"NUMBERS” has fittingly been called the book of the wilderness. Although it is not without victory at its close, it is specially characterized by failure. The travels of God’s people and their trying experiences brought out the depravity of their hearts and showed them to be more ready to trust their own devices than to lean upon the Lord Who had redeemed them. Every Christian has wilderness experiences—dark days of temptation, when faith in God is put to the test and when, as in the case of Israel, the weaknesses of the flesh are manifested. In contrast both to ourselves and Israel, Christ triumphed in the wilderness. His tests were more severe than ours will ever be, but in His case they only revealed the moral perfections of His Manhood.
There are three epistles in the New Testament that view the believer as a pilgrim in the desert, namely, Hebrews, James and 1 Peter. In Hebrews it is the great High Priest Who sustains in the trials; in James it is faith in God that enables the saint to endure; while in 1 Peter it is the hope of the inheritance which upholds him in the midst of suffering and sorrow.
Now, Israel's failures can be divided into three groups. First, there were those early breakdowns recorded in the book of Exodus and embracing their journey from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. The second group begins in Num. 11, after they left Sinai, and ends with their experience at Kadesh; and the third, which is the longest period, covers their wanderings from Kadesh until they are back again at Jordan. It will be noticed that each of these groups ends with a major disaster—the first with the sin of the golden calf; the second with the rejection of the land; and the third with the sin of Baal-peor. During the period related in Exodus, the judgment for wrong-doing was comparatively light; after the departure from Sinai it increased in severity; while in the case of the sin of Baal-peor, so heavy was the stroke that twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
Before looking at the middle one of these three periods, it might be helpful for us to recall that when Israel arrived at Mount Sinai they were allowed to settle there for almost one year. At least eight months of this time was spent in building the Tabernacle. It was completed on the first anniversary of their leaving Egypt, so that when the second passover was kept it was standing in the midst of their camp. The notable fact that during the months of erecting it no failure is recorded, surely suggests that keeping busy for God is a great safeguard against mischief.
After the stay at Mount Sinai, it must have been somewhat annoying for Israel to pack up and begin the dreary march through what was by far the worst stretch of the wilderness. It was to this part of the journey (some fourteen days traveling) that the rather frightsome phrase, “this great and terrible wilderness” was especially applicable. We need not be surprised, therefore, that it was at this time that Hobab decided to do what his brother Jethro had done earlier, namely, to return to his own house. Whether he actually did go back or yield to Moses’ pleading is difficult to say, but at least this is clear, that if he returned, his posterity remained amongst the Israelites (Jud. 4: 11). Incidentally, in dealing with the different persons that are said to be the “father-in-law" of Moses, it must be remembered that in the Hebrew this word can be used of anyone related by marriage. It is therefore probable that Raguel was the actual father-in-law of Moses and that Jethro and Hobab were his brothers-in-law. In Moses’ dealing with Hobab We can surely detect a weakness in the faith of Israel's great leader. We do not suggest that he had any doubt but that the Lord would direct the way with the cloud; but, alas, as so often with ourselves, Moses wanted the help of human wisdom and experience. “Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes” suggests walking by sight rather than by faith. Usually we can trust God to guide in the major steps of life, but how often in the everyday matters we want to hear the voice of natural experience. The cloud might guide the way for Israel, but Moses evidently felt they needed to know where water and pasture could be found, so Hobab’s wilderness knowledge seemed to be indispensable. Indeed it may have been Hobab’s acquaintance with the dangers of the way to Jordan that made him so anxious to return to his own home. It takes more than natural ties to induce a man to walk the path of faith.
It will be recalled that in three days after Israel had left the Red Sea they began to murmur because they found no water. Now it took just the same length of time from they left the shadows of Sinai until they again began to murmur. Three days without stopping must have been painful and trying to the flesh, but God was not so gracious this time. They had seen too much of His power and glory for Him to look lightly upon their complainings, therefore His fire consumed many of them. Yes, the fire that earlier had protected them from their enemies, that had burned on Mount Sinai, and that had consumed the sacrifice on the newly-made altar, now began to burn amongst them. God would teach them His holiness and His anger because of their grumbling. Nothing is so unbecoming to a Christian as a complaining spirit, yet very few of us can truthfully sing “Therefore I’ll murmur not.” The path of His leading may seem rough at times, but it is all for our good and His own glory, and none of us who have been through weary ways but have been convinced that such experiences lead us into a fellowship with Himself that those who walk in self-will never experience. Even the most painful days have in them much cause for praise.
We should naturally think that Israel would so have learned the lesson from the burning amongst them that they would not have dared to complain again of God’s dealings with them, but alas they almost immediately began to loath the manna and lust after the Egyptian flesh-pots. Indeed, their tears were hardly more than dried until they once more wept over this fresh complaint. The “mixt multitude” (possibly Egyptians married to Israelites) were the first to long for the food of their native land, but the evil soon spread until the entire camp became infected and lusted after the flesh and salads formerly enjoyed. They retained vivid memories of the past sweetmeats, although for the moment they appear to have forgotten the sweat and toil of the brick-kilns. They recalled the fish but not the furnace, the cucumbers but not the cries, the melons but not the mortar, the leeks but not the lash, the onions but not the outrages, the garlic but not the groanings. Many still hanker after the world and seem to have forgotten that we cannot have its pleasures without its pains.
The manna—type of Christ in His humiliation—was God’s provision for His needy people. At first it tasted to them like honey, but after a year it became like fresh oil, and all kinds of ideas—grinding, pounding and baking were tried to make it palatable to them. The application of this story to the present is not difficult to see. Are not many professing Christians longing after the things they formerly enjoyed in the world— the sports, the music, the socials, the radio, the theatre and the T.V.? Every possible expediency is employed to excuse mixing with and indulging in these things, but the fact remains that God has something different, something infinitely better for His people to enjoy. The humble path of pilgrimage outlined in the Scripture is designedly planned for the saints so that they might feast upon Christ as their rejected, despised and suffering example. Peter, encouraging slaves who were suffering for their testimony, tells them of One “Who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). No doubt the flesh wearies of being despised and trodden down, but “The servant is not greater than his Lord,” and should not seek honours in a world that has crucified his Saviour. A growing distaste to-day for ministry along these lines, is a solemn reminder that we are in the same condition as was Israel when they tired of the manna. Some try to cook-up their addresses on such subjects as this with alliterations, anecdotes, etc., so as to make them more acceptable to those who have little appetite for such humbling fare, but even this fails to make them palatable to their taste. The truth about such is that their hearts are estranged from Christ, consequently they seek satisfaction in worldly things.
God has various ways of punishing evil in His people. On this occasion He gave Israel “their request but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15). It is not always for our good to get what we want, for there are times when God’s refusal to comply with our wishes may be our greatest blessing. About a year earlier than this, God had given Israel quails and no evil result followed, but it was not so on this occasion. They ate the birds until their very breath was contaminated, and until the plague slew many of them. Instead of journeying to the land of Canaan, they had to dig the graves for the people that lusted. “Kibroth-hattaavah” (the graves of lust) sounds a warning note in our ears as well as Israel’s, more especially as we compare this passage with 1 Cor. 10:6 and II: 30. Is it not possible that some, even in this day of grace, fill early graves, because the Lord is displeased with their lusting after the things of this world?
But still graver questions arise. One of the most startling and disturbing factors relative to the Greater London Campaign is the frequency with which it has been held up by writers in periodicals circulating among assemblies as an example to be followed by assemblies, and this seems to be the real purpose behind Mr. Goodman's address. It was sad enough to think of the multitudes of believers of all ages from assemblies who were prepared to undertake long and expensive journeys just to participate in the unusual experience of Harringay, many of whom would not have made the slightest effort to be present in their own assembly meetings. But to think that those who take the place of guides of the assembly should have seen it right not only to encourage saints to go to Harringay, but to hold it up as an object lesson to be copied in assembly activities, is alarming. Is it not strange that those who once left the denominations because the ways of God were not known or observed there, should now be advised to turn back to denominationalism to learn how to conduct the work of God? — because it is indisputable that the London campaign was conceived and carried on by men with sectarian connections and outlook. True it is that some who have attempted to draw lessons for assemblies from the campaign have grudgingly admitted that they were not happy to endorse certain features of it, but then those very features were an integral part of the whole, and had they been wanting, the campaign would have been impossible. The same men who conceived and employed those methods which were admittedly not desirable for assembly imitation conceived the campaign, and if the conception and conduct of some part of it was admittedly unspiritual, what reason is there to suppose that any part of it was spiritually conceived and prosecuted? And lest it should be thought by some to be invidious and unworthy to make these reflections upon the campaign and its conduct, let it be said at once that the necessity to do so arises only because of those who, like Mr. Goodman, so constantly hold it up as a thing to be emulated by assemblies. Had it been left in the sphere from which it stems, and to which it properly belongs, that of humanly devised and organised religion, it could have been allowed to pass without comment, but in view of the persistent efforts made by some to persuade assemblies to emulate what was done at Harringay, then the test of Scripture must be applied. Nor let it be forgotten that a thing which is unscriptural does not become scriptural because it is accompanied by a great deal of prayer.
And here it might be asked, “Why are saints so frequently invited to learn from what is going on around them, instead of from the Scripture?” If what was done at Harringay was in accord with Scripture, then saints can be taught to do likewise from the Scriptures and all uncertainty as to the propriety of it vanishes. If it was not in accord with Scripture, then no justification exists for trying to persuade saints in assemblies to do likewise, and no ground exists either for Mr. Goodman’s assertion that “God’s Holy Spirit came in a great movement.” If the Spirit of God wrought in those gatherings (and Mr. Goodman's assertion is no proof of this), then spiritual results were produced in spite of what was contrary to Scripture and not because of it, and is no sufficient reason for saints in assemblies emulating those methods. We are safe only when we learn from Scripture.
WHAT SAITH THE SCRIPTURES? THE MESSAGE PREACHED.
What then has Scripture to say about the ways of God in the gospel? An illuminating passage (with which all Scripture agrees) is 1 Cor. 1:17 to 2:8. Let it be noted first, as to the gospel itself, that “the preaching (i.e. the word or message) of the cross is to them that are perishing foolishness” and that Paul never attempted to obscure this fact, much less to alter it. He never sought to make “the word of the cross” (and so-called gospel preaching without reference to “the cross,” as distinct from the simple fact of the death of Christ, is not gospel preaching as Paul preached it) attractive to his hearers—he appealed neither to their intellectual powers nor to their emotional weaknesses. He knew that what he had to say would be resented by every heart save those made receptive by the Holy Spirit. He proclaimed a message which he knew was thoroughly unpopular because, and only because, he knew that it was “the power of God,” and that it “pleased God by the foolishness (not the learning, or the eloquence, much less the wit) of the preaching (proclamation or thing preached) to save them that believe.” Paul preached a message that he knew was universally unacceptable to man because he knew that God would use that message to save men.
THE MANNER OF PREACHING IT
Moreover, Paul preached that message in a way that showed that he relied upon God to make the message effective. Even in Corinth, the city of learning and oratory, he scorned the use of what would have made a strong natural appeal to his hearers. Not for Paul was the preacher’s art (much less his guile) or the orator's eloquence, and this when, doubtless, he could have used it. Not with “excellency of speech” (much less vocal or instrumental accompaniment) or “enticing words of man’s wisdom,” but in the simpliest of language and the most direct speech, the pure, unadulterated, unadorned, unobscured “word of the cross” was proclaimed, “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
Neither had Paul what is called to-day personality, or, at any rate, he did not exploit it; nor had he platform manners or mannerism. Said he to the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,” and there were those who said of him, “his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” Paul would find no place upon many a gospel platform to-day, and certainly he would not have been hailed as a world-wide revivalist, but God used him in that day in saving souls to the confounding of human wisdom and the abasing of all human ability and power and pride.
WERE PAUL’S METHODS OF GOD?
But some may yet argue that it was want of wisdom on Paul’s part so to act, and that if he had used the things he dispensed with—if he had been willing to use all the “modern aids” which in his day were available, then his impact upon the world would have been greater. So the question arises, “Was it in line with the will of God that Paul so acted? ” We are not left to guess the answer. Says Paul, “God hath chosen (not merely used in the absence of anything better) the foolish things ... the weak things ... base things ... and things which are despised ... and things which are not ... that no flesh should glory in His presence.” Paul then was acting as God (the God Who in other days waited until both Sarah and Abraham were as good as dead before giving them Isaac; Who reduced Gideon’s army of thirty-two thousand to three hundred and then armed them with trumpets and pitchers and torches before giving them victory over the Midianites; and Who sent David to vanquish the giant with neither sword in his hand nor armour upon his loins) desired him to act, in order that the credit of what was accomplished might be ascribed to God alone. No explanation could be found in Paul himself or the means he used, of the results accruing from his preaching. It was patent to all that “the excellency of the power was of God and not of men,” as says Paul in 2 Cor. 4:7. This is seldom the case to-day, and certainly not the case with the Greater London Campaign, however much Dr. Graham himself might have been ready to ascribe results to God. There the preacher’s name was on every lip and his methods and organisation eulogised in every quarter, and so much were results attributed to him and his team and his machinery and his methods that one industrial magnet is reported to have said, “What we need is a Billy Graham of industry.” Imagine a business man of Paul’s day proposing to put Paul in charge of his business to organise it on the lines of his “evangelical campaigns”! The bare idea is simply ludicrous, but even Mr. Goodman speciously argues from what the “shop-keeper who fails to attract the public to his shop” would do to remedy the matter, to what an assembly ought to do to bear an effective testimony in the gospel. Says Mr. Goodman, “Come, brethren, common-sense tells us. .. etc.” But was it common-sense that led Paul to act as he did in his gospel labours? And is there any comparison between a man running his own business for his own ends in reliance upon his own ability, in pursuace of which he appeals to man’s natural tastes and desires, and a man who engages in the work of God, in subjection to the guidance of the Spirit of God, in dependence upon the power of God and for the glory of God, in pursuance of which he has to obtain man’s attention to and acceptance of what is entirely contrary to his natural tastes and desires? In making the comparison Mr. Goodman only shows his want of appreciation of the unique character of the work of God, and therefore of the unique manner in which it should be conducted, and it is this same want of appreciation that gives rise to so much that is at variance with the will of God in assembly activities to-day.
If it had been really expected that the Spirit of God was going to visit Harringay and do a work for the glory of God, why was it thought necessary to call in a man from America (or elsewhere) to do the preaching? Is it really suggested that there was only one man in all the world whom the Spirit of God could use? Certain it is there would have been no campaign without Dr. Graham, but even Paul was not the only man God used. We do not know so much as the names of some who were used of God of whom it is said, “and the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed” (Acts 11:21). In any case, if the Holy Spirit intended to visit Harringay should He not have been left to choose His own instrument? We do not read of the Apostle Paul or any other servant of God moving about the world at the invitation of committees or any other organisations, much less being employed by them at a salary. He moved only under the immediate guidance and control of the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6, 7). so that he never knew for any length of time beforehand if and when he was going into a place or how long he was going to remain there. Thus he could not plan his “campaigns” beforehand (much less get somebody else to do it for him), nor could he advertise them. The fact is, he did not need to, because when he went into a place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit went before him and prepared the place and produced results when he got there (Acts 16:9, 10; 18:11). If advance arrangements and organisation and publicity had been desirable in Paul’s day, they could have been employed then as now, and more easily, seeing that then the services of prophets were available to foretell what God intended to do; but they were not necessary because God was working according to His own purpose and for His own glory. What man or committee of men, however godly, can claim to be able to “book” the Spirit of God to begin a work in a specified place on a specified date and through a specified instrument? The whole idea is preposterous, and yet that is what is implied when it is claimed that the Greater London Campaign was planned according to God. Moreover, it is also implied that in order to the doing of His work, God acts in a directly contrary way now and “chooses” all the most modern machinery and the most elaborate organisation and the most theatrical attractions, and the most extravagant expenditure of money and every “legitimate” means for appealing to man in the flesh, whereas the man whom God used, as no man has ever been used since, found it necessary to labour with his hand in order to provide what was required to supply his own needs and those of his fellow-servants. But what results flowed from his labours! He “turned the world upside down,” but he had no organisation, no advertising campaign, no musical or any other sort of entertainment, no civic receptions, no wealthy patrons—not anything, indeed, that could be thought of by men as contributing in any way to those results. How then were they achieved? God wrought them through him, in his weakness, in his manifest nothingness (1 Cor. 3:7); and Paul gloried in his weakness, in his unpopularity, in his needs, in the opposition he met, in the difficulties he encountered, and in his nothingness, because “the power of Christ tabernacled over him” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10) and could do so only under those conditions. What a glaring contrast is all this to Harringay and its central figure! Is it because assemblies have departed from this principle which once they observed (at any rate in measure) that they are marked by such spiritual impotence to-day? Shorn of their power like Samson and for the same reason (their Philistine affinities, associations and conduct), there can be no recovery along the lines advocated by Mr. Goodman. That road leads (as in cases it has already led) to Laodicean conditions, namely, enrichment according to what man counts riches—big halls, big numbers—much popularity—much machinery and activity—but poverty, powerlessness and disgrace, according to the Lord’s standards.
IT IS A BLESSED THING to be under the guiding and controlling power of our unseen Lord, the Living Word. That this may be so, God has given us both His Holy Spirit and His “Holy Scriptures,” the written Word. In them we find all that is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). We are not to be ignorant or powerless because our Lord is away, like the disciples in Mark 9. The Thessalonians not only “received. .. the Word of God,” but proved how “effectually it worked in them that believe” (1 Thess. 2:13), and our experience is to be the same. But “the wisdom of this world” had no place for the Living Word. It “crucified the Lord of glory,” and to the same degree it now rejects the Written Word—“full well rejecting the commandment of God to keep its own tradition (Mk. 7:9). Yet true work for the Lord is carried on according to the very principles so despised by this world system.
Herein is the great spiritual profit of our identification, through death, burial and resurrection, with our Lord, the Living Word. This identification, as pictured in our baptism, is to be practically confessed by our identification with the Written Word. If in practice we do not give place to EVERY principle of the Written Word, what a contradiction this is to our identification with the Living Word! True identification with the Written Word will demonstrate our death to this world-system with its wisdom, organisation, and expedient amiability, which together make up the great worldly principle of compromise. Nowhere was death to all such world principle so expressed as in the life of our Lord here upon earth. It is given to us in these “last days” to exhibit that Life and so manifest our sonship (Matt. 5:45) by our identification with the Written Word, even as He was identified with the words of His Father (John 14:24).
In view of this, is it any wonder that the discerning Apostle warned the saints as he did in Acts 20: 28-32? The deadness of Christendom and weakness amongst assemblies is because of failure to see that the power of real Christianity is inseparably connected with guidance by the ungrieved Holy Spirit according to the Written Word. The Lord found the works of the assembly in Philadelphia precious because they were all directly concerned with Himself. Those saints kept His Word and did not deny His Name, for as we have seen, the Written Word and Living Word are inseparable. It is the holding fast of these things which is the evidence of spiritual power. But this power will not make a show in the world, nor earn its approval. Our Lord’s life here exemplifies this. On the other hand, when in any form, human principles are acted upon, that is the spirit of the world, and failure and ruin ensue, whatever outward show or “results” may be.
Yet, though fully aware of the dark future, the Apostle shows no despair. Nor in view of his “departing,” does he even hint at the figment of Christendom’s baneful “apostolic succession.” Rather, he “commends” the elders “to God and to the Word of His grace.” We are in days of difficulty and danger, but God and His Word remain with us. as does the Holy Spirit. What more did the first Christians have? Is there therefore any excuse for us to waver in faith, devotedness and courage? Our peril lies in departure from the Written Word.
The accusation, “doctrinaire,” is sometimes levelled against those who seek to follow closely the Scriptural pattern and Apostolic practice revealed therein. Allowance must be made for circumstances, and “modern methods” are essential, it is claimed. Thus does the cry of expediency cause decay of spiritual energy. Worldly wisdom, love of peace, and the craze for numbers are snares which trap us into compromise, and compromise is departure from the Word. The denial of His Name—denial of identification with a rejected Christ—follows. Let us therefore cleave to the Word. We need not fear being called “doctrinaire.” Those who speak thus only “darken counsel by words without knowledge.” There is nothing pedantic or unpractical about believing and practising every command of the Lord. “EVERY word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5). The Psalmist “esteemed ALL thy precepts concerning ALL things to be right, and hated EVERY false way” (Ps. 119:128); while we are to “observe ALL things” He has commanded (Matt. 28:20), whether they be the “all things” of salvation, of baptism, of the Lord’s supper, of assembly fellowship, of separation from what is unscriptural, or of the coming again of our Lord. It is the work of Satan to divide the Word and speak of parts as “essential” and other parts as “non-essential.”
To Israel Moses said, “But the word is very nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Duet. 30:14). The Holy Spirit in Rom. 10:6-9 shows that this “Word” refers to Christ. So that here again we see how closely connected are the Living Word and the Written Word. To believe in the heart and to acknowledge Christ as our Lord is the way of salvation and of a life of righteousness. It is also the way to recovery. But for Christendom no outward restoration is possible. It is past hope (Rev. 3:16; 18:4), and is going from bad to worse. For the individual, however, the privilege remains of taking spiritual matters to heart, and of being identified with the Living Word and Written Word in a day of general declension. Blessed privilege!
Have we been tempted to think that this identification is too exacting? too productive of criticism, misunderstand and ridicule? But He too was “despised and rejected of men,” and is the disciple above his teacher or the servant above his Lord (Matt. 10:24)? We need to come back to Divine thoughts and hold them in relation to Christ. Then will difficulties disappear and persecution be welcomed, and then will EVERY commandment of His find a place in our willing hearts. That is the path of blessing. “When thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do ALL His commandments the Lord thy God will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand. .. will rejoice over thee for good” (Duet. 30:8-10). What He asks of us may be difficult, requiring faith and courage, but it will never be impracticable. Highly organised campaigns, and a running after outstanding preachers, are no signs of spiritual energy. Blessing comes only through practical obedience to the Word.
“PREACH THE WORD”
Finally, let us remember that the truth is not to be held in a private kind of way. The Apostle did not “shun to declare,” through any fear or partiality, “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Believers at the beginning were so marked by a public stand for Christ and His word that Judiasm and heathenism would have nothing to do with them. Faithfulness to Christ and His Word in a world, religious and otherwise, which, refuses to acknowledge His rights, demands the same stand to-day. Since our Lord has acquired kingly rights over us, may our surrender to heavenly principles in worship, service, and conduct be entire and wholehearted. This will enable us to conquer the world-principle of compromise, and to express by our lives the moral glory of His blessed life—“the excellencies of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, R.V.).
THIS Epistle should be read immediately after a perusal of the fourth Gospel, when it will clearly be seen that the Epistle is the complement of the Gospel. The purpose in writing the Gospel is given in chapter 20; 30-31;—“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name.” That is to say, John writes to promote faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and that eternal life may become the possession of the believer. This gracious purpose has been achieved in the case of countless thousands, who have discovered their need as sinners, and God’s rich provision to meet their need in the Person and propitiatory work of His beloved Son upon the Cross. They have received Him and consequently have been born of God (John 1:12). Turning now to the first Epistle of John, we find that the purpose before the writer’s mind was twofold. In chapter 5:13 he states :—“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” Here it is the great matter of assurance of salvation. While in chapter 1:4 we read: “And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full,” thus indicating that he was about to bring before them truths which would lead to the fulness of their joy. So that if we write SAFETY over the Gospel, then CERTAINTY AND ENJOYMENT would be a fitting title for the first Epistle.
Now let us point out a little more fully the way in which the teaching of the Epistle conduces to this assurance, and fulness of joy. As to assurance, let us again note chapter 5:13—“These things have I written unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” We do well in reading this verse to pause and ask the question; —What are these things that he has written? We suggest that they are the things which constitute the hallmark of the genuine Christian, the evidence of life which are seen in the true believer, the characteristic features of the one who has been born of God. The Apostle James in his Epistle shows that real
faith produces good works, the works being the evidence that there is faith. In other words, the believer shows his faith by his works. Similarly, the Apostle John argues that eternal life is an active thing, and is bound to manifest itself in the character of those who possess it. Consequently, in the Epistle he enumerates a number of things that are true of the persons who have been born of God. We could think of them in this way, viz. :
They love God and do His commandments (ch. 5:2).
They love the Lord Jesus and hold tenaciously to the doctrine of Christ touching His Deity, His true and sinless humanity, His vicarious death, His resurrection and the glory of His coming (see ch. 3:2 and ch. 4:2,10,15,19).
They love God's people, and by this know that they have passed from death to life (ch. 3:14). And this love of the brethren is no mere sentiment, but decidedly unselfish and practical (ch. 3:16-18).
They are practically righteous in their every-day life amongst their fellowmen (ch. 2:29). In Leviticus chapter 11 the clean animal was distinguished by two marks, viz., it chewed the cud and it divided the hoof, so the true believer manifests that he has the Divine nature by His love for God’s word, and his walk in God’s ways. There is a holy hatred of sin, and a desire to do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
They overcome the world by their faith. In ch. 4:4 we read— “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” The child of God is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and has a power within him superior to all that may be opposed to him (ch. 3:24). It has been said that “any dead fish can float with the stream, but it takes a living one to swim against it.”
Putting all these factors together, we learn something of what our beloved apostle means when he writes: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” (ch. 5:10), and “These things have I written unto you. .. that ye may know that ye have eternal life (ch. 5:13). As we subject ourselves to these searching tests we can prove the reality of our profession or otherwise. It is clear that the more these things are true of us, the more we shall know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him (ch. 3:19).
We must be saved before we can be assured, and we must have assurance before we can have fulness of joy. Now, it is the will of God that our joy should be full, and in order that this may be so He has made adequate provision for every contingency in the Christian’s life. The child of God has numerous enemies to contend with on the way heavenward and homeward. The world, the flesh and the devil are constantly arrayed against him and would bring him down from his excellency, and rob him of the joy of God’s salvation Let us note in this epistle how that our God is still Jehovah-jireh—The One who sees the need, and provides for it. The believer’s greatest kill-joy is sin, and “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Now the epistle makes it clear that it is not the habit of the believer’s life to sin, and furthermore, grace gives us no licence to sin. Yet it is equally true that the child of God may succumb to temptation and sin against God. When this takes place his joy is gone. Thank God, he does
not lose salvation, as this rests alone upon the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. What then is God’s provision to meet this eventuality, that the saint who has sinned may be restored to the joy of God’s salvation? We see at the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second chapter three great things linked together, and these are God’s solution to the problem of sin in the believer:
The abiding value of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son to cleanse from all sin;
The promise of forgiveness if we confess our sins; and
The advocacy of the Lord Jesus with the Father.
Through this rich provision we can be maintained in fellowship with God though passing through a corrupt and defiling scene.
Another great asset which the believer possesses, and which contributes very much to his joy is the Word of God. A joyful Christian is a great testimony for God, and we can rest assured that he will be a special target for the devil. The evil one will cast his fiery darts, and no saint could withstand him in his own strength. How then can we overcome him? In Ch. 2:13 the apostle commends the young men, because they have overcome the wicked one, while in the following verse he lets us into the secret of their success—“Ye are strong and the Word of God abideth in you.” This implies that the strength to overcome the devil was derived from the Word of God upon which they were feeding their souls. The example of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His encounter with Satan in the temptation, points the same lesson. Every attack was foiled by a quotation from the Scriptures. See .Matthew 4 and note the thrice repeated phrase, “It is written.”
Perhaps there is no more pertinent truth in the epistle touching the subject of the believer’s joy than the privilege of access to the Father in prayer. It is quite probable that John had in mind when writing his epistle the words of the Lord as recorded in John 16:23, 24, where He says, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name He will give it you.. .. Ask and ye shall receive that your joy may be full.” The apostle reminds us of the spiritual conditions necessary for effective prayer. These conditions are both negative and positive. There must be nothing allowed in our life contrary to the mind of God, as this would give us a condemned heart in His presence. Also, there must be the keeping of His commandments and the doing of those things that are pleasing in His sight. Then whatsoever we ask we receive of Him (ch. 3:21-22). Again in ch. 5:14, 15 he reverts to this great theme and assures us that “if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us; and if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”
Now may we prove the power of prayer,
To strengthen faith and banish care ;
To teach our faint desires to rise,
And bring all heaven before our eyes.
It may well be that one of the most potent reasons why there are so many joyless Christians lies in the fact that in these days of bustle and rush few take time to wait upon the Lord in prayer.
Yet another thing about which the apostle writes is the personal coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ (ch. 3:2, 3). This was our Lord’s own antidote for the sorrowful hearts of His disciples. He told them “If I go away, I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” So that if the thought of His leaving them would make them sad, then, inversely, the prospect of His coming again would make them glad. So writes the apostle; ‘‘Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” This is the blessed hope of the Church. Paul writing to the Romans states that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” The Saviour who died for us upon the cross, and now lives for us upon the throne, is coming for us, and will “present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” May the power of this truth lay hold upon us, and exert its sanctifying and elevating influence in our lives, so that we may be found faithful, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
IT IS A STRIKING FACT that we do not find anywhere in the New Testament directions regarding the keeping of anniversaries or the annual commemoration of important events such as, for example, the date of the Lord’s resurrection or the day of Pentecost. The omission is remarkable as illustrating the difference of the new dispensation from that of the Jewish economy. The fact that there is no mention of any such observance is an indication of the heavenly calling of the Church as distinct not only from the Jewish but all other earthly religions before or since. The contrast with the world is, in this respect, plainly evident. The secular order is necessarily organised on a time basis and accordingly relates every outstanding event to the calendar. World events are, by their very nature, temporal, and it is on account of this time-relation that the term “history” obtains its significance. The keeping of anniversaries follows as a consequence. The time-sequence universally applies wherever an earthly people are in question, notably in the case of the Jewish dispensation in contrast to the timeless parenthesis in which we now are.
While a history may be written of the experiences of God’s people during the period in which the Church is being called, yet properly speaking the Church itself has no “history,” though the expression “history of the Church” is frequently met with. The expression is certainly inaccurate and tends to convey a mistaken idea of what the Church really is, namely an out-of-the-world spiritual organism of heavenly origin and character. No doubt the Enemy would seek to foster this misconception, as by instilling such a belief the Church is degraded to the level of an earthly ecclesiastical system. John 17:14; Eph. 2:6; and especially 1 John 2:18 preclude the notion of the Church as an historical organism. The observance of days and seasons such as Harvest festivals, Christmas and the like has become general, with the result that the professing Church has taken on the character of an earthly institution. The deadly evil of clericalism has been, and still is, a most effective instrument in furthering the enemy’s purpose. The professing Church has, in consequence, reverted to the ground of the natural man and has entirely lost sight of the truth of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), Hence it is that we hear so much about the growing indifference to “religion” on the part of the masses. The present trend may well give cause for the gravest concern in a world heading straight for disaster. The salvation of individuals is all that can be hoped for in such conditions, but the truth of the Gospel is too often countered by the very general belief that man is saved by the practice of “religion” instead of by personal conversion through faith in the finished work of Christ.
It is necessary to remind ourselves of these facts in order that the unscriptural practices referred to may be prevented from gaining entrance into the sphere of assembly life. The exercise is one which primarily concerns responsible brethren, especially those who have the well-being of the assembly at heart and upon whom devolves the responsibility of shepherd care and ministry. We are a heavenly people with heavenly hopes and a heavenly destiny, and as such are obliged to resist every influence which tends to subvert the truth of the assembly. The people of Israel during their wilderness wanderings were commanded to put upon the fringe of their garments a ribband of blue (the heavenly colour), which would remind them of their allegiance and relationship to Jehovah (Num. 15:38). The command is remarkable as affording one of those beautiful touches of divine inspiration which so frequently light up the sacred page. It has, we know, a deeper spiritual meaning which, to us, is all-important, bearing in mind that these scriptures were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come (1 Cor. 10: 11). Here, as so often elsewhere, the spiritual meaning transcends the literal sense of the text, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
1 Peter 4:7 throws additional light on this passage in Numbers. It refers, as do many others, to one of the characteristic features of the assembly, namely the expectancy of the Lord’s imminent return. The true meaning, however, will be understood only so far as we exclude from our minds the notion of “proximity” or “nearness” in the sense as commonly used relatively to events which take place in time. The rapture is not a chronological event. It is unrelated to historical time and thus reflects the timeless nature of the assembly as a heavenly organism not of this world.
THE esteemed editors of “Echoes of Service” in the April, 1955, issue of their magazine, express regret that there has been a decrease in the amount of its last annual financial income, and that consequently they have had less to allocate for the personal needs of servants of the Lord in foreign lands with whom they communicate. They suggest that money now diverted by some of the Lord’s people for expensive holidays may partly account for this. They say as follows: “We fear there may be less exercise of heart than was formerly the case in the matter of personal expenditure, particularly upon holidays. Inducements are now placed before believers to have quite expensive holidays overseas. We would not desire to be thought to legislate for others, but each believer should have serious regard to the proportion of income spent upon items which may not be strictly necessary as compared with the amount given to the Lord’s work. That there are some who deny themselves what they might otherwise enjoy in order to be able to give more to the Lord’s work we have no doubt, but among the younger generation particularly there may be those who are tempted to unwise expenditure.”
We fear that it is so as our brethren suggest. It is to be regretted that a firm, which caters for these tours, is now sending out circular letters to assemblies, with a request that their programmes be placed in our halls, thus making the assemblies a market for such commerce, and lowering the spiritual tone of the meetings. This intrusion should be resisted.
While recognising that it is a personal responsibility how one should spend one’s money, and that we are not to judge others in such a matter, are we such “feather-bed” saints as to feel the necessity for Grand Tours with Luxury Coaches in which to travel, and Luxury Hotels in which to sleep, to restore our souls to spiritual vigour, and to refresh our jaded bodies? Are we not more likely, in the excitement of seeing new places and sights, to lose what spirituality we already possess? The fact is, what with these costly Continental tours, expensive motor cars used for pleasure, and the aping of the fashionable world, more money is now being spent, with valuable time lost, out of all proportion to that devoted to the Lord’s work. How incongruous is all this also to the expectation of our Lord’s near return, which truth we profess to hold and proclaim! Does it not lay us open to a charge of hypocrisy? We are warned, “to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12:4). This surely is fulfilled in our day. An esteemed writer on prophecy, some 100 years ago, ventured to assert in commenting on the above Scripture, that “he believed railway trains would yet travel at a speed of 50 miles an hour”! What would he say if with us to-day, when man can travel faster than sound? Knowledge also has marvellously increased, but, alas, not the knowledge of God. Tis sad to say, restlessness (running to and fro) seems to have now gripped, and holds, many of God’s people. They find it irksome to accept the loving and gracious invitation of their Lord—“Come ye yourselves apart. .. and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). Here alone is to be found spiritual refreshment and restoration of soul, and rest for the tired body. In His presence “is fulness of joy,” and there beneath His shadow we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Surely the only worth-while holiday is that which gives most time to spend with Himself. We need not to travel far for this blessed privilege, and the money thus saved can be used in the spread of His glorious Gospel. The world is perceptibly drifting on to its final crisis, and as He is coming for His own before the storm finally breaks, how near indeed His coming must be!
Our assemblies need men and women more than ever to-day to bear a consistent and godly witness to the glorious Faith once delivered unto the saints. We thank God for those we have, and pray He may graciously increase the number.
If I have read through history aright, if I have learned anything from the experiences of others, if I have been taught anything by what I have personally passed through, of joy or sorrow, during more than forty years, it is the deep conviction that the pursuit of riches as a leading object of ambition is the veriest folly. Apart altogether from purely religious considerations, it is a mistake to imagine that riches generally confer happiness, or that those who possess them are really more to be envied than those who are supplied with a sufficiency for their daily wants, and with a little surplus for helping others.