Praise and Prayer
GOD'S WORD AND WORK should be the special subject of persevering prayer by the saints in this administration of God's grace. Paul's epistles provide the precepts, and Paul himself is our pattern in this, as in all else (1 Cor.4:16; 11:1; 1 Thess.1:6; Phil.3:17). He prayed for us that God would give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation, in order to know Him (Eph.1:17). He pled with the saints to pray for the secret of the evangel (Eph.6:18), and of Christ (Col.4:2), and for deliverance from those who opposed his message (Rom.15:30). May we give these a special place in our petitions!
Since the shadows are past and the light of noonday is shining in Paul's evangel to the nations, we should search his epistles if we desire to discover God's mind as to prayer for the present. To accord with our unparalleled nearness to Him in spirit, it is given a much larger place there than in any other part of God's revelation. More than half of the doctrinal division of Ephesians, which is preeminently the charter of the church, is presented in a series of prayers! God, instead of telling us directly of the transcendent grace which He lavishes upon us, puts this in the heart of Paul in the shape of a petition for us, thus enhancing their preciousness by the very form in which they appear.
One who has been enlightened by God's holy spirit through Paul's epistles will find that it operates in complete harmony with His Word. When the glorious gospel of the conciliation becomes ours, the burden is laid upon our hearts to reach others with it. When the secret of Christ's headship over all dawns upon us, we wish to herald it abroad. When we learn of our own celestial honors, we are pressed to share these glories with all the saints. When we find out that all mankind will be saved, who can stop us from making it known? All these things, received through God's spirit, spontaneously ascend and return to Him as sweet incense, the thanksgiving and petition, and prayer. And when these truths are opposed, we cannot help pleading for those who hinder, as well as those who help to make them known.
The dire need of persevering prayer for these things is far more apparent today than when Paul penned his requests, for just these lines of truth practically disappeared soon after the apostle's day, and almost nothing has been heard of them since. In all the writings of the early Christian fathers and even in the Reformation, what place is given to the secrets of the evangel, or of Christ, or of this administration? Even today they are nearly unknown mysteries, as the Authorized Version aptly, but unhappily, describes them. Even the truth of the salvation of all mankind has found only a feeble following.
An incident that has just occurred may help us to realize how dense is the darkness, even in regard to one of Paul's prayers which has found a little response in our own day. A committee has constituted itself among so-called Fundamentalists which seeks to serve the saints by exposing all departures from the truth. They do, indeed, show that almost every division of Christendom is contrary to the Scriptures, and are doubtless doing much good work. But when it comes to the special subjects of Paul's prayers, they seem not only utterly ignorant, but bitterly hostile. They denounce the teaching that all mankind shall be saved as a hellish doctrine, and thus revile all who hold it (1 Cor.5:11).
Their teaching, not Paul's, may indeed be called hellish, without giving offense (Rom.14:13). They apparently hold that all unbelievers will be tormented forever and ever in hell, or the lake of fire. We have submitted this statement to them before publication, lest we should accuse them falsely, for we do not wish to misrepresent even the worst enemies of the truth. But the word hell has been repudiated by us, as well as by the Revisers and all intelligent students of the Scriptures. It is not a correct equivalent of the Hebrew sheol, the Greek hades, or of Gehenna, or of the lake of fire, so should not appear in a translation of God's Word. It is an unsound expression, to be shunned. Hence our teaching is as far from hellish as it can possibly be.
In Webster's dictionary, the supreme authority in the United States, hellish is defined as follows: Of or pertaining to hell; like hell; infernal; malignant, wicked, detestable, diabolical. We ourselves once held the doctrine of eternal torment for all unbelievers, and humbly acknowledge, along with all who still have a spark of feeling for their fellows in their breasts, that nothing imaginable could be more malignant, or wicked, or detestable, especially on the part of the Deity, Who is love, Who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth, and on the part of Christ, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all, of which Paul was appointed a herald and an apostle (1 Tim. 2:4-7).
But what is at all like hell, malignant, wicked, detestable, diabolical, or hellish, in the teaching that God is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), so that He not only wills, but will save all mankind, and justify all mankind (Rom.5:18), and reconcile all to Himself through the blood of Christ's cross, whether on the earth or in the heavens (Col.1:20)? This is heavenly, not hellish! This glorifies God, not Satan! This honors Christ, not the Adversary! Paul entreats us to pray and plead and give thanks for all mankind, not to damn them (1 Tim.2:1-4)!
Instead of falling in line with God's great program, the Christian world, or system, has used prayer as one of the best instruments of error. Christians in name only, who did not possess the spirit of God, and lukewarm believers, considering prayer as a sacred duty, fell into futile formalities. Petitions were written or printed, to be read or repeated by rote. A prayer for every day is considered a very spiritual program. But one of the worst mistakes was the adoption of the Lord's Prayer as the standard form for the layman. Not only among Roman Catholics is the Paternoster a religious exercise of great merit, but even in the Sunday Schools of more enlightened lands, it is impressed on the pupil's young minds as if it were the talisman to heaven. It not only leads to hypocrisy but entirely distorts the truth which is ours in Christ Jesus today.
This has been the experience of the writer of these lines: His first book, The Mystery of the Gospel, or The Conciliation, contained on its title page the following: Praying...for me, that utterance may be given to me to open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel. Thereafter followed expositions of the secret of Christ and of this administration, and a pamphlet, All in All, setting forth the salvation of all mankind. All of this aroused much opposition and fierce defamation, and will continue to do so until the end, for this is according to God's purpose. Even this should call forth thanksgiving. We may well echo our Lord's prayer: Acclaiming am I to thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for Thou hidest these things from the wise and intelligent, and Thou dost reveal them to minors (Matt.11: 25).
Paul's greatest prayer for the saints began with ceaseless thanksgiving for them, and was directed to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory (Eph.1:16,17). This is an introduction worthy of the theme, for all blessing has its source in God, and its channel in Christ, Who is our Saviour, and Whom we obey as Lord. Let us always seek to open our prayers by acknowledging Him in the character which accords with the subject of our petitions. This is addressed to God as the One Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the celestials (1:3), that we may appreciate His blessings. It is no longer our need as children that is in view, so He is not seen as our Father, but the Father of glory. He it is Who endows with the glorious riches, concerning which Paul prays.
Briefly summarized, Paul prays for a spirit. This is the greatest need today. We all crave material blessings, food and shelter, health and wealth. It is very striking, in the opening of this epistle, that we are not endowed with physical blessings on the earth, as Israel will be in the kingdom. We are not even assured of bodily welfare among the celestials. These things are necessary, but not nearly so scarce or valuable as an endowment with spiritual wisdom and revelation to enable us to know God and His plans and purpose for us. He wishes us to know what He has in store for us in the future, and what will be our lot, and the power at His command to carry all of this to completion.
This demands a spirit of wisdom and revelation, which God alone can give. All saints have a measure of God's spirit. A special spirit of wisdom will be wary, for there are many deceiving spirits in the world. The forces of wickedness are spiritual (Eph.6:12). There is need of discrimination (1 Cor.12:10). When the spirits disagree with the Scriptures, or even with one another, we may be sure that they are evil, no matter how much they attract us, or operate in us to perform wonders. At various times in the history of the church, there has been a yielding to spirit forces, by means of passivity, or marvelous manifestations, but none of them have ever led the saints into the glorious riches which Paul reveals in this prayer. They were devoid of this wisdom and lacked this revelation.
Without this spirit of wisdom, the rich revelations of the prison epistles cannot be apprehended. If anyone has not realized these rare revealments, it is because this spirit is lacking. Let everyone who seeks to understand God's highest unfoldings, as given in this epistle, first of all, pray for this spirit. But this is not enough. No one has ever discovered the secrets here revealed apart from the written Word. God's spirit inspired the Scriptures. His spirit is not imparted to the saints to enable them to perceive light apart from the Scriptures, but through the written record. Wisdom demands that there be two witnesses to the truth. The spirits that ignore the written revelation disagree among themselves. The spirit that cleaves close to the record alone will bring us into harmony with each other and with the spirit of God.
Wisdom will seek to discern the spirits. There are so many divergent ones, each trumpeting itself, that no one can accept them all. The matter is much simplified if we have the overwhelming conviction that the Scriptures are inspired by God and were indicted by His holy spirit. Then they become the one and sufficient test as to the spirits, if they are of God. The most dangerous of all spirits is one that rejects this test, and claims individual inspiration, or a super-inspiration which imposes its message upon the sacred text. None of these have ever even discovered, much less revealed, the secret wisdom of the present administration, which was hid in God, until, it was revealed in writing and made known through the pen of the apostle Paul from his Roman prison.
God is the source of all wisdom. Creatures are confined to apparent appearances. He sees through all outward forms to the very heart. He alone knows the end at the very beginning. And He only can use evil to produce good. So wisdom consists in getting a God's-eye view, of seeing everything from His standpoint. In the Scriptures, wisdom will remove the veil from all previous revelation, and show how it prepared for the present. It will transform each seeming setback into a magnificent success. The present is the fruit of much apparent failure, and gets its flavor from defeat. Wisdom will doubt all human testimony and believe God. We should even mistrust the evidence of our own spirit unless corroborated by the documentary evidence of God's holy spirit.
THE DOUBLE WITNESS
Wisdom demands a double witness. This world is full of illusions and deceptions, so every vital matter should rest upon the testimony of two or three. Even men of the world protect their property by legal papers, attested by witnesses. Their private convictions, their own declarations, carry little weight in a court of law. So the opinions of the saint, or his asseverations, the fruit of his own spirit, are a frail foundation for faith. If he differs from others, one or both are bound to be false. Even if two or millions agree, that is no guarantee. A single certified document may prove all to be mistaken. The saint who has God's spirit, should rest only on the divine documents, which alone can give safety and certitude.
This wise precaution should guide us in everything which has been touched and tainted by human hands, even in determining the authenticity of the sacred text itself. Men make mistakes, no matter how hard they try to avoid them. Probably no manuscripts which have come down to us from ancient times were so carefully copied and compared as the sacred scrolls of the Scriptures. Even the three most ancient and best differ slightly from one another. It would be unwise to take one to the exclusion of the others. It would be foolish to accept a poor one which is contrary to all the rest. In the providence of God, these, the most precious and important documents for our faith, are preserved practically perfect, when their testimony is combined. That is why they are given in the Concordant Greek text. There is no question as to the written record of the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus.
In the Hebrew, the matter is far more difficult, so that much more wisdom from above is needed. With the exception of Isaiah, the oldest records come to us through a Greek version. This often differs from the traditional Hebrew which has been handed down to us, in many details, although, as a whole, there is substantial agreement. Much more than mere knowledge of the facts is needed, though these must be the basis of any restoration. Perhaps the greatest aid is a knowledge of God such as Paul pleads for in this prayer. Complementing this is an insight into the failings of mortal men, the prejudices of the people, and the mistakes of copyists. Then the aid of double witnesses, such as are provided by complementary accounts and parallel passages, and especially the recurrences of the same word, in order to determine its divine definition, as used by the spirit of God.
Even in the written record, the truth is safeguarded by repetition. The narrative in the book of Acts is complemented by Paul's epistles. Romans is reiterated and reinforced by Galatians and the Corinthian letters. Ephesians has its echo in Philippians and Colossians. One part corroborates the other.
This wise precaution has been carried to its limits by the spirit of God in the very words of inspiration. There is no inspired lexicon telling us what each term signifies, such as is provided by some philosophies. Theosophy issues a special handbook defining its vocabulary. But the inspired documents have done even better by means of repetition. The meaning of a phrase or a word or an element is fixed by its usage. Hitherto this has been largely ignored. Men prefer their false opinions, and translate according to the dictates of a deceiving spirit, rather than in accord with the spirit of God. Hence it is wise to use the same symbol where it is repeated, wherever language will allow.
How different with the wisdom of the world! God will destroy it. He makes it stupid (1 Cor.1:19). The reasonings of the wise are vain (1 Cor.3:20). In the truth for today we learn of the depths of God's wisdom (Hosea 8:33). It is a secret wisdom (1 Cor.2:7). It is a multifarious wisdom (Eph.3:10). But our spirits are not equipped to entertain it, apart from a special gift from God. Paul has given expression to it in the previous part of this epistle (Eph.1:3-12). But how few are there, even of those saints who may be called spiritual, who have been able to grasp the wisdom in this marvelous revelation! How few have even felt the need of a spirit of wisdom, or prayed for it!
Before the Concordant version was made or any of the literature written, there was persistent prayer for this spirit of wisdom and revelation. Nor has it ever ceased. The fearful lack of it in dealing with the Bible has become more and more apparent, and the need of it more evident. Not only was it necessary to pray for it in order to recover this crowning revelation of God, but now, even after it has been expounded at length, it is needed to apprehend the expositions! So let us pray, not only for ourselves, but join Paul in his prayer for all saints for this special spirit, so that they may realize the greatness of God's grace.
A. E. Knoch
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