Exodus 6: 2-3
Romans 16: 25-27
Ephesians 3: 14-21
Jude 1-3; 24-25
One of the things we spoke about in the reading was the revelation of God. I want to speak now of how in the old dispensation, God was known, but not in the same way as in this dispensation; and then to see how it is in our day.
We read in Exodus that God spoke to Moses, and said that in a former day He was not known as Jehovah, as He had made Himself known to Moses; He was known to the patriarchs as “the Almighty God”. By extension we can say that in the days of Israel God had not come out into the light of the blessed revelation of Himself in Christ and by the Person of the Holy Spirit. But there was something known of Him to the patriarchs; that He was the Almighty God. I wanted to extend that thought to the scriptures that we have read in the New Testament, the thought of “him that is able”, the One who is able. We can say that Abraham had proved the name of God. At the beginning God appeared and spoke to him, and brought him out of the area where he was being brought up, Acts 7: 2-4. After a considerable time, God appeared to him again in Genesis 17 and said, “I am the Almighty God: walk before my face, and be perfect”, v 1. In other words, in the language of our New Testament scriptures, He said, ‘I am the One who is able for all things’. In chapter 16 Abraham had listened to Sarah his wife to go in to Hagar. Perhaps we could say that when God appeared to him, it was a gentle rebuke by God for what Abraham had done. He said to Abraham, ‘I am the One who is able for all things, simply trust Me, simply cling to My promise, and all that I have done’ - “walk before my face, and be perfect”. As far as I know, the only reference to the Almighty God in the New Testament outside the book of Revelation is in 2 Corinthians 6, where the name of the Father is connected with Jehovah and the Almighty God. So the way in which God was formerly known is not lost to us, but it is all accumulated in the way in which we know God now, and that is very wonderful.
Think now for a moment about Abraham and his faith. God called him when he was alone. Abraham had no counsel with other men: God “called him when he was alone”, Isa 51: 2. Then He gave the promise to him to be “a father of a multitude of nations”, Gen 17: 4. He received a son in Isaac and then God said to him that he must offer up Isaac, the one in whom His promises were. And Abraham was willing even to do that. We read in Hebrews 11: 17-19, “By faith Abraham, when tried, offered up Isaac, and he who had received to himself the promises offered up his only begotten son, as to whom it had been said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: counting that God was able to raise him even from among the dead, whence also he received him in a figure”. It is a marvellous thought that Abraham not only had the light of the resurrection, as we see in Genesis 23 when he was buying a burial place for his wife Sarah, but he counted on the God of the resurrection; he counted that God was able to raise his son from the dead. It says “he received him in a figure”; wonderful faith of Abraham. So it is completely justified that Abraham is called the father of all believers in Romans 4 v 11-12, not only of the believers from Israel, but also of the believers from the Gentiles, Gen 15: 5.
Well, as we come to the New Testament, we can come to know God in a greater way. In Old Testament days it was known that God was able for all things, but it was not known what ‘all things’ really meant because God had not been revealed in the light as yet.
In Romans Paul is directing the saints in Rome to “him that is able”. He has written this epistle, and his longing was to be with them. Many times he wanted to come to them he said, in order to establish them in the truth of his glad tidings, Rom. 1: 11-13. But in the ways of God it had not happened yet; so now we have this precious letter, the epistle to the Romans. When he had written all these truths of the foundation of the gospel, and leading on to the glorious gospel that was committed to him, he could refer to it as, “my glad tidings”. God had especially committed it to him, the gospel of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Rom 1: 3, 4. You see it straightway when he was converted that in the synagogues “he preached Jesus that he is the Son of God”, Acts 9: 20. I think that all was involved there already, namely that Christ is the Centre of a new world before God. This was already established in the place that the Lord Jesus has as glorified, and that is our place with Him. But now we must look to ourselves and review how much we are established according to this letter. I think it is good from time to time to ask ourselves this question. We have heard the glad tidings many times. Every Lord’s day the word of God is preached in our meeting rooms, and I have never met a brother who has said that we do not need the preaching of the word of God. We always need to be taught; we always need to become more established. I do not think there will be anyone who dares to say that he is thoroughly established in all the truth!
I wanted to just go briefly over five points in this letter and see how we are in relation to it in our own souls. I take it for granted that we already have our faith in the Lord Jesus, and have appreciated the precious price which He has paid for us, He “whom God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood”, Rom 3: 25. We believe in God who has raised Him from among the dead (Rom 4: 24-25); so we have the same character of faith as Abraham had. We have been justified on the principle of faith, and we stand in favour and we boast in hope of the glory of God, Rom 5: 1, 2.
The first point I want to touch upon is in Romans 5: 11, where it says, “we are making our boast in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we have received the reconciliation”. I was wondering if we are amongst those who are making our boast in God. Are we those that give God all the credit for our salvation; that we have been reconciled to Him, that we are in such intimacy, that we have been brought so nigh? Do we give God all the credit for all He has done? Well, you may say, ‘I have faith’, and the Lord would give you credit for that (Luke 7: 50), but faith comes from God, Phil 1: 29. We were completely powerless, as you read in the verses before this section in chapter 5. We were enemies, and still sinners when Christ died for us. But now we are making our boast in God. You see it illustrated in the Israelites who went through the Red Sea. They saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians upon the sea shore, and when they got over, Moses and the children of Israel sang! They were making their boast in God! They gave God all the credit for their salvation! They spoke of what God had done, “The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea”, Exod 15: 1; they were wholly occupied with Himself. We see it too in the Samaritan leper, one of the ten, in Luke’s gospel. The ten lepers were all cleansed but there was only one who came back to the Lord Jesus, “glorifying God with a loud voice”, Luke 17: 15. There was one who was making his boast in God, and the exercise is, are we amongst those who make their boast in God?
The second point that I wish to raise is at the beginning of chapter 8. “There is then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and of death”, v 1, 2. I think that is another landmark in this epistle, and a very important one! Can we all say that for us there is no condemnation, and that we are set free? When we are in Christ, then there is no condemnation for us, and we experience that there is power in us to fulfil our obligations. Or are we still struggling with ourselves, with our flesh, as seen in chapter 7? It is very important to know something of chapter 7, the struggle of the flesh in us. It is of the utmost importance that we come to it that we are completely powerless in ourselves. Our desire is to please God, but we see that we have no power to do this. Then we come to the point where we feel ourselves the most wretched of men because we are completely powerless to fulfil our desires according to God. It is good to come to that, “that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell”, v 18. But Paul also says, “it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells in me”, v 20. Have you come to that point? There is something in us that is from God, and that is our “I”, and the rest is not from God. If we reach that, we have made some progress. But there is a way out of this misery! We must not remain in this state, because “There is then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus”, because the One who bore our sins in His body on the tree, is also the One in whom God has dealt with our sinful state, and now we can be free! “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free”: it is a personal exercise to come to it. There is great joy in being delivered, and even more, to know the Deliverer, the One who is able to deliver me, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”, chap 7: 25. Someone who is established according to Paul’s gospel is one who knows of these things experimentally and is now able to fulfil their responsibilities.
In verse 4 of chapter 8 it speaks of “the righteous requirement of the law”; that means what is due to God and what is due to our neighbour. To love God above all, and “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, Mark 12: 30-31. But there is really an additional thought as in the words of Elisha to the widow: “live thou and thy sons on the rest”, 2 Kings 4: 7. In the power of the Holy Spirit we can now go on from that point, we can now enjoy what is according to God, what is in His purpose, what is our inheritance; we can “live on the rest”. It says in verse 13, “if, by the Spirit, ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live”, and that is what we have. If you are not free, the purpose of God is something that is beyond you, and you are not able to enjoy this. It is something that you cannot enjoy when you are completely occupied with yourself. When you are free of yourself you can be in liberty with God, have the power of the Holy Spirit in you, and have the experience of being a conqueror; you can overcome.
Now the third point I want to point you to, is what we have in verse 28. There it speaks of “those who are called according to purpose”; so that means God has a purpose. What is God’s purpose? It is to glory Himself in Christ. It says in verse 29 that we have been “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son”, and that Christ “should be the firstborn among many brethren”; is that not wonderful! We can have the enjoyment of it in our hearts already. Seeing the place that the Lord Jesus has already would help us to come to this. The place He has is according to God’s purpose. From that point on we can see ourselves in relation to the Lord Jesus, “that he should be the firstborn among many brethren”. It was in God’s purpose to distinguish His Son in order that He should be surrounded by the many sons who should bear His image, be like Him. Being occupied with God’s purpose gives stability to your soul which you cannot find elsewhere because God will not be hindered in any thought of His. The enemy is trying to do that. In Psalm 2: 2 we see something of that. There we see the nations against God and Christ, but you see God’s thought: “I have anointed my king upon Zion, the hill of my holiness”, v 6. That cannot be moved at all; how wonderful to come to that in your soul. After severe and prolonged exercises Job came to it: “I know that thou canst do everything, and that thou canst be hindered in no thought of thine”, Job 42: 2.
The fourth point that I want to point to is also in chapter 8. We are now occupied with God’s purpose, but what about our walk here? We have our lives here; we have our exercises here; we are going through a scene of sin and death. People are against us; circumstances are against us. Well, let us look at verse 39; there is nothing that “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. As we go through this scene we have the distinct assurance in our souls that there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Paul says, and can we say in our measure, “I am persuaded”? Can we say that in the things that we may go through, “tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword”, v 35? Perhaps we know only very little practically about these things; other believers are perhaps more tested. But we do go through a scene where all these things are seen, and we can be more than conquerors because of One who has loved us. One who is established knows something of this, that there is nothing, “nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Well, the last thing I want to point out is in the beginning of chapter 12; “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God”. Paul is saying ‘I have presented to you such wonderful blessings, what are you going to do now? I do not command you, I do not put you under a law to do certain things; “I beseech you … by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice”’. I trust that in a measure we have all done this, that we have presented our bodies to God in order to serve Him to be able to see and discern what this perfect will is; “which is your intelligent service”. If we really have learnt these former four points in our souls, we cannot do anything else than put our bodies on the altar and be for God.
I think when we review these things most of us feel the need of being more established. Paul commits the saints “to him that is able to establish” us, establish us according to his glad tidings. His glad tidings involve more than Romans, I know, because almost every epistle says something about this glorious gospel. But this is the foundational epistle, and I trust we shall not leave this epistle but take it with us, take the blessings and exercises with us in going to other thoughts of God for us. I have read (see The Worship of God - A J Gardiner p 16) that Mr Darby said that a good Roman can go anywhere. That is, if you are once established in Romans, which involves a complete judgment of the flesh, and the definite recognition of the Spirit, you have no difficulty in following anything that the Spirit opens up in the truth; you are established according to Paul’s glad tidings. But there is a very attractive additional thought, because it says “according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery”. What is that? Paul did not speak about it in this epistle. When this epistle came to these Roman believers, they already knew some things because by then they were believers; perhaps they received confirmation, but certainly this was something completely new, “the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery”.
Well, that brings us to the epistle of the Ephesians especially. Romans says, “silence has been kept in the times of the ages, but which has now been made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures, according to commandment of the eternal God, made known for obedience of faith to all the nations”. It is almost the same language as in chapter 1: 5 where he speaks about his gospel that is going to be preached amongst all the nations. He writes of the mystery, the wonderful truth about Christ and the assembly, the assembly as composed of Jews and Gentiles, reconciled to God in one body, that glorious vessel in which God shall eternally be glorified. This thought of the mystery must certainly have made these Roman believers attracted to search the scriptures. I understand that the epistle to the Ephesians and Colossians had not been written by the time that Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. So perhaps this is a prophetic statement, although the ministry of Paul had certainly been preached. He says to the Ephesian elders in chapter 20 of Acts, “I have not shrunk from announcing to you all the counsel of God”, v 27. He said this before he had written his epistle to them. His preaching was in that direction, and it is for obedience of faith. So we see here that we can never separate the gospel and the assembly. I think it is very helpful that the point in this epistle is that Paul does not want to separate his gospel from the mystery, from Christ and the assembly. He says, “made known for obedience of faith to all the nations - the only wise God”; we can see some of the reasons why silence had been kept in the times of the ages. It was not for the believers in Old Testament times, but I think also that those believers were not able to bear it. Even in the Lord’s time with His disciples the Lord said to them, “I have yet many things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now. But when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth”, John 16: 12, 13. Well, what is the result of knowing God as the One who is able to establish us? The result is that there is glory to Him. God is always working towards His glory. He wants to establish His people, but the result is that there should be glory to Him.
In the scripture we have read in Ephesians we also have the thought of the One who is able. Here it is not in relation to knowing certain things, to be established in the truth of the glad tidings of Paul, or know the truth of Christ and the mystery. Now it is to enjoy what I would call the choicest of assembly experiences, and this is why Paul is bowing his knees. He has already prayed in chapter 1, that the saints may become enlightened about certain things, v 18. Now he is bowing his knees in order that God should work out things in them. Ministry in itself is not enough. Paul is bowing his knees in order that certain things should be known in an experimental way by us: “that Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts”. Is that not a precious thought! I think it is the answer to the Lord’s prayer in John 17, “that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them” (v 26), that Christ should have the same place in our affections as He has in the Father’s affections, which is a very precious thought.
This cannot come to pass just through ministry. We become attracted to certain things, and it helps us to go in for certain things ourselves. I think Paul was praying for the saints in this direction; it is important that we should do the same. This in order that the people of God should enjoy here in the fullest possible way what is the love of Christ, what is their inheritance, and the precious relationships in which we are with Christ and the Father. It says, “that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God”; that is a very high level. This is not something we come to on our own, but when we are together. It says “that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints”. To be filled “to all the fulness of God” seems to me to mean what we can enjoy as creatures in the light in which God has revealed Himself. And this in the fullest way possible in the mixed conditions in which we still are. This is perhaps a foretaste of what it will be, “that God may be all in all”, 1 Cor 15: 28.
It says in verse 20, “But to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think”; what are we asking? What are we thinking? Are we asking to enjoy to the full these great thoughts of God for ourselves, for our local brethren, for all the saints? Because it is only in connection with all the saints that we can enjoy these things. So Paul says that God “is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think”. We can apply this scripture to many things. Why are we praying? We are praying because we cannot do something ourselves, and because we have to do with One who is able! We are simply saying in prayer to our God and Father that He is able in relation to ourselves, in relation to our families, in relation to our local companies, in relation to the testimony, in relation to all the saints. He is able! It is fine to realise in our prayers that we have to do with One who is able for all things. Perhaps when we think of that we think of our need, but in this connection it is not at all about our need. What God is doing is something far above the need of our souls: “that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God. But to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think, according to the power which works in us”. We can experience that in the service of God. It is not something that we can make, not something that we can approach from a human standpoint; all God’s power is there operating in us to bring this to pass, and He is “able to do far exceedingly above”. It is not only “above”, but it is “far exceedingly above all which we ask or think”. God is able to do that, and it is for the blessing of His people, but it is for the glory of God. There will be “glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages”; that means the glory is already there now! It will be unto all generations, but it is already there now in the assembly. I think everyone here will realise that we need the One who is able to do these things. When we look back to the Old Testament, God was known as One who was able, but He had not made Himself fully known. It was not possible for believers then to have an inkling that God would be able to do all these things: to bring the saints into the full enjoyment of Himself, to bring them in the full enjoyment of the love of God in Christ, and to bring them in full response to Himself.
Now that reminds me of a document called the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question in it is, ‘What is the chief end of man’, and the answer is, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever’. I think that is a very blessed statement. But what is so wonderful is that before there is glory to God we enjoy Him, and as a result of enjoying Him we glorify Him, and this “in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages. Amen”. We need the help of God’s power operating in us to bring us to experience this in the service of God, that we can say indeed that He has done far above all that we ask or think. There is always a greater understanding and enjoyment possible as we experience these things collectively.
Now we come to the passage in Jude, and it says in verse 3: “Beloved, using all diligence to write to you of our common salvation, I have been obliged to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints”. I want to apply it in this way: Jude was saying that his desire was to speak about these precious truths in Romans and Ephesians, but for the moment he had to write about something different because certain things had come in. And in order that these blessed truths of Romans and Ephesians, and the blessed answer to God, should be preserved, we must be warned about certain things, “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints”. Well, when you read further in this letter you see what an awful situation had already come to pass in Christendom in the day of Jude; and how much more in our day. I wonder if we are feeling enough about what has come to pass in Christendom. Are we feeling things with the Lord? It has been said of Mr Darby that that the sorrows of the church were never absent from his spirit for an hour at a time, see Ministry by P Lyon vol 2 p104. Think of that! That man, and the depth that was in his soul in relation to what had come in! I think it is important that we have a sense of that too, and it should remain with us, and keep us humble.
But then it says “exhorting you”: who are the “you”? Well, it is you and me, and in fact every saint. It is not only those who are taking responsibility in the meetings, or our older brethren, but it come to you and me. Jude said in the first verse that he was writing “to the called ones beloved in God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ”; are you amongst those? Are you conscious of the love of the Father? Are you conscious that the Lord Jesus is the One who is going to preserve you? If that is the case, these words, “to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints”, are for you and for me.
I think one of the things that has come to light in certain present exercises amongst us is that everyone is responsible. We are all responsible for standing for the precious truth that God has given us. I say without a shadow of doubt that we are amongst the most privileged believers on the face of the earth. But that also means we have a great responsibility to hold what we have and to stand for the truth, to cling to it with all our might, not to trespass the principles of fellowship or to lower the standards, or to support those who are lowering the standards. On the other hand, I also see more and more the need to support one another; that we help one another to fulfil our responsibilities in regard to the testimony and in regard to the Lord Jesus Himself, in order that precious things might be preserved.
Well, you may say this sounds somewhat negative, and therefore I want to make some remarks about what the Lord says in Luke 14. We have two things there: in verses 16-24, we see that the Lord speaks about a great supper and many are invited to come; everyone refuses, and then the invitation goes out to others, and many were brought in to enjoy that great supper. If I can apply it, we are here to enjoy the greatest things that God has supplied for us in these precious truths of Christ and the assembly, the precious truths of Paul’s ministry and what is involved in it all, and that has been committed to us. But then after that it says that great crowds went with Him, went with the Lord Jesus, v 25. He said to them, “whoever does not carry his cross and come after me”, v 27. I think that is a searching word! Who is able to follow Him? I think those who are really enjoying and absorbing these precious truths that are involved in Paul’s ministry about Christ and the assembly, they are the ones who are able to follow the Lord Jesus. You could say, ‘Well this word is hard’. It is not, because certain things must be protected, must be held. We must accept that the way we are going involves responsibility to hold these precious truths, to hold them fast in an attractive way, and to hold one another; not to lose sight of this and not to lower standards, but to hold to it.
You may ask who is able for these things; well, Jude says at the end of this epistle in verse 24, “But to him that is able to keep you without stumbling”. I know for myself that we stumble in many things. I looked up the English translation and it says, “we all often offend”, James 3: 2. In the Dutch Authorised Version it says “we stumble in many things”. That is very true; we stumble in many things in our practical lives, in our lives together, in our meetings. But that brings before our view again the One who is able, “him that is able to keep you without stumbling”. That is wonderful!
You may ask how it is possible that we can be kept without stumbling. That must be for a coming day! No, it will be seen in a coming day, but it is for now. Let us cling to that; let us seek to know God and to prove Him in this way. Abraham counted on the One who was able; let us count on the One who is able. He is not only able to keep us without stumbling but there is an additional thought, “and to set you with exultation blameless before his glory”. How great and wonderful that is! Think of Jude writing this letter; his heart was full of sorrow, anxiety for the saints that they should be preserved, and he warned them. But now he comes to the end of the epistle and his eye is directed to the One who is able and he commits the saints to the One “that is able … to set you with exultation blameless before his glory”. There is something very special in that! In a coming day we shall experience this, but do we not think that we can experience this in measure in our hearts already now? That we shall be set before the One who is able to do these things, wonderful! Well, that is the God with whom we have to do. He wants to bless His people abundantly, preserve His people in every way, in order that there may be glory to Him. Then it says, “to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might and authority, from before the whole age, and now, and to all the ages”. So Jude had in mind that there should be glory to God now. Is that before us, that God should have His glory? That there should be response to God in praise and adoration and worship from the hearts of His own, from the assembly as a collective entity together, the assembly in Christ Jesus?
Well, I trust our hearts are uplifted and stimulated towards the One who is able to establish us, to do far exceedingly above all that which we ask or think, to keep us from stumbling and to set us with exultation blameless before His glory. May there be glory to Him!
I commit the word now to Him that is able. In the name of the Lord Jesus.
14th November 2015