|Vol. 17, No. 4, July - Aug. 1988
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
ONE of my favourite hymns is "The King of love my Shepherd is" which
was written by Sir H. W. Baker and based on the 23rd Psalm. It seems that
its author, a baronet and a man of strong character, whispered on his deathbed
his own lines:
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.
I would be happy enough to have these as my last words. More than that,
though, I would covet to have the epitaph pronounced on John the Baptist:
"John indeed did no sign; but all things that he spoke of this Man were
true" (John 10:41).
In considering this I have been amazed to note how very full John's testimony
to Christ was. This is not surprising, for he was said to be full of the
Spirit. What the Holy Spirit did for him is what He longs to do for us, namely
give a complete view of the glory of Christ. Consider John's seven-fold testimony:
1. The Eternal God. "This is he of whom I spoke when I said, After
me a man is coming who takes rank before me, for before I was born, he already
was" (John 1:30). Once the uniqueness of God's entry into the human race
is accepted, the virgin birth is logical and wholly acceptable. How much John
knew of Mary's story is not stated, though it is unlikely that his mother,
Elizabeth, would hide it from him. Certainly his father had told him that
he was to be the prophet of the Most High. Jesus is the Creator God.
2. The Perfect Man. John rightly demurred at any suggestion of
dealing with Jesus as a sinner: "I have need to be baptised of thee, and
comest thou to me"? (Matthew 3:14-15). He was only persuaded to perform the
baptism when he was assured that it was being done on the basis of all righteousness,
that is, that Jesus was a sinlessly perfect Man.
3. The Christ. "I have seen and have borne witness, that this
is the Son of God" (John 1:34). The descent and settling of the Spirit as
a dove confirmed to John that Jesus was the Anointed of God. Later on, at
a time of great personal stress, John allowed his afflictions to make him
waver in this conviction, a fact which reminds us that any vital testimony
to Christ will involve us in satanic conflict. But even in this John did
not give up. He would, if necessary look for another. There was no need
for that, as I feel sure he realised before he sealed his testimony with
his life's blood.
4. The Atoning Sacrifice. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away
the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John repeated this particular aspect of
Christ's Person as the Lamb of God. His message to the Israelites had been
that of forgiveness on the basis of repentance and in his inspired message
he used Old Testament language in his Good News about Jesus, namely, that
He was to be the substitutionary Sacrifice who would bring salvation to
sinners; but his vision extended far beyond that to include the whole wide
Of course the Lord Jesus would bring other lesser blessings, comfort,
healing, guidance and the like, but to John the one supreme need of mankind
was to have sin dealt with, as Michael Wilcock reminds us in the article
which follows. It is true that John also spoke of the coming of the Spirit,
but Calvary comes before Pentecost, and is the basis for the Spirit's new
life. All that John said about the Lord was true, but for the believer, the
beginning and the beauty of it all is the sweet blessing of forgiveness. That
is why I so appreciate the verse of the hymn which Sir H. W. Baker whispered
on his deathbed.
5. The Baptiser in the Spirit. "He that sent me to baptize with
water, said to me, Upon whomsoever thou Shalt see the Spirit descending,
and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit" (John
1:33). I never feel that I can claim to have "received" the baptism of the
Holy Spirit, but I do most assuredly though humbly claim to know my Lord
as the One who[61/62] baptises me in the Holy Spirit.
My experience has to be one which is constantly renewed for, unlike the
Lord Jesus, it cannot be said of me that the fullness of the power of the
Spirit remains always in full possession of me. Somehow even when I contemplate
the Lord Jesus as the great Baptiser, I am driven back, again and again, to
my great need of Him as the Lamb of God.
Nevertheless it remains a wonderful reality that, as the Lord Himself
said, those who come thirstingly and believingly to Him, find that rivers
of living water flow from their inmost being (John 7:38). These rivers, if
they are genuine, flow directly from the very throne in heaven where there
is "A Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Revelation 5:6).
6. The Universal Judge. "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will
clear his threshing floor, gathering wheat into his barn and burning up the
chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). By the Spirit's enabling, John
was able to look right on to the end of the age and to the time when God
will judge each man by the One whom He has appointed. Such a vision includes
the resurrection and ascension of Christ and goes right on to His Second
John was nothing if not downright. For him the stark alternative for
every man is to meet the glorified Christ and either to be acknowledged
or rejected by Him. We shudder at John's language when denouncing the Jewish
leaders as a brood of vipers, but note that he -- like his Lord -- had nothing
but contempt for pious hypocrites. As for the rest, John's advice to the
despised tax men and common soldiers was friendly and gracious.
In a sense John's words can be a warning to us all. We thank God that
our soul's salvation is secured, but we will find enough in the New Testament
to remind us that there can be wheat in our own lives, and unhappily there
can be chaff too. Eternity will mean a drastic separation so that there will
only be a place in Christ's heavenly barn for what is truly pleasing to
7. The Heavenly Bridegroom. "The bride belongs to the bridegroom.
The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full
of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is
now complete" (John 3:29). I have left this aspect of Christ's glory to the
last not only to finish on a positive note but also because it is the final
testimony which John himself gave. Let us forget his troubled question and
keep in our remembrance of him this beautiful, self-efacing, tribute to the
great Heavenly Bridegroom. I expect to see John at the marriage supper of
the Lamb, and meanwhile seek to share his joy at the prospect of hearing the
bridegroom's voice. It was left to the other John, the son of Zebedee, to
enlarge on the future destiny of the Church as the bride of Christ, and that
revelation had to wait many years before he was commissioned to foresee it
and write about it at the conclusion of the divine Scriptures. I imagine though,
that John the apostle would wholly have agreed with John the Baptiser in
his comment on the whole matter: "He must increase, but I must decrease".
And I am sure that John the Baptist would have agreed with his namesake the
apostle when he wrote: "Everyone who has this hope in Him, purifies himself,
just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
I am delighted, though not altogether surprised, to find that when I
have collected these testimonies of John I find that they are seven in number.
What is more, in accordance with a pattern which in other articles I have
discerned with the words from the cross and the pillars of wisdom, there
are not only the perfect number of seven but the central one is that which
deals with the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Without any manipulation
on my part, number 4 is that which speaks of the Lamb of God. Once again we
find the Word of God insisting that the cross be central in all our thinking
and speaking. In fact that was the testimony which John repeated (John 1:29
& 36) and actually prefaced his call with the word, "Behold". It was
the turning point in the experience of two of his disciples, who immediately
left him to follow Jesus, as it has been the turning point for multitudes
It may be that the original appreciation of John was rather a grudging
one, made by those who would have liked to have seen a few miracles as well.
Well, we all like miracles. Nevertheless I repeat that if people could say
of me what they said of John the Baptist I would regard that as highest
praise. It is our duty and privilege to testify "Behold, the Lamb of God."
May the Lord help us to do it. [62/63]
GOD'S OFFER TO THE NATIONS
"The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith,
preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying,
In thee shall all the nations be blessed." Galatians 3:8
GOD has an international view of this world. It is a universal gospel
which He places before all the nations alike. It is not one choice for us
and another choice for some else; it is not one choice for the Jews and a
different one for the Gentiles; it was not one choice before the time of
Christ and a different choice afterwards. It is always and in all places
the same choice with which God confronts the nations.
Genesis 10 tells us how the single root of humanity began to be divided
up into the great nationalities which have existed in our world ever since
Babel. The first figure who arises after that event is that of Abraham (Chapter
12). He was the truly international man who began from the great civilisation
of the ancient world in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris and who then
travelled across such frontiers as there were in those days and for a time
settled in Egypt, at the other end of the civilised world. He thus came to
a different nation, people of a different language. He then moved up from
Egypt and lived in the land of Canaan, remaining there for many, many years.
All the time, as we are told in Hebrews 11, he was seeking a homeland.
Neither Ur, from which he came, nor Egypt, to which he went, nor Canaan,
where he ultimately settled, was his homeland: "People who speak as Abraham
spoke make it clear that they are seeking a homeland" (Hebrews 11:14). The
writer goes on to say that if that was what they meant by a homeland, the
opportunity would have come sooner or later for them to go there, to settle
down and make it their home. In fact they were desiring a better country
than Ur of the Chaldees or Egypt or Canaan. They were looking for their heavenly
So we suggest that Abraham is the international man. He belongs to all
those nations since really, deeper than all of them, his allegiance was
to his heavenly home. This is all summed up for us in the verse upon which
we now base our study: "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify
the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying,
In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8).
The Blessing that God sets before the Nations
There is one blessing which God holds out to men of every race and colour,
creed and culture; it is the blessing of justification. This matter of justifying
the nations represents the heart of God for His world. This fact makes us
think of evangelism and the world wide spread of the Good News. But of course
with Christian missions many other things have accompanied the gospel. All
sorts of things have gone on under the umbrella of overseas evangelism, and
very rightly so.
Think of the situation of the missionary a hundred and fifty years ago.
He went to benighted corners of the globe where he found people who had none
of his advantages. He often found folk who had all sorts of needs. They
lived in grass huts, they had no medicines, they had no schools. So the
missionaries took with them, along with the gospel, all those other benefits
which they understood to be part and parcel of Christian civilisation --
and they still do. So we continue to support Christian hospitals, Christian
schools and other accompaniments of the gospel, but as we do so we raise problems.
I understand that those past conditions are changing and passing away.
Whereas a profound [63/64] spiritual need remains,
we can no longer say that we must provide medicine or education or plumbing
that at one time seemed to be part and parcel of missionary work, so we
have to ask ourselves what it is that those in other lands need. Even when
our western benefits are no longer wanted and people will no longer thank
us for Christian civilisation's good things, what is there that is still
lacking? The answer, of course, is that the great blessing still to be offered
is that of justification. People need to be right with God.
The world of the Eighties is so different from the world of a Century
ago, but there is still a Third World, there are still needy people, there
are millions who go hungry. There are millions who have no earthly hopes
or prospects, so that although the situation has changed in some respects
Christians rightly are concerned for those who so badly need help. They need
food. And we have so much. It is good therefore that modern Christian agencies
should respond to their need with handouts.
Looking a bit deeper, however, we realise that it is not just enough
to feed the hungry. We must give them the possibility and ability to learn
to feed themselves, so the lorry loads of food are followed by lorry loads
of agricultural implements which will enable people to fend for themselves.
There are Christians who see this as their calling from God and we support
them. Nevertheless we must never forget that if those needs did not exist
there is still the need for the one great blessing of justification. Men need
to be right with God.
Here again, there are Christian people in many parts of the world who
point out that the real problem is not just lack of food, but the governments
under which they have to live. It is not only the economics that are wrong,
they say, but the politics. We therefore in many parts of the Third World
find Christians who are greatly exercised about right-wing dictatorships
and who see no other way forward than to become left-wing revolutionaries.
All over the globe we have this idea of what is called Liberation Theology
with Christians exercised as to whether it is right to take up arms against
repressive governments who hold down the poor. I do not propose to consider
this, but I do know that even if it were right for Christians to get involved
in that kind of activity, the fact remains that Galatians 3:8 tells me that
God wants to bring people everywhere to something beyond a full belly and
political freedom, and that is the blessing of justification. Men need to
be made right with God.
If it is right to be concerned for the oppressed, what about the oppressors?
Don't they also have spiritual needs? The Christians' business is to utter
the prophetic word which speaks to the one on top as well as to the underdog;
that which speaks to the right-wing as well as to the left-wing, to the "haves"
as well as to the "have nots", challenging them in the name of Christ. That
is certainly an area in which perhaps Christians ought to be getting more
involved with the world than they have done. The heart of the Christian gospel
is still this matter of justification, of whether a man in his spirit is
or is not right with God. We must never be deflected from the central message
of the gospel that God wants to justify men. We cannot avoid the other issues
of our fellow men's needs, but we must always keep in view that the greatest
need in God's sight is that the barrier between men and Himself shall be
Some years ago I ministered at a church in Maidstone in Kent, not far
from the North Downs. It never ceased to amaze me that wherever I travelled
around in that town, every bend in the road and every crest of a hill brought
me within sight of that line of hills. The hills were all around that town
down in the valley of the Medway. I could not fail to see them. In the same
manner, wherever we move or wherever we look, the main feature of the landscape
wherever we go is the need for a man to be right with God. You cannot miss
it. When all other needs have been met, this need remains universal.
The Faith which God sets before the Nations
The blessing is the same for anyone in the world, irrespective of where
they live. Then so is the means of obtaining that blessing the same for everyone.
What God wants to do is to justify the nations by faith. Faith is universally
possible. There are some matters in Scripture which are not easy to interpret
or understand. Peter himself remarks that his dear brother Paul sometimes
[64/65] wrote things in his letters which were hard
to understand. Of course there are depths in Christian doctrines that we
may never penetrate until we get to glory. It is, however, a great principle
of Scripture that those things which God means everyone to know He has caused
to be made unmistakably clear. We may be sure that if God wants it to be
it is clear. And any truth preached in our churches which has to be dug up
from the depths and takes a great deal of explaining is, by that very token,
much less important.
Do you notice how God so often uses basic pictures that anyone can understand
to illustrate His truth? He compares great spiritual realities to water or
bread or light, things that anyone in any culture can perfectly well understand.
Now the nationalities do have different characteristics. Although Paul preached
an international gospel, he began his message at Athens by indicating a
special feature of the Athenians, saying, "... I see how very religious
you are" and really meaning that they were superstitious. In this they differed,
perhaps, from other nationalities. There are differences between people
but nevertheless, so far as the basic principle of faith is concerned, every
nation can equally be said to choose to believe. This is open to all. Anyone
It is certainly clear that anyone can exercise unbelief. In Romans 1,
where Paul sets out very clearly the unbelief of men, he remarks that they
suppress the truth (v.18), they know God but give Him no honour (v.21), they
exchange the truth of God for a lie (v.25) and they refuse to acknowledge
God (v.28). Anybody can exercise unfaith. The opposite is also available
to all men. In the last analysis anyone can say "No" to himself and commit
himself to God. This is that which God sets before all nations, the turning
from oneself and casting oneself hopelessly upon God.
Knowing our weakness God has given us a living example of a man of faith.
He does not explain faith in theological terms and in some abstract way,
but gives all the nations equally the one example of Abraham. Abraham was
accepted by God for his faith, which all can imitate. James Strachan
rightly says, "Had Abraham won God's favour by his extraordinary merits,
he would have been no example to his posterity." There were so many good things
said about Abraham that might have commended him to God, but if that had
been the case then not only his descendants after him but everybody else in
the world would have been able to protest that they could never live up to
But it was not like that. All the great qualities to be found in Abraham
counted for nothing in his search for justification with God. The one thing
that mattered, even in his case, was that he turned from himself and cast
himself on his Lord. That, anyone can imitate. So we are to be encouraged;
faith is possible to all. Now of course we have to translate the gospel into
other people's ways of thinking and speaking. That is one of the great enterprises
of the missionary movement. But what is to be translated is always the same.
The heart of the thing, what we are now considering, is the simple message
that what is needed is faith, faith in the Christ of the gospel.
So we come to that grand, original, simple architype -- Abraham. What
the New Testament does is to use three verses to bring together the three
important parts of the story of Abraham; they are "in you shall all the nations
be blessed" (Genesis 12:3); the second is "Abraham believed God and it was
counted to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6) and the third is again "In
you shall all the nations be blessed" (Genesis 22:18). These represent three
great stages in the experience of this man or faith, and they are an example
to all of us. God spoke to him (Genesis 12), he believed God (Genesis 15),
and he acted upon it (Genesis 22).
The first stage is that God gave him the promise. It was the Word of
God. He had nothing to go on, for as yet he had no son. But it was the promise
of God. The second stage is that he believed God and it was counted to him
for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). This is a verse which is quoted three times
in the New Testament, being taken up again and again to speak of the response
of faith which Abraham made. The third stage shows us Abraham proving his
faith by obedience. As James reminds us, in his quotation of Genesis 15:6,
Abraham did what he was told, in spite of [65/66]
all appearances and perhaps his own better judgment. Against all merely
human considerations, he understood that this God in whom he trusted was
speaking to him, so he obeyed, and in doing so proved that his faith was
genuine. Abraham is the example which God sets before all the nations.
God still speaks to day. He tells us to believe on His crucified and
risen Son. We hear, we obey, and we too are counted righteous. We take the
gospel to others, and as we do so we pray, "Lord, speak, cause men to believe
and then move them to act upon their belief." And day by day it is happening
all over the world. It may seem strange that as we talk about the gospel of
Jesus Christ, God should turn us back to the Old Testament for the shining
example of how we are to be justified by simple faith, but this is His Word
to the whole world. What men everywhere need is justification.
The Gospel that God sets before all the Nations
It is fascinating that in the middle of Galatians 3:8 we are told that
the Old Testament Scripture was preaching the gospel beforehand. It is one
gospel. It is one Scripture. It is one revelation. God has the same message
to man all through time. The fact that it became explicit, so making us
understand for the first time who Jesus was when He came into the world
at Bethlehem is neither here nor there. It is the same gospel through all
history and it is a gospel which God sets before all the nations.
It is the gospel of the cross and the resurrection. In fact it is true
that by the time he came to die Abraham had not received the whole fulfilment
of the promise made to him. But he had seen it afar off (Hebrews 11:13) and
greeted it. He understood as much as he needed to understand of what the
promise was going to be, as the Lord Jesus vouched for when He said, "Your
father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad" (John
I wonder what it was that Abraham saw. He saw the day of Jesus Christ.
I think it may have been on Mount Moriah when he was about to offer Isaac
and in the nick of time saw the substitute which God had provided to take
the upraised knife. Some versions say that Abraham called the name of that
place Jehovah-jireh because the ram was provided (Genesis 22:14) but it
might equally mean "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen". It would
not at all surprise me if from that moment to the end of his life Abraham
had more than an inkling of what the gospel of a substitutionary sacrifice
was going to be.
He knew nothing of Bethlehem. Indeed Bethlehem was not so much as thought
of in his day. He did not know about Galilee and about the coming of a son
born to the wife of a carpenter there. But he knew that God was going to
do something by which he, Abraham, could be made right with God, and that
that provision had something to do with an animal which was offered on an
altar. On Mount Moriah he saw it. It was the gospel, the gospel of our Lord
Jesus Christ. This, then, is God's gospel for the whole world. But we should
note that even as Abraham grasped it for himself, he was told that it was
also for others.
There are things in the Bible which might seem to make the Jewish faith
an exclusive affair. Wanting what was for the Jews to be only for the Jews,
Israel tried to keep isolated. But we have to say that whenever Israel built
walls about itself and tried to keep itself to itself, it was not being true
to the spirit of Abraham. The very thing which set the Jews apart and made
them God's own distinctive people, separate from the rest of the nations,
was not meant by God to be selfish exclusivism but the most expansive liberality.
The same is true in our case. When God's Word comes to us and we respond
in faith, we are challenged to pass it on to others. The gospel if for all
God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying,
I have something good for you, Abraham.
What is it, Lord?
It is justification, Abraham. You can be right with Me and belong to Me.
Justification, Lord, how do I get it?
By faith, Abraham. By believing. Forsake all else and take Me.