August, 2013 browsing by month


A Gem from the past: “Christ our Food” by Edward Dennett

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Excerpted from, Edward Dennett, Unsearchable Riches, chapter 6: “Christ our food”; located here.   Accessed on 8/19/13.

ANOTHER character in which Christ is brought before us is that of our food. This was foreshadowed in the Levitical economy; for the priests received the most minute and precise instructions concerning feeding upon the sacrifices, or parts of the sacrifices (see Lev. 7). But there were differences. In some cases the whole priestly family were admitted to the privilege (Lev. 6:18Lev. 7:6, etc.); and it is in these that we specially see the privilege of believers now of feeding upon Christ. Our Lord Himself refers to the subject during His life. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man shall eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews, therefore, strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me,” etc. (John 6:51-57).

We have in this scripture, “eating the flesh of the Son of Man, and drinking His blood,” and “eating” Christ Himself; and combining this with other scriptures, we are said — speaking generally — to feed upon Christ in three characters: as the Passover Lamb, as the Manna, and as the Old Corn of the land; for it need scarcely be said that all these things are types of Christ. In the scripture cited from John’s Gospel, we have Christ especially as the Manna (ver. 32, 33, 48-50, etc.); and a reference to Him also as the Passover Lamb (compare 4th ver. with ver. 53, etc.); but we shall have to turn to the Epistles to find Him in the character which answers to the Old Corn of the land (Joshua 5:11).

(1) We will consider Christ, first, as the Passover Lamb, as the food for His people. If we go back to the history of Israel, we shall find that they kept the Passover in Egypt (Ex. 12), in the wilderness (Num. 9), and in the land (Joshua 5). The question then arises, When do we feed upon Christ as the Passover Lamb? It is sometimes said that we only do this at the outset, when, convicted of sin, we fear the approach of God as a Judge; and that as soon as we have deliverance, we thereafter cease to feed upon Him in this character. If this be so, why does Israel keep the Passover both in the wilderness and in the land? I think, therefore, that it will be seen that we never cease to keep the Passover; and, moreover, that the place in which we thus feed upon Christdepends upon our state of soul.

Every believer knows what it is (has known what it is) to feed upon the roast lamb in Egypt. Awakened by the Spirit of God, alarmed by the impending judgment, brought under the shelter of the precious blood, how eagerly we fed upon the Lamb that had passed through the fires of God’s holiness when bearing our sins on the tree! True, it was with bitter herbs that we ate it, for we then had a sight of our sins — in measure according to God; and with girded loins, and shoes on our feet, and our staff in our hand, for already Egypt had become morally a desert, and we were only waiting for the word of the Lord to commence our pilgrim journey. It was a time much to be remembered, for it was the beginning of months — the first month of the year of our spiritual life.

But while every believer has passed through this experience, it is to be feared that many feed upon the roast lamb in Egypt all their lives. Not knowing deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ, or even peace with God as the result of the sheltering blood, they feed upon Christ only as the One who by His death bars the way to God as a Judge; and consequently they do not know God as their God and Father in Christ Jesus. Such a state of soul is both to be deprecated and deplored; for it is the result either of bad teaching, or of the unbelief of the heart in the fulness of the grace of God.

Passing now from Egypt, the next place in which Israel kept the Passover was the wilderness; and they were told to keep it there “according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof” (Num. 9:3). The wilderness is the place of every believer when viewed as a pilgrim. The world has become a desert to him, and he is passing through (as not of) it, because he is waiting for the return of his Lord. How then does he feed upon Christ as the slain Lamb in the wilderness? “It is participation by grace in the power of the death and resurrection of Christ,” by which we have been brought out of the enemy’s territory — delivered from the power of Satan and redeemed unto God. In the wilderness we feed upon the Passover as the memorial of our deliverance from Egypt; and in it we see Christ going down into death, and not only bearing all the judgment that was our due — going through and exhausting it, but also as meeting and conquering all the power of the enemy — destroying him that had the power of death, and thereby bringing us out from the house of bondage, and setting us free as the children, and for the service, of God. In the wilderness, therefore, we feed upon the Passover Lamb as pilgrims and strangers — knowing deliverance, but not as yet come to the land of which the Lord has spoken. Hence in this character we not only value (according to our faith) the precious blood, and delight to contemplate its wondrous efficacy as clearing us for ever from every charge and claim of the enemy, but we also feed upon the death of Christ as such, because of our death (and resurrection) in Him, by which we have been brought out into a new place, where we can look back upon death and judgment as being for ever behind us.

In the land the Passover assumed another character still, and one too which should also find its correspondence with the believer now. It is very evident that to the Israelite it would have a much fuller significance when he was across the Jordan than when he was in the desert. It would be to him now the memorial, not simply of deliverance from Egypt and Egypt’s thraldom and power, but of accomplished salvation. For in truth his position in the land, while it was to the glory of God’s faithfulness and grace in the performance of all that He had promised (“for there failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel: all came to pass,” Joshua 21:45), was the consequence of the shed blood. In other words, the blood of the Passover lamb laid the foundation for the accomplishment of God’s purposes; and hence, to those whose eyes were opened, the blood would have a far greater value when over the Jordan than when in the waste howling wilderness.

So now. For we have a position which agrees entirely with being in the land; for not only have we been quickened together with Christ, but we are also raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2). This is the place before God of every believer; but whether we are occupying it depends upon whether we know death and resurrection with, as well as in and through, Christ; whether we have crossed the Jordan as well as the Red Sea. It is our privilege to do so: indeed, we ought never to be content until, by the grace of God, we do know what it is to be seated in spirit in the heavenly places. But if we are there, we cannot dispense with the Passover. On the other hand, the more fully we apprehend the character of the place into which we are brought, the more the riches of the grace of God are unfolded to us, the more delightedly, and with enlarged apprehensions, we shall look back to the cross, and feast upon the death of Him whose precious blood alone has made our place in the heavenlies possible for us. But our feeding upon Him now will partake more of the character of communion with God in the death of His Son. Our eyes will then be opened to discover, not so much the blessings which have thereby been secured to us, as that God in every attribute of His character has been fully glorified in that death. We shall thus (if we may so speak) feast with God when we keep the Passover in the heavenly places; and the effect on our souls will be adoration and praise: in a word, worship of the highest character will be the result of our feeding upon the slain Lamb when seated in the heavenlies. For we are seated there in peace before God — already in possession of our place in His presence; and it is only then that we can have communion with His own thoughts, and with His own joy in the death of His Son.

We see, therefore, that we feed upon Christ as the Passover Lamb in every stage of our experience; but the place in which we do so — Egypt, the wilderness, or the land — will depend upon our states of soul. And no doubt, when we are gathered together to show the Lord’s death until He come, there are often side by side those who are in the wilderness and those who are in the land. Still they feed alike upon the death of Christ, remember Him as dead, whatever the difference in their apprehensions, or in their experiences or attainments. In heaven itself, indeed, we shall contemplate that death with ever-increasing adoration; for the blood of the Lamb will be the theme of glorified saints throughout eternity.

(2) Christ as the Manna is also the food of His people. The manna differs from the roast lamb in that it was confined to the wilderness. It was not until Israel had been brought through the Red Sea that the manna was given (see (Ex. 16); and it “ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more, but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12). It was, therefore, the wilderness food of Israel; and in like manner Christ, as the Manna, is the wilderness food for the believer. But a distinction has to be made. Inasmuch as the history of Israel, passing through the desert, crossing the Jordan, and occupying the land, is typical, they could only be in one place at a time. The believer is at the same moment in the wilderness and in the heavenlies. For service, for the expression of Christ down here, viewed as a pilgrim, waiting for the return of the Lord, he is in the desert; his position before God, as united to a glorified Christ, is ever in the heavenly places — whether he occupies it, is another question. Hence, supposing him to know his place, he needs the Manna and the Old Corn at the same time. In other words, he needs to feed upon Christ in both aspects. He is never in Egypt, whatever his experiences; for that would be to deny the truth of his deliverance through the death and resurrection of Christ. A quickened soul may be in Egypt, but a believer — meaning by this term one who has been brought into the true Christian place by the indwelling Spirit — has done for ever with Egypt; for the world has become to him a moral wilderness; and it is as being in the wilderness that he feeds upon Christ as the Manna.

What, then, is the Manna for the believer? It is Christ in incarnation — a humbled Christ. “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses give you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:323349-51). Christ is thus the Manna in all that He was in the flesh — in the expression of what He was both as the revealer of the Father and as the perfect man. His grace, compassion, sympathy, tenderness, and love — His meekness and lowliness of heart — His patience, forbearance, and long-suffering — His example — all these things are found in the Manna which God has given to us for food during our sojourn in the wilderness.

He is continually presented to us in the Manna-character in those epistles which especially deal with the desert-path of the saint. “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:1-3). That is, we are exhorted to feed upon Christ as the manna to sustain us amid the trials, difficulties, and persecutions incident to the desert. In like manner Peter, who writes particularly “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus,” etc., continually leads us to Christ in this aspect. “What glory is it if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving its an example, that ye should follow His steps,” etc. (1 Peter 2:20-24; see also 1 Peter 3:1718). The Apostle Paul, too, feeds the saints with manna. For example, though it contains more, we have it in Philippians 2:5-9 — manna, we might say, of the most precious character. “Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” But it is in the Gospels that the manna lies gleaming round us on every side, and where it is to be gathered for use as the needs of each day may require. For there it is that we have the unfoldings of that wondrous life — the life of Him who was the Perfect Man, and, at the same time, God manifest in flesh.

Two remarks, however, may be made as to the collecting and use of the manna. The Israelites went out of the camp to gather at a certain rate every day (Ex. 16:4). We must go down for the same purpose. That is, unless we know our place in the heavenlies, and in truth what it is to feed upon the old corn of the land, we shall scarcely be able to feed upon the manna. This is remarkably brought out in the Apostle Paul’s ministry: he began with Christ in glory. So must it be with us. When we know our union with a glorified Christ, our place in Him before God, we shall feast with intensified delight upon Christ as the manna. Historically the manna came before the old corn, but the order should be reversed for the believer — for the simple reason that God has so reversed it in the presentation of Christ to our souls. We preach, as Paul did, a Christ in glory; and when He is thus apprehended, then, and not until then, we can find in a humbled Christ our food while in the wilderness. Hence the great loss, and consequent weakness, of those who are never permitted to hear of Christ in glory; whose only thought of Him is as once dwelling down here in the flesh, when He was made in the likeness of men.

The second remark is the very obvious and often-repeated one, that the manna cannot be stored for use. Every one must gather it every day according to his eating (Ex. 16:16); and if he gather more — unless it be for “the Sabbath” — it will surely become corrupt. No, beloved friends, there must be the constant feeding upon Christ, day by day, and hour by hour; and we can never receive more than our need for the time requires. Thereby we are kept in continual dependence, and our eyes are ever directed to Christ.

As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (John 6:5 7).

(3) There remains to be considered Christ as the Old Corn of the land. In the passage already referred to (Joshua 5:10-12), we have the Passover, the manna, and the old corn mentioned together, and this fact makes the interpretation the more manifest. If, therefore, the manna is Christ in incarnation, the old corn, inasmuch as the land typifies the heavenly places, of necessity points to Christ in glory. And we shall find that He is so presented to us in the epistles as the sustenance and strength of our souls, and so presented as our proper nourishment, even though believers may be regarded in the epistles, not, as in the Ephesians, as seated in the heavenlies in Christ, but, as in Colossians and Philippians (and indeed in 2 Corinthians), as down here upon the earth; for though still down here, they are united to Him where He is.

Take Colossians first. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which tre above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection [have your mind] on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Here it is true we have “the things which are above;” but it is evident that by this term is meant the whole sphere of blessing, of which Christ in glory is the centre — the spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in fact, into the possession of which we are brought, and all of which are summed up in Christ. These therefore are “the old corn of the land,” “the fruit of the land of Canaan,” the proper food and sustenance for those who have died and are risen with Christ.

In Philippians 3 we have the same truth brought before us. For what have we there but a glorified Christ as filling the vision of the Apostle’s soul, and as the satisfying portion of his heart? Thus if we have the manna in chapter 2, we most surely have the old corn of the land in chapter 3. One more instance may be cited (2 Cor. 3:18): “We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Hence, too, the value of the constant expectation of Christ. It attracts us to the person of the glorified Christ, engages our hearts with Him, and fills our souls with longing desires for that time when we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

All these passages, and many more of a kindred character, direct us to Christ in glory as the old corn of the land; but this is food with which we cannot disperse: no other will so nourish or impart such strength to the saint. It is heavenly food for heavenly people; and it is only when we are feeding upon it that we can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might; that we can make war with the enemy for the possession (the occupation) of our inheritance; that we are made willing to undergo anything and everything — fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, being made conformable unto His death, if in any way we may arrive at the resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3), when we shall be glorified together with Him who has been the strength and sustenance of our souls.

It should be remarked, too, that there is no power to express Christ in our walk down here excepting as we are occupied with Him in glory.* He should thus be, in this character, ever before us; and He will be when, taught of the Spirit, we can say to Him, “All our springs, all the sources of our joy, are in Thee.” And He Himself desires this; for He said to His disciples, when speaking of the coming Spirit of Truth, “He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:1415).

*See chapter 10 for further instruction on this subject.

Feeding upon, occupation with, Christ is, therefore, the Alpha and the Omega of the Christian life; occupation with His death — that death which laid the foundation not only of our own redemption and deliverance, but also of the reconciliation of all thins; occupation with Him in incarnation, when, though He were the Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, when, as the obedient and dependent Man, He found His meat in doing the Father’s will and in finishing His work, and thus glorified God in every detail of that wondrous life; and, above all, occupation with Him in the glory — as the glorified Man — the centre of all God’s counsels, and the object of all His delight; yea, the satisfying portion of His heart. It is thus by occupation with, feeding upon, contemplating Christ, that we are brought, in the power of the Spirit, into fellowship with God; enabled to enter into His own thoughts concerning, and even to share His own affections for, that blessed One who is now seated at His own right hand. Surely here, then, is the source of all growth, strength, and blessing! Satan knows this, and hence he is incessantly engaged in seeking to occupy us with other things, to turn us aside to earthly sources and objects. It believes us, therefore, to be watchful, to maintain exercised hearts and consciences, that we may at once detect, and unsparingly judge, everything which would decoy our souls from the contemplation of Christ.

Blessed Lord Jesus! keep Thyself so constantly before our souls, and so unfold Thyself in all Thy grace and beauty to our hearts, that, drawing out our affections, we may desire to have nothing, to see nothing and to know nothing, but Thyself; for in Thee dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Thee.

“Soon shall my eyes behold Thee
With rapture face to face;
One half hath not been told me
Of all Thy power and grace.
Thy beauty, Lord, and glory,
The wonders of Thy love,
Shall be the endless story
Of all Thy saints above.”

Here Comes The Son

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Antarctic sunrise

  The Atlantic magazine’s website recently ran a story on the return of the sun to Antarctica after 90 days of night.[i] Antonio Litterio, a researcher at the Concordia Research Station, eloquently described this event, personifying the sun in this way:

I knew that today you’d come looking for me. Over these past few nights, I’ve looked out of the window, captivated by the beautiful starry sky. But in my mind I was thinking of you and how I would soon see you again. Human beings need light to feel calm and to live: light really is life. Wanting to see you again was not about wanting to feel closer to the end of my time here; it was about recharging my batteries. Over the past few days, even that warm glow has given me so much energy. Seeing you now, entering my bedroom in the morning, is a beautiful awakening…Today, seeing the light after so long, for those few minutes the Sun lingered above the horizon, I felt something that was a mixture of a mother’s caress, the warmth of a hug, and the peace and energy radiating from someone important to you. At the precise moment when the Sun reached the end of its arc, settling on the horizon, we looked at each other and there was nothing left to say. I’ve missed you…[ii]

On the basic level of human emotion these are beautiful and understandable sentiments. If one has been bereft of sunlight for three months, it is bound to depress one’s mood. Conversely, that bright orb’s return would naturally be greeted with joy by any right thinking person. Having said that, Litterio’s comments echoed other famous words that speak of a higher light than the burning mass of hydrogen that naturally illuminates planet earth and the surrounding solar system. As John the beloved apostle wrote: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4.)

Trees, Life, & Light

Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, John makes frequent use of images from the Pentateuch[iii] – especially the Tabernacle of Exodus (e.g. Rev. 1:12; Rev. 6:9; Rev. 8:3; the symbolism of the table of showbread underlies Jn. 6:32-33, etc.) The lampstand, the only light-source for the Holy place, evokes arboreal imagery. Like a tree it has branches, fruit, buds, and flowers (Ex. 25:31-40.) The imagery hearkens back to the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden (Gen. 2:9, 17.) It unites life and light in one object. John draws on this to describe the role of Christ as both life-giver and light-giver. But what do life and light really mean?

The Light Of The World

Life and light are vitally connected. Life in the Bible transcends mere existence. The goal of life is relational. One commentator makes the essential connection in Christ that John 1:4 speaks of:

He was the well-spring of life, from which every form of life—physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, eternal,—flows.…Creation leads on to life, and life leads on to light. Without life creation would be unintelligible; without light all but the lowest forms of life would be impossible…the one true Light, absolute Truth both intellectual and moral, free from ignorance and free from stain. The Source of Life is the Source of Light: He gives the power to know what is morally good.[iv]

The real meaning of life entails knowing one’s creator. As Christ says: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3.) Likewise, light connotes both truth and purity in the Bible (Ps. 119:130.) “…In your light we see light,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 36:9.) The true God wants people to know Him; therefore, He has revealed Himself in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14-18.)

He wants His creatures to walk with Him in pure and true fellowship (1 Jn. 1:5-7.) Elsewhere John writes: “The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jn. 1:2-4.) Knowing truth depends upon knowing God and sharing in His life.

Wandering In The Dark

Life is to be lived in the light of God’s truth and holiness. He is the One who reveals how the world actually is, and what mankind ought to live for. Until one knows Christ by faith, spiritual darkness is one’s inevitable lot (Mt. 6:23; Jn. 1:5.) In fact, people love darkness (Jn. 3:19.) Apart from Christ’s saving work, the human mind is darkened (Rom. 1:21) and alienated from the righteous thought patterns of its Maker (Eph. 4:18.) Spurgeon powerfully depicts the lost man’s darkness:

Now, the power of sin is just like that. It hides from the human mind what that mind ought to see. The man is lost, but he does not know it; he cannot see the rocks that are just ahead. The man has soon to stand before the bar of God and receive his sentence, but he does not know it; I mean his heart does not know it. He trifles on, caring for none of these things…No matter how rich may be the mercy, nor how pure the consolation, he knows nothing at all about them, for he is in the dark. It is all dark, dark, dark with him, amid the blaze of noon.[v]

But after trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, the believer is delivered from “the power of darkness and conveyed [them] into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13.) Conder poetically puts it thus:

Brightness of uncreated light;

The heart of God revealed:

Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,

In Thee God’s fulness find we now.[vi]

The Lord directly states it this way: “…I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12, boldface mine.) As McGee explains: “This world today is in spiritual darkness, and the Lord Jesus Christ has brought the only light there is in the world. He is the light.”[vii] Ryle agrees in these words: “There has never been any spiritual life or light enjoyed by men, excepting from Christ.”[viii]

Out Of The Darkness Into The Light

Mr. Litterio was correct in connecting life and light, but he failed to note that this principle works on a higher level as well. The sun was created by the Creator of all life. He providentially uses it for mankind’s good (Mt. 5:45.) Until one knows the Son of God, however, life is unremitting night. It involves unceasingly groping in the darkness, perpetually wondering what is behind the dim unknown.[ix] To die without the Lord is to enter the eternal night of outer darkness (Mt. 25:30.) Thankfully, the Lord Jesus offers Himself as “the light of the world” to whoever will believe. As a classic hymn urges us:

Come to the Light,

‘Tis shining for thee;

Sweetly the Light has dawned upon me.

Once I was blind, but now I can see –

The Light of the world is Jesus.[x]


[i] Rebecca J. Rosen, “The Sun rises again over Antarctica,” The Atlantic, published 13 August, 2013; found here: Accessed on 13 August 2013.

[ii] Antonio Literrio, “Return to sunlight,” blog post, 12 August, 2013; Found here: Accessed on 8/13/13. [Boldface mine.]

[iii] The first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy.

[iv] A. Plummer, The Gospel According to S. John, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896), 65-66.

[v] C. H. Spurgeon, “Deliverance from the power of darkness,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. LIX. Originally preached on November 29, 1866. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1913), 376–377.

[vi] Josiah Conder, “Thou art the everlasting word”; located here: Accessed on 8/14/13.

[vii] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, comment on Jn. 1:4, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 373.

[viii] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 12.


Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ’twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis,” located here: Accessed on 8/14/13. [Boldface mine.]

[x] P.P. Bliss, “The Light of the world is Jesus,” located here: Accessed on 8/14/13.

*Photo found here: Accessed on 8/15/13.

Loose Lips

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” James 3:8, NASB

loose lips

Words possess great and lasting power. Not surprisingly then the book of Proverbs repeatedly addresses speech and its influence for good or ill.[i] As Proverbs 18:21 says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”[ii] As this statement indicates, the tongue is a formidable member, involving the most serious issues of human existence. To put it simply, the right use of words is a matter of life and death. People have no hope of consistently achieving this in their own strength; the applied power of God is essential for taming the tumultuous tongue.

The Young & The Restless

Like Proverbs, James graphically paints a comprehensive – and also daunting – picture of the tongue and its destructive capability. In describing its influence over oneself he compares it to a horse’s bridle and bit, and a ship’s rudder (Jas. 3:2-4.) Meanwhile, its damaging qualities are likened to a forest fire (Jas. 3:5-6.) He also uses other metaphors like a spring (Jas. 3:11) and types of trees (Jas. 3:12) to contrast the right and wrong uses of one’s mouth. Most dramatically, in verses 7-8 he depicts the restless tongue as a captive animal, frantically straining against its bonds.[iii] It is described as “restless” (v. 8.)[iv] Barnes explains that it is “an evil without restraint, to which no certain and effectual check can be applied.”[v] Another commentator refers to its insidious nature: “It is the kind of evil which is not merely passive but is actively on the attack.”[vi]

As verse 6 indicates, there is a demonic influence in the tongue’s natural state, for it is “set on fire by hell.”[vii] An able Bible teacher details its deadly power:

The tongue, then, is restless. Restlessness is a characteristic of the demonic world and evil, while peace is a characteristic of God and his good kingdom. The tongue is always wanting to say something; often poison that produces death. The murders committed on behalf of a tyrant come about when he issues orders. We experience something similar on the personal level when we speak evil and realize that it has brought death to us rather than life.[viii]

 This appalling phenomenon is evidenced in the lives of some of the great heroes of the faith. One moment Peter could be speaking with heavenly insight, the next he was spouting satanic error (Mt. 16:16-17, 22-23.)

The Tongue Of The Righteous

In contrast, the Lord Jesus was marked by the wisdom of His speech (Mt. 7:28-29.) Even those who were sent to arrest Him acknowledged: “No man ever spoke like this man!” (Jn. 7:46.) Peter exclaimed: “You alone have the words of life” (Jn. 6:68.) The Messianic Psalm 45:2 poetically opines: “Grace is poured upon your lips.” His tongue always spoke the Father’s words (Jn. 14:10), and His words are “spirit and life” in what they impart (Jn. 6:63.) With a word He raised the dead (Jn. 11:43) and calmed turbulent seas (Mk. 4:39.) One day He will lead praise to His Father in the future glory of heaven (Heb. 2:12.) He never spoke an idle word, or had to recant any statement. Ironically, at His trial He spoke only when it was necessary for the sake of those who were interrogating Him (Jn. 18:34-38; Matt. 26:62-68); otherwise, like a sheep before her shearers, He opened not His mouth (Acts 8:32.) As 1 Peter 2:22-23 sums His speech up: “‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Instead of cursing those around His cross, He said things like “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34) and to a repentant thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43.)

 Applied Omnipotence By The Spirit

Is there hope for fallen human beings to imitate Christ’s control of the tongue? Yes, but it demands the possession of God’s Holy Spirit. He must be at work within to check the evil use of our words and cause beautiful things to fall from redeemed lips. Only the indwelling Spirit of God can produce the Christ-like “fruit of the Spirit” which includes “self-control” (Gal. 5:23.) “Speaking the truth in love” is part of the Spirit-infused growth into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:15, 25-31.) Being filled with the Spirit results in a different kind of speech, characterized by “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” and thankful words (Eph. 5:18-20.) One receives the Spirit of God when one trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, for this divine Person is part of the gift of the gospel of the risen and ascended Christ (Jn. 14-16; Acts 2:32-33.)

While it is true that the believer possesses the divinely given resources to control the tongue and use it for consistent good, mature saints understand that this danger may flare up at any moment.[ix] If one is to overcome in this area of life, then one must daily depend on the Lord for the requisite help to conquer the restless tongue. As the godly poetess prayed:

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.[x]

 Paraphrasing the golden mouthed fourth-century preacher John Chrysostom, Bridges gives voice to the aspiration of the saints’ hearts:

Are not then the sins of the tongue an overwhelming manifestation of the long-suffering of God? ‘Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips.’ When I think of its power even for eternal death or life, shall I not—as Chrysostom warns—‘guard it more than the pupil of the eye?’ Shall I not cry to my God, that he would restrain it; yea—cry more earnestly, that he would consecrate it; that it might be my glory, not my shame; my organ of praise; my exercise of joy? In the inner man the heart is the main thing to be kept—in the outer man the tongue. O my God, take them both into thine own keeping, under thine own discipline, as instruments for thy service and glory.[xi]


[i] For instance, Proverbs refers to “words” 46 times; “mouth” 52 times; “tongue” 19 times; “speaking or speech” 18 times; and “lips” 42 times in the New King James Version.

[ii] The NET margin helpfully quotes an extra-biblical ancient quotation, saying: “What people say can lead to life or death. The Midrash on Psalms shows one way the tongue [what is said] can cause death: ‘The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener’ (Midrash Tehillim 52:2.)”

[iii] One writer ably sets the scene: “In the present context it forms the picture of a caged animal pacing back and forth and seeking an opportunity to escape. But whereas it is possible to secure an animal so as to prevent such an escape, this is not so with the tongue. Moreover, ‘disorderly evil’ suggests the instability and the double-mindedness of the tongue (see 1:8; 4:8).” Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 48. (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), p. 117.

[iv] The manuscripts used by the KJV and NKJV (Textus Receptus) employ a different Greek word, akataschetos, and render it “unruly” (its only appearance in the KJV); other manuscripts use the word akatastatos, which the KJV & NKJV only use in Jas. 1:8. The best rendering of this latter word is “restless” (e.g. ASV, NASB, ESV, NET); Darby has “unsettled,” which also captures the idea well. Robertson defines it as: “…unsteady, fickle, staggering, reeling like a drunken man.” [A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), commenting on Jas 1:8.] It only occurs in Jas. 1:8 & 3:8, but is found in the LXX (Old Testament Greek translation) at Is. 54:11, where it has a nautical context (compare with Jas. 1:6-8; perhaps James is alluding to this.) A related noun indicating tumult, rebellion, and confusion is found 5 times in 5 verses: Lk. 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 6:5; 2 Cor. 12:20; Jas. 3:16. This noun, akatastasia, appears in the LXX (OT Greek translation) of Prov. 26:28 (see bold): “A false tongue hates truth, and an unguarded mouth works instability.” [A New English Translation of the Septuagint;  Accessed on 8/7/13.] Another translation of it: “A false tongue hates truth, and an unguarded mouth makes confusion.” [Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Pr 26:28.]

The classical Greeks also used it to describe instability, confusion, and fickleness of men and circumstances, e.g. Polybius, Histories, Book 32, Chapter 5.5; Epictetus, The Discouses, Book 3, chapter 19.3.

[v] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), p. 59.

[vi] Paul A. Cedar, James / 1 & 2 Peter / Jude, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1984), p. 70.

[vii] Extra-biblical literature also made this connection, so it was evidently popularly held in the Jewish and Christian communities of the first two centuries, e.g. “Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace, but always having its home among factions. Refrain from it therefore, and thou shalt have success at all times with all men.” Shepherd of Hermas 27:3, J.B. Lightfoot’s translation:

Accessed on 8/7/13. [Boldface mine.]

[viii] Peter H. Davids, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., D. A. Carson et al., eds. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Jas 3:1–12.

[ix] During the writing of this article, the author found opportunity to speak angrily and rudely to his wife; this was tragically ironic and necessitated his asking forgiveness, which was readily granted!

[x] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take my life and let it be.”

[xi] Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865), p. 253. [Italics original.]

Image found here: on 8/10/13.