IN Bible study it is important to remember that it is. the context in each case that determines the sense in which a word is used It is so with the word, “Age.” In some passages all time present and future is described as an Age. Thus in Luke 20. 34-36 we read : The children of this age marry and are given in marriage : But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage ... for they are equal to the angels.” Here Time and the Future State are described as Ages, separated by the resurrection.
The writer to the Hebrews, on the other hand, tells us that it was at “the end of the ages” (note the plural) That Christ died (ch. 9. 26). This, however, does not mean, as one A-Millennialist contends, that “the incarnation of Christ has introduced the final periods of the world's history.” The word, “end”, here is rendered, “consummation”, in the R.V. Margin. It “does not denote a termination, but a heading up of events to the appointed climax” (W. E. Vine). It was at the “heading up” of the previous epochs, when the purposes of Divine love had attained their great objective, that our Lord was crucified; and all the future will look back upon His First Advent as being “the consummation of the ages.” The grand spiritual centre and apex of Time was the Cross. Everything on the one hand was preparatory to, and converged upon, it; everything on the other, radiates from it. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1. 17). If “consummation” signifies a termination, then human history should have ended at the Cross.
It is true that John says, “It is the last time” (1 John 2:18), but neither does this mean, as another A-Millennialist confidently affirms, that “the period in which we live is the last on the divine programme.” Rather it signifies that it is the last period ere Christ comes to earth to establish His kingdom. The argument that it is the final period is all aimed , at getting rid of the Millennium, but Scripture plainly teaches the future earthly reign of Christ. It will be “the world (the inhabited earth) to come, of which we speak” (Heb. 2. 5, R.V.M.). In the first dispensation the government of earth in the hands of Adam (Heb. 2, 6-8) failed through his sin. Hence “we see not yet all things put under him”- (v. 8). By His death (v. 9), however, “the last Adam” has regained earth’s forfeited sovereignty, and the eighth Psalm, from which the writer quotes in verses 6-8 finds its glorious realization in Him, the “Son of Man.” No honest or fair argument can make “the inhabited earth to come” mean this Gospel period; and since it is to be in subjection to “the Son of Man”, it is not the Eternal State, for then “He shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15. 24). The reference therefore is clearly to the last dispensation on earth, when “He shall put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15. 24), and triumph where the first Adam failed. At the inauguration of that reign God shall “again bring in the Firstborn into the inhabited earth” (same word as in ch. 2. 5), and “all the angels of God”—not just a multitude, as at His First Advent—“shall worship Him” (Heb. 1. 6, R.V.). What a glorious array it will be!
DANGER OF UNSCRIPTURAL EXTREMES
We desire, however, to make it equally clear at this juncture that we do not believe in what is generally termed “Ultra-Dispensationalism.” This is the teaching advocated by the late Dr. E. W. Bullinger. According to it the Four Gospels are Jewish, and do not apply to-day at all. The Rook of Acts covers a “transition period,” and only when we come to the Prison Epistles is “the Dispensation of the Mystery” revealed. Thus the Church which is Christ’s Body began, so it is claimed, not upon the Day of Pentecost, but some thirty years later. As for the ordinances, Baptism and the Ford’s Supper, they belong to the Acts period and have no place now, this being a spiritual dispensation.
It is with utter lack of confidence that we view the fine distinctions which Ultra-Dispensationalists imagine they discern in the Word. These teachers carry their tenets to unscriptural extremes, and in prophecy as in Church truth, and every other line of truth, unscriptural extremes are both wrong and dangerous. They lead to error and all kinds of inconsistencies. Certain points of doctrine are much emphasised, while other points of faith and morals of perhaps more importance are passed over. Not only so, they lead to strife, bitterness, and division amongst those who should be marked by love. Have we not seen it again and again? Unscriptural extremes therefore should be avoided. Ultra-Dispensationalism carries things to one wrong extreme. Teaching which ignores or denies dispensational differences carries them to the opposite extreme, and this is what A-Millennialism does. The truth, we believe, lies between these two extremes.
SATANIC ambition is being pursued along two main lines.
The first is that he may gain the undisputed control of the nations of the world; and the second, that he may introduce the Super-man, whose religious credentials will make him universally acceptable and whose amazing powers will convince the most sceptical. These as portrayed in this outstanding chapter reveal the proficiency of Satan in producing counterfeits that will deceive the whole of unregenerate mankind.
It is scripturally evident that the present dominion of the Prince of this world in the lives of men is not wholly satisfactory to him. It can be seen to suit his immediate purpose to cause men to show their enmity to God in acts of crime and in national animosities. None but he could inspire and sustain such atrocities, such ferments, such perilous situations as are the order of the day. But this is not his ideal, he has in mind an Empire on earth where his will will be absolute and his worship by the people assured. He will have a presiding genius to impose his mind on men, and a Messiah to ensure that the homage of the nations is ascribed to him. The agents of this ordered and harmonious empire are seen as Beasts emerging from the sea and from the land (13. 1,11).
The great red Dragon of chapter 12 is stated to be the sponsor of the first beast—giving him his power, his throne and his great authority. The second beast has the similitude of a dragon and exercises all the authority of the first beast. The evil trinity is before us in all its harmony of design and operation.
A study of this first beast is most interesting. “A Beast rising up out of the sea” makes the dual suggestion of a resurrection, and of a resurrection that has to do with the nations in a troubled state. That what is here pictured is the resurrection of the Roman Empire in its final form there seems little room to doubt and much to confirm.
The final form of Gentile domination on the earth is to have ten confederated Kingdoms, in which imperial power will have a superficial union with social democracy. A look at the image of Daniel 2 shows its ten toes having an amalgam of iron and clay, and its corrupt character is implied by the destruction which marks its end when the Stone cut out without hands (the returning Son of Man), falls in judgment upon it. The Beast of Rev. 13. 1, having ten horns crowned with diadems, answers to the ten toes of Daniel 2. 33-34.
The resuscitation of Roman imperialism will no doubt centre in a mighty leader, and in the imagery of our passage the Empire itself is scarcely distinguishable from its inspiring genius, who will lead the world-nations into unity and harmony, such as has never yet been known, even though it be short-lived. This Beast is also said to have seven heads, one of them wounded to death, yet with his death-stroke healed (v. 3, R.V.). This is believed to be the coming to life again of the imperial form of government, the seventh and last form of rule permitted to Gentile rulers. This will catch the imagination and win the admiration of earth’s populace (v. 3).
The new order will borrow from the old and yet be distinct from it. The description of its essential characteristics are borrowed from the Prophet Daniel, from whom we learn that Babylon the world-power of his day had Lion-like strength, that Medo-Persia had Bear-like rapacity, and that Greece would be swift and ferocious like the Leopard (Daniel 7. 3-6). These three wild-animal characteristics in fearful combination with a fourth make the revived Roman Empire a dreadfully cruel and despotic regime. Here is human government when it has attained the zenith of its greatness, without God! Cf. Daniel 7. 7-8.
Two other features will betray the Dragon origin of the confederacy. The Beast “opens his mouth in blasphemy against God, His Tabernacle and them that dwell in Heaven.’’ This open expression of hatred of God, plus all-out war against the saints of that period (v. 7) are manifestly Satanic.
The Beast’s authority will extend over “every tribe and people and tongue and nation” (v. 7), and yet there will be a people then in covenant relationship with their God who will not do him homage. They will be those who have sheltered in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and been registered in His Book of Life. As they look for the day of His Sovereignty on earth they betoken their loyalty to Him in testimony and conduct (13. 8; 12. 11). The prevailing prin ciple of their attitude to their enemies is announced in verse 10. The weapons of their warfare will not be carnal but spiritual—“the endurance and faith of God’s holy ones.”
The occurrence of the refrain “forty and two months” is a reminder that this is the time of “the trial that is to come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth.” It is for our comfort, as no doubt it will be for the comfort of those tribulation saints, that divine Sovereignty controls all the circumstances including the time element. The reign of the Roman Prince and the Man of Sin has but a short and limited period, at the close of which “the Faithful and True”, “The Word of God”, “The King of kings and Lord of lords” shall ride forth to smite these sinning nations with the rod of iron and with the sword of His mouth (13. 5; 19. 11-16; Psalm 2).
The Lord Jesus only twice used the word “church”, as far as is recorded in the Gospels. We considered the first occasion in our last chapter. Now we shall look at the second. We find the word in Matthew 18. 17, but we should read the whole passage,—Chapter 18. 15-20. Like the previous passage, this one looks to the future: in Matthew 16 He had said, “I will (future tense) build My Church,” and here He gives His disciples instructions as to how they are to act when He is no longer with them.
If a Christian sees another believer sin, he is told first to seek him out privately and show his fault to him. If the erring brother refuses to listen, he should go again with witnesses; and finally, if this fails, to “tell it unto the church.” What did the Lord mean by the word “church” in this verse? Did He mean that we are to tell our brother’s fault to every believer in heaven and earth? Obviously not. He makes this clear in verse 20, where He says that, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Here He uses the word “church” to describe a company of people who are gathered together in obedience to Him. They may be only “two or three”, but if they are truly
gathered in His name, then He is in the midst. The book of the Revelation gives us a picture of this in the opening chapters. The apostle John, who was almost certainly present when the Lord gave this teaching, saw a vision of the crucified and risen Lord in the midst of seven golden lampstands, that pictured the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, and was given the privilege of writing, at His dictation, messages to the responsible brethren in each of these companies concerning the things that He had seen happening in them (Rev. 2, 3).
In the New Testament we read often of such local companies of Christians, and they are described by a variety of names. They are called “churches of God” (1 Thess. 2. 14), for in them God had His dwelling place; “churches of Christ” (Romans 16. 16), for they are composed of people who gather in His name; and “churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14. 33), for they are composed of believers, those who have been sanctified or made holy by faith.
The two occasions when the Lord Jesus mentioned the church by name are therefore of the greatest importance. In the first He said, “I will build My Church,” showing that it was a future event, and that this Church would be composed of those who had accepted Him as the Christ and Son of God. He Himself was the Rock foundation of the Church, for He could call it “My Church.” On the second occasion He indicated that there were also to be churches, companies gathering in His name, who would, amongst other things, be able to hear and decide concerning disputes amongst their “brethren.” In this way He was preparing His disciples for what lay ahead, after His death, burial and resurrection, and in our next chapter we shall see how things are developed.
IN certain quarters there is some agitation for permitting sisters to lead in prayer at assembly prayer meetings. In fact, in some places the practice has been adopted. Let us consider together two portions of Scripture having direct bearing on this matter, namely, 1 Corinthians 14. 34, 35 and 1 Timothy 2. 8-10.
In 1 Corinthians 14. 34 we read, “Let your women keep silence in the assemblies.” The “silence” is explained by the words that follow, “for it is not permitted to them to speak.” The truth is emphatically repeated in the next verse, “for it is a shame for women to speak in the assembly.” Two verses later we are told that the things being written are “the commandments of the Lord.” By some it is contended that the word translated “speak” in verses 34 and 35 signifies to “chatter.” It is true that Greek lexicons give “chatter” as one of the meanings of the word, but the word is never so used in the New Testament, albeit the word occurs therein approximately three hundred times. (On the usage of the word see W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary). The word translated “speak” in this portion is frequently used in reference to speaking by the Lord Himself and is used of God’s speaking and that of the Holy Spirit.
“Speaking” undoubtedly includes speaking in prayer, just as “speaking” is involved in asking a question, as the context proves. In verse 28 of the same chapter the word is used of speaking to God. “Speaking” is not restricted to “teaching”.
In 1 Timothy 2. 8-12 instructions are set forth for men and women respectively. As is indicated by chapter 3. 14 and 15, assembly order is very much in view. “These things I write to thee ... in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” The verses under consideration in chapter 2 contain both a distinction and a comparison. The distinction is evident from the words, “the men” (v. 8), and “the women” (v. 9). The word used here for “men” is never used of the female sex. (See W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Men and women are here in contrast. The basic construction of the portion is, “I desire that the men pray. I desire that the women adorn themselves.” There is a word for the men and a distinct word for the women.
In addition to the distinction there is a comparison. The word translated “in like manner” in verse 9 indicates this. We are not to infer from the word “in like manner” that the women too are to pray. The distinction already alluded to would be destroyed by such an interpretation. If the word “pray” was to be understood in verse 9, the word “adorn” would have been in the participle form, “adorning.” The comparison, indicated by “in like manner”, is between things clearly stated. Holy and godly conduct is enjoined on the men and women alike. The men are to lift up holy hands without wrath or disputing. The women are to be characterised by shame fastness, discretion and good works.
It is true that the emphasis is on the comparison and not on the distinction, but the distinction remains. The emphasis is on the holy and godly walk which should be true of the men and women alike. The force of the passage is as follows. Let the men, whose part it is to pray, do so in holiness of life and with their hearts at peace. Let the women, who by nature might concern themselves with artificial adornment, adorn themselves with modesty and discretion and by means of good works.
The silence of the sisters at the assembly prayer meeting is not out of harmony with other matters found in the Scriptures. We may name, for example, verses 11 and 12 here: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Attention is also drawn to the significant fact that in 1 Corinthians 15. 5-8 no woman is named in the list there given of those to whom the Lord appeared in resurrection. We know from the Gospels that women (notably Mary Magdalene) did see our blessed Lord in resurrection, but where public testimony to the fact is in view (as distinct from personal messages) women are not mentioned.
In 1 Cor. 11. 5 we read the words, “every woman praying or prophesying.” It has been argued by some that as the prophesying could not be inaudible, there is no ground for insisting that the praying must be inaudible. Obviously this Scripture must be interpreted consistently with all other statements of Scripture. In the light of 1 Cor. 14. 34 and 35, the prophesying of 1 Cor. 11. 5 could not be “in assembly” and the praying must either be inaudible or not “in assembly.”
May we all recognise that permitting women to lead in prayer “in assembly ” is contrary to Scripture and therefore is not of God. I would also express the judgment that whenever men and women are found together in prayer, though not “in assembly”, the men only should pray audibly.
In closing I suggest that the following comment by C. F. Hogg is most apposite: “It is too much forgotten that in ‘the churches of the saints’ all should pray, though but few, and they, ‘men-brethren’, may lead audibly the prayers of all. The effectiveness of public prayer depends not on the utterances of the few, but on the exercise of the many.”
THE year 1874 will long be remembered throughout the British Isles by many who were led to Christ that year. “Moody and Sankey” were then visiting the country, and God was using their ministry in a very remarkable way, in the salvation of men and women.
The beginning of 1874 found me a careless, godless lad of 16. I had a sister living in Belfast, and she attended a meeting addressed by a layman. His text was Rev. 20. 15 : “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This took hold of my sister’s conscience. She knew that her name was on the communicant’s roll of Seapatrick church, but she did not know that it was in the Book of Life. Her peace was gone until, by trusting Christ, she was saved.
Her letters home were used of God to awaken me, and for some weeks I felt that there was only Hell before me. We had Lenten services in the church, and because of the stir caused by the visit of Moody and Sankey, these services took quite an evangelical complexion. The subjects given out interested me. They were, “A Word to the Anxious,” and such like. I listened very eagerly, but never got much help, but I had a little Testament which I carried to my work and read as I had opportunity. At last 1 Peter 2. 24 and John 1. 29 brought me peace, which still abides after 67 years.
Although John 3. 16 was not one of the verses that I got at my conversion, it has been an untold blessing to me nevertheless. When I was anxious to be saved such was my state of mind, that if I had seen, or thought I had seen written on the face of the sky, “William John McClure, thou art saved,” I am sure I should have been filled to overflowing with joy. What wonderful assurance that would have been to me! But I thank God I saw nothing of the kind. That assurance would have soon left me for not long after my conversion I met another William John McClure, and my assurance would have been smashed. Who could tell which of us two the writing would have referred to? But in John 3. 16 I have my name and the names of a thousand William John McClures. It is in the grand word, whosoever—“that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” May you, dear reader, believe, even now, and know you have this great blessing.
SOME time after returning home upon his first furlough from China, in 1860, Hudson Taylor attended a Christian Convention in Perth, Scotland. With difficulty he persuaded the leaders to give him a few minutes in which to speak on China, that vast empire of four hundred million souls. From an early hour that morning he had been alone with God, pleading for lasting results from this meeting.
And now the moment had come. Trembling from head to foot as he rose, he could only grasp the rail of the platform and command voice enough to ask his hearers to unite with him in prayer to God. This arrested attention and opened the way to many a heart. A strange hush came over the people before the prayer was ended, and then all else was forgotten in scenes to which they found themselves transported.
The missionary came at once to the heart of his message. Back again in thought to the land of his adoption, he was travelling by native junk from Shanghai to Ningpo. Among his passengers, one Chinese, who went by the name of Peter, was much upon his heart, for he knew nothing of the Gospel’s saving power. Simply he told of his efforts to win him for Christ. They were preparing to go ashore, when Mr. Taylor in his cabin was startled by a sudden splash and cry that told a man was overboard. It was Peter.
“Yes,” exclaimed the boatman unconcernedly, ”it was over there he went down!” To drop the sail and jump into the water was the work of a moment; but the tide was running out, and the low, shrubless shore afforded little landmark. Searching everywhere in an agony of suspense, Mr. Taylor caught sight of some fishermen with a drag-net—just the thing needed.
“Come,” he cried as hope revived, “come and drag over this spot. A man is drowning!” “Veh bin,” was the amazing reply: “It is not convenient.” “Don’t talk of convenience! Come quickly or it will be too late.” “We are busy fishing.” “Never mind your fishing. Come, come at once. I will pay you well.” “How much will you give us?” “Five dollars, only don’t stand talking. Save life without delay!” “Too little,” they shouted across the water. “We will not come for less than thirty dollars.” “But I have not so much with me,” replied Mr. Taylor; “I will give you all I’ve got.” “And how much might that be?” “Oh, I do not know—about fourteen dollars.”
Upon this they came, and the first time they passed the net through the water, brought up the missing man. But it was only too plain that life had fled, sacrificed to the callous indifference of those who might easily have saved it.
A burning sense of indignation swept over the great audience. Could it be that anywhere on earth people were to be found so utterly callous and selfish? But as the earnest voice went on, conviction struck home all the more deeply that it was unexpected:
“Is the body then of so much more value than the soul? We condemn these heathen fishermen. We say they were guilty of a man’s death—because they could have saved him, and did not do it. But what of the millions we leave to perish, and that eternally? What of the plain command : 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature’, and the searching question inspired by God Himself : ‘If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul doth He not know it? And shall He not render to every man according to his works’?”
Recalling an experience, the pain of which could never be forgotten, Mr. Taylor went on to tell of a Ningpo convert who, full of joy in his new-found faith, had inquired : “How long have you known this good news in your country?” “We have known it for a long time,” was the reluctant answer; “hundreds of years.” “Hundreds of years,” exclaimed the ex-Buddhist leader, “and you never came to tell us!” “My father sought the truth,” he added sadly, “sought it long, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?”
So deep was the impression that the meeting broke up almost in silence. Many sought the speaker afterwards, to inquire about the work in which he was engaged, and to offer such help as they could give.
These lines were written by a godly young man, in fellowship in the Edenderry Assembly, Belfast. He was saved at the age of 14, dedicated his life to the Lord, and was deeply exercised about going to France to preach the Gospel. But God called him Home on the 9th June, 1961, at the early age of 23 years.
THERE is an urgent call for godly and disinterested men as shepherds of God’s people. The flock for which the Good Shepherd gave His life is pressingly in need of them; men of the sort described by the apostle Peter, who will
“feed the flock which is among you, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5. 1-4).
Thus will the God-given overseer sincerely and genuinely look after the flock, and his care will have the appearance of a spontaneous flow from the heart, like the upflow of an artesian well. Of such it will be blessedly true, “The hearts of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother” (Philemon 7, R.V.). This condition comes by sweet communion with God in the sanctuary, and there realising how precious to the Shepherd are the sheep and lambs of His flock. He who desires the work will often find it arduous, at times unpleasant, and even unpopular; he must be prepared for suffering, discouragement, perplexity and misunderstanding. If prepared for this unique path, which true and noble men have trodden, which the Lord’s footsteps have marked as His own; then He hath need of thee!
Besides the usual work of oversight in well-established assemblies, there is much need of wise men with shepherd hearts, set at liberty to visit the little struggling companies of believers here and there; some hidden away in the backblocks, some nestled on the lower slopes of ranges, some in the up-country townships—all needing a sympathetic care for their state. To cast in one’s lot with the people of God scattered abroad; for them to live and labour; to cheerfully “endure all things for the elect’s sake”; this will bring its own special reward in the “crowning day” coming by-and-by.
A fine example is given us in Luke 2. 8, to be well remembered : “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Like Jacob they probably could say, “Thus I was, in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from mine eyes” (Gen. 31. 40). In this thing also let us keep before us God’s servant Moses who “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible,” and who had “respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11. 24-27).
The great mustering of the sheep from every land is coming, when the whole flock shall be gathered in the fold above. In view of that time it behoves us to be busy in the field, early and late, counting no toil too much for Christ’s beloved sheep.