Personal and Practical

2 Kings 7. 9.


The four leprous men were right. To withhold glad tidings from a starving people would be the extreme of heartlessness. To know there was plenty available for a people who were starving and to say nothing of it would be indescribable callousness. To allow people to die when we know they can live – words fail to express what one feels.

Yet, this is precisely what many believers do. They have ‘bread enough and to spare’ but their fellows ‘perish with hunger’ and they remain unmoved. How can it be?

The man who had been delivered by the Lord Jesus from the power of Satan and the thraldom of darkness was enjoined to ‘return’ to his ‘house and declare how great things God had done for’ him. That man’s mistakes in going to the ‘city’ instead of his ‘house’ and speaking of ‘Jesus’ instead of ‘God’ (for evidently he did not discern that Jesus was God) may both be pardoned on the ground of his very reasonable enthusiasm that others should know ‘what a wonderful Saviour is Jesus’, see Luke 8. 39.

It is of prime importance that the good news, supported by personal experience, should be declared at home first. The sounding of the glad tidings in our hearts should result in its echo being heard from us by others, see 1 Thess. 1, and the home should hear that echo first.

Not that it should be confined to that small sphere. The Lord is still on the lookout for those like Philip who are willing to leave home and go either to the wilderness and speak to one, or to the town and speak to many. His command is still in force, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation’. Manifestly, the eleven men to whom the command was first given could not fully accomplish such a task; the most they could do was to make a contribution toward that end. The mileage was so vast, the population so great, and the time so short. Beside which, one generation passes away and another comes and the command is to us of this day in respect of our own generation. Do we really believe the terms of Mark 16. 16? Especially in the second item? Is the possibility of the unbelieving sinner’s condemnation a powerful impetus driving us to preach the gospel? How then can we be silent?

Our little island has, of late, been very much like Palestine was in the early days of Christianity in which folk of diverse lineage and skin colour have dwelt. At that time there were found people from all branches of the human race. There was the eunuch from the line of Ham; Saul of Tarsus from the line of Shem and Cornelius from the line of Japheth. Then, too, the Lord found men who were ready to ‘go and tell’ these people the good news of Christ who died for the ungodly and who had been raised from the dead. Philip, Ananias and Peter were all available for that purpose. Their hearts were in such close touch with the Lord that they received their marching orders from Him and followed them with instant and glad obedience. And what happy results followed in each case. The lesson is plain. It is for writer and reader to look well to the state of the soul and to permit nothing to come between ourselves and the Lord. Then we shall know His will and then we shall be willing to do it.

Some may be told by the Lord to ‘go home’ and tell their friends. Some may be bidden to go a few miles to a Caesarea, not far off. Others may be, as Paul was, sent to another continent. The sending of the servant is the prerogative of the Lord. He will chose the time and place, but He only chooses those who have been ready to ‘begin at Jerusalem’ or to ‘serve at Antioch’. To run unsent is to court disappointment to ourselves and worse, displeasure to Him. To choose our own sphere is to usurp His prerogative.

‘Whom shall I send?’ demonstrates that He elects His workmen. ‘Who will go for us?’ indicates that He restricts Himself to those who are ready to respond to His call.

May we all be ready to say, irrespective of what He may thereafter direct, ‘Lord, here am I, send me’. To be chosen of Him is itself a great honour, and to labour just where He directs is a great joy.



The terms of the Lord’s commission to His disciples in the Gospel by Matthew are, ‘All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you. And lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the age’, Matt. 28. 18- 20 RV marg. The things ‘commanded’ are chronicled by the excustoms officer in an orderly fashion in the five discourses of the Gospel. They are:

  1. The Manifesto Discourse, chs. 5-7;
  2. The Evangelistic Discourse, ch. 10;
  3. The Parabolic Discourse, ch. 13;
  4. The Assembly Relationship Discourse, ch. 18;
  5. The Climax Discourse, chs. 24-25.

All these discourses are brim full with the precious teaching of the Master, their themes being illuminated by the narratives that precede them.

Throughout the Manifesto Discourse, chs. 5-7, there are interesting themes on the Commonwealth of Heaven. One in particular is the necessity to develop a sense of true spiritual values as indicated by the Lord’s use of the word ‘first’.

The First of Reconciliation

‘Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift’, 5. 23, 24. Because of a sense of failure in worship, the question is often asked, ‘How does the consciousness of the divine presence, and the deep joy of adoration come to the heart?’ Too often we intrude with unholy feet around the altar, ignoring the requirements for the acceptance of our offerings. Worship is not to be empty ceremony. Therefore, because of the danger of it becoming so through the breach of loving relations with a brother, our Lord bade the subjects of His kingdom to leave a ceremonious procedure until reconciliation is effected. If we are prepared for what is involved in the command, the right condition for worship will lead to its realized joy.

First, there is sensitivity of conscience, ‘there rememberest’. Is the still small voice heard? Indifference towards the claims of righteousness is spiritually disastrous. Secondly, there must be humility, ‘leave there thy gift before the altar’. This virtually envisages the offerer a breath away from the ceremony, for the offerer is viewed as actually in the act of presentation at the barrier before the altar (lit. ‘that thou art offering’ RV). The soul is humbled by the acceptance of the loss of prestige involved in such an act. Thirdly, there is courage in action, ‘go thy way’. Moral courage is demonstrated by going back over the path trodden, although it involves misunderstanding. The pathway is taken for the performance of what is right, and this is the issue of courageous conviction. Fourthly, there is unblameableness, ‘first be reconciled to thy brother’. Steps taken to restore relationships leave one undeserving of censure, though perhaps not faultless. This attitude usually makes reconciliation as easy as breathing. Lastly, there is sacrifice, ‘then come and offer thy gift’. Compliance to these demands will make our approach acceptable in the courts of God’s presence. It is a solemn fact that persistence in a course and condition contrary to this makes the genuineness of professed relationship to the family of faith questionable.

The First of Life’s Quest

‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’, 6. 33. The God of the Universe, the Controller of all things, is revealed to be the God of the individual in this part of the discourse. Since the details of every individual’s life are under God’s watchful eye, the believer is expected to acquiesce to His perfect control. The aim of life of those possessing this conception of God through the authoritative teaching of Christ should be His kingdom and righteousness. The nations, through greed and fear of catastrophe, seek material things, 6. 32. With fretting anxiety and mistrust of God, life is entirely focussed upon the business of food, drink and clothing. But possessing the knowledge that God’s dominion is the best, the believer should yearn for manifestations of His power, and experimental knowledge of His operations in the ‘all things’ of life. The fowls of the air and the lilies of the field are illustrations of our Father’s unceasing care. The method of our search is wrapped up in this word ‘first’. The kingdom must be the principal passion in our hearts. Preference for spiritual things, intensity of purpose, and the giving of time, are all included in this. The present reward of the search is summarized in the words, ‘all these things shall be added unto you’. The life of a saint is spoiled if all his time is absorbed in the pursuit of material things. On the other hand, life is blessed if spiritual affairs are given priority. This principle is illustrated in the life of Matthew himself; in response to the call of Christ, he turned his back upon a lucrative post in an earthly kingdom, but was rewarded by being made an apostle of the Lord and a chronicler of the kingdom that is eternal.

The First of Self-judgement

‘Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye’, 7. 5. There is much misunderstanding on the matter of judging dealt with here. It is certainly not rivalry to civil powers administering public justice; reference has been made to these with approval elsewhere in the discourse, 5. 25, 26. Neither is it sanction to avoid judging moral evil. The deep spirituality of the ministry of Christ in this connection is given previously, ‘I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’, 5. 28. This searching word is needed in these ‘modern’ times more than ever before. Moreover, there cannot be any implication in these words forbidding us to assess the quality of any doctrine. The warning, ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’, 7. 15, was given for this very purpose. Does it mean that we are not to judge professions of faith? Statements such as, ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you’, 7. 6, dismisses that suggestion also. Subsequent history in the New Testament does not allow us to think that every profession of faith was regarded as bona fide by the early servants of Christ.

What, then, is the meaning? Following the ministry on the life of faith in chapter 6, the words seem to point to the tendency in our hearts to criticize harshly the incomplete and inaccurate movements of others in that pathway. Too often the censure of others is an attempt to camouflage our own shortcomings. One hour of true self-judgement before the Lord will humble us and deliver us from the sin of hypocrisy and from carping destructive criticism.



The Privilege of serving the Lord

What a privilege it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ! He Himself assures us, ‘if any man serve me, him will my Father honour’. The apostle John similarly says that in the coming day, ‘his servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face’. John is speaking of slaves bought with a price and who have served their Lord out of love responsive to His. They will have two privileges. They will continue to render Him priestly service, and will also have the high honour of unrestricted access to the holy presence of the King, cf. Esther 1. 14.

The word ‘servant’ is first used in the scriptures in connection with the curse upon Canaan, ‘a servant of servants shall he be’. What is implied is a place of inferiority to his brethren, and a lack of liberty as a result of sin. To the Creator every creature must necessarily be inferior, and the liberty which God gives must necessarily be limited to the doing of His holy will. The Lord Jesus says, ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed’; that is, free to follow Him, free to serve Him. To serve the living and true God is not slavery, but true liberty; it is not a thing of shame, but an outstanding honour. Consider how God appreciates His servants. When appearing to Israel He promises him blessing ‘for my servant Abraham’s sake’. Reproving Aaron and Miriam He says, ‘Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ He promises protection to Jerusalem ‘for my servant David’s sake’, and exclaims, ‘Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified’, Isa. 49. 3.

‘Behold My Servant’. To enable us to serve God acceptably, the scriptures give us not only explicit instructions but picture after picture of the perfect Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth’, Isa. 42. 1. As our attention is directed to the perfections of God’s Servant, we find in the four-fold description that is given us an example for all who would be acknowledged by God as His servants.

First, we read, ‘I have put my spirit upon him’. Christ did not embark upon His public ministry until He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. So our service, like our Lord’s, must be directed by, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus promised that after His glorification everyone who believes in Him would be given the Holy Spirit within him to flow out like a stream to others. This is enlarged upon in later scriptures, John 7. 38-39; Acts 1. 8; 2 Cor. 1. 21-22; Eph. 1. 13. But the fact that we have been anointed with the Spirit is not sufficient. We must be careful that there is nothing to grieve Him in our private life or in our business life, particularly in our feelings towards our fellow-men, Eph. 4. 30. Then, having ‘no confidence in the flesh’, we can count on the power of the Holy Spirit of God.

Secondly, ‘He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street’. Matthew 12. 15-21 explains this. It shows that the Lord was careful to avoid anything that might lead to excitement or popular acclaim. We, too, must be careful to avoid, not only the emotionalism of the crowd or large congregation, but the temptation to vanity. The man whose service is of a public nature is always open to the danger of self-display and pride. But the man who serves consciously in the presence of God breathes the spirit of continual self-effacement. He learns from the seraphim who cover their faces and their feet before flying at the behest of the King.

Thirdly, ‘A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench’. This suggests the meekness and gentleness of Christ as He deals with sinners and with saints today, and as He will deal with the remnant of Israel in the future. We are often like bruised reeds ourselves, found unreliable both by our Master and by those who look to us for help. And as for our testimony, our light is often dim, like that of an oil lamp whose wick emits little else but smoke. Yet the compassionate heart of Christ moves Him to exceeding patience with us. So the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all, apt to teach, patient. In view of our own failings how sympathetic and humble we should be in seeking to reach the lost or to shepherd the saved.

Fourthly, ‘He shall not fail (i.e., burn dimly) nor be discouraged (i.e., be bruised), till he have set judgment in the earth’. The Lord Jesus is called, as we are not, to set justice in the earth and to rule from sea to sea. The lesson for us is that, although He is amazingly gracious with men, He never lowers God’s standards; He always has righteousness in view. May it be so with us at all times! Insofar as we follow His steps, we too may count on the support of His and our unfailing God.

‘If any Man Serve … let him Follow’. It is certainly not the business of the servant to choose his service. He must await his master’s instructions. This is particularly important when certain forms of service seem to us more urgently necessary or more attractive than others. We must cultivate the dependent and teachable spirit of the Perfect Servant. He was ready for God to open His ear morning by morning, and ready to listen as a learner. He was not rebellious nor turned back, however difficult the pathway was to which God called Him. His service involved repeated shame and loss. But He was assured that it was the path that God had chosen for Him, so He could say, ‘the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed’, Isa. 50. 4-7. Then, as the shadow of the cross loomed immediately before Him, He said to those who desired to serve Him, ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me’. He explained that this meant following Him in a path of suffering and self-sacrifice. He was prepared, like a grain of wheat, to fall into the ground and die in view of a future harvest. So we also must be prepared to forego the comforts of ‘life in this world’ with a view to ‘life eternal’. There is no acceptable service without true discipleship. He who desires to serve must first learn to follow, John 12. 24-26.

Robert Murray M‘Cheyne had this in mind when he urged a fellow-servant, ‘Go brother, leave the ninety and nine; go after the one sheep that was lost. Leave your home, your comforts, your bed, your ease, your all, to feed lost souls. Study universal holiness of life. Your usefulness depends upon this. If Satan can only make you a covetous minister, a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever’. Service for Christ involves the selfdenial and the self-sacrifice that we see supremely in Him.

Three Aspects of Service. Three aspects of service are suggested by three of the words most often used by the New Testament writers for serving the Lord. There is the unquestioning and undivided service of the purchased slave for his master. There is the service freely rendered by a man to his fellow-men or to God. There is also the priestly service or worship that a man is privileged to render to his God.

First, there is the word that Paul uses when he speaks of ‘serving the Lord with all humility of mind’, Acts 20. 19. This is serving as a slave or bondservant. To such the Lord refers when He says that no servant can serve two masters. We could not imagine a slave having two masters, two owners, at the same time; he clearly would not be able to give his absolute obedience to more than one. A slave is not his own, and he dare not choose his work or assert his own will in his master’s service. Yet Paul, John, James, Peter and Jude, are all happy to call them selves bondservants of God and of Christ. Should not we be glad to be bound to such a Master, to submit to His will? Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they had turned to God from idols to serve Him as bondservants. Before our conversion we were slaves to various passions and pleasures. Now we are to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord as slaves bound to a new and infinitely better Master. This word is used in 1 Thessalonians 1. 9; Titus 3. 3; Romans 12. 11; Colossians 3. 24; Matthew 6. 24; Luke 1. 38.

Secondly, there is the word that Luke uses in recording the statement of the Lord Jesus, ‘I am among you as he that serveth’, Luke 22. 27. It views the servant, not as bound to his master, but as waiting upon his service, whether the ‘ministration’ to poor widows, or the ‘ministry’ of the word of God. This word, meaning to wait at table, occurs first where we read of Martha being ‘cumbered about much serving’. The noun is usually translated ‘minister’, though in Philippians and Timothy it is just transliterated ‘deacon’. It is used in the Lord’s saying, ‘he that is greatest among you shall be your servant’, Luke 22. 26-27; Acts 6. 1, 4; Rom. 15. 25.

Thirdly, we have the word which Paul used for serving God with his spirit ‘in the gospel of his Son’. It is the word for the priestly service or worship carried on in the tabernacle, Heb. 8. 3; 13. 10. It is used both for our worship and for our service in the gospel, Phil. 3. 3; Rom. 1. 9. We are called, not to offer animal sacrifices as of old, but to present our bodies a living sacrifice. This is called our reasonable, intelligent, spiritual service to God. It is incumbent upon us all, Rom. 12. 1.

To sum up, we must serve the Lord with the undivided devotion of a slave, with the diligence and deference of those who wait at table, and with the dignity of privileged priests.



From the human standpoint, Paul’s effectiveness as a servant of Christ stemmed from the fact that he was motivated by one dominating objective, summed up in the words, ‘Wherefore also we make it our aim (marg., Greek, ‘are ambitious’), whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing unto him’, 2 Cor. 5. 9 RV. Writing to the Philippians, he expressed it even more succinctly, ‘For to me to live is Christ’, Phil. 1. 21. In several places he speaks of subsidiary objectives which are but facets of the one overriding consideration. All these amply repay careful study, but considerations of space confine us to one, ‘I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus’, 3. 12 RV.

His thoughts go back to that never-to-be-forgotten experience when Christ apprehended (laid hold of) him on the Damascus road. Certainly, this was with a view to his own immeasurable blessing in salvation, the wonder of which never ceased to move him to praise and worship. However, he is here looking at that wonderful experience from quite a different angle. Christ had a special role for him. He was a chosen vessel to bear the name of Christ before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9. 15; 22. 14; 26. 15-18. Henceforth, it was Paul’s earnest desire to see accomplished in his service all that his Master had in mind in laying hold of him. In writing to the Ephesians about thirty years later, he still marvelled at the grace given to one who saw himself as the chief of sinners and less than the least of all, and yet was so highly privileged to ‘preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’, Eph. 3. 8.

Ever sensitive to the possible effects of words on his hearers and readers, he realized that among them would be some who had to be content with a lowly life confined to their immediate locality. They would be appreciative of the apostle’s great privilege and his devoted labours in many parts of the vast Roman Empire, but they might be discouraged in contrasting their very limited opportunities and their lack of ability to accomplish much for the One who was no less their Lord and Master. After telling his readers of his prayers for them, Eph. 3. 14-21, he went on to remind them of those monumental truths which apply to all believers without distinction, 4. 4-6. He then assures them that, nevertheless, each believer has his own particular part to play in the overall purpose of God. His great privilege was not a matter of merit but of amazing grace granted to him; they also were privileged, for ‘unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ’, 4. 7. Each had a sphere of usefulness peculiar to himself, and there was available the grace by which he could use his particular gift to fill that sphere to the glory of God.

None of us has had such a spectacular conversion as Saul of Tarsus. Probably in the great majority of cases, conversion has conformed to a fairly common pattern. This should not be allowed to obscure the real wonder of every conversion; the longer we live, the greater should be our insight into what was involved. It means that by the convicting and regenerating power of the Spirit of God, Christ broke into our lives just as really as He did into the life of the man who at the time was busily engaged in the persecution of those who belonged to Christ.

Equally, it was not simply to bring us into the blessedness of personal salvation, but rather that Christ laid hold of us for our particular contribution to the outworking of God’s purpose. That contribution may seem small and insignificant by human standards, but who can foresee what results may flow from the fidelity of even the most obscure believer.

Elisha is the one given public prominence in the events which led to God being glorified in the court of Syria, but it was the simple testimony of an unnamed captive maid in Naaman’s household which set in motion the train of events which brought that about. Not so long ago in our own country it was a lowly nursemaid, of whom very little is known, who won for her loved Saviour the tender heart of her charge, the little Lord Ashley. Before he reached the age of seven, she died never dreaming that as the Earl of Shaftsbury he would stamp his mark for Christ on Victorian society in Britain, as well as initiate a successful outreach to the masses, the effects of which linger on in some places to the present day. Many similar stories could be told.

The Lord’s assessment of His people’s service is based neither on the extent of the area covered, nor on the degree of prominence it brings, nor on the apparent success of their work. His one great criterion is the measure of faithfulness and devotion shown in their appointed sphere, great or small, Luke 19. 15-19; cf. Mark 14. 6-9.

No one doubts that in the great day of review the Lord will commend the mighty apostle of the Gentiles with the equivalent of, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. And we may expect to hear the great Earl of Shaftsbury, who did such a great work for Christ, commended in the same way. But what of the lowly nursemaid who would have been completely forgotten soon after she was buried, but for the recorded tribute paid to her by the Earl years later? No far-flung mission field, no place in high society for her, but her name is indelibly written in heaven. She, too, will stand before the same bema where she will certainly be rewarded with the same commendation, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.

Happy are they who in early life asked the same question as Paul did, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ Some will reach distinction in elevated circles where they will be able to accomplish more for Christ than they would have been able to do in any other calling. Some will be a light in some dark corner where otherwise the gospel would never penetrate, content to fill a little space if Christ be glorified.



It has doubtless been frequently observed how varied is the nature of the prayers addressed to the Lord in a prayer meeting. How happily the assembled saints will recognize a prayer which is incited by the Spirit of God, the prayer which is prayed ‘in the Holy Spirit’, Jude 20; cf. 1 Cor. 14. 15, and thus unite with fervent outpouring of the heart to the Lord! And how much is wrought by the power of God in response thereto! Not all prayers prayed in public are of this character, however. There seems to be quite a variety of ways in which the Lord is addressed.

There is, for instance, what may be termed,the innuendo prayer. This takes place when a brother desires to give some kind of hint to one or another of those present concerning a matter to which he has felt inclined to take exception or to draw attention. Addressing the Lord, he would at the same time seek to give a reminder that something needs rectifying in the assembly, or in the life of an individual. This mode of leading people in prayer is dishonouring to God. If there is something wrong, there is a divinely appointed mode of dealing with it, but to mention the matter, or give a hint about it in prayer for the company to hear, is underhand, and should be rigidly avoided. It may savour of cowardice, there being a shrinking from dealing with the matter privately and faithfully in the spirit of grace and love. The hint may amount to a mere innuendo, but it must be exceedingly distasteful to the Lord. The one who adopts it evidently wants a fellow-believer to hear what he has to say, rather than the Lord.

There isthe protracted prayer. This is a kind of prayer, which, by reason of its exhaustive character, wearies those who are seeking to follow. Some prayers are protracted to such a length that if the feelings of those present were uttered it would be found that they had been really longing for the ‘Amen’. This kind of prayer is contrary to the Lord’s instructions for those who are gathered together. His command was, ‘After this manner therefore pray ye’. Then follows what has been called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, which is really the disciples’ prayer. It contains seven requests. In the original the whole prayer contains sixty-seven words. The instruction, ‘After this manner’ shows not only that it was not intended to be uttered by way of constant repetition, but that united prayer in the gathering is to be characterized by suitable brevity. The record of the prayers in the New Testament confirms this desirability of brevity in public prayer.

To take up a number of subjects that come to one’s mind in the course of a prayer is one thing; to supplicate concerning those matters with which the Spirit of God has burdened the heart, is another, and this latter makes


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