The Apostle To The Gentiles

The “must” of God’s Will

Coming north from Galilee, and at last descending from the sun-baked lower slopes of snowy Hermon, Damascus bursts upon the traveller’s gaze, the oldest city in the world. There centuries ago, on the high road near this great Gentile capital, Saul of Tarsus, a Jew, fanatic and patriot, was literally commandeered by the Voice from Heaven to become the great apostle to the Gentiles. There the Saviour identified Himself with His suffering saints with: “Why persecutest thou Me?” It is remarkable that the very verb used by God “persecutest” (dioko) is the same used later by Paul writing to the Phillipians, “I press toward (dioko) the mark of the high calling of God.” But what a blessed contrast I In his earlier days Paul had been pursuing Christ as His most implacable enemy, from now on he was to pursue the Son of God as His most devoted follower and friend. But when “he came near Damascus,” clearer than his sight of the city became his sight of God. For there he saw “a light from Heaven above the brightness of the sun.” In later years he referred to it as, “I could not see for the glory of that light” (Acts 22:11). It seems to have taken him two years in Arabia to regain his sight and to gain his new perspective of the Scriptures he had learned from his youth. But on the Damascus road it was that he became a child of God by the new birth, and received his call and commission to be God’s servant from then on. And in the third sentence he heard that day from heaven there sounded the compelling word he was to know so much of in all his after life: “It shall be told thee what thou must do.” And that same word needs to come much into our lives as well.

(1) This same little peremptory word “must” came early into the Saviour’s life. His first recorded sentence contains it: “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” So He cries to His parents; and this was indeed the truest keynote of His whole earthly life and ministry. For of Him, the Creator of all things, it was truly said, “Even Christ pleased not Himself,” but, as He explained, “I do nothing of Myself…for I do always those things that please Him.” And as “the disciple…shall be as his Master,” into Paul’s Christian life too, there came at once this same commanding word: “What thou must do.”

Yet in this lawless, pleasure-seeking age, such a word, such an idea, becomes increasingly unpopular and distasteful; the self in us rebels against any idea of control or compulsion; we do not like to be “under authority,” and duty seems dull and intolerable! How much pleasanter to do only what we like, what we want to do! Yet how fatal! For if this tremendous “must” of the will of God has not and does not come early into our lives, to control our actions, and guide our steps, we shall be like rudderless ships, and must make final shipwreck of our lives.

(A) Indeed we shall find this “must” of the will of God a wonderful comfort and safeguard once we are yielded to it. It will solve all our problems, and settle all our plans. We who know not “what a day shall bring forth” need the guidance and help of the “One who knows the end from the beginning,” and we may daily have it. Too often we fight against the evident will of God for our lives, till at last we have to yield; then we resign ourselves to it with a sigh. That was not the way David felt and lived: “Oh, how I love Thy will, O my God!” Nor was it the way Madam Guyon wrote from behind prison bars:

“Thou sweet beloved will of God…
In thee I hide me and am still!”

But this may still become a profound spiritual fact in our lives too, for, as soon as “faith has cried a joyous Yes, to every dear command of His,” the responsibility is His also, and no longer ours. “He knoweth the way that I take,” and “He who has thus made” will most certainly also “bear,” and if He leads *us into difficult ways, why, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold!”

(B) And God’s “must” is the most tremendous driving force in life. It may drive us from the comforts of the homeland, and many amenities of life. It will buy many a ticket to the foreign mission field. It may thrust us out into very far-off lands and to lonely mission stations. It may bring us to face and bear very great responsibilities such as we would never have faced alone or at home. Yet when that will of God drives us to some far-off destiny, we shall always find the Saviour has got there first, He ever “goeth before,” so that though “I dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there… Thy right hand shall hold me.” So though at times we may seem to stand alone against the foe, yet we stand with God, and we shall find His blessed compulsion will introduce us to blessed conquests.

(2) Yet there is a further deeper note in this “must” of God. “The Son of Man must suffer many things,” proclaimed the Saviour at Caesarea Philippi. This was of course inevitable to Him in a world of sin. And this too must needs be reproduced in all His true followers. Prophetic was Ananias’ message to Paul: “I will show him,” said God, “how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” And for us? Each one of us, with John (Rev. 1:9), must be their “companion in tribulation” even as we share in “the kingdom and patience of Christ.” We must not think it “strange” when in some humble measure we too become partakers of the sufferings of Christ. Yet let us not tremble or “faint.” We shall ever find that the joy outweighs the sorrow, the peace over-balances the pain. Though Christ “must suffer,” and we with Him, thank God, He also “must reign,” and we with Him also. But here and now by His grace may we each be able humbly to experience and explain “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich…O ye Corinthians…our heart is enlarged!”

(3) “Other cities also.” But there is a third implication of this small but imperative word. We must follow, we must suffer, and we must still and ever advance! Thronged as the Saviour continually was with the needs, the sorrows, the sinners around Him, He ever looked farther afield. There were “other sheep” His heart longed for. So He cried: “I must preach … to other cities also.” So in ever-widening circles the truth must be proclaimed. The best way to defend is to attack, to advance. And how this urge of the unreached took hold upon His servant Paul! “Woe is me,” he cried, “if I preach not the gospel.” So, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth to those things which are before,” he cries: “I press towards the mark!”

And as there were “other cities” and “other sheep” in the Saviour’s time and in Paul’s ministry, so there are in the world today. God still commands an advance. His “must” must be shown in the thrusting out of new workers whatever the times, however dark. He knows full well the difficulties. Jesus “Himself knew what He would do,” of old. He still “knows,” and cares and will undertake for His own. In His care we are safe.

Seeing “Visions” (Acts 2:17)

As one writes these lines one sees again so clearly the blue rolling Pacific. And there rise before one’s mind three long blue bars on the horizon, the three great islands in the Eastern Solomons near New Guinea, where God has been working so graciously in recent years. Their many bays and mountains are now thronged with ten thousand converts. But what grave and growing responsibilities such a family of God entails upon the little band of missionaries! How beset they are with “the care of all the churches,” with fresh problems and dangers which continually arise and increase, and the “many adversaries.” Indeed, “who is sufficient for these things?”

And in answer one’s thoughts fly away to the great Apostle to the Gentiles. How would he have fared today? What would have been his confidence, his resources? Well, he was but a “man of like passions as we are.” Our problems would have been real problems to him, and his spiritual resources were no greater than ours. He had a whole Christ to draw upon, and so have we. And so his experiences may be repeated in our puny lives. Not perhaps his experiences of suffering and hardship, for he was peculiarly made “a spectacle to the world;” but his experience of God may be ours, for these were part of the common heritage of “all the saints.”

In his remarkable missionary labors Paul had seven special revelations of God and of the will and mind of God. All these I believe He is prepared to repeat to us also in our day and generation. These seven were some of the “visions” promised to “your young men” in Acts 2:17 which have never been annulled. And together they seem beautifully to summarize the resources and safeguards which are still open to all God’s servants.

(1) The certainty of the sight of Acts 9:4 was the first of these remarkable experiences, where, to one “born out of due time,” Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus road. Christ had said to His followers (Acts 1:8): “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me … unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Now a man can only be a witness of what he has seen. So Paul “saw” the Lord that day. And ever after, that was his strongest argument to convict and convince his hearers of the truth. “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1), he cries, to the clever Corinthians. So, every missionary, every “sent one,” must first by faith have “seen” his Lord and know for certain he has seen Him. The certainty of this sight will always be stronger than any argument, for “seeing is believing.” And today men want, not theories but, realities and certainties. And knowing that we have thus “seen” Christ and do know Him, becomes the most positive and certain fact of our existence. Every missionary who has not “seen” the Lord clearly and unmistakably needs a return ticket to the home-lands! It is characteristic of the apostle that following his question: “Who art Thou, Lord?” on hearing the Saviour’s voice, his next unhesitating question was rightly: “What wilt Thou have me to do, Lord?” Would that we were as prompt in obedience!

(2) The clearness of His call (Acts 13:2) is only second in importance to his sight of the Saviour. Missionaries essentially go, and go continually, into the unknown, as far as health, or support, or life itself are concerned. They often know not what a day may bring forth. For they will come repeatedly into “wits’ end corner.” It may seem so often that they have made a mistake. Like Moses when he cast his rod upon the ground, and it became a serpent, their step of faith may seem to reap only disaster. So they must needs have large reserves of faith in God. And their impregnable resource will ever be, to know clearly and unmistakably, “So they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:4). Then when trouble, perplexity, or seeming disaster come, it is God’s prerogative to deal with the trouble and to uphold His servant. Then “one with God becomes a majority” when it is quite certain that the one is with God; that He has sent; He has made or allowed the difficulty, and He will bear. Each sent one must be convinced then, that,

“Christ the Son of God hath sent me
Through the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the pierced hands.”

Then all will be well, and the storms, the troubles, the burdens, and perplexities become merely “Heavenly hammers for forging our crowns.”

(3) The consolations of suffering. “A mancaught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). This was Paul’s third vision chronologically. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” —that is the lot of all, believers and unbelievers. But it is often the privilege of the Christian that he gets his share of trouble, life’s discipline, which we all need, in God’s service, rather than in his own life and affairs. This was largely the experience of the apostle. In 2 Cor. 11:33 he had been recounting his “labors more abundant,” his “stripes above measure.” It is a long and moving list of all that he suffered for the gospel. And then, at the end, one last item occurred to him: “Through a window, in a basket, was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.” What an unusual piece of missionary work! And what an ignominious exit! “Let down!” Yet does God ever “let His servants down?” Well, He sometimes allows men to let them down! But a man with such an escape and such an experience is likely soon to qualify for Paul’s next experience: “Caught up to the third heaven,” to hear “unspeakable words” and to gain a knowledge of God never to be forgotten. Such then are the consolations of the gospel, and our feeble sharing of “His sufferings.” And as we look back over years of experience in work for God, the times of greatest extremity will continually be found to have been times of God’s opportunity and His greatest nearness. Consolations indeed!

(4) The completeness of the guidance in Acts 16:10: “Forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach … in Asia” is Paul’s fourth vision. He is turned aside from province after province his eager heart would have occupied for Christ, as “the Spirit suffered them not.” For Paul must be launched into a great forward movement, launched into the continent of Europe! How easy it is to miss the way in life. How irretrievable are some of our mistakes! Yet for God’s servant clear guidance is promised and provided for: “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way;” and so “I would have you without carefulness” or anxious care becomes blessedly possible and practical, when the way is chosen for us by One who knows “the end from the beginning.” For He only, is able to steer the little bark of our lives past the shoals and perils of life into our “desired haven.”

What a blessing and rest to have all life’s problems solved for us, all mistakes safeguarded, and to be assured that “He knoweth the way that I take.” Of course this peace of problems solved and dangers safeguarded in advance, implies that we are willing to be guided, that the “government (of our lives) shall be upon His shoulder,” and shall daily be kept there.

But having been shown the way, God’s way, we must respond to the showing. Paul “immediately endeavored to go,” when the Spirit directed. That, should be the normal attitude of every believer. Having seen the vision of the needs of the heathen, having heard the command: “Go ye,” each of us is duly bound to “endeavor to go.” Only a few are qualified to go in body, God will stop most of His children going in person, but surely if we have the “mind of Christ” we shall feel bound to go at least in “purse” and in prayer. It seems to me that loyalty to Christ will result in prompt obedience, in at least an honest “endeavor to go” in person as well.

(5) The confirmation of God’s will is seen in the next vision. For visiting Corinth after the rebuff at Athens, in Acts 18:9, 10 again comes a vision in the night: “Be not afraid, but speak … for I am with Thee.” It has been truly said that the “stops” of a good man are ordered by the Lord, as well as his “steps,” and it was so here. For this hurrying firebrand of the gospel must now pause in his urgency to ever preach Christ in the “next cities,” “and he continued there a year and six months.” But Paul had the Divine assurance that he was in the will of God in doing so; and we too are promised as definite guidance: “I will guide thee with Mine eye” (Ps. 32:8).

(6), (7) The comfort of God’s presence is assured in the last two visions. Before the Jewish Sanhedrin when Paul was in danger of being “pulled in pieces of them,” and he must be rescued by the soldiers, “the night following, the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul.” Later, on his promised voyage to Rome in the storm, Paul testifies: “There stood by me this night the angel of God, saying, Fear not, Paid. How gracious these two interventions, how steadying these two reassurances must have been to that battered messenger of God. And such messages of comfort and promises of protection seem strangely appropriate today in the changing conditions of much of modern missionary service. As the storm-clouds gather in many of the great mission fields, China and Africa and the East, and missionary lives become increasingly unsafe, here is a “very present help in trouble.” We are indeed “immortal till our work is done,” if we keep inside the will of God. But hearts are very human, and danger at times is very imminent, yet still God is both omnipotent and very gracious, and I feel sure we can still claim the guidance and enjoy the protection of the “God of Elijah,” the Lord of Paul, in our very present dangers and difficulties and anxieties. Paul, with Elijah, was a man of “like passions as we are.” Let us then dare with Peter (2 Pet. 1:1) to exercise “like precious faith,” faith that is very precious to God, faith that will make God increasingly precious to us.