Reading: John ch. 1
In our reading from the gospel according to John you will have noticed that the beloved disciple commences his record with those three words: "In the beginning." That reminds us that the Bible itself begins with those same three words: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Writing of this in Elpis Israel, our Bro. Dr. Thomas says: "The Mosaic account is not a revelation to the inhabitants of other orbs remote from the earth of the formation of the boundless universe; but to man, as a constituent of the terrestrial system."
The time had come, as we read in Genesis, when the Eternal Creator would add another habitable domain to His endless dominions; when He would reveal to the Sons of God, the Elohim, another example of His unlimited power, design and workmanship to add again to the glory and lustre of His Holy Name. You will recall those words of God to Job: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth ... when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" God did not need man there, it was God's creative work. It was the beginning of another mighty work, not to end just with the six days of creation and one day of rest, but to be continued with infinite patience and power through seven typical days of a thousand years each, culmi-nating, in the years ahead of us yet, when an illustrious Son of God, not then born, would "deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all (human) rule and all authority and power." He would deliver up the kingdom to God "that God may be all in all:" another perfect sphere for His universe.
As we read in the epistle to the Hebrews: "For it became him (i.e. the Creator), for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." That is what we are remembering this morning.
Now our Heavenly Father knew all this, He had it all in mind, thought out long in advance. He revealed it in His promise to Eve in the garden of Eden, concerning her seed that should destroy sin from the earth. He spoke of it two thousand years later to faithful Abraham when He spoke of his descendant that should inherit this earth. He had it in mind again when He spoke to David centuries later, when He spoke to him of that Son who would arise to be the King of the world. He enlarged on the theme to Israel through the ministry of the prophets, of which we have read a section this morning.
So we can understand why John begins with those same words: "In the beginning"; but what he tells us is something much deeper € what was behind all this. "In the beginning was the Word," or the purpose of God, "and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." As the spoken word reveals to us the unseen thought in the mind of the speaker, so the living Word of God reveals to us the existence of the unseen God and the wonder of His thoughts and purposes; that One whom the Scriptures describe as "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see."
Such glory and majesty is, after all, what we would expect at the focal centre of the universe, not only as a centre of power and light but as the Author of all this wonder and glory, the Author of all righteousness, holiness, purity, truth, honour. Yes, the centre of the universe is the One we love, and the One above all who loves us. The more we ponder the purpose of our Heavenly Father as revealed in the Scriptures, the more we come to realise how well, how kindly, how thoughtfully all things have been prepared so that you and I might attain to that wondrous inheritance that is shown to us in the Scriptures, that eternal happiness which is within our grasp if we be wise to follow it out in these days of opportunity, if we have the wisdom, as the Scripture says, to "seek for glory, and honour, and immortality. . ."
In working out this purpose our Heavenly Father imparts from Himself that light which is necessary to us, and so we read that word continually in the Scriptures. In the first stage it was the natural light of day, what we might call the physical stage, the preparation of the ground upon which the probation of the sons and daughters of God might be lived. God commanded: "Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness." That became a type, the continual dividing of the light from the darkness, of preparing the light for His purpose.
So in that natural light God began to lay out this beautiful earth that we know today, to furnish it as a healthful domain for His sons and daughters, those generations of men and women who, where they were wise, have used their probation to prepare themselves for His purpose. They heeded His counsels, and developed characters after the Divine image, enlightened by God. God does not willingly afflict. It is man's foolishness that brings trouble into this earth. All man's troubles arise from the disregard of Divine instruction, and that in itself arises from a failure to appreciate all that God intends on our behalf, an unwillingness to yield ourselves to His wisdom and His discretion.
When we think of it, all the wisdom, all the knowledge of the eternal ages is concentrated in our Heavenly Father, not only in this sphere but in countless spheres beyond, and with marvellous simplicity it has been reduced to these Scriptures, with worked-out examples that help us to form characters after His image.
Our first parents received God's instruction. We know from the record in Genesis that they understood quite clearly what they had been told, but foolishly they listened to the reasoning of the serpent, and so they did just the opposite to what God had commanded; and from that moment began the struggle between light and darkness; between obedience and disobedience.
So if we turn again to the gospel according to John chapter 1.1 we notice there that John refers to these things: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word (or the purpose) was with God, and the Word (the purpose) was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The great majority of men and women have not comprehended the light that God has made available for them, and therefore they are not related to -His eternal purpose. It has been reserved for the few who have listened and obeyed.
You remember how Elijah felt when he fled from that wicked woman Jezebel. He said "... the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine alters, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." But God knew of others; God saw everything that was going on in His creation and He said: "I have reserved to myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." You remember that in New Testament times the apostle Paul quoted that as a comfort to his brethren and sisters who were undergoing affliction, and he said to them: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." Outside appearances did not matter; God knew of their struggles, He was looking after them, preparing them for His purpose.
Cannot we say that in this last wicked, evil, adulterous generation there are a few here and in other places today who are thinking upon God's Word and God's purpose, a few who are known of God and are being 'prepared for the future? We remember His words through the prophet Malachi: "They that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." That is the wonderful encouragement to those who are holding fast in these days. To those outside it all seems darkness, foolishness, but to us it is the light that God has given us.
We can be sure it grieves God that so few have the wisdom to see these things. In that chapter in John we read in the 10th verse: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." In other words, man's disobedience did not in any wise frustrate God's purpose. It only meant, and has meant, that many, many generations have been needed to work out God's purpose, to prepare the necessary population for this earth in the future. The sleeping saints have had to sleep that much longer, but that has been no trouble to them.
Then turning back for a moment to the 6th verse, we have a reference there to the courageous work of John the Baptist, who in his day drew attention to the light. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light." Verse 19: "And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not: but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias."
We realise now, looking back, that John the Baptist's work was essential to prepare the way for the coming of the Son of God, to awaken in Israel that consciousness of their sinfulness, to turn them to God, to make them go out and be baptised, to repent and be ready to receive the deeper things that Christ would teach. Israel, truly, had been given the Law of Moses, which should have brought them to a more righteous standard. They had been instructed by the teaching of the prophets. But now God was to set before them His own divinely-begotten Son, full of grace and truth, a perfect example of the way in which God required that men should live before Him.
So in verse 14 we come to the mention of the Lord Jesus Christ: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me." Before John? Yes, right back in the garden of Eden God had spoken to Eve of that seed of the woman who should arise to fulfil that great work of stamping out sin in the earth. So in verse 28 we read: "These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water."
But again we see the same sad record. Those who had laid hands on the prophets laid hands on God's righteous Son. As they had stoned those sent to them to turn them to the light, so they crucified the Son of God. But they did not frustrate God's purpose. We are glad and grateful that that is so. Rather by their foolishness and their blindness they achieved what God intended. You remember how after Christ's crucifixion and ascension to the right hand of God, on that day of Pentecost when Peter was explaining the gifts of the Spirit to the Jews, he said to them: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles ... being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (that was one aspect) ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." They were just the blind instruments in His purpose, a contrast once again of light and darkness.
When we ponder it, is not the life of Jesus Christ one of the greatest arguments against that foolish modern theory of evolution, for there was none like him before. He did not arise naturally out of men; he was a special creation by God through the virgin Mary for His purpose, another example of God's presence, God's power, God continually working on our behalf to bring forth that which He required. As the Scripture says: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
In the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is not only an example but it is a wonderful incentive. Here, after his death and resurrection, is the first of that new creation, the first of the Abrahamic Elohim, the first of those immortal sons of God, above all pain and trouble, having entered into spirit nature, the one who had attained to that third stage of light, the beginning of that new creation of God, the firstfruits of that to which we hope to attain in the future.
That is why it was that the Lord Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, did not show himself to those elders of Israel or to the authorities. He was not concerned with them. It was to his own disciples that he showed himself by "many infallible proofs", we read, "being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" € the things to which they were now joyously related.lt was not only to prove the truth of his resurrection, but to provide them with the clearest evidence they needed of the joy that was set before them also.
You remember the words with which John begins his first epistle: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us ... And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." John realised the purpose for which Christ's revelation had been made. He rejoiced, he looked forward, but in his love he looked down the centuries to us, that our joy also might be full.
It will be the privilege of our Lord Jesus Christ after the judgment seat to transform the bodies of those whom he approves, of his true brethren and sisters, and* give to them for the first time that wondrous gift. Is not that the baptism of the spirit of which John spake? He spoke of the baptism of water, but that one was coming after him who would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with power. That in the fullest sense is yet to come. In so doing Christ will, in effect, be repeating the order which his Father gave at the creation: "Let there be light" € yes, in the fullest sense; and so will come forth those sons and daughters of light, the sons and daughters of the living God."Then," we are told, "shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
It is a wonderful thought when we dwell upon it. As we see the signs gathering so quickly in the Middle East we know we have every evidence now that we are drawing near to that day of Christ's second coming, and you and I stand related to these wondrous things prepared for us by Almighty God, by His love and by His wisdom.
So now, having considered in outline the purpose of God, let us retrace our steps for a few moments and consider those things that we have to do that we may ensure our part in this wonderful future. John says in verse 10 of that 1st chapter: "He was in the world, arid the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." If we listen attentively to the Word which has been preserved for us, if we apply it in our daily lives, then we in turn will become a reflection of that Word, of that light, honouring our Heavenly Father by our daily lives and at the same time preparing our characters for His purpose.
Does not this very thought impress upon us the importance of our daily readings, not to be read through as a task but rather as an enjoy-ment? Here, condensed in these words, are the wonderful thoughts of our Heavenly Father, this great wisdom, far above the wisdom of men, the things prepared that you and I might be perfected in our knowledge and understanding. You remember in the type, in the tabernacle of old the priests entered into the Holy Place each morning and each evening, ordering the lamp, to cause the lamp to shine continually. We know what it means. It is an indication to us to dwell without intermission, continually, upon the Word of God, that the light may shine into our hearts, that we may know and understand.
God, who created man, who made the wonderful intricacy of the human mind, is the One who knows best who to educate, to train and to enlighten, and that enlightenment comes to us only through the reading of His Word, with all its wonderfully worked out examples, its instruc-tion, its warning. How often we can look back, can we not, if we are honest in ourselves, and think, Yes, I wouldn't have made that mistake if I had been thinking what I was doing. How often the expression is used. Here it is. There is nothing that God has not revealed that we need to know. It is all there, all that loving counsel for our good.
The Scriptures tell us plainly that faith is not enough, it must not be alone. There must be works to accompany faith, both in thought and in word and in action. You remember the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, said: "Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light; (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord." How? By our life, by the way we go on, showing those without the proper way to live.
How easy it is, if we let things drift, to just go along doing things the way our workmates do them. We_are required to show what is the acceptable way before God. Character is shown in action. All the records of the lives of the true sons and daughters of God in the Scriptures are records of men and women who felt moved to do things, and to do them in God's way; and that is why they did what they did. Very often the circumstances were most unpropitious. They were alone, they were in danger, they were in trouble, but they had confidence in the unseen power of God. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him," who put their trust in Him; and so they went forth, often alone, to do the right thing; it stood to their credit and God recorded it of them.
When we think of all that our Heavenly Father has done for us, and all the patience and forbearance He has shown, surely it should stir us up to make the best use of these remaining days of probation, to make sure that we say 'thank you', by our lives and by our actions. God has given us these present wayward natures to test our mettle. We are by nature lethargic. We need to be stirred up by the Scriptures. So we read: "The words of the wise are as goads." Reading the Scriptures, if it has the right effect, should stir us up to become active sons and daughters of God. We know how it is when we awake in the morning. Doesn't it take a conscious effort to get up, to get moving, to get the day's work set forward? We can think of many Scriptures that will help us on such occasions as that. Think of the words of the Wise Man in the Proverbs: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man." We hope none of us needs words as strong as those, but they are beautiful words, are they not; they are the sort of goads in the Scriptures to help us to get forward with the work. If this is so in the natural order, how much more is it so in spiritual matters. The natural mind, as we all realise, is positively averse to the things of the Spirit. You remember the Lord Jesus Christ said: "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God."
The power of habit can be a great force for good in our lives. If we keep to a regular time for our prayers morning and evening, for our daily reading of the Word, if we keep regular attendance at the meetings, not only on Sundays but, if we still have the health and strength, in supporting the lectures and the weeknight meetings, if we keep this self discipline going it will help us into the kingdom of God The apostle Paul was a man of wondrous industry. He emphasised the importance of industry and alertness when he wrote to those in Thessalonica: "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day ... Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."
It is a wonderful thought, looking forward to the future, but if we hope to walk with Christ and with God in that day we must not leave that walking until then. We must be practising it now, in prayer, in our thoughts, in our ways, in our imitation of Christ, for John says again: "If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." It is a wonderful thought, is it not! There is no limit to the forgiveness which our Heavenly Father will extend to us, if we on our part come continually back to Him through Christ: € P. C. Ridout