will stand, and nobody is going to shake that.
Martin Cook: In the footnote to this verse, Darby says ‘Speculation as to what the foundation is, is futile’Note ‘a’(1961 edition). It is absolutely firm and immovable, and it’s established in Christ in the Spirit.
What is iniquity?
David M Crozier: Now what is iniquity?
Neil Smith: Does it not mean ‘evil’, that and nothing other than that.
Martin Cook: It is unrighteousness. But in the sense in which we use it, it is also gross immoral or ecclesiastical error. People at attach the name ‘iniquity’ to all sorts of things. But that it is evil is important.
David Crozier: Who of us can say we haven’t done something evil: we have all failed.
But is the iniquity attaching to vessels to dishonour, from which we have to withdraw, a characteristic matter? Any one of us is capable of saying or doing something evil, but when it becomes characteristic of a person, and that person is unrepentant, is that when it becomes a matter for discipline?
Martin Cook: You are quite right. When the course of a person’s life is marked by unrepentant evil, tha is a matter for discipline. The object of an appeal in Matthew 18:15-18is to gain a brother: if he repents, the matter is resolved. The object of an assembly meeting is not to withdraw from somebody: it is to appeal to him or her in view of recovery. There was an assembly meeting, at the beginning of the which they sang, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’, (Little Flock 1962: Hymn 272 v. 1), and the brother who they were appealing to broke down and he was completely restored. The meeting itself actually never took place. That hymn was enough.
Neil Smith: So if something is not evil, you can’t link the word ‘iniquity’ with it?
Martin Cook: It might be inconsistency: we all do things which are not right, but when you persistently go on a course which is dishonouring to the Lord and His testimony then it becomes more serious.
David Crozier: I need to be careful that I do not call something that troubles my conscience ‘iniquity’. In 1 Corinthians, there are things which Paul points out and says, ‘These are not right.’ There are other things that Paul says, ‘Actually you can do these things, if you are minded to do them’. You may be free to do something, and I may not be free to do it. I must not take something that troubles my conscience, and force it on my brother, saying that is a matter of iniquity. Is that going too far?
Martin Cook: No it is not.
I think what we are saying is that there is a difference between individual responsibility and conscience, and collective responsibility. There are fundamental things which govern Christian fellowship: I am not talking about these. But, for example, Paul cites the case of one brother eating meat, and the other a vegetarian (see Rom 14:2). This can never be a test for us walking together. We have a very dear brother who comes along to our meetings in Folkestone. I had a talk with him some time ago, and at the end we came to it that we didn’t completely agree on everything that we had discussed. I said to him, ‘I trust I have not offended you.’ He locked his fingers together and said, ‘You and I are one in Christ: a small matter like this cannot come between us. Here are small things we don’t agree on, but that does not affect our link in Christ, our enjoyment of fellowship’. That really warmed my heart.
David M Crozier: Some churches publish a ‘statement of faith’ on their websites. We do not need one. But I was reading one which acknowledged that all might not agree and there will be difference until the rapture.
Phil Hazell: I was just thinking as to what you were saying as to a pure heart. The word is singular: we can’t judge one another’s hearts. I believe that we have tended to do that.
Martin Cook: We cannot judge motives. We don’t know what is in the heart and soul of a person, but a pure heart is a heart that loves Jesus, and loves His appearing. I like the way Paul concludes, ‘For I am already being poured out, and the time of my release is come’ (v. 6). There is a man here with a pure heart: he loves Jesus, and is longing, in the midst of all this confusion, to see the return of the Man who is going to put everything right publicly. And he says, there’s a crown of righteousness for me (see v. 8), and for those who love His appearing. We have been talking about what is unrighteous; let’s think about what is righteous for a moment. Put simply righteousness is ‘doing what is right’.
The Judgment Seat and our Place in the Kingdom
It is very important that we see the difference between our calling in relation to the purpose of God and our conduct. ‘My place in the Father’s house is assured because it is according to divine purpose; my place in the Kingdom is according to my responsibility here in my walk and pathway’ (CAC Volume 10 page 237-238). This is what the apostle is emphasising. He is saying that we have a responsibility before the Lord to work things out in righteousness, because we are going to be answerable to Him as to the way we have conducted ourselves. This isn’t to frighten us, because the believer will never face judgment. When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ our Saviour, we will receive His assessment of the way we have conducted ourselves. How have I represented Jesus in this scene? How have I treated His people? How have I conducted myself in relation to other believers? These things are important, dear brethren, in the light of the return of Christ and the judgment seat.
Ben Bodman: Paul is at the end of his life, he is about to leave the scene, but he hasn’t given up. He said, ‘I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus’ (see 2 Timothy 4:12). You would say, ‘Paul, what’s the point of that. You have just told us that all in Asia have turned away from you. Ephesus is finished. Paul would nt accept that: he looked to their being restored.
Martin Cook: Even if the whole of Ephesus was not restored, the house of Onesiphorus or others may have been restored.
obert White: The judgment seat of Christ held no terrors for Paul. He had anticipated it here.
Martin Cook: You are right. I think we should speak more about the judgment seat. It is the divine assessment of my responsible pathway here. If I had that more in mind, my walk would be more orderly, my love for Christ would be greater, and I would be more serviceable to the Master. Do I really view the Lord Jesus Christ as my Master? Am I really exercised to be here for Him?
This is an individual epistle, but it’s in view of what’s collective. If we are to go on rightly together, we need be right with the Lord individually. We work things out with Him first, and then with one another.
I trust that there is going to be something rekindled, especially with our younger ones. We can comfort and encourage one another. Let me say to you, ‘We love you; we pray for you, and we are very thankful to see you here today. May the Lord bless you and encourage you. Let us commit that which we have received to the Lord, for His blessing.
[i]Martin would have been referring to the period amongst the Taylorite Exclusive Brethren (now known as the PBCC), when James Taylor Jr was in the ascendency. He enforced a legal separation from other believers even to the breakup of families, based on an extreme interpretation of 2 Timothy 2. In 1970 there was a major division and thousands including Martin’s family, and that of the editor (then mid 20’s), were delivered from that system in God’s mercy.
[iii]The expression is well known, but the editor has not been able to find a source for it. If a reader can provide it, it would be appreciated.
[iv]Sadly, during the course of 2017, most of those gathering had had to leave the company that they would have been with for many years, if not all their lives. It is not the place to go into the reasons here.
Martin Cook – Word in a meeting for prophetic ministry, Tunbridge Wells, 17 August 2017
Numbers 29:1, 12-14, 32-36 Mark 8:6-9 Revelation 1:10-16, 20.
I desire, with the Lord’s help to say a little as to seven months, seven bullocks, seven loaves, seven baskets, seven lamps, seven stars, seven assemblies and seven overcomers. The thought of seven brings before us what is perfect, and what is maintained. I believe that at the moment there is so much that would cause us to be downhearted and discouraged. However, when we see things from the divine side, we see that things are being maintained.
The Seventh Month
The seventh month was the climax of the Jewish year. It was a time of blessing for God’s people, when the ingathering took place. It was also the time of sounding of the trumpets. This time can be likened to the period which commenced 185 years ago when beloved Mr Darby left the church. The trumpets sounded, and God spoke in a clear and distinctive way. ‘Wherefore come out from the midst of them, and be separate’ (2 Cor 6:17 KJV). Persons who were faithful to Christ stood aside from the professing church, and received unique and precious teaching – the truth of Christ and the assembly, the Head in heaven and the body here. What flowed was the enjoyment of eternal life and the understanding of the truth of the local assembly. One and another continued to minister in the first half of the 1900’s, opening up the truth of the sonship of Christ, the service of God and the worship to the Holy Spirit. It was truly a time of rich blessing amongst the people of God. God spoke clearly, many were affected, numerous localities were formed, and it was a time of great increase and blessing.
But in more recent years, we have seen reduction. This is what we have in Numbers 29. What started with thirteen bullocks, gradually reduced, but it never got to less than seven. I think that this is the point we have reached now. Let us lay hold of the fact, beloved brethren that some form of what is collective and honouring to the heart of Christ will remain until the end of the dispensation. I trust I shall be identified with it. As I said earlier, we never have less than seven bullocks. The supper is maintained: ‘For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye announce the death of the Lord, until he come’ (1 Cor 11:26). God is pleased in that which speaks to Him of Christ. He will not suffer the enemy to triumph.
Seven Loaves and Seven Baskets
I move on to the seven loaves and seven baskets. The seven loaves speak of the all-sufficiency of Christ to maintain what is pleasing to Himself in the scene of His rejection. What struck me was that after all had eaten and had been sufficed, there were seven baskets remaining. These were not hand baskets: the bible dictionary describes them as hampers. I think Mr Coates said it would probably have taken two or three people to carry them[*]. The Lord said in Matthew, ‘For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them’(Matt 18:20). It struck me that where two or three are prepared to carry the basket, there is provision to carry on. After that great period of blessing amongst the Lord’s people of which we have spoken, things can be maintained. We could say that there is a hamper for every local assembly in Revelation. The Lord says that for each locality where His people are found, there will be the ability to continue: the overcomer will be found.
When you look at the seven assemblies, you say that you find admixture: not all is as it should be, but, thank God, the thought of seven assemblies goes through to the end. The Lord told John to bear testimony to ‘the things that are’ (Rev 1:19): the present circumstances, and how the Lord views them. He is walking in the midst of the seven golden lamps. Whatever the state of the church may be publicly, it continues to be a golden lamp from the divine viewpoint. The Lord knows what the state of each soul is in every gathering. Those eyes as a flame of fire take account of us. He wants us to be like one of the seven stars in His right hand.
The principle of overcoming goes through to the end. There is an overcomer in every local assembly – hopefully more than one. Indeed, there are enough overcomers to carry the basket, and maintain what is due to the Lord. The overcomers are feeding on Christ; they are feeding on the richness of what has been given in the ingathering. Let us thank God for the ministry that we have been given: we would have been so impoverished without it. We were reading in Haggai yesterday, ‘The word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, and my Spirit, remain among you: fear ye not’(Hag 2:5). Think of what is available to maintain that which is available for the pleasure of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, even in a day of reduction. Let us be found beloved, where the Lord has set us, seeking to carry what has been committed to us (typified in the basket), feeding on what is of Christ, and knowing that, as we seek to do so, He holds us in His right hand. He will maintain us for His pleasure till He comes.