GOD’S PLAN AND OUR PLACE
In Eph. 3: 11 (R.V. mgn.)* we are taught that there is a Divine purpose running through all the chequered and stormy ages of human history, and indeed of the universe. The knowledge of this greatly establishes the heart, and enables faith to wait in patience through dark days. But it is important that we should look at the whole purpose, and especially to its end, so as to understand the details. We cannot learn much by looking at a machine at work if we do not first know what the finished article is to be. And, in particular, we must know God’s Purpose if we would co-operate intelligently with Him.
*References are to the R.V.
The present inhabited earth is subjected to angels, is under angelic government - see Daniel, the Revelation, etc. In reality “the heavens do rule,” and earthly monarchs are subject to God’s authority exercised through angelic agency. But part of the angelic host is in rebellion against God; and hence arises, first, the age-long corruption of human government; and then, that the godly being called into effective co-operation with God, must needs war against wicked spirits in heavenly places.
But there is coming a complete change of administration in the universe. Evil spirits are to be deprived of authority and driven out of the heavens (Rev. 12: 7-12; Ps. 82: 5-8), and earthly governments are to be dashed to pieces (Daniel 2: 35; etc.). The dominion of the heavens and the earth is then to be committed to man in the person of the Man Christ Jesus, Who will associate with Himself in that government His church. Not unto angels has God subjected the inhabited earth to come (Ps. 8.; Heb. 2: 5-10).
It was God’s original thought in creating man that he should rule the earth (Gen. 1: 26), but it was not then revealed that God purposed later to enlarge that dominion to include the heavens also. God has hitherto punished with death any being who tried to enter another realm of nature than that in which he was placed by the Creator (Jude 6; Gen. 6: 1-7; Lev. 20: 6). But in the case of those who shall be accounted worthy to reign with Christ, God purposes to do this very thing; and “many sons,” His “firstborn” sons, being sons of men, made of and for the earth, He purposes to take up into the heavens, for which realm man is naturally unfitted. We are physically incapable of living a few miles only above the earth’s surface, and how much more so in the upper heavens. “Going to heaven” is not a natural development. There will be saved nations who will live on the earth. But to permit men to go up into the heavens is the most majestic prospect God could have given to us: it is unexampled, magnificent. It involves that there must be and will be a change of body, by which we shall be made physically fit for the heavenly regions and conditions (1 Cor. 15: 50-53). God is “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2: 10), “His own Kingdom and glory”; that is, not to a perfected earthly and human kingdom and glory merely, but to His own, the heavenly sphere and kingship and glory (1 Thess. 2: 12; 1 Pet. 5: 10); and thither Christ has gone as a forerunner (Heb. 6: 19-20). God is gathering out firstborn sons, those who shall have the pre-eminence with Christ; and this for His glory and service.
It costs somewhat now to follow Christ; but faithfulness always succeeds, and the reward is super-abundant, even the sharing of our Lord’s universal authority. We are called to be kings. Christ said to His disciples, “I appoint unto you a kingdom” (Luke 22: 29), and, “He that overcometh ... shall rule the nations” (Rev. 2: 26, 27).
For this great destiny we are now receiving the indispensable training and education. Our Lord has taken the same path, submitting to the same temptations and experiences, in order that He might in all things be one with us, and we with Him. Our part is:- (1) To accept cheerfully the discipline, receiving it gratefully as part of our perfecting. (2) To make God’s plan known to the rest of the world by evangelizing all nations (Romans 16: 25, 26). (3) To aid in the teaching and training of believers. The apostles thought this most important. Says Paul, “I labour,” “I toil in conflict,” “striving” “agonizing,” “according to God’s energy which energizeth in me powerfully” (Col. 1: 28, 29), in order that the people of God may be found worthy of this calling. God can never do anything higher for created beings, since He is proposing to exalt us to rule with His Son in His kingdom, and He can never exalt us above His Son. Hence it is said that in this secret counsel of God are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2: 2, 3; reading “in which [mystery]”: see Alford, and Darby’s New Translation): He has nothing more to reveal or offer to men. “If we endure, we shall also reign” (2 Tim. 2: 11-13), reaching that heavenly glory by the only path thereto, that taken by the Son of Man. It behoved the Messiah to suffer and to enter into His glory (Luke 24: 26); and insomuch as we are partakers of His sufferings, we may well rejoice, since at the revelation of His glory we shall rejoice with exceeding joy (1 Pet. 4: 13).
THE PRIVILEGE AND ADVANTAGE
OF SUFFERING FOR CHRIST
In Matt. 5: 10-12, we find our Lord’s opening instructions on this subject, and in John 15: 17-20, and 16: 1, 2, 33, His closing instructions. That His first disciples unhesitatingly and uniformly accepted and spread His teachings may be seen from Acts 5: 40-42; Acts 14: 21, 22; Phil. 1: 27‑30 (“granted,” i.e., as a privilege); Col. 1: 24; 2 Thess. 1: 3-12; 2 Tim. 2: 3, 9, 10 (“If we endure, we shall also reign”); Heb. 12: 4-9; Jam. 1: 2-4, 12; 1 Pet. 2: 18-23 (“unto this were ye called”); 1 Pet. 3: 17; 1 Pet. 4: 1, 12-19; 1 John 3: 13; Rev. 12: 11 (“they loved not their life”). No other literature is like this. The Stoics of old told men to be sternly philosophical and to disregard suffering. The Christian will feel it intensely, but will rejoice in it for Christ’s sake. The Scripture pictures Love as guiding the Christian pilgrim by a road rough with thorns and stones; but Love goes in advance: Christ has trodden the path before us.
Suffering is the normal outcome of witnessing to, and fidelity to, Christ. Our Lord laid the first and heaviest stress on qualities which count much for righteousness, but which count for nothing in the world (Matt. 5). The world has little use for the poor in spirit, and the meek; the world does not believe in mourning, and does not count persecution as a blessing. He who is like Christ is persecuted by the world. “Marvel not if the world hate you.” When infinite beauty, even wholly divine loveliness of character, was revealed in Christ Jesus, the world hated it. The more distinct our conformity to Christ the more we are likely to be hated by the world.
There are various kinds of suffering. (1) Some is the result of our own folly in sowing to the flesh. (2) Some is sharing the misery of mankind as part of humanity.
We are not responsible for the
suffering caused by war, but we share in it. (3) Other trial is more properly for Christ’s
sake and the gospel’s. Such fiery trial
is a normal thing. The past century was
exceptional and unparalleled as a period of rest and peace; and this God
ordered principally for the sake of spreading the gospel in other lands. He gave His church in the British Isles the
chief responsibility of this work, and for its furtherance granted an unique influence among the nations to the
The path of suffering affords unique advantages, and such as cannot otherwise be attained:-
1. Suffering exerts a potent and blessed influence in saving us from sinning. “He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4: 1). If you strive against sin you will suffer, but in the battle you will be saved from sin. Our Father chastens us that we may be holy (Heb. 12: 10). The imputing of righteousness should be followed by becoming partakers of His holiness. Suffering sanctifies, as fire purifies gold.
2. Suffering brings us into the closest intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb that was led to the slaughter. There are few places like the burning fiery furnace for knowing the Son of God. Jesus still treads the deserts with us. And He can take away our fear of the furnace and the desert. Do not needlessly incite opposition. We do well to surrender all rights of our own rather than offend the worldly: but much more we must not surrender the rights of our Lord by succumbing to the pressure of the world so as to avoid persecution.
3. Suffering is a part of the privilege of furthering the interests of Christ. All God’s purposes are entrusted to His Son for fulfilment; and He, the Highest in the universe, has in turn entrusted His interests on earth to us. He would suffer if He were here; but being absent, He leaves it to us to do so in His place, He enduring it with us. He would toil in the slums, or in travel in the gospel, and would endure all things for His elect’s sake. This we may do for Him, and He will be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And let us reckon with Paul that the sufferings of this present time are insignificant (Alford) in comparison with the glory that shall be revealed to usward (Rom. 8: 18).
4. Suffering thus purifies from sin, conforms us to Christ, and furthers His interests; and therefore it has an appreciable effect on our eternal status in His kingdom. Rejoice; for blessed are they who have been persecuted for righteousness, since theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. If we endure we shall reign. The recompense for suffering for Christ is the heavenly inheritance, the glory and sovereignty that Christ has won and will share with His faithful followers.
With these weighty considerations impelling him Paul said: “I fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh”: I go straight along His path, although I know perfectly well that it will bring suffering. Paul chose to go to regions where no preacher had been; and if there was greater danger, that was the place in which to seek him. He was superior to circumstances. We all are called to this kind of life, however varying our sphere and circumstances; and the fellowship with our Lord to which it surely introduces the heart, provides strength of spirit for enduring to the end.
SOME ESSENTIAL LAWS OF
For such a life as has been outlined power is indispensable; and it is promised: “Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1: 8). Power is essential to work. Only the energy of the Holy Spirit can give the power needful for the work of the gospel. None of the world’s resources were committed to the disciples for the most stupendous task of missionary enterprise. Breakdown is inevitable without the aid of the Holy Spirit. “Ye shall receive power,” said the Lord adequate energy shall be yours, through the Holy Spirit.
Co-operation with the Holy Spirit involves certain laws. If we obey the laws of a power the power will obey us. Electricity and gravity illustrate this.
1. Each form of power can only be used for its own proper purposes. Physical energy will not solve a mental problem. Intellectual ability will not lift a book from a table. Not the highest development of mental or physical power will give spiritual results or moral energy. Persons with brilliant minds, and others with highly trained muscles, have had no power over their moral life. The Holy Spirit is here to make the spiritual real to us; but He will not work outside His sphere. He will not undertake to make us rich and clever; but He is here to convince of sin, to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ, to make us like the Son of God in nature and practice, to energize us in spreading the gospel, to make us mighty in prayer. For these approved ends we can count implicitly upon Him.
2. As is the work to be done so must be the
power. Compressed steam never yet lit
an electric light. The force must fit
the end. Of what use are
music or art, fashion or science, in the realm of the spirit of man? They influence the soul but are useless as to
the spirit, for they are not the right kind of energy. Human logic - how can it help? The wisdom of the philosophers and logicians
was the fame of
Preaching and teaching is not of itself enough. If it be merely intellectual effort, and not vitalized with the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven, we may toil year in and year out without effect. The energy of the Holy Spirit working with the truth does the work. Do we know as experience, not only regenerating power, but also the pervading of the whole being by the Spirit of God, so that our words shall tell, and work effectually? Has He not only created life within you, but “come upon you”? The latter question can be determined by answering another - Have you power to witness for Christ, the Rejected by men? The promised and certain effect of the Spirit coming upon a believer is power to witness boldly. If any has not this power, let him ask of God Who giveth liberally; only let him ask in faith, expecting and accepting.
3. Each power requires a suitable medium of transmission. Wires will not carry water, nor will pipes transmit electricity. A sinner already saved is the medium God chooses to be the means of communication between Himself and other sinners. The people already reached are to reach out to others. Do your neighbours come in contact with the Power of God because they are in contact with you? How shall they hear without a preacher
God wants the whole man: ear, heart, feet, mouth, constitute God’s media. He wants our bodily faculties, our mind, and our spirit. Our spirit He uses that through it He may act by His Spirit upon the dead spirit of the sinner. Our mind, that He may fill it with light, that it may transmit clearly the knowledge of Himself and His will. Much of our preaching comes to naught because it is not understandable. It was said of Finney, “The man doesn’t preach; he explains what others preach.” And our bodies are wanted for audible and visible ministry. The healthy condition of the spirit, however, is most essential. An unforgiving spirit, or an anxious, restless spirit, and the like, is a blockage in the path of the Holy Spirit, a hindrance to the transmission of His energy. Hence, submission of the inner life to the Lord is an absolute requisite.
4. Rest is a basis of Power. Why are certain engines so embedded in masonry? In the reach of the piston-rod there must be points past which it cannot go. In mechanics, wobbling is weakness. Power issues from God’s restfulness. Are we resting in the Lord? Can we wait patiently for Him to act? Anxiety reduces spiritual energy. Lack of rest of heart is one of the most serious hindrances to Christians. Fret of soul when wronged, or fret over financial or other concerns, is a depletion of power, a dissipation of energy. One of the Lord’s first lessons was, “Be not anxious” (Matt. 6). From the rock basis of rest in Him we can put forth the whole of our energies. Perfect peace is our promised portion (Isa. 26: 3; John 14: 27; Phil. 4: 5-7).
5. Concentration intensifies energy. The diffused stream of the marsh is without force, but it will drive a factory if confined to a narrow channel. Explosives are expansive materials compressed; and according to the compression so is the energy developed. The Devil does not mind concentration on business, art, science, or vice, but he has a horror of a believer concentrated on the things of Christ. At all times let Christ be our Life and Object, let every department of our life be subordinate to His rule. The Devil will do anything to keep us from wholeheartedness; and our deplorable lack of concentration retards the Holy Spirit’s work. Let our motto be “To me to live is Christ”; then we shall not lack in spiritual energy. Let us cast all our anxiety upon Him, and live for Him alone. The promise, “Ye shall receive power,” was given to such concentrated men, men upon whom, in spite of their personal failures, Christ knew He could depend. The secret of the apostles’ success was given by one of themselves in these words: “(1) We are witnesses of these things; (2) and so is the Holy Spirit, (3) Whom God hath given to them that obey Him” (Acts 5: 32). Oh that each of us may say with sincerity,
“My gracious Lord, I own Thy right
To every service I can pay,
And count it my supreme delight
To hear Thy dictates and obey.”
So shall we have power for serving and suffering, for the perfecting of God’s plan.