Archives for the month of: March, 2012

Profitable Things
Part 3

Alfred P. Gibbs

The Word of God is profitable because of the purpose for which it was given. This purpose is seven-fold.

(1) To make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15): “Able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Man, in his natural state, has no desire for or capacity to understand spiritual things. He is ignorant of eternal realities, and is described as being “Alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18). Though man may pride himself on his possession of secular wisdom, and his great advance in scientific knowledge and his prowess in invention, yet he remains in abysmal ignorance of the true, eternal and spiritual realities that God has revealed in His word. Moreover he is described as being incapable of “receiving the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

God’s commentary on the boasted wisdom of this world is not calculated to inflate its ego, for we read: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by (its) wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).

The age-long question of Job: “Where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12), has its complete answer in the statement: “The holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” Within the pages of this Book, the believing reader may be made wise as to his true condition as a guilty, lost, helpless and hell-deserving sinner in the sight of a holy God (Rom. 3: 1-23). He will be made wise as to God’s wonderful provision for his lost condition in the gift of His beloved Son, whose incarnation, substitutionary sacrifice, death, resurrection and glorification have made possible a full, free and eternal salvation for all who will own their need and receive Him as Saviour and own Him as Lord (Rom. 10:6-17). He will be made wise as to the true and eternal blessedness of all who have been born again by the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:3-14).

Well may we lift our voices in grateful praise to God for this inspired revelation of His Word, by which we are granted divine wisdom and enabled to understand these things which make for our eternal profit!

(2) To reveal doctrine: By doctrine is meant teaching. The great foundation truths of Christianity are found within its pages, and are woven into the warp and woof of this divine revelation from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is not like a book of systematic theology, where each great doctrine is first stated, and then all the Scripture verses relating to this doctrine are gathered together to verify its veracity and authority. In the Bible, all these great truths are woven into the fabric of the entire Book. In fact, the word, “text,” comes from the Latin, “textus,” which means something woven.

Inasmuch as doctrine forms an integral part of Holy Scripture, it is essential that every Christian should make himself well acquainted with the Bible as a whole. In so doing, he will become “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine”

(1 Tim. 4:6). We are living in days of drift, doubt, declension and denial of the truth of the Word of God. These great foundation truths of the Bible are being attacked, denied and discredited, not only by men of the world, but by those who profess to be ministers of the gospel, and who occupy pulpits which are professedly Christian in character.

The tragedy is that vast numbers of professing Christians, through lack of the reading and study of the Word of God, are ignorant of these foundation truths, and consequently unable to combat the encroaches of the enemy. They do not realize the truth of that statement from the good Book: “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3). It is in view of this that the believer is urged to: “Sanctify Christ in your heart as Lord, and be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 4:15). It is to be feared that many Christians, if challenged by a worldling as to the truth of some doctrine of the Word of God, would be unable to give an answer that would either satisfy or silence the inquirer.

Let us state a few of these great doctrines which Scripture reveals and which form the foundation of Christianity. Every believer should familiarize himself with these truths, by earnest and concentrated study of Holy Scripture. There is no substitute for this personal study of the Bible. This is the solemn responsibility of each believer who must determine he will both make and take time for the daily reading and systematic study of the Word. It is still true that “The entrance of Thy Word giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple” (Psa. 119:130). Now let us look, very briefly, at a few of these fundamental doctrines of our most holy faith which are found in the Word.

1. The divine Triunity of the eternal Godhead, consisting of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. These are not three Gods, but one Godhead, subsisting in three Persons, each equal and eternal with each other, and each possessing all the prerogatives of Deity and the essentials of personality. This is a truth entirely beyond our finite comprehension, but not beyond faith’s apprehension for it is clearly revealed in Scipture. See Matthew 28:19John 15:26Hebrews 9:13-14Ephesians 2:182 Corinthians 13:14.

2. The essential and eternal Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His virgin birth, sinless and real humanity, substitutionary sacrifice to secure our eternal redemption, bodily resurrection, ascension, glorification and present ministry as the great high Priest in the presence of God and His literal and personal second coming. See Hebrews 1:3Luke 1:26-35;2 Corinthians 5:211 Peter 2:221 Corinthians 15:3-41 Timothy 2:5-6Acts 1:6-11;Hebrews 4:14-161 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

3. The Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writing of the Bible; who convicts the sinner of his lost and guilty state before God and, on the sinner’s acceptance of Christ as his own personal Saviour and Lord, regenerates, indwells and empowers him to live a godly life and effectually serve the Lord Jesus on earth. See 2 Peter 1:19-21John 16:7-15;Ephesians 1:13-141 Corinthians 6:19-20.

4. The Bible is the divinely inspired, authentic and authoritative revelation from God, and is therefore the Christian’s complete guide and final authority on all matters of faith and practice. See 2 Timothy 3:14-16Matthew 24:25Psalm 119:11, 89, 105.

5. That salvation from sin’s penalty, secured at the infinite cost of the precious blood of Christ, has been provided for every sinner who will avail himself of it. This salvation is wholly of grace and therefore entirely apart from human merit in any shape or form. It is conditioned by simple faith in Christ’s finished work of redemption which He accomplished on the cross, acceptance of Him as one’s own personal Saviour and confession of Him as Lord. See John 3:14-18; 5:24; 10:9; 14:6Romans 10:9-10Ephesians 2:8-9Romans 4:1-51 John 5:10-13.

6. Each regenerated believer is not only eternally secure in Christ but, by the Holy Spirit, has been united to the mystical body of Christ, the Church, of which Christ is the sole Head and every believer a member. See John 10:27-301 Corinthians 12:12-27;Ephesians 1:15-23.

7. The eternal retribution of God upon all who die in their sins, either rejecting, despising or neglecting the great salvation provided by the redemptive sacrifice of the Son of God. SeeJohn 3:36; 8:21-242 Thessalonians 1:7-10Hebrews 2:3Revelation 20:11-15.

Such, in condensed form, are some of the principal fundamental doctrines on which the truth of Christianity rests. Each Christian should therefore know, love, proclaim and defend these truths and thus become a profitable servant of his Lord and Master.

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Alfred P. Gibbs

The Holy Scriptures
(2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect (or mature), throughly furnished unto all good works.”

First and foremost in this list of things to profit is the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God, concerning which Sir Walter Scott, perhaps quoting Byron, wrote:

“Within this sacred volume lies
The mystery of mysteries.
Happiest they of human race,
Of whom their God has given grace
To lift the latch and force the way,
To read, to learn, to watch, to pray.
But better had they ne’er been born
Who read to doubt, or read to scorn!”

We will state three reasons for the unestimable profit of this Book of Books.

1. It is Profitable Because of its Origin:

God is its Author. It came from Him, through the instrumentality of holy men of God who wrote under the absolute control of the Holy Spirit. We are definitely informed that, “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved (lit. borne along) by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). In other words, the Spirit of God so energized and controlled certain specially selected men that what they wrote were the very words of God Himself.

The words, “by inspiration of God,” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is expressed by one word in the Greek, “Theopneustos” (From “Theos,” God, and “pneo,” breathe). Thus the Scriptures are declared to be the God-breathed record of the Divine revelation to man. As in creation God “formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul,” so God has taken the material of human language and breathed into these human words the breath of His life, and the Holy Scriptures have become a living book which, whenreceived into the heart by faith, generates spiritual life in the believing soul. See Hebrews 4:12;Acts 7:381 Peter 1:23. One has only to open the Bible to read very many times, such expressions as, “And God spake all these words,” “And God said,” “Thus saith the Lord,” etc. etc. Thus the Bible itself flatly states it is the revelation of God to man.

Someone has summed up beautifully the message of the Bible in these words: “This” Book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe and practise it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, Heaven opened and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment and be remembered for ever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor and condemns all who trifle with its sacred contents.”

Not only does the Bible claim to be the Word of God to man, but it can be demonstrated to the unbiassed reader that this claim is true in many ways. We will name but seven of these evidences: First, its fulfilled prophecies. These were given with meticulous detail hundreds of years before the event was fulfilled exactly as had been predicted. Second, its historical accuracy. Names, places and events are recorded which have been proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be true. Third, the unity of its revelation. Here are 66 different books written over a period of hundreds of years, and yet each book fits into each other book to present a complete exposition of the great truth of Redemption and the revelation of the glorious Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fourth, the exhaustless depth of its teaching yet conveyed in simple language. Thus profundity of thought is combined with simplicity of expression. Fifth, its indestructability.In spite of all the attacks on the part of its many enemies throughout the centuries, it has emerged scathless, and stands like a great mountain peak unmoved above the wrecks of time. Sixth, its influence for good in the lives of those who believe its truths and practise its precepts. A tree is known by the fruit it produces. Lastly, its many translations and vast circulation throughout the nations of the world. It has been translated into over 1200 different languages, and each year over 25 million copies are published throughout the world.

The Holy Scriptures are not only profitable because of their origin and Author, but they are essential to a knowledge of the true and living God of the universe, to whom alone belong omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence and immutability, and who desires “all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). How thankful we should be for such a divine revelation concerning God, Christ, sin, redemption, the Holy Spirit, salvation and eternal blessedness.

2. It is Profitable Because of the Person it Reveals:

This Person is the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible exists for the purpose of revealing one Person, the Lord Jesus, and the exposition of one theme, redemption through His most precious blood. Christ is predicted in the Law and the Prophets; typified in the offerings of Leviticus and the tabernacle; presented in the four Gospels; preached in the Acts of the Apostles; expounded in the Epistles and described as glorified in the Revelation. The whole Book is redolent with the Son of God. If Christ were removed from the Bible only the covers of the Book would remain!

Notice the Saviour’s own testimony to this fact, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:40). To the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, “He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Ere He ascended back to Heaven He declared, “These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).

Speaking prophetically by the Spirit in the Psalms, our Lord declared hundreds of years before He came, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God” (Psalm 40:7-8Heb. 10:7). Two things are here plainly affirmed; the Divine Person who was to come, and the Divine volume in which it was revealed, the Holy Bible.

The Old Testament was the only Scripture the early disciples had. From its pages they proved that all the prophecies concerning the Messiah of Israel had been fulfilled by the incarnation, life, ministry, miracles, teaching, death, resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter could say “To Him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43).

Christ thus rides forth on the chariot of the Holy Scriptures, and is presented, in all His dignity as the essential and eternal Son of God who “through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God” as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of sinners, and thereby secured eternal salvation for all who will receive Him as Saviour and own Him as the Lord of their lives. SeeHebrews 9:13-14Romans 10:1-17.

Church Fellowship

 

Alfred P. Gibbs

In the previous paper we dealt with the subject of the Church, chiefly in its universal aspect, as comprising all regenerated persons from its commencement at Pentecost to its consummation at the Rapture.

We shall now be concerned with the Church in its local aspect. By this is meant a number of Christians in a certain area who assemble together, in the name of the Lord Jesus, for either worship, praise, the ministry of the word, or mutual edification.

One of the most important questions that faces a young Christian is this matter of his assembly association. This decision can either make or mar his whole Christian life. In view of this each child of God needs the spiritual enlightenment that comes from the study of the Word of God, (Acts 17:11-12James 1:5-7).

We shall think of four things regarding this subject.

The Need for Church Fellowship

We know, from the Old Testament, that it was God’s desire for His redeemed people to meet together, at stated times, in order to enjoy fellowship with each other, rejoice before the Lord, and unitedly worship Jehovah. For this purpose He appointed the seven feasts which are described in Leviticus 23. Compare also Deuteronomy 12:5-7.

A similar provision was made in the New Testament by our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew how much His disciples would need the mutual comfort, encouragement, strength, and edification from such fellowship. As He anticipated this coming together, He promised: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).

He further provided for this by instituting the Lord’s supper. He appointed the bread as the symbol of His body; and the wine, as the symbol of His precious blood, and requested them to “This do in remembrance of Me.” Later on He gave a special revelation to the Apostle Paul concerning this ordinance (Luke 22:19– 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26).

The Book of Acts and the Epistles show how the early Christians met together in local companies for prayer, ministry of the Word, the Lord’s supper, and a united testimony in the Gospel (Acts 2:41-47; 4:23, 32; 5:13-14; 8:4; 11:19-26; 13:1-4; 14:21-27; 16:4-5; 20:1; 20:17-38;1 Cor. 12:1-14:40; etc.).

The Epistles of the New Testament were written, by divine inspiration, to these various companies of believers, and are full of “doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.” They were written for the purpose of encouraging these assemblies to exercise their spiritual gifts, and to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus develop into Christian maturity and consequent usefulness in the service of their Lord and Master.

The Pattern for Church Fellowship

We have in the Acts and the Epistles the scriptural pattern which God has given for assembly fellowship, and which should govern the whole period of Church history. It should therefore be obvious that we have no more right to alter this pattern of Church fellowship than we have a right to alter the way of salvation. It is for us to follow it, cost what it may and lead where it will.

As one reads and rereads the Acts and the Epistles, he will be impressed with the refreshing simplicity which characterized these New Testament assemblies. He will find no mention of highly organized and rival denominations such as exist today, each separated from the other by humanly constructed barriers in the shape of creeds, forms of government, rites, books of discipline, rules, regulations and traditions, and largely serviced by a group of ordained clergymen.

The young Christian of today finds himself in a world characterized by religious confusion. A multitude of voices seeks to advise him as to his choice of church fellowship. Eager hands beckon him here or there, to join this or that party. All sorts of inducements will be made to secure his membership in some organization.

What is the young believer to do as he faces these confused conditions in Christendom? There is but one correct answer to this question. The same holy Scriptures, which revealed to him the way of salvation and led him to trust Christ as his Saviour and Lord, must also be his guide in his church fellowship.

The Principles of Church Fellowship

There was no need in the early days of the Church for such a choice, for there was only one place where the believer could go! It is only the present confusion that makes such a choice necessary.

Let us therefore devote a little time to a consideration of those scriptural principles that should aid a young believer in his choice. An assembly of professed believers should meet a three-fold condition. First, it should be doctrinally sound; second, scripturally constituted; third, spiritually healthy.

It should be doctrinally sound: By this is meant that the great foundation truths of the Christian faith should be tenaciously held and fearlessly taught. Let us name a few of these fundamental doctrines.

The Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God in its every part, and is therefore absolutely authoritative on every subject dealt with in its pages (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

The essential and eternal Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ as equal and eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. That He became incarnate by a virgin birth, and combines in Himself absolute Deity and perfect humanity (1 Tim. 3:16Col. 1:13-20John 1:1-4).

The necessity for and the eternal efficacy of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice: This and His victorious resurrection and glorification held as the sole basis of a sinner’s acceptance with God (Rom. 3:24-261 Cor. 15:1-8John 3:14-18).

The ruined state of all humanity by nature, and man’s need of regeneration ere he can either see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:1-7Rom. 3:9-24).

That salvation is wholly of grace, and therefore entirely apart from human merit, and is conditioned by repentance towards God, faith in the Person and work of the Son of God, and confession of Him as Lord of the life (Eph. 2:1-10Acts 20:20-21Rom. 4:1-8; 11:6; 10:8-13).

The Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit: That He inspired the Word of God, convicts the sinner of his need of salvation and, on his reception of Christ, seals him as the possession of Christ forever (John 16:7-15Eph. 1:13-14; 4:301 Cor. 6:19-20).

The eternal retribution of the wrath of God upon all who die unrepentant, either neglecting or despising the salvation provided by the Son of God (John 3:36Mark 9:43-48;John 12:47-48Rev. 20:11-15).

These are foundation truths, and it is written: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:2). Any company that denies these truths is no place for a Christian (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

It should be scripturally constituted. That is to say, it should meet the requirements found in the pattern given in the New Testament.

It should have no name, but what is common to and inclusive of all believers.

It should believe in and act upon the truth of the unity of all believers as members of the Body of Christ, of which the Lord Jesus is the Head. Denominationalism is a virtual denial of this.

It should accept the Bible as the final authority on all matters of faith and doctrine. This will eliminate the decrees of men and books of discipline.

It should give liberty for the exercise and development of any spiritual gift which the Head of the Church has given, such as evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc. Its ministry should not be confined to one man.

It should be solely responsible to the Lord Jesus as its Head for the maintenance of godly order and discipline, and not to a central synod who dictates its policy and enforces its rules.

It should be prepared to welcome to its fellowship all believers who are sound in doctrine and moral in life, and who desire to meet with them.

It should practise the two ordinances that Christ instituted. First, baptism by immersion subsequent to faith in the Son of God. Second, the observance each Lord’s day of the Lord’s supper.

It should carry on its Gospel activity in a scriptural manner, soliciting no money from the unsaved.

It Should be Spiritually Healthy

A company of professed believers may meet the first two conditions and yet fail in this respect. By the term, “Spiritually healthy,” we mean that the meetings are characterized by an atmosphere of spirituality. Would that this could be said of all such gatherings! Several things will combine to produce this spiritual atmosphere.

Sincere and fervent love for the Lord Jesus. This, as nothing else, stirs the hearts of believers and leads them out in prayer, praise, and adoration.

The warm glow of Christian love towards all who love the Saviour irrespective of the amount of Bible light they have. This love will evidence itself in courteous consideration, in kindliness, hospitality, generosity, and godly care for the flock of God.

Humility of spirit: This will be recognized by an absence of spiritual pride, religious snobbery, and Pharisaical pretention, which prides itself on a superior knowledge of the truth, a greater attainment of “separation” from other Christians, and a “holier than thou” attitude to other believers.

Openheartedness in relation to all believers, and a willingness to welcome to the Lord’s supper all Christians who so desire, and are both doctrinally and morally sound, simply because they belong to Christ.

Christian liberty of thought and action: This will be evidenced by the absence of the blight of legalism, which shows itself in rigid formality, a critical spirit, a jealous attitude, a censorious outlook on the work of others, and a quarrelsome mood. Such an atmosphere is fatal to spirituality and therefore is no place for a young Christian.

The Deportment of a Christian in an Assembly

Having found an assembly of believers that most nearly fits this description, what should a young Christian do?

He should make known his desire for fellowship to the elder brethren of this assembly.They, in turn, will expect him to give testimony to his experience of the saving grace of God, and also of his spiritual exercise concerning the matter of church fellowship. They will probably inquire as to whether he has been baptized as a believer, or whether he is willing to thus follow the Lord in this rite.

On being welcomed to the fellowship of this company of believers, he should make it a point to be present at all the meetings convened by this assembly, such as the remembrance of the Lord in the breaking of bread, the prayer meeting, the Bible teaching meeting, the Sunday school and the Gospel meeting. This will involve some effort and the sacrifice of time, energy and money, but the effort will be amply repaid in terms of spiritual blessing in his own life. He must not forget that he needs the assembly and the assembly needs him.

He should seek to develop his own spiritual life by diligent study of the Word of God, prayer, and personal witness for Christ, and godly life before the world.

He should stir up whatever gift the Lord has given him and, by exercising this gift, seek to contribute to the upbuilding of the assembly. Each Christian has been given some gift by the Lord, but this gift must be developed if it is to be of use in Christian service.

He should be a systematic, proportionate, cheerful and liberal giver of his means to the assembly for its Gospel, teaching and foreign missionary effort. This will mean that he will set aside a definite portion of his income for the Lord. This is a most important thing, for liberality and spirituality go hand in hand. It is possible to be very sanctimonious and very stingy! God devotes two whole chapters of the Bible to the grace of giving (2 Cor. 8-9).

May the Lord lead each young Christian reading these pages, to a greater realization of his tremendous privileges as a child of God, and a corresponding discharge of his responsibilities towards the Lord Jesus and His Church!

Scriptural Principles of Gathering

A. P. Gibbs

 

It has been well pointed out that in the early days of Christianity there were congregations of believers, but no “Congregationalists!” There were baptized believers, but no “Baptists!” There were presbyters in the assembly, but no “Presbyterians!” They had method in their meeting, but there were no “Methodists!” They had bishops in the church, but there were no “Episcopalians!” They trembled at the word, but there were no “Quakers!” They all shared in the blessings of Pentecost, but there were no “Pentecostalist!” The brethren had all been united to Christ, but there were no “United Brethren!” They met simply as Christians, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and were obedient to His precious word.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

What a sublime introduction to the inspired Scriptures! We do not know when this universe came into existence. Scientists differ by millions, and even billions, of years when they attempt to fix the age of the world. But go back as far as the human mind can think and we come right up against God. The universe is not the result of blind chance or of certain unexplained laws of nature. It is the product of a master mind. A personal God brought it into existence. “He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). And this God has been revealed in Christ Jesus, and is the Father of all who believe in His Son. His power is unlimited, His wisdom is infinite, and all His resources are at the disposal of His saints as they cry to Him in faith.

The Maker of the universe

As Man, for man was made a curse.

The claims of Law which He had made,

Unto the uttermost He paid.

His holy fingers made the bough

Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.

The nails that pierced His hands were mined

In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung

The tree on which His body hung.

He died upon a cross of wood,

Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o’er His head

By Him above the earth was spread.

The sun that hid from Him its face

By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood

Was tempered in the fires of God.

The grave in which His form was laid,

Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears

Was His from everlasting years,

But a new glory crowns His brow,

And every knee to Him shall bow.

The Mass
From Mystery to Meaning
by James G. McCarthy

My stomach was in full flight as we waited for Mass to begin. How embarrassing it would be if I forgot what to do! Nervously I rehearsed my Latin. But I had made up my mind; I was going to be an altar boy.

The priest was calm. The other boy, a veteran, was entertaining himself looking through a mirrored window at the people.

At last the nod came. The heavy door to the altar opened. As we walked out in procession, I pulled the gold chain on the bell above the entryway. Why did I ever get myself into this?

It was not the altar boy picnic at the end of the year. That drew many recruits, but for me the attraction was deeper. I was aware of the respect I would receive from my family. Also, becoming a priest was a possibility. This could be the first step. Then there was the grace I would receive from God. The richly paneled sacristy, where I had donned my black cassock and white surplice, even smelled holy. Soon I would be handling the water and the wine, and assisting in Holy Communion after those awesome words: “Hoc est enim corpus meum – For this is My body.”

As the bell clanged, the entire congregation rose to their feet. Pretty heady stuff for an eleven-year-old.

I served Mass for four years. In the second year, the Latin Mass came to the end of its 1500-year history. I had to relearn all the responses in English. It was hard work but a big improvement.

Having attended Mass most of my life, I understand the reverence that every Catholic has for this sacrament. As a youth it was woven into the fabric of my life. Yet as an adult, my attendance often lacked meaning. As I sought a clearer understanding of this mystery, my search led me to the Sacred Scriptures. There God counsels, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.”(1) I decided to examine the Mass using the standard that God has provided: the Bible.

I found that the heart of the issue is the interpretation of Jesus’ words , “This is My body. . . this is My blood.”(2) Four major passages record the events of the Last Supper during which Jesus spoke these words. Three are in the gospels.(3) The fourth account is given by Paul. He was not present at the supper, but received a revelation directly from the Lord.(4) In addition there are several short references in the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians.(5) John 6, where the Lord speaks of himself as the “bread of life,” is also important.

What is the correct interpretation of Jesus’ statement: “This is My body” ? To answer this we must decide whether he was speaking in plain or figurative language.

Plain speech is just what it sounds like: plain. It’s nonfigurative. For instance, we might say, “It is raining one inch per hour.” This is stating the facts in plain language. However, we could have said, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” This is figurative language.

Jesus used both types of language on the night of the Last Supper. Following the meal, he said, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.”(6) Whether we take Christ’s words to be spoken in plain or figurative language will determine our view of the Eucharist.

The Plain View

This is the interpretation held by the Catholic Church. It teaches that when Jesus spoke the words: “Take, eat; this is My body. . . this is My blood,” he turned the bread into his body and the wine into his blood. The official name for this is transubstantiation. It means that the substance is changed. Although the outward appearance remains that of bread and wine, the real material or essential nature has been changed. This is done so that the priest can then sacrifice Christ on the altar. It is an “unbloody sacrifice,” but one in which Christ is actually “immolated” or offered as the victim. The bread wafer is the “host.” This term comes from the Latin word for victim. The offering of the host makes satisfaction for the sins of the living and the dead. Those receiving Holy Communion eat the body of Christ. Participation is essential for spiritual life, central to Catholic experience, and important for salvation. This is the Sacrifice of the Mass or the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is My body. . . this is My blood.” The Catholic Church interprets Jesus’ words to mean, “This has become My body. . . this has become My blood.”

This view interprets the verb “is” in its most usual way: showing that two things are equal to each other. For example, a young man showing his first car to his family might proudly announce, “This is my car.”

The Figurative View

This interpretation treats Jesus’ words as a figure of speech. The bread and wine are symbols. The bread reminds us of his body which was broken for us. The wine reminds us of his blood which was shed for our sins. The Lord Jesus wants his followers to take bread and wine for the purpose of remembering him; that is, to thank and praise him for the sacrifice of his life.

The figurative view understands Jesus’ words as “This represents My body. . . this represents My blood.” It interprets the verb “is” in another of its regular uses: showing that one object represents another.

An example of this might be the previously mentioned young man and his car. Later that day at dinner, he has the sad task of explaining to his father how he wrecked his new car. Arranging the plates and utensils to represent the scene of the accident, he picks up a spoon and, crestfallen, says, “This is my car.”

Context is the key. The young man spoke the same words twice: “This is my car.” Both times those listening immediately knew what he meant. The first time he used them in their plain sense. The second time in their figurative sense.

His words are similar to Christ’s at the Last Supper. In which sense did Christ speak when he said, “This is My body?” Plain or figurative?

By reading Christ’s words in context, we can determine their correct meaning. My study of the Last Supper has led me to believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively. Four points provide a summary of the reasons for my conclusion.

1. Jesus’ Teaching Style

The Jews often spoke in figurative language. The Lord Jesus, being a Jew, was no exception. John records in his gospel seven figurative statements that Jesus made about himself. Each uses the same verb translated “is” in the words “This is My body.” Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life,”(7)
“I am the light of the world,”(8)
“I am the door,”(9)
“I am the good shepherd,”(10)
“I am the resurrection and the life”(11)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,”(12)
“I am the true vine.”(13)

All are figurative. The last two were even spoken the night of the Last Supper in the upper room.

At other times, the Lord Jesus referred to his body as a temple,(14) new life as living water,(15) his disciples as salt,(16) and the Pharisees’ teaching as leaven.(17) In Matthew we read: “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable.”(18) A parable is the comparing of one thing with something else. It is figurative language. This is not to say that everything Jesus said was figurative, only that he often employed figurative language to teach truth.

It is not surprising to find figurative language at the Last Supper. A study of that night’s teaching, as recorded in John 13-17, will show that throughout the evening he used many figures of speech. He referred to the cup figuratively, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.”(19)The cup is not the actual covenant but symbolic of it.

The passage continues, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”(20) Surely we are not to drink the cup! This is a figurative reference to the wine inside the cup. Note also that this verse refers to the substance eaten as “bread,” not a body. In the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus said, “This is My blood,” he referred to the substance as the “fruit of the vine,”(21) or wine, not blood. This is the context of the passage we are examining. Much of it is clearly figurative language.

Jesus’ Jewish audience often misunderstood his teaching. They lacked discernment. They seemed unable to tell when he was speaking figuratively of spiritual truths. When he said, “Destroy this temple,” they thought he meant the building.(22) When he referred to the “leaven of the Pharisees,”(23) they thought he meant bread. When he told the woman at the well of the living water, she wanted to see his bucket.(24)And when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, they argued, grumbled, and left in disgust.(25)

The Apostle John records this last incident in the sixth chapter of his gospel. Because the Catholic Church uses this passage to interpret Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, we shall take a closer look at it.

2. John 6

This chapter begins with Jesus miraculously feeding a great multitude. The following day, he proclaims that he can give “food which endures to eternal life.”(26) This resumes a dispute with the Jewish authorities about who Jesus is. They were already plotting to kill him, because he was “making Himself equal with God.”(27) He had even claimed that he could give life to the dead.(28)

In John 6, the Jews continue to resist Jesus’ claim of being divine. They challenge him to prove this by bringing down manna from heaven as Moses had.(29) Jesus takes their reference to the manna, the food which was essential for life in the wilderness, and applies it figuratively to himself. He answers, “I am the bread of life.”(30)

In the debate which follows, he uses bread to illustrate the truth that they have refused to accept: belief in Jesus is essential for spiritual life. First he states the matter in plain language, “He who believes has eternal life.”(31) Then he states it in figurative language, “If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever.”(32) In his analogy, Jesus uses eating to represent believing.

This can be seen again in a following verse. Jesus went on to say, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”(33) Moments earlier he had said, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”(34)

Notice that the results are identical in both verses: eternal life and resurrection. But although in the one we must eat and drink, in the other we must behold and believe. Since the results are identical, we should understand that the actions to obtain them are also identical: eating represents believing. His figurative statements are easily understood when read in the context of the other verses in the passage.

But we should not read into this passage a reference to the Eucharist. The reason is once again context. The circumstances in John 6 and the Last Supper are different. Yes, Jesus refers to bread in both, but there the similarity ends.

In John 6, he is speaking to those who reject him as the source of eternal life. He uses bread as an analogy to illustrate mankind’s need to believe in him. Jesus never even mentions wine.

At the Last Supper, he is among his eleven true disciples. There he is instituting a commemorative meal using bread and wine.

When we understand how different the two events are from each other, it becomes clear that we cannot use John 6 as a foundation upon which to rest our interpretation of the Last Supper. But this is exactly what the Catholic Church does. Let us examine five verses that it commonly uses.

In John 6:51, Jesus predicts, “The bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.” The Catholic Church interprets this as a promise of the Eucharist. Yet the context has nothing to do with the Last Supper or physical bread.

Earlier, Jesus had identified himself as the bread of life. Now he says he will give the bread, that is himself, his very flesh, for the life of the world. This is an accurate description of what he did on the cross. He is predicting his death. Many times near the end of his life he made similar predictions.(35)

This interpretation fits the context. By the sacrifice of his life, Jesus became the Savior of the world, the source of eternal life.

In John 6:52, the Jews begin to argue with one another, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Because of their antagonism for Jesus, they not only rejected his teaching but lacked the discernment to understand when he was using an illustration.

In John 6:53, Jesus states, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” Rather than teach the necessity of receiving Holy Communion, it speaks of the necessity of faith in Christ. If you do not trust in his payment for sin on the cross, you will not have eternal life in yourself.

In John 6:54 he says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”(36) We have seen that “to eat” is “to believe,” and that the giving of his flesh refers to his death on the cross. And so, “to eat his flesh” or “to drink his blood” would be to trust in the sacrifice of his life. It is to rely upon his death on the cross as the payment for our sins.

Finally, in John 6:55, he states, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.” To understand this as teaching that Christ is bodily present in the host is to interpret it out of context. Here again, Jesus is emphasizing that he is the source of real spiritual life and nourishment.

Quotes from John 6 should not be used to interpret Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. The contexts are too different. However, those who insist on doing so should realize that in John 6 Christ uses bread to illustrate his point. If anything, this sets a precedent for a figurative understanding of Christ’s use of bread at the Last Supper.

3. Sound Reason

God is rational. He invited Israel, “Come now, and let us reason together.”(37) He expects us to use sound judgment. I take Jesus’ words at the Last Supper as figurative on three grounds.

First, consider the location of his body. When he spoke the words, “This is My body,” he was reclining with his disciples at the table. Surely they would not have reasoned that both the bread and his actual flesh and bones were his body. The plain view has them both as his body at the same time. Following this view, the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus’ body is present on every altar in every consecrated host around the world. Is this what the Bible teaches?

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is now enthroned in heaven. His bodily return is yet a future event.(38) The Bible never ascribes more than one location to his physical body at any given time.

Someone might object, “Is not Christ God? And is not God everywhere?” Yes. But this refers to his spiritual, not physical, presence.

Second, the appearance of the bread and wine before and after consecration look suspiciously alike. Moreover, they smell, feel, and taste like bread and wine.

The Catholic Church realizes that the physical evidence contradicts the doctrine of the real presence. To explain this, it teaches that the “accidents” (qualities) of the bread and wine remain, but that the “substance” (nature) changes. But is it not the inward nature of an object that produces the outward appearance? Also, there is no other “miracle” recorded in the Bible where all outward evidences declare that nothing has happened, while the faithful are expected to blindly believe that, in fact, something has happened. God has never dealt with mankind in that manner.

Third, let us look at the activity that results from a non-figurative interpretation. When the Son of God became a man, he took upon himself human flesh. Holy Communion is eating Christ’s physical body. Why would God want us eating human flesh? Why would he want us drinking human blood? I know that we are speaking of the body and blood of Christ, but is this reasonable? Is it Scriptural? The drinking of blood is repeatedly forbidden in the Scriptures, including the New Testament.(39) The apostles were strict Jews who would not think of eating anything but kosher food.(40) And for a Jew, you cannot find a food more unclean than blood.

Some sincerely argue that eating Christ’s physical body must certainly bring grace. Yet Jesus taught, “Hear, and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. . . . Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?”(41) If eating can not defile us, then how can it sanctify us? Is it Christ in my stomach that I need? Did not Jesus say, “The flesh profits nothing?”(42)

Some do not think that the Mass needs to be reasonable. “It is a mystery. Just accept it by faith,” they declare. But the Scriptures never call it a mystery; why should we? Making it a matter of faith leaves the problems unanswered. Faith must rest upon divine revelation. The Mass, as described by the Catholic Church, is not in the Bible.

The problems listed above are real. The Mass is not only unreasonable, it is unscriptural.

A figurative interpretation of Jesus’ words makes good sense. His body need not be everywhere. The inward nature of the bread and wine is consistent with its outward appearance. Rather than physically consuming Christ, we experience spiritual communion with him.

4. The Stated Purpose

Why did Jesus take bread and wine and ask his disciples to do likewise? We find the answer in Christ’s own words, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Scriptures continue, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”(43) This is the purpose as Jesus stated it.

The figurative view is in harmony with this purpose. As each believer eats the bread, he is saying by his actions, “Christ’s body was broken for me. He took my punishment.” Drinking the wine symbolically states, “Christ’s blood was poured out for me. He gave his life in exchange for mine.”(44)

Jesus Christ went to the cross to save the world. God now offers full forgiveness to anyone who will turn from his sins and trust Christ alone for salvation.(45)

Partaking of the bread and wine is an outward declaration that I as an individual have accepted this offer. It is a public proclamation of my reliance on his death. When believers do this together, it is also a statement of their unity in Christ.(46)

The Lord Jesus need not be physically present for the church to remember him. The bread and the wine serve as fitting reminders of his body and blood given for us. We do this only “until He comes.” Then we will not need the symbols, for we shall have him!

The figurative view places the emphasis of worship where it belongs: spiritual communion with God. God is spirit. He wants us to worship him “in spirit and truth.”(47) This means he wants us to enter his presence in spirit and without hypocrisy in our lives. Simply showing up and eating the bread means very little to God. He is more interested in the internal than the external, the spiritual than the physical. The Scriptures emphasize self-examination to ensure spiritual reality rather than outward form or mere attendance.(48)

Finally, the taking of bread and wine simply to remember Christ is consistent with the simplicity for which he stood. He spoke against the use of “meaningless repetition” in prayer.(49) He harshly criticized the Pharisees for their pomp.(50) The Apostle Paul wrote, “I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”(51)

Today we find at the Mass elaborate vestments, ready-made prayers, and a man allegedly sacrificing Christ on an altar with a solid gold chalice. It certainly did not start out this way.

History tells of the late development of the present-day Doctrine of the Mass. It is not mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed (written in the second century A.D.) or the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.). Individual writers from this period can be cited to support a variety of views.

There was furious controversy from the ninth through the twelfth century. The belief that the nature of the host changed at the consecration did not become an official doctrine of the Catholic Church until the Lateran Council of 1215. This was the first time that the Catholic Church sanctioned the “theory of transubstantiation.” The Vatican was still developing the doctrine in the sixteenth century. At that time, the Council of Trent sought to meet the challenges of the Reformation. Trent further defined the theory and placed a solemn curse upon anyone who denied it.(52)

Since then, the simple request of the Lord to be remembered with bread and wine has been exalted to the “source and apex of the whole work of preaching the gospel.”(53) These are the words of The Second Vatican Council (1963-1965). Yet when the Apostle Paul told the church what was of “first importance,”(54) “the gospel which I preached to you,”(55)he never even mentioned bread or wine.

What is the purpose of the Mass? It is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of Christ in an unbloody manner to make satisfaction for sins. Let us consider this statement a piece at a time.

First, it is a sacrifice. A sacrifice is an offering made to appease God. In the Scriptures we find no mention of the bread and wine as a sacrifice. Note also that the Lord took bread and wine at a table, not an altar. Tables are for eating; altars are for sacrificing. God commanded the Jews that there was to be only one altar.(56) If Jesus were indeed instituting a sacrifice, then he was establishing a second altar in Jerusalem. No Scripture supports such a significant change.

Second, the Mass is a continuing sacrifice. The Scriptures tell us that a sacrifice which must be constantly repeated reveals itself to be weak.(57) If there is power in the Mass, then why the weekly and even daily repetition?

Third, it is an unbloody sacrifice. The Scriptures state that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”(58) A bloodless sacrifice is a powerless sacrifice.

Finally, the Mass is a sacrifice to make satisfaction for sins. Every Mass declares that Christ’s death on the cross was not enough. Compare this with God’s word: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”(59)

Why was it that Christ died on the cross? The Bible tells us, “the wages of sin is death.”(60) Christ came to pay that punishment for us with his own life.(61) As he was dying, Christ declared, “It is finished!”(62) When he gave up his spirit, God stamped the penalty for sin, “Paid in Full.”

The Apostle Peter states the matter clearly, “For Christ also died for sinsonce for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God. . . .”(63) Now that is something worth commemorating! What a joy to take bread and wine and remember what Christ did for us rather than attempt to repeat it.

Conclusion

Is the Eucharist a symbol or a sacrifice? Your answer will depend on a far more important question which each must ask himself: am I relying upon Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone as sufficient payment for my sins? Your response to this question will determine not just your weekly practice, but your eternal destiny.(64)

God gave his Son to die for your sins. He offers salvation as a gift.(65)He withdraws that offer from anyone who attempts to receive it, even in part, through personal merit.(66) To seek God’s grace through a continued sacrifice is to do just that.

Some Catholics reject the teaching of the real bodily presence and daily sacrifice of Christ by the priest. However, many of these same people continue to attend Mass, while redefining it in their own terms. The Catholic Church does not permit this option.

At every Mass, the priest raises the host and declares, “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” As each person receives the host, the priest proclaims, “The body of Christ.” The person receiving Communion is to reply, “Amen.” This Hebrew word is a solemn expression of approval. The person is saying, “It is so, this is the body of Christ.” The Catholic Church asks those who cannot honestly state this to refrain from receiving Communion.

Every Catholic must make up his own mind. I struggled with my decision. Long after I began reading the Bible and had trusted in Christ as my Savior, I remained loyal to the Catholic Church. Although I was aware of many of the Scriptures in this booklet, I continued to go to Mass.

One evening, a group of Christians invited me to join them to remember Christ with bread and wine. They believed that the Eucharist was only a symbol. I could not agree. Though I knew the Scriptures did not support it, I continued to hold to that which I had been taught since childhood. I decided to attend, but only to observe.

We sat in a circle. A loaf of bread and a cup of wine stood on a small table in the center. Someone from the group asked if we could sing a hymn. Then another man stood and gave heartfelt praise to God. One elderly gentleman asked us to turn in our Bibles to a passage describing the crucifixion. He read the passage slowly. He then spoke with clarity and affection about the grace of God in sending the Lord Jesus to die for us. My mind and spirit were drawn back to that great event.

The meeting continued in this manner for about thirty minutes. It became clear that the participation was spontaneous. Their love and deep appreciation for Christ were evident.

One man gave thanks to God for the loaf and broke it into two parts. They then passed the bread from one person to the next, each taking a small portion. Another man gave thanks for the cup of wine and passed it around the circle.

At first I felt uncomfortable seeing several men taking the role the priest alone held in my church. Yet this all seemed so natural and glorifying to God. The Apostle Peter had written concerning all believers, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”(67) Could this have been what he meant?

My study of the Scriptures had caused me to doubt the Catholic interpretation of the Mass. My mind was already prepared to accept the fact that the bread and wine were symbols. Now I found my heart confirming that truth.

As they freely worshipped their Savior and rejoiced in his finished work of salvation, I knew that I had been wrong. Here before my eyes was the fulfillment of the request of the Lord Jesus, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”


Endnotes

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:21
2. Matthew 26:26-28
3. Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-38
4. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
5. Acts 2:41-47, 20:7-12; 1 Corinthians 10:14-22
6. John 16:25
7. John 6:48
8. John 8:12
9. John 10:9
10. John 10:11
11. John 11:25
12. John 14:6
13. John 15:1
14. John 2:19
15. John 4:10
16. Matthew 5:13
17. Matthew 16:6
18. Matthew 13:34
19. 1 Corinthians 11:25
20. 1 Corinthians 11:26
21. Mark 14:25
22. John 2:19-22
23. Matthew 16:6-12
24. John 4:10-14
25. John 6:60-66
26. John 6:27
27. John 5:18
28. John 5:25
29. John 6:30-31
30. John 6:35
31. John 6:47
32. John 6:51
33. John 6:54
34. John 6:40
35. John 3:14, 16; 10:15
36. John 6:54
37. Isaiah 1:18
38. Acts 1:11
39. Acts 15:29
40. Acts 10:14
41. Matthew 15:10, 11, 17
42. John 6:63
43. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26
44. cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16
45. Romans 10:9-10
46. 1 Corinthians 10:17
47. John 4:24
48. 1 Corinthians 11:28
49. Matthew 6:7
50. Matthew 23:1-36
51. 2 Corinthians 11:3
52. Session XIII, can. 2, D.B., 884
53. Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, sec. 5
54. 1 Corinthians 15:3
55. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
56. Deuteronomy 12:5-14; Exodus 20:24-26; Joshua 22:16
57. Hebrews 10:1-3
58. Hebrews 9:22; Leviticus 17:10-14
59. Hebrews 10:10, 18
60. Romans 6:23
61. Mark 10:45
62. John 19:30
63. 1 Peter 3:18
64. John 3:36; Romans 4:5; 9:30-33; Hebrews 10:38-39
65. Ephesians 2:8-9
66. Galatians 3:10; 2:21; 5:2-5
67. 1 Peter 2:9

 

The Meaning of Worship

Let us examine the incident with Mary in John 12 negatively, and seek to discover what she did not come to do on this memorable occasion. From this negative approach, we can learn much of the positive character of true worship.

 

Mary Did Not Come to Hear a Sermon

The greatest Teacher the world has ever known was there. It had been her privilege to sit at His feet and hear His words. But this was not her purpose as she came into the presence of the One she loved above all others. The Lord’s Supper exists to enable believers to remember Him, and thus give the worship of their hearts. The primary purpose of such a gathering is not to hear an exposition of the Word of God, good though this is, but to spend the time in occupation with the One who said: “This do in remembrance of Me.”

Mary Did Not Come to Make a Request

She had done this before (Jn. 11:32). Her purpose was not to pour out her soul in earnest supplication before Him who had omnipotence at His command. Though she realized the value of prayer, this was not the motive that actuated her. She came not to get, but to give. Likewise the Lord’s Supper does not exist for the purpose of enabling believers to supplicate the throne of grace, invaluable though prayer is.

Mary Did Not Come to Meet Fellow Believers

There were many there, and she loved those who loved her Lord; but it was not to enjoy fellowship with them that was her uppermost thought. She desired to be occupied with the Lord Himself, to the exclusion of every other person and thing on earth. Surely this should be the purpose that should animate every Christian. Fellowship with Christians is good and necessary, but it is not the greatest thing. Fellowship primarily is “with the Father and with His Son,” and fellowship with each other naturally flows from this.

Mary Did Not Come to be Refreshed by Him

After the humdrum round of duties, she might have argued that she needed the spiritual refreshment that only He could impart, but this was not her motive in coming. Surely nothing is more invigorating to the believer than to sit quietly in the presence of the Lord, there to have cares dissipate and the calm of heaven enter the soul. Yet Mary’s act teaches us that this is not the greatest thing in life. She came, not to be refreshed, but to refresh the Lord and fill His soul with joy!

By this act Mary anticipated the cross, and saw to it that her Lord was refreshed on the eve of His redemptive work. Her deed surely teaches us that worship is not intended to produce self-satisfaction in the believer, but to give satisfaction to the Saviour.

Mary Did Not Come to Meet the Host

We are not told who the host was on this occasion, but Mary had no eyes for him. She viewed the Lord as the host and came to do Him honor. Christendom, with its special caste of clergy, has largely eliminated from people’s minds the fact that Christ is the host at His own table. Scripture knows nothing of an officiating clergyman apart from whose presence the Lord’s Supper cannot be celebrated. May we give the Lord His rightful place, and refuse to allow any man, however pleasing his personality, however dynamic his leadership to rob Christ of His preeminence.

She Did Not Come Because it was Popular

The pent-up hatred of the world was about to break on the Son of God. He was “despised and rejected of men.” His popularity had waned, and the eve of His betrayal was at hand. It was “six days before the Passover” when the world would stain its hands with the blood of Christ, that Mary came with her love gift to pour on His feet. By this act she proclaimed louder than any words her sincere love and loyalty to One whom the world would not acknowledge.

The believer must also be prepared, in loyalty to his Lord and to His Word, to brave contempt in order to worship God in a manner pleasing to Him. The path of wholehearted discipleship has never been crowded or popular. The Christian who seeks to carry out those scriptural principles of gathering will find plenty of opposition, even from those who claim to be fundamental in their doctrine. He must be prepared to experience something of “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). He can rest assured that, as with Mary, faithfulness to the Lord shall not pass unnoticed.

Mary Did Not Come to Withhold Her Best

She poured it all out fully, freely, and joyously at the feet of her Lord. Note several things about this gift:

It was very costly (v. 3). To secure it she had denied herself many things perfectly legitimate for her own use. Since the laborer of that period received but a penny a day, her gift represented a year’s salary. Love is measured by the sacrifice it makes for its object. Our Lord “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Can we do any less for Him? Worship which costs nothing is not worthy of the name. Her gift had been reserved for this purpose (v. 7). She had treasured in her heart the words that fell from His lips. Consequently, she knew He was to be betrayed, crucified, buried, and to rise again. The disciples never seemed to grasp the significance of His words, even though He used plain language. Mary thus had the signal honor of being the only one who anointed the Lord for His burial; the other women came too late (Mk. 16:6). Mary of Bethany had no need to go to the tomb; she knew that the One whose word had called Lazarus from death would take up the life He had laid down for her (Jn. 10:17-18). Her gift was brought to the feet of Christ (v. 3). Those feet which had walked the rugged roads of Israel, and had carried blessings everywhere they went, were indeed “beautiful” to her (Rom. 10:15). She knew those feet would soon carry Him to Calvary, there to be pierced for her transgressions. She knew also that He would one day occupy a throne and reign until God made His enemies His footstool (Ps. 110:1-2). She gladly gave her all to Him. The believer can surely profit by her noble example which received Christ’s unstinted commendation. Worship must be wholehearted if it is to be pleasing to Him. Lukewarm devotion, halfhearted praise, and divided affections are nauseating to Him (see Rev. 3:14-18). He rightly deserves the place of absolute preeminence. Her gift was accompanied by utter self-abnegation. After she had anointed His feet with the perfume, she wiped them with her hair. The Scripture informs us that a woman’s glory is her hair. Thus by this act she literally brought her glory to His feet in lowly, yet sublime adoration (1 Cor. 11:15). What a beautiful picture this is of that necessary heart humility which should characterize the worship of God’s people! God has distinctly declared that “no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:29). All the natural excellencies that man may possess must be brought into the dust in the presence of the God of the universe. Here brilliant intellect, physical skill, capable leadership, persuasive eloquence, magnetic personality, artistic genius, nobility of birth, or the possession of vast wealth has no place in the presence of Deity. Her gift filled the house with fragrance. She herself would long bear the fragrance of the spikenard. But each member of that company would also carry on his person some traces of that sweet perfume. True, there were those who criticized the act, and referred to it as “waste”; but the Lord’s commendation more than compensated her for the adverse criticism.

Scripture views worship as both an individual and collective act. It is only as each believer in an assembly brings to the feet of his Lord the perfume of his appreciation that the whole company of Christians will be affected. The sweet fragrance of such worship will linger pleasantly in the memory of those present. Furthermore, some of its savor will be carried by them to others, who will thus take note that they have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13; see also 2 Chron. 5:13-14).

Unbreakable Love
February 14, 2012

“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24)

When the Pharisees asked for His view on divorce, Jesus replied by quoting our text, giving the Creator’s view on marriage and how men and women should approach it, if they are to function as they were designed (Matthew 19:4-5). He added, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 6).

In some special way, known fully only to Him, a man and woman in a marriage relationship can truly become one flesh, just as Adam and Eve were one flesh after Eve had been fashioned from Adam’s side. (Christ’s doctrine of marriage has no logical foundation, by the way, nor do we have any reason to marry, if Adam and Eve were not real, specially created people.)

Our text was also quoted by Paul as he more fully explained the marriage doctrine (Ephesians 5:31), prefacing it with a brief discussion of the relationship between the Lord and His Church (v. 30). Just as we are inseparably “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” He designed each of us to be inseparably “one flesh” with his or her spouse.

Paul uses a forceful word for “leave,” meaning to completely leave one’s parents and “be joined” to the spouse. This word is equally forceful and leaves no room for a half-hearted commitment.

Marriage partners, in the eyes of the Creator, should be inseparable, just as the bones and flesh of a body cannot be separated, and just as we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). JDM

He Shall Never See Death
March 6, 2012

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” (John 8:51)

This passage has been a difficult one for commentators. Most would interpret it to mean that a Christian will not experience spiritual death. While it is very true that a Christian–one who has been born twice (the second birth being a spiritual birth) will not experience spiritual death, in this passage Jesus seems to be talking about physical death. This is evidenced by the fact that the Jewish skeptics around Christ called Him a heretic for saying it, since it was obvious that Abraham and the other prophets had died physically. Christ did not correct them by clarifying His words to mean spiritual death. Despite the fact that the grave is full of those who physically died while believing in Christ, He teaches that His followers will “never see death.”

Actually, the Greek is very emphatic here. The combination of words could be literally translated “He shall absolutely not see |physical| death, never.” Perhaps Christ is teaching that a believer will never see real death, since, to such a one, death is, in reality, only “sleep.”

But perhaps the key to understanding this teaching might be in the word “see.” What does this mean? Several Greek words are translated by the English word “see,” but this one merits special study. It implies a look that is more than indifferent, but one of pondering; intensely interested; preoccupied; and fully acquainted with its object.

A Christian, therefore, will not “see” death with such interest, for his attention will not be on death’s terrors, but upon the One who Himself bore all that death had to offer, yet conquered it forever. A Christian can look even at his own approaching death calmly, with passive interest, for it holds little influence over him. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). JDM

The Measure of Better
March 7, 2012

“Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” (Proverbs 15:16-17)

There are many such comparisons as those in our text that have been incorporated in the book of Proverbs. We tend to think in financial terms, but the true measure of “worth” has nothing to do with money. In fact, one could almost develop an inverse law to the effect that the more money one has, the less happiness and contentment he enjoys. Note the frequency of such “equations” in Proverbs.

“Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right” (16:8). “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife” (17:1). “Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud” (16:19). “Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich” (28:6).

That which is better, therefore, is to be found “with the fear of the LORD,” “where love is,” “with righteousness,” and “quietness therewith.” It is better when one is “of an humble spirit,” who “walketh in his uprightness.”

This is a lesson that the many affluent Christian men and women of our prosperous nation urgently need to learn today. Note Paul’s counsel to young Timothy: Speaking of men who are “destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness,” he warns: “From such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:5-6). Then comes a very sobering commentary: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, . . . and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). HMM