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The Stark Simplicity of Spirituality
A. The Nature of the Case and the Terms
The stark simplicity of spirituality ? Of course, you may say, that is ludicrous! God is very deep, of infinite understanding (Psalm 145), and all things are manifest to Him, and as He is Spirit (John 4), and His is the essence and basis for all spirituality, such a statement is not merely simplistic, it is grossly in error!
How quickly can abstractions take the lead, like a lively colt, and running out of hand, end in that turmoil of confusion which is one of the dangers of such areas of discourse, and one reason (and one of many such) why it is the most miraculous and necessary gift of God, that HE has SPOKEN and TOLD us in His own choice of words, what HE is and means!
Getting things right about words!
On that topic, before we return to the title with its stark simplicity, let us note further that people even try - and HOW they try! for here confusion and deception can come like two contrary streams in mid-Atlantic, creating a deadly vortex of curving thought - to make attack on that concept also. Which one ? this, the concept of GOD choosing words when MEN write in His name. They love to act as if this is for some unknown reason in some way ... difficult! It is hard for God to cause men who love Him to know the specifications He desires to convey ? It is not hard for the boss; it is too hard for God ? Is He to be esteemed defective in language, who made man able to talk ? It is blindness of this type which keeps the wheels of unfaith spinning dizzily.
Anything is difficult when you neither understand nor consult the One who has what it takes. That, it is God. It also easily becomes a burden when you refuse to see what is beyond yourself, even when in fact even your own construction is beyond yourself, or any visible power that exists or manifests itself in any way (cf. It Bubbles ... Ch. 9, Little Things Ch. 5, TMR Ch. 1, Secular Myths ... Chs. 1, 7, 8).
Indeed, it is apparent from Paul in I Corinthians 2:9ff. that firstly God knows the things of God perfectly, and by His Spirit can as He wills, convey them. Acting as the Spirit of God graciously provides - or better, has provided - and so moving on chosen men of our race, God can as He will, declare His words so that they can be relayed again to all. In this way, there is provided instruction and revelation on the outside of man, for His eyes and ears, with the same precision that He has wrought on our inside, in the DNA of our construction, all coded and articulated in symbols.
In particular, God has given for man the grace of the Gospel (antecedent point in I Cor. 1), by which man receives the Spirit of God, and called out of the dumps and thumps of a wayward world, finds the power and the wisdom of God. Having then received the Spirit of God, who is distinct and contradistinct from the spirit of this world, man is able to walk with the Lord, as if guided by an arm, instructed by a teacher and reinforced by a strength resurgent within. In this Spirit, and with this salvation, and through this Gospel, man is enabled to rise above the misery and misunderstanding of confusion, vagueness and godless guesswork, to find with the clarity that the faith brings, and the grace that it provides, the meaning of being a friend of God.
With this general adoption of people through the Gospel to Himself (Ephesians 1:5), there is acclamation with joy (Romans 8:16). Before it, came the cross of enablement where the price of pardon is paid; and from that, the Gospel autographs from the power of God, by which it is made sure, lest any change it. Hence, cursing is the cost of making it other than it is (Galatians 1). Accordingly, says Paul, a different or changed Gospel, though it may be called another or a new Gospel, is in fact no other: the Gospel he had preached already was the one which would never change, built on the foundation of Christ, the means of access to God (Galatians 1:8). As to that Gospel, he was neither taught it by man nor did he receive it from man (Galatians 1:12).
Let us then return to the apostle Paul and the manner in which the spirit of God proceeded, not only ushering unction into the individual Christian, but the very word of God to the apostolic body, standardising and authorising the truth for the Church, in the name of Christ.
First then the Spirit of God knows and searches the things of God. This enables knowledge of certain things. Which are these ? (I Corinthians 2:12) - they are those which have been given by God. In what way, now, have they been given ? Do you earn them or find them in cogitative splendour of brilliance ? No, they are given FREELY (I Cor. 2:12). How else could they have been given since God is infinite, and we are finite; and since moreover, sin has offended God, and it is for Him to proclaim pardon on His own grounds!
God has then perfect knowledge of His own mind and being; and to man is given knowledge from this divine source, as Paul declares of himself and those who likewise received the divine inspiration. Freely given, freely it comes; and the domain where God acts to grant them, is in that where man has the Spirit of God which comes where the Gospel has opened the door to this.
ONLY God has an intimate knowledge of His own thoughts, so that He is an expert and comprehensively aware, just as man who is aware of his own heart (to the extent his vision is not clouded - but at least his purposes appear and his designs, to and within his thoughts). How does man know such things concerning himself ? - it is by the spirit of man within him (I Cor. 2:11). Others can get an idea of him, and of his nature; but he alone amongst men knows with real precision the thoughts of his own heart. So with God, but here it is so perfectly: His divine nature and eternal being are obvious, but when it comes to His intimate realities, this is entirely His own affair (cf. Romans 1:17ff.).
Just as some refuse the obvious, and try to construct what is not God, from the clarity which displays to all mankind His actual divine nature (Romans 1:17ff.), so others in opposite rebellion, try to impart outside His domain of delivery, the word of God, as what they state, though HE has not sent them (cf. Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 14). With the authentic, comes the fraud; with the true, the false; with grace, challenge.
To obstruct the divinely attested word of God, or to seek to reconstruct it in His name, it is all one: rebellion and dissidence, departing both from the testimony of God's works, and that of His words. Man HOLDS DOWN like a wrestler, says Paul in Romans 1, the truth. After all, man legislated the death of Christ, by combination of Israel and Rome (and the latter was NECESSARY for it to happen), and it is the same with the word of God, for many are they passionate that it be either bypassed, or ignored, or reconstructed ... in some way made void and useless (Mark 7:7ff.).
Man like jibbing horse, can be the very picture of rancorous rebellion; or again, he becomes like a ship where the rudder is not rigid, so that it flaps with the currents, instead of directing the ship where it clearly ought to be going, on its appointed way (Ephesians 4:14). Thus does man in his grating grandeur make himself not a god as some clearly hope, not least the Mormons, while there is a like tribe beyond them; but nearer to an automaton.
How does he do this ? He is gripped by little aims as he demeans himself by ambition, inflates himself by imagination and losing sight of facts, makes a visionary site in his own dreams (Jeremiah 23). Thus he loses that great destiny which is offered so freely by God, through the meekness of the Messiah who once and for all, did it right, presenting the word of God, practising it even to the death for the deliverance of the autocrats with their slaves, and from their sins.
So God knows by His Spirit and freely gives of this knowledge within the domain where man is and has His Spirit, by the Gospel of grace, which we elsewhere learn has no duplicates (Galatians 1), no substitutes (II Cor. 11) and provides all necessary (II Peter 1). It is clear against rebels who add, subtract, who use traditions to supplement, or philosophies to torment, distort or contain it. It continues, though they depart. It is needed, and it is given; and it stands. It is necessary.
Necessary for what however ? For the acceptance of the things God freely gives! Objective, it is identifiable; unique it is categorical. The Bible or not the Bible, that is the question. It is not God who is dumb, but man whose follies make him opaque.
What is the scope then of these things so freely given to man within this domain of Spirit receivers through the Gospel ?
They come from the Spirit of God who searches all things, even the deep things of God. The things that man could not know of God, concerned with his own autonomous seeming spirit, God knows; and God in His Spirit searching the deep things of Himself, has revealed such things to us. Does this mean that He has revealed ALL the deep things ? No, for now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face (I Cor. 13). Does it however at least and necessarily mean that of the deep things He has provided in utter accuracy, the truth (John 14:6, 8:40, 12:48-50)?
Yes, it does, and this for two reasons.
Firstly, The things which God has prepared for us (I Cor. 2:9) constitute the source in ultimacy from which God reveals to us, things beyond the capacities of the heart of man to know within himself (transition from v. 9 to v.10). We are concerned not with stages but the uttermost. Man has not with the eye seen nor with the ear heard these things, but God who searches the deep things has made revelation to us.
He has revealed such things by His Spirit; and the reason that it may be said that God has revealed these things is then at once stated by the apostle. It is BECAUSE God has by His Spirit searched ALL things, and EVEN the deep things of God. If then this is HOW it may be said that God so reveals ("for"), and it is not instead an entire irrelevancy, then it follows that the deep things of God are highly important, indeed essential to the revelatory process by which they are imparted to man.
Thus the depth is guaranteed. With full access to searched out deep things of Himself, God by His Spirit makes revelation to us.
Now we come to our second reason why it is such a marvel of glorious grace and wonderful liberality for our need, that God has spoken. It is not only the source, recourse and depth which is in view; it is also the means and symbolic units used, the very words of revelation, so that in nothing we are behind.
What then of the accuracy with which even such depth is revealed by the Spirit of God within the domain where man has also of this spirit, where the Gospel of His grace has so acted by the spirit (John 3) that man now has the Spirit of God within Him, actually calling him to understanding and specific awareness that he is a child of this same and only God (Romans 8:16)?
As to this, Paul proceeds at once to make it clear in vv.12-13. Thus, having received not the spirit of this world but that of God, he indicates there is within that sphere, a reason, or purpose, or put differently, a divinely desired result. What is this purpose, reason or desired result ? It is IN ORDER THAT we might know the things of God, whose they are. Provided then is a communication channel, if you will, like a railway line so that a train might at all run, and we are then ready. Ready however for what!
It is so that those to whom these authoritative records were to be given, and in Paul's day, were being given, that might know the things which have been freely given by the Spirit of God (I Cor. 2:12). The things of the Spirit of God who searches all things and who has entered the hearts of those concerned, and to whom He expressly is sent: He shows them. Thus prepared, these prophets, they are used. Thus readied, they are shown the revelation from the Spirit of God which has such access to the deep things of God.
In what way then are they so shown ? They are shown in such a way that the ones concerned now speak them, and since, in order to speak, you must have a reliable and reasonable channel between the THINGS and the WORDS which are the instruments of speech, the question arises with what manner and certainty is this transition from things to words made in the mind and heart and spirit of the ones to whom these things are FREELY given ?
They are GIVEN, even these deep things, they are given freely, they are set in the mind and heart of those to whom the Lord has spoken; but in what format and with what certainty. Of course you might at once say that this question is superfluous, and properly, it should be. But man is in such rebellion and so blinded (Matthew 13, Isaiah 6, Ephesians 4:17-19), that it is necessary to push the point and address the envelope!
They are given in WORDS (I Corinthians 2:13). What sort of words ? Paul tells us first what sort they are NOT!
Firstly, it is in parallel reinforcement with the scope, power and freedom of the Giver's action and the gift's nature, that the words are not things which the wisdom and wit, the power and performance criteria of the human mind seizes and adjusts for itself. No, this is SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED in v. 13. On the contrary, the apostle indicates, these words are given as the Spirit of God teaches them. Yet he says more than this.
The things ("these things") are spoken in words, by the recipients concerned, not from their own wisdom, or even from the very category of human wisdom ("man's wisdom"). In fact, to be precise, the recipients of this free and functional grace of God, they speak these things in words which the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, teaches. In this teaching, spiritual things are compared with spiritual things, so that there is a discrimination, a refining precision. That is what is there presented in I Cor. 2:13.
This then is the nature of Christian, biblical revelation from God within the domain of man, and to the apostles and their intimates who were chosen to receive this ('we' - cf. Paul's authority in I Corinthians 14:27), and this is the gift given FREELY. Since then man is excluded in his wisdom as source or contributor, and God is both source, resource, agent and verbal commander in action, in this revelation of which the apostle speaks and which he received, therefore the part man plays in the SOURCE and in the COURSE OF WORDS is not one which can influence the result.
Does this mean dictation ? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the resultant has this refined and unimpugnable governance by God.
Having then received what has been revealed with a divine course and resource which is relentless and monopolised in mastery, the apostles and their intimates were given what was to be received as commandments of the Lord (as in the Corinthians citation above). Far were they from inventing such things and their powers did not stretch to this, as we have seen, which is given freely; and the Gospel itself in particular, naturally is supernaturally supplied in this way (Galatians 1).
It is readily seen in this context how any alteration in it from the presentation made by Paul (as in the past, already) would represent ground for cursing, yes even if Paul himself made that change. The Gospel like the rest of the word of God is inviolate, intransigeant, indomitable, inalienable, His!
Such is the nonentity status as far as content and precision of utterance is concerned, for man, in terms of the word of God, the revelation which He has freely given in the name of Jesus the Christ..
God has spoken*1. It has seemed important to trace this aspect since theological twaddle is the other option in theology, and it has been engaged in with professional passion by false prophets in the past and in the present pre-eminently, just as God indicated would be the case in general, and in accelerating manner, in the end of the Age (Matthew 24:24, II Timothy 3, II Peter 2).
It is in fact part of the verification of the precision and the power of the God whose free presentation of His word to man is one of the greatest marvels, wonders and graces of all time, that this prophecy is so vastly fulfilled both in kind and in acceleration for the end of this increasingly squalid Age of disgrace.
This is done is ways subtle or not so subtle, ministering to the desire of man for something else, something different, something radical in this or that way, something from himself, expressing his thoughts and cultural addictions; and it is being done ad nauseam without ground, reason or evidence, and millions of those gullible, accept for eternity, what they would regard as horrendously ungrounded if it were the grounds for buying a car! The word of God is left, and with or without His name, or that of Christ, almost anything is taught, the Bible ignored, the Christ bypassed in fact, if not in name, as ever new reconstructions occur, based firmly on the flickerings of indolent imagination or adventurism without knowledge.
In such ways, the rejection of this very revelation of Christ and His Gospel of free grace have mounted, often within churches or parallel bodies (cf. SMR Ch. 8, esp. pp. 684ff., News 121, 122, Answers to Questions Ch. 5). It was predicted to mount at this phase of the Age, it has done so, and the fulfilment of the word of God, with the usual irony, proceeds by its misuse.
Having then joined the course of the precision of the revealed word of God, the Bible (cf. SMR Appendix C and D), in its formulation as with its results, so often traced in this site, whether from Isaiah or Ezekiel, Micah or Psalms, New Testament or Old, Paul or Christ (cf. SMR Chs. 8-9, Pitter ... Ch. 4), we can justly proceed with confidence and simplicity to our topic.
That topic ? It is the stark simplicity of spirituality, and we have been rejoicing that in the end, we have a resource and recourse in the word of God which will be scalpel sharp, electric-empowered if you will, and impossible to err in, when we follow it with that spiritual understanding which is available to Christians because they are given the spirit of God so that they might understand.
Getting things right from the word of God
How then from the word of God can we possibly answer such a criticism of the concept of the stark simplicity of spirituality, as appeared at the outset of this chapter ?
It is easy. You merely establish the grounds of relevance and the scope of your assertion. In this case, God is very deep, and of course there is nothing lacking in understanding. Well then, the persistent theological pugilist might pursue it, HOW can spirituality be called starkly simple ?
First, it is not God but spirituality which is called starkly simple. Thus to transfer, to slide, to use the logical term, from the domain of spirituality to the personal Being of God, is illicit, making the concept merely confusing. The actual intent however does truly warrant some explanation so here it is. Spirituality is not a term one would readily apply to God, since HE IS SPIRIT. The term spirituality is more readily applied to man, in the sense that he is participating in, ready for or apt in the relationship of his spirit to that of the Lord. If some other meaning is in mind, then dismiss it; it is not the meaning in view here.
Thus in this same chapter of Paul, I Corinthians 2, at its end, we read that to the 'natural' man, the things of God are foolishness (that is, the ACTUAL things as APTLY revealed by His Spirit concerning Himself, to ensure that there is not confusion or effusion, but clarity and truth - cf. John 14:6). We also read that this same natural man (unconverted, hence sin-governed in the sight of God, who in this case is not even KNOWN! - cf. John 17:1-3), these spiritual things are not even RECEIVED. He tends to move aside, like a subtle and lively horse when you try to move him in a straight line: for he is always trying to hit your leg against some post, or to contract his chest so that the saddle has difficulty in maintaining its due equilibrium, or twisting and turning his head as if to show that he too has teeth and so proceeds to NOT RECEIVE what you wish him to know and to do!
Turning then from horses (and some are magnificent of course, the exact opposite of this), we move from the natural man to the opposite (in principle and largely in practice). What is the name for the opposite kind in the domain of man ? It is the spiritual man whom Paul at this point brings in by way of contrast (I Corinthians 2:15). Such a man "judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one." Does this mean that he is perfect ? Far from it as I John 1 so thunderously proclaims, but it DOES mean that there is certain zeal and desire so that sin does not have dominion over him, fight as it will (and does cf. Galatians 5, Romans 8:11-2). What then does it mean ?
It means that the spiritual man is not governed, ruled, limited and imperiously impelled by natural forces; for if he lives in their midst, he lives by the power of God (II Corinthians 13:4, Romans 5, 8), so that in the spiritual domain he is like a fish IN water; whereas in this same domain the 'natural' or unconverted man is like one out of water. Each is out of the place when in the atmosphere of the other. Where the gifts and nature work properly, the spiritual is not responsive in the MERELY natural sphere, in this respect, that it is no longer in accord with the new nature given to the converted man, the Christian, being part of a polluted world system with its own criteria, values and dynamic.
The natural man then tends to disown, disdain or tolerate the spiritual, since it is unnatural to the distorted nature which as sin's reside is left with him; the spiritual man is moved to relish the spiritual, since it is now his new domain. While he retains his relationship to the world, it is not one of servility to its squalor, or reactivity to its mandates; it is one of being a pilgrim walking through it, as if one could fly. Legs still exist, but it is flight which is the function which is now crucial.
Thus since there is a spiritual man, there is a SPIRITUALITY which is the quality, nature, or functional felicity in such a man. It is this SPIRITUALITY of which we speak, and of which it is being stated that it may justly, and even edifyingly becalled STARKLY SIMPLE.
Thus we are considering the fact that in man, a spiritual sensitivity to God and a spiritual closeness and communion with Him involves (with of course whatever else) a certain stark simplicity.
It is not writhed, contorted, distorted, grimacing, complexly twisted, or neurotically narcotic or excitedly erratic, on the other hand. It is simple. Its connection is pure, its linkage is just, its communion is authentic, and there is a relaxation of the torpor or the turgidity, the tempests or the alliances, to the point that the power of God and the presence of God and the commands of God are a birthright, and the world a birth-wrong. Disease is recognised for what it is, the world's horror is seen with its source in sin, and the divine is relished for what it is, the source and salvation of man in Jesus Christ, the terminus of compassion in mercy, and the triumph of power in salvation.
Thus in chemistry you have simple elements (in fact the term 'simple' does not alter the fact that they have atoms, and that these have electrons very often, and nuclei, and that these may have neutrons and protons, and electrical forces of great complexity and so forth). This is contrasted with compounds which have organisations of atoms in complex style, to make new entities, no longer called elements, though they include them in combining format.
In what way then can even an element, though quite different from a compound in its order of complexity, be called at all SIMPLE ? In this way, that firstly, it is less complex than a compound; that secondly, by omitting the compounding, it exists in an entirely more direct form altogether, now moving into the domain of wonder, where compounds have their multitudinous reactions; and thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, that it is a design, just like a car, a SINGLE ENTITY.
It HAS components to be sure; but with, by and beyond all this, by the reality called design, it has a unitary character so that as ONE SINGLE WHOLE it does and does not do, certain specified things, and has a CHARACTER as this one specifiable thing, one which may be expressed, spelt out and watched with appreciation. THAT is the way this particular element goes! these are its features of singular operation.
Having seen that SIMPLE is not the same as lacking in wonder or depth, but has a close correlation with unitary design feature, and has an input or implication of being other than what can be the case when a whole series of further realms invades or is imparted, we now move towards our goal.
SIMPLICITY in this case, as to spirituality, is referring to the lack of the complexities of sin's evil designs, which distort and clamour and claim sovereignty over flesh, to the point that the spirit of man can become neurotic, despotic, erotic, bucolic, idiotic, a lacerated residue or a pile of ashes mingled with flesh, trying weakly to live life.
The STARK part is also an arresting datum of spirituality. It is best seen in Christ who AS A MAN, has shown how to manage and handle the passions and the impurities, the greeds and the ambitions, the false ways and the corners, without skidding and without relinquishing for one solitary moment, the true nature of the 'element' if you will, the spiritual reality which though in this world, is neither tainted by it, twisted for it or entangled with it. Instead, His spiritual life on earth proceeds like a beautiful kite, in stark simplicity in the whole domain of aerial forces, soaring and moving because of its ample design, its blessed correlative qualities to the elements into which it is placed for just such a performance.
B. The Exhibit and Example of the Lord
Tableau of Truth – Matthew 8
To see this experimentally - in the sense of freely visible work in the laboratory of life - to see this expression of the stark simplicity of spirituality in the sense defined above, let us look at the staggering display to be found in Matthew 8.
Matthew 8 in its testimony of perfect spirituality in Christ as a man, is not only a series of items; even more, if possible, it is sequence which by its very integrity of composition, constitutes a tableau.
Before we proceed, however, let us notice that this comes immediately after what is probably the most amazingly beautiful and spiritually arresting series of words ever pronounced on earth - the Sermon on the Mount, the appeal of which could be felt by such as Ghandi and by many other. These, not even having submitted to the Gospel of free grace, the gift of God to man's life as His word is to his understanding for life: yet felt its awesome wonder.
Having spoken in statuesque and soaring pillars of truth, while at the same time with flowers of profusion sprinkled about them, while presenting a temple of understanding that passes to the heights of sublimity, Christ now acts. That is the transition from Matthew 5-7, the sermon, to Matthew 8, the practise! In practising what you preach, Christ is the criterion and the acme!
As He comes down the mount where He uttered these words, He is followed by "great multitudes". One could try to picture it. Not only are there lots of people, or is there a crowd, but there is a vast one. One can perhaps think of some football scene, or some demonstration, where milling people cover the earth like wildflowers in Spring in some fertile flourish of the floribund. Alas, the combination is not often true of man with man as his exhibit, for rather the alcoholic or the tempestuous may be seen; but in this case, it is following One with such words that they come. It is then that man can be changed until the sheer complexity of his disjointed proceedings can begin to approach that lofty and stark simplicity of truth, with true living and understanding hearts.
In this situation, Christ meets a challenge. A leper comes up, with no apparent cure in sight. This man puts it to Christ: IF YOU WILL, You can make me clean. Gone then would be the segregated life, the cry of 'Unclean!' and the sense of outage, to which might be joined one of outrage, that the human race should so treat one of its members, even if only for safety and security for themselves.
If you will! – that is the leper’s pleas. Here is a direct attribution of indomitable power to Christ. It is clearly a case for compassion; and the man is not dictatorial as if an autonomous unit, with a screaming shake of the nervy head so often to be found today. “IF YOU WILL!” - when he comes to deity, he is willing to take it as it comes, but he is CERTAIN that this is the power that is available.
If Christ were to say, Oh well, I am still up in the clouds following my speech, and this is a very different sort of territory into which you so summarily plunge Me, so if you want to find Me this afternoon, follow Me around, and you have every chance... What then ?
Chance ? There is no chance in God. He works ALL things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11). Even when He resolves, as in Psalm 1, to let the wicked be blown as by chaff, that is His decision for such people in His world at that time, and as seen fitting for rebuke or revelation of the pure preposterousness of daring to live in so magnificently and power-immersed world without bothering to watch and pray to the God of its creation WHERE He may be found (Isaiah 55).
Now then, here is God in the person of His Son, walking the earth. Here is a man, secured by the general character of man's endemic sinfulness, with a special resultant to which the race is vulnerable; and he is telling the Lord that if He wants to, He can heal him.
If You are willing ... proceeds the very proper, implicit appeal.
The answer is of the very fundamentals of stark simplicity. In relevance, it is perfect, in power answerable; for if He speaks so simply, and fails in the relevant power, which has to be starkly supernatural, then His mission is over and His work is done, for He would be shown as a fraud who would SAY yes and DO no!
There are times when simplicity - as in E=MC2 is possible only when there is a great relevant knowledge; and other times, when it is the direct power of the One who created which is needed, for instant resolution. In this case, it is the latter and easy for THE ONE whom claimed to do, with the authenticity of truth, the power of nature and the procedure of the Creator.
"I am willing; be cleansed." What beautiful words are these! In form, precise; in brevity, irreducible; in grace, total. IMMEDIATELY the leper is cleansed, and Christ, with the same stark simplicity, tells him not to spread it about, make it a news item, but to go through the formal channels appointed for the acknowledgement of healing (8:4).
WHY did He not want it disseminated ? would it not enhance His prestige ? He did not seek such enhancement. A Rolls-Royce in the road does not have a need, for its owner, to show itself. If it has the name, it is shown already. In His case, He wanted to reach people on grounds less pragmatic than being healed, which is nice, instead of being sick, which is nasty, so that there is a frenzied funnel of people spilling onto the spiritual tarmac for the wrong reasons, to the detriment of the truth which He is, and which they need to understand.
Does this mean that compassion is in some way inferior ? Of course not, for in compassion He came (John 3:16, Hosea 13:14). What it means is this, that compassion with wisdom mixed, sees things in perspective, so that the ULTIMATE compassion which brings a DIFFERENT DESTINY and enables man to UNDERSTAND both what he is and where he is and where he needs to be. This way is better than a caste of mere incidentals which may bring temporary relief, but leave permanent and complex, contrived, writhing mess within.
Next, Christ comes near to Capernaum (Matthew 8:5). Now a centurion - using the means of his power to represent himself - tells him that his servant is in a tortuous state, near death. Jesus replies simply, with stark relevance, and again, pithily. "I will come and heal him."
There are no ifs, no mights and no do-gooding hopes. He will come; and the healing is assured.
The answer from the centurion is this: that he is unworthy to have so great a personage as the Lord in his home. It will be necessary for the Lord to do no more than SPEAK THE WORD, and the servant at the home will be healed. This centurion recognises power, authority and authenticity, and to him, it is clear, just as it was to Christ that if He came, the servant would be healed, that even if He did not come, but merely spoke the word of re-creation, this would be enough. It would mean that if He merely said it, fact would follow, work would be done, healing would occur. If the mind of the Almighty articulated that this result should be, so it would be.
As in the creation, GOD SPOKE AND IT WAS DONE, so here, Christ speaks and the RE-CREATION of whatever is amiss (more than new spare parts, for the whole has to be restored in that intimate and mutually working way which is so characteristic of the human body), it will be healed.
The centurion explains. He is a man of authority, and to his servants, if he speaks, it is a command that is obeyed. There is no quibble or quarrel. So now if Christ speaks to what He has power to order, to nature, then it will obey. What a huge understanding there is present here! As a man of great respect and even love for the Jews, and builder of a synagogue for them (Luke 7:4-5), he would almost certainly be familiar with Genesis 1, where the speech of the Almighty is adequate prelude to its implementation.
Christ responds, again, with stark simplicity, to the point, direct, nothing veiled, at no great length.
"I have not found,” Christ declares, “such great faith, not even in Israel."
Israel the sanctified ? scarcely, but yet in Israel where the divine commands, ways and rules, majesty and power have been placed, with the symbolism of the temple showing the coming sacrificial splendour, even in Israel with such advantages and with many godly in it, there had not been observed by Jesus Christ, such a faith as this notable thrust of it, to which He now responds. He does so, once again, simply and directly.
Having made the point that many in Israel will fail to be in His kingdom, one of faith in Him as Lord, but instead will inherit that complex horror of being outcast and a misfit contrary to design, in "outer darkness" with "weeping and gnashing of teeth, He then says this. "Go your way, and as you have believed, so let it be done for you." One may notice the sublime sense of experimental accuracy. AS the man believed, SO it would be done to him. It was not an estimate that was the basis, but whatever it was that was the reality. The reality ? as faith, it gains the gift.
Next in line of test, experimental, laboratory type expression of the sort of majestic language, and principle which He had been enunciating on the mount, comes a sickness in the more intimate domain. Peter's wife's mother is sick, and Christ in this case SEEING that she is so, touches her hand, so that the fever left her, and she gets up and serves them.
There is here a mesh of beauty, like a brocaded cloth. On the one hand, there is simple power, and majestic certainty, stated with simplicity and humility, and used with fidelity and perception; and on the other, there is a progression of purification, whether of motive, of body or of spirit. The words to the unbelieving Jews were the contrast which, like the black velvet background in a jewel case fitted out for the diamond which is to lie on it, shows up the brilliance the more securely. It is not some amazing contortion which is needed by man, but faith in Him who speaks, in His words and in His works. In the cross, this is epitomised, for there the salvation itself is the gift, but there also it is the reception of it which is by simple and stark faith, as from a child (Matthew 18, Luke 23:43). You see it in the presence of little children in the first case noted, and in the work on the life of the thief on the cross, in the other; for in the latter case, instead of WHEN the kingdom comes being the date for the reception into His kingdom, as the thief sought of Him, it is "THIS DAY"!
Here is that same simplicity which is seen when Christ on the cross, says to John and Mary,
"Woman, behold your son!" and
"Behold, your mother!"
Just as there is a beautiful moulding of word and deed, directness and power, so now in Matthew 8:16-17, we see a splendid conspectus. MANY were then brought to Him who in practice was so generous, so powerful and so compassionate. Some were demon possessed - and never doubt the reality of the devil if you would be wise (cf. SMR pp. 590-591, Tender Times ... Ch. 8), for his power lies in deceit, and his deceits are like tasty morsels, or rich wine, which indeed may appeal, but grow a stomach too fat, and a head too stupid. Indeed they can seduce the unfounded spirit altogether (cf. II Corinthians 11:4ff., 4:1ff., and contrast the simplicity of depth in Christ in His own temptation as in Matthew 4).
Man shall live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, He declared, as rebuff to the devil in that trial, thereby setting the standard in authority, which even the devil did not try to reject, merely to pervert. He said this, and then He simply did it, in His triumph over temptation in that test series which was run in the wilderness.
Christ had dealt with the devil, could and did deal with him, and in this lay a vast impulsion of power, for to overcome a major source, a sort of spiritual atomic bomb which the devil constitutes, is to cut off resource and power of no mean dimension. Now he could deal with devils and transport them from their lairs.
Whether it was a case of a human residue in the direct power of the devil, or a human frame racked by sickness, "HE HEALED ALL who were sick," and cast out the demons. There is in this to be seen at once a duo of directness. First, there is no selection in the healing. Compassion shows itself. Secondly, the demons go - ravagement is no barrier to the Creator when He re-creates. God may at times indeed as with Job, have a reason for a sickness - as with Paul and his affliction, recorded in II Corinthians 12, but this is a discretionary matter, whereas here there is the display of the divine capacity and hence of the wisdom in trusting so great a Saviour.
Next in this eloquent series of events, relative to the work of the Lord, there comes the case of the ebullient follower (Matthew 8:19). I, said one, will follow You wherever you go. Christ's answer, perhaps relating to a discernment that this man is mistaking DIVINE CAPACITY in power for an end of sorrow in simplistic superficiality, declares this time a challenge in response. Though the birds have their nest, He revealed, the Son of man has no place to lay His head. In other words, there is a suffering to this power, there is a cost to this way, and there is an absence of mere carnal comforts in this spirituality. It is stark and meaningful, immense in depth and not a mere anodyne.
Another, in this series, says that he would like to follow Christ, but must first bury his father. Apparently this idiom meant that he had filial duty, and the following of Christ must wait till this was fully done. Christ answered in memorable simplicity, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Now it is remarkable that to the one seemingly enthusiastic, Christ gives pause for thought, whilst to the one not quite 'ready yet', He gives rebuke and exhortation. Why ? The immediate contrast in the two events is too striking to be ignored.
In the former case, Christ evidently perceives an indulgent streak, mistaking being a Christian for being indulged. Hence the man needs challenge. In the latter, it appears that He saw one lingering not in actual need - as if He knew there were others better placed who could act for this case, whereas the man concerned could well come. If so, then the question would be one of malingering, whether mentally or in ethical guise. Thus to this one he gives the exposure. How many fail to serve the Lord full time, or even with full hearts, because not really wishing to pay the cost, they malinger mentally or financially or ethically or socially or academically or in whatever feature the pain is!
Now off to sea Christ goes with His disciples (Matthew 8:23ff.), and having met every type of challenge, opportunity and wrinkle in the spiritual countenance of man, He meets something else. That is one of the great features of Christ, that there is NO LIMIT (cf. John 3:34); for the Father does not give Him "the Spirit by measure."
There is this inordinate characteristic. IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD, soughs through the mind and speaks to the spirit, as one reads of Christ. There is NOTHING too hard! In this way, we are encouraged to fear nothing and stop at nothing in His service, as led and moving within the confines of His commandments (such as seen in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, preceding this chapter 8 of action).
The waves growing tempestuous, the disciples became afraid. Then, on their boat trip, the sudden storm leads them to wake Him up - "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"
Now, someone might ask, Why on earth should they expect navigator's skills or nautical powers from a healer and speaker ? Why indeed! In fact, man loves to worship something, often himself or his team or his race, and you see it in football matches while a spiritual seeming atmosphere comes on like thick mist, and a lulling, almost crooning song goes up from the multitude of observers, who mouth out a form of praise and empathy with their team which is like worship in sanctity, but is not so really.
It is just that man is built by God, and to worship Him is as natural to man as to flick shut his eyelids. However he has spiritual conjunctivitis, and so has trouble and sees double and worships what is not God, and gains no satisfaction from that, and in the case of sex-worship, or that associated, he may seek viagra or the super-substitutes now so nauseatingly being marketed over the Web, albeit in breach of law, and find that unsatisfactory and so on. In this mirage mission, man sometimes becomes devious, sometimes passionate and murderous, and self-propelling like the World War II guns, and goes on rampaging.
Man tends to worship, as shown in Romans 1, what is not fitting. That again, is because He is made by One whom it is most fitting to worship, since He IS GOD. Yet he tends to repress the obvious, the ineluctable fact. Then it happens that the worship trend is first diverted, then perverted to whatever spiritual or even carnal folly seizes the man, in its place. Such is the way of things in their progression as shown in Romans 1:!7ff.. In this case, their hearts are sure that this Man can do anything, because already the scope of His performance is so starkly supernatural in origin because in power, and because there is something of irresistible integrity in His demeanour, spirit and stark simplicity of spirituality, something direct and immediate, that speaks to the thought and commands the heart.
So they DO expect help, and it is the LORD that they adddress themselves in speaking to Him, and seeking Him to "save us".
He does so, as a matter of course,
speaking to the wind and waves as a man might speak to His dog. It is precisely
this SORT of natural power of supernatural character, but intimate closeness to
nature, as to one's possession, that impresses them. There has never been One
like this, for the winds and waves, like the spirits and the diseases, all fall
into place (in the case of the devils, out of the wrong place!) as He acts. It
if the whole universe is His household and He has natural power over it, being
"Who is this
that even the winds and the waves obey Him!" they cry, astounded. For it
is one thing
Personal things, even intimate
things, gross and horrible things, massive and multitudinous things,
meteorological things, they all yield as naturally as a horse to its loved
master, to Christ's words. It is not only the RESULT, for it is the very WAY it happens. Here you
see the consummately skilled rider, to whom
it is all as natural as breathing; but in this case, what is being ridden is
disease, nature and man in his troubles and muddles, in his errors of heart and
his movements of spirit; and the way of it is gracious, but firm, as one is with
a horse one loves, for its own good.
Next, and finally in Chapter 8, they go to a different sort of place where a madman, being tormented, shows an evil strength, being possessed, a gaunt relic and residue of mankind, loving the death scent of the tombs. Yes, and he has a companion in degeneracy.
What now ? Here is a ferocity as well as a need! Here is a practical exuberance of need and assertion in the face of it, as if to destroy whatever sought to meet it.
The internal devils cry out, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God ? Have you come here to torment us before our time ?" Jesus now uses the pigs which were forbidden to the Jew anyway, as a repository for the lustful and wandering spirits, and consigns them at their request to that quarter. Thus Christ acts once more as if He had been doing this sort of thing almost for endless years, and conversing with them, sends them, resulting in this, that a vast sum is lost to the owners in lost pigs, for they rush into the sea: a fitting exhibit of what such devil possession really means for man in the end!
When the owners find out, they ask him to leave the city. It is worse than that. When they ALL come to see, they as a group ask Him to go - the whole city. They do not want their commerce disturbed, their social strata displaced or their lives met with a healing dynamic that costs and an authority who directs.
It is of course interesting to consider what may have been their fate when the Romans came, after the crucifixion, and following the 40 or so years of non-repentance on the part of Jerusalem, which led to its absolute destruction, and the take-over of the land.
Stark is the simplicity of spirituality in these dire and diurnal, these dynamic and direct dealings; and this in no way suggests as we have seen, any lack of depth or wisdom; for it is these very things which are shown, and can be shown so clearly. In the end with Christ, you are either for Him or against Him, and HE has ALL POWER. That is one thing that makes it simple; the other thing is this, that it is when it is seen from HIS PERSPECTIVE that its simplicity and starkness appear, as does that of the Rocky Mountain range when one is fortunate enough to be an intimate observer of it, as one passes in the Canadian Pacific railroad's observation carriage.
It is when a person is far from the
Lord, from His perspective and hence from the Bible, from His principles as seen
in the Sermon on the Mount which preceded this Chapter 8, it is when sin
dictates or pride pushes, when ambition axes peace or carnal axioms gash grace,
that it seems so very different.
In SMR Appendix D, we touch the detail of the words employed in I Corinthians 2 for 'word' and in other scriptural sites relevant to divine revelation by the Spirit of God to those whom He has cleansed and called.
At times logos, word, cause, expression, is used; at times rema. It relates to the context. Paul in I Corinthians 2 is dealing with the scope, source and finality of the teaching of the word of God, what He has to say, His discourse. At other times, the topic is the force of the very parts, such as when someone is thinking just precisely what to do. Thus in the temptation, Christ uses the term rema, figuring the emphasis on no deviation whatever from anything whatever that God has said, and so is the usage in I Peter as seen below, where the point is that whatever God says, is, and happens, is verifiable, is virtuous, is subject to nothing but the divine power, which having said, does.
Taking these things together, we gain wisdom, for ALL scripture is given for edification (II Timothy 3:16). The citation, drawn in the main from SMR, follows.
Again, the passage in John 12:48-50 indicates that Jesus speaks what God the Father Almighty gives Him to say. The Greek term used here for 'words' is REMATA, (plural) which reflects what is spoken, the series of actual words (so Thayer q.v.). REMATA also has parallel use for Biblical prophecy, Old and New Testaments, in Romans 10:17, I Peter 1:25, II Peter 3:2,16, Matthew 4:4*, cf. John 14:26. Just as Christ spoke what His Father commanded, utterance, articulation by articulation, so the prophets' diction was subjected to an absolute spiritual control... a control by the Spirit of God, of which we shall see more in 3) infra. Whatever approach God uses in Scriptural inspiration, there is therefore at least such a jurisdictive control as to reach in the resultant, to the... words. By this time taught, inspired, authorised, proclaimed, the words are fine tuned, attuned, harmonious with the divine desire for content wholly in accord with the mind of God (cf. pp. 1171, 1176-1179 infra), guaranteed. (For *, see p. 1169 infra. MAN is to live by every particular word - rema - of God. )
Jesus then spoke as commanded. This stresses the authority and the ultimacy of the SOURCE, just as Paul stresses the dynamism and the adequacy of the METHOD of inspiration, leading to revelation from God Himself. Jesus Christ also stresses that not merely has He not CONCOCTED this doctrine, but that it is positively not His at all in any differentiable sense as a man, relative to His Father: John 7:17-18; 17:16. Similarly, He claims identity with the Lord ('Jehovah') of the Old Testament - John 8:58 (cf. Exodus 3:14); and that His words will sit in irrepressible judgment in their intrinsic and precise force and diction (John 12:48-50).