Teleios or Senses Exercised (!)

By Charles H. Welch

The word ‘sense’ occurs only twice in the A.V.

‘They read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense’ (Neh. 8:8).

‘Those who by reason of use have their senses exercised’ (Heb. 5:14).

The Hebrew word sekel thus translated occurs many times in the Old Testament and is generally translated either by ‘understanding’ or ‘wisely’. The Greek word aistheterion used in Hebrews 5:14 does not occur anywhere else. Aisthesis is found in Philippians 1:9, where it is translated ‘judgment’ and aisthanomai in Luke 9:45 where it is rendered ‘perceived’. It will be seen that the word is employed in its two ‘senses’. The senses (i.e. sight, hearing, taste, smelling and touch), and the understanding, perception and meaning of things to which the senses lead. A person deprived of the five senses could hardly be said to be living, and each sense has a special sphere in which it contributes to the general well being of the body and person. Even the sense of smell, which is sometimes treated lightly, has been given not only for delight, but for detection and warning. We believe an examination of the way in which the bodily senses are repeated on the spiritual plane will be of service to the reader, and therefore we propose to devote ourselves to the consideration, particularly at the first to the two great senses, hearing and sight.

The Companion Bible has a note at Psalm 94:9 ‘He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?’ which reads ‘Consult works on physiology for the wonders of this expression’. The ear is verily ‘planted’ and is exceedingly complex in its construction. The one part of the organ of hearing that we would lift out for comment is the cochlea, a shell -like structure somewhat resembling the shell of a snail, and which contains in a regular series of lengths, sensitive cells which correspond to the vibrations set up in the outer air. Most of us at some time or other have stood near a piano, and heard the echo of our own voice come from within the instrument. In a rough and ready way this illustrates the one feature of hearing that we desire to give prominence. We can only hear those external sounds that find a correspondence within the cochlea. There are sounds, the vibrations of which are either too high, too low, or too closely related to another slightly similar sound, that the human ear cannot record. This has an analogy in the spiritual world, and is expressed by such searching words as the following:

  • ‘They are of the world: therefore ... the world heareth them’.
  • ‘We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us’.
  • ‘He that is not of God heareth not us’ (1 John 4:5,6).

This most vital and far reaching principle is expressed in parable form in John’s other writing, the Gospel. The sheep hear His voice.

  • ‘But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep ... My sheep hear My voice’ (John 10:26,27).
  • ‘All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them’ (John 10:8).

These are solemn words. They indicate that unless there be something corresponding within, the work of the gospel will remain unheard. Something similar is found in John 8.

  • ‘Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word’.
  • ‘He (the devil) ... abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:43,44).

Again we read:

  • ‘By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand’ (Matt. 13:14).
  • ‘Who hath ears to hear, let him hear’ (Matt. 13:9).

On the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus ‘heard a voice’, but the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, ‘hearing a voice’ (Acts 9:4,7). The record of Acts 22:9 says ‘They heard not the voice of Him that spake’. This is no contradiction. Men may hear a sound, as in John 12:28 and 29, without recognizing the words uttered:

  • ‘Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again’.
  • ‘The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to Him’.

It is very evident that these Scriptures countenance the idea suggested above that there must be something within the spiritual ear, even as there is in the physical ear, which responds to the vibration or message given.

For the moment we leave the matter there, but it is evident that most serious issues are at stake if such should prove to be true. Hearing and recognizing the Shepherd’s voice is one of the essential signs of being a ‘sheep’, and this we find is true in present conversion and in future resurrection.

‘He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life’ (John 5:24).

This very wonderful association between ‘hearing’, ‘believing’ and ‘life’ is expressed in verse 25 as follows:

‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live’.

This is what can take place in the hour that ‘now is’. In the future hour that is coming:

‘All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation’ (John 5:28,29).

Two aspects of resurrection are here. The one ‘unto life’, the other unto ‘damnation’ and ‘judgment’. The expression ‘they that have done evil’ is peculiar and demands attention. The word ‘done’ is not the same as is used in the phrase ‘they that have done good’; it is not poieo ‘to make’ but prasso ‘to practice’. More important still is the choice of the word translated ‘evil’. This is not poneros, evil in its power to will and to work mischief, or kakos, the natural antithesis of agathos or kalos ‘the good’, but phaulos. Writing on the meaning of this word, Trench in his New Testament Synonyms, says:

‘There are words, I should suppose, in all languages, and phaulos is one of them, which contemplate evil under another aspect, that namely of its good -for -nothingness, the impossibility of good ever coming forth from it’.

It is of extreme importance to realize that phaulos occurs but once more in John’s Gospel, and that in conjunction with ‘condemnation’.

‘He that believeth on Him is not condemned (krino): but he that believeth not is condemned (krino) already ... and this is the condemnation (krisis), that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil (ho phaula prasson) hateth the light ...’ (John 3:18 -20).

Here we have the two words found together in John 5:29. There are one or two problems in these two passages which we do not at the moment attempt to solve.

John 5:24 places everlasting life over against condemnation. John 5:29 places the resurrection of life, over against the resurrection of condemnation (krisis). Yet all that are in the graves ‘hear His voice’ and to hear His voice is the mark of ‘His sheep’. The attempt to find a solution to the problem which these comparisons raise, lies outside the intended scope of these articles. ‘Hearing’ is most evidently a precious spiritual gift and fraught with life both here and in the resurrection.

Hearing and its relationship with Believing

Most readers of The Berean Expositor know and endorse the teaching that at Acts 28, a dispensational frontier is reached, and there, where the people of Israel pass out into their lo-ammi condition, the Gentile received, through the ministry of Paul the Prisoner of Jesus Christ, the body of truth known as ‘The dispensation of the Mystery’ (Eph. 3:9. R.V.). All the wonders of grace and glory that eradiate the epistle to the Ephesians are compressed and expressed by the apostle in the words ‘The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it’ (Acts 28:28). This ‘hearing’ is first of all in direct contrast with the utter failure to hear that characterized Israel at that critical time (Acts 28:26,27) and secondly, it is of such comprehension, that Paul could use it to include the faith that embraced the truth revealed, the hope that grew out of the new revelation, and the incentive to walk worthy of such a calling. All he had to say was ‘They will hear it’. In Ephesians 1:13 ‘hearing’ the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, is placed in correspondence with believing. Moreover, Paul himself revealed the relationship of hearing and subsequent action, saying ‘After I heard ... cease not to pray for you’ (Eph. 1:15,16). At the close of his life’s testimony the apostle is satisfied to use the word ‘hear’ to cover the most glorious ministry ever fulfilled by mortal man ‘That by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear’ (2 Tim. 4:17).

Two crucial points in Ephesians are marked by the use of ‘hearing’.

  • ‘if (eige) ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you -ward’.
  • ‘if (eige) so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him’ (Eph. 3:2; 4:21).

In these three passages (Eph. 1:13; 3:2 and 4:21) salvation and the gospel, dispensational truth and the Mystery, and the worthy walk and conversation that should ensue are related by the apostle with ‘hearing’. How important therefore this spiritual sense must be. Writing to the Romans in chapter 10, after quoting Isaiah 53:1 ‘Who hath believed our report?’ the apostle proceeded with the inference:

‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God’ (Rom. 10:17).

When we know that the words ‘report’ and ‘hearing’ are both translations of the one Greek word akoe, and that ‘believe’ is the verb pisteuo, and faith the noun pistis, the relationship is seen to be even closer. It is a wrong conception of faith to think that before one opens the Scriptures, or before one has heard its glad message, faith can be exercised. This is not so.

‘How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard?’ (Rom. 10:14). Faith, if it had no basis in truth, if it were not a conviction, would be but a superstition; trusting in an ‘unknown God’, taking no chances and hoping for the best. It is not possible to believe an unknown Christ; faith comes into operation when the truth has been made known. The Gospel is a message, as the words evangel and proclamation imply. A message implies a messenger who brings the message, and someone in authority who sends him. This is exactly the line of argument followed by the apostle:

‘How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (10:14,15).

Israel’s growing hardness, which is the problem before us in Romans 9 to 11 and which culminated at Acts 28, with ears that were dull of hearing, is here discussed. They at least could not hide behind the idea that they had never heard:

‘But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world’ (Rom. 10:18).

First Moses is mentioned, then Isaiah, and finally the attitude of the Lord Himself (Rom. 10:19 -21).

When Paul leapt into the breach and wrote that burning epistle to the Galatians, with its insistence upon justification by faith apart from works of law, he said:

‘This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?’ (Gal. 3:2).

Here, not only is law set over against faith, but the works of law are set over against the hearing of faith. Hearing is not merely the passive reception of sound. It quickens into action, even as to hear and to hearken is often a synonym for obedience which we must see for ourselves presently. When at last Paul speaks of the dreadful times of the end, the hearing and the ear come prominently to the fore:

‘They shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (Gk. akoe, "hearing", not the usual word ous, thereby linking the ear, with the "report" and "hearing" in a remarkable way. This is unique in the epistles); and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables’ (2 Tim. 4:3,4).

It might be of service to assemble before the reader the way in which akoe is translated in the A.V.

‘fame’, ‘hearing’, ‘rumour’, ‘ear’, ‘audience’, ‘report’ and ‘preached’.

We cannot believe that any exercised believer can ponder these facts without realizing how important is the spiritual sense of hearing, and how closely related hearing and believing stand in the Scriptures written for our learning.

The relation of hearing with obedience

In the opening pages of this study we limited our survey to those passages which link hearing with believing. We widen our survey at this point to include the relationship which is established in Scripture between hearing and obeying. One of the words translated ‘obey’ in the Old Testament is the Hebrew shamea (Gen. 22:18; Zech. 6:15), rendered thus 81 times, but this same Hebrew word is translated ‘hear’ 730 times and ‘hearken’ 169 times, hearing being its primitive meaning, and obeying its secondary meaning. In the New Testament the Greek word is akouo, more familiar to English readers in the word acoustics, this word is translated ‘hear’ 415 times, out of a total of 422 occurrences. These facts lead us to the word hupakouo, translated ‘obedience’ and ‘obey’, but in one passage given its primitive meaning ‘to hearken’ namely in Acts 12:13, where it suggests that the damsel who heard a knock on the door came to obey the summons. She came to listen, or as the margin reads, she came to ask who was there.

Let us acquaint ourselves with the usage of the word akouo when it is combined with the preposition hupo ‘under’ and para ‘beside’. Hupakoe is translated ‘obedience’ eleven times, ‘obedient’ once, ‘obeying’ once and ‘to obey’ once, or fourteen occurrences in all. ‘Even the winds and the sea obey Him’ (Matt. 8:27). Here the basic idea of hearing with subjection is incipient, for the Saviour ‘rebuked the winds and the sea’ (Matt. 8:26), and they heard with subjection, recognizing their Master. This same word is used for the obedience of children to parents, of servants to masters, of Sarah to Abraham, and in the doctrinal sense, of obeying sin (Rom. 6:12), the gospel (Rom. 10:16), the injunction of the apostle in his epistle (2 Thess. 3:14) and the call of Abraham (Heb. 11:8). To believe is to hear, to obey is to go one stage further and hear in subjection, not slavishly, not cringing, but as those who are at last free to serve from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Parakouomeans literally ‘to hear aside’ and in Matthew 18:17 it occurs twice where it is translated ‘neglect to hear’ in the A.V. and ‘refuse to hear’ in the R.V.; in either case, whether it be neglected or refused, hearing is involved. Parakoe is three times translated disobedience (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 2:2). The passage in Romans is of tragic importance. It refers to Adam’s first sin, the act that let both sin and death into the world.

‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous’.

Adam, instead of ‘hearing in subjection’, ‘hearkened unto the voice of (his) wife’ (Gen. 3:17), the consequence of which was symbolized by the thistles and thorns of Genesis 3:18, and the sweat and dust of Genesis 3:19. Who could have foreseen such dire consequences to faulty hearing! When one is acquainted with the association which these passages establish between the ear and obedience, the ritual of the willing servant and the pierced ear is rational and full of meaning.

‘If the servant (who is due for liberation in the seventh year) shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him ... unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever’ (Exod. 21:5,6).

Not only so, but another reference beset by some element of doubt is put into clearer light by this knowledge.

‘Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened’ (Psa. 40:6).

The margin reads ‘Mine ears hast Thou digged’, the R.V. margin reads ‘Or pierced for me’. When we come to the epistle to the Hebrews and read the quotation of this Psalm in that epistle, there is, on the surface, a very great diversion from the language of the original. The Hebrew of Psalm 40:6 reads ‘Mine ears hast Thou opened’ or margin ‘digged’. The LXX version and the reference in Hebrews 10:5 reads ‘A body hast Thou prepared Me’. On the surface it appears that the LXX retains the correct text, being endorsed by the inspired apostle, and the present Hebrew text of Psalm 40 must be considered defective. This is not so however. There is a similar example of Divine and intended expansion of meaning in the way in which the word ‘truth’ in Isaiah 42:3 ‘He shall bring forth judgment unto truth’, is altered, in Matthew 12:20, to ‘Till He send forth judgment unto victory’. Truth must ultimately prevail; there is no contradiction here, only a Divine expansion and filling. So in Psalm 40 and Hebrews 10. Three figures are involved:

  1. The ‘digged’ ear of the willing servant (Exod. 21:2,5,6).

  2. The ‘opened’ ears of the Great Willing Servant ‘The Lord God hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious’ (Isa. 50:5).

  3. The apostle’s use of this passage to contrast the Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats, in which he needs something more than a reference to the ‘ear’ -- he takes the symbol of a willing servant and expands it to the ‘preparing’ and the ‘offering’ of the body of Christ.

    ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams’ (1 Sam. 15:22).

The manner and matter of hearing

Truth is truth, by whomsoever it may be uttered, yet the Scriptures not only enjoin upon us to hear the truth, but to consider who it is that speaks and how we ourselves hear the message. Romans 10, as we have already noticed, says:

‘How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?’ (Rom. 10:14),

but it immediately adds a clause that contains something of a warning, saying:

‘And how shall they preach, except they be Sent?’

In Jeremiah 23, the Lord complains of prophets, who:

‘speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord’ and said of such ‘I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran’. ‘I sent them not’ (Jer. 23:16,21,32).

It is not an act of faith to accept without question the assertion or proclamation of anyone without first of all being assured of their credentials. The Church at Ephesus was commended by the Lord for trying ‘them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars’ (Rev. 2:2). An apostle is essentially a ‘sent one’ the Greek verb stellomeaning ‘I send’. Paul when writing to Timothy, a fellow servant and son in the faith, and one who would be called upon many times to exercise judgment in critical and spiritual matters, said:

‘But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of Whom thou hast learned them’ (2 Tim. 3:14).

Whenever a man is ‘sent of God’ he will have some credentials which will satisfy those who are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures. Timothy was enjoined by the apostle to have a form of sound words, which, said he, ‘Thou hast heard of me’ (2 Tim. 1:13), and drew attention to the relationship that was evident between his ‘doctrine’ and his ‘manner of life’ (3:10). Jeremiah not only said of the false prophets that the Lord had not sent them, he gives another index ‘They make you vain’ (Jer. 23:16). We are therefore to take heed ‘whom’ we hear. We are also enjoined to take heed ‘how’ we hear (Luke 8:18), and in Mark 4:24 to take heed ‘what’ we hear. ‘How’ one hears relates to the manner of our hearing. ‘What’ one hears refers to the substance of the message, and they are dependent in measure on one another. Even though the message be the very truth of God, if it be heard negligently, indifferently or in a spirit of rebellion, it will cease to be truth to us.

Let us consider some of the ways in which we should hear the Word of God. We should hear with attention:

‘Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth’ (Prov. 7:24).

Crabb distinguishes attend, hearken and listen thus:

Attend is a mental action; hearken, both corporeal and mental; listen simply corporeal’.

The English word ‘attend’ is derived from the Latin attendo which means to stretch or bend anything -- a bow for example. It is the very reverse of slackness. If the mind be distracted with other things, attention may be impossible; truth will go ‘in one ear and out of the other’ as the saying has it, and there may be more truth in the rejoinder than at first appears: ‘It does so, because there is nothing in between to stop it’! Empty headiness and inattention go together. ‘Take heed how you hear’ said the Saviour. It is the lament of Isaiah 1:3 that the people of the Lord did not ‘consider’. It is the same word, translated ‘understand’, that is used in Isaiah 6:9 ‘Hear ye indeed,

but understand not’ which led to such tragic consequences for Israel. This attention and consideration should not be intermittent, it should be the continual attitude of the believer:

‘I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually’ (Psa. 119:117).

The Word should be esteemed and respected:

‘I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food’ (Job 23:12).

‘More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb’ (Psa. 19:10).

Again we should hear the Word of the Lord with an expectation that it will guide us and illuminate our path. It must be accepted as a ‘lamp’ unto our feet, and a ‘light’ unto our path (Psa. 119:105). Finally, the manner in which we hear will be related to the way in which we respond to what we have heard:

‘If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer he ... forgetteth ... But ... he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed’ (Jas. 1:23 -25).

Such are a few of the suggestions contained in the Scriptures as to ‘how’ we should hear. As to ‘what’ we should hear, we would say:

  1. ‘All Scripture’, for it is ‘profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’. It makes the man of God ‘perfect’ and thoroughly furnishes him unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16,17).

  2. ‘What’ we hear should not only be found in Scripture, but should be found in those Scriptures that are peculiarly related to the dispensation under which we are called; for while all Scripture is for us, all is not about us, and we need to rightly divide the Word of truth to hear aright.

Finally there is a definite link between hearing and speaking. The tongue of the learned (learner, a disciple), that is able to speak a word in season is connected very closely with the ear of the learned (learner, a disciple) which is wakened morning by morning (Isa. 50:4). ‘As I hear, I judge’ (John 5:30); ‘I speak to the world those things which I have heard of Him’ (John 8:26).

A twofold charge is brought against the Hebrew believers in chapter 5 of that epistle:

(1) They were dull of hearing, and consequently (2) they failed to become efficient teachers (Heb. 5:11,12). The apostle made it plain that what he taught others, he first of all had received himself (1 Cor. 15:3). There are many who are dumb, simply because they are deaf. They do not know that they can make a sound, nor do they know that others can either. The Lord once had a man brought to Him, who was deaf and who had an impediment in his speech, and we read:

‘He ... put His fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain’ (Mark 7:33 -35).

The Lord had no need to say ‘be loosed’ for the opening of the ear released the tongue so that the man ‘spake plain’.

A hymn that is often sung has the lines:

‘Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone’.

Let us take heed whom we hear, what we hear and how we hear, for this will be not only for our own good, but for the blessing of those with whom we meet and for whom we have some measure of responsibility.

The spiritual faculty of sight

Practically every text that uses the words ‘ear’, ‘hear’ or ‘hearken’ would provide further light upon the nature and value of spiritual hearing. But time passes, and we must keep our search within reasonable limits. Let us turn our attention to that other sense, the sense of sight.

It is common knowledge that the organ of sight is a wonderful mechanism, of which the most elaborate camera is but an imperfect copy.

There are twenty -four separate words in the foregoing sentence, and the eye of the reader has registered a clear impression of each word and passed on to the next without the slightest blurring of the image. In other words God’s camera not only receives on the retina an image which is transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain, but it removes all trace of that image, prepares the surface of the film, and takes a stereoscopic picture in full colour in the time it takes the reader to pass from ‘this’ word to ‘that’! And not only so, the colour that the eye records is received through a crystalline lens, and this lens, like every other organ of the body, is fed by the blood stream. Here the wisdom and benignant provision of the Creator is again made manifest. By a special physiological arrangement which we do not pretend to understand, the red blood becomes transparent and colourless as it passes through this lens! It is moreover proverbial that the shutter provided for the human eye is practically instantaneous. In the expression ‘the twinkling of an eye’ (1 Cor. 15:52) the Greek word atom occurs, a word that means something indivisible, unsplittable, although as a consequence of the discoveries in nuclear fission we now use the expression ‘splitting the atom (the unsplittable)’.

The sense of hearing we have already seen is wonderful, but the Scriptures speak of the sense of sight in even higher terms. ‘I have heard of Thee’ saith Job, ‘by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42:5,6).

We have seen how the sense of hearing enters into the Biblical conception of obedience and disobedience and that it is used of Adam’s disobedience, who ‘hearkened aside’ (LXX, author’s translation) to the voice of his wife (Gen. 3:17). We must now remind ourselves that the fatal promise ‘your eyes shall be opened’ and the alluring prospect ‘pleasant to the eyes’ precede this act of disobedience (Gen. 3:5,6). Just as the spiritual sense of ‘hearing’ is associated with understanding, so is the spiritual sense of sight. The apostle speaks of:

‘The eyes of your understanding being enlightened’ (Eph. 1:18),

where the word translated ‘understanding’ in the Received Text is dianoia, but in the Revised Text is kardia ‘the heart’. Understanding is associated with the heart (Matt. 13:15). ‘Blindness’ moreover is predicated of the ‘heart’ (Eph. 4:18), and the condition of ‘singleness’ is used, both of the eye and of the heart (Matt. 6:22; Eph. 6:5). Spiritual hearing also is associated with the heart, as Hebrews 3:7,8,12,15; 4:12 suggest. There is no need for protracted proof that the heart is associated with the spiritual equivalent of both the senses of hearing and seeing. The defect in vision known as myopia ‘short sight’ has its spiritual equivalent:

‘He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off (muopazo), and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins’ (2 Pet. 1:9),

even as the believer can become dull and hard of hearing (Heb. 5:11). Again, just as the Lord when healing physical blindness used a compress of clay with which He anointed the eyes of the man born blind (John 9:6), so He counselled the church of the Laodiceans to ‘anoint’ their eyes with ‘eye -salve’ (Rev. 3:18), collyrium another kind of fine clay, something akin to the china clay, kaolin, found in Cornwall. It is evident from these few scattered references that the physical eye, its uses and its diseases, form a symbol of the higher spiritual equivalent, especially in the exercise of faith.

In concluding this brief preliminary survey, it might be salutary for us to remember the challenging question of the Psalmist and the writer of the Proverbs:

  • ‘He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?
  • He that formed the eye, shall He not see?’ (Psa. 94:9).

It is plainly indicated that human hearing and human vision are but faint echoes of the glorious and perfect powers that belong to the living God Himself. Again,

‘The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them’ (Prov. 20:12).

In solemn and direct contrast with the activities and powers of the living God, the Old Testament writers put the ‘dumb idols’ of the heathen: ‘Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: they have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them’ (Psa. 115:4 -8).

When the time for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt drew near, the Lord is said to have ‘heard’ their groaning (Exod. 2:24); to have ‘seen’ their affliction, and to ‘know’ their sorrows (Exod. 3:7). In the exercise and use of the faculty of sight and of hearing, man, made in the image of God, is a faint adumbration of the perfection of his Maker.

The Opened Eye

We are all acquainted today with the fact that there are rays, namely the infra -red and the ultra -violet, that are outside the range of human vision. If the human eye could be adapted and ‘improved’ as cameras have over the past years, then it is conceivable that things now totally invisible to sight would become visible. This transformation may never take place in the physical realm, but it does in the realm of the spirit. Let us see one or two illustrations of this change and range of miraculously opened vision.

(1) Hagar. -- Genesis 21 records the domestic strife that beclouded the house of Abraham after Isaac was born. It was very grievous in the sight of Abraham that Ishmael should mock Isaac the child of promise, Sarah’s own son, yet it was equally grievous to contemplate turning Hagar and Ishmael adrift, but his action was decided by the express command of God:

‘Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice: for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed’ (Gen. 21:12,13).

We all know the story -- the water spent in the bottle and the lad left to die of thirst. The miracle of his preservation did not consist in causing water to appear where none had appeared before, but in opening Hagar’s eyes to see:

‘And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water’ (Gen. 21:19).

All Hagar wanted was the opened eye.

(2) Elisha’s servant. -- 2 Kings 6 records the attempt of the King of Syria to capture Elisha:

‘Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about’ (2 Kings 6:14).

When the servant of Elisha saw this formidable host, he cried ‘Alas, my master! how shall we do?’ Elisha stayed his fears by saying:

‘Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them’ (2 Kings 6:16),

and then, instead of entering into a wordy battle to prove his point, Elisha prayed ‘Open his eyes, that he may see’. Elisha did not pray for a legion of angels; for that there was no need, all that was necessary was the seeing eye.

(3) The man born blind. -- In the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel we have the sign of the healing of a man born blind. The Saviour declared the solemn and blessed truth:

‘I am the light of the world’ (John 9:5),

but a blind man sees no light, even if he be out in broad daylight. What happened is that once again the miracle consisted not in the supernatural provision of light, but in the opening of the eyes. It is exceedingly instructive to follow the course of this grant of greater vision, for we remember that in another case, the man whose eyes were opened did not comprehend all that he saw at once. We have the strange, yet understandable statement, that at the first, he said ‘I see men as trees, walking’ (Mark 8:24). So with the man born blind. He did not attain at one step a full all -round knowledge of the glory of the Person of his Saviour; he learned by the very opposition that ranged itself against him.

‘How were thine eyes opened?’ he was questioned.

‘He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight’ (John 9:10,11).

Just as simply as that. Here are two related actions. The Saviour alone could do the anointing; without that, no washing in the pool of Siloam would be of any use. But it is as well to remember that there is no reason to believe that had the blind man refused to go, and to wash, the anointing alone would have been effective. The same word that provides us with the concept ‘believe’, provides us with the answering concept ‘obey’ (peitho, see Acts 28:24; Gal. 5:7). The Pharisees again pressed the man born blind to explain, and attempted to extort from him some admission that would compromise the Son of God. After a deal of controversy, the blind man was again questioned:

‘What sayest thou of Him, that He hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a Prophet’ (John 9:17).

Here is an advance. The opened eye of faith now sees that ‘A man that is called Jesus’ was ‘a prophet’. Again pressure was brought to bear, not only upon the man, but his parents, with the dread of excommunication ranged on the side of the enemy. Addressing the man born blind for the third time, the Pharisees said:

‘Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner’ (24).

A mature believer would immediately have sprung to the defence of his Lord. He would have given chapter and verse to show that He knew no sin, He did no sin, that He was ‘Holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners’. This however was beyond the range of the man whose eyes had been so recently opened. He was fair and unassuming, but he was growing in grace and knowledge:

‘He answered and said, Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not; One Thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see’.

To that there could be no reply. In the next verses there is a theological jangle which ended as most theological arguments do:

‘They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out’ (John 9:34).

It was this uncharitable action of religious bigotry that brought about the complete opening of the man’s eyes:

‘Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ (35).

Here is the climax of his growing vision:

‘A man’, ‘A Prophet’, ‘The Son of God’.

The man born blind however did not immediately confess such a faith. He rightly asked Who such an One might be, and to this most rational request came the answer:

‘Thou hast both Seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee’ (37).

‘Seen Him’. ‘One thing I know ... now I see’. This was enough:

‘And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him’.

Here then are instances that help us in our appreciation of the figure of restored sight as a symbol of faith. This requires at least some comment on Hebrews 11, even though that portion demands as many chapters of exposition as it contains verses. To this aspect of truth we now turn.

The faith that sees the Invisible

Hebrews 11, the great chapter on faith, stresses the fact that faith encompasses the invisible.

‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things Not Seen ... through faith we understand ... that things which are Seen were not made of things which do appear ...’ (Heb. 11:1 -3).

Recent discoveries among the papyrus, for so long buried in the sands of Egypt, throw light upon the intention of the apostle in the use of the word translated ‘substance’. It has been found to mean ‘title deed’, and the writer appears to be saying:

‘Now faith (which looks forward to a glorious inheritance, a heavenly city, but which is not yet enjoyed) is of itself the title deeds of that inheritance. You may, with other believers, die in faith not having (at the moment) received the promises, but you have seen them afar off, and this has influenced your whole life and walk; you have become in consequence strangers and pilgrims on the earth (through which you pass on the way to the place prepared for you)’.

Noah also manifested this peculiar quality of faith, a faith which, while it brought down a deal of ridicule upon him for building such a ship on dry land as he did, yet nevertheless saved his house:

‘By faith, Noah, being warned of God of things Not Seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house’ (Heb. 11:7).

Abraham, too ‘went out’ (by faith) ‘not knowing whither he went ... for he Looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God’ (Heb. 11:8 -10). The faith of Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph all have this same quality, but the power to see the invisible is most prominent in the faith of Moses. At some period in his life Moses resolutely turned his back on an offer to be adopted into the royal family of Egypt; he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God who were reduced to the condition of slaves. He esteemed the reproach of (or for) Christ, greater riches than the treasures in Egypt for he had respect unto (a future and then unseen) recompense of the reward ... ‘he endured, As Seeing Him Who is Invisible’ (Heb. 11:23 - 27).

Not only is this quality of faith seen in full exercise in the spiritual realm; such is the blinding nature of sin that we discover it ought to have been within the range of unassisted reason, to have discerned from the very works of nature the existence of the invisible God. This, as is well known, is the charge laid against the heathen world by Paul in his epistle to the Romans, where he proves beyond the possibility of doubt that all mankind, whether the Gentile with the book of nature or the Jew with the book of the law, were inexcusable:

‘For whatever is to be known of God is plain to them; God Himself has made it plain -- for ever since the world was created, His Invisible nature, His everlasting power and divine Being, have been quite perceptible in what He has made. So they have no excuse’ (Rom. 1:19,20, Moffatt).

We must not from all this assume that, because we have believed on the name of the Son of God, we shall receive visions and revelations. Many times we who have this faith that sees the invisible may have to walk by faith and not by sight; we may at times be driven to read again the words of the Saviour to Thomas who said ‘Except I see’.

‘Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John 20:25 -29).

Or we may be comforted by the words of Peter:

‘Whom having not seen, ye love; in Whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Pet. 1:8).

It will also be remembered, and should ever be in mind, that the apostle indicated to the Ephesians that they could only proceed to the fuller knowledge of the character of their calling and the nature of its hope by realizing that the eyes of their understanding (or heart) had been enlightened.

There are a number of passages where the exhortation to ‘look’ and the blessed consequence of this looking by faith is brought before us. This however is well worth separate attention, and so to this we now turn.

Life and Living associated with Looking

We propose gathering together the many references that are made in the Word to ‘looking’ either in faith, expectancy or in other ways, to round off the lesson already learned concerning the possession and value of spiritual vision. First and foremost must be placed the call:

‘Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else’ (Isa. 45:22).

The word translated ‘look’ here is not derived from the Hebrew word either for the ‘eye’ or for ‘seeing’, but means ‘to turn the face’. It does not matter whether the person who thus ‘looks’ has keenness of vision or defective eye -sight, ‘to turn the face’ is sufficient. The same Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 53:6 in the well known passage ‘We have Turned every one to his own way’, or as in Isaiah 56:11 ‘They all Look to their own way’. The turning of the face indicates the growing desire of the heart, and moreover, the emphasis upon ‘Me ... none else’ suggests the acknowledgment that all other avenues are closed, that God alone can be the Saviour of men. Were we dealing with Isaiah 45 as a whole there would be much that could be said, first upon the reiterated terms ‘none else’, ‘none beside’, that occur in verses 5,6,14,18,21 as well as 22; and secondly, in view of this repeated assertion, to realize that verse 23 looks to Philippians 2:5 -11 and Acts 4:12 where we learn that there is none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved than the Name of Him Who was crucified and raised from the dead.

We cannot pass from this initial aspect of the subject of ‘looking’ without a word regarding the wonderful type which in John 3:14,15 is so intimately linked with the gospel of salvation and eternal life.

‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he Looketh upon it, shall Live’ (Num. 21:8).

Life must be followed by light. They who first look to the Lord for salvation, look to Him for illumination. So we read:

‘They Looked unto Him, and were Lightened’ (Psa. 34:5).

First they lived, then they were illuminated, for Numbers 21:11 tells us that, after this wondrous type of salvation by faith had been set forth, those thus saved journeyed ‘toward the sunrising’. After life has been received and light given, service is a natural and spiritual sequel. Here ‘looking’ has a place. First the servant will need guidance and instruction, and the Lord says ‘I will guide thee with Mine eye’ (Psa. 32:8), but such guidance presupposes that the eye of the believer is upon the Lord (Psa. 123:2), otherwise the Lord’s leading must be more drastic and resemble the guidance of horse and mule who must be held in with bit and bridle (Psa. 32:9). Not only does the servant look to his Master, the Master looks to the servant, looks to see what character he exhibits, as we read in Isaiah 66:2:

‘To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word’.

It will be observed that the Lord does not look for cleverness; He is concerned with the spirit of His servants and the attitude of their heart to His Word.

Among the symbols of service that are found in the Scriptures the various activities of an agricultural occupation are naturally prominent. Among them is mentioned ‘ploughing’.

‘No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62).

Singleness of eye, forgetting the things that are behind, whole hearted concentration upon the work allotted is necessary if one would be ‘fit’ or ‘well placed’ (euthetos). It is necessary that we press toward the mark and seek to serve without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35), a condition largely governed by the objects that occupy our vision. If we change the figure of service from that of ploughing to that of a contestant, a runner or an athlete, we read:

‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith’ (Heb. 12:1,2),

where the word translated ‘look’ is the Greek aphorao ‘to look away’, possibly here to look away from the examples of faith already reviewed in chapter 11 to the supreme Example, the Captain and the Perfecter of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This same most glorious Example is brought before us when thinking of our relationship with others.

‘Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the things of others of more importance than their own. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 2:3 -5 author’s translation).

Finally, the whole of the Christian life is summed up in the one attitude of looking:

‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation ... teaching us that ... we should live ... looking for that blessed hope’ (Titus 2:11 -13).

This attitude of heart is the most effective antidote to the attractions of the world and of the flesh. To be taken up with the heavenly city makes the sojourning in tents and the pilgrim pathway endurable and preferable to all that the present life can offer in exchange. When we are told that Moses thus reacted, it was because he had respect (he looked away, apoblepo) unto the recompense of the reward.

These few and simply written notes are but straws that indicate the direction of the current. They are not intended to be exhaustive, but just pointers to help those who may respond to seek for themselves and then be blessed in teaching others. In all this emphasis on seeing and looking, one feature remains dominant and constant. Every text brought forward ranges itself on the side of the Baptist and says ‘Behold the Lamb of God’.

An Alphabetical Analysis

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