Phil E Hogan
1 Corinthians 9: 10 (from “For” to “hope”)
John 12: 35, 36 (to “sons of light”); 4: 31-34; 20: 1-17, 21
The phrase ‘going forward’ has cropped up once or twice in meetings recently, and it struck me that a ploughman is a very good example of one who can only go forward. A ploughman cannot go backwards; he will always go forward. Nowadays, ploughing is a sophisticated process, but years ago a man would have followed his plough hour after hour after hour going up and down the fields. How does the farmer know how to cut in a straight line? How does he cut that furrow from one end of the field to the other end of the field? It is because he has an objective, and an object at the other side of the field.
This led me to think that we also have an objective, but our objective is not at the other side of the field. Our objective is in our hearts, because we have the Holy Spirit, “who is the earnest of our inheritance” (Eph 1: 14), and who gives us access to that objective, gives us the reality of what it is to have to do with a Man in heaven. He gives us the hope that is referred to here, “that the plougher should plough in hope”, and so we also have an objective in Christ; the One who is “the leader and completer of faith”, as it says in Hebrews 2. This means that at any point in the journey we have One who is our Leader and that is how we can put our hand to the plough and continue to go forward. It is the only way we can continue to go forward. There are times when there is a tendency, with me at least, to look backwards and when we look backwards, what do we find? We find that we get disillusioned and we get confused; so it becomes necessary, vital, to go forward and to look forward.
I am not saying that the ploughman will not encounter stones along the way. He may encounter all sorts of difficulties, and we would all know something about that in our Christian pathway. No-one has ever said that there will not be difficulties and there will not be exercises. It is just a question of how we deal with these exercises. For instance, the ploughman will encounter big stones and small stones. He cannot ignore them; they are there and they have to be dealt with. But in our pathway, in our journey, we do have access to a power that is greater, as it says in John’s first epistle: “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world”, chap 4: 4. What a power! We have access to the Holy Spirit so that when we do encounter these exercises, which may sometimes be external, and at other times internal (things which are in our own heart), if we bring God, and the Lord Jesus, into the circumstances we find that we become formed by these exercises.
So the ploughman, you could say, accumulates spiritual experience, and I think as we put our hand to the plough and continue on the pathway, we find that there is strength and there is formation in our hearts as we learn to deal with these exercises. The secret is to bring the Lord Jesus in; there is no exercise, there is no difficulty, that is too small, that He is not interested in. He is sympathetic; He is available; and He is very near, so that when we do find that there are problems along the way, whatever they may be, we find that something positive can come out of the experience when we bring in the help and the support and the resource of divine Persons.
The ploughman does not just force his way through the problem, or force his way through the exercise, but rather he knows how to deal with it. Perhaps he has had experience before. We know brethren who have many years of experience, and they have seen the exercises before, seen the difficulties perhaps, and they know how they can be dealt with, and they in turn can show us who are a wee bit younger how to deal with them, so that there can be glory for divine Persons, and something formed in us, in our hearts, as we deal with these things, and there is something positive worked out.
I thought the ploughman really needs three things. He needs light; he needs food; and he needs direction.
In the past, a ploughman was not able to plough at night; he needed light, and we also need light. That is why I read in John. It says, “Walk while ye have the light, that darkness may not overtake you”. Most of us have been brought up in an environment where there is light, and sometimes perhaps we take it for granted, but think of the light we have known as we have grown up, as we have been formed. It says, “While ye have the light, believe in the light”; so there is something active that has to be done. The light is there; it is emanating from the Lord Jesus; it is emanating from an ascended Christ; so it is there, but it has to be believed in. In other words, there is an active component. We have to “believe in the light, that ye may become sons of light”. As we believe in the light, and as we become absorbed by the light, then we are formed by light; we become persons who know what it is to walk in the light, and as John’s epistle also tells us, on that basis “we have fellowship with one another”, 1 John 1: 7. It is a wonderful thing to think there are those who are walking in the light, and that there is a basis to have fellowship with them, to have a relationship with them, but first of all the relationship that is vital is the relationship with the Lord Jesus.
So the Lord does not say there is no darkness. He does say, "that darkness may not overtake you”. We cannot ignore the fact that we are surrounded by darkness, and I think it is important as well that we can identify the fact. This world is marked by moral darkness and sometimes we tend to forget that, as we travel our way through it, but when we realise it is this same world where Christ was rejected, and where He was crucified, that puts into perspective what the world really is. But rather than be preoccupied with the darkness that is around us, we can be occupied with the light that is emanating from heaven and which illuminates our hearts and shows us the way to go; to be simple about it, that is what light does. It takes away the shadows and brings in illumination. As it says also in John’s epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”, 1 John 1: 5. So the God that we have to do with is a God who is light. Light itself flows out from God, and has flowed through this dispensation for two thousand years, and has flowed into millions and millions of souls. As we look around a room like this, we see persons who have been affected by light because light has an effect. It brings about growth, brings about warmth and brings about life. It is one of the properties of life. We need light; this light would have a positive effect on us and, as we are in that sphere of light and remain within that sphere of light, we would know what it is to be formed by it as we are occupied with the Lord Jesus, and also the place where He is. We can then know what it is to be in an environment where the love of the Lord Jesus is known and where there are persons who love Him, which results in a circle of love.
So then I thought that the ploughman needs food. He cannot plough all day long without food, and the food that the ploughman needs is food that is nourishing, food that will give him sustenance over the distance. I think at the moment that is what we need; we need nourishment. We need ongoing nourishment, the kind of nourishment that would build us up, that would edify us, and also the type of nourishment that would form us after the Lord Jesus. There is no greater food than to feed on the Person of the Lord Jesus. The disciples said to the Lord here in John 4, “Rabbi, eat. But he said to them, I have food to eat which ye do not know”. Then He said, “My food is that I should do the will of him that has sent me, and that I should finish his work”. Think of that! Think of the One here as a Man, who walked step after step after step, and every step He took He knew that what lay ahead of Him was that cross. That is unlike any other person; the Lord Jesus knew what was ahead of Him, and “he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem”, Luke 9: 51. The Lord Jesus never thought about going back, or going sideways, or any other direction. The Lord Jesus was characterised as One who kept going forward, and as He went forward; His food was the Father’s will. Think of that communication that He had, as it says in Isaiah: “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed”, chap 50: 4. Think of that communication, every day, every hour of the day! Think of the relationship that was always there, and yet the Lord Jesus went on along that pathway. He says, “and that I should finish his work”. So there is a work that only He could do, that was unique to Him, and He knew what that work was, knew what it involved; and in His love He went forward in order that the work should be finished.
Although it mentions the two disciples in John 20, it was Mary I had in mind, because she was given a message. She says, when the Lord Jesus asked her initially, “Woman, why dost thou weep? Whom seekest thou?”, “Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away”. But then the Lord Jesus said to her, “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God”. What a glorious message that was, and I think from that point Mary was someone who would go forward. Initially it says “she turned backward”; so in order for her to go forward, she had to turn. Sometimes we are like that; I would say simply, there are times when we have to be turned in order to be put in the right direction. But here was Mary; she had a message, and the Lord Jesus gave her that message. You could say it was a commission that He gave her: “go to my brethren”; so there were others who were to go in the same direction. So you and I are not alone as we go forward. There are brethren we go forward with.
Then across the page it says, “as the Father sent me forth, I also send you”; so there is this direction. I often think the Spirit acts like a compass; He always points towards the Lord Jesus. The needle on the compass always points in a particular direction, and that is what the Spirit does. He points us in the direction of the Lord Jesus, and then, as we put our hand to the plough, and as we go in that direction, we find that there is strength and there is hope, because the ploughman ploughs in hope. This means we also have joy because our hope is not insubstantial. It is a hope that has a glorious terminus: a glorious destination. Our hope is a substantial hope, and involves the Lord Jesus where He is presently, but also involves the fact that soon He is going to come and take us to be with Himself; so that is the hope that characterises our pathway here.
May we all be helped to put our hand to the plough, and to know what it is to plough in hope! May the Lord bless the word!
Word in meeting for ministry - Grangemouth
10th May 2016