Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:12 Stepping Heavenward

Philippians 3:12 “not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

These words are about spiritual stocktaking. First Paul looks back and he acknowledges that there is much he hasn’t yet attained. Then he speaks to us from his present perspective and he assures us that he hasn’t lost his momentum to go for those goals. Finally he looks to the future to see where he is going and tells us that he isn’t going to lose his grip on that hope. What a simple outline, looking back, looking around, and looking up. All our Christian life is here. May our study of it be for our good.

1. I’VE COME SO FAR BUT I’M STILL FAR FROM PERFECT.

Paul says it strongly: “not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect” (v.12). The apostle has been talking about the Lord Jesus, and knowing him far more intimately, the power of Christ’s resurrection life operating in him day by day, suffering with him for the sake of the gospel, and knowing then closer fellowship with our sympathetic High Priest. Paul even affirms that he is ready to die for him. What holy aspirations! Himself and the whole church knowing Christ far more intimately. The living Lord making himself known to a revived church as prophet, priest, king, love, light, life, grace, shepherd, guardian, friend, mighty wind and tongues of fire. Count Zinzendorf of the Moravians said, ‘I have one passion. It is he and he alone.’ That was Paul, but here he is telling us that he is nowhere near obtaining such intimate knowledge of Christ. ‘I’ve not been made perfect yet.’

What a contrast with the man that Saul of Tarsus once was. He could tick off a list of his attainments one by one . . . circumcised the eighth day . . . a Hebrew of the Hebrews . . . as for zeal, persecuting the church . . . as for legalistic righteousness, faultless . . . Paul once believed he’d got everything. ‘I’ve arrived!’. Then the Lord Christ met him, and that made this fiery man cool. What a change of mind! ‘No. I haven’t obtained what I want in life, and I’m so imperfect.’ He sees himself with new eyes. He understands himself realistically now that he knows Christ.

Let us be assured of the mighty grace which Paul, with every Christian, had indeed obtained. He’d had a new birth and was given a new heart. He had the imputed righteousness of Christ. He had been pardoned for all his sins, past, present and future. By one Spirit he had been baptised into the body of Christ. The reign of sin over him had been ended. He had a new Lord, Jesus Christ, as his mighty Shepherd-King protecting him for ever. He had been adopted into the family of heaven, made a son of God and a joint heir with Christ. He had been joined to Jesus Christ in eternal union: the Lord was in him and he was in the Lord. We know that Paul had certainly obtained all of this for the simple reason that every Christian is blessed with all those blessings in Jesus Christ. These are the resources and the status that God in grace gives to every single believer, even to the youngest lamb in the flock of Christ.

But what had Paul not obtained so far in his life? So much! Paul wanted the world to be changed, and the church to be revived. He wanted much more of the knowledge of Jesus Christ transforming his life. Often he felt his own walk with God was threadbare. The late Rex Pocock of Manningford, a deacon in Providence Chapel, died last October aged 90. He kept a little diary, and after walking with the Lord for almost seventy years wrote in one entry in 1995 these words, “More like a devil than a saint.” How often did Paul feel that? We know that he wrote, “O wretched man that I am.” If he had been talking about his pre-conversion experience he would surely have written, “O wretched man that I was,” but he said, “I am.” How little he felt the work of grace had advanced in his life since the Damascus Road.

Don’t we feel as a congregation how far we are from being a full New Testament gospel church? A friend of mine sent me a letter this week in which he set out his longings for what he and his fellow believers knew they had not yet obtained. Let us take his desires to our own hearts and affirm that these are the things which we as a congregation also want:

i] The felt presence of God in our meetings. We’ve not obtained that very often. There are times when God’s Spirit descends upon a meeting – and everybody knows God is present. The unseen world becomes terribly, wonderfully close. At those times, the preaching is transformed. The preacher speaks with a boldness and an authority that is obviously supernatural. Hearers forget the preacher and hear only the voice of God speaking to their hearts. Familiar truths become real as they are preached. Those who listen tremble at the thought of God; they shake with fear as they are made aware of their sins, they are overwhelmed with wonder as they hear about the cross of the Lord Jesus, they are filled with a joy that can’t be put into words as they are reminded of heaven to come. The singing is transformed. People sing as they’ve never sung before, realising how wonderful the words are that they’re singing – and conscious that God is listening. The praying is transformed. God’s people pray with confidence, earnestness and with the wrestling spirit which says ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’. All of us, I hope, can remember meetings when we’ve had a taste of that. But I want all our meetings to be like that. I want to know that God is among his people whenever they meet. We have not already obtained that.

Like a deepening of corporate worship is related to our faithfulness and depth in personal devotion so such times of God’s presence will hardly come to us as a body unless we knew something of his dealings with our souls individually. I was reading this week an obituary of a Christian farmer in Wiltshire, Rex Pocock who died a few months ago. He was a deacon for sixty years, and recalled as a young man being severely tempted in his inclination to marry the one who later was to become his wife for fifty-four years. Satan tried to part them and he was in great agony of mind. One night, he had to tend a sow which was in labour, and whilst waiting, he felt such a desire to pour out his heart before the Lord in this matter. Turning an empty pig trough upside down, and placing a bag of chaff on top, he knelt down and begged the Lord to deliver him from the harassment of the evil one. With almighty power, these words came into his heart: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The burden was lifted, the devil fled and, writing fifty-six years later, he said, “I can testify that the word has been fulfilled. The temptation has never returned. I got up from my knees. The pigsty was a sacred spot to me.” Again, one day, he was walking in his field when a most sacred sense of the Lord’s presence overawed him. It was so sacred that h= e took his cap off and said,

“I could from all thing parted be, But never, never Lord from Thee.”

He felt he could even be parted from his dear one for Christ’s sake. On yet another occasion at this time, whilst walking down a long field, deeply burdened with the opposition to their marriage, Rex said that the Lord broke into his soul with the words: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” In all these things, he was learning the age-old lesson that “tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Again during this period, Rex was staying at Hove, and after retiring to bed, such a sense of Christ’s presence filled his heart, he felt that had he died he would have gone straight to glory. “He was precious to me,” he wrote. “Truly, when favoured to feel Him near, with that powerful drawing to Himself, then earth and all its toys sink into their rightful place.” A little while after this, when again experiencing opposition, he records that “Jesus Himself drew near, and I laid my head on His sacred bosom. Then, ah then! there was a sacred peace. Blessed spot!” These are precious times when the Lord himself comes to us in blessing. O that we might know more of this as individuals and also when we gather together.

ii] That we’ll see many people of every sort, from every background, converted. I long to see real conversions – powerful, unmistakable conversions. I long to see people terrified at the thought of the wrong they’ve done to God, calling out ‘what must I do to be saved?’ I long to see them drawn to Christ, thrilled with him, overwhelmed by his willingness to save sinners. I long to see them breaking with the old life completely, turning their back on the world, being baptised, giving themselves in consistent obedience to Christ. And I want to see this happening with people of all sorts.

One of the great proofs that the gospel is true is the fact that it has power to reach the hearts of every sort of sinner. I want to see young children saved – and elderly folk in nursing-homes. I want to see bright young students saved – as well as illiterate tramps who sit on the pavement with their ‘Homeless and Hungry’ signs and ‘Big Issue’ sellers. I want to see God’s saving power working among wealthy business-people, among Albanian asylum-seekers, among delinquent youngsters off the street-corner. Most of the folk added to our membership in recent years have been ‘university types’, scientists, librarians, computer experts. It’s grand to have them – but where are the bricklayers, the window-cleaners, the plumbers – and the unemployed? We haven’t obtained that. Without that mix of people, the church will become unbalanced. I’m praying that we’ll see many such folk turning to the Lord in 2003. “Not that we have already obtained this . . .”

iii] That divided families will be united. We want folk of every sort to be converted. But of course, we have a special concern for the unsaved members of our own families. I want to see the Holy Spirit coming upon very young children from church-families, as well as on our unsaved teenagers. I want those who grew up in the church but long ago turned away to be brought back, repentant. I want to see unsaved husbands turning to the Lord Jesus and becoming the spiritual leaders in their own homes. (We’ve prayed for some of those men for twenty years or more). We’re warned in the Bible that the gospel will often divide a home. We’ve seen this happen many times. But the Bible also gives us examples of whole families being converted together. I don’t think we’ve ever obtained that. Perhaps we will in 2003.

iv] That every member of the church will be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am not talking about one great crisis experience. I am saying that every one of us ought to be brim-full of the life of God every moment. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would have a great sense of the love of God towards us. We would be able to say, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). And we on our side would love the Saviour with a warm, steady love. We would long for the day when he comes again. We would want to serve him with all our strength. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would love one another more warmly, more affectionately and more practically than we do. We would pray for one another more consistently. We would commit ourselves to the life of the church more thoroughly. We would be eager to be with our fellow-believers, listening to God’s Word, so we would do everything in our power to be at the meetings. We would look forward all month to being at the Lord’s Supper and feeding on Christ there. If we were filled with the Spirit, we’d be very careful to avoid anything sinful or even dubious. We’d turn away from worldly entertainments and distractions. In every situation our first question would be ‘How can I honour God?’ not ‘What do I want to do?’ We’d deal with our problems – especially our disagreements with other church-members – in a biblical way. We’d never let dislikes or grudges fester in our hearts. We’d learn to say sorry. We’d learn to be straight with people. We’d learn to talk to people who offend us, not talk about them behind their backs. The life of the church would be sweeter. Once in 1942 Rex Pocock as a deacon went prayerfully and with a heavy heart to see a Providence Church member who had been profaning the Sabbath. He found on arrival the member in tears of deep contrition. Far from being a severance, the bond of love between them was strengthened. The Lord Jesus has promised that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (Luke 11:!3). Is it too much to ask that the whole church should be filled with the Spirit? We’ve not already obtained that yet.

v] That the Lord will strengthen the team of godly leaders in the church. I can’t get out of my head the picture we have in Acts 13:1-3. In those verses we see the leaders of the church in Antioch, “worshipping the Lord and fasting together”. It was to those leaders that the Lord revealed his will for the church. That is how a church should be governed – by a group of godly men willing to give themselves together to prayer, fasting and the work of shepherding the church. Where would our church have been without the men who have been our elders for thirty years? I’m praying that the Lord will raise up other men too to lead the congregation into the 21st century. I want to be part of such a team, and I want to be fitted to take my place in the team. I want to be a true shepherd, like the one Great Shepherd.

Whether we are speaking about our own attainments in grace, or of the life of our own congregation surely every heart here says with Paul that as we look back, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect.”

2. I PRESS ON.

That is what Paul does now (v.12). He can see that he’s got a long way to go, but he doesn’t sit back and spectate. He doesn’t sulk. He doesn’t hold a pity party. He doesn’t grumble. He tells us what he is doing, he is pressing on. The word is vigorous, ‘I pursue as a hunter’ – that’s the image. Literally ‘I zealously persecute’- it’s the action he took when he was trying to destroy the infant church (it’s the same word as in v.6). Or again the word describes a long distance runner, going on and on and on. In other words none of those five goals which we have listed above, as yet all unattained, are going to be achieved suddenly. Yes, justification is a declaration made by God concerning the righteous status of the sinner who believes in Jesus. Adoption into the family of God is an event not a process. The end of the reign of sin has been granted to every Christian. Uniting us to Christ is an act of God. Such are the works of Christ and so they are perfect works. The Christian is complete in him. But what of Christian moral and spiritual maturing into the likeness of Christ in fellowship with the whole congregation? That cannot be achieved in a moment. The whole church has to press on for that.

Paul didn’t pick that up on the road to Damascus. He didn’t get that when he was caught up to the third heaven. He didn’t achieve that when he spoke in foreign languages. You can’t come away with that from a convention. Would that it were so! For all those things he tells us he was daily pressing on. “There is nothing sudden about it; his whole picture is one of development and progress. Paul is like a man running along the road, taking step after step, and ever plodding forward. There is no sudden transition from a state of improvement to a state of perfection. Indeed, a good illustration, used by Paul and other New Testament writers on the same subject, is that of the ‘babe in Christ’, where the whole idea suggests growth and development, with steps and stages. Or take again Paul’s other example of the plants and the flowers. He talks about the gardener planting seeds (for example, 2 Corinthians 3:6&7) and in that illustration there is the same idea. Perfection, and complete sanctification must never be conceived of as something that happens suddenly. In a meeting or a convention a man preaches and you may have a new view of the love of God, but that is very different from perfection and complete sanctification. The apostle’s method is pressing forward, striving, going on, step by step and stage by stage . . . He talks in I Timothy 6:12 about fighting the good fight of faith. All such expressions are indicative of great activity on the part of the Christian in the matter of salvation. In the matter of our righteousness and justification we can never say too often that we do nothing, we can do nothing, that it is entirely the work of Christ. But once we are saved and given this new life, then the progressive work of sanctification does not call for passivity; we are exhorted to action” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace: Studies in Philippians 3 & 4”, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1990, pp.88&89).

So what you have in the Bible is this, the declaration that the grace of perseverance has been bought for every Christian by the blood of Christ. That is God’s purpose for all those he has given to Christ, that not one of them should be lost. None of them will go to the place of woe. God’s omnipotent power over all things will ensure that nothing will ever separate us from his love which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. He has made many promises that he will keep us, that nothing shall pluck us out of his hands. Christ will save us to the uttermost, and so he ever pleads on our behalf. He will bestow upon every Christian God the Spirit, and he will never cease dwelling within us. All needed grace will most certainly be ours in every one of life’s trials and temptations. Grace will keep us, protect us, enable us, strengthen us, preserve us and ultimately bring us home to glory. All that is true – thank God – but some other ideas current in the professing church are simply misconceptions. For example:

i] That Christians persevere does not mean that just as long as any person has ‘asked Jesus into his heart’ that he is safe, even though his life hasn’t changed at all. Not all who profess to be Christians will persevere. Every professing Christian must press on. The Lord has told us, “by their fruits you will know them.”

ii] That Christians persevere does not mean that real believers will automatically press on like the sun’s relentless course across the heavens. No. That doesn’t happen. True Christians can experience fearful falls, and times of spiritual declension, and there are a number of examples of this in the Bible. That is why we are told to keep pressing on.

iii] That Christians persevere does not mean that they can sit back and do nothing about maintaining spiritual ardour and passion. We all have to press on.

This is exactly what you meet in all those Christians whose lives have counted for God. They take their duty of pressing on very seriously. It was, I believe, George Verwer who said that the Christian whom men call a fanatic is generally someone who loves Jesus more than they do. That has often been true. Whitefield said, “I am never better than when I am on full stretch for God.” That’s what Paul is saying here, “I press on – like a hunter hungry for food, like a marathon runner seeing the finishing tape.” In his early years as a missionary in Africa David Livingstone expressed to the London Missionary Society his willingness for service by saying, ‘I’m willing to go in any direction, provided it is forward.’ Amongst Jonathan Edwards’ seventy ‘Resolutions’ was this: “To live with all my might while I live.” Amy Carmichael captured this spirit in her famous lines:

“Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire. Let me not sink to be a clod; Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

William Booth once said, “Unless I go about my business of saving the souls of men with an energy and a zeal almost amounting to madness, nobody will take any notice of me, much less believe what I say and make profit out of it.” William Booth was pressing on, and that is the calling of each of us. =

To press on effectively your mind and your body have to work together.

i] This has to be a fixed purpose in your mind. I mean you have to be gripped by it. You have to see in your understanding the greatness and the sacredness and importance of pressing on. You have to see the holy obligations which rest upon you, and you have to say, “I am not going to serve myself. I am not going to serve my friends. I am not living for the world. I am pressing on to serve Christ. I am going to consecrate my time and my efforts and talents to promoting his kingdom.” You must make up your mind on that attitude, that it is non-negotiable. You are determined to press on.

ii] There has to be real physical, mental and emotional energy spent every day in pressing on. There are a hundred distractions to draw us away from this goal. The good is often the enemy of the best. We get our priorities wrong. We lose the unity and the force of Christian living. If a stream divides into many channels it will meander feebly in them all. A mighty river can lose its way. Only by collecting all the water into one channel can the current become deep and strong. It is like this with the Christian life. We are not called to run off in all directions but to focus all our strength and resilience in pressing on to know and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest characteristic of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was that he never lost his way. Christians who persevere will often grow weary; they may find themselves having to work into the night, and rise in the morning, and being away from hearth and home. Pressing on means often being worn out for Jesus Christ.

What we are insisting is this, that our life with God is not going to take care of itself. It has to be watched and nourished with ceaseless care. We have to press on in attending the means of grace, the Sunday services, the meetings for prayer. We have to press on in personal devotions. We have to press on in a growing knowledge of the Bible. We have to press on in financial stewardship. We have to press on in bearing the burdens of the weak. We cultivate a growing sense of responsibility for other church members. We have to press on in evangelistic concern. We have to press on especially in mortifying remaining sin. We have to itemise and individualise those sins that most easily beset us so that we know precisely those things in our own lives that we have to murder. And if we don’t mobilise ourselves against these enemies the result is going to be fatal – they will kill our Christian profession. Kill, or be killed. None of this is by some secret process of osmosis. It is something we have to do deliberately and consciously to our own sins.

Of course we do all this by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the wisdom of the Bible. Pressing on is never something we do on our own. How could we set out to kill our love for some darling sins, our own guilt and our own failure, if we did not have the Holy Spirit to supply the strength? Towards some of our sins we feel like Abraham laying Isaac on the altar. Only by the Spirit can we sincerely ask God, ‘Lord, show me myself. Give me your view of me.’ Then when he shows us something he finds obnoxious we have to act as an executioner and bludgeon it to death. No wonder we cry continually, ‘Holy Spirit, help me to keep pressing on.’ The Bible knows nothing of a Christian who is not pressing on.

3. I SHALL TAKE HOLD OF THAT FOR WHICH CHRIST TOOK HOLD OF ME.

“to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12). On the Damascus Road the Lord took hold of Paul. He did so deliberately. He’d made up his mind to do so. He planned this appointment with Paul from the foundation of the world and there he grasped him with a love which would never let Paul go. God had a purpose for Paul: he was going to carry the name of Jesus for the rest of his life (Acts 9:15). Then at the end of his journey Paul was going to see Jesus Christ, and be like him, and with him for ever. That was why the Lord had taken hold of him, for Christ-service, for Christlikeness and glorification. So Paul, in turn, took hold of Christ. The motto of the college Spurgeon founded in London to train preachers is Teneo et Teneor, which means, “I hold and I am held.”

Once we know where we are going we can prepare, for example, when I left this Welsh winter to go to South Africa a month ago I took all my short-sleeved shirts – a simple enough preparation, to raid the summer-wear drawers in the spare bedroom. But consider more challenging enterprises: a deep sea diver on his journey down to the bottom of the North Sea to examine the foundations of an oil rig. He makes very careful preparation for that descent. Consider an astronaut soon to be blasted off into space. Look at the suit he puts on and the training he goes through. He has been chosen for t his mission into a gravity-free orbit around the earth. Consider the athlete as she settles into her blocks for a 100 meter race, how carefully she has prepared for this event. Everything about her speaks of her concentration on winning a medal. Consider a man testing the molten metal in the furnaces of a steel mills. See that he is dressed in an asbestos suit. His cautious movements show his respect for the task he has been given. When you know where you are heading you make preparation for the task ahead.

All of us are facing the future and at the end of our journeys lies the grave. Every single one of us is going to die. How are you going to prepare for it? Ignoring it? Like some brute beast, like a dog or a pig, with no concept at all of death; here today and gone tomorrow? But gone where? Or will you prepare by railing at it, defying it? “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage rage against the dying of the light!” But whether you go gently, or go raging, go we all will! Or will you prepare for death as a Stoic and submit to death as an unavoidable evil believing that there is nothing else? I prefer the faith of the Lord Christ. I will say this to you, that the wisest, holiest and most powerful man this world has ever seen was Jesus of Nazareth. No man has every spoken like him. He rose from the dead on the third day. The stone guarding his tomb was rolled away and while his graveclothes were there his body was not. He appeared to his disciples. He made sure that every single one of his followers – about five hundred of them – saw him in the next six weeks. A number of them were going to die for the message that he was alive, and all were going to suffer. So they all had a steady sight of him and their lives were transformed by his living presence. They had been uncertain and afraid but after he had been with them and poured out God the Spirit upon them in Jerusalem at Pentecost they were confident and vital people. They were prepared to lay down their lives, not for an ideology, and not for their country, but for this fact in history – Christ rose on the third day and lives. They had seen him. He had talked with them. They had eaten and drunk with him. He himself said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you may be also.” (Jn. 14:1&2). That is where they were going. He had laid hold of them to take them to himself in glory. And we who have that hope prepare for that time; we purify ourselves as God is pure. We make preparation as carefully as the deep-sea diver, the astronaut and the athlete. Christ laid hold of us to take us to heaven, and so we lay hold of him.

That is the means of Christian hope. That is why the Lord Jesus Christ has taken hold of every one of his people, that where he now is in heaven we also may be. “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” (Shorter Catechism, Answer 37). A certain Christian would often visit the grave of his wife, and when someone inquired about the comfort he got from being there he replied, “I think of that dust that Jesus Christ once laid hold of. He will never let it go.”

Are you ready for heaven? Have you laid hold of his righteousness, clean and white? He himself has given this to you now and for the time you will see him. That is the marriage dress woven by him, with hands imbrued with blood, his pierced hands. O what a precious garment it is. Who else could have given you a garment like it? Who else could give you a garment, won and paid for by substitution, by being forsaken of the Father on the cross? Don’t be afraid. Trust wholly in your Lord. Be sure that he has imputed to you the robe of righteousness. Then you will see him and be like him when you meet him. This is why Christ took hold of you.

There is something wonderful here and I must explain it to you. The closer we get to Christ now the more ashamed we feel. There is no one more ashamed of himself in the presence of the Lord than the person who is nearest to him. How we can look at him, how we can know he is near (as we know our friends are near us just now) without being ashamed, I cannot tell. That is an experience we’ve never had in the world. We’ve so much to be ashamed of, and he knows everything about us, even those things that grieve us most.

It is not going to be like that when we see him. We will be with him but we will not be ashamed. We will be with him for ever, but we will not have eternal shame. There will be no attempt to hide things from him. We will know that his love has forgiven it all, and he will never call it to remembrance. He even enables us to do what he bids us do, and forget the things that are past. “Sin my worse enemy before shall vex my eyes and ears no more,” says Isaac Watts.

Christ has laid hold of us to take us to a place where there will be no misunderstandings. No one will speak an unkind word about another. There will be no divisions. There will be no devil. Oh, what havoc he has caused in the church. How he has set brethren one against the other, denomination against denomination! But they shall come from the north and from the south, from the east and from the west, and they shall sit together as one in the Kingdom of God. That is why Christ has taken hold of us. I would plead with you in his name to prepare yourselves now for that place. Try to get that kindly forgiving disposition now, even while you are here on earth. Seek to have it in a goodly measure here because we are going to have it in full there. Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.

Many of you are still unbelievers. Christ has brought you here again where he meets with his people. How thankful you should be for that, but how sad that you are no further. Yesterday there was a terrible accident when seven astronauts were killed. They had been in space for 11 days and had travelled tens of thousands of miles. The space shuttle Columbia was only 16 minutes from touchdown, but then it disintegrated on re-entry. So near home, and yet they all perished. It is not enough that you are near to Christ because you are in our meeting today. You are not far from the Kingdom, but you must be taken hold of by Christ. When the prodigal son came to his old home his father did not keep him at a distance speaking to him over the farm gate. We are told, “He ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20). He laid hold of him and he held him as if to say, “I will never let go of you. You won’t leave me again.” He hugged his son. Has Christ come to you so that you know that he is your Saviour? How can you possibly contain your grief when you reply, No. How can you possibly live without his strong arms supporting and keeping you day by day? Doesn’t it break your heart? “I must have you Lord because then I will be with you for ever. I can’t bear the thought of others being there but not me! Take hold of me Lord!” Pray that prayer until you know that he has got you, until you are sure that he is yours and you are his. Then what hopes of heaven are yours!

Here is this beautiful hymn written by a German hymn-writer named Tersteegen and translated into English by Frances Bevan. I quote it as giving the Christian hope far better than my words:

“Midst the darkness, storm and sorrow One bright gleam I see; Well I know the blessed morrow – Christ will come for me.

Midst the light and peace and glory Of the Father’s home, Christ for me is watching, waiting, Waiting till I come.

Oh, the blessed joy of meeting – All the desert past: Oh, the wondrous words of greeting He shall speak at last!

He and I in that bright glory One deep joy shall share; Mine, to be for ever with Him, His, that I am there.

2nd February 2003 GEOFF THOMAS