We saw in our last paper that Satan to-day seems determined to reduce to nil our power for effective testimony. We now wish to show that in order to bring about this much-to-be-feared result his ambition clearly is
(2) TO MAKE GOD’S PEOPLE WORLDLY.
The pages of the past reveal that in all Ages, Satan has aimed at inducing saints to yield to the world’s solicitations. Well he knows that if he can but succeed here, he has not only crippled our usefulness in service, but also converted us into a positive hindrance to God’s work. Hence, by the most subtle and unthought of ways and means, Satan unceasingly endeavours to attract the saints to the world. It is pertinent, therefore, that we should inquire what the character of the world is, and what the Christian’s position relative to it ought to be. In the New Testament, two different Greek words are commonly translated, “World.” One of these primarily means “order, arrangement.” The other denotes "an age,” and usually has in view the predominant features of the time period in question. In some places these terms appear to be almost interchangeable, though in the majority of passages this is not the case. What we wish to notice, however, is that irrespective of which word is used by the Spirit, the world is ever viewed in Scripture as being evil. It is “ this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). It “knows not God” (1. Cor. 1:21); the elements that comprise it are “ the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1. Jo. 2:16). It “lieth in the evil one” (1. Jo. 5:19, R.V.), who is its “prince” (Jo. 12:31) and “god” (2Cor. 4:4). and at whose instigation it committed its darkest and foulest deed—the “ crucifixion of the Lord of glory ” (1. Cor. 2:8).
By His atoning death, however, the Lord Jesus has delivered His own “out of this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4, R.V.); so that though we are yet “in the word” (Jo. 17:11). we are “not of” it (Jo. 17:14). “Our citizenship,” says Paul, “is in heaven” fPhil. 3:20). How glorious and soul-exalting it is to contemplate that we no longer belong to this “ death doomed land
“Heaven is our fatherland.
Heaven is our home!”
If for a little season we are still “ in the world,” it is because our Lord has “sent us into it” (Jo. 17:18) that we might bear testimony to the love and grace of both Him and His Father (Jo. 17:21, 23). While “in the world,” however, we must ever remember that we are “not of the world.” To us it is a wilderness through which we pass as “strangers and pilgrims ” (1. Peter 2:11) en route for “the land that is brighter than day.” Its charms are delusive. Its smile is a lie. Indeed, to be “a friend of the world.” is to be “the enemy of God ” (Jas. 4:4). “Love not the world.” says John, “neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1. Jo. 2:15).
Now, the world may become a snare to a child of God in either of two ways: (1) He may become yoked with it; or (2) He may become like it. In 2Cor. 6:14-17, the Apostle warns against the one danger.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” he enjoins; next he asks five questions, each of which suggests a forbidden yoke —the business yoke, the political yoke, the social yoke, the matrimonial yoke, the religious yoke—-and then he concludes his great appeal for separation with the clarion call, “Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing," appending one of the most precious and pregnant promises to be found in the New Testament. In Romans 12:2 the same writer warns against the other danger; “And be ye not conformed to this world.” Of these two dangers, the latter, doubtless, is the more subtle. Most Christians know the unequal yoke to be wrong, but conformity to the world may be so gradual, and may appear so harmless, beautiful and pleasing, that we are liable to be overtaken by it ere we are aware. Never was the peril greater than in this modem age, with its rush, craze for pleasure, and lowered standard of morality. Few indeed will deny that the spirit which pervades it has swept into the professing Church. Whether or not we like to face the fact, the truth is that the spiritual tide, generally speaking, is, and has been for a long time, upon the ebb. Are we not unduly devoted to material things? We profess to believe our Lord's Return to be imminent, yet are we not as self-asserting and as keen for present gain as many of the unconverted? How many Christians are guilty of over-charging, or at least, of being sticklers for the last penny! Again, is it not the case that certain practices which would not have been tolerated some years ago, are not only countenanced to-day. but in many instances, encouraged? Instead of finding in the Word our pattern for conduct, we seem content to measure ourselves by other Christians. The fact that they do certain things is made, perhaps unconsciously, an excuse for our doing likewise. While the result of our familiarity with existing spiritual and moral conditions is that we seem to have ceased to recognise how sinful and displeasing to our God some common practices are. Consequently, worldliness is rampant in private life, home life, and assembly life. What we wish to say further will touch upon each of these spheres, and it will be observed that much of it has been drawn from what other and more experienced brethren have written upon the subject.
WORLDLINESS HAS MANY FORMS.
Worldliness in its many forms begins in the secret life. Prayer and the reverent, painstaking study of the Word are neglected. The conscience becomes defiled and unexercised. The hidden springs of spiritual love and joy are stopped. The fear of God departs. The soul loses contact with the Lord and becomes worldly in thought and outlook. That this inward spiritual decline is to-day a common experience is clearly evidenced by the careless, aimless, selfish lives of many professed Christians. A missionary sister has spoken of the shock she received when, after some years’ absence, she returned home and found how much worldliness had come in amongst the Lord’s people. The fashionable attire, the modem adornment, the shorn hair, the painted lips and penciled eyebrows of some professed sisters contributed to her sad impression and also confirmed the saying of a friend; “The assemblies are losing their power because of worldliness.”
Further, is it consistent with the claims of the Crucified that there should be the ambition to be rich, the striving for social status, the forming of unhallowed friendships, the vieing with each other who can have the most luxurious car, the most elaborate home, the most sumptuous meals, which in some quarters are so common? What of the Saturday night parties in Christian homes, with their idle gossip, feasting and levity? Is this a fitting preparation for the Lord’s Day? What of joy-riding and social visitation on the Lord’s Day afternoons? “A pleasant walk, a little gardening, fishing, some new hobby, were once the recreations,” writes the veteran, Mr. F. Ferguson, of New Zealand, “but now it is the tennis party, the golf links, the cricket and football fields, the bowling green—mixing of saved and unsaved together. In the evening it is the social party, the popular music, the entertaining lecture, and last and worst, the ‘pictures.’ ” Referring to Christian Weddings, the same writer says: “There are marriages ‘solemnised’ among us that are inconsistent with a testimony of separation unto God from the world; some even ranking with society displays, followed by a detailed description in the newspaper of the dresses and attire. What are we coming to? Sobriety and restraint should mark Christian weddings, in contradistinction to worldly display.”
In an excellent booklet, "Old Paths and Good Ways,” Mr. A. Borland, M.A., has some trenchant things to say about the present day decline of piety. “Family worship,” he writes, “is now much less common than it once was, and than it ought to be. When the family altar has been demolished, the great bulwark against the inroads of evil, both moral and doctrinal, has been removed.” With reference to the Radio, he goes on to say that “it becomes a positive evil when it interferes with the time that ought to be devoted to the instruction of younger people in the proper conduct of life. ... It would be better to scrap the wireless than to endanger the children.” These are weighty words which call for serious reflection on the part of parents. There can be no doubt, the Radio has proved to be Satan’s masterpiece for bringing the world into the homes of God’s people, while Television is perhaps the greatest modem curse. Its effects upon spirituality are most injurious. Mr. Borland again says: “Year after year the tide of worldliness becomes more and more menacing. Parents insensibly succumb to the allurements around. They (our young people) do not become outrageously worldly . . . but . . . they have lost their keenness after spiritual realities. . It is to be deplored that some Christian homes are half-way houses to the world.” Our brother further remarks. “How exacting post-war courtship must be! That our young folks should have the opportunity of meeting each other is both natural and desirable, but that they should meet so frequently as many of them do, is not at all commendable.” Nor is it seemly, we would add, that young pairs should be so much on their own. as is often the case, much less that they should be allowed to go off upon holidays together, a practice now becoming common, but one upon which godly parents in past years would have frowned.
WORLDLINESS IN ASSEMBLY LIFE.
In assembly life, also, worldly conformity to-day assumes many forms. In certain quarters, music, lady soloists, films and games are the order of the day. Some time ago an assembly in England was asked, and decided to, hold its weekly Prayer Meeting on another night, because the young people wished to have the use of the premises on that evening for recreational purposes. “Thus,” as one brother said, “the scriptural gives place to the non-scriptural, and the impression is given by the leaders of an assembly that tennis playing and the like are not only a quite proper phase of assembly life, but even of greater importance than the Prayer Meeting.” How many other worldly innovations might be named: “Bible Schools, Youth Rallies, with uniformed parades; Harvest Thanksgivings, with musical programmes; the Sunday School Christmas Tree and its performance, “so elaborate as to be almost theatrical.”
Then there are the Week-end House Parties and Summer Camps in which saved and unsaved mingle together in games, sports, and tours. One prospectus promised “a bright, jolly time,” another “good fun.” while it was stated in the report of yet another that “Time would fail to tell of all the fun that was packed into the holiday . . . from early bathing ... to evening jollity.” So we can enjoy our "jolly time,” our " good fun,” and then profess before poor sinners that
“None but Christ can satisfy! ”
O the hypocrisy of it! Brethren, do we imagine we can thus mock God? We are exhorted in Scripture to “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear”—“in fear,” be it noted, not in foolish frivolity.
It pains one to pen these lines, but much more could be written. In a recent article in "Truth and Tidings,” Mr. G. G. Johnston says: "The modern way of revival by introducing the things of the world among the saints is surely aimed more at gaining popularity with the world than at increasing spiritual power. Fancy a professed assembly with its baseball team, its orchestra, or even its band of professional singers! These may distinguish such as a popular sect, among the religious bodies around, but not as a New Testament assembly of saints.” In light of these things, is it any wonder that Mr. Ferguson has asked, “What are we coming to?”
What, we may ask, will be the next infiltration from the world? and how will it all end? How can it end, only in spiritual stagnation and decay, and in the probable ruin of The precious souls of our dear unsaved children? Is this not appalling'’ We mourn our Weakness, we ought to weep over our Worldliness. Thank God, however, for the many assemblies over the earth that are free from all such worldliness. May they ever remain content with pilgrim ways and with the reproach those ways inevitably bring. It was because the Lord Jesus was unworldly that men slew Him. Therefore, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (l. John 3:13).
It is our earnest prayer that God’s dear children everywhere may be aroused to the dangers of the present world-ward trend, and also to the glorious yet solemn fact that our Lord’s Return is at the door. If this truth gripped our hearts in power, how paltry all that worldings prize would appear! And He is coming—surely, quickly, suddenly coming, to catch away His own. How shall we meet His gaze? How shall we face His Judgment Seat? How will all that we have lived for appear when assessed by Him? “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1. Cor. 3:13).
A subject for prayer recently suggested by some brethren in the U.S.A. is: "That God will bring the assemblies into a condition so that He can use us to a greater extent than ever before.” We humbly suggest, further, that if God is going to “use to a greater extent than ever before” His beloved people, whether in America or elsewhere, it is in consonance with the teaching of Scripture that we must be prepared to put away from our homes and assemblies those idols and worldly innovations which are a grief to our God and a sin against the consciences of many of our dear brethren. We therefore close with a quotation from a faithful servant of Christ of a former day: “Sanctify yourselves. Put away the evil from among you. Cast down the world’s altars and cut down her groves. Spurn her offered assistance. Renounce all the policy of the age. Trample upon Satan's amour. Grasp the Book of God. Trust the Spirit Who wrote its pages. Use no other weapon. Cease to amuse and seek to arouse.” May God give us grace so to do. There is no other way to blessing.
Nowhere, perhaps, in the Bible account of the labours of Paul, can we trace so fully the workings of his mind in connection with his gospel ministry, as in those passages which rater to the early stages of his first visit to Corinth. Writing afterwards to the saints in that city, he remind* than, not only of what he preached when there—“Christ crucified ” (1. Cor. 1), but also of the manner of his doing it (1. Cor. 2), and of his state of mind at the time. He says, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling; and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” How very inapposite all this would be, if applied to one of the great missions conducted by popular preachers to-day. The weakness, fear, and trembling are conspicuous by their absence; the enticing words of man's wisdom take the place of the power of the Holy Spirit; and the converts, made on mass production principles, possess a faith that stands—for the little while it does stand—in the wisdom of men only.
It was little to be wondered at that Paul should be in weakness and fear about this time, for he had recently passed through some trying experiences. Having seen a vision of a man of Europe calling to him. “Come over and help us,” he had crossed the Aegean to Philippi and found, not a man waiting to be helped, but the Devil, with a young woman as his tool, waiting to do him whatever mischief he could. Having suffered there and been “shamefully entreated ” (1. Then. 2:2) by the Roman authorities, he had passed on to Thessalonica, only to meet with still bitterer persecution from a Jewish mob, whose activities also followed him to his next stopping place, Berea. “Chased out” by them (1. Thess. 2:15, Margin), he next halted at Athens, and here the arrogance of Greek philosophy seemed to be an even more impenetrable barrier to the oospei than either Roman officialism, or Jewish prejudice. So he departed, and with the mocking laughter of the Athenians still ringing in his ears, and an aching longing to know, the fate of his persecuted Macedonian converts in his heart, he came to Corinth.
Hit last mission not having been what the religious world would call a “successful” one, he appears to have arrived there with little or no money in his possession, for hit first step was to find employment at his old trade of tent making. One can almost imagine him at this time saying with Peter, “I go a fishing,” or with Jeremiah, “I will not. . . speak any more in His name.” Anyhow, for a time his only effort in the gospel seems to have been on the Sabbath days, in the meetings of the Jewish synagogue (Acts 18:4); and in these circumstances of weakness there began a work, which turned out to be one of the greatest the apostle ever saw done, which continued for eighteen months, and which brought “much people ” to the Lord (Acts 18:10, 11).
It began in weakness certainly, but ere long a change came over it, and of that we read in Acts 18:6. “BUT (R.V.) when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was constrained by the Word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” From this it is clear that at a certain point Paul suddenly became much more energetic in his proclamation of the gospel, so much indeed that he speedily brought matters to a crisis, as far as title Jews? acceptance of his testimony was concerned.
CAUSES OF ENCOURAGEMENT.
Now what waa the cause of this, and why did Paul feel so much encouraged at this stage? The answer is at least fourfold, and each part of it has a message for us to-day, as to either how wa may be stirred up in our own gospel activities, or how we may be a source of help to others of the Lord's servants. .
The first bit of encouragement is seen in the verse itself. He was "constrained by the Word.” God’s Word got a grip on his own heart, and his experience was like that of Jeremiah in the passage to which reference has already been made. “But His Word was in mine heart, as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I waa weary with forbearing, and 1 could not stay” (Jer. 20:9). Or he might have said with another servant of God in times still more ancient, “I am full of matter, the Spirit within me constraineth me ... I will speak that I may be refreshed” (Job 32:18-20). This is the sort of experience that produces preaching which grips others, even as the Word of God has gripped ourselves, preaching that accomplishes what “enticing words of man’s wisdom can never bring about—the conversion of souls to Christ.
The second cause of Paul’s renewed energy is also hinted at in the fifth verse. It is the arrival of two preachers like-minded with himself to assist him. Paul had proved the worth, of both Silas and Timothy, ere this, and right glad he must have been to see them once more. There are preachers, of whom some of us unfortunately have had experiences, whose faces we wish never to see again; but there are many others for whom we thank God, whose help we have oft-times been glad of. and a sight of whose very countenances is an inspiration to us. “Two are better than one,” says the old proverb, and “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” So here at Corinth is now a threefold cord to accomplish mighty work for God. Our Lord Himself when sending forth His servants, sent them “two by two ” and the apostles in Acts evidently aimed at a continuance of the same thing; although some brethren to-day are so wire and ao complete in themselves that they do not appear to realise its value.
Turning to 1. Thes. 2:6, we find there was a third source of encouragement for Paul Jit this time, in the news Timothy brought him from Thessalonica, of the faith and love of the young converts there, which had continued and grown, in spite of the persecution to which they had been subjected, and of the assaults of Satan upon them. Such good news as this, regarding the very matter about which he had been so concerned, was truly to him “as cold waters to a thirsty soul” (Prov. 25:25), and we can fancy we see Paul's face lighting up as he says, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord ” (1. Thes. 3:8). At a later period, we read of him having an. experience of the opposite kind, in connection with troubles at Corinth itself, insomuch that, although a door for the Gospel was opened to him at Troas, he could not take advantage of it, on account of his anxiety about the Corinthians, and in the absence of the news of an improvement in their state, which he afterwards received.
But there was also a fourth cause for joy to the apostle on this occasion. His beloved Philippians, who had so early in their Christian life learned to give of their means for the furtherance of the Lord’s work, that even in Thessalonica, the next place to which Paul had gone on leaving them, they had sent him financial help on at least two occasions (Phil. 4:15, 16), these now seized the opportunity afforded by the journey of Silas and Timothy, to Corinth, to send with them a further gift for the apostle, as we learn from 2Cor. 11:9, R.V. So that Paul might well say, as he did on a similar remembrance of them at a still later date, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that . . . your care for me hath flourished again . . . not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit that may abound to your account ” (Phil. 4:10.17).
These four encouragements, the power of God’s Word in his soul, the presence of faithful helpers, the good news about some of his young converts, and the practical fellowship of others of them, are surety sufficient to explain the apostle’s increase of energy at this time; and the same joys have fired the souls of God’s servants many a time since then.
Finally, just a little while after this, the Lord crowned all Himself by appearing to Paul in a vision, and telling him, “Be not afraid but speak, and hold not thy peace. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9, 10).
When the Master saw Mary weeping at His feet, He, beholding j the tomb of Lazarus the sad result of sin, wept also. He had come forth from His throne of glory, full of compassion for suffering humanity, in order to abolish sin and death. Later, when that great work was accomplished, His continued interest in man was evidenced by His commissioning His servants to preach the Gospel to every creature, baptising believers, and “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded” them, at the same time, promising to be with them “alway, even until the end of the age.”
The world may ask, “What is thy Beloved more than another beloved?” His Bride, the Church, answers: Our Beloved is none other than His Most Gracious Majesty, the King of Kings, the Lord and Giver of life, the Prince of Peace. How exalted, therefore, is the position of every servant of His! Human organisations such as Missionary Societies, may have to dismiss their servants through lack of funds and closed doors, but those who serve the Master in connection with His Assemblies, are unfettered by such circumstances.
They are free to accomplish to the letter His Commission. If they obey Him thus, they enjoy the sweetness of His company, control, and direction. The Living God will open doors, and full supplies will be their happy portion to the end.
Recent signs would indicate that the End is very near, when each must give an account to Him. One of these signs is the lack of the fear of God, manifested in the religious world, and in some assemblies, for there are men who attempt to impose their authority upon the Lord’s servants, whereas His alone should prevail. One need not be surprised at this, seeing the Holy Writings which produce godly fear, are dishonoured by many such preachers and elders, in that they resent God’s doctrine of Hell Fire and Eternal Torment.
Another feature of these last days is the introduction of the religious world’s “Youth Movement” into some local assemblies. This in many cases results in splitting the Assembly into sections, which work is of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Then there is the innovation of “Holiday Camps,” many of which violate the holy commandment of 2Cor. 6:14-17, by mixing saints with worldlings. To these may be added “Bible Schools” which suppress, amongst other parts of the Commission, the truth of “the Unction of the Holy One,” by which saints are taught by God Himself, Whose perfect teaching leaves no room for these inferior human arrangements. Recently, the head of one of these institutions, upon replying to my statement that “the Unction of the Holy One ” is infinitely superior to Bible Colleges, said, “Yes, you are quite right.”
Is it not probable that the reason for the closing down of certain Missionary Societies’ fields is their disobedience in suppressing certain truths of the Master's Commission? One of their doctors told me not long ago that his Society had ceased to employ him on their Persian field on the Russian Frontier, where he had worked for 20 years. “What am I to do?” asked this doctor, sadly. We thank God for all who serve the Master faithfully, unfettered by human organisations—following the noble example of the saints in the early Church, who “went everywhere” under His direct control. These Missionary Societies will not allow their servants to obey the Lord by doing this, but keep them on “stations” or “dioceses,” in order to do their sectarian work.
Seeing that we must soon give an account to the Master, we should be careful lest what we obey be not His written Orders, but merely our interpretations of them. Interpretations differ, therefore confusion of face will be ours if we are directed by these. When liberated from the Internment Camp at St. Denis by the American Army in August, 1944, I burst through the barbed-wire enclosure, and there in “La Place de Paris,” I saw a ceaseless stream of officers and men. What struck me was the fact that all those thousands of soldiers were bent upon doing one thing—obeying to the very letter the orders of their Chief. What would General Eisenhower have done to any officer who dared to interpret his written orders? He would probably have had him shot. Beloved, did not the Captain of our Salvation nobly fulfil to the very letter the Written Orders of His Father, when on the cruel cross He died, crying out triumphantly, “ALL IS ACCOMPLISHED!” (Fr. Version).
Constrained, therefore, by His mighty love, let us resolve not to limit ourselves to preaching the Gospel. Let us seek to fulfil ALL His Commission, including the baptism of believers, gathering unto His Name alone, the teaching of disciples to “observe all things whatsoever He has commanded”—some of which precious truths Missionary Societies, “Keswick,” and all sects suppress. By this suppression, and by their confining God’s servants to “stations,” these Nicolaitanes are a great hindrance to the work of the Lord; whereas in the first century when all gospel preachers were free to go “everywhere” as He directed, “every creature under heaven” heard the message (Col. 1:23). How rapidly things go when under His control!
Now, what was it that animated those saints? It was the Vision, without which the people perish, even that of their dear Master, which He saw when hanging on that terrible cross—the vision of the whole suffering human race of lost souls. How mighty was the love that constrained Him to give His life’s blood, in order to save them and gather them as golden sheaves for His eternal gamer in heaven, at His coming again! “GO.” is the first word of His great Commission. Therefore, if we love Him, we must follow Him by going forth without the camp” of the religious work. We must follow Him wherever He leads, bearing the precious Seed of Life, knowing assuredly that we shall come again rejoicing, bringing our sheaves with us, for although “weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning.”
We well remember hearing the late Mr. Wm. M’Lean tell how he was rebuked and humbled, and learned a good lesson.
On a certain occasion he repeated a grave matter he had heard to the late Dr. M’Lean, of Bath, who, having listened quietly referred him to Deuteronomy 13:14, and asked :
(1) Have you, dear brother, “enquired”?
(2) Have you “made search”?
(3) Did you “ask diligently”?
(4) Is it “truth”?
(5) And “the thing certain”?
(6) That “such abomination IS wrought among you”?
Our dear brother could only acknowledge, regretfully, that he had not fulfilled one out of the six questions, and was repeating a grave matter on “hear say." without making any attempt to act in a Scriptural way! He never forgot this lesson and often passed it on for the good of his brethren and sisters. If thou ‘shalt hear say . . . then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently, and behold if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you” (Deut. 13:12-14).
This subject is one about which much has been spoken and written, yet its fundamental importance is such as to require constant repetition, to “stir you up by putting you in remembrance” (2Peter 1:13). Besides, there are many younger believers who require to be taught its significance. Some may occupy a truly scriptural position without being established in the truth relative to that position. Such are liable to be tempted to abandon it through lack of knowledge.
It may not even be clear to all that the Church is peculiar to the period following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, for some have considered God's work in the present age but a continuance of His testimony on earth, as established in the midst of the nation of Israel. The distinction between Israel and the Church should be clear from the words of our Lord in Matthew 16:18— “Upon this rock l will build (future tense) my Church.”
While material for the beginning of this spiritual building had already been gathered during the life of our Lord, in the many individuals who heard Him and believed in Him, yet they required to await the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost to baptise them into one body. This was the birth of a new creation, the beginning of the Church of Christ.
ONE NATION—NO NATION.
In direct distinction from Israel, which was the chosen nation, there is in this new thing a message to ail nations, and those who heed the gospel call are taken “out of them, a people for His name." They are not now a flock fenced into a fold by the wall of national distinction, but a flock led out by a Shepherd to green pastures, and still waters—their attraction is the Shepherd in their midst.
The Church is a Divine institution, composed only of born again souls—living stones, built upon Christ the living Stone. Christ is Himself the builder—“I will build my Church.” Men preach the gospel, through which conversion is wrought by the Holy Spirit, but no man can regenerate his fellow, thus putting him into the Church.
This work has continued steadily since Pentecost, in spite of the hatred of Satan, and the scheming of his dupes. The building will only be declared finished when the last stone is laid with shoutings of “grace, grace, unto it.” Then the Lord Jesus will come to resurrect those of it who have fallen asleep in Jesus, and call away that much smaller part who are “alive and remain.” That peculiar work of God, in forming the Church, the Bride of the Lamb, will then be complete.
THE LOCAL CHURCH.
There is another aspect of the Church which is similar and yet diverse from the first. The apostle Paul entered the immoral city of Corinth, preaching Christ crucified. Men and women were convicted of sin, and converted to God. Then he continued with them, teaching and confirming them in the faith. When he came to that city there were two distinct companies in it—Jews and Gentiles. When he left, there was one more, decidedly separate from either of the former two—“the Church of God at Corinth” (1. Cor. 1:2). This was a group of regenerated souls, built together as a testimony for God on earth, upon Christ the true foundation. It was a unit in itself, while made up of souls which, in common with all born again people since Pentecost, formed the universal Church. It is important not to miss the distinction between this local aspect of the Church and its universal aspect. The local assembly, or church, is not merely a group of saved people met together for spiritual comfort and help, but a Divine institution, with separate responsibility directly to the Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no suggestion in Scripture of a union of such assemblies, much less of a governing synod, of any type. Fellowship among them is encouraged, and has been practised to mutual edification throughout the centuries, but in all matters of reception, discipline, etc., the assembly is an independent unit, dependent only upon the Lord.
THE NEED FOR GODLY AND ABLE LEADERS
is evident, end prayer that such might be given from Christ the Head ie necessary. Leadership in an assembly is not an office, but a work (1. Tim. 3:1, margin). It is a work, first for the Lord and then for the good of Hie people, in the maintenance of a local testimony for God. Selfish ambitions should have no place here, but all possible care and zeal should be employed, because such work concerns the glory of the precious Name of the Lord.
In a special degree, it it the responsibility of elders to lead in matters of reception into an assembly's fellowship, and of rejection from that fellowship. The solemn exhorts don of 1. Cor. 3:10, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon,” refers to this responsibility. The specious theory that “because the table is the Lord's, all who profess His name should promptly be received thereto, has no scriptural foundation. In fact, there is, in the Word, no hint at such reception to the table. Reception in the New Testament is to the assembly’s fellowship, not as a visitor, but as a component part of the testimony.
We repeat that though the expression, “received to the Lord’s table” is frequently heard, there is no such thought in New Testament teaching, concerning the local Church. Nor is there any suggestion of a partial, and later a fuller, fellowship. It must be either inside, or outside. The world of the unconverted is outside. The unclean, as in 1. Cor. 5:13, are to be “put away," and the “unlearned," as classed with the “unbelievers," in 1. Cor. 14:23, are to be outside (though looking on), until they are sufficiently intelligent in what the assembly is, to be convinced that it is according to the Word and will of God.
None of us, when baptised, understood much about the truth of baptism, but we were convinced that it was an act of obedience on the part of a believer in Christ. Likewise, few understand much of assembly privilege and responsibility when received, but all should be convinced, surely, that the assembly of saints is where the Lord would have them, to be, and that it is not merely a nice place to which to go.