Moses, the Mediator of the legal covenant, had been on the cloud-covered mountain of Sinai, receiving from God the tables of the law and the instructions for the building of the tabernacle. His long delay had removed from Israel’s hearts all hope of seeing their leader again. Being a people who had little confidence in the Invisible, they desired to have a god both tangible and visible. Aaron, in his weakness acceded to their request, and with fire, tools and material soon produced the Golden Calf, fashioning it after the model of the idols of Egypt, from which they had but recently departed. Thus the people, who but a short time before had promised to obey the Lord, deliberately lapsed into gross idolatry. They displaced the Invisible Creator by a dumb idol. The new worship was inaugurated by a specially appointed feast-day. “To-morrow,” said Aaron, “is a feast to the Lord,” thus revealing how little scruple or conscience either he or they had about linking the Lord’s name with this vile invention.
After 40 days of communion with the Lord, Moses at last descended the mount and witnessed one of the saddest and basest scenes in all Israel’s history. Great indeed was the people’s defection. They had lost the fear of God’s displeasure, for they were playing before the Calf. They had lost all spiritual discernment, for they were attributing their deliverance from Egypt to their new god. They had lost their testimony before the nations, for they were naked to their shame. Worst, perhaps, than all, they had forfeited the Presence of the Lord, for He had withdrawn from their camp. In these circumstances, Moses’ course was clear. He could not be associated with a pleasure-seeking, idolatrous camp, which had so wickedly profaned the Name of the Lord. He. therefore, separated himself from the apostasy, took his stand at the gate, and with clarion voice shouted, “ WHO IS ON THE LORD’S SIDE ?”
When we remember that these things were “written for our admonition,” we do well to enquire if there is anything around us to-day which resembles Israel’s defiled camp. Our search need not be a long one. The great mass of religious profession, usually called Christendom, has, alas, much in common with it. In its circles the truth of the Lord’s coming again is neglected and, indeed almost forgotten, just as Israel gave up the hope of Moses’ return. Extensive schemes are devised and huge sums invested for the future, as though there were no such thing taught in the Scriptures as that of Christ’s Second Advent. Further, its leading positions are mostly occupied by men who, Aaron-like, have no will or power to do aught but submit to the demands of their congregations and cater for their changing, carnal tastes. Moreover, in these systems the evidence of the engraving tool, which fashions according to the art and device of man, can readily be detected. The stately buildings, the stained glass windows, the peculiarly garbed ministers, the musical instruments, the sanctimonious rituals, the altars and images, copied from paganism or antiquated Judaism, all play an important and imposing part in the religious systems around us. But no attempt whatever is made by them to conform to the simple principles of the New Testament. In order to raise funds and foster activity of a kind, various stunts and forms of worldly amusement—socials, guest teas, sales of work, concerts, bazaars, juvenile games, debating societies, and often even dances are promoted by leaders who know little or nothing of the fear of God. The sham of it all is that over this unhallowed mixture the Lord’s holy Name is proudly gilded. What travesty of truth! But there it is. Yes, the camp is still with us, and the call comes as of old, but now from a greater than Moses, “ WHO IS ON THE LORD’S SIDE ? let him come unto Me.”
THE EFFECT OF THE CALL
We are not to conclude, however, that all in Israel were carried away by this new religion. Many, doubtless, had their scruples about the shameful behaviour of their fellows. Notable amongst these objectors were those of Aaron’s own tribe, i.e., the Levites, who distinguished themselves by an immediate and unanimous response to the summons. Moses, by taking his station at the gate, made the issue clear. Every man then had either to rally to the banner of the Lord or stay in idolatry. The test for the nation was similar to the one in Elijah’s day, when he on Mount Carmel, asked an equally vital question—“How long halt ye between two opinions?” No excuse could be offered for remaining in the camp and at the same time professing loyalty to the Lord Who had righteously withdrawn from its unholy din and taken up His abode outside its confusion. Therefore to remain within was to forsake Him, to disobey His call, and to be exposed to His righteous judgement.
In view of all this, we do well to remember that the Lord has not changed. If His holiness caused Him to forsake the camp of Israel, how can it allow Him to associate with the religious confusion of the present time? Is not His call relevant to-day: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17)? and again, “Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4)? and has not the writer to the Hebrews said, “Let us go forth (lit. “come out”) therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:13)? Nothing surely could be clearer than these appeals. But what is our response to them? Remembering that our Lord Himself has said, “He that is not with Me is against Me,” let us face the issue. Have we gone out to Him? And are we content to stay out with Him? “ WHO IS ON THE LORD’S SIDE ?”
THE CHARACTERISTIC MARKS OF THE LORD’S SIDE
With so much confusion around us, many young believers want to know how they can be sure they are on the Lord’s side. They are faced with the problem that many different companies of professed Christians claim to be on it and that all others are wrong. How, then, can we know the Lord’s side? What are its distinguishing features? Here are a few simple tests which may prove helpful to the honest enquirer.
First, the Lord is always ON THE SIDE OF HIS WORD. Therefore all our associations ought to be tested by the Scriptures. Is my ecclesiastical position in accordance with New Testament teaching? “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20). Moses could have had no doubts about the wrong of the Golden Calf, for the law he carried in his hands forbade the making of such idols. And can not the same be said about many of the practices of the religious world to-day? Are they not mere inventions of men which find no support by either precept or example in God’s Guide Book—the Scriptures?
Secondly, the Lord is always ON THE SIDE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. He will not have fellowship with sin to please even His choicest saint. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Unjudged sin has cost many a saint, and many a company of saints, the loss of His Presence. Shiloh, in which the Lord chose to place His Name when Israel first settled in Canaan, had to be forsaken for this very reason.
Thirdly, the Lord is ever ON THE SIDE OF THE LOWLY. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word” (Is. 66:2). “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). It is as we walk in simple dependence upon Him, that we can be sure that we are on His side. High, pretentious claims, engendered by pride of position or condition, ever lead to the loss of His Presence and Power.
Fourthly, history proves that the Lord is usually ON THE SIDE OF THE MINORITY. Whether we think of Noah and his family against the world; of Joshua and Caleb against Israel; of David and his followers against Saul and his armies; of the Lord and His few disciples against the Jews, or of Stephen against the Sanhedrim, the right side in each case was the one which was in the minority and therefore was unpopular. Now let us apply to ourselves these four important tests.
Is the Word of God my sole guide?
Have I separated myself from all unrighteousness (2 Cor. 6:14)?
Am I clothed with humility, and do I walk with the humble?
And am I on the side of that which the world counts unpopular?
THE WISDOM OF BEING ON THE LORD’S SIDE
The passage we are considering illustrates the well known principle of Scripture that God honours them that honour Him, for the special favour granted to the Levites in recompense for the stand they took was the service of the Tabernacle. We can rest assured that the path of separation with our rejected Lord, while in some respects costly, is nevertheless strewn with blessings which more than compensate for the paltry price to be paid. Fellowship with God brings a joy to the heart known only by those who have experienced it. Then, what an honour it is to march under His banner! If He is our Beloved, surely we do not wish to court the friendship of the world which crucified Him. Moreover, His is the victorious side, for, “He always wins who sides with God.” The temporary set-backs in the struggle do not affect the final outcome. Those who oppose Him will ultimately be the losers. Just as the gold invested in Israel’s calf, was never used in the construction of the Tabernacle, but became a total loss, so all that is expended in building up what is not according to the pattern of Scripture will prove to be but “wood, hay and stubble” at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12).
The time is at hand when the final Call will be heard. The shout at our Lord’s Coming again will rid Christendom of all who are truly His own. They will then be separated, but not without loss for having evaded His reproach. The camp, of course, will carry on without them and will quickly develop into “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (Rev. 17:5). Since this is to be the final development and end of the unscriptural religious systems around us, may we be given grace in every circumstance of life and in every aspect of our testimony for God, to manifest that we are “ON THE LORD’S SIDE.” While many for the sake of a little gain, or popularity, or wider sphere of service, unite with the apostate camp, may we evince toward our beloved Lord the spirit of Amasai, who, in the day of his master’s rejection, cried, “Thine are we, David, and ON THY SIDE, thou son of Jesse” (1 Chron. 12:5). Let us not stoop to borrow Babylon’s inventions, steal its garments, or share its empty pleasures, but being satisfied with “the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3. R.V.), let our portion be to watch with Him outside the camp until He returns to bring us Home. His “Well done” will more than compensate for any little reproach that we may now bear for His worthy Name.
We saw in our former paper that Paul offered unceasing thanks to God for the grace manifested by the Thessalonian converts. We wish now to notice, however, that he also expressed much concern about their spiritual state. This was not because he doubted their desire to please God. Rather was it because he feared their being overcome by Satan’s temptations.
From the beginning, the Devil has been the implacable enemy and envier of God. Consequently, that which pleases Him always becomes the target of Satanic attack. When God, for example, pronounced the first creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31), the Serpent lost no time in marring it (Gen. 3). When God said of Job, “There is none like him in the earth” (Job 1:9), the Evil One immediately sought his overthrow. And when God from the opened heavens proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17), Satan, using that very commendation (“If Thou be the Son of God,” Matt. 4:3), tried, but without success, to tempt Christ to distrust His Father. So here, seeing the Thessal-onians were ambitious “to please God” (1 Thess. 4:1), Paul, “when he could no longer forbear, sent to know their faith, LEST BY SOME MEANS THE TEMPTER HAD TEMPTED THEM” (1 Thess. 3:5). Obviously, then, he was greatly burdened about their state. Well he knew that a church which to the eye of God must have been as “a garden inclosed ... an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits,” would not be immune from the malicious designs and fell plots of the enemy.
And it was not only for the Thessalonians that Paul felt concerned. He entertained similar apprehensions for other churches. To the Colossians he said, “Beware lest any man spoil you” (Col. 2:8); and to the Galatians, “Take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). He foresaw that “grievous wolves” would threaten to scatter the Lord’s flock at Ephesus (Acts 20, 29, 30); and his reason for entreating the Corinthians so earnestly was, “lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). In each of these passages, as in many others, the Apostle’s fear was that the Evil One would succeed in spoiling that which afforded pleasure to the Lord (compare 2 John 8). Paul, in common with other writers of the Epistles, ever viewed Satan as the Arch-enemy of God’s Assemblies; and we do well to remember that to-day he is still the same bitter, deadly foe of the sons of God and the Church of Christ. Nothing, therefore, would give him greater satisfaction than the unsettling, and if possible, the complete disintegration of Assembly testimony.
In spiritual conflict, as in human warfare, it is of paramount importance not to underestimate the power and prowess of the enemy. We must, therefore, consider what Holy Scripture says regarding our Arch-foe. Our consideration will of necessity be brief and incomplete, but we trust sufficient to make us (like Paul) “not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11).
SATAN’S CHARACTER AND ACTIVITY
Satan is a mighty and dignified Personality—the Ruler of a highly organised kingdom (Matt. 12:26), whose seat of power is in the heavenlies (Eph. 6:12). “The whole world” is under his authority (1 Jo. 5:20. R.V.). He is its “god” (2 Cor. 4:4), and its “prince” (John 12:31). Though not omnipresent, the Devil has in subjection to him legions of evil spirits, which unceasingly obey his behests. He is possessed of powers of intelligence far beyond human conception; he is a creature of consummate skill and insidious cunning, and has the advantage of 6,000 years’ experience in the cruel art of deception. He makes use of “devices” (2 Cor. 2:11), “wiles” (Eph. 6:11), “fiery darts” (Eph. 6:16), and “snares” (1 Tim. 3:7). He employs the elements of nature (Job 1), human sickness (Job 2; 2 Cor. 12), the misdirected zeal of saints (Lu. 22:31-34), and even the children of God themselves (Matt. 16:23), to fulfil his malevolent purposes. From the beginning, Satan has been the inveterate enemy of man—“a murderer ... a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44), the instigator of war, and the cause of all the suffering, shame, and sorrow of humanity. He exerts a baneful influence upon the minds of men, and even God’s people are not immune from his evil suggestions (Acts 5:4).
This sinister being, or “roaring lion,” as Peter calls him, never slumbers or goes off duty (1 Pet. 5:8). His present movements are one round of ceaseless activity, so that the Arabs have well named him, “The Busy One.” He meticulously observes the saints (Job 1:8-10), accuses them “day and night” before God (Rev. 12:10), and has proved himself more than a match for even the holiest and most illustrious of men. Only One never yielded to his temptations.
This, in brief, is what Scripture reveals of Satan’s character and present activity. If it is true that “Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees,” should not our contemplation of his power and cunning cause us to “tremble”? Have we not known valiant men of God who fell so lamentably before his onslaughts that we could only cry, “How are the mighty fallen,” and “Tell it not in Gath” (2 Sam. 1:19-20)? And if the fall of an individual saint is such a triumph for Satan, what exultation he must have over the fall of a church! If you have peace and spiritual prosperity in your assembly, “Be not highminded but fear” (Rom. 11:20), for even now Satan may be plotting an assault upon it. And beware, lest he use you as his tool.
A CENTURY AGO
A little over a century ago there was a remarkable revival by the Spirit of God. Truth long buried beneath the debris of religious tradition was recovered, the result being that in many parts of the world there came into being almost simultaneously companies of saints practising New Testament church principles. These assemblies were marked by an intense devotion to the Lord, and all Christendom felt the power of their testimony. A secular Encyclopaedia has said that at its beginning it appeared to be “a movement great enough to threaten the whole organisation of the Christian Church,” and some informed writers declare that no mightier movement has been experienced since the days of the Apostles. If this be so, and we can hardly gainsay it, how are we to account for the internal dissension which a little later robbed those assemblies of their pristine freshness and power, and in some cases made them the laughing-stock of the ungodly? There is but one answer—IT WAS THE WORK OF SATAN.
A LESSON TO US
Surely this ought to be a lesson to us to-day. May we have grace to lay it most solemnly to heart, for there is at present a genuine anxiety amongst spiritual saints for the future of God’s assemblies over the world. It is true, there is much cause for thanksgiving to God in regard to local church testimony. Assemblies perhaps never before were so numerous, nor have Conference meetings been so large, as at the present time. We have gifted teachers, godly shepherds, and earnest evangelists. False doctrine will not for a moment be tolerated. Nevertheless, influences ultimately destructive of all corporate testimony for the Lord are at work. In different lands, brethren with deeply exercised hearts and well-informed minds, express alarm at the tendencies which are now manifesting themselves, for they have characteristics suggestive of Satanic origin. Of these we shall have more to say, if the Lord will, in a subsequent article. Therefore, let those who love God’s assemblies beware. To dismiss this warning with a shrug of one’s shoulders and carry on complacently will give Satan the very advantage he seeks, and for us will mean one day the sorrow of belated enlightenment. On the other hand, to face facts honestly, unpleasant though they may be, and to take our stand firmly, however unpopular it may make us, will surely have reward in our being instrumental in the Lord’s hand in preserving the feet of His dear people in an evil day.
“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen.” 2 Pet. 3:17, 18.
We learned a valuable lesson from a Christian blacksmith lately. “My master,” said he, “had given me detail drawings of some iron work he wanted made. The drawings showed all dimensions and other particulars; and I carefully looked over them before I began. Now, I reckon to know my trade pretty well, and I saw two or three points where I thought I could improve on the drawings, and accordingly, instead of working exactly to the instructions, I carried out my own thoughts, and expected to get praised for what I had done. Presently the master came and looked first at my work and then at the drawings. ‘What is the meaning of these alterations?’ said he, and of course I explained my ideas to him. ‘But that will not do at all,’ was his answer. ‘When you get drawings you must work exactly to them, or else your work is no use.’ I shall not forget the lesson in a hurry,” added the brother; “it has set me thinking how the Lord will judge all our works by the same rule.” Now may the Lord help every one of us to apply the lesson in like manner. The longer the time since the Lord gave His instructions, the greater the danger that His servants will begin to think they need not keep so very close to them. On all sides we hear it said, “O, yes, but things were very different then. Circumstances are so changed since the apostles’ days; and we could not carry things out now just as they commanded.” Is this an argument we ought to listen to? Or does the lapse of time make no difference as to the obedience He expects from us? . . . Surely He looks for the same obedience now as at the first. And, if every day is taking us further from the time when He gave us His commandments, do not let us forget that every day is bringing us nearer to His coming back again. Our every-day obedience, just like our eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, should show the Lord’s death till He come. So when we are tempted to let this thing slip or alter that, the answer of our hearts would ever be: “He came to die for me; He is coming again to take me to Himself”; and the simplicity of our obedience would declare how reverently we own His authority, and how joyfully we wait for His appearing.