Mike T Holland
Genesis 6: 8, 9; 12: 7, 8; 13: 1-4
Judges 6: 19-26
2 Samuel 22: 1-7, 29-34
Philippians 4: 19
I have read quite a few scriptures, and I hope my thought is clear. It is very confirming that the Spirit of God is truly active when you have an impression and someone brings forth something very similar. It may not be the same thought, but it confirms you in your thoughts. So I would like to speak of what we have in examples of persons, some of whom we have spoken about already in these meetings, in whom we see the intensification of their worship as a result of their personal experience with God. It is something that I think can impress each one of us from the youngest to the oldest, as we will see as we quickly touch on each one of these sample persons. I have noticed that each one of these persons and events could by themselves be the subject of a series of readings; so we do not want to go into the details of each one. What we will learn about as we go through each one of these cases, although I am not going to speak specifically about the altars which are presented in each instance, is the worship of God.
Mr James Taylor asked something that really struck me, and it has stuck with me for years: can each one of us say that our service to God is increasing in value and quality, vol. 72 p148? It is not our valuation and qualification, dear friends, but value and quality to divine Persons. I think we need to test ourselves against that question, as I myself have been really exercised recently, not only in preparation for this time. I will just repeat the question: can each one of us say that our service to God is increasing in value and quality?’ It is very simple, it is not something profound; I am not opening up some fresh thing that many here could not speak about; but the point is whether our worship is increasing; could that be true about each and every one of us?
I was interested when our brother read that scripture in 2 Timothy 2, to pursue these things, v 22. We have four things set out in these persons of whom I have read. We have Noah, whom we read about this afternoon, connected with faith and righteousness, Heb 11: 7. Righteousness is connected with him in Ezekiel 14 and I would like to speak about that connection. I was really confirmed in that thought in reading of Noah. What is beautiful about this section, which covers his life and his experience with God, is that this is the first time that an altar is mentioned in the Scriptures. While I do not mean to speak about altars specifically, whenever something is mentioned for the first time in the Scriptures, it is clearly very important that we get the force of that scripture. The force of the scripture about Noah's life from Genesis 6 to 8 is that we see Noah has the instinct to worship God. That is where we begin. Nobody told Noah to worship God, nor was the precedent set before him to worship God; at least it is not recorded that way. Another thing is that it is not mentioned or recorded that God told him to worship Him or told him how to worship Him. You will notice if you read the detail that he clearly has the instinct to worship God. That comes out through his experience, his personal experience with God. I think everyone in this room from the youngest to the oldest has had some personal experience with God. We can draw on that personal experience with God to increase in the value and quality of our worship to divine Persons. So God literally shut Noah into the ark. I like to think about what it must have been to be so near to God; shut in, not only by Him, but withHim - you might say it was part of his personal experience with God. In verses 8 and 9 Noah found favour in the eyes of Jehovah, and again the history of Noah is mentioned. Noah was a just man; he was perfect among his generations; he walked with God. I read this section because Noah walked with God. We might just pass over that detail, but we know of others in scripture of whom it is said specifically that they walked with God; and we could speak for an hour about walking with God. That is where the personal experience of Noah came from: he walked with God. If you are not walking with God, that is where you need to begin. In order to answer the question that I set out at the beginning, set out by Mr Taylor those many years ago, we need to begin with this, to walk with God. Look into that, ask yourself if you are walking with God. We noticed at home recently how Paul wrote with method and one way that that comes out clearly is there is never any grey area with Paul. The apostle writes in such a way that how we walk with God is very clearly laid out. We were speaking this afternoon too about how the pursuit is really in essence walking with God. That pursuit of those four things in 2 Timothy 2: 19 is in walking with God, or that at least is part of it.
I moved nearer the end of Noah's recorded life, in chapter 8: 20-22; this is where we begin to see the worship that resulted from his personal experience with God. If you read all the details of his experience with God, you see his worship coming out in these three verses; Noah built an altar to Jehovah. Who told him to do that? Again, it was his instinct to worship God, because of his experience of coming through that great event, of which we should all know something of the typical teaching. It is not a question of coming through on his own strength, but coming through in the strength of Another. Many times we have this scripture used in different ways - baptism and other things, but it is a clear answer in worship to what Noah had been through with God. I wanted to draw out in reading further, particularly in verse 20, how he “took of every clean animal, and of all clean fowl, and offered up burnt offerings on the altar”. As we go through these other examples, we have people building or making altars, and the prescription for building an altar is in Exodus 20; you can read it for yourself: Jehovah asked for an altar of earth and an altar of stone; and we will go a little more into that - it is important that we get a little bit of detail as to that. The wonderful thing here is the instinct and the discernment that is shown. What does Jehovah want from you, dear friends? Noah was not told what to offer, but it says he took of every clean animal. We have been speaking of pure things, and that is what Jehovah wants in our worship. It says, “of all clean fowl”. How did he know what was clean? We might just read these verses without thinking about that. No one told Noah what was clean, but he had within him the intelligence which our brother was speaking about earlier to know what was right in offering to Jehovah. That is the increase in value and quality of his worship; every clean thing. What else does that tell us? Noah did not hold anything back, to speak very simply. It says, “of all clean fowl, and of every …”; notice those two little words 'all' and 'every': that is what Noah offered. Are you holding anything back in your worship to divine Persons?
In the next section, there is a wonderful history, full of worship and revelations from God; it comes out in Abram. Our brother read of his faith, his righteousness; he was called a friend of God because of his righteousness. “It was reckoned to him for righteousness, and he was called Friend of God.” James 2: 23. Clearly, what comes forth in these verses is that Abram had experience with God and the basis for this is that God appeared to him. It seems something simple, that God appeared to him, spoke to him, and told him to do something which was very specific; we have touches of what he did in Hebrews. What I wanted to bring forward in these sections in chapters 12 and 13 was the result of Abram's experience with God. The end of verse 7 says “And there he built an altar to Jehovah who had appeared to him”. The foundation of all worship, dear friends, is that God has appeared to us. We have God's appearing in the Person of Jesus Christ, and we know that He manifested Himself in that way; He has manifested His character in that way. But He appeared to Abram, and so that is the foundation of his worship, and we will see as we go through the rest of these examples how it comes forward. At the end of verse 8 it says, “and there he built an altar to Jehovah, and called on the name of Jehovah”. We have in that touch that he called on the name of Jehovah, a further instance of his experience with God seen in the appreciation of the name of Jehovah.
In the next chapter I wanted to bring out in Abram’s history, that Abram returns to this place. (Mr Darby has a wonderful article on the history of Abram, Collected Writings vol. 19 p134.) Can you answer that question that we began with as to the intensification of our worship as a result of our experience with God? Is the value of our worship increasing? If it is not, what we have as an example here is that Abram goes back; it says, “he went on his journeys from the south as far as Bethel; as far as the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai; to the place of the altar that he had made there at the first”, Gen 13: 3-4. That is a wonderful touch; he goes back to that original place where God appeared to him. If you cannot answer that question that I began with (there are at least ten or fifteen ways in which this matter was brought forward in the ministry), you may need to retrace your steps and go back to this place, “the place of the altar that he had made there at the first”. It is the place where God appeared to him; it is the place where he had earlier experience with God. We may need to go back to that place, and we may need to go back to that place more than once, as Mr Darby brings out in that article. That is a test for each one of us. If I cannot say that the value of my worship is increasing, that the quality of my worship is increasing; if I cannot say that, dear friends, do I need to go back to the place where Jehovah appeared to me at the first?
In verse 18, we have the reason I read this scripture, which is that it gives us another altar, but what is wonderful about the life of Abram is that he does this before the prescription for the building of the altar comes out. That is in Exodus, some time after where we read. Again, we have somebody who is simply moving in faith as a result of his experience with God. What is wonderful too is that his tent, his dwelling place, his house, is moving with his altar; that is a beautiful thing. One thing that could be said about his life was that the whole of it was encompassed and occupied with the worship of God.
I did not know whether to read of Gideon, and I was not going to read about him, until our brother touched on Hebrews 11. Every one of these Old Testament persons I have read of is in that chapter. I think the Spirit was very active in that. In Judges, we have the history of Gideon, and these verses from 19 to 26 speak of his worship to God as a result of his personal experience. Something that is to be noticed about Gideon is that at one point in his history it speaks of his being “faint, yet pursuing”, Judg 8: 4. That included others with him, but he was the leader. What is beautiful, however, is their “pursuing” in the face of much difficulty and much weakness: “faint, yet pursuing”. Are you faint, dear friends? The verses I have read from chapter 6: 19 bring forward not so much Gideon's experience but the result of that experience. It is experience with God, but it goes much further back, to a time when he was, in the face of difficulty, seeking to secure the food supply as it was being taken by the enemy. You can read back to that and I would very strongly advise that at a time like we are in. Someone has said to me that one of the enemy’s chief objectives is to stop the food supply. Clearly that was going on at the time of Gideon, and yet we have this quiet, hidden service. He is not in a place where threshing would normally be done. He is seeking to secure the food supply in the wine press, although that would be the place where wine is to be made. Gideon is seeking the food supply and it shows that we can all be doing something in the way of service, even in a hidden way. So his experience with God can be read of, but the result of his experience is worship. Verses 20 and 21 speak of the depth of his appreciation. We have touched on it with Abram, but it comes forward in a different way with Gideon. It speaks to me of the depth of appreciation of the Person of Christ! Our brother gave out that beautiful hymn this morning -
The person of the Christ,
Enfolding every grace (Hymn 132).
That is what comes out in verses 20 and 21. The Angel tells Gideon to bring these things, but we can see that he has them available too. He has available his appreciation of what speaks to us of the Person of Christ, His manhood. We could say, as it were, that the essential manhood of Christ is truly appreciated by Gideon. What Gideon does is to follow the angelic instructions. He has some fear in the face of the Angel; he sees the face of an angel, and he recognises that he has spoken with Jehovah; again we see that the foundation of our worship is God appearing to us. The Angel says, “Peace be unto thee: fear not; thou shalt not die. And Gideon built there an altar to Jehovah, and called it Jehovah-shalom. To this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites”. So he builds another altar. I would encourage each one to look into what he had available, that is, the bullock, and these other things, and he takes them, following the instructions, which is beautiful. What is wonderful through Gideon's history is his increasing worship; it is not increasing exactly in quantity, but in quality and value to God. He “built there an altar to Jehovah, and called it Jehovah-shalom”. I think sometimes we pass over these details of the names of places and persons, these names of the altars, for example. I read something wonderful recently, that ‘the name of an altar indicates the state of soul of the one who builds it’, JT vol 27 p127. The name of the altar speaks of the state of the soul of the one who built it. Gideon has been through experience with God, he comes to this place, and builds an altar; and he speaks as a result of the peace of Jehovah.
Our brother has been speaking about pursuing four things and we have another one of them connected here, peace. I wanted to bring out that we clearly have the increase of Gideon’s worship as a result of his experience with God, and particularly what we might refer to as an increase of his appreciation of the Person of Christ in verses 20 and 21, the essential manhood of Christ. Do you appreciate that; does it colour your worship to God? Does it come out in the service of God? The service of God is a time when our worship comes out.
In 2 Samuel 22 (and we have it repeated in Psalm 18), we have the words of David, who is also mentioned in Hebrews 11. We are moving to a way of building an altar which is slightly different, and which the apostle Paul would bring out as well in that verse I read in Philippians. That is where I had this impression originally, in Philippians 4. But here David is over and over using that little word 'my': “my rock”, “my' God”; it is ‘my’ over and over again. Dear friends, that is personal experience, resulting in worship. The end of this chapter is worship. We have a touch of that in the expression, “my feet like hind’s feet”; that is beautiful. Robert Gray at home likes to say that that is ‘alacrity’ which comes out here in worship. Then David goes on in verses 47 and 50:
Jehovah liveth; and blessed be my rock;
And exalted be the God, the rock of my salvation.
Therefore will I give thanks ...
And will sing psalms.
This is one of so many of the psalms of David, one of numerous examples from David that we could have read of his worship to Jehovah. All I wanted to touch on here is this little word 'my'. I read a little part in the middle,
By my God have I leaped over a wall.
This is David overcoming difficulty, “a wall”, he leapt over that wall! Now this is something poetic (which is the way he often writes), but he specifically says, “By my God”. This is his appreciation of his experience with God. We were speaking about the operative extent of these things: “By my God”, nothing of David is coming out. That is also what comes out in those verses in Exodus, the prescription for an altar, when we move on from the altar of earth. You will notice there is no choice in that matter, for Jehovah says, “An altar of earth shalt thou make unto me”. It speaks of us recognising who we are before Jehovah, and even more what we are. Then it says “if” – which suggests God asking: “if thou make me an altar of stone”. Without going into all the details, an altar of stone is something that requires ability, something that requires experience with God. The altar of stone is our permanent, lasting impression of the Person of Christ. There are many more ways that it could be spoken of, but Christ where He is in that permanent position; do you have an impression of that? Can you say, “but my God?”. We will get that coming out in Paul's experiences; we will even get those very same words used, “my God”. Paul uses that same phrase and we have read it and quoted it many times, but the point is that it is his altar to Jehovah, his appreciation of the Person of Christ! This whole of this chapter in 2 Samuel is founded on the fact that David has been delivered from his enemies. That is personal experience with God,
By my God I have leaped over a wall.
Have you overcome difficulties with God?
That is what we read of then in Philippians. There is so much detail in these chapters about the greatness of these persons I have spoken of and what they did, but what we have here is the apostle. The way our brother opened his subject this morning was wonderful and confirmed this for me. Paul says, “but my God shall abundantly supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. This is the apostle's ‘altar to Jehovah’. This is the apostle's appreciation of his personal experience, as a result of his personal experience with God, and shows the depth of his appreciation of Christ. He speaks of “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”; do you have an impression of that today? That is such a great and wonderful thought to get a hold of. “But my God”; it is not 'our God'; it is not here a collective sense. There is a collective sense to this idea of worship and altars elsewhere. It says in Hebrews 13: 10, “We have an altar”. Our brother was speaking in his opening remarks this morning of what we have. “We have an altar”, and how great it is to enjoy that altar in a collective way. Mr Darby says something very important: ‘experience is always individual, although our union with each other as members of Christ is part of this experience’, JND Synopsis vol 4 p361. That is what we have here: “But my God shall abundantly supply”. I wanted to bring out through all of this the simple thought that our worship is to increase, as a result of our personal experience with God, in value and quality. If it does not, maybe we need to go back to that place where God first appeared. If you do not know where that is, ask the Spirit to take you back to that place where God first appeared to you, to give you an impression of Himself, the greatness of “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. Gideon clearly had an impression of that in what he brought, what he had available. He secured and kept things when clearly the enemy was trying to be take them away from him. The enemy would seek to take this away from you, but we need to secure it so that we can increase in our worship. I love this Philippian epistle because it is full of the apostle's personal experience. We do get doctrine, which is good, and the heights of doctrine in Ephesians, Colossians and other epistles. What we get here, however, is the apostle's personal experience with God. Here in this epistle it is concentrated; it is his appreciation of his personal experience.
The impression was simple, and was confirmed in many ways, not only in what our brother has brought forward but in the question I found in Mr Taylor's ministry. I do not want simply to quote it, but seek to apply it, and test myself against this. I would ask that each one here would do the same. The question is whether our service, which is really our worship to God, is increasing in value and quality. It is so simple that the youngest one of us here can answer to God in some way. If you have had an experience with God you can answer to God, but do not stop there. In every one of these examples, that is exactly what comes out and, though there are countless others, what comes out is that the worship to God is increasing. “But my God”: can you say that for yourself? “My God shall abundantly supply”:
Jehovah is my rock …;
By my God I have leaped over a wall.
Have you had that experience of overcoming something? There are many walls in our experience, but it is “By my God” that you can overcome them. The simple thought and question I would pose to each one of you, and myself first and foremost is: is your worship to God increasing in value and quality? Is this the result of your personal experience? If you have to go back, then go back, dear friend. Make sure you can say this, “My God” and have some impression of the greatness of the Person of Christ.
Make sure you have said that, and are able to say it; and I would pray that this is true of each one of us. And if it is, then it should come forward in the service of God. How great and wonderful these things are. I feel I have had to be very high level on these things. Our brother's exercise has really brought this forcefully before me even more. So I would just challenge each one with this thought. May it be so for His Name's sake.
Address at three-day meetings in Denton
25th March 2016