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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building Upon God's Foundation

We have seen that, with chapter 54 of Isaiah's prophecies, there commences a movement of God toward recovery and rebuilding. The Cross has cleared the way for this new prospect. From chapter 54 onwards, a number of bright, hopeful notes are struck. For instance, at the beginning of chapter 60:

"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee."

The way having been opened, the ground cleared, and the foundation laid by the Cross, the Lord is facing the whole matter of the recovery, restoration, and rebuilding of His people. There is a new prospect, a new hope, a new message of encouragement. But, with it, a new note is struck. In these later chapters of Isaiah, there are both lights and shades in this new prospect. The sun shines: "Thy light is come ... the glory of the Lord is risen" - it is like the sun rising on an early summer day; and then it is as if a heavy cloud comes over the face of the sun. It may be only passing over, it may be only temporary, but you wonder whether the whole prospect is going to change; whether the bright time is passing, if that is the end.

It is just like that in these later chapters of Isaiah. The - glory of the Lord - has risen; there is a bright prospect; but then, here and there, you come on darker things, such as chapter 58, beginning:

"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and declare unto My people their transgression ..."

From time to time there are these dark clouds, that seem to pass over the face of the sun, even in the presence of this new prospect; and they bring to the heart a feeling of uncertainty. Is this 'radiant morn' too soon to pass away? We are conscious of mixed feelings: we do not yet feel assured that all is going to follow through on this new prospect, to work out according to the seeming promise.

From the Lord's side, of course, there is no question: the Lord has for Himself His new ground, and He shows Himself as One Who means to be positive. He is not of two minds; there is no shadow cast by His turning or changing. Everything from the Lord's side shows Him to be One Who is out for something - really after a new day, a new situation. Yes: for His part, the Lord is positive.

A Check On the Arm of the Lord

But it would seem that He is having to go carefully. He wants to go right out, to have no reserves, but ... but ... there seems to be something that is still holding His Arm in check; He just cannot go right ahead, as He indicates He would do. The old ground has suffered a fiery purging in the Cross; all that stubble, all that tangle and network of thorns and briers, has been dealt with by the fires. He has come in and got His foundation: but ... there seems still to be a question. You cannot read through these chapters without feeling: 'We are not through this business yet; we are not right out on the other side; we are not sure how it is going to work out yet.' The Lord is pretty sure; the Lord is encouraging; the Lord is saying that, as for Himself, He is not holding back for any reason from His side; but there is something that he is encountering.

Let me put it like this. The ground has been cleared, and the foundation has been laid; but now comes the question: What is going to be built upon that foundation? And that is just whee the uncertainty comes in, not as to the foundation, for that is settled in the Cross - but as to the superstructure: what is going to be imposed upon the foundation? The Lord is not sure what His people are going to put upon His foundation.

So far as the Old Testament is concerned, the more immediate answer to the question as to the new building on that new ground is found in what we call the post-exilic prophets, the prophets after the Exile - Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi. We see thee what the people would put upon the foundation; the new building, 'of what sort it was.' But if you should raise the objection, again, that that is 'Old Testament,' let me remind you that I said in the previous chapter that the counterpart of this can be found in the New Testament, in our very own dispensation. We saw that Isaiah 53 finds its parallel in the letter to the Romans, where the Cross encounters all the rubbish and evil and tangle, deals with it in fiery judgment, and clears the ground for a new prospect. That new prospect is brought into view in chapter 8 of Romans; God has now got His foundation. But what is the counterpart of these later chapters of Isaiah?

Right and Wrong Building Illustrated in 1 Corinthians

The counterpart - so patent as you look at it - is in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Writing of his first arrival in Corinth, the Apostle said: "When I came unto you ... I determined" - The language is 'I deliberately made up my mind' - "not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2). The foundation has been laid: "As a wise mater builder I laid a foundation" (3:10), and the foundation is Christ crucified. The Cross, as Paul so clearly sets forth in his letter to the Romans, has provided the foundation, and that foundation has been laid in Corinth. But as you read on in this verse (3:10), you heart almost stands still. You hear Paul saying: "I laid a foundation, and another buildeth thereon." He shows that it is possible to build in this, either "wood, hay, stubble," or "gold, silver, costly stones;" and that every man's work is going to be tried by fire, to discover what sort it is. If any man's work is burnt up - what happens? Well, "he himself shall be saved" - he will just get in - "yet so as through fire;" he will have lost everything.

So there comes this very big question: What are you going to put upon that foundation? What are you going to superimpose upon that ground of the Cross? Are you going to bring back things that are absolutely contradictory to the Cross? If so, you see what happens.

Now in this first letter to the Corinthians there is much about building, in many connections. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that, in a number of passages in the New Testament, and consistently throughout the letters to the Corinthians, the original words for 'build' and 'building' have been rendered 'edify' and 'edification' - although the Revised Version often gives 'build' or 'build up' in the margin, and the compound verb, 'build upon', is usually - for example in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 - translated thus. But during the 300 years since our Authorized Version was made, the word 'edify' has lost some of its force, and present day usage might tend to give us the idea of the acquisition of head-knowledge, which of course is not Paul's meaning at all. The root meaning of the word survives in our word 'edifice,' and Paul is all the time talking about spiritual building - the building up of true spiritual character.

I would suggest to you that you should follow through the nine occasions in this first letter where the words 'edify' or 'edification' are used. The whole matter of spiritual gifts, for instance, is summed up in that one word - Do they build up? If they do not, they are of no value in the purpose of God; they an be ruled out; they have missed their point - for even Divine gifts can miss the point or be side-tracked; we shall have to touch on that again. It is the spiritually constructive side of things which receives such emphasis in this first letter to the Corinthians. The foundation - Christ crucified - is laid. Now for the building!

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 1 "What God Will Not Allow on His Foundation")

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