W W W W World Wide Web Witness Inc. Home Page Contents Page for Volume What is New
How it must go
allied with Allegory -
How it should show
Welcome to our section for looking at what the Word of God
has to say to each of us. This area is provided for deeper and perhaps more
challenging investigation and application. We will plan to add to it from time
to time and hope that you will experience the wonder of the Word of God which
is effective in heart and mind and life.
1. Crosses and Losses
There is an arresting
impact which was once obtained by watching out of the window of the
incomparable Canadian Pacific, as it soared, lofted and flew over the
magnificent railway created in such human and financial cost, with such
enterprise and esprit, in the wonder region of
One traveller says this...In Canada, I recall as a I passed the superb variety of magnificence represented by the profusion of vast soaring mountains - as I passed through the Rocky Mountains, alight here and there with a banner of blue, where streams reflected the sky, and before the pervasive white of the snow swallowed them up again: I recall a moving experience.
Suddenly, I gained an impression that there was something cast aside, something disesteemed, and undesired, something left behind. It caught my eye and seemed to take the form of a Cross. It was as if someone who had passed that way had become too sensitive to its weight, or possibly its shame. He had struggled far with this Cross of his, but had then unceremoniously dumped it... He had let it drop, left it to turn aside to easier pursuit, and there it lay in the wilderness, a silent expression of his failure.
Christianity is not cake and comfort for self-indulgence, pap for the self-righteous; nor is it an impressive brochure for ways to prove one is fine, good and effective. Leave that to the world, which even goes further, and shows you what it deems effective ways to create that IMPRESSION, when of course it is not true. It is called image-building, and nowadays it is quite customary to start this with the SELF-image, and to talk of such self-oriented concepts as self-fulfilment, self-respect, self-esteem and all the other things which are thought so necessary that the world tears itself apart in the very pursuit of such baubles and vanities, psychological manipulation (of self or others or both).
The cross of Christ is as far different from this as heaven is from the earth. Paul says in I Corinthians 1:18: The preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness; but to us who are saved, it is the power of God... Again: God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world, he declares (Galatians ). At another level, Christ spoke in this way: Whosoever does not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Again, So likewise, whosoever he be of you who does not forsake all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
HE was crucified, to bear sin as a ransom in just payment of its precise dues before the Lord who knows all things and twists nothing (Matthew , Galatians 3:10-13, Romans 3:23-26). WE who believe cannot do this. Christ in Matthew indicates the SPIRIT of service, but HIS is the substance which allows us to even enter the gates of the kingdom of heaven. IF however anyone does so enter (John 10:9), THEN God who in truth IS first, is so treated; and whatever it be that destroys the reality of the spiritual relationship is sloughed off like an old snake skin. Where this does not occur, neither does Christianity.
It may take many purgings, chastenings; but you simply cannot drive a train in a ploughed field, nor run a Christian life without taking up your own cross of enablement for unlimited change, as you are drawn to the abiding life in the presence of God in His Son Jesus Christ. Thus in our Crosses and Losses, there are at once two losses: there is HIS loss of His life on earth as He liberated those who would receive Him, to bring them back to God; and there is the believer's loss of imagined autonomy, of the cut-off branch syndrome, whereby the poor branch thinks itself 'free', but is merely in the process of withering.
The Cross with no Cross Purposes
But HIS Cross ? The Cross of CHRIST is the basis for belief, it is the occasion of salvation, it is the provision for pardon. Yet for those who know Him, it at once implies that He wants us to take up our crosses and follow Him, as He said. Sometimes it appears from the life of some, that there is no cross so burdensome as the cross of Christ. A person feels the need to shed it, deny it, part with it; and if such a person cannot do this, THAT is the cross to be endured, to 'have' to continue with Christ's cross unwanted.
Such is the dissatisfied Churchgoer, or pastor whose life is in tatters. Such was Judas Iscariot. And such, not lest, was the spirit of the apostles, that when Jesus Himself said (Matthew 26:21) -'Truly I tell you that one of you shall betray me'... they 'began every one of them to say to Him, Lord, is it I?' Further, in Luke 22:23 we read that 'they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing.' They asked the Lord, they asked each other. You can then see them there, fathered in intimacy, challenged in profundity, examining themselves, with deliberate concern.
Judas ? His epitaph, perhaps, might run: 'Of the Rock which begat you, you are unmindful', to draw from Deuteronomy. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, Paul declares, and double mindedness is no symptom of abiding in Christ.
Paul advises the
Corinthians to examine themselves (II Corinthians 13), and the example of the
apostles is significant. IS IT I ? comes the challenge... IS IT ?
1. THE NATURE
OF THE CASE
Consider ourselves to be there at that last Supper with Jesus Christ. Imagine we do not know, that the question is real, immediate, demanding...Someone is about to betray the very criterion for humanity. He is there. It is a fact.
The apostles asked themselves - Is it I ? Let us then ask ourselves that question.. Is it I ? Not that we might be needlessly distressed, rather that we might, as they, supply an answer to the heart that is not fanciful but factual. It was only to the ONE that this answer came, one confirmed by the Lord Himself... in the positive. YOU HAVE SAID! Was the word to Judas. We know this NOW; but let us place ourselves in imagination back then, to gain from the situation a perspective.
As to this Judas... WHY ? Why did he do it?We can surmise, scrutinise the evidence. Two elements immediately present themselves.
A test it certainly was; and tests by no means cease with one's formal education. Luke 22:13-15 tells us how exceedingly carefully all had been prepared. 'They went and found as He had said to them; and they made ready the passover ... And He said to them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.' It was, then, at a carefully selected test site that Judas fell, scuttling off from the Supper to his appointed end. In this setting. Jesus' will is paramount. His sacrificial end is beautifully near, horribly challenging, ruthlessly realistic and flintily present. Jesus' will juts into this scene like a giant rock, His desire standing amongst the surf of circumstances. 'WITH DESIRE, I HAVE DESIRED...' And His will in turn is empowered to perform the will of His Father.
Let us pause. What does the Christian learn from this ? That his own tests are not the aching horror of uncontrolled circumstances. ALL POWER is Christ's (Matthew 28;18-20), who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians ). Tests should be received like exams... they are sent to be passed. Like a captain meeting the crash of turmoiled waters and the antics of billowing gusts and rampaging gales at sea with the testimony of experience, so the Christian looks with confidence to the God of the sea of life. The plan is His, the power is His the solution is found from Him, in His Son..
Judas however did not watch Christ ... John 6:70, 13:2,27 show a very different face to the situation. Leaving Him, he did not adequately consider the strong cries of the Master (Hebrews 5:7 - 'Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared...').
CHRIST in the flesh,
learned the meaning of obedience as God-man, by the things that He suffered. As
GOD He did not fail; as MAN He did not cease to experience the meaning of it
all... But Judas did not study Him enough. Christ set His face like a flint to
Is it possible that they too winced and fell, as if Judas, before too much realism, the realism of Christ's Cross... a Cross showing our loss through sin and the cost of its removal at the beneficence of heaven. Many were lost to the Cross, lost to God, clinging to the unrealities of world pictures which either omitted judgment and justice, or mercy and truth, remedy and sacrifice, humility and service.
Judas did not watch, watch with Christ; he left Him. He worked out... other ways of 'handling things'. Why ? Can we not learn, as we ponder the scene and hear, echoing the mournful, urgent voices of the disciples... Is it I ?
Is it I ?... More - they asked not only Christ, as we have seen... they asked among themselves.
Did Judas then trust in himself more than in Christ ? But consider these records... the power, the wisdom, the truth... of Christ... and that, of Judas! Is not a man all but insane to trust himself, or a woman herself, rather than Christ: but some do. They are not strictly insane; merely deluded (II Thessalonians 2:8-10 explains something of the nature of the disease.)
Or did Judas perhaps rather trust in Christ as a great moral example, but not as Saviour from sin ? and certainly not as LORD of life, and its Creator (Colossians , John , 17:1-3). Such, who do not yield all their philosophical furniture, hence ALL, cannot be His disciple.
Electricity is what it is; if you confuse it with water from time to time, things will not work. God rather more so, needs to be waited on as God, for any spiritual reality; and at that, found through His own appointed way. Even the Internet is found in the way appointed, or the style, or through the server. It is not found by desire alone. It works as it works, and is found as it may be. With God, for some fantastic reason, people often want to bargain, as if the Creator could 'come to terms' proposed by misusers of themselves and of facts. He is, after all, not a liar. That privilege belongs to others. HE is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; and when it comes to spirit, no deceptive words will count at all.
Did then Judas leave because of a deluded trust in a Christ who was to be merely a great moral example, not a Saviour and Lord. Was that why, if so, Luke seems with John to indicates (Luke 22:20-21... cf. John 13) that Judas left during the sacrament that signifies Christ's sacrifice as a victim for sin? And many follow him there... but CAN you follow Christ as mere example, push yourself in to His plan on your terms ? One should like to see these 'followers' follow Him to the Cross, and have Him bear the burden of sin as the perfect sacrifice.
Why do they not then follow Him THERE, those who want merely to follow Him ? THAT is after all where He went. Why not follow Him, since that is in view, to the tomb, and then vacate that, and rise from the dead, and then invite us to touch their bodies, saying, 'Handle me and see: a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me to have!' Why not that!
Or perhaps Judas was more
sophisticated than that. Perhaps his trust was in the Church. After all, a good
case could be made for this, to a point: had not the chief executives of the
church bargained and made the program for Christ's betrayal, WITH Judas ? And
the site was perhaps the temple, the portentous official precinct of the High
Priest. Were not the guard of the
Was not however this
ancient action with the priests sealed by a transaction with 'their man on the
scene'? Furthermore - Judas was in fact IN THE PAY OF THE CHURCH - He might
almost be called - to use the language of the Education Department - an
emergency murderer. Perhaps indeed Judas had put his trust in the Church. In
repayment, he gave back the money to the
Yet was that - indeed IS
that any more desirable or logical than the former error. As John Murray of
HARDLY, you see: the Church is a society of saved sinners: but saved by whom ? why by Jesus the Saviour, for HE SHALL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FORM THEIR SINS ,WE READ. It is this Jesus who saves; who SAVES the Church (Acts ). In HIM alone can a man trust: Cursed, says Jeremiah , is the man who puts his trust in men, and cursed is exactly what Judas was (being characterised as a devil by Christ, John 13:4).
"CEASE", says Isaiah (), "Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for of what account is he". "BLESSED," says Jeremiah (17:7ff.), "blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat comes, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be anxious in the year of drought."
IN WHATEVER Judas was
deceived however, his trust was misplaced: it did not abide in the Lord. He
lost his Cross: it tumbled away; jettisoned in disorder, forlorn and lifeless,
like the cross that seemed to appear to the traveller through the
2. THE NATURE
OF THE QUESTION
But what does all this imply, this Judas, the devil possessed one ? A follower of Christ cursed ? How, as you may well ask, can this be ? You can visualise him as the disciples agonise... IS IT I ? ... IS IT I ... ? See HIM QUIETLY SLIP OUT... SO QUIETLY INDEED, THAT SOME OF THEM THOUGHT HE HAD BEEN INSTRUCTED TO MAKE A PURCHASE, BEING TREASURER (John ).
Can a Christian slip out of Christ? Well Judas was a devil, said Christ; and those who are His, He knows. Judas He knew not. Yet how can a man draw no near, when he is so far ? Can a Christian perish ? It was better for Judas, Christ declared, if he had never been born.
Yet we must insist: a Christian is not a devil. WHOM HE FOREKNEW... He called, justified and glorified, says Paul (Romans ,29).WHAT can separate us from the love of Christ, he insists in the same chapter. Some misread Matthew 13 here. However, it is the parable of the sower which simply answers, elegantly so indeed, and solves the whole matter.
A SOWER... the seed on the stony soil. The case is well known. Some of the spread out seed falls in difficult, in fact stony places. The shoots fail when the sun comes up because there is no depth of soil, because the stony ground is not broken up underneath. People often err in thinking the 'seed' stands for the Christian.
However the case is stated differently. CHRIST said, the seed is the word of God which meets the hearts of men. Some hearts are still stony underneath. They have never been broken up: full of their self-esteem and perhaps 7 other devils, they are self-bound. They have never repented with godly sorrow to salvation not to be repented of , as Paul puts it in II Corinthians 7:10. The word of God reaches them and they are startled with joy. It touches rather than teaches them. In trouble they revert to where their heart lies - the stone of materialism, pride and hardness, whatever the pathology be. The word of God, having no root structure in them, dies in them.
The word dies, not the Christian, then; and it dies in their pagan and uncontrite hearts .
As for the CHRISTIAN, John : "Truly, truly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from (a state of) death to (a state of) life."
So this is how JUDAS COULD
fail. He was an unrepentant devil, touched but not changed, perhaps temporarily
angst-satisfied, but not converted, a dallier, perhaps, someone interested and
hopeful and waiting to see. And he DID see, the 'waste' of that woman, for
example, and the practicality of the bag. OH ONE MUST LIVE IN A REAL WORLD,
they say, and go on being themselves with a sanctified stare and no reality. It
can happen. It seems that just here, it did. The again, it frequently does. The
word of God addressed to
3. THE NATURE
OF THE ANSWER
But what of others?
Querying Christ, consulting one another... IS IT I? IS IT I? Am I the one who
will betray my Lord? If, to be realistic, you envisaged
Nevertheless, the question needs answer from the word of God. Matthew 26:22 indicates that EVERY ONE was questioning. What for example, then, of Peter? How might he have thought, what Biblical principles may have animated him in his meditation and self-interrogation? How could he, how could any, be assured?
Imagine Peter in his quest, and query, then. Perhaps with characteristic self-assurance, he began to say: Ah well now, it cannot be I: I am no unChristian traitor... For did not Christ CALL ME... yet what of those ageless words: Many are called but few are chosen (Matthew ). And had not Peter also reacted at the first, feeling sin, asking Christ to DEPART (Luke 5:8)? For, he said, 'I am a sinful man.' Yes, his first sense of sin made him tell CHRIST TO GO, NOT to come. Indeed, for that matter, JUDAS was CALLED!
Well, but now, had not Peter at least TRIED to live the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? Surely this would be sufficient, he might say. But in that SAME SERMON had not Christ said: 'Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not... done many wonderful works in Thy name?' (Matthew 7:22). HERE THEY ARE QUOTING THEIR PERFORMANCES, CITING THEIR WORKS, and there must have been something to quote...
Yet Christ tells in advance what He will say: GO AWAY, I NEVER KNEW YOU. Perhaps resting on what he had done, then, would be a perilous stance for Peter. THAT for sure, could give no guarantee. Indeed HAD he kept all that? Spiritually? And had not Christ said in the very same sermon that he who is angry with his brother without a cause is in danger of the judgment (). And was not adultery of mind as distinct from body, similar in penalty, fraught with peril and horror ()?
Ah no, he, Peter would not fall for that. Let others rest on their works, or even make them a counterweight for deficiency: he knew that ALL HAVE SINNED, there is none righteous, no not one, as the Psalmist says it (Psalm 14). The present is not perfect and the past is not paid, except by One. A far better ground of assurance as his. He perhaps recalled those seemingly far off days when Christ had sent them out alone... while He prayed after feeding the 5000. Naturally His popularity worked like a storm and the people began to think of political ambition, to make Him king. Not at all! Christ went to pray, and passed on. But yet...
Had not he, Peter, healed the sick, raised the dead, preached the word and experience JOY as he did so, or at least joined with the others in these activities (Matthew 10:8). Yes EXPERIENCE was his assurance; this he might begin to think, and experience in service, in particular, in Christian service. Yes , perhaps he could rest on that for his salvation.
Ah, but wait! Even that... What of that parable of Jesus - the one about the sower and the seed? The seed 'REJOICES FOR A SEASON'. Yes there was an experience in that stony soil, as the seed entered, occurring indeed IN it. But it nevertheless ended in death and sterility, despite the flouncing of the first occasion.
No, neither was service nor was experience the ground to salvation. 'IS IT I?'
Well, he Peter held a church office. He was ONE OF THE 12! Surely then his spiritual status was his password. But what of the traitor? He also was...OFFICIAL, and for that matter, in his way, had SERVED, had 'gone forth'; and had been commissioned, and was nonetheless officially deemed a devil! Small comfort there, then. What indeed of the traitor? for he was of course... clearly indicated by Christ to be one of the 12. He had served, held office, was on Jesus' personal Staff! Was an elder, had episcopal standing (i.e. that of an overseer). Yet he was a devil. NO! office held no glory, not even in combination.
ALL these things you could have jointly, and still be a devil.
What then? Peter might then
have recalled... the occasion when he was first made sure. Yes, at Caesarea
There was the Rock on whom Christ's Church, inviolable to hell itself, should stand. As Psalm 62 says, of God; HE ONLY IS MY ROCK AND MY SALVATION, HE IS MY DEFENCE. Christ REVEALED BY THE Spirit, confessed with the lips (Romans 10:9), received in the heart (John )... the rock. As John would be inspired to put it: HE WHO HAS THE SON HAS LIFE; HE WHO DOES NOT HAVE THE SON DOES NOT HAVE LIFE.
Certainly Peter had almost at once been roundly rebuked in the most categorical fashion (Matthew ). It was CHRIST who was the rock, not that pebble (another word) Peter! But that was the WHOLE point: CHRIST as the Rock, as the SON of the LIVING GOD. THAT faith, revealed in the heart by God, was the prerequisite of salvation. THAT relates to the immovable rock, so unlike Peter, so necessary however for him as for all others.
Yes, he Peer had the Son, believed in Him, and was His. NO! it was NOT he who was the traitor! The word of God made that clear. HIS trust was in Christ, and in all HIS works, none of which will ever be disclaimed by His Father (John ).
He had quivered there at the confrontation of the Cross at Caesarea Philippi, had tried to stop Christ going to die, even rebuking Him, the Master, right there. But the Master's rebuke - GET BEHIND ME SATAN! he heeded. The invisible presence entering slitheringly into his mind, was rebuked and he was delivered by that very shepherd's power (John -28) which is guaranteed and was there demonstrated.
Peter heeded: he did not
establish his own church, his own doctrines, he was not
GOD FORBID THAT I SHOULD GLORY
EXCEPT IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST
BY WHOM THE WORLD IS CRUCIFIED TO ME,
AND I TO THE WORLD!
Which Christ ? No concoction. The Christ who came, whom he saw (cf. John 1:1-14), whom he heard, whom he knew, of whose glory he wrote (II Peter -18),whose glory they beheld: NOT any other one, whose glory was not such! For such glory there are no surrogates. God is unique!
Which Christ? the Christ whose words he would write, and so with other apostles; not some deceptive myth but the Lord of glory whom their eyes beheld, whose works they saw, whose power they received, on whose salvation they depended without amendment, as dispensed by Him.
They had received His word as He said (John 17:1ff). The Christ of the Bible is that Christ, the one actual, historical, apostolically set forth, who by His Spirit brought back His words to their remembrance (Matthew ); who said - 'If you continue in my words, then are you my disciples indeed' (John ). Not some new Christ, some other Christ, some sinful Christ, some other gospel concerning Him: THIS SAME JESUS WHO IS TO RETURN AGAIN in a way like that in which He went (Acts ).
It is HE WHOM THEY SET FORTH - this Jesus, He IS THE ROCK. THIS GOSPEL, it is the one which just as Paul preached it, is recognised. ANY OTHER is not only cancelled but CURSED (Galatians 1:1-10).
After all, it was costly to produce, and piracy of the Gospel is not acceptable. It is enough! That Christ Himself was crucified. The message is inviolable, and the Crown Prince is Himself resurrected, very much Himself, now the same, as yesterday as forever (Hebrews 13:7).
No, Peter, it isn't I...And so a shadowy figure slips out - Peter doesn't judge, but is thankful... he is not the one. He has lost his life to himself, but in Christ and His Cross has gained life through His death, as a pure unadulterated gift (Romans 6:23, 5:15), without any contribution of works (Romans 3:28-31). And WHEN one has no contribution of works at THAT level, then they are not a variable, so that absolute assurance takes over, contrary to Rome and to the Seventh Day Adventists and to so many other, but according to the word of God (I John 5:13, 3:9.10:9, 4:14, 6:50-51).
? possess them ? If ever any possession needed possessing, it is this. This is
done only by faith; and without faith, you cannot please God. However with it,
even a little child finds the same base and basis for life everlasting, Christ
crucified, yes rather risen. So Paul says in Romans 10:9, not MIGHT, but WILL
be saved; and Christ in John 10:9, WILL be saved, not might be. And who does
the saving? CHRIST, 'for He shall save His people from their sins' (Matthew ).
(see pp. 525-531; & 490-491, 1043-1045, 1088G, 1131-2 in The Shadow of a Mighty Rock ]
'A wonderful book, James! True, Luther called it an 'epistle of straw', but in fact there is close-packed grain in it.'
Unaccustomed to being accosted by total strangers while out on a rural walk where solitude, except from the Lord, was at a premium, I glanced at the speaker.
It would be perhaps unfair to say that he was ungainly; certainly he was not prepossessing. Yet there was a candour about his face, a simplicity about his manner, a directness in his gaze which was quite notable. In a way, he seemed almost to fit into the rusticity I had been seeking. I decided to reply in kind.
'I must say,' I responded, rather too formally I felt, 'that there is reason to understand why Luther offered his doctoral cap to anyone able to respond to what he felt, for his part, was a contradiction by James of the clear teaching of St Paul.'
'In the first full flush of reformation glory, no doubt he felt a certain caveat in the presence of this emphasis; but the reality is that both taken together, full weight for each, is the only way.'
'Quite right!' another voice trilled. I saw that his wife - for so I took it to be - was moving from a nearby hedge where she had evidently been admiring the view over lakes and forests, under the sky which seemed to be undergoing contortions and rigours, before in the splendour of the upper winds, resolving these in wispish vapours of indescribable delicacy and charm.
The matron was a lady of a certain bluntness, and she quickly added:
'Obviously James is NOT dealing with what FAITH does for a MAN, but with what MAN does with his faith. THAT is his topic.
'PAUL, on the other hand, is dealing with what faith does for a man. The former is action in accord with faith; the latter is gift through the medium of faith. As I've heard it put,' she continued, 'we are saved without works, but not without faith, and faith works!'
'You make it sound absurdly simple!' I smiled, 'and certainly in their perspectives and topic contours, they are! The knots men have made out of these so frequently become simply absurd, for they avoid the clear teaching of Paul - something Luther rightly and wisely clung to - as well as distorting James.'
My first intruder - if I may call him that, for I was really basking in the solitude, as Bunyan would have it, by myself, solitary, yes alone - came up to me and patted me on the back. It is to be confessed that this seemed oddly familiar, and I was slightly stirred when to my utter amazement he turned into a dove, cooing tremulously in a way which almost seemed a contradiction in birds; but it seemed he was a bird of peace stirred to action.
He - that is, the bird - sat on my head and stretching out its wings, began to flap vigorously, in a way which somehow caught my sense of the ridiculous; for it was indeed literally a brow-beating. His wife watched perfectly unmoved, with a slightly quaint smile on her lips- indeed it seemed to illumine her whole countenance and to make more gentle all her features.
'You know,' she murmured, pursing her lips, which suddenly appeared transformed into a bag or purse of gold, spilling out old fashioned sovereigns onto the green sward which was so common in that lovely place, 'James is a book of gold, but it needs pouring out so that it may be seen.'
'What,' I asked the bird on my brow, which had now come onto my hand, a somewhat more approachable position, 'do you make of this point, which seems to stymie some. When James is speaking of the works of faith, he uses an illustration of Abraham in which the THING GIVEN, THE THING GAINED is indeed the free gift of God's righteousness, strictly so named! Thus some may find themselves confused, asking: Is not THAT what Paul is talking about? HOW then, they ask, is James speaking here apparently of the same thing!'
The bird ceased fluttering. That seemed at least propitious.
'In fact', he said, for without seeming to pause, he resumed his appearance as a person, grimacing in a rather gracious sort of way as the last avian fragments disappeared, and adjusting his own coat slightly, 'what James is doing is USING this as an illustration of what FAITH does - that is, Abraham's act is one in accordance with what faith is, with what is believed (NOT with what is merely said or thought to have been believed)!'
'You are so very right, dear,' interpolated his wife, who appeared as a golden mist clearing before the sun, and thus rather difficult quite to place. 'IN CHOOSING his illustration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice, James shows what SOMEONE GAINING FREE RIGHTEOUSNEESS did with the faith which was a vehicle for this gift. It is NOT that Abraham was working for his free gift; rather, he was using a faith which OF COURSE worked, as shown by his offerng up of Isaac, BELIEVING, don't you see, that if necessary, God could raise Isaac from the dead and so KEEP HIS PROMISES.'
'True,' confirmed her husband, 'In this way, the promises were freely made to Abraham - Genesis 15, and has it all - before the later attestation by a distinctive act (Genesis -14) of his faith.'
'In other words,' I echoed, finding with some difficulty that I myself had become a stream of water passing under the golden mist, while only the gentleman who first addressed me seemed to stay, well, human, 'the faith that justifies freely by grace (Ephesians 2:8 is strong on that) is also the faith that has legs. Yes, come to think of it, ALL faith has legs. In fact, LEGLESS FAITH is athletic paralysis. It does not exist ... that is, in athletics of the legs. The faith that receives the free gift of unworked-for righteousness is faith that has legs. The legs do NOT ascend to the free righteousness, far less contribute to it.'
'As,' said the human member of our group, 'James puts it, Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (1:17 has that). THAT is where it IS, and by faith it COMES DOWN.'
A cow came on the scene, equipped with someone milking it on a small stool, and with a sort of mirthful mooiness it turned its head to one side and seemed to have no difficulty in somehow inculcating its thoughts: it seemed as if the very air were in conspiracy with speech.
'What,' it communicated, 'tends to create more confusion is this. James in TALKING on his topic, that is, that faith without works is a contradiction in terms, deals also with the phrase - 'justified by'. Now what Paul says in Romans 3, 5, 7, 8, Ephesians 2:5-10 and Galatians 3:1-5, is perfectly clear. He declares, he states, he thunders, he expostulates.
'What begins is the grace that ends, guaranteed, unalloyed; for "in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing". The carnal preface is married to the spiritual conclusion, each complementary to the other. Limitless inability is married to limitless ability: the one of man, the other of God. Once more, there are to be no cross purposes with the cross.
'What begins is thus indeed the grace that ends. Therefore also, the spiritual commencement is the spiritual conclusion, and in between are the consequences, wrought, taught, enabled. It is of Christ, for Christ, in Christ and with Christ, our sublime sufficiency, efficiency and proficiency: stimulus, stable base, eternal support and transforming power, presence and purity, living in what He has wrought and bought, bringing death to flesh and life to spirit- as in Philippians 1:20-21, Galatians 2:20, 5:16-24 - and notice verse 24!'
Cows, I mused, are better at providing meat than many another; and they also are good with meat. The dairy however had more yet. She went on.
'In James' setting the justification concerned is this: SHOWING THE FAITH YOU ARE knowing, OR exhibiting THE FAITH YOU ARE CLAIMING, fulfilling THE FAITH YOU ARE naming, AND SO ON. To be justified in THIS sense, is to be shown just, or to be vindicated as to the REAL existence of faith within you, as in this case, you claim.'
Now to my mind it is rather odd to be addressed by whatever conspiracy by a cow, and had it not been for a very decided sense of continuity and awareness, I might have thought the whole thing a vision. However, an ass addressed Baalam, and I thought that a cow being a very productive kind of thing, or creature, was not a cow because it gave milk, but gave milk because it was a cow. In a sense, its very being spoke, before it did. It seemed so reminiscent of Jesus' making it so clear that a good tree gives good fruit: the fruit does not constitute the tree: it merely evidences it. How the tree is what it is, of that kind, that seed, and how it is planted: that is all prior. So simple... so very simple.
The spiritual seed by which Christians, 'the planting of the Lord', are personally propagated is incorruptible. It works, it enters, it locks in and it 'remains in them' (Isaiah 60:21, 61:3, I Peter 1:4-5,23, Romans 5:6-9, Galatians 4:7, Colossians 3:4, Philippians 3:21, John 10:9, I John 3:9, 5:13), until the 'redemption of the body', leading them into the assured inheritance, incorruptible likewise, and undefiled as well, that does not fade away.
As I was thinking these thoughts, the gentleman and his wife both managed to re-appear as human, and engaged in a sort of dialogue, evidently for my benefit. They dressed up with hedge branches to appear as if in a play and the dialogue went like this.
She (dressed with a sort of cap, like a judge, but green, as if her mission were life, not death):
Ah! So you have faith.
He (dressed in a simple robe, as if on trial):
Yes, that is correct. That is what I have.
She: Doubtless then you will exhibit this aeroplane of yours in flight.
He: But of course: watch it fly! - James 2:22,24 guarantees flight.
At this point, he literally took off and soaring, planing, evidenced such a perfect mastery of flight as to make one think of a magpie.
She: Come back to earth. Certainly, that is impressive. Indeed, you are entirely justified by what you have just done. Your claim to have faith has been from an aeronautical heart, and this gave wings to your flight.
He: Yes, I guess my works justify my claims all right now, don't they!
She: Absolutely! In this, your claim, you are justified by works! And that, dear boy, is what they should ALL be! Congratulations!
He: Not at all. When you believe, that's just the way it goes.
I felt there was an element of reciprocity in this little domestic scene that was quite charming. After all, he did not MAKE the wings; but the wings lent air to his thoughts, and interpreted his heart; and at the same time, his heart was no manufacturer: God is.
'Well,' I commented, too embarrassed to comment directly on the mode of their presentation, 'in THIS context, that of James I mean, 'justified by works' refers to the topic James has in view: true and bogus faith and the differentiation they evince. FAITH is SHOWN to be authentic, and positively not bogus, by what it does: even if what it does is welcome Christ with joy in His salvation. HE puts it in the heart, and the heart puts it into practice.'
'You see now,' said the old man, for he had visibly aged in all this time, as if he were for a time only, and had to make a good testimony to the truth while he was here, 'the THREE layers of confusion which can snare people who do not bother to see the simplicities concerning this matter from the lips of Jesus Christ and of Paul. NOT ONLY is JAMES talking of an entirely different topic from that of Paul, which should be entirely obvious. He is ALSO using a parallel phrase - and why not? It certainly makes one think: an important result!'
I wondered if he had ever been a school-teacher, but he was continuing. 'Then James USES an illustration which, while it does indeed SHOW JUST WHAT HE HAD IN MIND, that is, that faith has legs, was one in which this VINDICATED FAITH, this AUTHENTIC FAITH, was actually the entirely unmeritorious recipient of a wholly unearned righteousness ... Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 5:15, 3:26-28 puts it with decisive, incisive clarity.'
'James,' said his wife, 'like Isaiah - as PAUL notes in Romans 15 - is exceedingly 'bold'!
'He does not fear to upset the phraseologically orthodox, who may live by phrases rather than by faith! He even permits himself the use of this phrase in an entirely different context. However, if you FOLLOW his point, there is no difficulty. And what of James ? This... this FAITH of which James speaks, is fulfilled in action; and logically it is the necessary condition - this AUTHENTIC faith - for the reception of free and unworked-for righteousness. It is just that REAL faith, even in mobilising A FREE GIFT, works, not FOR the gift - which is already given, but with it, and this BECAUSE of ITS NATURE. As to THAT, as James put it, it is a gift, like every good and perfect gift: of God.'
He smiled, like a benediction of the lips, and she herself turned into a dove which, in company with a handsome escort of what appeared an eagle, flew and as they went, from their avine equipment came the sound as if of many bird voices: We never made the wings, nor the body which we use, but its use shows us where it came from!
For all that they seemed lovely people, I felt glad they were clear on that. As protoplasmic architects, I doubted entirely that they had the very capacity to produce ANYTHING. But with the products given to them in body, as we all receive God's spiritual heredity - we that is, who are Christians - by faith, they fly. Oh yes! They fly. That is what these things are good at.
Imagine, said a voice at my shoulder, if they had pretended they could work for their bodies and voices, or achieve them by what they did.
I, was my reply, would rather not.
Who was it that spoke? It seemed to be some kind of an earwig, but by this time, I resolved that for all its wonder, it was really time to retreat to my home. The sun showered the water of the nearby lake with a kind of ephemeral wonder, and a soft tissue of mist seemed to contour the form of the lake, like a grace - and that, I reflected, is what always goes with God's gifts. By grace we are saved, and with grace we show it; for it is a gift by grace, and what grace is that!
I should dearly like to see HIS face; but for that I must wait. It is one of my most precious desires that I hope He may yet grant, that I shall see that face before my body, received like my salvation as a gift, passes away in preparation for the next one.
Completion of this present life in such a consummation as the resurrection: this would be a dream to make this a happy preliminary.
But wait for it or not, this is the passion of heart which purifies the conduct, even from such fruitless desires as to earn one's way in any scintilla, by fruit. That is a wholly unjustified perversion of the Biblical statements, one and all. A scent lingered as I walked, and it seemed to be radiant with light, as if the intoxicated soil could not contain its life, but must evince its nature in the dusk.
The purity of God suddenly came alight to my mind, ineffable and brilliant. The purity of God - it is incomparable, limitless with the glory of undeviating splendour (I Timothy 6:16, James 1:17). . Neither in heaven nor on earth does it have counterpart; and it is from Him alone that comes the sacrificial sublimity, consistent, resistant, persistent, that works in those who know Him. This, His purity coming on His terms to His product, man: it is developmental, enriching, inspiring, without compromise, condition or variation, majestic, unimprovable, undeceived.
Flesh without Him is like branches without the vine, limited to lifelessness and inherently deprived, dead while it lives. Purged, pardoned, indwelt and accepted through the cover of Christ, the Christian is engendered with pity and given the radiance which knows reality: sourced not in dancing flickers or variable fires, but sent in prepared paths of restoration, covered by the covenant of Christ who died for sin and rose for righteousness on the part of every one who receives Him. Just to realise this is a start: "in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing".
As the final wonders of the departing sun fondled the earth, this I reflected, was in itself an allegory, a whole story of sublimity invading the earth, one that in absence is irreplaceable in its wonder, in presence is irreducible in its peculiar beauty, that blesses as it departs in the sheen of sunset and burgeons with blessing as it arrives in the delicacy of dawn. It is a very picture of Him who first became incarnate in lowliness and then sacrificial in blood; and if this, the imagery has wonder, then when infinitude itself humbles its life to partake of flesh that we might find God, the pitiful pretences of aspiring man look what they are - mere confusion. The penalty, I reflected, the penalty of pride is dimness and in the end, anguish as with all that finds no place in God its maker, the peace which is untouchable, unduplicable and intense, natural to the natures which He has made, when He is in them, and they in Him, who came to find them.
The gift of
life does not improve (Romans , , Titus 3:5); it institutes; and its results are not
bought, they are donated (Romans 3:2;3). You neither earn your first body nor
your salvation (I Peter 1:3-5, John -28); and imagination
of participation in that, at that level, it is as if some erratic scientist
imagined he had created ... the world. To say that he had lost his way would be
an understatement. For such there is no way, except the way out - to the
dimness of anguish (Isaiah 9:1-3) which Christ overcame (Isaiah 9:6-7), in the
beauty of holiness (Psalm 110) providing His unspeakable gift (II Corinthians