JOHN tells us he “saw thrones”, and those that “sat upon them”, and they “reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. 20. 4, 5). This is Christ’s Millennial Reign, and it is clear from the passage that it covers the major portion of the period which lies between the two resurrections, which we have now considered. It should also be clear to any careful, unbiased reader, that this period relates to the earth. The descent of the King from heaven, so graphically described in chapter 19, implies this, since it will be to deal with “the kings of the earth” (v. 19). Then at the expiration of the thousand years, Satan will go forth to “deceive the nations ... of the earth”, and will muster their armies “on the breadth of the earth” (ch. 20. 9), which also surely implies that during the thousand years of Satan’s imprisonment, the earth will be under the benign rule of its rightful King. Moreover, since “they count not time by years” in heaven, we can associate this period only with earth, even if we had not these references. In that day will be fulfilled the numerous Scriptures, to some of which allusion has been made in these pages, which predict our Lord’s glorious and tranquil reign in the scene where once He was rejected. See, for example, 2 Sam. 7. 12-16; Ps. 89; Isa. 9. 6, 7; 11 . 1-9; Jer. 23. 6; Rev. 5. 9, 10. As “Son of David” He is Heir to Judah’s throne; as “Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1. 1), to the vast territory which God gave by covenant to that patriarch. Therefore “the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David : and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever” (Luke 1. 32, 33).
In both Testaments this reign is always described as being in the future. It is true that God has even now “put all things under His (Christ’s) feet”. Mark, however, the purpose of this—that He might be “Head over all things to the Church” (Eph. 1. 22)—not that He might reign as King over the house of Jacob. God’s present word to His beloved One is : “Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make thine enemies Thy footstool” (Ps. 110. 1). Hebrews 10. 13 confirms the Son’s blessed acquiescence with the Father’s will. He is presently “expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet”. In that coming day, God’s word to Him will be, “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies” (Ps. 110. 2). Now, it is “SIT THOU”. Then it will be, “RULE THOU”; and in that day He will “take to Him His great power and reign”. See Revelation 11. 17, 18.
A-Millennialists frequently quote Acts 2. 29-33, in an attempt to show that Christ now sits on David’s throne in heaven. The attempt is futile. The force of Peter’s argument, which should be read in the Revised Version, is that our Lord’s resurrection and present exaltation are proof that what God promised His servant David He will yet accomplish. Verse 34 and 35 fully bear this out. “The lord said unto My Lord, sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool”. Clearly then, there is a period of waiting, even as we have seen in our last paragraph, during which enemies oppose His authority, ere our risen Lord takes His seat on David’s throne. It must be stated categorically that nowhere in Scripture is David’s throne said to be, or implied to be, in heaven. Our Lord now sits upon His Father’s throne (Rev. 3. 21), and to speak of that as being identical with the throne of David, manifests a great lack of spiritual intelligence, to put it mildly. G. N. H. Peters goes into this subject more thoroughly perhaps than any other writer. He furnishes a list of twenty one reasons for believing that the promises of the Davidic covenant are to be understood literally, and that they cannot therefore legitimately be interpreted to refer to the Father’s heavenly throne or kingdom. For the full quotation from his “Theocratic Kingdom”, see J. D. Pentecost’s, “Things to Come”, pages 104-107.
THE “SOULS’’ WHICH JOHN SAW
They were “souls”, however, which John saw in Rev. 20. 4—“the souls of them which were beheaded .... and they lived and reigned with Christ”. It is therefore objected that “souls”, being spirits, could not reign on earth. Surely, it is argued, it is in heaven that souls reign, and so the reference must be to “those in the disembodied state in the Paradise of God”. This sounds reasonable, but will the context bear it out. It will not. John says that these “souls” lived. In what sense did they “live”? The statement cannot mean merely that they “existed”. To say that would be quite superfluous. Moreover, it cannot surely imply that these “souls” had been dead, for how could “souls” die? Further, how could “souls” be “beheaded”? It will help if we consider the same word in some of its other occurrences. In Acts 2. 41; 27. 37; 1 Peter 3. 20, and Rev. 16. 3 the word plainly means “person”, and this, as F. W. Grant has suggested, is how the term is to be understood in our passage. The whole context favours this. It makes sense to say that “persons” were beheaded, that “persons” lived, and that “persons” reigned with Christ. We believe therefore that the passage can only mean that these saints will have their raised bodies and will reign with Christ for a thousand years upon the earth.
AiBOUT 70 years ago H. M. Gwatkin wrote, “The dignified slumber of a catholic uniformity may be more fatal to spiritual life than the vulgar wranglings of a thousand sects”. He was not referring to Roman Catholicism, for he was writing about the Arian controversy which took place about 300 years before the establishment of that system. He had in mind a universal dead routine of correct outward forms. In our time, too, it is possible to profess sound doctrine, correctly phrased, without living in the power of it. But, in avoiding this, are we to wrangle? We are certainly intended to “contend”, and that “earnestly”, as Jude 3 points out, “for the faith once for all delivered to the saints”, but such contending is not the contentiousness of 1 Cor. 11. 16. For the Lord’s sake, and that of those we influence, we are meant to speak the truth, which phrase in Eph. 4. 15 involves getting to know the truth, practising it, proclaiming it, and being held and moulded by it. We are meant to win others to it. Matthew 18. 15 makes far more of gaining one’s brother than beating him in an argument, and Gal. 6. 1, elaborating this, makes a special point of “considering thyself”, as an individual, while engaged in the exercise of brotherly love. With collective witness also in our minds, it is good to recognise that, according to 1 Tim. 3. 15, a New Testament assembly is a pillar and support of the truth. As such it is meant to win others to the truth by the attractiveness of its witness for the truth and its faithfulness in living it out.
As to wrangling in a thousand sects, in New Testament days there were no sects among Christians. Does somebody ask incredulously, what about Corinth? The answer is that certainly factionalism existed in the Corinthian assembly according to 1 Cor. 1. 10-12, that 1 Cor. 11. 18 shows Paul partly believing that schisms were present in the assembly, but that there is not a word to show that sects were actually present there, though in 1 Cor. 11. 19 their eventuation was feared as a pernicious possibility. Factionalism, while deplorable, left the assembly intact as long as it went no further, but sects would at once begin to split it into fragments. In New Testament times there were no sects among Christians at Corinth or anywhere else as far as we are told, though 2 Peter 2. 1 warns Christian readers of the danger of false teachers coming amongst them and introducing destructive sects into their midst.
In the combined province of Syria and Cilicia there were churches (congregations, assemblies), mentioned in Acts 15. 23, 41, but these were not Brethren assemblies or Baptist churches. Gal. 1. 2 does not tell of Episcopalian or Brethren churches of Galatia, nor do Gal. 1. 22 and 1 Thess. 2. 14 mention Brethren assemblies or Presbyterian churches in Judea; nor were those churches of Macedonia of which 2 Cor. 8. 1 speaks, Methodist churches or Brethren churches. As for the various churches of Asia which the first three chapters of Revelation bring under our notice, though there was a great deal wrong with most of them, none of them wa? so far astray as to label itself Brethren church or Adventist church. We can surely take it, also, that Titus was not left in Crete to help churches which sported any such labels.
But if there were then no so-called Christian sects or denominations (in this connection these two words mean the same thing), there are very many to-day. Supposing a Christian from a part of Africa, where denominations are unknown, to be flown direct to a locality where “Western culture” is in full swing, what would he think of the confused medley that claims to be Christian? Suppose he gets over his shock, and, imagining one of them ought to be right, sets out to ascertain which it is, what a task faces him! There may not be 1000 of these bodies competing for his support, but there will be enough to dismay the investigator. Happily, all this bewilderment is unnecessary. God gives no standing at all to any so-called Christian sect, whether designated The Brethren or anything else. No Epistle in Holy Writ is addressed to any such body. No guidance is provided for its conduct. There are New Testament churches, and all who claim to he such should show it by conformity to the teaching of the New Testament.
Among the various sects which have arisen since New Testament times, quite a number have been Brethren denominations ; they have called themselves by the name. The Brethren with or without on addition to this term. Some of these originated in Europe or America hundreds of years ago, and they are by no means all extinct at the present time. So, quite apart from its scripturalness or otherwise, the choice of the name The Brethren for a sect to-day is very confused and foolish, and betokens a slovenly mentality.
When you come to look further into it, the idea is even more foolish than it appears at first. Consider some implications of language. Some believing men refuse to rally round the Brethren banner. Presbyterians among them are known, according to accepted, inoffensive terminology, as Presbyterian brethren, Methodists as Methodist brethren. From such as these, a Christian man in the sect called The Brethren has to be distinguished; but how ? By submitting, compulsorily, to be dubbed a Brethren brother, with Brethren brethren for the plural? How can any man, within or without a University, lower himself to tolerate such folly? Is this being fools for Christ’s sake? This simple consideration, in itself, is enough to expose the confusion embedded in The Brethren system. But consider what happens to the sisters in it. They have to be distinguished from Christian women not in The Brethren by being labelled Brethren sisters. This title, which is inescapable in the system, exhibits every sister in it as a laughingstock. What has happened to men of intelligence to make them satisfied with a label such as The Brethren, which poses every man in it as a dunderhead and every woman a laughing-stock, however friendly their intentions are? The whole thing should be regarded as insufferable. Are the leaders in the Brethren quite regardless of the derision which their folly has earned for them? What a dishonour to Christ it all is. Have they no shame?
An attempt has been made to counter these considerations. It is claimed that in the Scriptures sisters are sometimes included under the term “brethren”, but such a contention is wholly without substance. For the fact is that Holy Writ never includes sisters under the term “Brethren?” in the circumstances under discussion, that is, when the term is applied to a differentiated section of believers, which application, of course, is an abuse of the term.
In respect of its necessitating the use of nonsensical phraseology, and in its inescapable offensiveness towards women, The Brethren system would be a grade lower than most of the other sectarian systems.
in Windsor Hall Annual Missionary Meeting, Belfast, on January 4, 1964.
I have been asked to relate some incidents in connection with my early days in Gospel work. Well, my first experience was the best I ever had. It gave me more joy than any other in my long service for the Lord. It was the joy of seeing my own family led to the Saviour. When I myself trusted Christ, I had not a relation in the world that seemed to know anything of God’s salvation. As soon as I was assured of this great blessing, therefore, I felt it my duty to inform my father, mother, and five brothers—all older than I-—of the joy I had experienced. Now, I was saved at about half past ten o’clock on a Friday night. So on Saturday morning I sat down and wrote a long letter to my mother, telling of how I had found Christ as my Saviour, and presenting the Gospel to her and my other dear ones, as well as I ever afterwards did in any Gospel meeting.
I had not long to wait for a reply, and I can tell you it was not an abusive one. I have known religious mothers who did abuse their children when they professed conversion. One woman in Co. Armagh, when she came into the home and found her boy kneeling at a chair in the drawing-room, in prayer, demanded, “What are you doing?” “Mother,” he replied, “I am praying for you that you may be saved.” “Get out to your work, I’ll look after my own soul,” she cried, and she continued to give him such a hot time, that he had at length to leave home. I am so glad, that though my mother was a most religious person, she did not treat me in that way. Her letter to me was stained with her tears, which evidently had flowed freely as she wrote it. “Oh!” she said, “how glad we are to hear what God has done for you.” Then she added, “And won’t you pray earnestly, dear son, that God may enlighten us, for we are in great darkness.”
I need not tell you that I prayed once or twice a day merely, for I prayed almost without ceasing, and with tears, too, for her and all my family. Then three or four days later, another letter came from her, containing the blessed news : “I was saved last night as I sat at the fire-side reading the little book you enclosed in your last letter.” This was a booklet I would commend to anyone who wishes to see a friend led to the Saviour. It is entitled, “The Blood of Jesus”, and was written by a Mr. William Reid.
Three days after that, my father was saved. Then my brothers began to come to Christ, and to make a long story short, inside twelve months four of them were saved and in happy assembly fellowship. The other was not won so easily. The hinderance was his proud, self-righteous, religious wife. She would have none of this “new fangled religion”. But God took her away, and a few weeks after her funeral and burial he too was saved. They are all gone now—all in heaven— and I am going to join them there. And I won’t have exceedingly long to wait either. And what a happy meeting that will be!
As you probably know, I was on the police force, the old R.I.C., and was stationed in Co. Donegal, when grace apprehended me. Well, from that day I lost all conceit in the police, and I had a passionate yearning just to go and tell to everybody the story that had had such blessed results in my own family connection. For if it had such wonderful results in my relations, why should it not have the same in other people who needed it just as much as they.
If there were any Gospel meetings near, and I could possibly get to them, I was sure to be present, and to take a little part in them, too. In this way I was brought into contact with some of the older preachers, such as Dr. W. J. Matthews, James Megaw, James Meharg, Tom Lough, William McCracken, and other older men. These brethren began to say to me, “Give up the police, and give all your time to the Lord. You are wasting your life, man, you are wasting your life, give it up, and go out into the Lord’s work.” This caused me a good deal of thought, for there was a time when I believed there was no position to be compared with one on the police force.
One day Dr. Matthews brought my exercise to a head. “Look here,” he said, “I know another man who is just like you. He has a longing desire to go full time into the Lord’s work. Now, if I give you both a tent, will you be willing to go forth with him?” After thinking over this a little, I replied, “Yes, I will.” That settled it for me. And who was that brother that Dr. Matthews had as a partner for me? He was one whose memory I revere. Had God searched the world right round, He could not have found another man so suited to my tastes. I agree that it is not every man who can preach with others. But I had no difficulty preaching with this man. His name was Mr. Samuel Wright, father of our beloved and esteemed brother, who is here to-day, and whom I always speak of as Bobby Wright.
Bobby and I are very old acquaintances, you know. The first time I spoke to him, he did not even answer me. “And why?” you ask. Because he did not know English at the time. He knows his English and Japanese now, but he knew neither of them then, for he was but two weeks old at the time. I have watched Bobby grow up, and he was a stirring youth, though as kind as they make them. And I tell you more, a genuine conversion to God, followed by half a lifetime of service for the Lord in Japan, has sobered him nicely, but I cannot say more about Bobby just now.
|T was in the fall of the year 1906 that I went with friends who had invited me to a gospel meeting. It was the first time I had ever been in a Gospel Hall. At the close of the service, one of two young men standing at the back of the hall kindly asked me if I was saved. I replied, “My religion is not the same as yours,” and passed on out; but those words, “ARE YOU SAVED?” remained with me and I could not get rid of them until the afternoon of January 29th, 1907, when for the first time I could truly say that I WAS saved.
When a lad, I had been confirmed and made a member of the Church. Having been baptised when an infant, I was later taught that in my baptism “I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven”. This I firmly believed and thought that all was well with me. But from the night that I was asked, “Are you saved?” I became deeply concerned about my eternal welfare and had many thoughts, anxious thoughts, about eternity.
As a young man, I had gone in for the pleasures of the word, such as card playing, theatre going, and with companions, took the occasional glass over the bar. At the end of the year 1906, when the whistles were blowing and the bells ringing the old year out and the new year in, I decided to turn over a new leaf and live the Christian life. During the first month of the new year, I did my level best to live up to my resolutions but found no peace for my heart and conscience. The day before my conversion to God, a young man, E.B.S., a soul winner, met me and asked me if I ever had thoughts about my soul, and where I would spend eternity. I admitted that I had. He suggested calling on me, to which I readily consented, appointing the next day. At the appointed hour in the afternoon he was at my house, and in my bedroom the following conversation took place.
“What are your hopes for Heaven?” I replied, “By doing the best I can in keeping the commandments”, also that “I had done many things that were not in keeping with the character of a Christian but at the New Year had cut them out and now was doing my level best to live the Christian life.” He said, “Let us turn to the ten commandments”—which we did, finding them in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, and reading as follows :—
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
Honour thy father and mother.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet . . . anything that is thy neighbours.
At the end of each commandment, my friend would ask, “Have you kept that one? Have you kept that one?” I finally saw that I had broken not a few of them. Upon request, I read such Scriptures as:—James 2. 10, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all’, also Galatians 3. 10 : “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ We then read Romans 3, verses 9 to 20. There I saw what is called, “God’s photograph of man by nature”. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law : that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3. 19).
I was convinced that the law was not given as a means of getting to Heaven, but rather as a mirror to show how unclean I was before God, and that I had come short of His glory. The Scriptures say: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3. 23). The law condemned me, I saw myself guilty, lost and undone, fit only for Hell. I was told that my prayers would not save me, my tears were of no avail. I wondered, “What am I to do?” We then read the 3rd chapter of John’s Gospel, from verse 1 through to verse 17. The words in verse 7 gripped me :— “Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again”. I enquired as did Nicodemus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” The work of the Spirit of God and the redemptive work of Christ upon the cross were brought before me. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3. 14-16). I looked to Him that afternoon and was saved.
“Soon as my all I ventured,
On the atoning blood;
The Holy Spirit entered,
And I was born of God.”
I simply took God at His word—“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life : and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3. 36).
“Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die:
Another’s life, Another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.”
I now can say, His blood avails for me.
Fifty-eight years have come and gone and I am as sure of being in Heaven as if already there.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16. 31).
IN every age men and women have followed, admired and even worshipped the popular personages of this world, but at the best, however great, the objects of adoration were marked by failure. Perfection has been found in One only, the incomparable Christ, the Son of the living God. It is little wonder that the hymn writer when considering Him was moved to pen the lovely words,
“Compared with Christ, m all beside,
No comeliness I see.”
Amongst the famous of men even now there are many of the same kind, however varied in degree; but with the Christ of God it is vastly different, for there is only one of His kind. He is alone in glory and perfection and all else is of little value by comparison. Let the world follow popular idols; it is a vain pursuit to be bent on such a course and the end of it can only mean disappointment and despair. Happy are they, however, who follow Christ and dwell upon the uniqueness of His person; they will ever prove this pursuit to be rewarding and satisfying to the soul.
Conformity to the image of the Son of God will be the happy ultimate for every believer and to that end the wheels of God’s eternal purposes are presently turning. As one has truly said, “God was so pleased with His Son when He returned on high that He decided to populate Heaven with millions like Him”. Conformity to His likeness now, however, must be the high and pure desire of every redeemed soul. Occupation with the person and glories of Christ is a prerequisite to conformity to His present likeness, and so to assist believers to develop a desire after Him this study in Colossians is commenced.
It is significant to notice that before a proper contemplation of Christ can occur a certain transaction must take place. The steps of this transaction are stated by Paul in the first 14 verses of Col. 1, before he sets out the nine-fold glories of Christ in the rest of the chapter. Here is a point of cardinal importance for all to consider. The work of God for man must precede any work of man for Him. Relationship with Him must go before proper worship of Him. Do all who pledge allegiance to Christ know what it means to be delivered from the power of darkness, to have redemption, the forgiveness of sins? Here then is the pre-requisite for worship. Take the work of Christ for the soul in all its completeness; a transfer from the realm of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of His love; a deliverance from bondage to be followed by no later bondage, and the absolute dismissal of sins. No recall of sins is possible. The finality of forgiveness (aphesin) is brought out when considered against the righteousness of God. Because of His character, every sin must at last be either absolutely forgiven or adequately avenged; as the Russian proverb has it, “God has no bad debts”.
Having then prepared the way for a proper approach, Paul sets out the nine-fold glories of Christ which are seen to be :
The Image of the invisible God.
The First-born of all creation.
The Originator of all created things.
The eternal God.
The Upholder of all things.
The Head of the Body, the Church.
The First-born from amongst the dead.
The pre-eminent One.
The fulness of the Godhead.
From such a worthy occupation for the soul a sweet savour must rise to God from redeemed hearts. Surely no genuine believer will hesitate to enter into such rich fields; pasture to feed upon, as well as material to offer up in holy worship. Let us then proceed to meditate upon the glories of Christ and seek to grow now into the likeness of Him who will soon come forth in all His resplendent worth to be seen by all and publicly acknowledged as God’s well-beloved Son, the Lord out of Heaven.
With reference to the question of music in the worship meeting, may I make a few observations? It is not simply a matter of finding chapter and verse, but rather of discerning Divine principles that are to guide saints in all ecclesiastical procedure. The very character of our worship meeting leaves neither desire nor place for music in it. Our worship is both spiritual and spontaneous. Each brother, as led by the Spirit, has liberty to give out a hymn, to lead in worship or to read the Word of God. Worship is the overflow of redeemed hearts that have learned to appreciate and love God in the Triunity of His Being, for what He is and for what He has accomplished on the Cross for His own glory and our good. To introduce the literal instrument would destroy the spontaneity of the spiritual exercise of the saints and disrupt that spiritual liberty that godly saints have enjoyed so much. If one is exercised to sing an extra verse of a hymn, all would have to wait until the one who plays gets to the piano. Thus the liberty of the saints is marred and the pattern of worship disrupted, by machinery that is incompatible to the type of meeting that we seek to conduct, in the fear of God, and to the pattern of Assembly worship as we see it in the New Testament.
To say that when hymns are not known music may be permissible is an excuse rather than a reason. The history of Assemblies has proved that it was never necessary. Hymns can be learned at home without introducing something that is contrary to the spirit and pattern of New Testament simplicity.
Have we reached a crisis in Assembly history when there is not a feature of Assembly life that we once held dearly, but what is questioned and ready to be thrown away? We are living in a day when truths that we considered essential to the New Testament order are treated as optional. Music in the morning meeting is optional, even though it is contrary to the spirit of collective worship in the New Testament. The reception of unbaptized believers is optional, even though there is not an unbaptized believer found in any New Testament Assembly. The inviting of sectarian men to our platforms is optional, even though their ecclesiastical titles and their positions as well as their convictions are contrary to the simplicity of Church order as we see it in the New Testament. Inter-denominationalism is optional, even though it is swallowing up our young people and robbing them of respect and loyalty for the Assemblies of the saints. The installing of pastors is optional, even though the New Testament knows nothing of one pastor for one congregation. May I ask, “Whither are we drifting?”
As far as I am concerned, the many innovations that are rapidly coming in are not producing genuine stability in our Assembly testimony, but rather the opposite. If the pace continues, we will be right back to that out of which God brought us. While I recognize the difference between methods and principles, yet I fear that to-day many methods are being adopted that infringe on Divine principles. The early pioneers who planted Assemblies on this continent were men of deep conviction and spirituality. They recognized the spiritual nature and simplicity of the New Testament order.
I sincerely trust that by the grace of God I shall be content with both the pattern of the house and the law of the house (Ezekiel 43. 10-12). I do recognize the universal Church and love all the saints that make up its aggregate, yet I believe there is a path for God’s people outside the camp of Christendom and the ecumenical spirit that permeates it: a path of loyalty to our rejected Lord and to His Word and the simple principles that are to guide and govern us in our Assembly lives.
HAVE you heard of John Livingstone, brother of David Livingstone, the famous missionary-explorer? John died one of the richest men in Ontario. The two boys grew up together in a simple Scottish home, and both were under the same instruction. The time came when both boys made decisions affecting their whole lives. John decided to make money; David decided to forsake all and follow Christ. John lived in luxury and died in wealth. David died in a miserable hut in Africa. After the lapse of two generations, it is perfectly clear that the man who forsook all to follow Jesus, made the better choice.