THE prophecies concerning the future of the Jews, their land, and the throne of David their king are so numerous that it would be impossible in the space here available to quote or even refer to more than a few of them.
Isaiah abounds with promises of Israel’s restoration. Whole chapters are devoted to the subject. In ch. 11. 11-13, for example, the prophet says : “The Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from Assyria ... Egypt ... Pathros ... Cush ... Elam ... Shinar ... Hamath, and from the isles of the sea. And He shall ... assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.” Now, the first time the Lord recovered His people was when the two tribes were brought back from Babylon. But here He promises that at “the second, time” He will recover all twelve tribes (Judah, the two; and Ephraim, the ten) and that “from the four corners of the earth”, and not merely from Babylon. Then the two alienated parts of the nation will dwell peaceably together. This prophecy has never yet been fulfilled, and it cannot with any consistency be applied spiritually to the Church.
The same subject is dealt with in chapters 27. 12, 13; 43. 1-8; 49. 8-16; 61. 1-11; 65. 8-10, 17-25; 66. 10-24, and other passages in this great Prophecy. Like the portion in ch. 11, they have never yet been fulfilled. They certainly are not being fulfilled in the Church. How could the two verses in ch. 27, for example, be shown to apply to that Organism? Is the Church ever called “Jacob” (43. 1)? Were Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba given as “a ransom” for it (v. 3) ? Does the Church “inherit desolate heritages” (49. 8) ? What is the “land of her destruction” (49. 19), and what are her “wasted cities” (61. 4)? Or are these in Heaven or in the Eternal State? Again, has God ever “forsaken” His Church (49. 14; 54. 7) ? Has He not said to her, “I will never ... in any wise forsake thee” (Heb. 13. 5)? We do not deny that in these chapters there is figurative language, and that parts of them may be given a secondary application to the Church, but surely he must he wilfully blind who cannot here see the future literal regathering of the nation of Israel.
How otherwise are we to understand the last two chapters? Where and when will ch. 65. 20 be fulfilled? There will be no “sinner” and no “curse” in Heaven nor in the Eternal State. There, too, “they count not time by years”, yet here is “a child . . an hundred years old.” Then verse 25 speaks of the presence of wolves, lambs, lions, and serpents. Would anyone dare to assert that these are in the Church, Heaven, or the Eternal State? How also are we to understand the scene in chapter 66, where there will be one centre of worship ; where the “Sabbath” and the monthly festivals will be celebrated, where the “priests and levites” will officiate, where there will be a city named “Jerusalem”, and outside of it a place of “abhorring unto all flesh”? There is but one answer —the scene is Millennial, and awaits the day of Israel’s great home-coming and restoration.
The testimony of Jeremiah confirms all this. Those whom the Lord has promised to recover from captivity are termed “Israel”, “Judah”, “Jacob”, and “Ephraim” (30. 3, 7; 31. 9) —names which never refer to the Church. They are further described as “the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (33. 26), and while it is conceded that members of the Body of Christ are the seed of Abraham, they are never named the seed of Isaac or Jacob. Again, when we read, “He that scattereth Israel” (31. 10), the allusion cannot be to the spiritual flock of Christ, for it is the wolf and the world that scatter His sheep (John 10. 12; Acts 8. 1), but never the Good Shepherd; and no instructed Christian surely would speak of the Lord wounding His Church “with the wound of an enemy” (30. 14). Moreover, when we read of the people returning to “the land which (God) gave to their fathers” (30. 3), of their dwelling again in the cities of Judah (31. 24), and when seven well-known landmarks in restored Jerusalem are named (31. 38-40), it seems absurd to suggest that it is the Church that is in view. Nonsense, brethren, nonsense! What have the “tower of Hananeel”, “the valley of the dead bodies”, or the “horse gate” to do with the Church of the living God ! All this is literal language. Your God-given common sense tells you it is. It cannot refer to the Church, and it would be equally preposterous to apply it to Heaven or the Eternal State. It was literal Israel that was “scattered”, and it is literal Israel that is to be “gathered” again (31. 10).
When the Lord further promises that His people will return from “the uttermost parts of the earth” (31. 8, R.V.), that a “great company shall return” (v. 8)—so great indeed that the land will not be large enough to contain them (Is. 49. 19, 20; Zech. 10. 10), that “they shall all know the Lord” and “enjoy His forgiveness” (31. 34), that they shall have “abundance of peace” (33. 6), that “Jerusalem shall dwell safely” (v. 16), that they shall “not any more sorrow” (31. 12), nor be “thrown down” (31. 40), that they shall have no more fear (30. 10), that “strangers shall no more serve themselves of them” (30. 8), and that they shall then serve “David their king” (30. 9), it is obvious that a deliverance far greater than that from Babylon under Ezra is contemplated, as some have suggested. Not one of these twelve statements was then fulfilled. All that is here promised, however, will have a literal and complete accomplishment “in the latter days” (30. 24), for the “Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent.”
Ezekiel in like manner bears his quota of testimony. The Good Shepherd will “seek out His sheep and deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered”, and will “bring them to their own land” (34. 12, 13). Never again will they be under the Gentile yoke (v. 28). Chapter 36. 1-15 describes the restoration of the Land; and verses 16-38, the moral cleansing of the Nation. The National Restoration of “the whole house of Israel” follows in 37. 1-14, and then in verses 15-25 the reunion of the ten tribes and the two tribes takes place, “and my servant David shall be their prince for ever” (v. 25). The destruction of their enemies “upon the mountains of Israel” ensues in chapters 38 and 39. Chapters 40-48 furnish a magnificent description of restored Jerusalem and the rebuilt Temple. The boundaries of the Land are given in chapters 47 and 48, several towns being listed in chapter 47; while in chapter 48 all the tribes of Israel are named. It is altogether out of the question to suppose that these great prophecies have ever been fulfilled in the history of the nation, and the blessings enjoyed by the Church in no way correspond with them. Like the prophecies of Jeremiah at which we have looked, however, every one of them will be literally fulfilled to the letter “in the latter days” (38. 8, 16).
DANIEL AND ZECHARIAH
Out of the many references to Israel’s future blessing in later O.T. books, the following are a few : Dan. 9. 24-27; 12. 1; Hosea 3. 4, 5; Joel 3. 20; Amos 9. 14, 15; Micah 4. 6, 7; Zeph. 3. 14-20; Zech. 2. 11, 12; 8. 20-23; 12. 2, 3; 14. 1-21. Some of these passages are of special interest to our study. The prophecy of Daniel 9, for example, was spoken that God’s people might know that the promised deliverance from Babylon was not the full and final liberation of Israel foretold by the prophets. This would come, not at the end of the seventy years predicted in Jer. 25. 12 (cf. Dan. 9. 2), but at the end of seventy prophetic “weeks” (i.e. seventy sevens of years). The seventieth week of Dan. 9. 27, however, has not yet been fulfilled. For its fulfilment Israel must be back in her own land, and at its close the blessings of v. 24 will be hers.
The other passages of special significance are those found in Zechariah, their interesting feature being that they were written after the return from Babylon. Now Israel’s great national deliverance and restoration as here predicted cannot with any consistency be spiritualised as applying to the Church. The fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecies therefore must be still future, which confirms what has been said of earlier prophecies with which these are in perfect harmony.
A FOURTH factor influenced John’s wonder as he saw the woman sit upon the scarlet beast and we may call it, “The signs of her identity.” Here a number of statements call for closer inspection.
Her name is instructive, “Babylon the great” : which indicates a pre-eminence over all that has borne the name Babylon (17. 5). Its predecessors, the geographical and historical Babylons had a name for superstition, idolatry and God-dishonouring self-glorification, but they are to be eclipsed by the “mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” The architect and builder of the original Babylon (Babel) Nimrod, gave character to the city he built and to the kingdom he founded. He was rightly named Nimrod, “rebel” for when we read that “He began to be a mighty one in the earth, he was a mighty hunter before (‘against’, Septuagint Version) the Lord,” it pays him no compliment. His ambition, dictatorship and endeavour to unify the fallen human race with the vain-glorious slogan of the movement, “Let us make us a name”, led inevitably to the divine intervention and the confusion of tongues which branded it as Babel (Genesis 10. 8-10; 11. 1-9). The subsequent history of impurity of worship, of ambition, of tyranny and of pride is reflected in the great ecclesiastical Babylon now in process of formation. Much of the religious furniture of Rome has been borrowed from the ancient Babylon, as any fair-minded reference to history will show, but nothing more readily identifies her than “the fair show in the flesh” which is an essential part of her architecture, her ritual and her leadership. How vastly all this is opposed to the spirit and order of Him who said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11. 29) ! The simplicity which is in Christ, enjoined upon His church, lays all pomp and human pretension in the grave and exalts and owns only the-.once crucified and now enthroned and exalted Lord.
Her apparel is significant. This woman wears the priestly and the regal colours, scarlet and purple. They are reminiscent of the Pontiff’s robe, the Cardinals’ hats and the various vestments of the religious hierarchy. It can be said without hesitation that scarlet is the official colour of the system; she is “the scarlet woman.”
Her affluence is eloquent. There is no church to-day claiming to be Christian that can boast the wealth of Rome. As we see the Harlot decked with gold and precious stones and pearls and with her golden cup in her hand, we cannot but think of the massive material resources at the command of this iniquitious system of which it can already be said, “How much she hath glorified herself and lived deliciously” (18. 7, 11, 23).
Her policy is unmistakable. John “saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17. 6; 18. 24). The record of crime and blood-guiltiness that is laid at the doors of apostate Christianity is truly astounding. Who devised the Spanish inquisition? the bottle dungeon of St. Andrews? Who lit the fires of Smithfield and butchered the Huguenots of France? And who stills rules with tyrannical force in our own day in lands where other religious orders are a weak majority? The blood of saints of a past day as well as of those who are yet to become her victims will be required in solemn judgment of this blood-drunk scarlet woman.
Her destruction is inevitable. In the permissive decree of God we see “Mystery, Babylon the Great” growing numerically, materially and politically, until all the nations of Christendom are controlled by her (17. 3, 8, 15). Satan’s world-empire will for a period be dominated by this corrupt religious system as the symbolic picture shows—“a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast.” Church and State seem happily wedded and the much lauded “unities” will seem to be achieved. But for the schemes of Satan and the machinations of men there can be no abiding success. There will come a time when even a church after the pattern and desire of fallen human nature will become intolerable to men and they will turn upon her and with devastating suddenness bring her to an end. “The ten horns . . . shall hate the Harlot and shall make her desolate and naked and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (17. 16). Chapter 18 of this prophecy supplies details of the corruption and abomination that have hastened her doom. The instruments of her ruin will be her erstwhile devotees while the governmental decree of a righteous God controls the circumstances that close in upon her and terminate her reign of hypocrisy and impurity (17. 14; 18. 8). It would seem that her destroyers will not foresee the repercussions of their deed until the vast commercial system Rome fosters and maintains is shuddering under the impact of her downfall (18. 9-19).
The lamentations of the Kings and Merchants of earth over the sudden destruction of the false church stands in vivid contrast to the joy of Heaven that she has been judged. The violence of her extinction as a body is likened to the plunging of a mill-stone in the depths of the sea and Heaven and its messengers are called upon to rejoice that they have been avenged (18. 20-24). To the spiritually untutored the Hallelujahs of ch. 19. 1-6 will seem irrelevant, but where there is a heart beating in union with Christ’s and the ultimate outworking of His all-wise purposes there will be a responsive “amen”, that now at last this travesty of the Bride of Christ has been removed and the way prepared for the introduction of the “wife of the Lamb.” Hallelujah! Amen!
Here we must pause, dear reader, and solemnly reflect on the seed-plot of all this corruption. It is the sinful human heart, yours and mine. Babylon had its rise in ambition and the assertion of man’s will. It grew by the exaltation of man in the flesh. Every deviation from-the express will of God is the high-road to popery. Unwittingly Diotrephes (3rd Epistle of John, v. 9) was expressing Babylonish practice when “he loved to have the pre-eminence”, thus dishonouring the One to whom God has given that place. The grosser forms of Babylonish principles which preclude the presidency of the Holy Spirit and exclude the function of Body-gifts (1 Cor. 12) are more or less easily discerned but there are subtler forms of the evil affecting many who read these lines. High-handed methods of rule in local assembly matters are strongly condemned in the New Testament (1 Peter 5. 2-3). Elders are to attend the needs, the spiritual welfare of God’s heritage (the true clergy, kleros), not by coercion or with any dishonourable motives. They are not to domineer over the members of the flock but to act in Christ-like fashion so that the superintending Shepherd, our soon-coming Lord will present each true, gracious shepherd with a crown of glory at His return.
LIKE the conversions recorded in the New Testament, mine took place on my first contact with the Gospel.
Brought up in a religious home in Co. Donegal, from my earliest days I learned the Scriptures at home, school and Sunday School. As there was no evening service in the Church, it was our custom to have a little service at home—my parents and their six sons. One announced a Psalm, one repeated the Lord’s Prayer, one read a chapter from the Bible. The time came when I attended the Young Communicant’s Class, answered a few questions before the elders and was accepted as a church member. I sang in the choir and acted as Sunday School teacher when one of the regular teachers was absent. But I was a heathen, I knew not God. I was unsaved, I knew not the Saviour. I was unregenerate, I knew not the power of the Spirit of God. Salvation was not proclaimed in the services I attended.
At the age of seventeen I began a banking career in the city of Belfast, and a few months later the day arrived when quite unexpectedly I was saved. On 13th September, 1922, I went to meet a companion to go for a walk with him. But there had been a misunderstanding and he was not at home. His father, a Christian, suggested that I accompany him to a meeting and I consented. It was my first Gospel meeting. It was held in the hall of the Cripples’ Institute, Donegall Road, Belfast. There was a large gathering and the preacher was the late W. P. Nicholson.
No idea remains with me as to the subject that night, but long before the address ended the great discovery had been made that I was a lost sinner on my way to hell. On the seat I trembled with the shock of the truth I had learned and with the fear of the hell that awaited me. At the close those who were anxious to be saved were invited to pass into a smaller hall where they could receive further instruction. I accepted and was met by a Presbyterian minister. When he discerned my awakened condition he turned me to Isaiah 53. 5, 6. There I found that salvation was not by my religious efforts but by Christ’s atoning work on the cross. I looked to Him there and was able to say with all believing sinners : “He was wounded for our trangressions, He was bruised for our iniquities . . . and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Still I had no personal assurance of salvation, so the minister read to me the words of John 5. 24. He read them quite a number of times and at each repetition the word “hath” seemed to be more and more emphasised, until the light dawned upon me. I had heard and believed and God’s Word said that I had eternal life. Assurance of salvation has now been mine for over thirty-nine years.
It is possible, dear reader, that you have often heard the Gospel clearly preached but you are spiritually as dark, dense and dead as was the writer. Your need is so great that unless you get alarmed about it and seek the Lord while He may be found, you will be eternally lost.
THE keynote of this interesting chapter is PROGRESS in the Christian life. When we are saved by grace through faith, it is not the will of God that we should settle down on our lees in the satisfaction of our security in Christ, but rather that we should follow on to know the Lord, and fulfil the purpose for which we have been redeemed and left in this world. Paul had this ambition for the saints at Philippi. With a view to their development, he commences this section of the epistle with an EXHORTATION, v. 1; followed by a WARNING, vv. 2-3; an EXAMPLE, vv. 4-17; and finally an INCENTIVE, vv. 20-21.
The exhortation to rejoice in the Lord, is oft repeated in this letter, and is something more than a call to be happy because of the blessings we have in Christ. It implies an appreciation of the Lord in the glory of His Person, and the value of His work. It is something that is independent of circumstances, so that Habakkuk could joy in God in time of famine (see Hab. 3. 17-18), and Paul could rejoice in the Lord while chained in a Roman prison. The joy of the Lord is the strength of God’s people, and is a necessary condition of heart if we are to make headway in the things of God. When a Christian, for any cause whatsoever, loses his joy, he is left weak and powerless, and though there may be much activity, there will be no real progress in divine things.
The threefold warning that follows in verse 2, is given doubtless to alert them to the dangers that beset their pathway. “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” The terms used denote that Paul had in mind propagators of evil practice as well as erroneous doctrine. Either would be ruinous to the Lord’s people in their testimony and service. The assemblies at Corinth and in the region of Galatia learned this by sad experience. The Apostle wrote to the Galatians, “Ye did run well, who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” The hinderers were the false teachers whom Paul here calls “the concision.” He does not call them by the honourable name—“the circumcision”, but reserves that designation for those who had learned the true spiritual signification of that ancient rite. They had entered into the deep meaning- of the cross of Christ, that in Him they were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (see Col. 2. 11). Hence their worship was by the Spirit of God, their rejoicing was in Christ Jesus, and confidence in the flesh was forever renounced. He writes, “If any other man thinketh he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more.” This was no mere talk with the Apostle, as he had a pedigree and possessed a stock of assets second to none. These Paul enumerates at length, and then adds, “What things were gain to me these I counted loss for Christ.” The revelation of the glory of the Lord, and what he learned in answer to his enquiry, “Who art Thou, Lord?” but increased his desire for acquaintance with Christ, and led to a lifelong quest, as expressed in the words, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being made conformable unto His death.” It is interesting to note in his second letter to Timothy, which was written near the close of his life, how these longings which were very much in his heart were realised. Compare :
2 Tim. 1. 12 : “I know whom I have believed . . .”
2 Tim. 2. 8 : “Remember that Jesus Christ . . . was raised from the dead . . .”
2 Tim. 3. 10-11 : “Thou has fully known . . . what persecutions I endured ...”
2 Tim. 4. 6: “For I am now ready to be offered . . .”
Here was a man who had experienced much oi the Lord’s power in his life and labours, yet who refused to be satisfied with his past attainments, but pressed on to the full realisation of the purpose of his calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The expressions—“follow after”, “reaching forth”, and “press toward the mark”, all tend to show how resolute he was in his endeavour to do the will of God. He calls upon the brethren in Philippi to have this same mind, follow his example and walk by the same rule. In the parenthetic verses, 18 and 19, he tearfully reminds them of some who walk by a different rule, with their heart set on earthly things. These are enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction.
There is a striking parallel between the end of this chapter and the close of Psalm 17. The Psalmist there refers to the wicked as enemies, v. 9, who have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, v. 11, men of this world who have their portion in this life, v. 14. This description corresponds with Phil. 3. 18-19. Then the Psalmist, whose eyes were set upon the Lord (Ps. 16. 8), states, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness, I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” Even so Paul reminds the saints of their heavenly citizenship, and encourages them by the blessed hope of the Lord’s coming, when their bodies of humiliation would be fashioned like unto the body of His glory. Then the saints will be perfectly conformed to His image, the good work begun at conversion, finished, our salvation consummated in glory, and our souls eternally satisfied.
In the meantime let this blessed Hope be an incentive to personal holiness (1 John 3. 3), heavenly-mindedness (Col. 3. 1-4), and hearty service to the Lord (Rev. 22. 12).
YOKE is an instrument by which two oxen are united for a common task such as pulling a cart or a plough. Thus it came to be a symbol of bondage (Gal. 5. 1), of bond-service (1 Tim. 6. 1), of restrictions (Acts 15. 10). This is illustrated by the first occurrence of the term in Scripture (Genesis 27. 40).
In Deut. 22. 10 the Israelites were forbidden to plough with an ox and an ass together. These animals are of different species, size, step, speed and strength. The one was ceremonially clean, the other unclean. The apostle Paul took up the figure and used it as the basis for a prohibition to believers: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6. 14). The word means, “diversely yoked,” yoked to those of a different species, unbelievers.
Unbelievers are those who have not believed in Jesus, the Son of God. They may be pagans, Moslems, Atheists, nominal Christians, religious people, but unbelievers. They live for the present and follow things earthly, worldly, temporal.
Believers have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and trusted Him for salvation (Rom. 10. 9). They have become His disciples and are Christians (Acts 11. 26). They have taken His yoke (Matt. 11. 29, 30), become His bondservants (Rom. 1. 1), and live unto Him (2 Cor. 5. 15).
Now it should be very evident that for one of these to be united to one of those for any purpose whatsoever is an unequal yoke. The difference between these yoke-fellows is infinitely greater than that which exists between the ox and the ass. For their purpose to prosper one must give way to the other and follow an unnatural and therefore uncomfortable course. It is always the believer who must yield, since he, being in the wrong, cannot receive the grace and strength needed to pursue the Christian pathway. He must keep in step with the unsaved yoke-fellow and with all that his conduct implies. The unequal yoke has been defined thus : “It is such a connection as suspends individual freedom and compels united action.” The believer is no longer free to follow the Lord.
Please note that the prohibition is absolute. It does not add : “If you can, as far as possible, if it brings no discomfort, if it costs you little or nothing, as long as you can make a profit in business, as long as you can earn a living, if it involves no physical suffering, or loss of life.” The command is absolute, the consequences are in the hands of Him, who in the context is described as a Father and the Lord Almighty, or Lord all-Sufficient.
Many varieties of the unequal yoke tempt the child of God into a path of disobedience and disaster. Many a life is thereby blasted and many a disciple has become a castaway. Before taking a look at some of the yokes, let us remember that it is a yoke where there is involved submission to rules, to the decisions of a majority, or of a committee or of an official. The Christian cannot commit himself to this, for he may find that he has promised to do what is contrary to his will, or to his Christian principles.
Probably the first yoke to come to mind is matrimonial. God, who prohibited the Israelites from inter-marrying with the surrounding nations, has laid it down that believers should marry only “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7. 39). To marry an unbeliever brings many sorrows, one of which may be that the moral code of the unbelieving partner is abomination to the Lord. From this yoke death is the only release, since only death can end the marriage bond. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
The religious yoke binds many a child of God. He unites with the unsaved in membership of a church or some religious organisation. The believer wishes to worship God, to build up the saints and to spread the Gospel. His yoke-fellows will not and cannot partake in these spiritual exercises so lie must consent to their carnal and worldly activities. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Then there is the economic yoke. The believer unites with the unbeliever to obtain higher wages, shorter hours, better conditions of employment. Or it may be to promote sales, increase profits or obtain concessions from the Government. In either case he has lost his liberty to act as a Christian, he must act with the majority even to the hurt of fellow-Christians. The alternative is to suffer loss, but that should be nothing unusual for a follower of Christ (Phil. 3. 7-9). But in any case God says: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Under the political yoke many a Christian’s testimony has been lost. He supports a political party, perhaps with the object of preserving religious liberty, and finds himself supporting a policy which encourages gambling or some other evil. He joins the military or police forces with the object of maintaining law and order. In doing so he undertakes absolute obedience to the commands of his superiors. It may happen that he has to take human life or lead prisoner a brother in Christ who is a conscientious objector. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Partnership with the unsaved in a business venture is also an unequal yoke. It may be active partnership or it may be holding shares in a company, or by membership of a cooperative society. In all of these cases the believer is responsible for the conduct of the business and shares the guilt of any dishonest practices. He cannot force partners or fellow-shareholders to conform to the principles of a follower of Christ. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Then there are secret and semi-secret societies such as the Masonic and Orange orders. Undoubtedly the members of such lose their independence of action. The heavy yoke of absolute obedience is too high a price for any good that may be done whether in the way of philanthropy or the maintenance of civil liberties. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
It is admitted that it is not always apparent whether a yoke is involved. There are organisations and associations which do not appear to put any obligations on their members. These pay subscriptions and in return receive certain services. Motoring associations might be considered as an example of this. In such cases a brother in Christ should not be judged. But each believer should he vigilant as to what membership involves, and if he finds his personal liberty curtailed or collective responsibility imposed then separation is the only step.
SOONER or later disputes will arise in any church, and the first Christian church at Jerusalem was no exception. The trouble arose over finance. Some funds were available for the help of the poor widows in the church, and_ some complained that they were not being distributed equitably. The members of the church complained to the apostles, who suggested that this work should be entrusted to “deacons”, seven men chosen by the assembly and approved by the apostles. The reason that the apostles were unwilling to do the distribution themselves was that they wished to be free to devote their time to a spiritual ministry rather than be caring for financial and other material matters (Acts 6. 1-6), That this service of “deacons” was not a merely temporal expedient is shown by the fact that Paul gives detailed qualifications for those undertaking this service in 1 Timothy 3. 8-13. Although the deacon is more concerned with the material side of church service, spiritual and moral qualifications are as needed for this office as for that of elder, but there is not the same need for spiritual maturity. If the deacon is gifted as a preacher, there is no objection to his using the gift, as the example of Stephen shows (Acts 7).
Deacons then are normally responsible to act as the treasurers of the assembly, and, where the assembly owns property, would be responsible for it. (The best way for property to be owned varies in different places. In many cases a separate property-owning- trust is the ideal). The funds collected from members of the assembly can be utilised in various ways :—
The rent (if any) for the meeting room, its upkeep, and other immediate needs.
Worthy Christian widows without other means of support (1 Timothy 5. 3-10).
The Lord’s people in times of famine, flood, and such like calamities (2 Corinthians 9. 1).
The Lord’s servants, who are seeking to serve Him in accordance with the pattern laid down in His Word. (Philippians 4. 15-17).
While it is good and convenient if an assembly can have its own meeting room (James 2. 2) it is not essential, and meetings can be held in private homes (Acts 12. 12). The size of the company and the circumstances of the time and place must be taken into account in deciding about these matters.
In many small assemblies the same brethren do the work of both elders and deacons, but, whenever possible, it is good that these offices be separate, so that those whose primary care is the shepherding of the flock can have the time which would be taken up with these material things available for preparing messages, preaching, pastoral visiting and counselling, and all the other tasks involved in “taking care of the church of God.”