WHAT IS GRACE
We human beings possess the greatest of defects, which is, that we tend to measure God’s heart by our own. Our human heart is one of law, not one of grace. We always imagine God as having a heart like ours, therefore we often misunderstand Him.
We must be clear as to what grace is: (a) Grace is not given to whoever is deserving. “Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as of debt” (Rom. 4.4). Stated conversely, though, to him who does not deserve and yet to whom is given, that is grace. If it is deserved, it cancels the very idea of grace. Grace is what it is because there is not the tiniest element of merit in it. “For by grace have ye been saved” (Eph. 2.8). To save the undeserved is grace. “Being justified freely by his, God’s grace” (Rom. 3.24). What is meant by “freely”? In the original Greek, “freely” is the same word as is translated “without a cause” in John 15.25 where the Lord is recorded as saying, “They hated me without a cause”, quoting from the Old Testament. To say that the grace of God justifies freely simply means that God justifies us without any cause or reason. “The scripture shut up all things under sin” and “God hath shut up all unto disobedience” (Gal. 3.22; Rom. 11.32). God has placed all men on the same footing so that none may be saved by works (that is, by doing good), but that all must be saved by grace. Were you to ask Paul how he was saved, he would surely answer that he was saved by the grace of God. Were you to ask all the saints the same question, they would all give the same answer: saved by grace. God saves us without a cause; and this is grace.
Grace is not given to supplement what is lacking in man. “Not of works, that no man should glory” (Eph. 2.9). This does not mean that there need be no good works after being saved; it simply indicates that man is not saved by works. If man were saved by works he would surely have something of which to boast. Were he saved with just ten percent of works, man would have ten percent of boasting but God would lose ten percent of glory. Yet God will not share His glory with man. He hates man’s self-bragging, for His purpose is for Him himself to be glorified. Hence the grace of God is not supplementary to what is lacking in man.
Grace is neither given to him who is deserving nor given as a bonus to the deserved. It is neither a fair reward nor an overabundant recompense. The question of “deservingness” or one’s worthiness has absolutely no common ground with grace. To receive grace is to cast aside completely this matter of worthiness. The thought of anyone’s being more or less worthy to be saved is entirely unfounded. Concerning salvation, none is able to obtain the grace of God by any works of his own.
People often think if they try their best to do good and to keep the law, that they can then depend on the grace of God for what they cannot do. This is plainly a depending on works for a certain percentage and on grace for a certain percentage. On one occasion a man was heard to declare: “We must keep the Ten Commandments, or else we cannot be saved.” “Have you ever violated the commandments?” he was asked. “Indeed, I have.” “What, then, do you do?” “What I cannot do, I rely on the grace of God for,” said he. Such thinking shows an ignorance of grace.
That young man in Matthew 19 asked the Lord Jesus: “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” And the Lord said to him: “Keep the commandments.” Having heard that this young man had observed all these things, the Lord then said: “If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor.” In hearing this the young man went away sorrowful, because he could not do it (vv. 16-22). Truly, if a person desires to be saved by keeping the law he must do it “all”. He not only must love God with all his heart, all his soul, all his mind, and all his strength, but must also give away all he possesses without exception. But if he depends on the grace of God, he should rely on it wholly. It is never done partly by man and partly by God, for the grace of God is not to supplement the inadequacy of man. It is a case of either purely the grace of God or entirely the works of man. It cannot be partly of man and partly of God.
Why is this so? Because the Lord Jesus has already died. As God has put all sinners on the same footing, therefore, when the Lord Jesus was crucified, God “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53.6). The problem of sin is thus solved once and for all. For this reason, man cannot trust in his own merit before God; otherwise the work of Christ would be overturned as though He had died in vain.
Grace is not withheld because of the lack of merit. (This is quite similar to the first point of this question; only here, the matter is approached negatively.) On the contrary, grace is given because of man’s unworthiness. It is only at the time when man knows his utter helplessness that he will cry out for grace. It is also at this juncture that God will dispense grace. If a man himself has the strength he will not think of asking for grace, and so God need not give grace. Consequently, the lack of merit will not in any way hinder God from giving grace; quite the opposite, it is the sole condition for God to grant His grace.
WHAT IS GRACE PART 11
“Grace is boundless mercy shown in boundless goodness,” one brother has said. What is grace? Grace is that which flows from the top to the bottom. What is love? Love is a treating as equal. What is respect? Respect is that which is shown to those who are over you. But grace flows downward. Grace has only this one direction. In order to obtain the grace of God, you must acknowledge yourself as a helpless sinner—this alone gives you the qualification for receiving God’s grace.
Many dislike grace because it requires a humbling act on their part. Grace compels you to concur that you are the worst person. For just as no inverted cup can receive water, so no proud person is able or willing to accept the salvation of God. We need to admit our uselessness before we can receive the grace of God.
Grace is not given less to the less deserving. (This is the opposite to what the second point of this question speaks about.) God does not overlook the problem of man’s sin. As a matter of fact, He is most strict, definite, and thorough in His dealing with man’s sin.
Through His Son He has dealt most completely with this problem. Hence how can there be raised the question of deserving or not deserving, the matter of being more worthy or less worthy? The grace of God never questions man’s “undeservingness”. Before God, all men are the same, and all may have His grace.
Since God will not withhold grace because of man’s unworthiness (rather, He gives grace for that very reason), how can He ever make any distinction among the unworthy ones as to who are the less unworthy and who are the least unworthy in His dispensing of grace?
God will not give less grace to those who sin more and more grace to those who sin less. For grace is not used by God to mend the holes of sinners. In the realm of grace, both the sinner himself and his works are completely set aside.
Since grace is gratuitous, it is not at all conditional on the state of the recipient. He on his part does not earn grace for any reason whatsoever. Grace is not withheld because of the lack of merit. It has absolutely no relationship to the condition of the recipient. It will not be given in less measure to the comparatively more unworthy. Otherwise, grace would be conditional on the state of the recipient. Hence grace is given neither according to the man himself nor according to his relative position with other people. God’s grace is so vast and measureless that it is intended for all kinds of sinners. Those who consider themselves as fairly good need the grace of God as much as those who are looked upon as the chief of sinners.
People may perhaps speculate that the better ones certainly deserve a little more. But according to God, all are the same. For example, several bowls fall to the ground and are broken. Some may break into two pieces; some, five pieces; and some, into powder. Although their broken condition varies, they are all broken nonetheless. Whether you are “a little better” sinner or you are “the worst” of sinners, you are nevertheless a sinner. The Bible declares that all have sinned. In sending the Lord Jesus to the world to die for sinners, God gives opportunity to all sinners to be saved. Even if there is but a single man in the entire world who needs to be saved, God is still willing to send His Son to die for him. Does not the parable of the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep tell us that he leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the one lost sheep? (Luke 15.3,4) As long as you are a lost sheep, and regardless of your being a great or a small sinner, you need the Lord Jesus to die for you.
Grace does not make the recipient a debtor. When someone advances a certain amount of money to you and lets you enjoy it temporarily but requires you to repay the same amount afterwards—that is called a debt. Wages are dispensed according to your works. Grace is neither given as wages according to your works nor lent temporarily as debt to be repaid afterward. God saves us by grace; our salvation is not something God lends out to us. If it is lent, it must be repaid by us later on; but then it cannot be considered as grace. Grace does not mean that, seeing our current lack of merit in works, God lends us salvation at first but requires us to keep our salvation by adding on to it our merit afterward. For grace charges nothing—past, present, and future. Should God give us something now but require us to repay in the future, it is then a debt and not grace. But the grace of God is given freely to all the undeserved, without charging anything at any time.
People conceive an incorrect idea: yes, we are saved by grace, but we must thereafter keep this salvation by our own selves. This is an error. The Bible never tells us that God’s grace has made us debtors. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6.23). What is the nature of this eternal life? It is a gift. In other words, it is something which God bestows as a gift. Must it be repaid? Let us be clear that, it not being a debt, grace needs no repayment neither now nor many days later. This is not meant to imply, of course, that a Christian does not need to have good works or to serve God with faithfulness. After one is saved, he should perform good works and ought to serve God faithfully. Yet the motive behind such actions is the love of Christ, and the power for doing these things is the Holy Spirit. Good works and faithful service we must have, but they are not for the sake of earning salvation nor for the sake of keeping salvation. The works of a Christian are not used to pay back the debt of salvation which God has given. Just as God saves us out of His love for us, even so must we serve God out of our love for Him. Just as God does not give salvation as a loan, so we do not serve God faithfully as a form of repayment.
WHAT IS GRACE PART 111
How many there are who do not understand the grace of God clearly! They assume that before one is saved, and though he is unworthy, God is still willing to save him; but that after he is saved he has to do good, or else God will withdraw His salvation. This is like a purchase which is made on the installment plan. The merchandise is first delivered and subsequently payments are made by installment; failure to pay on time will result in confiscation of the merchandise by the seller. Such a concept plainly distorts the grace of God. When we are saved God gives us eternal life; yet He never asks us to pay back by installments, nor will He take His salvation back even if we perform no good deeds afterward.
Moreover, since eternal life is a gift, how can anyone speak of repaying? Such a word is certainly wrong. We serve God out of love. For instance, suppose my father gives me a gift and yet I say I will repay him. I save for months and years to accumulate enough money to pay him back. By so doing, however, does it not turn out that I am in reality buying that gift? Grace never charges anything, else it would not be grace at all.
Grace does not directly absolve a sinner’s sin. This matter is frequently misunderstood by many believers. They reckon that God forgives the sins of a sinner out of His liberality. Not at all. In forgiving a sinner God is not compromising, nor does He pretend either to be deaf or to overlook anything. This the Bible clearly never says. “As sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5.21). Sin reigns by itself, but grace reigns through righteousness. Grace does not reign by its own self. Let it be known that God not only has grace but He also has righteousness. He delights in having men saved, but He also delights in protecting their salvation with righteousness. He gives grace to us not because of His carelessness, but because of His having solved the problem of our sin.
If we mistake God’s grace as His liberality, then the cross of Christ is both unnecessary and meaningless. True, there can be no cross of Christ without the love of God. Yet God’s love alone, in the absence of His righteousness, will never demand the cross of Christ. God is very much aware of our sins; He cannot overlook them. And since we have no way of solving the problem of our sins, God causes His Son to bear them in His body upon the cross in order to have the problem of sin solved forever. This is the grace of God. God’s grace solves the problem of sin first before it absolves sin. The Lord must die as our substitute that we may be saved.
A sinner is reckoned as such because (1) his conduct is bad; (2) his nature is corrupted; and (3) God’s righteous law has so judged. In saving a sinner, God must (1) forgive the sins of his bad conduct; (2) regenerate him by giving him a new life; and (3) justify him. Now the Lord Jesus has already suffered the penalty of sin and died for us; therefore God cannot but forgive us. It is an erroneous concept among some people that we need to turn the heart of God by much begging. Not so. We are forgiven because God’s righteous wrath over our sin has already been discharged upon the Lord Jesus. We may therefore praise and thank God, saying, that since the Lord Jesus has already been judged and that righteousness can demand penalty only once, we shall not be penalized anymore.
Grace does not absolve directly a believer’s sin. The principle involved here is the same as the foregoing one. After a person is saved, if he is incidentally overcome by sin and later repents of his sin, he does not obtain forgiveness through constant begging. It is not by asking God to make provision for forgiveness today; rather, it is by believing in what Christ has already done on the cross. God is righteous; He cannot but forgive those who have accepted salvation since the Lord Jesus has already died. So, if a Christian should inadvertently sin, he needs to be clear on the following four points: (1) that he receives forgiveness by confessing his own sin (1 John 1.9); (2) that forgiveness is available for all sin (1 John 1.7,9—noting especially “cleanseth us from all sin” and “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”); (3) that before he prays, God is already willing to forgive, because the Lord Jesus acts as the believer’s Advocate with the Father (1 John 2.1,2); and (4) that God thus forgives and cleanses because of His faithfulness and righteousness on the one hand and because of Jesus Christ the Righteous on the other hand.
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SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY
The ordinary concept of the constitution of human beings is dualistic-soul and body. According to this concept soul is the invisible inner spiritual part, while body is the visible outer corporal part. Though there is some truth to this, it is nevertheless inaccurate. Such an opinion comes from fallen man, not from God; apart from God's revelation, no concept is dependable. That the body is man's outward sheath is undoubtedly correct, but the Bible never confuses spirit and soul as though they are the same. Not only are they different in terms; their very natures differ from each other. The Word of God does not divide man into the two parts of soul and body. It treats man, rather, as tripartite-spirit, soul and body. I Thessalonians 5.23 read: "May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This verse precisely shows that the whole man is divided into three parts. The Apostle Paul refers here to the complete sanctification of believers, "sanctify you wholly.” According to the Apostle, how is a person wholly sanctified? By his spirit, soul, and body being kept blameless. From this, we can easily understand that the whole person comprises these three parts. This verse also makes a distinction between spirit and soul; otherwise, Paul would have said simply "your soul." Since God has distinguished the human spirit from the human soul, we conclude that man is composed of not two, but three, parts; spirit, soul and body.
Is it a matter of any consequence to divide spirit and soul? It is an issue of supreme importance for it affects tremendously the spiritual life of a believer. How can a believer understand spiritual life if he does not know what is the extent of the realm of the spirit? Without such understanding how can he grow spiritually? To fail to distinguish between spirit and soul is fatal to spiritual maturity. Christians often account what is soulical, as spiritual, and therefore they remain in a soulish state, and seek not what is spiritual. How can we escape loss if we confuse what God has divided?
Spiritual knowledge is very important to spiritual life. Let me add, however, that it is equally as, if not more important, for a believer to be humble and willing to accept the teaching of the Holy Spirit. If so, the Holy Spirit will grant him the experience of the dividing of spirit and soul, although he may not have too much knowledge concerning this truth. On the one hand, the most ignorant believer, without the slightest idea of the division of spirit and soul, may yet experience such a dividing in real life. On the other hand, the most informed believer, completely conversant with the truth concerning spirit and soul, may nonetheless, has no experience of it. Far better is that person who may have both the knowledge and the experience. The majority, however, lack such experience. Consequently, it is well initially to lead these to know the different functions of spirit and soul and then to encourage them to seek what is spiritual.
Other portions of the Scriptures make this same differentiation between spirit and soul. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4.12). The writer in this verse divides man's non-corporal elements into two parts, soul and spirit. The corporal part is mentioned here, as including the joints and marrow organs of motion and sensation. When the priest uses the sword to cut and completely dissect the sacrifice, nothing inside can be hidden. Even joint and marrow are separated. In like manner, the Lord Jesus uses the Word of God on His people to separate thoroughly, to pierce even to the division of the spiritual, the soulical, and the physical. And from this it follows that since soul and spirit can be divided, they must be different in nature. It is therefore evident here that man is a composite of three parts.
WHAT IS INTUITION
TO UNDERSTAND more clearly what spiritual life is we must analyze the spirit explicitly and assimilate all its laws. Only after we are really acquainted with its different functions are we able to know the laws which govern them; only after we become familiar with those laws can we walk according to the spirit; that is, according to the laws of the spirit. This is indispensable for experiencing the spiritual life. We should never fear appropriating too much knowledge concerning the spirit; but we should be extremely apprehensive if we use our mind excessively in such pursuit.
God’s glad tidings to men are that the fallen can be regenerated and the fleshly can receive a new spirit. This new spirit serves as the basis for new life. What we commonly term spiritual living is but to walk by this spirit which we obtain at regeneration.
Last week I mentioned that the functions of the spirit could be classified as intuition, communion (worship), and conscience. While these three can be distinguished, still, they are closely entwined. It is therefore difficult to treat of one without touching upon the others. When we talk for example about intuition, we naturally must include communion and conscience in our discussion. Thus, in dissecting the spirit we necessarily must look into its triple functions. Since we have seen already how the spirit comprises these three abilities, we shall proceed next to uncover what these exactly are in order that we may be helped to walk according to the spirit. We may say that such a walk is a walk by intuition, communion and conscience.
These three are merely the functions of the spirit. None of them is the spirit, for the spirit itself is substantial, personal, invisible. Our spirit is not material and yet it exists independently in our body. It must therefore possess its own spiritual substance, out of which arise various abilities for the performance of God’s demands on man. Hence, what we desire to learn is not the substance but the functions of the spirit.
Intuition is the sensing organ of the human spirit. It is so diametrically different from physical sense and soulical sense that it is called intuition. Intuition involves a direct sensing independent of any outside influence. That knowledge which comes to us without any help from the mind, emotion or volition comes intuitively. We really "know" through our intuition; our mind merely helps us to "Understand." The revelations of God and all the movements of the Holy Spirit are known to the believer through his intuition. A believer must therefore heed these two elements: the voice of conscience and the teaching of intuition. The conscience is the judging organ, which distinguishes, right and wrong; not, however, through the influence of knowledge stored in the mind but rather by a spontaneous direct judgment. Often reasoning will justify things, which our conscience judges. The work of the conscience is independent and direct; it does not bend to outside opinions. If man should do wrong, it will raise its voice of accusation. Communion is worshiping God. The organs of the soul are incompetent to worship God. God is not apprehended by our thoughts, feelings or intentions, for He can only be known directly in our spirits. Our worship of God and God's communications with us are directly in the spirit. They take place in "the inner man," not in the soul or outward man.
We can conclude then that these three elements of conscience, intuition and communion are deeply interrelated and function coordinately. The relationship between conscience and intuition is that conscience judges according to intuition; it condemns all conduct which does not follow the directions given by intuition. Intuition is related to communion or worship in that God is known by man intuitively and reveals His will to man in the intuition. No measure of expectation or deduction gives us the knowledge of God.
SIN AND SINS
In the first eight chapters of Romans, two aspects of salvation are presented to us: firstly, the forgiveness of our sins, and secondly, our deliverance from sin. In the first part of Romans 1 to 8, we twice have reference to the Blood of the Lord Jesus, in chapter 3:25 and in chapter 5:9. In the second, a new idea is introduced in chapter 6:6, where we are said to have been “crucified” with Christ. The argument of the first part gathers round that aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus which is represented by ‘the Blood’ shed for our justification through “the remission of sins.”
This terminology is however not carried on into the second section, where the argument centers now in the aspect of His work represented by ‘the Cross,’ that is to say, by our union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. This distinction is a valuable one. We shall see that the Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.
You have to remember that when sin came in it found expression in an act of disobedience to God (Romans 5:19). Now we must remember that whenever this occurs the thing that immediately follows is guilt. Sin enters as disobedience, to create first of all a separation between God and man whereby man is put away from God. God can no longer have fellowship with him, for there is something now which hinders, and it is that which is known throughout Scripture as ‘sin’. Thus it is first of all God who says, “They are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). Then, secondly, that sin in man, which henceforth constitutes a barrier to his fellowship with God, gives rise in him to a sense of guilt—of estrangement from God. Here it is man himself who, with the help of his awakened conscience, says, “I have sinned” (Luke 15:18). Nor is this all, for sin also provides Satan with his ground of accusation before God, while our sense of guilt gives him his ground of accusation in our hearts; so that, thirdly, it is ‘the accuser of the brethren’ (Rev. 12:10) who now says, ‘You have sinned’.
To redeem us, therefore, and to bring us back to the purpose of God, the Lord Jesus had to do something about these three questions of sin and of guilt and of Satan’s charge against us. Our sins had first to be dealt with, and this was effected by the precious Blood of Christ. Our guilt has to be dealt with and our guilty conscience set at rest by showing us the value of that Blood. Finally, the attack of the enemy has to be met and his accusations answered. In the Scriptures the Blood of Christ is shown to operate effectually in these three ways, Godward, man-ward and Satan-ward.
The Blood is for atonement and has to do first with our standing before God. We need forgiveness for the sins we have committed, lest we come under judgment; and they are forgiven, not because God overlooks what we have done but because He sees the Blood.
The Blood is therefore not primarily for us but for God. If I want to understand the value of the Blood I must accept God’s valuation of it, and if I do not know something of the value set upon the Blood by God I shall never know what its value is for me. It is only as the estimate that God puts upon the Blood of Christ is made known to me by His Holy Spirit that I come into the good of it myself and find how precious indeed the Blood is to me. But the first aspect of it is Godward. Throughout the Old and New Testaments the word ‘blood’ is used in connection with the idea of atonement, I think over a hundred times, and throughout it is something for God. Glory be to God.
GOING AFTER GOD
If you had to pick a single word to describe our society, perhaps the most accurate word would be pressure. We live in a day marked by pressure in almost every area of life. At five years old, we are thrust into school where there is pressure to perform and to compete for grades. We join athletic teams where there is more pressure to excel. We face the pressure of getting into college and once we are there, of making it through. Then there is the pressure of getting a good job and, once we get it, of doing well enough to keep it and to be promoted.
There are family pressures: finding the right mate and building a solid marriage in a culture where divorce is easy and accepted. There are the pressures of raising godly children in our pagan society. World problems, economic problems, personal problems, and the problems of friends and loved ones all press upon us.
In the midst of such pressures, there is one thing that will determine the course of your life: your priorities. Everyone has a set of priorities. If your priorities are not clearly defined, you will be swept downstream in life by various pressures, the seeming victim of your circumstances. However, if your priorities are clear, then you can respond to your pressures by making choices in line with your priorities, and thereby give direction to your life.
Thus, it is crucial that you have the right priorities. Your priorities determine how you spend your time, with whom you spend your time, and how you make decisions. Your priorities keep you from being battered around by the waves of pressure and help you to steer a clear course toward the proper destination. Priorities—godly priorities—are crucial!
King David was a man who knew what it meant to live under pressure. As the king of Israel, he knew the pressures of leadership. The higher and more responsible the leadership position, the greater are the pressures. And David knew the pressure of problems. During his reign, his son, Absalom, led a rebellion against him. David and his loyal followers had to flee for their lives. During that time, David spent a short while in the northeastern portion of the wilderness of Judah before he crossed over the Jordan River. In that barren land, fleeing for his life from his own son, feeling disgraced and rejected, with an uncertain future, David penned Psalm 63. Bless the Lord!
Psalm 63 shows us the priority of this man of God under pressure. If you or I were under the kinds of pressure David faced at this point in his life, I doubt if we would be writing songs. If we did, the song would probably contain a lot of urgent requests: “Help, God! Get me out of here!” David did write a song like that (Psalm 3). However, it is interesting that Psalm 63 contains no petition. David expresses longing for God’s presence, praise, joy, fellowship with God, confidence in God’s salvation. But there is not one word of asking for temporal or even spiritual blessings. The psalm shows us that David’s priority was to seek the Lord.
SALVATION IS NOT:
Salvation is not so much a personal question of sins forgiven or of hell avoided. It is to be seen rather in terms of a SYSTEM from which we come out. When I am saved, I make my exodus out of one whole world and my entry into another. I am saved now out of that whole organized realm, which Satan has constructed in defiance of the purpose of God.
If that is the world, what then is salvation? Salvation means that I escape from that. I go out; I make an exit from that all-embracing kosmos. I belong no more to Satan's pattern of things. I set my heart on that upon which God's heart is set.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. What Jesus said he plainly means. I take that step of faith: I believe and am baptized, and I come out a saved man. That is salvation. So never let us regard baptism as of small concern. Tremendous things hang upon it. It is no less a question than of two violently opposing worlds and of our translation from the one into the other.
There is in Scripture another passage which brings baptism and salvation together to illustrate this theme. I allude to Chapter 3 of 1 Peter. There the apostle tells us how "the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water" (verse 20). The water, he says, is a figure or likeness, or an anti-type, of something else. "Which also in the anti-type doth now save you, even baptism." So baptism, he reasons, saves us now. Clearly Peter believed in our salvation through baptism as firmly as he believed in Noah's salvation through water.
Please remember, I am not saying regeneration, and I am not saying deliverance from hell or from sin. Understand clearly that we are talking here about salvation. It is not just a question of terms; it concerns our being fundamentally severed from today's world system.
To understand better what Peter means we should turn back to his source in Chapters 6 to 8 of Genesis. The picture is instructive. There in Noah's day we find a wholly corrupt world.
So God commanded Noah to build an ark, and to bring his family and the creatures into it, and then the flood came. By it they were "lifted up above the earth" upon waters that covered "all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven." Every living thing, both man and beast, perished and those only who rode the waters in the ark were saved. The significant thing here is not just that they escaped death. That is not the point. The real point for us is that they were the only people to come out from that corrupt system of things, that world under water. Personal life is the inevitable consequence of coming out, as opposed to personal hell of staying in. However, salvation is the act of coming out itself, not the effect of it. Note this difference for it is a great one. Salvation is essentially a present exit from Satan's doomed order.
So today when believers are baptized they go symbolically through water, just as Noah passed in the ark through the waters of the flood. And this passage through water signifies their escape from the world, their exodus from the system of things that, with its prince, is under the divine sentence. I must say this, especially to those who are being baptized today.' Please remember, you are not the only one who is in the water. As you step down into the water, a whole world goes down with you. When you come up, you come up in Christ, in the ark that rides the waves, but your world stays behind. For you, that world is submerged, drowned like Noah's, put to death in the death of Christ and never to be revived. It is by baptism that you declare this. "Lord, I leave my world behind. Thy Cross separates me from it forever!"
Speaking figuratively, therefore, when you go through the waters of baptism everything belonging to the former system of things is cut off by those waters never to return. You alone emerge. For you it is a passage into another world, a world where you will find a dove and the fresh leaves of olive trees as in the case of Noah after the great flood. You go out of the world that is under judgment, into a world that is marked by newness of divine life. So the same water on the one hand puts you and me on salvation ground in Christ, and on the other hand buries Satan's whole system of things. Not only does your own history as a child of Adam end in your baptism; your world also ends there. In both cases it is a death and a burial with nothing resurrected. It is an end of everything.Hallelujah!!
We can go through all the parables of the Bible. After studying a few of them carefully, we will realize that there are certain principles to interpreting parables. One cannot interpret them in any way he chooses. Once we identify principles, we will know how to interpret other parables when we study them.
Every parable has its subject and its subsidiary points. In interpreting a parable, one must distinguish between the main thought and the subsidiary thought. The main subject must be interpreted point by point. Subsidiary thoughts can be interpreted in detail, or they can be skipped over. For example, the Lord spoke seven parables in Matthew 13, the first of which is the parable of the sower. There is one kind of seed but four kinds of ground. The word is the same, but the hearts are different. This is the subject. We have to pay attention to the word and the four kinds of hearts. Other points, such as the meaning of the devouring of the seed by the birds or the significance of the number of "folds" the good seed multiplies, are not as crucial. Some seeds can multiply a thousand-fold or even twelve hundredfold. But the Lord does not say anything about them. This means that the exact number of "folds" is not important. If we pay attention to the size of the birds, the altitude they are flying, or the exact number of "folds" the seeds multiply, we are on the wrong track. In interpreting parables, the first thing to do is distinguish the subject from the subsidiary points.
Another point worth noting is that no parable is to be interpreted in a literal way. For example, in the parable of the sower, the sower does not mean an actual sower, the field does not mean an actual field, and the seed is not an actual seed. This is obvious. All parables have their spiritual significance and should be interpreted spiritually. But this does not mean that every point within a parable has to have spiritual significance attached to it. It only means that the main points in the parable must be interpreted spiritually. The subsidiary points can be interpreted literally. Some people try to attach interpretation to every main point as well as every minor point in a parable. This is wrong. Matthew 13 is the first instance where the Lord spoke to us in parables, and in the first parable the Lord gave us the interpretation Himself. He did not interpret every point. With some points, He gave the interpretations. With other points, He did not interpret at all. For example, in expounding the "good earth," He told us that the earth refers to man's heart, while good refers to the state of being noble and good (Luke 8:15). The Lord has interpreted this for us. We know that a noble and good heart is the subject here. The Lord did not expand on the meaning of the words "yielded fruit." Hence, the yielding of fruit is not the main thought. If we are caught up with the details, we will lose sight of the spiritual significance of the passage, and our course will be wrong. It is not easy to interpret the parables. One must seek light concerning each one of them before he can interpret them properly.
In order to study the types in the Old Testament, we must first have a foundation of the New Testament. The New Testament speaks of Christ, His redemption, the church, and the Holy Spirit. These are four great spiritual things. The chief types in the Old Testament are types of these four things. They typify Christ, redemption, the church, or the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, we see the photograph before we see the person. In the New Testament, we first see the person, and then we go back to the Old Testament to see the photograph. If we have seen the reality of Christ, redemption, the church, and the Holy Spirit, it is much easier for us to see the Old Testament types.
The re-creation in Genesis 1 is a type of the new creation. In chapter two Eve is a type of the church in its sinless state. When we think of ourselves, we think of sin because we are inseparably linked to sin. Yet God shows us that the relationship between Christ and the church is apart from sin, for their relationship began in Genesis 2 not Genesis 3. Adam was related to Eve in Genesis 2. Hence, their relationship had nothing to do with sin, even as Christ and the church have nothing to do with sin. When we think of the church, we should never think of sin. In God's eyes the church has no sin. The Lord Jesus' death for the sinner was for the remission of sin. But His death for the church was not for sin but for life. In Genesis 3 we see the fig leaves and the skins of animals. In chapter four we see the offerings. Later, we see Isaac. Who is Isaac? Is he a type of the church, the Holy Spirit, redemption, or the Lord Jesus? In reading the New Testament, we can see that Isaac somewhat typifies the Lord Jesus. Isaac was not only born of Abraham or Sarah; he was born of promise. Hence, Isaac somewhat resembles the Lord Jesus. To Sarah, Isaac was his father's only begotten son. This again resembles the Lord Jesus. To Abraham, everything that Isaac had was inherited; Isaac simply enjoyed his inheritance. In this respect he indeed resembles the Lord Jesus. God sent the Holy Spirit to the world. The Spirit secured the church and espoused it to Christ as the Lamb's wife. Isaac's father sent his old servant to his own country and tribe to find a woman, Rebekah, to be Isaac's wife. There is a correspondence here. If we compare the Old Testament and the New Testament, we can find many things in the New Testament that match the Old Testament types. In Galatians, Isaac typifies the spiritual Christians. Ishmael typifies a fleshly walk in the church, while Isaac typifies a spiritual walk. Abraham through Hagar, begot Ishmael; that is, through the flesh. He typifies man's own work. Isaac was born after Abraham gave up any hope of a child being born; he was born of God's promise. Hence, he typifies the work of the Holy Spirit. This is just one example of types. If we go through the Bible chapter by chapter, we will find many different types. The book that provides the most types is Genesis. We can say that Genesis is the nursery from which the seedlings of the whole Bible grow.
The whole book of Exodus is a type of our salvation from the world. The Passover is a type of the breaking of bread. The crossing of the Red Sea is a type of baptism. The murmuring and sojourning in the wilderness are types of God's children in their various conditions. The living water is a type of the Holy Spirit.
The tabernacle is a type of our Lord Jesus while He sojourned on the earth. It is also a type of our sojourn in the world. The tabernacle did not have a floor, and it was pitched in the wilderness. We have to wait until the New Jerusalem before we will see the streets of gold. While we are passing through this world, we have a glorious fellowship with the Lord. God's goal for us is Canaan; He does not want us to remain in the wilderness.
Further on, we see in the book of Numbers that the Israelites passed through forty-two stations after their exodus from Egypt prior to their entry into Canaan. Every station has its significance. In reading the names of the stations we get a picture of man's sojourning as well the condition for his entry into Canaan.
The offerings, feasts, and ordinances regarding cleansing are all types, and we have to study them.
The book of Joshua is a book with profound types. I am not saying that all the types in this book are profound. I am saying that there are many profound things in the book of Joshua. In order to understand the significance of the Israelites entering Canaan and the warfare in Canaan, we must first know what Canaan typifies. Some think that Canaan typifies heaven. But if Canaan typifies heaven, will there be warfare in heaven? If we are careful in our reading, we will conclude that Canaan cannot be a type of heaven. It is a type of our heavenly position. It is the equivalent of the heavenlies spoken of in Ephesians. On the one hand, we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies. On the other hand, we wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies (Eph. 6:12). In studying this typology, we must not stop with the book of Joshua; we must also study Ephesians. In fact, Joshua must be read not only with Ephesians but with Hebrews as well. The entrance into Canaan in the book of Joshua typifies two things: spiritual warfare (in Ephesians) and rest (in Hebrews). The rest here clearly refers to the kingdom. Hence, Canaan is not a type of heaven but a type of the kingdom rest. Not everyone who passed under the blood of the lamb or ate of the Passover lamb entered Canaan; only two entered. The rest died in the wilderness. Many are called but few are chosen. Hence, Canaan is a type of the kingdom. The entrance into Canaan typifies our reigning in the kingdom. Once we are clear about this fundamental point, we will see which part of Joshua is a type of a Christian's position in the heavenlies today and which part is a type of his reward in the future.
The many lawless acts in the book of Judges typify man's self-willed life which results in all kinds of confusion.
In Samuel we see man's reign and God's entrusting of His authority to man. Before a man after God's heart was raised up, a man after man's heart stepped in. David was a man after God's heart, but before him, a man after man's heart, Saul, came. It is clear that Saul typifies the reign of antichrist. We see how the king after God's choice went into battle and how he enjoyed peace. We see the battles of David and the glory of Solomon. The reign of Saul typifies the condition during the great tribulation, the reign of David typifies the condition after the tribulation, and the reign of Solomon typifies the millennium. All of these are clear types.
Solomon's building of the temple is again a type of Christ building the church. The temple was in Jerusalem, typifying the church meeting and worshipping in the Lord's name, because God placed His name in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the only place which God recognized and in which He put His own name (1 Kings 14:21). When Jeroboam rose up, he set up altars in Bethel and Dan for worship, and God condemned this. God wants man to worship only at the place where His name is established. He does not want man to worship anywhere else. During times of revival, the kings removed the altars. But some kings did not remove them. This is a type of the many revivals that have taken place in the church. Later, the temple was destroyed; this is a type of the church becoming desolated. Afterwards, Nehemiah, Zechariah, and Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple. Although the rebuilt temple was not as glorious as the one that had been destroyed, there was a beginning of recovery back to the original ground. This is a type of the recovery of the church. This recovery will be completed at the Lord's second coming. Then the church will be a glorious church. Hallelujah, glory to God.
third of the whole Bible contains prophecies. We can classify the prophecies in
the Bible into two categories, those concerning Christ's first coming and those
concerning His second coming. Prophecies concerning His first coming can be
found in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the books of the prophets. The Lord
Jesus has come, and it seems as if prophecies concerning His first coming are
not very exciting. However, in order to study prophecy, we must pay attention
to the Lord's first coming. We have to find all the prophecies in the Old and
New Testaments about His first coming and write them down because this will
teach us something concerning the principle of prophecies. The prophecies
concerning His second coming will be fulfilled the same way as the prophecies
concerning His first coming.
There are rules for exposition of everything spoken of in the Bible. Anything that should be interpreted spiritually is clearly indicated by the text of the Scriptures itself. For example, Revelation 1 speaks of the seven stars in the right hand of the Lord as the messengers of the seven churches. This should not be interpreted literally, and the text tells us this. The seven lampstands, which the Lord walked in the midst of, refer to the churches. This is also clearly stated in the text. Every type should be interpreted spiritually. In type, Adam does not refer to Adam literally, but to Christ, and Eve does not refer to Eve literally, but to the church. However, prophecies can be interpreted according to two different, basic principles. They can be interpreted spiritually, in which case the fulfillment is a fulfillment in meaning only, or they can be interpreted literally, in which case the fulfillment is literal. For example, Matthew 2:17-18 says, "At that time what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, `A voice in Ramah was heard, weeping and great lamentation: Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are no more.'" This is a fulfillment in meaning. Consider the example of Acts 2:16, which says, "But this is what is spoken through the prophet Joel." The condition that was seen at Pentecost was like the one described in the book of Joel. This is also a fulfillment in meaning. As to the first coming of the Lord Jesus, many prophecies were fulfilled literally. The virgin literally referred to a virgin. Egypt literally referred to Egypt. Not having a single bone broken meant exactly that. They were all literally fulfilled. Since many of the fulfillments concerning the Lord's first coming were literal, most of the fulfillments concerning His second coming will be literal as well.
Some prophecies concern the Jews, others concern the Gentiles, and still others concern the church. These three kinds of prophecies are all different. Most of Moses' and Balaam's prophecies concerned the Jews. Of course, we find many prophecies concerning the Jews in the books of the prophets also. Prophecies concerning the Gentiles can be found in the book of Daniel. We should also pay attention to what the Lord Jesus said on earth in Matthew 24. Revelation 8—11, 13, 15—16, and 18 are all prophecies concerning the Gentiles. Prophecies concerning the church can be found in such chapters as Matthew 13, Revelation 2—3, 12, 14—15, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4. We have to know clearly which prophecies pertain to the Jews, which to the Gentiles, and which to the church.
Prophecies concerning the Jews can be divided into two main branches: those concerning the day of the Lord and those concerning the earthly blessings in the kingdom.
With regard to the prophecies concerning the Gentiles, we have to pay particular attention to all the prophecies uttered during "the times of the Gentiles" after the destruction of the Jewish nation. Chapters such as Daniel 2, 4, and 7, the seventy weeks in chapter nine, and everything thereafter, including the book of Revelation, contain prophecies for the Gentiles. Simply put, these prophecies first depict the period from the destruction of the Jewish nation to the end time, which covers the entire history spanned in the great image of Daniel 2. Second, they speak of the ten horns (the ten kings) in the end time, the other horn (the other king), and the antichrist. Third, they speak of the blessings enjoyed by the Gentiles in the millennium.
Concerning the church, there are the prophecies depicting the two thousand years of church history, the rapture, the judgment seat, the kingdom, and eternity.
God deals with man according to dispensations. In every age God has His own way of dealing with man. In one dispensation He deals with man one way. In another dispensation He deals with man another way. In one dispensation man is saved through one means. In another dispensation he is saved through another means. In one dispensation God has one kind of requirement for man's conduct. In another dispensation He has another kind of requirement for man's conduct. If we are not clear about the different dispensations, we will think that some statements in the Bible are confusing. But once we distinguish between the dispensations, the confusion will disappear.
Some expositors have divided history into seven dispensations. But according to the Bible itself, there should only be four dispensations. The first is the dispensation of the patriarchs. This dispensation began with Adam because Romans 5:14 clearly says, "From Adam until Moses." Although there were many fine differences within this period, on the whole, it was "from Adam until Moses." This is the first dispensation. The second is the dispensation of the law, which spans from Moses to Christ. But at which point in the history of Christ did this dispensation end? The Lord Jesus said that the law and the prophets ended with John (Matt. 11:13; Luke 16:16). He meant that this dispensation ended with John. The third dispensation is the dispensation of grace, which spans the time from the first coming of Christ to His second coming (Acts 3:20-21). Although the Lord still cares for the Jews during this period, the focus of His attention is on the Gentiles. We are in the dispensation of grace. The fourth dispensation is the kingdom, which spans the time from the second coming of Christ to the end of the kingdom age (Rev. 20).
In every dispensation we have to pay attention to man's original position, his responsibilities, his failures, and God's way of dealing with him. After we study these points carefully, it will be easy for us to solve all of the seemingly contradictory problems.
Many numbers in the Bible have significance. The following are some examples.
One signifies the one unique God.
Two signifies fellowship.
Three also signifies God because He is triune. One refers to God's unity, and three refers to God's completion.
Four is the first number that is built upon three. It is three plus one. Hence, four is the number of creation. Everything that relates to the creature is four in number. For example, there are four corners of the earth, four seasons, four winds, and four rivers that flow from the garden of Eden. The image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream has four sections. Four beasts come out of the sea. The living creatures that represent all creation are four in number. The Lord Jesus' life on earth is recorded in four Gospels. Everything that is produced from God is four in number.
Five is the number of man's separation. The left hand has five fingers. So does the right hand. Of the ten virgins five are foolish and five wise. Five also signifies human responsibility before God. The ear is one of the five organs, the thumb is one of the five fingers, and the big toe is one of the five toes. Applying the blood to the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot signifies man's separation to bear responsibility before God.
Six is man's number. Man was created on the sixth day. Seven is the number of perfection. Six is less than seven. This means that what man does can never match what God does.
Seven is the number of perfection. This perfection refers to the present temporary perfection; it is not eternal perfection. Three is the number of God. Four is the number of the creature. The sum of the Creator with the creature is perfection. God plus man equals perfection. But this is only three plus four; it is a temporary perfection. Everything temporal in the Bible is signified by seven. For example, there are seven days to a week, seven parables in Matthew 13, seven churches in Revelation, seven lampstands, seven messengers, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. All these refer to temporal perfection rather than perfection in eternity.
Eight is the number of resurrection. Seven is a cycle. Eight is the first number after seven. The Lord Jesus resurrected on the eighth day. Hence, eight is the number of resurrection.
Nine is three times three, a multiplicity of God's number. God's testimony is not only God's word but God's speaking to us.
Ten signifies human perfection. The human number is completed at ten. For example, there are ten fingers to the hands and ten toes to the feet.
Eleven does not have much significance in the Bible.
Twelve is also a number for perfection, but this perfection refers to the perfection in eternity. There are two numbers for perfection: seven and twelve. Seven is divine perfection and has to do with today. Twelve is also divine perfection, but it has to do with eternity. The interesting thing is that in the new heaven and new earth, the number seven will be gone. The New Jerusalem has twelve gates, twelve foundations, the names of the twelve apostles, twelve kinds of precious stones, and twelve pearls. The wall of the city was a hundred and forty-four cubits, which is twelve times twelve. All these will remain forever. Thus, twelve signifies eternal perfection. Why is seven temporal perfection and twelve eternal perfection? Three plus four is simply God plus man, the Creator plus the creature. But three times four is the Creator multiplied by the creature. This means that the two are mingled together. There is a difference between addition and multiplication. In multiplication, God and man are no longer separate. It is a oneness between the creating God and the created beings. Such a oneness is eternal. Hence, the perfection signified by twelve is an eternal perfection.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 1
In order to study the Bible properly, one has to meet two basic requirements. The first requirement is that the person must be right; he must pass through proper training. The second requirement is that he has to have the right methods. During the past few centuries, in particular since the rise of Protestantism or Charismatic movement, many books have been published on the study of the Bible. Many of them are very good, but almost all are short in one matter—they only pay attention to methods of studying the Bible; they do not pay enough attention to the person who is studying the Bible. They give the impression that anyone who uses these methods will achieve good results. Many have tried these methods but have not found any profit to their study. Those who have written books on the study of the Scripture have studied the Scripture well, but those who try to imitate them by approaching the Bible with the same methods do not necessarily fare as well. This is because the imitators have forgotten who they are. The study of the Bible is not only a matter of methods but a matter of the person. Some study the Bible well because they—the persons—have learned the proper lessons from God. When they find the right methods to assist in their study, they reap rich results. It is wrong to pass on methods without considering the kind of person one has to be. Even when some have the right methods, they can never study the Bible well because they are wrong in their very person.
This is a very important point. The study of the Bible is not merely a matter of right methods but a matter of right persons. A person must be right before he can adopt the right method to study the Bible. Methods are important because without good methods, one cannot study the Bible well. But the person must also be properly calibrated before he can study the Bible well. Some people have a misguided concept that very few people can study the Bible. Others have a mistaken notion that anyone can study the Bible. Both are wrong. It is wrong to think that very few people can study the Bible, and it is equally wrong to think that everyone can study the Bible. Only one kind of person can study the Bible, and we have to be that kind of person before we can study the Bible well. We have to see that the person is first; the methods second. If the person is wrong, nothing will work even if one has all the right methods. If the person is right, the right methods can be put to good use. Some people pay much attention to good methods. Even though we also pay proper attention to good methods, we should never make methods our first priority. The methods do not come first; the person does. First, we have to be right in our person, and then we can speak about the best methods of Bible study.
In order to answer the question on how to study the Bible, I would like to divide our discussion into two parts. The first part concerns the preparation of the person, and the second part concerns the methods of studying. I will first consider the preparation of the person.
In John 6:63 the Lord Jesus said, "The words which I have spoken to you are spirit." The words of the Bible are not only letters, but spirit. We also should recall the Lord's word in John 4:24: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit." Here the Lord points out a fundamental principle: God is Spirit, and man can only touch Him with his spirit. God is Spirit, and we can only worship Him with our spirit; we cannot worship Him with anything other than the spirit. God is Spirit, and we cannot worship Him with our mind, emotion, or will. Colossians 2:23 speaks of "self-imposed worship." This means worshiping with the will. This is wrong because God is Spirit, and because God is Spirit, those who worship Him must worship in spirit. John 6 says that the Lord's words are spirit. The basic principle is the same: Since the Lord's words are spirit; we have to read them in spirit. In other words, we can only touch spiritual things with the spirit.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 2
The Bible is not only a book with words or letters printed on pages of paper. The very nature of the Bible is spirit. For this reason, everyone who reads this book must approach it with his spirit; it must be read with the spirit. The spirit that I am referring to is the spirit of every regenerated person. We call this spirit the "regenerated spirit." Not everyone has this spirit. Therefore, not everyone can read the Bible well. Only those who have this spirit can read the Bible well; those who do not have this spirit cannot read it well. This spirit is needed to worship God. This same spirit is needed to read the Bible well. Without this spirit, a man cannot know God. Without this spirit, he cannot know the Bible either. Perhaps we were born into a Christian family. Before we were regenerated, we probably had read the Bible already, but we did not understand it. We understood the history and facts recorded in the Bible, but we did not understand the Bible itself. This is not surprising, because God's word is spirit. If we do not use our spirit, we cannot read this book. When can a man begin to understand the Bible? On the day he receives the Lord, he can begin to understand the Bible. From that day forward, the Bible will become a new book to him; he will begin to understand and treasure this book. Although he may not understand everything in it, he will begin to love it. He will read it daily and yearly. If he misses his reading, he will feel hungry; he will feel that something is missing in his life. When he reads God's word this way, he will begin to understand it. He can understand it because he is now regenerated. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). We should put John 4:24, 6:63, and 3:6 together: "God is Spirit," "The words which I have spoken...are spirit," and "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The words in the Bible are spirit. The life which a man receives at the time of regeneration is spirit, and it takes a man with a spirit to read the words of spirit. Only then will the Bible shine within him, and only then will it become useful to him.
No matter how clever and well educated a man is, as long as he is not regenerated, this book is a mystery to him. A regenerated person may not be that cultivated, but he is more qualified to read the Bible than an un-regenerated college professor. The former has a regenerated spirit, while the latter does not have such a spirit. The Bible is not understood by talent, research, or intelligence. Since God's word is spirit, only a man with a regenerated spirit can understand it. The root, the very nature, of the Bible is spiritual. If a man does not have a regenerated spirit, he cannot understand this book; it will be a closed book to him.
The Lord Jesus said in John 6:55, "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." The unbelieving Jews were shocked at such a word. How could the Lord's flesh be food and His blood be drink? Yet every regenerated person knows that this refers to the Son of God. He bows his head and confesses, "I derive my life from Your flesh and Your blood. Without Your flesh, I will not have life today. Without Your blood, I cannot live today. You are indeed my food." A man with a regenerated spirit will not be bothered by the Lord's word but will thank and praise Him instead.
The Lord said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (v. 63). Here we see two realms. One is the realm of spirit, the other is the realm of flesh. In the realm of spirit, everything is living and profitable. In the realm of flesh, everything is unprofitable. One must read the Bible with his spirit and in the realm of spirit. No matter how educated, logical, and analytical a man is, he cannot understand the Bible if he does not have this spirit.
God is Spirit. We know God today because we have a spirit. When some unbelievers argue with us, we may not match them in eloquence or wisdom, and we may not be able to tell them profound teachings, but we have the confidence that we know God because we are regenerated. We have a regenerated spirit, and we can touch God with this spirit. It does not matter if we can relate the doctrine or not. The fact is that we have touched God. Unbelievers want to find out about God through analysis, synthesis, and reasoning. But even when the analysis, synthesis, and reasoning are all well founded, they will still not believe in God, because God can never be analyzed or synthesized. Job said, "Can you find out the depths of God?" (Job 11:7). No one can find out God by research. There is only one way to find out God—by the regenerated spirit. Those who touch God with this spirit will know Him right away. There is no other way except this way. In order to study the Bible, a man must have a regenerated spirit, in the same way that he must have a regenerated spirit to touch God.
Only one part within our whole being can study the Bible—our regenerated spirit. If we use any other part of our being to touch the Bible, we are doing something apart from God, and such activity will not touch anything related to Him. The Bible can either be a matter of flesh to man or a matter of spirit to him. If a man does not have a regenerated spirit, and if all he has is the flesh and things related to the flesh, the Bible will be a matter of flesh to him. If a man has a regenerated spirit, and such a spirit is functional within him, he will touch the spirit when he touches God's word. This is not to say that the Bible can become something other than spirit. The Bible itself is always spirit. The Lord Jesus said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." The Lord's words are spirit. Yet they are spirit only to the believers who have believed into Him; to the unbelieving Jews His words were received as a matter of flesh. The way many people study the Bible is outrageous. The reason they do this is that they are lacking the spirit. A man cannot study God's Word according to his own mind or intelligence. He must have this spirit before he can study God's word.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 3
Some may ask, "I am regenerated, and I have a regenerated spirit, but why can I not study the Bible well? Why is the Bible like a closed book to me?" In order to answer this question, we should turn to one passage in the Scriptures—1 Corinthians 2. First, let us read verses 1 to 4: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, came not according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, announcing to you the mystery of God. For I did not determine to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and this One crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling; and my speech and my proclamation were not in persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." The subject of this chapter is Paul's preaching being not with persuasive words of wisdom. Read also verses 5 to 7: "In order that your faith would not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. But we do speak wisdom among those who are full-grown, yet a wisdom not of this age...But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom which has been hidden, which God predestined before the ages for our glory." Read also verses 9 to 13: "`Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not come up in man's heart; things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But to us God has revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the things of man, except the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way, the things of God also no one has known except the Spirit of God. But we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is from God, that we may know the things which have been graciously given to us by God; which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things with spiritual words." In the margin of the American Standard Version, we find the alternate translation for the last part of verse 13: "Interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men." This is a better translation of the original language. The subject of chapter three is the different kinds of persons. Therefore, the end of chapter two cannot be speaking of things. It is contrary to the rule of interpretation to explain a word in two different ways within the same passage. Paul was saying that spiritual things can only be communicated to spiritual men. (The word interpreting in Greek can mean joining together, mingling together, or coordinated together. Therefore, it can be translated as "communicating"—communicating spiritual things to spiritual men.)
In reading this passage, we find the relationship between the spirit and the Bible. Paul was speaking here about words revealed by the Spirit, taught by the Spirit, and words of wisdom from the Spirit, not words of wisdom from men. What are words of wisdom from men? What the eyes see, what the ears hear, and what comes up in the heart—these are men's words. Where was Paul's revelation coming from? His revelation came from the Holy Spirit, because only the Holy Spirit knows the things of God. How can men have this revelation from the Holy Spirit? Paul told us that in order to have this, there is the need to have the Spirit of God. This is identical to what we saw earlier from the Gospel of John. Here it says that no one has known the things of God except the Spirit of God. It follows, therefore, that anyone who does not have the Spirit of God does not know the things of God. Paul further stated that he did not speak these things according to excellence of speech or of wisdom, nor in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual things to spiritual men.
Here Paul said that spiritual things can only be communicated to spiritual men. It is impossible to communicate some things to some people; such things are not compatible with these people. Verse 14 says, "But a soulish man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God." Not only will the soulish man (natural man) not receive the spiritual things, but "they are foolishness to him." He will think that believers are fools. A soulish man will not know, "and he is not able to know them because they are discerned spiritually." This word touches the peak of this passage. It shows us that spiritual things can only be discerned by spiritual men. A soulish man cannot discern these things and does not know anything about them. This has nothing to do with spending time or not spending time in the exercise. Even if a soulish man spends all his time in discerning, he cannot and will not know these things. He is short of one vital faculty. A somewhat more scientific description of the soulish man is the psychological man, the man under the control of his own psychology. Spiritually speaking, it is the un-regenerated man. A soulish man is a natural man, an un-regenerated man. He is like Adam, a living soul, who does not have the Spirit of God within him and who cannot know the things of God.
As a rule, after a man becomes a Christian, he should know the things of the Spirit. Nevertheless, why is it that so many brothers and sisters do not know them? The reason is that though they have a regenerated spirit, they are not necessarily spiritual men. Paul's emphasis in 1 Corinthians 2 and 3 is not merely the spirit but to be spiritual. John's emphasis is the spirit, but Paul's emphasis is on being spiritual. A man must not only have the spirit but must be spiritual according to this spirit. One must have the spirit; without the spirit one can do nothing. But to have the spirit alone without living under the principle of this spirit, that is, without living in this spirit and walking according to this spirit to be a spiritual man, is useless.
A soulish man cannot know
God; no one can know Him by turning to soulish faculties. But a man with a
regenerated spirit does not know God either if he only uses his soul. This does
not mean that anyone who has a spirit can know God. Even after God's Spirit has
entered into a man, it is still possible for that man to not know God. Wisdom
and intelligence do not help an unbeliever know God; neither do they help a
Christian know God. Knowledge does not help an unbeliever understand the Bible;
neither does it help a Christian understand the Bible. The way to understand
the Bible is by the spirit. It is not merely a matter of having the spirit, but
a matter of being spiritual. No one can say that he has a spirit but does not
have to walk according to it and instead can walk according to his former ways.
Such ways were unacceptable when the man did not have a regenerated spirit;
they are equally unacceptable now that he has a regenerated spirit. The
fundamental way to the understanding of the Bible is through the spirit. This
is the reason Paul showed us in 1 Corinthians 2 that the issue is not having or
not having the spirit, but of being spiritual or not being spiritual. Spiritual
things are discerned only by spiritual men.
First Corinthians 3:1 says, "And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshy, as to infants in Christ." Here is another word: fleshy. The Corinthian believers were infants in Christ; they were fleshy. This is the reason verse 2 says, "I gave you milk to drink, not solid food." To be sure, such ones are not totally ignorant of spiritual things. Yet they can only touch the most obvious revelations; they cannot touch anything deeper. They are fleshy, and therefore they can only take milk, not solid food. Milk is for those in their first stage of life. This means that these ones can only take the most elemental revelations in Christianity. Solid food, on the other hand, is for a grown-up throughout his lifetime. It refers to the deeper and more profound revelations. A man does not continue drinking milk all the time; there is only a short period during his life when he has to drink milk. Yet there are men who, like the Corinthian believers, are drinking milk all the time. "For you were not yet able to receive it. But neither yet now are you able."
First Corinthians 2 and 3 show us three kinds of men:
First, there is the soulish man. Such a man merely possesses all the faculties of the soul. We can call him the psychological man. A soulish man is an un-regenerated man; he does not have a regenerated spirit and does not have the proper organ to understand God's word. Such a person cannot understand the Bible.
Second, there is the fleshy man. Such a man has God's life and His Spirit within him. But he walks not according to this spirit but according to the flesh. He has a regenerated spirit, but he does not use his spirit or subject himself to the rule of his spirit. He has a spirit, but he does not come under the control of the spirit or allow the spirit to take over everything. The Bible calls this kind of person fleshy. He has a very limited understanding of the Bible. He can only take milk, not solid food. Milk is something that is first digested by the mother. It refers to indirect revelations, revelations that do not come to a person directly. A man who drinks milk cannot receive any direct revelation from God. He receives revelation from other spiritual men, who transfer such revelation to him.
Third, there is the spiritual man. Such a person has the Spirit of God. He operates under the power of the living Spirit and walks according to the principle of the Spirit. The amount of revelation he receives is unlimited. God's Word says that spiritual things can only be discerned by spiritual men.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 4
In order to study the Bible, we have to remember these basic requirements: We must be spiritual and we must walk according to the spirit.
The Bible is the word of God. It is full of God's light. Yet this light will only enlighten those who are open to Him. Second Corinthians 3:18 says, "But we all with unveiled face, beholding and reflecting like a mirror the glory of the Lord." The basic qualification for being enlightened by the glory of the Lord is to behold Him with unveiled face. If a man comes to the Lord with a veiled face, the glory will not enlighten him. God's light will only enlighten those who are open to Him. If a man is not open to God, he will not receive God's light. The trouble with some people is that they are closed to the Lord. Their spirit, heart, will, and mind are all closed to God. As a result, the light of the Scriptures will not reach them. Even though the sun is full of light and shines on the whole world, its light will not reach a person who sits inside a room with closed door and windows. The problem is not with the light but with the person. Light will only shine on those who are open to it. This is true of physical light, and this is also true of spiritual light. Whenever we lock ourselves in, light cannot shine through. Some people are closed to the Lord; they can never see God's light. We must not pay attention just to reading and studying; rather, we should ask if we are open before the Lord. If we do not have an unveiled face, the glory of the Lord will not shine on us. If our heart is not open to God, God cannot give us any light.
Light operates according to a law. It shines on those who are open to it, and the amount of shining depends on the amount of openness. This is a law. If all the doors and windows of a room are closed but just one crack is left open, light will still come in. It is not difficult to get the light. As long as one follows this law, he will receive the light. But if he acts contrary to this law, he will not have any light. A man who is closed to God may study and pray much, but he will remain ignorant as far as understanding the Bible is concerned. It is hard for a man to expect any light when he is not open to God. God's light does not come unconditionally. In order to have God's light, one must first fulfill the conditions for receiving it.
Every child of God has a Bible in his hand, but the amount of light each receives from this book is different. Some are completely ignorant of what the Bible says. Others receive some light from reading it. Still others are full of light when they read it. The reason for the difference is that the persons reading it are different. God's light is the same, but the persons are different. People who are open to God can understand the Bible. Others who are closed to God cannot understand the Bible. Some are closed completely, and as a result they are in complete darkness. Others are closed partially, and as a result they receive partial light. Any lack of sight that we experience, whether great or small, complete or partial, means that we are in darkness. We should never consider it a small thing to find ourselves having difficulty understanding the Bible. If we have difficulty understanding the Bible, it can only mean one thing: We are living in darkness! It is a very serious thing to read God's Word and not understand or receive any light from it.
Next, we should ask what is the meaning of being open to God? Openness comes from unconditional and unreserved consecration. Openness to God is not a temporary attitude; it is a permanent disposition which a man develops before God. It is not an incidental temperament but a continuous practice. Openness to God can only come from unconditional and unreserved consecration. If a man's consecration to God is perfect and absolute, he will have no reservation toward God and will not be closed in any way. Any closedness reflects shortages in one's consecration. Darkness is the result of being closed, and being closed is the result of a lack of consecration. Any time there is a shortage of consecration, there will be reservations. When a man refuses to humble himself before God in any area, he will try to justify himself instead. As a consequence, he cannot understand the scriptural truth related to that same area. As soon as he touches that area, he will try to dodge it. This is the reason I say that darkness comes from being closed, and being closed comes from a lack of consecration. All kinds of darkness come as a result of being closed, and being closed in any area is the result of a lack of consecration and submission. Bless the Lord!
Many portions of the Bible explicitly speak of light. In Matthew 6:22 the Lord Jesus spoke on the light of the heart, saying, "The lamp of the body is the eye." The Lord did not say that the eye is the light of the body. Rather, He said that the eye is the lamp of the body. Light relates to God, while the lamp relates to us. Light is in God's word, whereas the lamp relates to us. The lamp is the place where light is retained. In other words, the lamp is the place where God deposits His light. It is also the place where we retain and release the light. In order for God's word to shine in us, we must have a lamp within us. This lamp is our eye. "If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is evil, your whole body will be dark" (vv. 22-23). In order for our whole body to be full of light, the Lord specified one condition—our eye must be single.
What does it mean to have a single eye? Although we have two eyes, there is only one focus; they only see one thing at one time. Our eyes are sick if they have two foci and see two objects at one time; neither have a clear view. They are not single. In order for the eyes to see clearly, they must have only one point of focus; they cannot have two foci. In receiving the shining there is the matter of light, and there is also the matter of the seeing of the eyes. If we have never experienced any grace and mercy, we have never experienced any light upon us. But now that we have received grace and mercy, light is upon us. The next problem is not with the light, but with our eye. If our eye is not single, we cannot perceive the light. Many people's eye is not single; they see not just one thing but two things at the same time. Sometimes they see one thing as if it were two things. Light is not clear to them. In fact, they may be in total darkness.
The Lord said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (6:24). Many people do not have light because their eye is not single. The reason their eye is not single is that they are short of consecration before the Lord. What is consecration? It is serving Jehovah alone. A man cannot serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other; he cannot serve both well. He cannot maintain such a balance. No one can serve the Lord on the one hand and serve mammon on the other hand. All those who try to serve two masters find out sooner or later that they love one and hate the other. We must either consecrate ourselves to the Lord absolutely, or we will serve mammon completely. The Lord said that the eye has to be single. This means that our service and our consecration must be single. Singleness of the eye signifies singleness of consecration.
May the Lord show us this basic principle. If we want to read the Bible, understand its teachings, and receive its revelations, we have to bear one responsibility before the Lord: We have to consecrate ourselves absolutely to Him. Only this will give us light through the Bible. Once we have a problem with our consecration, we have a problem with our seeing. When we have a problem with our seeing, it means that we first have a problem with our consecration. We must be fully convinced that no man can serve two masters.
The other master has a name—mammon. Mammon signifies money and wealth. Much light from the Bible has been veiled because of money. Many people have been veiled from the light of the Bible because of mammon. Many people fail to see the truth in the Bible because they have a problem with money. In addition to God, they have money, and they are not willing to drop their pursuit of money. There is a conflict between the truth and their personal interest. If they could lay aside their personal interest and pursue the truth at all costs, the Bible would be crystal clear to them. Many people sacrifice the teachings of the Bible because they have a problem with mammon. If all the Christians were settled in the matter of mammon, there would be a big increase in the number of obedient ones. We have to heed this warning from God. Whenever we are careless and turn a little to our private interest, God's light will be cut off. In order to see light, we cannot serve mammon. We cannot have two interests. We cannot maintain God's interest as well as our own interest. We can only consider one interest—God's interest. Once our personal interest is taken into consideration, we have two masters, and our eye is no longer single. A double-minded person cannot study the Bible; neither can one who has reservations from private interests. Only those with a single eye can study the Bible.
How can the eye be single? The Lord said, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (6:21). The amazing thing is that when mammon is under our direction, it will not become a harm but a help to us. When our heart is for mammon, we love money, and it is difficult for our heart to be inclined to God. But if we are able to direct our treasure, we will be able to direct our heart. This is the reason we have to learn to give our treasures away. The Lord said, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." When a man stores up his treasure on the Lord's side, spontaneously his heart will go to the Lord's side. If a man stores up his treasure in heaven, his heart will be in heaven. Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. If everything we have is with God, our heart will spontaneously be with God, and our eye will be single.
In order to understand the Bible, we need an absolute consecration. Without consecration, our heart will not go to God. One special characteristic of consecration is that it brings our heart to God. When we offer up everything to God, our heart will follow us because our treasure has moved on. There are two kinds of consecration. With one kind, the heart goes first. With the other kind, the heart follows afterward. Some people consecrate their treasure after their heart is touched. Others find their heart following, after they have consecrated their treasure. Whether or not we think our heart will follow us, we only need to take care of our consecration. Whatever we hold on to most dearly should go first. We should give it away in the name of the Lord to needy ones. When our things are given away, our heart goes to the Lord. When all our things are with the Lord, our eye will be single.
Once our eye becomes single, it becomes clear, and light will shine through. The Lord said, "Your whole body will be full of light" (v. 22). What does it mean to have the whole body full of light? It means to have enough light for our feet to walk, for our hands to work, and for our minds to think. In other words, we have light in all areas. Light fills our emotion, will, mind, love, walk, and pathway. We see everything, for our eye is single.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 5
Previously, we have said that only spiritual men can understand the Bible. Now we have to add one more thing: Only consecrated ones can understand the Bible. If a man is not consecrated, he can never read the Bible well. As soon as he opens the Bible, he will come across places that he has held back in consecration, and darkness will be with him. As he reads on, he will come across further unconsecrated areas, and darkness will be with him again. Once darkness is with a man, he cannot hope to receive anything from God. A man must be absolute for God. He cannot serve the Lord on the one hand, and expect to take his own way on the other hand. Some people have argued that they are sincere in seeking God's will, yet they do not know what the Bible teaches. They say they do not know where their problem lies. But this is an excuse; it is not a fact. A man does not know because he does not want to take God's way. If he is truly serious about taking the Lord's way, he will find the way clear and obvious before him. The only kind of person who is never clear is one whose eye is not single.
God grants us revelation of scriptural teachings according to the measure of obedience we render to Him. The more we obey Him, the more light we will receive. If we continue to obey God, we will continue to see. Without consecration, we cannot see. Without a continual obedience, we cannot continue to see. If our consecration is not thorough, the shining will not be great. If our obedience is not fine and detailed enough, the light we receive will not be fine and detailed enough. Therefore, the fundamental issue is consecration. If a man does not understand the meaning of consecration, he cannot understand the Bible. A consecrated person must not only have an initial, fundamental consecration, but he must sustain an obedience before the Lord all the time. Only then will he continually see. The amount of light a man receives depends on the amount of obedience he sustains after his initial consecration. If we are perfect in our obedience, we will be perfect in our seeing.
We should pay special attention to the Lord's word in John 7:17: "If anyone resolves to do His will, he will know concerning the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself." If a man resolves to do God's will, he will know. In other words, obedience is the one condition for knowing. A resolution to do God's will is a condition for knowing God's teaching. If a man has no intention to do God's will, yet wants to know God's teaching, he is asking for the impossible. In order to know God's teaching, a man must first resolve to do His will. This resolution relates to one's attitude. God wants us to be obedient first in our attitude. If a man is obedient to God in his attitude, God's teaching will be clear to him. We should not ask what the Bible teaches. Instead, we should ask if we are willing to obey His word. The problem is with our attitude; it has nothing to do with the teaching of the Bible. Whether or not the Bible will be open to us depends on our attitude towards God. We are responsible for our attitude, while God is responsible for His teaching. If our attitude is right, God will reveal Himself to us and open our eyes immediately. If we supplement this with our obedience, our attitude will be right once again and God will grant us further revelation. First there is a right attitude, and then there is revelation. If we respond to the revelation with obedience, we will have more of the right attitude and will receive more revelation.
Many people claim that they have seen truths in the Bible. Actually, only those who resolve to do God's will have seen them. Only they can claim that their seeing is clear and thorough. The Lord has to do much work in us before we can "resolve" this way. Do not think that light comes without a price. Every seeing is accompanied by a high price; we have to pay a price to see. Sometimes God has to bring a person through two or three experiences before he sees something. Sometimes God has to bring him through six or seven experiences before he sees anything. God's light often comes to us in a reflective way. First it shines on something else, and then it is reflected to us. God's light is often reflective light. We must see light from one angle before we can see light from another angle and then a third angle. Sometimes we need to go through a few experiences before we can see light. If we are disobedient in one thing, we miss the revelation. This is the way God's light acts. Many times we can only see clearly after we have positioned ourselves in different angles. The more price we pay before the Lord, the more light we see. One experience of obedience will lead to another experience and then to even more obedience. One experience of light will lead to another experience and then to even more light. God's will is behind every arrangement He has made. Whenever a man misses two or three opportunities to obey God, he suffers loss before God.
No matter how much confidence we have in our consecration and obedience, we have to realize that something is wrong with our consecration whenever we are veiled. Whenever we fail to see, our eyes are wrong. God is never short of light, but whenever He sees any unwillingness on our part, He will hold back His speaking. God never forces anyone to do anything, but neither does He release His word in a cheap way. If there is any unwillingness on our part, the Holy Spirit will shy away; He will retreat and not release Himself in a cheap way. If something is wrong with man's consecration, God will not give him any light. It is not a small thing for a man to fail to understand the Bible, because it underscores a problem in his consecration. Spiritual eyesalve involves a price; it does not come freely. Every seeing involves a price. No seeing comes freely.
Hebrews 5:14 says, "But solid food is for the full-grown, who because of practice have their faculties exercised for discriminating between both good and evil." The word practice can be translated as "habit." There is one condition to receiving God's word—a man must be full-grown. Only a full-grown man can eat solid food. Why must a man be full-grown before he can eat solid food? This has to do with his habit. A full-grown man can take solid food because he is used to it. His faculties are exercised, and he can discriminate between both good and evil. Verse 13 speaks of being experienced in the word of righteousness. To be experienced in the word of righteousness means to be experienced in the word of God. The word experienced in Greek has to do with industrial skill; it means to be dexterous. Some workers are unskillful, while others are dexterous. A dexterous worker is one who has passed through much training and who has become skillful in his trade. A person who is experienced in God's word is one who is well trained and skillful in His word. If a man wants to study the Bible and understand God's word, he must be experienced in his practice.
The Bible exposes our condition. The kind of person we are determines the kind of Bible we read. If we want to know what a person is like in character and habit, all we have to do is to show him a chapter of the Scriptures and see what he gets out of it. The kind of person he is will determine the kind of reading he will have. A curious man will find the Bible full of curious things. An intellectual person will find the Bible full of reasonings. A simple-minded person will find the Bible merely a collection of verses. It is a fact that a man's character and habit are often revealed through his reading of the Bible. If a man is not disciplined by God in his character and habits, he will fall into total error, and his reading of the Bible will be spiritually fruitless.
HOW TO STUDY THE WORD OF GOD PART 6
In order to study the Bible well, we need to acquaint ourselves with three things related to the Holy Spirit. This is particularly true in reading the New Testament, which has much to do with these three things.
First, the Holy Spirit desires that we enter into His thoughts. In order to understand the words of the Holy Spirit, we must direct our thoughts to the thoughts of the Holy Spirit. This is particularly true in the case of the Epistles. We have to acquaint ourselves with the thoughts of the Holy Spirit before we can understand these writings.
Second, the Holy Spirit has recorded many facts in the Bible. We have to get into these basic facts. If we cannot get into these facts, we cannot understand God's Word. In particular, the Holy Spirit has to open to us the many facts recorded in the four Gospels and Acts.
Third, in our reading, the Holy Spirit will guide us to touch another thing—the spirit. In many instances, it is not enough to know the thoughts; we must get into the spirit behind the thoughts. We must not only know the facts but also must get into the spirit behind the facts. We can find such examples in the Gospels, the book of Acts, as well as the Epistles.
Every Bible reader must get into these three things. Yet only those who have been trained and disciplined can truly know them. We cannot consider them as methods of studying the Bible, for they relate to the very person who reads the Bible. The person must go through some basic training; this is what these issues are all about.
Let us now consider how one can get into these three things.
In writing the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit had His own purpose and thoughts. A reader of the Bible has to learn not only to read the words and memorize them but also to touch the purpose of the Holy Spirit's writing of the book at the time that He wrote it. The first thing about the study of the Bible is not to busy ourselves with exegesis but to know the intention of the Holy Spirit at the time He wrote the books. We must remember that the value of the words lies not in the words themselves but in the meaning which they convey. The Lord said to the Sadducees, "You err, not knowing the Scriptures" (Matt. 22:29). The Sadducees read God's Word, yet they could not understand it. In reading God's Word, we have to find the reason the Holy Spirit spoke such a word. This leads to another point: Our mind must be well-disciplined.
Those who read the Bible must be objective. They must not rely on their own mind. The Holy Spirit has a thought, and our thought has to get into His thought and merge with it. When the Holy Spirit thinks a certain way, we have to think the same way. The two have to flow like two currents in a river, the Holy Spirit being the main current, while we are the subsidiary current. The Holy Spirit is like a big river, while we are like a little stream. The stream has to merge into the river. When the river flows to the east, the stream also flows to the east. The stream may be small, but as long as it flows with the river, it will reach the wide ocean.
Some portions of the Bible focus on facts, others on the spirit, or on thoughts. Those whose focus is on the thoughts are not without spirit and facts. Those whose focus is on the facts are not without spirit and thoughts. Those whose focus is on the spirit are not without facts and thoughts. As we touch the thoughts of the Holy Spirit, we have to be very objective; our whole being should follow the thoughts carried forth by Him. Yet some cannot do this. At the most their thoughts can latch on to the Holy Spirit's thought for ten minutes. They can barely catch up with the Holy Spirit for ten minutes, after which their own thoughts begin to wander off. Such subjective persons can never read the Bible well. The basic requirement for a man to be able to read the Bible is for him to be dealt with in his very person.
It is true that when a man reads the Bible, he needs to exercise his mind. Yet his mind must follow the same direction and flow along the same line as the mind of the Holy Spirit. Wherever the Holy Spirit goes, he should follow. He should find out the Holy Spirit's thought in a sentence, a passage, a chapter, or a book. His entire mind has to be attuned to the Holy Spirit. He has to find out what the Spirit is saying in a passage, what He is thinking, and what His main thoughts and subsidiary thoughts are. The first question we should ask when we read a portion of the Scripture is what is the Spirit's intention in writing this portion. If we do not know the intention of the Holy Spirit behind a portion, we are liable to make a mistake in quoting it at a later time; we may even twist the original meaning of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough for us to merely read the letters or remember the words, memorize the words, or study their meaning in an isolated way. When we read the Bible, we should sense what the Holy Spirit was thinking at the time He was writing it. Putting it in another way, we should sense the thoughts of Paul, Peter, John, and the others when the Holy Spirit spoke through them. Our thoughts must merge with the Spirit's thoughts before we can understand the Bible.
A story was told of a believer who took a journey through the forty-two stations that the Israelites passed through from Egypt to Palestine. Where the Israelites turned, he turned. Where they detoured, he detoured. He went through the entire journey this way. Later he wrote a book recounting the journey. He did not choose his path; he took Moses' path. This is the way we should read our Bible. We must not determine the direction ourselves; we have to go where the Spirit is going. Paul went down to Jerusalem, and we should go down with him to Jerusalem. He felt a certain way and thought a certain way, and we should feel and think the same way. We should not have our own independent direction. We must follow the direction of the writers of the Bible. In other words, we must follow the direction of the Spirit. The thoughts of the writers of the Scripture should be the thoughts of the readers of the Scripture today. The writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit to think a certain way. The readers of the Bible should also be inspired by the Holy Spirit to think the same way. If our thoughts can closely follow the thoughts the Spirit bore at the time of the writing of the Scriptures, we will understand what the Bible is saying.
THE BREAKING OF THE OUTER MAN
The breaking of the outer man is a basic experience that every servant of the Lord must go through. God has to break our outer man before we can render any effective service to Him.
A servant of the Lord faces two possibilities in working for the Lord. First, his outer man is never broken and his spirit is never aroused. His spirit cannot be released, and no power flows out from it. Only his mind or his emotions are active. If he is a clever person, his mind is active. If he is a sentimental person, his emotions are active. This kind of work does not bring anyone to God. Second, it is possible that his outer man is not separated clearly from his inner man. When his spirit is released, it is wrapped in his mind or his emotions. The result is mixture and impurity. This kind of work produces mixed and impure experiences in others. These two conditions frustrate a man from serving the Lord in a proper way.
If we want to engage ourselves in effective works, we have to have a basic acknowledgment of one thing at least once: "It is the Spirit who gives life" (John 6:63). If we do not settle this issue this year, we will have to settle it next year. If we do not settle it the first day we believe in the Lord, we will have to settle it sooner or later, even if it is ten years later. Many people have to be brought to the end of themselves and realize the vanity of their work before they see the futility of their many thoughts and feelings. No matter how many people can be gained through our thoughts and feelings, the result is vain. Sooner or later we have to confess, "It is the Spirit who gives life." Only the Spirit can give life. Even our best thoughts and feelings cannot give life. A man can have life only through the Spirit. The Lord's word is always true. What gives life is the Spirit. Many workers of the Lord have to go through many pains and failures before they see this fact. Since the Spirit alone gives life, it is only as the spirit is released that sinners are regenerated and believers are built up. Regeneration is a matter of transmission of life resulting in others receiving life, while building up is also a matter of the transmission of life resulting in believers being built up. Without the Spirit there can be no regeneration, and there can be no building up.
The interesting thing is that God has no intention to separate His Spirit from our spirit. In many places in the Bible, it is impossible to say whether the spirit being spoken of, refers to the human spirit or God's Spirit. Even many Greek experts cannot tell the difference. Throughout the ages Bible translators, from Luther in Germany to the translators of the King James Version, have been unable to ascertain which of the many references to the spirit in the New Testament denote the human spirit and which denote God's Spirit.
Romans 8 is perhaps the chapter with the most references to the word spirit. Who can tell which words refer to the human spirit and which refer to God's Spirit? When Bible translators come to Romans 8, they leave the readers to decide for themselves which spirit refers to the human spirit and which refers to God's Spirit. When the English versions come to the word pneuma, some use an upper-case Spirit, and others use a lower-case spirit. All versions differ in this respect, and no one person's view is authoritative. The truth is that it is impossible to differentiate between the Holy Spirit and man's spirit. When we received a new spirit, we received God's Spirit at the same time. When our human spirit was revived from its deadened state, we received the Holy Spirit at the same time. The Holy Spirit resides in our spirit, but it is difficult to tell which is the Holy Spirit and which is our spirit. There is a distinction between the Holy Spirit and our spirit, but the two are not separate. Hence, the release of the spirit is not merely a release of man's spirit but a release of the Holy Spirit through man's spirit, because the two spirits are one. We can differentiate the two spirits as terms but not in fact. The release of the spirit is the release of the human spirit. It is also the release of the Holy Spirit. When others touch our spirit, they are touching the Holy Spirit at the same time. If we can provide others the opportunity to touch our spirit, we should thank the Lord because they are being provided with an opportunity to touch God's Spirit at the same time. In fact, our spirit brings God's Spirit to men.
When God's Spirit operates, He has to operate through the human spirit. This is similar to electricity that runs household appliances; it cannot travel like the lightning in the air. It travels through the electrical wires. Today we not only have electrical power but electrical wires. The wire bears the electricity. In physics, there is such a thing as an electrical charge. To be charged is to bear a burden. If we are to carry electricity, we have to carry the charge by means of electrical wires. This same principle holds true for God's Spirit. He needs the human spirit as a medium to bear His Spirit. Through the human spirit, the Holy Spirit is conveyed and carried to men.
After a man is saved, the Holy Spirit resides in his spirit. Whether or not a man can be used by the Lord depends more on his outer man than on his spirit. The problem with some people is that their outer man has never been broken. There is not a blood-stained pathway; there is no wound, no scar. The result is that God's Spirit is locked up within their spirit and cannot be released. Sometimes the outer man moves, but the inner man does not respond. The outer man is released, but the inner man is still bound.
THE BREAKING OF THE OUTWARD MAN PART 2
If the outer man is broken, the spirit spontaneously will remain in the Lord all the time. A brother read Brother Lawrence's book The Practice of the Presence of God the second year after he was saved. He struggled very much because he was not able to enjoy God's presence continually like Brother Lawrence. He made a pact with a brother to pray once every hour. He wanted to follow the biblical teaching of praying unceasingly. Every time the clock struck the hour, they would try to kneel down to pray. Nevertheless, they felt as if they could not maintain God's presence, and they wrestled to turn back to God all the time. It was as if they wandered away from God whenever they went about their own business or became engaged in their studies so that they had to hurriedly turn back to God. If they did not turn back, they felt that they would be gone forever. They prayed all the time. On Sundays they prayed the whole day, and on Saturdays they prayed half of the day. They did this for two or three years. But even though they felt His presence when they turned back to God, they would lose it as soon as they turned away. The problem of maintaining God's presence with human memory is a great frustration to many Christians, not just to these brothers. To them, the "presence" of God can only be maintained when their memory is fresh; when their memory fails, the "presence" is gone. Such attempts to preserve the divine presence with human memory are foolish. God's presence is in the spirit, not in the memory.
In order to deal with God's presence, we have to first deal with the matter of the breaking of the outer man. The nature of our emotion is different from the nature of God; the two can never be joined as one. The same can be said of our mind. John 4 shows us that God's nature is Spirit. Only our spirit is of the same nature as God, and only our spirit can be in harmony with God forever. If we try to retain God's presence in our mind, this presence is lost as soon as we are not in complete control of our mind. If we try to retain God's presence in our emotion, the same is true; this presence is gone as soon as we are not in complete control of our emotion. Sometimes when we are happy, we think we have God's presence. But this happiness does not stay. When it goes away, our sense of His presence is gone. We may think that we have God's presence when we weep, but we cannot weep all the time. Sooner or later our tears will stop, and when they stop, God's presence seemingly stops as well. The function of the mind and the function of the emotion are both activities, and no activity can go on forever. If we try to maintain God's presence with activity, this presence will be gone as soon as the activity stops. Two substances will blend together only when they are of the same nature, such as water with water or air with air. Things with the same nature can enjoy each other's presence. The inner man is of the same nature as God; therefore, it can realize God's presence through His Spirit. The outer man is constantly in the realm of activity; therefore, it is a frustration to the inner man. The outer man is not a help but a hindrance. The inner man will be free from distractions only when the outer man is broken.
God has installed a spirit within us to respond to Him. The outer man, however, only responds to outward signals. A man loses God's presence and the enjoyment of it because his outer man is constantly responding to outside activity. We cannot eliminate all outward signals, but the outer man can be broken. We cannot stop all outside activity. Millions and billions of things in this world are occurring outside of us. If the outer man is not broken, we will react whenever something happens outside of us. We cannot enjoy God's presence calmly and continually because the outer man is constantly reacting. God's presence is based on the breaking of the outer man.
If God grants us mercy and breaks our outer man, we will manifest the following traits: Formerly, we were very strong in our emotion; we were easily stirred up in the tender sentiment of love or in the raw sentiment of anger whenever something happened. We reacted as soon as something happened around us, and we were caught up in those things. As a result, we lost God's presence. But if God is merciful to us, He will break our outer man, and our inner man will no longer be touched when many things happen to us. We will remain calm, and God's presence will abide with us.
ENJOYING GOD'S PRESENCE
We must see that the enjoyment of God's presence is based on the breaking of the outer man. A man can only enjoy God's uninterrupted presence when his outer man is broken. Brother Lawrence worked in a kitchen. Many people would come and demand service from him. There was noise all around him; plates were shuffled back and forth. Yet Brother Lawrence was not affected by all these things. He had God's presence when he prayed, and he also had God's presence when he was busily working. How could he maintain God's presence in the midst of his hectic work? The secret is that no outward noise could affect his inward being. Some people lose God's presence because they are inwardly affected as soon as they hear any noise around them.
Some who do not know God try to hold on to God's presence. What do they do? They look for an environment where there is "no shuffling of plates." They think that the farther away they are from people and activities, the closer they will be to God's presence. They are mistaken. They think that the problem is with the "plates," the human distractions. No, the problem is with them. God is not delivering us from the "plates"; He is delivering us from being influenced by them. Everything around us can be in turmoil, but within we can remain untouched. Everything around us can be clamorous, but within we can be perfectly still. Once the Lord breaks our outer man, our inner being will not respond to such things; we will have a deaf ear to these noises. Thank God that we can have very sensitive ears. However, the action of grace and the operation of His work will break our outer man, and nothing that comes upon our outer man will affect us any longer. When the "plates" clamor, we can hide ourselves in God's presence as much as when we are praying by ourselves alone.
Once the outer man is broken, a man does not have to come back to God because he is with God all the time. There is no need for a coming back. An unbroken man needs to come back to God whenever he goes about with his business because he has moved away. This is the reason he has to come back. A broken man never moves away; therefore, he does not need to come back. Many people move away all the time, even while they are working for the Lord. This is because their outer man has never been broken. It is best that they not do anything at all. As soon as they do something, they move away. But those who know God in a genuine way never move away. Therefore, they never need to come back. If they spend the whole day praying to God, they enjoy His presence. If they spend the whole day busily scrubbing the floor, they still enjoy His presence. As soon as our outer man is broken, we will live before God. We will not need to come back. There will not be the feeling nor need to come back.
We usually feel God's presence only when we come to Him. Whatever we do, even when we exercise the utmost care, we feel that we have turned away from God a little. I am afraid that this is most of our experience. Although we conscientiously try to rein ourselves in, we turn away as soon as we engage in some activity. Many brothers and sisters feel that they have to drop the things they have in their hands before they can pray. They somehow feel that there is a difference between being in God and doing some form of work. For example, we may be helping a person by preaching the gospel to him or by edifying him. Halfway through our conversation, we may feel that we have to pray and come back to God. We feel that we have somehow drifted from God in talking to others and that by praying we can come back to Him once more. It seems as if we have moved and are returning to God. We have lost His presence, and now we are regaining it. We may be conducting some daily chores such as scrubbing the floor or working at some craft. After we are finished with this work, we feel that we have to come back before we can pray. We feel that there is a great distance between where we are and where we want to be. Any feeling of coming back is a sign that we have moved. The breaking of the outer man will bring us to the point where we will not have to come back any longer. We will feel as much of God's presence in talking to others as when we are kneeling down and praying with them. We will feel as much of God's presence in scrubbing the floor and working on our craft as when we are praying. These things will not take us away from God's presence any longer. As a result, we will no longer need to come back.
Let me give a more extreme example. The most raw sentiment a man can have is temper. The Bible does not say that we cannot be angry; some forms of anger are unrelated to sin. The Bible says that we should "be angry, yet do not sin" (Eph. 4:26). This shows that a person can become angry without sinning. Yet anger is a very raw sentiment. In fact, it is close to sinning. God's Word never says that we should love yet not sin, because love is far from sin. Nor does God's Word say that we should be patient yet not sin, because patience is also far from sin. But God's Word says, "Be angry, yet do not sin." This shows that anger is very close to sin. Sometimes a brother commits a big mistake, and we have to rebuke him. But this is a very hard thing to do. It is easy to exercise kindness but very hard to exercise anger. Once we are careless, we will fall into a different state. It is not easy to be angry according to God's will. If we know the breaking of the outer man, we can enjoy God's continual presence without interruption from the outer man, whether we are rebuking a brother severely or praying in the presence of God. Putting this a different way, we will not have the feeling that we are turning back to God when we pray after rebuking a brother severely. Any feeling of turning back to God is a proof that we have left God. I admit that rebuking a brother is a difficult thing to do, but if our outer man is broken, we can rebuke a brother without the need of turning back to God because God's presence will be with us all the time. Bless the Lord!