Alfred Place Baptist Church

9:15 The Christmas Gift

2 Corinthians 9:15 “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

No one can fail to be sobered by considering the days in which we live. Internationally we are facing the threat of an extreme form of terrorism unknown by mankind before. There exists an utterly ruthless, highly organised and motivated group of men who are prepared to lay down their own lives if they can destroy multitudes of ordinary people who are going about their business, sitting in schools, buses, office buildings or just walking down the street. What is distinctive about these fanatics is that they have access to weapons of fearful destruction. The prospects for the future are grim.

Then there is our own Western civilisation, utterly corrupt, awash with drugs and alcohol, sensuous, materialistic and violent. It is a culture full of whining self-pity, where men and women, old and young, clamour about their ‘rights’. The effects of gambling, pornography, abortion, debt, illiteracy, theft and divorce affect every family. There are also the problems of our own personal lives, the dark depressions, fears and worries that lurk within us: “Why are we here? What is the purpose of this existence?” There is the pain of feeling we shall never find an answer to such basic questions because none exist. So, giving up the quest, people seize any momentary pleasure, destroying their lives and growing old constantly watching whatever is on TV, year after year. Internationally, nationally, and personally there is nothing to give any joy to men and women who live and die without God.

This past week extraordinary publicity has been given to the death of George Harrison, one of the Beatles. You know that this man rejected my Saviour, Jesus Christ, and chose to worship a Hindu god called Krishna whom he called his ‘sweet lord.’ Some members of his family, his second wife and their son, were with him as he died, and they said this, “The profound beauty of the moment of George’s passing – of his awakening from this dream – was no surprise to us.” I want to say that this life is no dream. This life is of the utmost reality. It is the only life that you will ever have. Any religion that teaches that this life is a dream is an evil religion. At this moment you are not dreaming that you are who you are, and where you are, and what you are. This is all real. And when we die, that is not some other process, it is not awakening from a dream. Death is an event. It is appointed unto men once to die. One life. One death, and then we enter another reality at the judgment seat of Christ. One judgment, and one destiny in eternity of either heaven or hell. Krishna did not tell us that, but the One who preached the sermon on the mount, and the One who raised the dead – he who cannot lie – has told us these things.

It is in this world that the Christian lives as a messenger of good news. In the New Testament the first followers of the Lord Jesus Christ could scarcely mention the gospel without the strongest emotions of gratitude, wonder and love bursting forth. They called their message, “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” They represented it as something utterly indescribable, a message which even the angels themselves longed to enter into more fully. One example of this effusive and energetic language we have in our little text. The apostle is reflecting on what God has done for us and he can’t contain his delight: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” he cries.

I have suggested to you that internationally, nationally and personally the world is facing a dark and cheerless prospect. These days in which we live, we fear, are but the beginning of sorrows. For what should we Christians thank God? I would say to you that if things were ten times worse than they are, if the bombs were falling, and the clouds of radiation drifting over our Principality, were we stripped of every earthly blessing, losing all that is ours, then still we have cause for joy and thankfulness. We have reason to praise God.

We rejoice that God is, that God became incarnate in Jesus, that Christ is able to save us, that the Lord offers to redeem us, that Christ pleads with us to come to him for salvation, that he died for our sins, that he rose again, and that this King has the whole world in his hand, that nothing happens by chance, that he never steps off the throne of the universe for a moment so that devils, men, or chance can have their own way even for one horrific second.

“Christ reigns! Ye saints, exalt your strains;
Your God is King, your Father reigns,
And He is at the Father’s side,
The Man of love, the Crucified.” [Josiah Conder, 1789 to 1855]

Consider the apostle Paul and his companion Silas in Philippi in Greece, whipped until their backs were pulp, the victims of mob violence and harsh injustice, condemned to a stinking dungeon, their feet in stocks, facing an unknown future. Were their lives to be soon over as Stephen’s and James’ were? Listen to them at midnight. What do you hear from that prison? Doxology! They are singing together, thanking God for these mercies we have mentioned. They have faithfully followed the command of Jesus Christ and have suffered for it. They are greatly encouraged by the blessedness of being persecuted, believing that Europe is about to fall before Christ as had thousands of men and women already in Jerusalem, Samaria and Asia Minor. All the prison hears the strange sound of happy men singing together.

Can we pretend that we have no reason to be thankful? Isn’t the Christian message for many of us, as it was for Paul and Silas and the whole Corinthian congregation, good news of salvation? Let us declare this congregation to be a discouragement-free zone for the next half an hour, and banish every ungrateful feeling, all our murmurs and complaints, and let us see that we too have every cause to cry with these words of the Holy Spirit, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

I have been reading this week once again the life of Billy Bray and this infectious doxology characterised that Cornish preacher. He would say, “As I go along the street I lift up one foot, and it seems to say ‘Glory!’ and I left up the other, and it seems to say ‘Amen’ and so they keep on like that all the time I am walking.” What gave him such joy, even from his earliest days as a Christian? For example, before he became a full-time preacher he was a miner, and he would pray with the men with whom he worked before they went down the mine-shaft, and he would say, “Lord, if any of us must be killed, or die today, let it be me; let not one of these men die, for they are not happy, but I am, and if I die today I shall go to heaven.” At the end of his days the doctor came to see him, examined him and told Billy that he did not have long to live. “Glory be to God,” he cried, “I shall soon be in heaven.” Then he looked up at the doctor and he said quietly to him. “When I get up there, shall I give them your compliments, doctor, and tell them you will be coming too?” Billy Bray’s faith in the gospel transformed him.

It is not simply to make us feel good that Paul is reminding us of God’s goodness. These words are at the end of two very practical chapters about Christian generosity. Remember the wonderful gift of God to us, he is saying, in order that all of us might become wonderfully kind to others. A man went to a neighbour asking for some financial help for a charity in need, and he began to reminisce to this neighbour about that man’s father, and how he had also asked him for help on many occasions, and that he had not finished a sentence before the neighbour’s father would open a drawer and take out a chequebook and say, “How much do you need?” Of course, he was telling the son about the generosity of the father to motivate the son to copy him. That is why Paul here is referring to the richness of our Father’s kindness to us.

1. JESUS CHRIST IS THE GIFT OF GOD TO MAN.

This is the great theme of the gospel; Paul said that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.” He made the choice starkly clear: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In John 3:16 we are told that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. The arrival of the Messiah was God’s great gift to us. The incarnation was not inevitable. There were not eternal wheels turning and turning, and from their remorseless machinery one day there popped out … Jesus. It was not like that at all. He was God’s free and loving gift. It was not that the leading councils of mankind came together and demanded that God send his Son to deal with the mess on earth, and because of that agitation he arrived. Nothing like that happened. No one had devised or dreamed of this Saviour. No one suggested the thought to God. The initiative and the whole accomplishment stemmed from the loving heart of the Father. He was God’s own gift to us.

Jesus was a genuine gift. There was no fine print attached to his coming. This was not like those envelopes that arrive in your home one morning telling you that their contents are highly important. They announce that you have been chosen to receive a wonderful gift. But before your heart beats faster at dreams of wealth you discover that there are many snags attached to this offer, and that you have to sign a form, take part in a competition, be involved in a sweep-stake or purchase some items yourself, in order that this so-called ‘gift’ – which is no true gift at all – becomes yours. But the gift of the Son of God was not like that. There are no strings attached.

A genuine gift is something of value offered freely to people who have no claim on it. It is given without receiving anything in return. It is given without any expectation that it’s going to be given back. In other words, if something is valueless – like a stone in the gutter – then it is not considered suitable for a gift. Again, it must be offered without any reluctance, utterly freely, the giver having no obligation whatsoever to make the gift. It is not like the tax you send to Her Majesty’s Government. That is not a gift. You will go to prison if you fail to send the money. Or if the people deserve it then it is not a gift. When I worked for the National Coal Board as a wages clerk for a year, and went to various collieries on Friday mornings and gave the miners their wages they didn’t touch their caps to me, and weep a tear or two and cry, “O thank you so much for your kindness. How can I ever repay you?” That packet I gave them was not a gift. They had worked at the coal face in the blackness of the mine for those paltry wages. They had a claim on that money. They deserved it. It was their due. If I kept it I would be stealing from them.

Again, when you barter with someone and offer him a service, or goods, then you are doing so in order to receive something of equal value from him in exchange. You are not making a gift to him. You expect favours in return. Or if a sinner wants a man in authority to show some favouritism to him then he will offer him a bribe – he will grease his palm. Such money is not a gift. It is the purchase of illegal favours. When I sign a mortgage agreement with a bank and they give me fifty thousand then that is not a gift. They expect me to pay it back. It is a loan. Or when there is an implied threat in the bestowal of favour, so that the gift buys a man, and there is the expectation of submission for receiving the money – that is not a gift. That is “an offer the man cannot refuse.” It is a threat.

But the Lord Jesus Christ is a gift from the Creator of the universe. God loved the world and gave Jesus. He is a gift of immense value, and he is offered to us utterly freely. God was under no obligation whatsoever to make us this offer, and we had no claims on God except our own destruction. Jesus Christ is not divine compensation for injuries which God has done to us, for he has done none! The Lord Christ is not payment for services which mankind has rendered to God. He was not given in exchange for favours we had done to God, for sinners have given God nothing and indeed he needs nothing from us. On the contrary, we have done him all the injuries we are capable of.

Neither did God give his Son in order that he would one day receive back something in return. If we have done anything for God then that was our plain duty. Nor does God give us the Lord Jesus with the intention of taking him back from us again. He is not a loan: the gifts of God are irrevocable. Utterly freely, and without any hidden obligations or fine print, God offers his Son to become our very own Saviour and Lord for ever. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to receive the Son. So God’s hands are stretched out to us and in them lies this precious gift of his only begotten Son. Jesus Christ is, therefore, in the most proper use of the term, a gift, the free unmerited gift of God to men.

So let us all understand this truth as clearly as we can. God was under no obligation to provide a Saviour for our world. He provided none for the fallen angels and he was under no obligation to send one to us. He might have let us all perish and then populate the world with a better holier race. He didn’t do that. He pitied us. He set his love on countless millions, like the sands on the seashores, and he determined to save them by the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. He freely delivered him up to death that we all might have life. When we were still enemies Christ died for us. So the achievement of salvation is entirely of God’s love – free, sovereign, wondrous grace from beginning to end. That theme is on the lips of those who are now in heaven. They are saying, Thank-you. They are there only because of the most astonishing action of a kind and generous God. Not unto us, they cry, not unto us, but to your name give glory. All their delight is the Lamb who was God’s gift, taken from God’s own flock, from his own bosom and laid out on the altar of Golgotha to make atonement for their sin.

2. HE IS AN INDESCRIBABLE GIFT.

The Lord Jesus is an ‘indescribable’ gift, says Paul. Now, don’t think that that means I mustn’t try to describe it. How many times in the last forty years of preaching have I described this great gift? I have spoken of little else. Former students return here with their children who are now themselves students here. Twenty-five years might have gone by, and they find me preaching the old old story still. Yes, and if I should live for another twenty years I would still be describing the indescribable glories of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing like it; it is an inexhaustible theme.

What then does Paul mean when he says it is ‘indescribable’?

It is indescribable because of what that love has done. John 3:16 is the most well-known verse in the Bible. It doesn’t say, “how exciting that God loved the world!!” It doesn’t say that God loved it fervently, greatly, immeasurably. None of those adverbs are sufficient to show us the extent of the love of God. He doesn’t say that he has shown his love for the world in that he preserves and keeps and blesses it. That is a fairly describable love. That is a rational and understandable love. But rather he says this, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. He doesn’t describe his love, he tells us what his love has done. He gave his son.

A mother loves her unborn son so much she refuses chemotherapy for her own cancer that the child be not hurt in any way. She takes death, that she might give life to the boy. She doesn’t spare herself that he might be spared. Love made her act like that, but that is not what we have here. We have the cancer loved – the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh. That is ‘the world’ in John’s definition, and God has loved it, but the Son is not spared from death.

Indescribable because of the Father’s love for his Son. The Father loves the Son with an immeasurable love. There was never a love like the Father’s love for his Son, or the Son’s love for his Father. If this God is able to love even his enemies and bless them with countless benefits every day then what must his love be like for his holy, only-begotten child Jesus? Yet God gave him to the whip, the nails, the nakedness, the spear, the mockery, the darkness, the anathema and the grave. It is as if God trained a vast jet of an oxyacetylene flame upon his Son, and kept it on him, hour after hour, fusing him to our sin, and our sin to him, and the Son willingly endured it out of love for us. God did all that to his beloved Son because he loved me, and millions like me, with a determination that he wouldn’t spare Jesus himself that all of us might be spared the flames of hell. Isn’t that an indescribable love?

It is an indescribable love because of the one whom God gives. If he’d commanded a thousand angels to perish for us that sacrifice would have been comparatively nothing, because God can create a million of them in an instant by a word. How many of them might have volunteered to have died on a cross to spare their blessed Master? Every one of them! How different the Son is from the angel! He is uncreatable. No one created God! He is the unoriginated, unbegun one, without beginning or end of days. The Son is as eternal as God himself. There never was a time when he was not. He is as mighty and glorious, as omnipotent and omniscient as God himself, and he always has been, and always will be. In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead. In giving us Christ God has given us himself, and all that he possesses. What are worlds and universes in comparison to the Creator of the rolling spheres, and the Lord of the angels? They are mere creatures. He is the Creator.

It is indescribable love because of the condescension. From the throne of the universe down, down, down to becoming a wrapped up baby in swaddling clothes, and put to sleep in a manger. The Infinite became an infant. The eternal is dandled on a woman’s knee. Mary changes the diapers of the Ancient of days. The Maker of all things is helping the one he calls ‘Dad’ to make tables in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. The One in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge is there in the temple sitting among the doctors, listening to what they say. The One who owns the universe has nowhere to lay his head. The Creator of the clouds, rain and seas asks a woman for a drink of water. It is indescribable. He, before whom the hosts of heaven together bow their heads and cover their faces, has come here among men, to live amongst the poorest of the poor. The hosts actually come here from heaven, standing in the fields of Bethlehem to tell poor shepherds “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” It is a message of grace. He who dwelt eternally in the land of light and love has come into our darkness where they stone young women to death for adultery, and nail young men to crosses. The joy of heaven is to earth come down where he is the man of sorrows. Such a Saviour is indescribable in his condescension.

It is indescribable love because of what it saves us from. When we talk of the angels, think of the hosts of fallen angels in their caverns of despair. See them in the blackness of darkness, bound in eternal chains expecting nothing at all but an eternity of wretchedness. Think of them. Think of Jesus’ words of Judas that it were better for him never to have been born. Can’t we say, better never to have been an angel than an angel who rebelled and became a fallen angel. I ask you, would the gift of a Saviour to redeem them from that place be indescribably precious?

Even so, Christ is an unspeakably precious gift to us. That is where we would be, facing a wretched and hopeless eternity. That is all we could expect. Children of disobedience we were and thus children of wrath. We were facing everlasting condemnation without this gift, but he was lifted up on the cross and suffered God’s magnificent rectitude that we defiled and foul rebels might be saved:

“That wrath would have kindled a hell
Of never-abating despair
In millions of creatures, which fell
On Jesus, and spent itself there.” (Joseph Swain)
It is indescribable because of the blessings this One brings into the lives of all his people. Having given them the greatest gift of all he gives them innumerable other gifts with Christ. He ends their ignorance of what life is all about, who God is, and how they can be saved. He gives them pardon for all their wickedness and he accepts them as if they had never sinned. He withholds no good thing from them. He richly supplies all their needs. He works all things together for their good. At the end he won’t allow them to be overwhelmed with evil. When they walk through the valley of the shadow of death he is there with them. He welcomes them to another world, and raises their bodies from the dust and glorifies them. He presents them perfect in knowledge and holiness and happiness before the throne of God for ever. He makes them heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. He does this for every one of them, for the most backsliding of the elect, for the weakest lamb in his flock, for the new-born gasping crying members of Christ. He carries them in his arms. What more could any being do than what the living God has done for them?

Let me ask you this questions: do you deserve this? Do you deserve all or any of this? Can you think of one person in all the world and in all history who deserves such a gift? There is not one. Can it be conceived that any action you have ever done could have been rewarded in such an extraordinary way? I may ask my oldest grandson to run down to the newsagent and buy a paper for me, and I give him 20 pence, or if I am generous I could give him a pound. But if I were to give him a thousand pounds when he places the paper in my hands he wouldn’t believe that that was payment for running to Northgate Street from Buarth Road for the Times. He would not think that that reward was possible or even fair! He would feel that my gift was far above anything he had earned, that his errand was far below this gift that I had given him, that his service was quite unworthy of such a gift, and if I had quite deliberately given him a thousand pounds I must have done so out of pure generosity and love not payment for getting me a paper. He would never dream that he had actually earned it, even if he broke all records for running between the Manse and Northgate Street. So too, no child of God, however much he has served God, ever thinks that that he deserves to be a child of God, that he deserves to be an heir of heaven, that he deserves to be a priest and a king, to live for ever at God’s right hand in untold blessedness. No! This must be a glorious indescribable gift. We could never have earned blessings like these.

But Christ is also indescribable in the heart here and now. You often hear it said that having Christ within is better ‘felt than telt.’ Every preacher feels that. How can we preach the love of Christ aright? We do not feel it as we should. Of course, there are also times when we cannot preach it because we feel it too much. Would that it were always like that! Once a preacher called Taylor was preaching in New York, and he broke down in the middle of a sentence. He looked at the congregation and he sighed; “There now,” he said, “the nominative has lost its verb … but, hallelujah I am on my way to glory,” and so he went on.

Sometimes we have been in awe at the glory of Christ and what words were there to describe that to another? It was once like that with the apostle John: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” “Why didn’t you preach John?” If he were here tonight he would say, “I was utterly overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even stand. I was so afraid. I fell at his feet as if I were dead.” That is one reason why this gift of God is indescribable. The more you know about the divine glories of Christ the less you can say about them. Christ overpowers us. We are tongue-tied when we get a glimpse of him. Like Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road we are forced to confess, “I could not see for the glory of that light.” Men can’t speak of it fully.

When Paul was caught up to the third heaven he could not repeat what he had seen and heard there. It was indescribable. All the prophets and apostles and saints of God have been trying to speak out the love of God as manifested in Christ, but they have all failed. The Holy Spirit has used human pens and tongues but he himself has never spoken to the full of the measure and value of God’s indescribable gift. In other words, it is indescribable to men even by God himself. Think of Ezekiel’s vision of God, “I looked and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal … Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome … I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army … High above on the throne was a fig ure like that of a man. I saw that from the waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him” (from Ezekiel 1). These images are taken from the creation, for that is all we have, but they are the Holy Spirit describing for us the glories of God. Yet even he uses one simile, one ‘like’ after another. The Lord gave that vision to Ezekiel and he wrote it down, but he cannot make us understand it. We have need to be like God himself to comprehend the greatness of his gift when he gave us his Son. We are saying that the great glories of Christ are indescribable here and now.

Mrs I.B.Davies (the mother of Andrew Davies) told me of the years she and her husband spent in Sandfields Forward Movement Church in the 1920s in Aberavon when Dr Lloyd-Jones was preaching the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. There were occasions at the Monday night prayer meeting when there were long pauses of silence, and Dr Lloyd-Jones would rebuke them for not praying, “but,” Mrs I.B.Davies said to me, “we had had such an experience of God’s glory the night before, that we were incapable of speaking publicly.”

In heaven alone we shall fittingly respond to his glory. John is not silent there. Peter is not crying to Jesus, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” It is no longer unlawful for Paul to speak what he sees and knows. We shall speak freely there of his glory. What vast themes we shall have to speak on. Addison in the hymn, “When all thy mercies O my God my rising soul surveys” cries, “But oh! eternity’s too short to utter all thy praise.” Someone complained, “you cannot make eternity too short.” That shows the difference between a critic and a poet, says Spurgeon. A critic is a being all teeth, without any heart; and a poet is one who has much heart, and who sometimes finds that human language is not sufficient to express the indescribable gift of the Son of God.

3. IT IS NECESSARY FOR A GIFT TO BE RECEIVED.

There can’t be a gift without one to give it and then another to receive it. Have you received this gift of Christ? It’s a little thing to accept a gift. It is a little thing that you put out your hand and take the proffered gift. I wont ask you to thank God for his unspeakable gift unless God has given him to you and you have received it. You may receive it. It is quite free. Nothing is freer. The poorest man in the world may accept a gift. An empty hand may receive a gift. A paedophile may receive a gift. A drug addict may receive a gift. As long as it is not because of man’s merit but because of the generosity of the giver anyone may receive it. Once received then that gift is ours.

There has to be a receiving. At the very beginning of John’s gospel, when the apostle is writing about the indescribable gift of the Word who became flesh, he is talking about the rejection of Christ. He came to his own people, fellow Jews, but they didn’t receive him. He was despised and rejected by them. They were to cry, “We have no king but Caesar,” and they crucified him. But many did receive him, and to all who did he gave the right to become the sons of God. They had to receive this gift from God. There is no hope without receiving him.

God is at this moment stretching out his hands to you and in them there is this indescribable gift. He is offering that gift to you. The gift is the Lord Jesus the Son of God, the great teacher, and protector, and guide of his people. He is being offered to you as your very own Saviour. Have you received him? Press the question home on yourself. Have I received this gift into my own heart? Are you going on for yet another Sunday saying to this loving giving Father, “No! I don’t want your Son. I prefer the world and everything it has to offer me.” Others of you are saying, “I don’t want this gift yet.” You were saying that years ago, and you are still saying it. “There is plenty of time,” you say. But I don’t hear you saying that about other things. If the headmaster were to say to the school on the last day of term, “We were going to close for the holidays, but the weather is not nice today. So I think we’d better keep the school open for another month. Back for lessons tomorrow. Perhaps in a month’s time the weather will be better. What do you think?” All the school and all the teachers too would shout back at him, “No! Today! We want to go on vacation today. We don’t want to wait another month. It doesn’t matter about the weather. We want the school to close now!”

I want you to follow the example of those children. Please don’t tell Almighty God that you will have his gift of eternal life in a month or at some other time. Is it so unworthy a gift? Isn’t that a snub? I can see you saying no to a stone from the gutter, or refusing an ancient sticky piece of gritty toffee, but to refuse Jesus? Isn’t that a terrible snub, as though he were not good enough for you?

You have an old aunt, and maybe she lives on the isle of Anglesey, and your mother has always told you that after her days you are going to be rich, because your aunt is fond of you and she has decided to leave you some money in her will. Now you don’t want her to die, I know, but you sometimes wonder why she seems to be intent on living until she is 100, because you could do with her money now. You are very poor now. You have many needs now. You want that money now. You are not for putting that off at all. Then why should you put off the gift of eternal life and the riches of glory? Have it now!

Some of you are not sure whether you have the gift of God or not. Sometimes you think you have it, and other times you fear you don’t. Do not tolerate a doubt on that subject, I implore you. Get full assurance. If you were dying and there was a miracle drug which the doctor was offering you, wouldn’t you want to know definitely whether it had been given to you or not? Could you tolerate the uncertainty of there being this great cure, but you were uncertain whether you had received it or not? “I must know. Tell me Doctor, have I had it?” So, lay hold of eternal life, for it is the gift of God through Jesus Christ. Get a grip on it. Know Christ. Receive him into your heart and life. Trust him. You have his word, “He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life.”

There was an occasion in “Pilgrim’s Progess” when Christian was speaking to Hopeful concerning his own acceptance of Christ and his salvation: “‘Did you go to God as you had been bidden?’ Hopeful answered, ‘Yes, over, and over, and over.’ Christian asked, ‘And did the Father reveal his Son in you?’ Hopeful answered, ‘Not at the first, nor second, nor third, nor fourth, nor fifth, no, not at the sixth time neither.’ Christian further asked, ‘What did you do then?’ To which Hopeful replied, ‘What? Why, I could not tell what to do.’ ‘Had you thoughts of leaving off praying?’ Christian asked. ‘Yes, an hundred times twice told,’ Hopeful responded. ‘And what was the reason you did not?’ Christian asked him. ‘I believed that that was true which had been told me,’ came the response.’ So Hopeful continued to pray until God gave him the answer of full assurance of salvation which he was seeking.” So it must be with you. Continue to lay hold of Christ until you know you have him as your Saviour.

If you have truly receive this gift then Paul tells us in this passage how we show it. We are filled with thanks to God. Our lives will all be praise. We will mortify by the Spirit that melancholy that makes us such dour and heavy-spirited people. There will be a touch of Billy Bray about us. The gift of God must change our personalities, so that we rejoice in the Lord always. We will be generous-spirited people, zealous in giving to the people of God.

Spurgeon’s first church was in Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, and there he gathered a flock of hundreds of people who hung onto the words of their “boy preacher of the Fens.” He loved them dearly and it was such a wrench when he left them to come to London. He would look out for them in the years to come, when on a special vacation some of them came up to the big city and heard him preach at New Park Street Chapel or the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He said on one occasion, “I remember, when I first came to London from my country charge, I used to think that, if I came across a dog or a cat that came from Waterbeach, I would like to feed it” (C.H.Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 38, p.131).

So with the people of God in need. We love every remembrance of them, and we want to help them as we can. This is the theme of these chapters. If you want to show you have received the gift of God then help his poor people. If you know anything of their needs then help them. Do something for them in Christ’s name.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

9th December 2001 GEOFF THOMAS