The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that Satan will to the nd remain the inveterate enemy of God and His people. Far from being improved by the passage of time, the combined testimony of both Testaments is that he will continue to prosecute his evil projects with tireless energy until he is at iast cast to his doom. At a crisis subsequent to the Church’s rapture, he is described as “having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:12, R.V.). His aim then, doubtless, will be to frustrate God’s purposes in connection with the Second Advent of Christ. When our Lord came to earth the first time, there was great demon activity in Palestine. A cursory reading of the Gospels will reveal that demoniacism was a marked feature of that epoch, and that from the Saviour’s cradle (Matt. 2:13) to His cross, the Devil dogged with malignant designs the holy footsteps of the Son of God. All of this, as the spiritual mind will at once perceive, was a gigantic, organised attempt on the part of Satan to hinder the purpose of our Lord’s First Advent. Having failed so signally in that, we can appreciate that he will redouble his efforts to thwart God’s great plan in the Second Advent of His beloved Son.
In view of this, we may expect that as the Return of Christ approaches—and it is approaching rapidly—every witness to His Name will become increasingly the target of Satanic attack. This is brought out very clearly in 1Tim. 4:1-3, a passage which furnishes some of the characteristic marks of “the latter times.” It should be noted that in the R.V., verse 1 begins with “But”—“But the Spirit saith.” The use of this conjunction here throws into contrast what immediately follows with what has just preceded in the last paragraph of Chapter 3. The Apostle is there speaking of the testimony (“the pillar and ground of the truth,” v. 15) borne by the local assembly of the saints (“the house of God, which is the church of the living God”) to the Person of our glorious Lord (v. 16). That is very beautiful, “ But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies” (ch. 4:1, 2). That is to say, Satan will set himself to destroy God’s testimony, and he will do this by counterfeiting it. If God dwells in His “house” (ch. 3:15), he will work through hypocritical “men” (ch. 4:2); if God’s assembly upholds “the truth” (ch. 3:15), he will propagate “lies” (ch. 4:2); and if the assembly maintains fidelity to the “great mystery of godliness” (ch. 3:16), he will seduce men to believe his “doctrines of devils” (ch. 4:1). Speaking of these “doctrines” in his “Notes on the Pastoral Epistles,” Mr. Wm. Rodgers has well said: “Many developments on such lines the after history of the professing church has recorded; and they should convey to us this warning, amongst others, that we have need to beware of new rules and new teachings which appear to be of little importance, but which Satan may be using as the thin end of a wedge that will ultimately produce departure from the Faith, or at least the scattering of the saints through division.”
That we are now in these “latter times,” yea, in the “last days ” (2nd Tim. 3:1), not many who read these lines will doubt. Hence it need not surprise us that in different lands Satan seems to be intensifying his efforts to weaken and undermine assemblies which for long years have been pillars of witness to the truth of God. The matter has given profound concern to servants of Christ in many fields of service. We do not suggest that assemblies are dying out, or that their day of usefulness is passing. We strike no such despondent note. On the contrary, we gladly own that there is much cause for thanksgiving and encouragement in assembly life to-day. As pointed out in an earlier article: “ 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.” The Lord clearly has set before us an “open door” of great and world-wide service, and we praise Him for it. What we do suggest is that Satan, knowing this, has determined to thwart God’s gracious purpose towards us and thus rob Him of the glory which otherwise our corporate testimony would bring to His Name. This being so, we may settle it in our minds that for loyal hearted believers the path is not going to be easier, and that if we are to escape Satan’s seductive snares, and maintain a pure and vigorous collective testimony, we must be vigilant, we must “ watch and pray,” we must be prepared resolutely to resist every inducement to depart from “ the simplicity that is in Christ.’
“For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work our woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate—
On earth is not his equal.”
Being an adept strategist, we never know just by what cunning manoeuvre Satan may surprise us. It is usually in ways we do not surmise that he attempts to mislead our souls. At times he attacks from WITHOUT as “the roaring lion.” At other times he achieves greater success when as “the old serpent ” he works WITHIN the assembly, for it is a true saying that: “ If Satan cannot stop the coach, he will mount the box and drive it.” Of his many and diverse endeavours to render impotent, and where possible, to destroy our public testimony to-day, we suggest those which we regard to be the most serious. Satan’s ambition is:
(I) TO ROB US OF SPIRITUAL POWER.
One of the most marked features of the early assemblies in these Islands was their spirituality. The saints who comprised them were for the greater part men and women who to a high degree feared God and held intimate converse with Him. The Bible was, their constant companion. They were ardent in faith, in hope, in love. They cherished one another’s fellowship, and their hearts burned with compassion for the lost. In those palmy days the meetings were characterised by a wonderful fulness of the Spirit’s power. “ The shout of a King was among them.” Such joy and love overflowed the saints’ hearts, that oftentimes they were unwilling to disperse, and their meetings had to be prolonged. For them the world had little attraction. They sang:
“ ’Tis the treasure I’ve found in His love,
That has made me a pilgrim below,”
and their sincerity was attested by their manner of life. Many of them abandoned politics, resigned military and naval commissions and high positions of State. They dispensed with jewellery and personal adornment, refused the world’s honours, and sacrificed the amenities, elegance and opulence of its society.
We thank God for any measure in which saints to-day manifest and are longing after, the same spiritual fulness. But how little of it we experience or sec in evidence! Has not the fine gold become dim? Surely, if we have any discernment, we mourn over the spiritual decline which is so markedly a characteristic of the present. Where are the devotion, fervour and freshness of a former time? Is there not amongst God's people a deadening apathy? How seldom even at the Lord's Tabic do we have to wipe away a tear! Surely the long, death-like, silent pauses experienced in some Remembrance Meetings do not become those to whom so much has been forgiven. Equally to be deplored is the other extreme—that of keeping things going as by mechanism, which leaves little time to wait upon the Spirit's leading, or even to collect one’s thoughts. Again, are we not in many cases falling into the rut of a cold formality by alternating a hymn and a prayer throughout the meeting? Why in some assemblies must the same brother almost invariably announce the opening hymn or offer the first prayer? and if our hearts were warm and overflowing, would prayer be the stereotyped thing it so often is? Further, most will admit that reverence is a decreasing quality in our day. These things undoubtedly betoken a lack of spirituality and reveal how mean and limited is our apprehension of the glorious Person of our Lord. In addition, there is not amongst us the prevailing intercession to which the saints of a generation ago owed so much, and it is a regrettable fact that in some places the mid-week Prayer Meeting, so vital to every assembly’s well-being, is dying, if it has not already ceased to exist. Another sign of weakness is that of undeveloped local gift. Some Lord's Day Morning Meetings, though fairly large numerically, can scarcely be carried through unless a visiting brother be present to assist in the ministry of the Word. As for the ministry of the Word itself, it is acknowledged on all hands, surely, that, speaking broadly, it is greatly lowered in spiritual tone from what it once was. Often it is altogether unsuitable, wearisome and puerile. It is certainly pitiable to hear a man who has been many years in public service for God, occupying valuable time in a Conference to do little more than relate amusing anecdotes and talk about himself. If the ministry is of this light, shallow nature, what kind of character can it reproduce in the lives of those who sit under it? Why have assemblies not power to deal with this situation? Such, alas, is our weakness, that some who should do so. have themselves lost the ability to discern between spiritual and unspiritual ministry. Finally, there arc assemblies nowadays, though, thank God, not in the Province in which these lines are penned, where the Sunday evening Gospel Meeting is little more than an entertainment. The old-time preaching in the Spirit’s power, which aimed at awakening the sinner’s conscience, and which, in addition to pointing to the Lamb of God, warned of eternal judgment and of the peril of false profession, will no longer be tolerated. Here plainly are symptoms of spiritual decadence. Is it any wonder if such meetings lose their hold upon the unconverted?
These are some of the facts which over a period of many years’ experience of assembly life, in this and other lands, have borne in upon one the irresistible conviction that, speaking generally, the spiritual tone amongst God’s beloved people to-day is far below what it once was. The truth is, we arc losing our power. The “gray hairs are here and there upon us,” though perhaps, like Ephraim, we “know it not” (Hos. 7:9). A deadening process is at work. Satan is imperceptibly sapping our spiritual vitality. The “great power ” (Acts 4:33) of apostolic witnessing has become the “ little strength ” of Philadelphian testimony (Rev. 3:8). Yea, we are in the Laodicean age, and “ the faithful and true Witness ” saith, “ I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:14-17). Brethren, our only hope lies in repentance —“be zealous, therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Are we going to humble ourselves and do this? or shall we dismiss these lines with a smile and carry on as we have been doing until the word, “ Ichabod,” written across our testimony, tells that the candlestick has been removed?
God had allowed Satan to afflict His servant Job, so that it might be seen that Job was not serving his Maker for the sake of the benefits received from Him, and that he would not turn against Him in the hour of loss, sorrow, and pain. When Job was thus suffering by the instrumentality of the Devil, his friends kept telling him that it was God’s hand which was upon him, and that his affliction was on account of sin, which he, with the cleverness of an arch-hypocrite, had been covering. In this chapter the sorely tried patriarch laments the treatment he is receiving from professed friends. His “kinsfolk have failed” him (v. 14). His “maids count him a stranger ” (v. 15). His “ servant ” refuses to answer him (v. 16). Even to his wife his “ breath is strange ” (v. 17). In verse 22 he says to his friends, “Why do ye persecute me?”—a question plainly implying that the base insinuations of these three men were equivalent to open hostility. Job also said, “ Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book . . . For I know that my redeemer Iiveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall 1 see God” (vs. 23, 26). The word, “Redeemer,” used here is elsewhere translated “Kinsman” and “Avenger”. Now, a Redeemer did three things: (1) as Kinsman he raised up the name of a dead brother, as in Ruth 4:5,6; (2) as Redeemer he bought back what a brother had been obliged to sell (cf. Lev. 2’ : 25); (3) as Avenger, he took vengeance on the slayer of his relation (cf. Deut. 19:21 and v. 29 here). Job had the assurance that in the day of resurrection the Lord would do all this for him. He would raise up his name; He would restore to him all he had lost; and He would deal with those that had made him suffer. Blessed consolation!
But Job had not to wait till the resurrection, for before the Book closes the Lord takes up the cause of His wronged servant. In chap. 42:7 He rebukes the friends saying, “Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right.” In the same verse He owns Job as “ My servant.” In chap. 1 He had acknowledged him thus when speaking to Satan. Now He does it when rebuking the friends. What would they think of this, after all the evil they had spoken against his name? And how did they feel when the Lord told them to offer sacrifices for themselves (which, of course, implied that they had been wrong), and that Job would pray for them? Not only so, but before the chapter closes, the Lord, acting as Job’s Redeemer, restored to him “ twice as much as he had before ” (v. 10). “ So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning ” (v. 12).
Brethren, in all of this there lies a lesson for us to-day. Let us not vindicate ourselves, but let us, like Job of long ago, say, “My Vindicator liveth,” and leave our case and cause with Him. Our Lord will not fail us. Think of how He spoke on behalf of the poor woman “ which was a sinner,” in Lu. 7, and put to silence Simon, the proud Pharisee. Think, too, of how, when Martha, in Lu. 10, blamed her sister, the Lord Jesus commended Mary, saying, she “ hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Therefore,
“Self vindication shun; if in the right,
What gainest thou by taking from God’s hand
Thy cause? If wrong, what dost thou but invite
Satan himself thy friend in need to stand?
Leave all with God. If right, He’ll prove thee so,
If not, He’ll pardon; therefore to Him go.”
On the other hand, let us all remember, when tempted to speak against God’s servants, that their Vindicator liveth, and that He beareth not “ the sword ” (Job 19:29) in vain. “Wherefore,” said the Lord to Miriam, “Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:8). Before the chapter closed, Miriam learned by a sore experience not only how “ foolishly ” she had acted in presuming to criticise the Lord’s servant, but also that Moses had a Vindicator Who faithfully defended his misjudged cause.
“And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters,” Neh. 3:12. There are some interesting and instructive commentaries about the builders of the wall in the time of Nehemiah. Some of whom we would have expected much, did nothing: “Their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” Again, there were others from whom naturally we would expect little who did a great deal. We have an example of this in our text—“He and his daughters.” Shallum was the ruler of “ the half part of Jerusalem.” His daughters, therefore, would be the young ladies of the land. Yet how good to sec those young women willing to forego their social position and help their father build the wall. It would have been an inspiring sight to see them carrying stones and mortar to their father, as he likely would have laid the stones to the line and plummet. It is noticeable that Shallum’s wife is not mentioned nor are his sons. She may have been dead and he may not have had any sons.
Now, the wall was built to keep out the enemies of God and His house. Sanballat, Tobiah and their kin hated the wall and the builders, because it exposed them as having no part in the service or worship of the Great God Who dwelt with His redeemed people. Their descendants to-day are many. They belong to the “ Church of the wide Door and open Table.” They love to think of themselves as liberal and large hearted. They ignore that real “ largeness of heart ” is the result of “ running in the w ay of thy commandments,” Ps. 119:32.
It is good to see the daughters of a godly father, seeking to help him “ build the wall ” of separation. Alas! they are all too few. Many of the “daughters” to-day wish to make a breach in the wall instead of repairing it. They pester their father until he consents to buy a radio, and soon it will be a T.V. There is an advertisement in the papers in Venezuela here which translated reads: “Buy a Philco radio and you will have the world in your home.” Then they bore “pop”, as they style him, to buy a car to take them to meeting. “Pop” finally gives in. but he soon finds that with “ the daughters ” at the wheel the car takes them “ away ” from the meeting and not “ to ” it. Yes, we repeat, what a blessing to see godly daughters helping their father to keep the home clean and separate for God. Such will be of inestimable value in the assemblies in keeping out those who would insidiously lead us back to Babylon.
DAUGHTERS WHO BORE TESTIMONY.
“ That our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace,” Ps. 144:12. Twice over the writer of this Psalm prays that he may be saved from the hand of “ strange children” (verses 7, 11). He gives us two characteristics of these professors. Their “ mouths speak vanity ”—they are very light and giddy in their talk. They talk about anything rather than the Word of God. They never tell you where they have been reading in the Bible—never pass on a thought or ask a question. They are as light and frivolous as chaff. Then “ their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” When they professed to be saved they shook hands with the preacher, but it was a lie they told him, holding out the right hand. They ride the crest of the “ revival wave ” and in a few weeks or months at most, they are baptized and in the assembly. Alas! they turn out to be “strange children.” It would be well for the Lord's people if such kept away from the assembly. The Psalmist rightly cries to be saved from the plague of “ strange children.” It is surely incumbent on those who preach the gospel to repeat this prayer every night and to avoid forcing the people to make professions. The Psalmist tells us the kind of children he would like to have: “ That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth, and our daughters may be as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace.” In the first Scripture “ the daughters ” were builders, but here they are “ corner stones.” You see, there will be a rich reward for the “ daughters ” who build. One day they will be “ as comer stones.”
The corner stone is a stone of great importance. It locks the two walls. It has also two faces or fronts. We shall say that one is private—the home face. How good to see “ the daughters ” simple, obedient to their parents—addressing them in a scriptural way as “ father ” and “ mother,” instead of using the modern slang, “ Pop ” and “ Mum.” Then there is the other side, which suggests the public testimony. To polish a stone requires a process. But after the grinding operation, the beautiful composition of the stone is seen. For example, a granite stone is composed of quartz, felspar and mica. When the stone is polished so that your face is reflected on the surface, the beautiful tints and colours of the constituent parts show up in admirable combination. The ordinary routine of the daily life in the home, the store, the office or factory is the grinding process which brings out in the “ daughters ” the hidden elements of faith, hope and love.
Now, a polished stone is real, natural and permanent. Its brilliance is not effected by rain or sunshine. It is something that will not change or fall off. It is not artificial. So many of “ the daughters ” nowadays seek to acquire brilliance by “ a make-up.” They take a “ course ” in a “ Bible School ” to fit them for what is thought to be the “ work of the Lord.” They come out brilliant all right. But it is all make-up. It is artificial. It is like painting the granite stone to imitate its true colours. Time wears it off, however, because jt has not been acquired in God's school by the slow grinding process of prayer, reading, service and experience.
DAUGHTERS WHO PROPHESIED.
“ And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” Acts 21: 9. Here we have four more “daughters” who prophesy. This is a stock text with those who advocate that women should speak in the church. Now, The Acts is historical and not doctrinal. For teaching regarding sisters’ service we must turn to the Epistles and not to the Gospels or The Acts. But notice, it does not say that they spoke in the presence of Paul or in the Church. Then again, prophesying does not necessarily mean that they foretold the future. To prophesy was to bear witness to the will and Word of God. This required the Spirit’s direction, and as “ God is not the Author of confusion,” it would be incongruous to say that these daughters did or said something that would clash with, or contradict, what is plainly revealed in the Epistles, and there the Lord’s command is explicit: “ Let your women keep silence in the churches.” (1 Cor. 14: 34).
There is a very great service for “ the daughters ” in the vineyard of the Lord, without their “ speaking in the churches.” The great thing for them is to be filled with, and guided by, the Spirit. Then, like Miriam’s, their suggestion will be at the right time; like Naaman’s little maid, they will testify at the right time; or like Hannah, they will pray at the right time that a man may be raised up to restore God’s people. Perhaps, like Priscilla, they will instruct the preacher, or like Phebe, succour the saints. Above alj, they will “ choose the good part,” like Mary who “ sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His Word.”