THE RIGHT INTERPRETATION OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
This is the first of a series of studies aimed at clearing the characters of Bible heroes whose integrity has been impugned or their histories misrepresented, over many years by expositors and preachers.
We venture upon the task not simply to rectify an injustice, but as part of our plea for the right interpretation of Holy Scripture. Much exegesis is slipshod and ill-founded because expositors do not sufficiently attend to the PURPOSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT in these episodes of Divine History.
Much of great significance is therefore covered over and lost, and the pulpit is impoverished by popular discourses which go down well with the Christian public (for too long nourished on these plausibilities), whereas the mind of the Spirit is far otherwise. The soul will never be sanctified on a diet of chaff.
This Broadsheet will be followed in the near future with an examination of the cases against Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Paul. We ask for the prayerful support of our readers in this effort to show the real purpose of the inspired record in the histories of the great men and women of the Bible.
The attacks on Elijah in connection with his prophetic flight from Jezreel to Horeb are particularly objectionable and even the late Mr. Pink has perpetuated the slander. The deep divine purpose in the prophet’s flight, so intimately bound up as it is with preparation for the advent of the Messiah will be fully dealt with in our next issue.
THE RESCUE OF THE PATRIARCHS
A Defence of Bible Heroes Against Evangelical Hawks
By Charles D. Alexander
It is easier to denounce the actions of Bible heroes than to expound the prophetical nature of their lives and works.
Hence the alleged delinquencies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the bitter personal agonies of Elijah and Jeremiah, make easy sermonising for preachers in search of points rather than a thorough and painstaking investigation of the deep purposes of providence. The lighter method too, has the virtue of going down well with the average congregation; it is more likely to sell books, fill tents, garner popularity or otherwise advance the interests and reputation of preachers than the serious study of the mysterious ways of providence, however much in the long run the latter method is likely to meet the needs of those who look for redemption.
The evil is growing apace. The character of no Old Testament hero any longer enjoys immunity from unjust criticism. Even Paul in the New Testament is no longer safe. His dogged stand for truth and right against Barnabas, has last journey to Jerusalem and his submission to Temple ritual (“to the Jew I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews….”) are counted against him by the arm-chair exegetes.
Men like the late Donald Barnhouse have found rare pabulum for the fires of their invective at Keswick, when at their favourite pastime of chasing the characters of great Bible men. Abraham should not have gone down into Egypt in time of famine! God would have tossed haystacks down from heaven to feed his flocks and herds. Great stuff this. The holiday crowds in Lakeland found it rousing in the warm, relaxing sunshine, and the great orator found his reward too, no doubt, in the best of good dinners at one of Lakeland’s luscious hotels. Nothing here of haystacks from heaven in time of famine. Abraham having been well and truly thrown to the wolves, the preacher no doubt deserved his dinner and his not inconsiderable fee ere he took himself to fresh fields.
It is all so easy for those who, unlike Abraham, know nothing of leaving all behind and setting out, a lonely man, on a pilgrimage which would end only in the grave, moving defenceless (apart from the promise of God) through a hostile and wicked world where he never met such another as himself.
Easy too, to point the finger at Jacob, but that Prince with God; that man of Bethel and Peniel; that man of a birthright which brought him nothing but suffering and loss; Jacob, we say, will look all his arm-chair critics in the face one day, and demand of them, as he demanded of Uncle Laban, “What is my trespass and what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me? Where were you in the day when the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from mine eyes?”
Or Paul. Who are these men who dare to question the motives or conduct of that great and humble man who chose once to demand of the critics of his own day, that they show something of their personal record alongside his: he was not ashamed to declare his own; let us hear something of those of his, false friends and censors now – “Are they ministers of. Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep ….” Need we go on?
What Stanley Said
It reminds us of a dramatic scene in London when the Royal Geographical Society assembled in easy chairs to hear the report of some babbling American reporter named Stanley who dared to state he had found Livingstone alive in Central Africa. Stanley was listened to with stony, if not incredulous silence and with mounting resentment. His proofs of his meeting with Livingstone were waived aside. His story was a stunt. He had never seen Central Africa.
But the last word was with the ex-workhouse boy with the adopted name. “Gentlemen,” he said, “You are assembled here to talk about geography. There is a man out there who is making it.”
How easy to be the assessors and censors of other men’s piety who strode across the world and made history with their agonies, sufferings and indomitable, unshakeable faith in a divine word of promise which in their day had scarcely even been articulated; who were blazing trails of faith across a hitherto unconquered human wilderness, carrying the torch of divine hope to a mankind benighted and sunk in sin and darkness impenetrable? How easy indeed to sermonise to the admiration of the ignorant upon their alleged infirmities, with the implied suggestion that had the preacher been in their place things would have been different.
How more easy still to overlook the foreordinations of providence so as not to see that all time is measured and weighed in the skilful balances of the sanctuary, and far, far more is at stake in these early dramas of divine sovereignty than the clash of personality, the human indiscretions or domestic infelicities of a family of ancient nomads?
What vast lessons are overlooked by modern sermonising; lessons which might stagger the imagination feed the soul and humble the devout spirit if only men would be true to the record and search deep, instead of follow the leader in repeating age-old slanders against men and women to whom none of us is fit to hold a candle?
What is it they say? Abraham should have left his old father behind in Ur of the Chaldees? What, abandon the aged whom God says we must honour as we honour Himself? Is this what our friends are telling us? And in such an age of the neglect of the elderly as this through which we are passing? Shame upon these preachers!
THE CASE OF LOT
He ought not to have taken Lot, his nephew, with him. Indeed, and abandon a young man in whose heart even at that early time the seeds of grace were stirring? Abandon the young and inexperienced. Throw them to the devils of Ur. Ignore the fact that the young man’s father was prematurely dead and had bequeathed his only son to the care of the only man on earth who could do him good. Is that what the Tent preachers say was the will of God? The Lord save us indeed from these preachers. God had lessons to teach the world through that young man. The New Testament calls him “righteous Lot” and let that stand though Lakeland storms tear all their canvas to ribbons.
But he went down to Sodom and became a magistrate? Neither the one nor the other is true.First, God sent him to Sodom to be a last warning to the wicked and a vindication of the righteous indignation of God when the storm of judgment broke. Read again the frightful story of Sodom’s last night, and of the awful extremity to which the last righteous man in the place was being reduced, and see in it all the spectacle of the last judgment – “as it was in the days of Lot.” After the visit of the angels (which could only have taken place if there had been a man named Lot in Sodom and if the said Lot had not been left behind in Ur) the judgments of God were fully made manifest and righteously vindicated. And the last attack by the heathenish multitudes of an apostate world upon the remaining camp of the elect (Revelation 20) will be the prelude to the last judgment, on the pattern of Sodom.
Nor was Lot a magistrate of Sodom. Indeed this was the ground of the complaint by the Sodomite mob - this fellow has come amongst us and now he tries to act the ruler by admonishing us as to our behaviour! Though if Lot had accepted a magistracy, what of it? There are few enough Christian magistrates today and a few more on the Bench would not harm.
But Lot should never have resided in the city itself. No? How then would God have had a witness against the wickedness of the place? What better place for a. Godly man to live than where the darkness is greatest? We too live in a very wicked world and we cannot opt out. Let us see to it that we do at least as well as Lot when he was all alone. It is to be feared that through newspapers, television and doubtful reading many Christians are in greater danger of drinking in the iniquities of Sodom than was righteous Lot at his greatest stretch.
ABRAHAM IN EGYPT
Of course (you say) Abraham should not have gone down to Egypt. Should we also say that the Child Jesus should not have gone dour either? Or Jacob’s favourite son, Joseph, (‘to save much people alive’)?It was God’s purpose centuries after Abraham to deliver the family of that great man out of the iron furnace of Egypt by the hand of Moses. He would do it in such a manner that the whole of the then known world would ring with the account of the greatness of Jehovah and the fear of Him would fall upon all nations. Is it too much to believe that God was preparing the way through Abraham for that great event, and for that even greater event to take place 2,000 years later, when should be fulfilled. - or begin to be fulfilled - a great and far reaching prophecy, “I have called my son out of Egypt”?
The cause which sent Abraham into Egypt was the same which sent his grandson Jacob there - famine. The later generation feared not to go because God had already shown how He would protect and deliver His people, when He preserved Abraham, whose life was sacred to His purposes of redemption. We leave the Barnhouses’ with their fabulous haystacks. God was working to a strategy so wide and deep that these gentlemen are beyond their depth before they begin. Let them take their fee and fold up their tents and depart.
But (you say) nothing can excuse Abraham for exposing his wife to danger by saying she was his sister. How far can we see? Let us try again. Does nobody perceive the obvious these days or must it be told them, that Sarah’s only safety lay in the continued preservation of Abraham's life? Sister, wife or widow, Sarah was doomed in Egypt the moment she crossed the frontier, unless Abraham survived. The fact that she was taken immediately to Pharaoh’s house is proof of what the future held for both of them. Their safety depended on another factor - the sovereignty of God -and it was this that God was going to demonstrate to the utter confusion of the mightiest power then known on earth. We have heard it said that Abraham’s ‘testimony’ in Egypt to the true God must have filled the Egyptians with contempt. Barnhouse draws a wretched picture of him leaving Egypt “like a beaten CUR, with his tail between his legs”.
This is good sermonic stuff in these days when, take away the evangelical jargon about ‘testimony’ and many preachers haven’t enough Bible in them to give one solid sermon (and they are often readers of ‘Reformed’ literature too!).
But it will not do. The facts are against them. The apparition of Abraham in Egypt, all unknown, a foreigner and stranger, landless and stateless, who offended Pharaoh to his face, yet walked out of the land again unharmed, with his property undisturbed, because the power of God was upon all who would have harmed him, and not a dog bayed as he passed through - look at this picture, and perceive that God was raising a testimony against the idolatry of Egypt and the pretensions of its kings to divinity - a testimony utterly devastating in its significance.
They went from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea he reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm. (Psalm 105:13-15)
This was the lesson God was beginning to teach the world. It began in Abraham and it is going on still.
SISTER AND SPOUSE
The alleged lie that Abraham told, that Sarah was his sister, was no lie but the truth. Sarah was in fact his sister, according to the accepted relationships of the time. Before a lie can be proved it must first of all be shown beyond dispute that Abraham was bound to disclose to all who asked, the particular nature of his domestic arrangements. Even now in family matters we tell the outside world just as much as we feel it is expedient for them to know, and no more. Anything beyond that is indiscretion. Luther says that the fact that the same thing happened twice in Abraham’s experience (see Genesis 20) indicates that he had a perfectly clear conscience in the matter and was aware that he was acting according to the will of God.
Luther is very emphatic that the whole affair in Egypt was arranged and managed by the sovereignty of God to procure the widest possible witness to His own Godhead and as an encouragement to the people of God in all subsequent times, when in the hands of their wicked foes.
The episode yields very important prophetic results. Sarah is the mother of us all. She is not only the wife of faith, with unfading beauty, but hears in her character as the Church, the Spouse of Christ, a mystic intimacy with her Lord expressed in the Song of Solomon in the words, “Thou hast ravished my heart, my Sister, my Spouse”. (Song 4:9; 5:1).
The peculiar relationship of Sarah to Abraham received both in Egypt and in Gerar a dramatic emphasis and publicity which prepared the way for the full revelation in the New Testament of the mystic Bride of Christ who, to Him who loved and gave, is more than wife and more than sister: of His own nature, sharer with Him of the royalty of heaven, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh; bearing His heavenly resemblance as well as wearing the pledges of His inheritance of eternal righteousness.
“Sing, 0 barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 54:1)
Thus doth the Scripture acclaim Sarah, the Bride of destiny. Let none point an unhallowed finger at her.
“Truly”, says Abraham, “she is my sister, the daughter of my father but not of my mother”. For Sarah, the Church, was born of another mother whose name was not TIE COVENANT OF GRACE.- She was born under the curse of a broken Covenant of Works. Her marriage to Abraham, the Father of Faith, brought her under the New and Everlasting Covenant of God’s love and mercy. It is relationship which counts - relationship to Christ, Bridegroom, Husband and Lord and Brother by which we pass from death to life, from curse to blessing, and from condemnation to everlasting mercy.
Let us return to Lot for a moment to underline some observations and to make a few new ones.
Assessments of the character of Lot, usually founded upon cosy theories from a sheltered evangelical society in the modern world, are divorced from reality. In any case these assessments generally ignore or are naively unaware of the true state of society round about us.
THE EVANGELICAL CONSCIENCE
The writer of this article has had two disappointing experiences recently when trying to arouse the evangelical conscience to the stark realities of this age of sin and Satanism. In one instance where, without indelicacy (which he abhors), he tried to show what kind of a society we have produced in this dark night of humanity, he was told that people scarcely thought it a Christian man’s duty to talk about such unpleasant facts. In another he was taken up on the veriest side issue after having tried solemnly to warn the people, in the light of sinister tendencies in society today, that we were approaching a time when we might have to resist unto blood striving against sin.
And Lot appeared as one that mocked, to his sons in law.
Many evangelicals do not want to know. Convention story-time is much more congenial than the stark facts of Sodom and Gomorrah all around us. No longer can these facts be hidden. Take off the remaining vigilance and dwindling powers of the police force; add the security of “pride, fulness of bread and abundance of idleness” in which the people of Sodom relaxed, and conditions are immediately created which bring iniquity to the full. Put one righteous man in the midst, as Lot, without any advantage of an evangelical tradition, and the wonder is that he survives.
But, you say, Lot should not have chosen the country lying toward Sodom in the first instance. This is rubbish. The idea in the minds of many preachers is that Lot chose that way because the country was rich and he should have had more careful thought to the character of the inhabitants. Do our friends suppose that Sodom was a sort of sore thumb in that ancient society? Will they not be told that it was impossible in that day to find any place on the face of the earth where the same vicious social conditions did not exist, and at the same strength? Let them read in the Mosaic books what were the moral conditions of the entire Canaanitish world both then, and. 400 years later- when God commanded the Israelites to make an end, root and branch, of the: whole disgusting scene. Sodom was only a sample. Wherever Lot (or Abraham) went, they were surrounded by the like vileness.
In later, days Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by a similar judgment, and when the ashes were excavated in modern times they were found to hide the evidence (so vile that it has never yet been made public) of the unspeakable depravity of Roman society. The cities of Vesuvius were not more vile than the rest of the Greco-Roman world, but they were selected by God as samples of that wrath which 400 years later fell upon the entire Roman Empire.
So Lot was not making a wretched choice. His choice of the land lying toward Sodom was God’s selection on his behalf, that when the day of wrath came Sodom might be without excuse - as the rest of the Canaanitish world likewise was without excuse 400 years later when the fury of God burst upon them after lingering in long suffering through the intervening centuries.
Britain, Europe, and America face the same judgment today, for the same crimes against greater light, but our evangelical friends do not like that sort of theology.
Lot’s testimony did not move the city to repentance any more than the last testimony of God’s people will save the world from the terrors of the Last Judgment. But as Lot was vexed in his righteous soul from day to day, through seeing the ungodly deeds of that awful generation of sinners, so there should be clear testimony on our part against the growing and accumulating evils of these last days. There should be protest against the religion of the latter days - the drift to Rome, the subtle confounding of the world with the Christian faith, the Satanic assault on the foundations of the faith by men who blue-pencil the Bible and sell out Christian faith and decency to the devil.
Lot did not join with the citizens of Sodom in their carousals and their vile, lustful idolatry. When people asked him why not, he would tell them that his God was a pure and holy being who could only be worshipped from a pure heart.
If ever a man was sent from God to a wicked city to live there, and to prove that judgment was as deserved as it was slow in coming, that man was Lot. The divine end was served. The world that then was, was warned what its end would be, just as the Roman world, drunk with the blood of the saints, was warned in Herculaneum and Pompeii of where the frightful social and moral evils of the Empire were leading. The persecution of the Christians was an enormity similar to the investment of Lot’s house by the Sodomite mob. The end of the world will be according to that pattern. Revelation 20 portrays the investment of the camp of the saints by the whole massed might of that heathenish spirit which even now is moving into western civilisation and taking possession.
THE AFFAIR AT GERAR (Genesis 20)
All attempts to incriminate Abraham in this affair fail to perceive the purpose of the story which is not to advertise some weakness in the patriarch’s faith, but to witness to the perpetual preservation of the innocent Church of Christ in a wicked and hostile world. Sarah is preserved because of her special relationship to Abraham, who might well say of her as Christ of His Bride in the Song of Solomon, “My sister, my spouse.”
Abraham was right in believing he was in a place of frightful danger in Gerar. The proof is that no sooner had he set foot near the place when the lecherous king Abimelech seized Sarah and placed her in his harem. Who can doubt that had he known the full story of Sarah’s relationship with Abraham, so far from keeping his hands off another man’s wife, he would have legitimised his position by murder - that is, subject to the overall sovereignty of God which decreed otherwise.
It was the purpose of God to teach a twofold lesson in a city where, as Abraham truly said, “the fear of God is not in this place.” The lessons were:
1. The Christian is under divine protection;
2. Those who fear not God need to be taught respect for divine things.
These lessons could be taught in no more effective way than as we find them taught in Gerar. A strange man, a wayworn traveler, comes to a heathen city which is given over to idolatry, lust, wealth and violence. The stranger is rich in cattle and servants, but having no visible means of protection is at the mercy of the people of the place. There is in his household a very beautiful woman who excites public attention. She is seized and carried away by the ruler of the place - a man not accustomed to being thwarted in any object of his lust.
Before there is time to do her an injury, God intervenes, smites the whole community with a paralysing and terrifying stroke, appears in a dream to the wicked king, and warns him that he had been spared from judgment only because of the restraining hand of divine providence – “I withheld thee from sinning against me … I suffered thee not to touch her.”
The sequel is that Abimelech treats Abraham not only with courtesy, but with deep and humble respect, paying tribute to him in the form of wealth current in that age.
The sin of adultery, very lightly thought of there, became in the awakened conscience of Abimelech a hideous and dangerous thing.
Abraham was not mistaken as to the character of the man and the people with whom he had to do. Any attempt to present Abimelech in the role of the ‘noble savage’ is nonsense.
Asa result of the occurrence none dared to interfere with Abraham or intend harm to him. Here was a man and a family under the invisible protection of an invisible God. The fear of God suddenly came into this place and hung as a dark, threatening cloud over its inhabitants. They as well as their king were guilty men. The sudden blight which fell upon them, threatening their very existence as a people, was calculated to fill them with awe and terror. The whole community suddenly found itself in need of Abraham’s intercession. Room was given him to dwell in the land just where he pleased, and the speech made by Abimelech to Sarah may not be interpreted in terms of reproof, as though she had been a party to the contemplated crime - an unthinkable accusation - but rather as a tribute to her husband whom the king now knew to be a Prophet.
After the terrifying experience through which he had passed it is hardly likely that Abimelech would take a sly opportunity of reproving Sarah as though she bad been party to an offence of which he only was guilty. The Hebrew of verse 16 (chapter 20) is not easy of translation, and bears the meaning, “Thy husband is thy veil and thy protection amongst all who are with you, and all who are against you.”
Abimelech utters a prophecy, or rather declares an inward, spiritual reality, without realising it, even as Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied that one man should die for the people.
The Holy Spirit would have us understand through the words of the King of Gerar, that those whom Christ receives and espouses as His people are veiled by Him against every accusation and insinuation which Satan would make against them. He to whom the kings of the earth pay tribute and at whose decree nations are dashed to pieces or spared as the case may be, is the righteousness - the veil - of His people.Let none accuse those whom the Lord justifies or condemn those for whom Christ has died.
“I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver.”
This wonderful statement by Abimelech, unconsciously uttering prophecy by the secret inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contains a treasure which our evangelical traducers of the Patriarchs seem to have overlooked or proved themselves incapable of explaining. The only other occurrence in the Bible of this phrase is in the Song of Solomon 8: 11 -- the tribute paid to the heavenly Solomon by the Keepers of the Vineyard of Baal-Hermon. The Jewish husbandmen, the 'keepers' of Matthew 21: 33-46, repudiated the covenant, the tribute was not paid and they were rejected. The Kingdom of God was taken from them and given to the mystic nation of the elect people from all climes, tongues and ages. The three Passages of Scripture arc one, Genesis 20, Song of Solomon 8, and Matthew 21. Christ is the theme, the 'brother' of the Church in Gen. 20; the heavenly Solomon of Song, chapter 8, and the King’s son of Matthew 21. The care of the Church is in view, Let kings and rulers and preachers beware, of His righteous indignation against all who would rise up for the hurt of His people, and let them pay their tribute of obedience and submission.
ISAAC AND HIS TWO SONS
Those who do little else with the patriarchs but point the finger at them and vie with one another in the bringing of damaging charges against them for alleged lapses in personal integrity do no service to the cause of God and truth and cannot help the dear struggling saints of God in their Sloughs of Despond or their hard battles with death, discouragement, and affliction. “You ought not to be there”, say their tormentors (in effect); “you got yourselves into this - now get yourselves out.”- Oh, this appallingly bankrupt evangelical theology of affliction, trial and struggle against an evil nature!
The lessons the Bible raises out of the trials and dilemmas of those noble men and women, who found themselves alone in a hostile World, are lessons we cannot afford to be without. They are the lessons of FAITH.
Abraham left home and kindred and became a wanderer on the earth for 100 years, because he believed in the promise of a heavenly inheritance (Heb. 11:16). Isaac continued in an even longer life; his enrolment in the scroll of the evangelically famous in Hebrews 11 is based on one episode only in his life (and that the most misunderstood of all by his evangelical detractors today): the blessing of his two sons (Heb. 11:20) – “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”
In blessing his two sons, one a saint and the other a profane person (Heb. 12: 16), Isaac was careful, AGAINST HIS OWN PREJUDICES, to ratify and underwrite the gift of the birthright to the one whom God by secret and unconditional election (Rom. 9: 11) had chosen to receive the honour before he was born (Gen. 28: 1-5). He did not reverse or repent of what had been done under deception, though frustrated Esau sought carefully, even by tears, to move his father to undo the thing (Heb. 12: 17).
The prevailing of the providence of God against Isaac’s preference for his firstborn, Esau, is one of the notable demonstrations of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. The toning down of the stark fact of total inspiration into a sort of inward impression agreeable to the religious notions and ‘genius’ of certain selected persons (beware of it, O thou unwary evangelical!) received a rude shock in instances like this when a good man fought against fate and tried in vain to manipulate the course of history to his own pattern. Isaac was a good man - and a great than too - but providence permitted him to waver in one instance in order that God’s reversal of the order of nature in the case of the twin boys might stamp upon history the indelible mark of His own sovereign prerogatives and that it might never be forgotten that the choice of the Church of the Elect and the Firstborn to everlasting glory is His own choice, carried against all the weakness, sinfulness, blindness and rebellion of human nature. Any theology which does not begin there in the assessment of the situation in Isaac’s family is not theology but fantasy.
We see how in Isaac, faith wrestled against his own natural yearning over the son to whom in the normal course of events, the special grace of God would have been made known. He may have been slow to recognise the divine choice. It may be that Rebekah, faithful wife, was more discerning than her husband. In this case she had good cause to be. Why should she not have had a truer perception of things, who before the twin boys were born felt within herself the struggles of two nations and peoples, two orders of mankind? God accepted the one in free grace and the other He rejected in exact justice. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13)
A mother knows more about the birth of her children than father doctor or nurse. Rebekah could never forget the pre-natal conflict of the two seeds, the bringing to birth of two mighty streams of humanity. When she saw what in her agony and distress she thought to be the setting aside of the divine plan, she descended to a subterfuge to correct the error of Isaac’s prejudice.
But judge her not, my brethren. Judge her not, O ye Barnhouses and other summertime preachers in Lakeland tents. Least of all judge her you who are her sisters in the agony of motherhood. She was a lonely woman. There was no church, no Christian society, no pastor, none to help and none to advise.There was no precedent for her case, and no written Bible to turn to and find a text suitable to the occasion. She was writing one of the Sacred Pages even then, with her tears and the tumult of her fears. Judge her not, I beseech you friends, if her distress led her to strange expedients. Through it all she was being true, not just to a mother’s instinct, but to a prophetic word of God within her, a word which had lived with her since the day when it was first uttered to her as she tossed with pain and anxiety on her truckle bed: “Two nations are in thy womb and two manner of people shall be separated from thee, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, AND THE ELDER SHALL SERVE THE YOUNGER.”
If some of our theologians had their way the providence of God would have acted in oh, so cosy a manner. Isaac and Rebekah would never have had a wrong word. In perfect unanimity they would have accepted the oracle at the time of birth. All would have gone well, and everyone would have lived happily ever after.
But the Bible is not a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, set to music by Humperdinck. The Bible is the record of Faith’s struggle and triumph. It is written in the real agony, tears and toil of heartbroken men and suffering, travailing women. Children are painfully brought to the birth, and faith is always like that. Those who believe, like Peter, must be sifted as wheat, and through much tribulation must we enter into the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force. It does not fall into our lap like a sweet morning dream.
“If the righteous scarcely be saved ….”
If there is offence here in the conduct of Isaac and Rebekah it is not to be enlarged upon. If there is sin, it has long since been forgiven and swallowed up in the Redeemer’s tears and sacrificial blood. If charges are to be brought against these holy men and women of God, who is to cast the first stone? Who is to be their accuser whom Christ has justified? Who is he that condemneth?
Beware of the man who waxes very eloquent and indignant in the pulpit against other people’s sins. Remember the words of, the wise:
“Be not righteous overmuch ….”
We do not advertise our own rectitude by denunciation of others. We are more likely to advertise something in ourselves which it would be better to cover with a veil.
No. The Providence of God, who knows how to bring strength out of weakness and honey out of the carcass of the lion, is ceaselessly at work in the affairs of His believing people, bringing good out of evil and preparing the way for ever greater triumphs of His holiness and truth.
God took of the trial and distress of this solitary and devoted pair, and constructed out of their trials a great assurance and confidence concerning life eternal. If Isaac, by faith and not by personal preference, against all the bent of his nature, bowed before divine providence and in the ratifying of the blessings he had pronounced upon his sons foretold that Christ should come of Jacob’s line, we have indeed one of the great bulwarks of faith. At last Isaac perceives what the will of God has decreed and bows to the divine predetermination. And the Bible is shown to be no mere human invention and the religion of Jehovah no Mere outgrowth of primitive instincts in a semi-savage society.
What? Our ends are predetermined? Have we not the right of deciding all things for ourselves?
Have we indeed! No, not even in this era of democracy and the elevation almost to the sanctity of the Decalogue, of the slogan, “One man one vote”. Ask the people of Africa -or ask the parents of Britain anxious about the moral welfare of their children as they are forced into the, anti-Christian mould of atheistic and materialistic education and into universities with doubtful social and moral codes. “Our destiny is in our own hands”. But is it? The governmental machine will bulldoze us in the end and impose on us legislation which will paralyse the morality of the country and alter the character of our people.
There is but a limited sphere of human freedom, but we ought to be glad that in the last resource we are in the hands of an. all-wise God; that we do NOT live in a world where the human will has absolute sway; that God reigns and His Will is the only will which will ultimately be carried out – as we pray every day, ‘Thy will be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven’. We are happy about this because God is what He is - good, and true and righteous altogether. It is better that He should rule; better His will wrought out than for the will of man to prevail.
Let the way be dark and comfortless, the journey long, the time seem endless, the trial heartbreaking - we know what the end will be. If we should cry to the heavenly watchman, “What of the night?” He will reply that all is well, “The morning cometh and also the night.”
It is better that way. We will join Isaac and Rebekah therefore in their faith and patience; their reconcilement with God’s holy will despite the break-up of their home as one son seeks to murder the other. We will join them in their age-long expectation of the fulfillment of redemption in the grand Resurrection Day, when He shall come whose right it is, who is Redeemer, Saviour, Deliverer, and Glorious King of the Ages.
Be Still, my faith, as theirs, in the midst of travail. Be glad thou hast found it hard, for they found it hard too. They discovered heaven to be their home and not earth. So mayest thou feel that way also. And as they went in due time into the presence of Him whom they long had trusted, so shalt thou, my soul, so shalt thou, so help us God.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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"HAVE YE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST SINCE YE BELIEVED?"
An explanation of Acts 19
A valued friend asks us to comment on Acts 19:1-6, “concerning the Baptism of the Spirit and your correlation of this with regeneration.”
What we actually said in our last Broadsheet was, “there is no baptism of the Holy Ghost separate from regeneration.... the baptism of the Spirit is the inauguration of the New Covenant in the heart of the believer and it belongs to the inaugural act of faith by which we enter into the Kingdom of God (John 7:39; John 3:5).”
The Holy Spirit could not be given in terms of the New Covenant manifestation until Christ’s resurrection and ascension (“The Holy Ghost was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified” - John 7:39).
See also Acts 2:33: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.”
Old Testament believers were as regenerate as any N.T. believer, being born again of the Holy Spirit; but there was this difference: O.T. believers, though heirs, were in the status of servants (Galatians 4:1-5), living as they did before the period of the Church’s ‘coming of age’. In status, he that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). At the exaltation of Christ it became possible to reveal the full glory of the Kingdom of Grace, and the N.T. believer received the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Adoption – “whereby we cry Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:15-16).
It can scarcely be realised by N.T. believers what a great privilege is theirs to know God as Father, a revelation which was not fully possible till Christ revealed all to the disciples in the Upper Room (John 14).
The ignorance even of the disciples until that moment is shown in the request of Philip, “Lord, shew us the Father and it sufficeth us”. Then the Holy Trinity began to be fully and clearly revealed, and not only so, but the crowning blessing of the New Covenant, the Spirit of God given as the assuring and sealing Spirit of Adoption, the Spirit of the Father and of Christ, was about to be conferred.
The changing of the dispensations, and the inauguration of the full mystery of the New Covenant, was attested at Pentecost by visible and audible signs - the fire and the tempest of Sinai as witnessed by Moses and Elijah, now bestowed under the new economy, not for destruction and fear but for salvation, and sealing unto everlasting life.
“The fires that rushed on Sinai down
In sudden torrents dread
Now-gently light, a glorious crown,
On every sainted head.”
It was fitting and necessary that the inauguration of Christ’s glorious gospel reign under the New Covenant should be indelibly marked by tokens of His Almightiness, just as the Old Covenant was marked at Sinai. How could it have been known otherwise that a dividing of time was being crossed?
But the signs (as distinct from the thing signified) were apostolic (2 Cor. 12:12 – “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds”).
The divine baptism into the New Covenant was for all believers, but the transmission of the signs and gifts was limited to the Apostles as the viceroys of Christ. This was according to the word of Christ that the apostles should, in His Kingdom, sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of the children of Israel (Luke 22:30). This scripture does not depict earthly millennial scene, but the spiritual kingdom of grace over which the apostles still rule as viceroys through that Word of God which was communicated by them, through the Spirit. So there cannot be another prophet or apostle or new revelation or any new dispensation.
Hence in the Book of the Acts there is no recorded case of the ‘gifts’ being transmitted to new converts, apart from apostolic agency. It would be exceedingly improper for anyone to lay hands upon another for the receiving of the Holy Ghost, not being an apostle, and episcopal practices in this way are as much to be condemned as the pretentious performances in that field of our pentecostal friends. It is noteworthy that there is an increasing tendency among Pentecostalists to claim that apostles are, and ought to be, still with us!
THE CASE OF ACTS 19
We are now in a position to comment upon the case of the twelve disciples of John the Baptist whom Paul found at Ephesus (Acts 19).
These men were true believers but living at the dividing of the times, and were strangers to the recent historic happenings in Palestine. Their case has no parallel today for there is no one alive who has lived in both dispensations. Paul’s inquiry as to whether they had received the Holy Spirit since they believed was proper to the times and no doubt there could have been other instances encountered in those days, of scattered groups of true believers still living. in terms of the Old Testament, on account of the considerable dispersion of Jewry over the entire Roman empire, with synagogues in almost every considerable city. It was probably in the synagogue at Ephesus that Paul found these men.
It would have been a situation of grave confusion if foreign Jews who, during some visit to Palestine had encountered John the Baptist and been baptised by him, suddenly found themselves speaking in tongues without any clue as to why and wherefore. Though born again, they were ignorant of the New Dispensation. Now, through the laying on of the apostolic hands of Paul, they were granted the signs of the New Order.
The thing signified by the apostolic signs is the inauguration of the New Covenant Kingdom of Christ, supplanting permanently the Old Covenant Kingdom of earthly Israel with its outward rituals, rudiments and restraints, and its iron bands of legal observances – ‘a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear’ (Peter, in Acts 15:10).
It was not the divine will that the signs should be prolonged, as is plain from the fact that no provision was made for an apostolic succession of apostles to transmit them. The Church has ever since been satisfied with the thing signified - the ratification of God’s grace in the heart by the sealing of faith with the Spirit of Adoption in our regeneration: “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear (that is, the old legal spirit of the Law) but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).
Let that suffice. Many friends will not be satisfied with this explanation, and we accept that in this world the battle of truth must be fought over and over again, but we venture to claim that no other explanation we have heard about meets the conditions of Acts 19.