Speaking of “the decencies of civilization and the discoveries of secular knowledge,’’ Dean Alford once wrote, “He must read prophecy but ill who does not see under all these seeming improvements the preparation for the final development of the Man of Sin, the great re-possession, when idolatry and the seven worse spirits shall bring the outward frame of so-called Christendom to a fearful end.” In view of this statement, which no spiritually instructed mind can question, it will be appreciated that the achievements of man, grand though they may appear, and notwithstanding that they minister to him so much pleasure and are applauded so loudly by his contemporaries, afford no joy to the heart of God. Indeed, to Him they can be but a grief, since they are the means which Satan employs to make the creature feel independent of his Creator.
Nevertheless God has a joy, for “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him” (Ps. 147:11). It is recorded that Enoch “walked with God” (Gen. 5:22) and “had this testimony that he pleased God” (Heb. 11:5). The link of communion with the Lord, which sin had severed in Gen. 3:8-10 is here seen to be restored, and for 300 years Enoch’s life was "one long, close, lonely walk with God.” How precious it must have been to the Lord to behold His child, as with chaste spirit, and garments unspotted by a corrupt age, he moved along his pilgrim path! Visions of his rapture and of coming bliss must have been vouchsafed to him, for it was “BY FAITH, Enoch was translated that he should not see death” (Heb. 11:5). Now, if the life of an individual believer can be so refreshing to the Lord, what pleasure He must find in a godly Assembly of His people! Where saints in collective testimony bow to the authority of His Word, and “With all lowliness .... meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance .... in love, endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2-3) what an odour of a sweet smell ascends to God! Christians have formed “Missions,” “Fellowships,” and "Unions,” in which are found many admirable qualities. Such companies we do not wish to disparage. In many cases they are comprised of earnest souls, and we thank God for all of Christ that is seen in them. But they fall far short of a Scripturally constituted Assembly (1 Cor. 11:2), in which Christ is owned as Lord, and in which the only creed is the Word of God. There can be no sight upon earth so delightful to our blessed Lord as this corporate testimony to His Name.
Such an Assembly existed at Thessalonica. The saints there “had become followers of the churches of God in Judaea” (1 Thess. 2:14) and were in turn “ensamples to all that believed in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:7), both in zeal for the spread of the gospel, and in expectation of their Lord’s return (vv. 8, 9). No fewer than five times did Paul feel constrained to express thanks to God for the grace seen in his Thessalonian converts (1 Thess. 1:3; 2:13; 3:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:13). What a satisfaction they were to Him!—his “hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing” (1 Thess. 2:19). But above all, what a delight they must have been to God! for they had learned how they "ought to WALK, and to PLEASE God,” in which Enoch-like course of life Paul wished them to "abound more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1). Thank God for every Assembly to-day which, in separation from the evils of clerisy and sectarianism, is seeking to "stand fast, and hold the traditions, which they have been taught, whether by word, or epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). In many cases it is in conscious weakness that it is being done. But where there is humility, devotion to Christ, and singleness of eye for His glory, what pleasure the Lord finds in the obedience of His children! "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
In view of this, is not the Assembly worthy of our very best? Should not our time and talent be devoted gladly and without reserve to its holy service? Should not our interest in it be loyal and undivided? If in a day of shadows and carnal ordinances, the Psalmist said, "I had rather stand at the threshold, in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of lawlessness” (Ps. 84:10, Newberry), what unwavering fidelity we who live in the full blaze of the Christian revelation ought to evince towards the local testimony which is "the house of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Further, since God and Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell in it (2 Cor. 6:16; Matt. 18:20; 1 Cor. 3:16); since the Angels behold its order and learn lessons from its subjection to Christ (1 Cor. 11:10), and since it is a miniature of the glorious aggregate of “the Church which is His Body,” through which, “in the ages to come, he will shew the exceeding riches of his grace” (Eph. 2:7), surely we should regard it as an honour, higher than the favour of princes, to be associated with a Scriptural Assembly, to share its responsibilities, and to contribute to its strength and prosperity.
On the other hand, what a shame it is if in any way we countenance or support that which is a denial of New Testament Church principles! Alas! it has become a popular thing in certain quarters to do so to-day. For, not only are sectarian methods, etc., being copied and introduced in some Assemblies, but there are brethren, yes even some of the “chief men among the brethren,” who speak at our Conferences and contribute to our magazines, who seem quite at home in interdenominational circles, where the truth of the local Church would be taboo, indeed, in isolated cases we have known them to pass the Assembly on the Lord’s Day morning to attend the “service” in one of the kirks. “MY BRETHREN, THESE THINGS OUGHT NOT SO TO BE.” It is difficult to believe in the sincerity of teachers whose practice is a contradiction of the principles they profess to hold. If the sheep were to follow such shepherds (?) what kind of Assemblies would there be? Beloved fellow-saints, if the religious systems are wrong, why lend them support, especially since our so doing weakens God’s Assemblies? If we have learned that sectarianism is sin (Gal. 5:20), and that the whole trend of New Testament teaching is opposed to clerisy, both in its modified Protestant and extreme Papal forms, but that the Lord delights in the simplicity and obedience of those who without any pretensions gather in His Name, let us give to the upbuilding and maintenance of Scriptural Assemblies our best—OUR ALL—in loving, devoted service, and we shall find that in them there is room enough for the discharge of our entire stewardship.
To be followed in No. 2 issue by “SATAN, AND GOD’S ASSEMBLIES.”
Having abated the anger of the men of Ephraim, Gideon, with his little band—faint yet pursuing—were confronted by a new difficulty (Judges VIII). The men of Succoth (Gentiles), were requested to give Gideon’s men some bread, instead of which they heaped insult upon Gideon, and spoke rudely to him. Oh, the patience and grace the man needed! Shall he avenge himself on these now, or do the special work God commanded him? He takes the latter course, and having accomplished that, he was free to punish the men and others for their cruelty and wrong-doing.
He was not to be turned aside from the pursuit of his mission, either by brethren within or the ungodly without. They may irritate and aggravate as they please, it is his to obey God, as became the man who had learned to worship by being compared to a “barley cake.’’
After all the enemies were overcome and peace restored, his brethren came and requested him to be their king. Here was a new form of temptation. Prior to this it was his dignity and position that were assailed, but now it was the very opposite, and yet this noble man resists it, and teaches them to own fealty to none but Jehovah. So far the scenes in Gideon’s life are sublime, and we have often wished it had ended here.
But God, the faithful and true, omits nothing, and we find, after his triumphs, Gideon fails. He made an ephod and put it in his city, and Israel went a whoring after it. It was only a small thing, but it was the beginning of an evil day. The evil did not come during Gideon's lifetime, FOR HIS PERSONAL INFLUENCE checked the growth of it; but he was, so to speak, scarcely cold in death, before the little spark he had kindled became a mighty flame. The people lapsed into gross idolatry. The ephod had to give place to “Baal-berith,” and they REMEMBERED NOT the Lord their God, who had delivered them. Oh, how careful “CHIEF MEN AMONG THE BRETHREN” should be in WHAT THEY INTRODUCE AND ALLOW!
Their personal influence may temporarily hinder the development into evil of this or that, but to them belongs the GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY of putting in the “thin edge of the wedge.”
Gideon’s bright and useful life was clouded by a great evil, self invented, and this, when he was no more, became a snare and ever-increasing evil to others. Surely we do well to tremble as we sing :—
“O Lamb of God, still keep me,”
Near to Thy wounded side;
'Tis only there in safety And peace I can abide.
What foes and snares surround me,
What lusts and fears within;
The grace that sought and found me Alone can keep me clean.”
It is human to stand with the crowd, it is divine to stand alone.
It is man-like to follow the people, to drift with the tide; it is God-like to follow a principle, to stem the tide.
It is natural to compromise conscience and follow the social and religious fashion for the sake of gain or pleasure; it is divine to sacrifice both on the altar of truth and duty.
“No man stood with me, but all men forsook me,” wrote the battle-scarred apostle in describing his first appearance before Nero to answer for his life for believing and teaching contrary to the Roman world.
Truth has been out of fashion since man changed his robe of fadeless light for a garment of faded leaves.
Noah built and voyaged alone. His neighbours laughed at his strangeness and perished in style.
Abraham wandered and worshipped alone. Sodomites smiled at the simple shepherd, followed the fashion, and fed the flames.
Daniel dined and prayed alone.
Elijah sacrificed and witnessed alone.
Jeremiah prophesied and wept alone.
Jesus loved and died alone.
And of the lonely way His disciples should walk He said: “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Of their treatment by the many who walk in the the broad way, He said: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
The Church in the wilderness praised Abraham and persecuted Moses.
The Church of the Kings praised Moses and persecuted the prophets.
The Church of Caiaphas praised the prophets and persecuted Jesus.
The Church of the popes praised the Saviour and persecuted the saints.
And multitudes now, both in the Church and the world, applaud the courage and fortitude of the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles and martyrs, but condemn as stubbornness or foolishness like faithfulness to truth to-day.