IT is well for us to be clear about this, and I am speaking specially to those that are young. When God saved us, it was not His will that we should wander home to heaven as a single unit. It was not God’s will that we should be what men call a freelance. It is His will that we should meet together for happy communion one with the other, and there is nothing so blessed and sweet as the fellowship of saints. It is one of the richest blessings of our heritage, the fellowship of God’s dear people, and if you were deprived of such fellowship you would miss it extremely. We should meet together, pray together, worship together, read the scriptures together, and in that way one can be a help to the other.
1 Corinthians 12, you have the word “helps.” Who could not be a help? You may have very little gift, or ability, but surely you can be a help. God means that we should help each other. There are times when we do need the help of God’s dear people.
When we come to the New Testament, we learn that it was the custom of the early Christians to meet together, and you have that right through from Acts 2, and these companies which met together are called Churches. The Church of God, the Church of Saints, the Church of Christ, the Church of the Gentiles, and in Philemon the Church in thy house. When souls were saved, they were brought into the Church or assembly of God, and we believe that is God’s desire for his people. That raises a question, and the question is “What Church should I join?”
Today things are very different from what they were in the days of the Acts, there the people were all of one accord, and one heart, and one soul. God’s people were one in their testimony before the world. It is a thousand pities that it is very different now. So far as membership is concerned, these churches had all the same mark. That is to sav, they were not mixed companies. If you look more closely into the subject you will see that these individuals had three characteristics.
They were clear as to conversion.
They were clean as to conduct.
They were sound in doctrine.
I want you to remember that this is the very first mark, I believe, of a New Testament Church.
What was their doctrine? We are told, you remember, in Acts 2 “that they continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine.” I would suggest this, that these individuals, in these different churches, they stood four-square upon the word of God. They believed in the divine inspiration, and accuracy of the Holy scriptures, and they continued in the Apostles doctrine. (Acts 24:14); “Believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets” It simply means that those that comprised these churches, were perfectly clear as to the total depravity of man through the fall. They believed that the Lord’s life on earth was spotless. They believed in His vicarious atoning death, in His bodily resurrection, that He will come again, and in the eternal judgment of the unconverted. In other words they stood four-square on all the word of God. Is that what characterises the company of people where you associate? If they don’t stand on all the things I have mentioned, that company lacks one of the marks of a New Testament Church.
Another mark is to do with their name. Bv what name are you known? Our answer is that we own His name alone. “For where two or three are gathered together in mv name, there am I in the midst of them.” So you see, that Christ is our centre of gathering. Could we have a better centre? We could not. Genesis—“Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Psalm—“Gather my people unto Me.” I believe that New Testament Churches are auite content to call themselves by the names which the Holy Ghost approves.
Saints — Holy ones, separated ones.
Children — Our birth relationship.
Disciples — Because we are learners, or followers of Christ.
Christians — We are Christs, once we belong to Him.
Brethren — All of God’s people are brethren.
All of these names include all the people of God. If you take in other names it is sectarianism, and you bring in division.
Those that meet, as the Christians met in the Acts, are quite satisfied with these names.
Let saints, and names, and parties fall,
Let Jesus Christ, be all in all.
In the days of the apostles division began to creep in among the people of God. In the church at Corinth some were calling themselves by one name and some another name. One, I am of Paul, another—I am of Apollos, and another—I am of Cephas—I am of Christ, and each leader had a little following in the assembly. How pitiful that is.
The assembly is to have a character of the body, and the body is one, and the assembly ought to be one. In 1st Corinthians chapter 1-4 you have the beginning of Denominationalism, and today we see it around us in full bloom.
Ordinances: There were two ordinances. Ordinance of baptism—ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism : What is baptism? My death with Him. As I go down into that cold water, I go down there and I am identified with my Lord and Saviour in His death, burial and resurrection. He died on the cross, and when he died, 1 die with Him. As a baptised person, I am to walk in newness of life.
Lord’s Supper : His death for us. You see the difference. In baptism I have my death with Him. In the Lord’s supper His death for me, and these early saints were in the habit of meeting together on the first day of every week to eat the Lord’s Supper, and that is a very blessed ordinance. Nothing about pomp, ritual etc., the Christians met together that they may take the emblems, bread and wine in affectionate remembrance of their blessed Lord and Saviour, and when they met together, Christ presided at His own table. We never read of any man presiding at the Lord’s table. Christ is there (Matthew 18). The word of God is our authority for gathering, the Christ of God is our centre of gathering, and the Spirit of God is our power for worship when we do gather.
Those of you who have any experience of assembly life, know that to sit down at the Lord’s table, with God’s beloved people, to sit down there in fellowship with Him, is like the very gates of heaven to your soul. Oh! the sweetness of it! “Here in the broken bread and wine, we hear Thee say remember Me.” There is a preciousness about it, and that is one of the distinctive marks of a New Testament Church. God grant that we may have grace to keep it till the end. Always try to be present at it. Don’t be coming in late. Come in gently. Come in on your tiptoes. I believe some of the assemblies are lacking in reverence. Some saints sit turning over the hymn book when they should be occupied with the Lord. Let us come in time, in the spirit of prayer. If you want to take part in the assembly, please speak distinctly. Do not read all the hymn. Be brief in thanksgiving. Get to the cross— and don’t be leading the people into the wilderness. May God help us. Aviod ruts e.g. hymn, prayer, hymn, prayer, hymn, prayer. Don’t always be giving out the same hymns. Some brethren commence the meeting every Lord’s day morning.
The mark of worship : If God’s people gather together for anything, surely it is for worship, because worship is the highest form of service in which we can engage.
In Israel’s worship we have a material house, you have a separate priesthood etc. Coming from Old to New Testament gatherings, you are coming from the shadow to the substance. Our worship is not material, not sentimental, it is spiritual, and so far as worship is concerned, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. We do not need anyone to mediate, we do not need anyone to come between our souls and the blessed Lord. We come not merely to sing hymns, not just to pray, but we come that we may break our alabaster box, that we may have fragrant worship.
Ministry: Christ have given gifts, and those gifts come from God (Romans 12) (1 Corinthians 12) (Ephesians 4). In the assembly there might be quite a number of gifts. So you see, that in this New Testament Church, there was room for exercise of all the gifts that the ascended Head had bestowed. It does away once and for all with one man ministry, and we do not believe in every man ministry, because every brother may not have a gift to speak. In the assembly there is room for the exercise of all gifts that the ascended Head has bestowed.
Governors : God’s assembly is not a place where you can do as you please. It is a place of order, a place where there is rule and where there are guides. The New Testament speaks of elderhood. There are no apostles to raise elders now, but according to Acts 20 the Holy Spirit is able to raise elders. That man will have a love and care for the saints. We are to recognise the elders, because of the work they do, but the scriptures enjoin upon them not to take too much upon themselves. See that you have the confidence of the assembly in any decision that you come too. It is very important. The saints are to obey and respect the elders. The elders are to act in such a way that they will retain the confidence of the saints of the assembly.
Gospel: These New Testament assemblies were assemblies that were active in the gospel. “From you, sounded out the word of the Lord.” They had an interest in the unconverted, Don’t allow the gospel interest to die. The Sunday School is very important work. Put the gospel into the children. The truth that they learn will never leave them. God grant that the gospel light may burn brightly in your midst. The Thessalonians were active in the gospel. It will keep your soul right, it will keep the assembly right. Have a gospel effort every year. These are some of the marks of a New Testament Church.
The assembly of the saints— it is to Christ His lovely flock. The churches are spoken of as the glories of Christ. If you are in an assembly give that assembly your support. If the assembly is the right place, take an interest in it, don’t be running here and running there.
THE above words are found in the sixteenth verse of Micah Ch. 6. and import into an already solemn chapter an even deeper tone of solemnity. The ‘statutes of Omri’ had not been forgotten as well they might, but 215 years later were still being ‘kept’ by the people, who also practised all the works of the house of Ahab, and walked in their counsels.
These telling statements by Micah, provide the key to the spiritual declension of the nation at that time.
Omri, who was not of the Royal Line but a military captain, ascended the throne in days of the most deplorable moral character; drunkenness, murder, treason and idolatry being the order of the day.
If a pious few had expectations of better things upon the ascension of Omri, knowing that His name means ‘servant of Jehovah,’ they were quickly demolished as the divine verdict declared that ‘Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him’ (1 Kings 16:25).
Omri, it would appear, like the wicked Zimri before him, was an enthusiastic follower of Jeroboam the son of Nebat ‘who made Israel to sin,’ and v. 26 would seem to bear this out. Although in 1 Kings we do not read of him making any ‘statutes,’ we may be sure that those referred to by Micah which were still being kept, would be connected in some way with Jeroboam, and would therefore be diametrically opposed to the ‘statutes of Jehovah’ of which the Psalmist delighted, and in which he meditated (Psalm 119:48).
With this in mind it is not surprising that Micah had to upbraid the people and call them back to their God. Brethren, is it not always the pattern, that when God’s people prefer the statutes of men to the statutes of he Lord, departure from Him is the inevitable result?
We who gather to the Lord’s Name in scriptural assemblies, are not immune from the danger of giving heed to the statutes of men, and the sad departure that this always brings. In the early days when saints were delivered from the sects and systems of men, there was a delightful simplicity and holy joy as they sought to give expression to what they found in the Word.
Alas today, as we look around at many professed assemblies, might we not lament with Jeremiah ‘How is the Gold become dim! How is the most fine Gold changed!’ (Lamentations 4:1).
Jeroboam, of whom as we have noted, Omri was a devoted follower, cunningly removed the sharp line of demarcation that separated the People of God from the People of the World. This dislike for Godly separation from the world is observed today in many ways. For some the reproach of Christ is proving too much, and meeting rooms are assuming denominational titles.
The scriptural simplicity of the Lord’s supper is becoming distasteful to some assemblies, and Family Services and prearranged ministry are being added to almost the only gathering where the ordering is left to the Holy Spirit.
Brethren, by heeding the statutes of men we are departing from the simplicity that is in Christ (2Corinthians 11:3). It behoves all who value the truth to utterly renounce those things which are of men, which have crept and are creeping into assemblies.
In the current ecumenical scene the statutes of men have precedence over the statutes of the Lord, which for us embrace the ‘whole counsel of God;’ the diabolical nature of this world-wide movement is not always fully realised by the Lord’s People. Some of our brethren and sisters in Africa are beginning to feel the pressure of these things, and may it be our exercise to uphold them at the throne of grace, that having done all, they may stand.
We in Britain have just entered the European Common Market, and we are now bound by seemingly indissoluble bonds to countries whose philosophies and outlooks are essentially atheistic. How long we shall be spared the persecution that our brethren in other countries are experiencing we do not know, but may it be the determination of all who read these lines to have done with the statutes of men, and to cleave with purpose of heart to the Good Word of God.
Immediately following the words we have referred to in Micah ch. 6, the Prophet bemoans the fact that there was a lack of fruit ‘There is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the the first ripe fruit’ Ch. 7:1. Brethren is not the lesson plain for all to see, that when the word of God is abandoned in favour of the ‘statutes of Omri.’ There will be no fruit for God whether from the lives of His people, or in the preaching of the Gospel.
May it be our joy in the days that lie ahead to say with godly Jeremiah ‘Thy words were found and I did eat them, and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.’ (Jeremiah 15:16).
How frequently the self-styled sages in the realm of economics proffer to their clients the advice to get their priorities right, to put first things first in order to make certain of material advantages! Wise men are advised to assess possibilities at their true value, and to act accordingly. A slogan banded about suggests that if you do not get your priorities right, you may make the biggest mistake in your life; and the opportunity may not occur again. Shakespeare, in the seventeenth century, put the matter in forceful language :
There’s a tide in the affairs of men
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune ;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
The man who senses the attractive decision and acts immediately for his material advantage is called a successful opportunist, and is applauded by his fellow-aspirants for this world’s wealth. The Christian on the other hand, who allows a financial advantage to pass by because he abhors a shady transaction is dubbed by his less scrupulous business friends a fool, although they admit that by his non-participation in a doubtful affair his character, as well as his reputation, has remained untarnished.
Worldly-minded men calculate success in this transient life in terms of material possessions and physical comforts, as, alas! do some indifferent Christians who forget their heavenly calling; whereas the sensitive man of God acts according to the caution given by the apostle Paul that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Courteousness of that kind is roundly condemned in the Scriptures, and it would be profitable to pursue the subject as touched on in the Sermon on the Mount.
The priority for the disciples of the Kingdom of God is stated succinctly and unmistakably: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (material necessities) shall be added unto you,’ (Matthew 6:33). The onus for responsible action is placed upon the individual disciple who is expected to exercise sensible judgment and get his priority right. Double-mindedness is roundly condemned in the Scriptures, and the apostle James declares that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. ‘No Man’, says the Sermon, ‘can serve two masters; he cannot serve God and Mammon.’ The attempt to do so results in distraction, and precludes that single-mindedness which makes the choice obvious. The verb seek contains the idea of relentless pursuit of a course, seeking with zeal to acknowledge and establish the rule of God in the life. Pursuit by a Christian of a purely material objective introduces disturbing factors into experience, and beclouds the vision of permanent spirited realities. Young Christians setting out in life should be warned of such a danger, and cautioned, lest they err from the faith and pierce themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10), and spiritually find life ‘bound in shallows and in miseries.’ To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
The argument in Matthew chapter six is most interesting. It is in three sections each introduced by the words, ‘Take no thought,’ or ‘Be not anxious.’
Section One, verses 25-30;
Section Two, verses 31-33;
Section Three, verse 34.
As each paragraph is introduced by the deductive word ‘therefore’ the argument of each section is derived from the teaching which has preceded it.
... is dependent upon the previous caution. ‘No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other, ye cannot serve God and Mammon (or money) (Matthew 6:24). The danger confronting the Christian is that of having the desire to cultivate two opposite tendencies. It cannot be done, as many a man has found to his sorrows. Superficialities may be permitted to supplant fundamental realities. The pursuit of the true life, like Paul to be able to say ‘to me to live is Christ,’ is far more important than the provision of luxuries merely for the excessive comfort of the physical frame. The body, the real man, is more important than its adornment. The ‘body’ and the ‘life’ are God’s property. He is the responsible Creator. The provisions of clothing and food is the human responsibility. To be preoccupied with those material comforts to the exclusion of more permanent concerns is an evidence of unworthy anxiety. ‘The life is more than food; and the body more than clothing.’ Thus human experience, for instance as recorded in the Old Testament, has its many lessons for Christians of this age of grace to relieve us of disturbing anxiety, and to teach us reliance upon the God who is both Creator and Father to those who are in the category of disciples. ‘Nothing material is to have supremacy over us. There is a deep sense in which Christians still must live outside their worldly possessions and confess themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’ (W.R. Nicoll).
Nature, too, has its lessons for us. The birds of the air are provided for. They don’t have the faculty to sow, to reap, to earner into barns. They wait upon the bounty of the Creator. We humans, however, have the faculty to do all three, and therefore we should not be improvident; but having the power of foresight, should be free from anxiety about the future. The Lord will provide.
Consider, too, the lilies of the field, the garment with which a beneficent Creator beautifies the countryside. Study the natural phenomena, and the obvious conclusion is that God is lavish in the display of beauty, unparalleled beauty, so that the gorgeous robes of the magnificent Solomon pale into commonplaceness. If God does all that for inanimate nature, and for the lower creatures like ‘the birds of the air,’ is not that sufficient incentive to trust Him to keep His children from corroding anxiety?
Section Two (vv. 31-33).
Here conduct is based upon a religious revelation, (a) The Gentiles who have gods many and lords many are preoccupied with material pursuits. They have no knowledge of the superintending providence of a God who is kindly disposed towards His creatures. So it is true of the worldly man of our day. The World is too much with him; getting and spending he lays waste his powers. His incessant restlessness is a salutary object lesson for those who call themselves Christians, (b) Christians have a heavenly Father. How full of meaning is that designation! He has all the sympathy of a father, and all the power of heaven. He knows what are the essential needs of His children, and He has made provisions for them. In a sense they are not to be like the worldly-minded. They are not to seek those things which others pursue. They are to make them subservient to other pursuits, (c) They are exhorted to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,’ and the promise is given that ‘all these things shall be added unto you.’ They ‘yield themselves to God,’ they establish the rule of God in their hearts. They set up His kingdom in their minds. They hunger and thirst after righteousness. ‘The righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount is the righteousness of the man who has experienced the reign of God in his life. This is the standard by which the disciple of the Lord Jesus is to live. He will attain to it in so far as he has experienced the sovereign reign of God. He is to seek an experience which is completely under divine direction.’ (G. E. Ladd.)
Section Three (v. 34).
The conclusion is obvious. ‘Be, therefore, not anxious about to-morrow; for to-morrow will be anxious for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil (trouble) thereof.’ Conclusion. In an age when all sections of the community are obsessed with the betterment of material things, it is the Christians privilege to manifest that he is of a different spirit by seeking FIRST the kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS, and resting contentedly upon the promises of God.
Night Visions of World Empires and the Time of the End
This chapter and the next tell of visions given to Daniel before the events recorded in the preceding chapters. In Chapter 5 is the record of the overthrow of the Babylonian empire and the death of the vice regent king Belshazzar, and in the next an account of the fidelity, testing and exaltations of Daniel in the reign of Darius the Mede, the conqueror of Babylon. Then Chapter 7 gives an account of a vision given to Daniel in the first year of Belshazzar, whilst the next chapter records a vision given in the third year. In the intervening time it is noteworthy that the aged prophet thought much on these matters, “my thoughts much troubled me, ... but I kept the matter in my heart.” (7:28). Though seeking to understand, and though taught by an angelic messenger, yet the full meaning was obscure, for two years later he wrote “I was astonished at the vision, but there was none to make it understood” (Ch. 8:27). Like him, and like Mary, we too should keep all these savings, pondering them in our hearts,” (Luke 2:19, 51), for we have the blessed assurance that the Holy Spirit of God will lead us into all truth. How much more Mary understood as she stood in anguish before His cross than she did at Bethlehem. Truly “a sword pierced through” her soul. (Luke 2:35). How much more we understand as the Spirit of God reveals to us that world empires are passing, and we are in the days foretold by the angel, “shut up the vision; for it belongeth to many days to come” (8:26), and how we should heed as we see the beginnings of fulfilment. “In the latter time ... when transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance shall stand up ... his power shall be mighty ... but he shall be broken without hand” (8:23, 24, 25). Though Daniel was greatly beloved, though deep and secret things were revealed to him, though he understood much from the writings of the prophets and by setting his face toward the Lord God to seek understanding, by prayer (ch. 9) yet he could not know the “mysteries” revealed to Paul, the “mystery of Christ”... the dispensation of the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:4, 9) the mystery of the church, and God’s purposes for the church.
Almost every commentator agrees that the visions which Daniel had give a further picture of world empires comparable to that given in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in ch. 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s great image with the head of gold portrays man’s viewpoint of world empires in splendour and power, but Daniel’s visions show these world empires from God’s viewpoint as ferocious uncontrollable savage beasts. Certainly the vision of ch. 8 is interpreted by the angel Gabriel as referring to the Persian and Grecian empires.
In Ch. 7 there are three visions, followed by two interpretations the second following Daniel’s request for further understanding. Thus Vision I of three successive beasts, (v. 1-6) Vision II of the next, a fourth terrible beast and the ultimate judgement of this beast, (v. 7-12). Vision III of the establishment of the everlasting dominion of the Son of Man and His glorious kingdom, (v. 13-14).
Before the vision passes, Daniel is so troubled by what he has seen that he turns to one of the angelic beings and asks for an interpretation, and therefore in v. 17-18 is a concise interpretation, which despite its brevity adds details to the account of world empires revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, for it tells of the ultimate blessing of the saints of the Most High (v. 17-18). Following the request for more explanation of the vision of the fourth beast (v. 19-22), a second detailed interpretation is given (v. 23-28).
Whilst the terms “the great sea” is used in scripture to refer to the Mediterranean (e.g. Josh. 1:4, Num: 34:6), it is not necessarily the sea which Daniel saw in the vision, for the sea is often used to typify nations as in Rev. 17:15; “the waters ... are peoples, and multitudes, and nations and tongues” whilst Isaiah speaks of “the uproar of many peoples ... like the roaring of the sea ... rushing of nations that rush like mighty waters” (Isaiah 17:12). In contrast to the picture in ch. 2, the first three beasts are described rather briefly, but it is generally understood that the first beast, a lion with eagles wings, portrays the majestic power and ferocious swiftness of the Babylonian emperor in subduing all the surrounding nations. But the eagle’s wings were plucked, and the lion like beast stood unsteadily as a man on two feet. The ferocity waned as the empire passed, and energies were turned from conquest and devoted to building of palaces. There is probably also, in this phrase, reference to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar.
The second beast, the bear, strong cruel cunning but less powerful and courageous than the lion aptly symbolises the Medo-Persian power. The power of Media, initially greater than that of Persia is indicated by the phrase “it was raised upon one side” (margin-one dominion) v. 5. The three ribs suggests three provinces already subdued before Babylon and its empire were crushed, as indicated by the word “devour much flesh.” Both the beast and the metal of the arms and chest of the image suggest inferiority to the first beast or head of gold.
The four winged leopard like beast is a fitting symbol for the meteoric rapidity of the rise of Alexander the great and his swift conquests to establish the Grecian empire. The astounding success of the military campaigns gives force to the word “dominion was given to it” (v. 6). Behind the ambitions of a youthful ruler was the hand of the Mighty Ruler of the Universe, constraining and restraining. After being proclaimed world emperor and receiving divine acclamation, Alexander died whilst still in his early thirties as a result of licentious debauchery, and the empire was divided between his four generals, as indicated by the four heads of the beast. Further detail concerning this division is given in the next chapter where four notable horns spring up towards the four winds of heaven after the great horn was broken, (ch. 8:8), Thus Cassander took control of Mace-don and Greece, Seleucius of Syria and Upper Asia, Lysi-machus of Asia Minor and Thrace whilst Ptolemy took possession of Egypt, Palestine and Arabia.
Babylon was overthrown, then the Medo-Persian empire in turn was absorbed by the Grecian, the lion, the bear, the leopard. About a century before our Lord came, the Roman armies were growing in power and soon subdued the world.
This is the new power Daniel sees. So awesome is the fourth beast that no known wild animal can be used as a symbol. It was “terrible and powerful and strong exceedingly,” (v. 7). Its iron teeth and brazen feet devour and crush and stamp down the whole earth. The far reaching dominion and the ruthless brutality of the Roman empire of the Caesars is well symbolised by this beast, but whilst the three world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece have passed away, it is evident that the fulfilment of the vision of the fourth beast is yet future. The might of Rome devoured and broke in pieces, but the ten kingdoms which are symbolised by the ten horns have yet to be made manifest, and the little horn which arose later still is evidently yet future.
The brief interpretation given to Daniel by one of the angelic beings before the throne is insufficient to settle his grief concerning the visions, stating only that the four beasts represent four despotic rules; the king and his kingdom are synonymous in the interpretation, for whilst v. 17 says four kings, v. 23 says kingdoms. This is a feature of kingdoms controlled by a despotic power, the ruler is the state. There is the promise given however, which brings hope despite the fierce control of the beasts, for “the saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdom for ever” (v. 18). Many varied applications have been given to the phrase “saints of the Most High” suggesting that they are angelic beings, or even those of whom Paul writes in Eph. 2. as sitting with the Lord in heavenly places, but this latter should be the present everyday experience of the Lord’s people in this dispensation. As the angel interpreter speaks of these saints in verses 22 and 25, where they are seen suffering from the fierceness of the creature represented by the little horn during the three and a half years of the tribulation until “judgement was given to the saints of the Most High,” it appears that the reference is to the faithful remnant of tribulation saints.
In the first Corinthian Epistle Paul states “It is required ... that a man be found faithful” (4:2). It has rightly been said that in Christianity nothing is optional and here the Apostle uses the word “required.” In Acts 6 we read of a man, Stephen, the first martyr, undoubtedly faithful of whom it is said that he in the supreme act of faithfulness was “full of faith.” The two expressions, however, though closely related, are not synonymous. Indeed, again in the first chapter of that same epistle, Paul says for our comfort and establishment “God is faithful” although we should hardly apply to Him the idea of being full of faith. Faithfulness would seem to involve adverse circumstances of pressure in an unsympathetic atmosphere where there is the temptation to take an easier way out but withal a determination to be true to that which one professes. In God Himself there is always that unchanging consistency on which His people can rely in spite of all the exigencies of the pathway here below.
In ministry generally (quite rightly, of course) great stress is laid on the Christian virtues of love, grace, kindliness and peace, features which though in scarce supply generally in this world may be appreciated by many. How perfectly balanced in the Lord Jesus were all things, “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” These aforementioned features may at times be clouded by much sentimentality in which the “salt” is lacking. In our own day particularly there is a crying need for this great element of faithfulness: it is a day marked by apostasy in the professing church and much departure and weakening of the authority of the inspired Word of God. A simple yet significant evidence of this is seen in the increasing habit of the presence at meetings for prayer of women wearing no covering on the head and in some places engaging in public prayer audibly and in ministry, a lead expressly forbidden in the Scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34 and elsewhere). If at times a voice is raised in such matters the cry goes up “but we shall lose our young people if we speak to them of these things.”
We tend perhaps to think of faithfulness in the context of our witness to those outside and to the world at large and of course in these spheres it has great relevance. It can, however, be more testing and difficult, calling for greater courage, in the circle of the people of God and in the immediate company where fellowshp is enjoyed. It is clear that faithfulness to God is directly linked with adherence to the Scriptures both individually and in a collective capacity. In a Court of Law, ignorance of the law of the land cannot constitute a defence of any transgression; similarly the believer may be expected to be acquainted with the terms of the New Testament. Paul’s two epistles to Timothy are of outstanding importance in this connection: in the Second our own times, “the last days,” are clearly envisaged. Among many exhortations, the apostle urges his beloved protege in respect of the Word to become a workman needing not to be ashamed and then (2 Timothy 2:2) to commit “the things thou hast heard of me to faithful men” who in turn should hand on the charge to a line of faithful men able to instruct others also. We may well thank God that in His own faithfulness He has raised up men in the darkest times to continue the testimony: a Luther to deliver Christians from Romish error and to recover the truth of justification by faith alone. Even then, at the time of the Reformation and onwards, the clerical principle was not overthrown.
It has been rightly stated that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and this is certainly true in the history of the Church on earth. The devil attacks unceasingly, often, alas, with much success. In the first half of the last century there took place a movement of the Holy Spirit, operating as always in these days through exercised and faithful men, for the recovery of the truth of the priesthood of the believer, involving the according to that same Spirit in a practical way the place that is His due. Much conflict has ensued during the years that have intervened and in our own days there remains the constant danger of erosion of the principle. There is need of much prayer and diligence and that faithful “men of God” be raised up to preserve both for God and for His people Church principles which have been handed down to us in these last days, marked in general by much departure from God and the truth of His holy word.
IN our contemplation of the “Hebrew” Epistle, there are a number of basic principles which must be taken into consideration. The letter is not a treatise for the Hebrew people, in general, but for that company of Hebrew Christians who have abandoned Judaism for Christianity and who are now associated in assembly capacity according to New Testament teaching.
The background of the Epistle is, The Tabernacle and its Typical Teaching, consequently some knowledge of God’s ways with His ancient people as to their Redemption out of Egypt and their ultimate wilderness experience must be known. It is with this assumption that these facts are fully known by his hearers, that the writer of the Epistle bases his teaching as he seeks to turn the language of Ritual into the language of Reality, thus showing the Glowing Glories of the Substance in contrast to the Glimmerings of the Shadow.
The salvation he so often mentions is not the Salvation of the Soul, but the Salvation of the Life. He is not dealing so much with their beginning as the People of God, but with their present experience and prospective expectation. The Salvation of the Soul is assumed as being past; Redemption for them has been accomplished by the shedding and application of Paschal Blood in Egypt and they are now, so far as the penal consequences of sin are concerned “The Saved of the Lord.”
Salvation in the Scriptures is seen in a three-fold fashion: Saved from Sin’s Penalty, Saved from Sin’s Power, and ultimately Saved from Sin’s Presence. The Perilous Penalty of the Past is gone forever and opening up for them is the Present Progressiveness of the Path, with the Prospective Permanent Position always in view. They are saved, they are being saved and they are going to be saved. Thus the Position and the Prospect of the People of God in the Past is compared and contrasted with the Position and Prospect of the People of God today: In the Past it was the “Good”, in the Present it is the “Best” and so the “Best” is contrasted with the “Good,” and the question raised. Why be content with the “Good” when the “Best” could now be theirs?
The Epistle opens with the assurance that the God who has spoken in the Past is the same God who now speaks in the Present—He is “The Eternal God.” There have been a variety of ways in which he has revealed Himself unto the sons of men; most of His revealings in the past have been fragmentary because of the finite character of the vessel to whom the revelation came; even the best of men are merely men at the best, and God could only unfold that which they had capacity to contain, but how the Fullness of Divine Revelation can be made through one in whom all the Fullness dwells.
John in his writings tells us that no one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him—He hath “Exegeted” Him, for that is the meaning of the word “declared.” Exegesis is to bring into visibility that which has always been there, but has not always been visible. Matthew also tells us of the statement of the Lord Jesus Himself when He said “No one knoweth the Son save the Father, neither knoweth anyone the Father save the Son, and to whomsoever he is willing to reveal him” (Matthew 11, v. 27). Thus, the great unfoldings of this epistle are the unfoldings that only the Son could give, because all the Fullness was resident in Him: The Fullness of Prophesy, the Fullness of Kingship, and the Fullness of Priesthood. A fragmentary knowledge of these things had been revealed in the past, as God had spoken unto the fathers through the prophets, but now in all the fullness of their finality they have been made known through His Son. The writer then seeks to express the Superlative Superiority of the Son, the Supreme Sufficiency that is His, as compared and contrasted with the great ones of the past. Greater than all the prophets, greater than angels, greater than Moses and greater than Abraham or Aaron. These all have had their moments of splendour and glory and like the stars have illuminated the scene with the limited light which they possessed, but now, the sun having risen, the stars withdraw. The limited light which has been diffused in its limited character has now given place to the light of the full knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is undoubtedly a soul gladdening experience to be able to look at Him in all the variegated splendours of His Multicoloured Manifestations as He is presented for our Consideration, our Contemplation, and our Spiritual Discrimination. As “Jesus,” He is presented eight times, as “Jesus the Son,” once, as “Jesus Christ,” three times, and as “Lord Jesus,” once. Eight times He is seen as “Christ” and ten times He is presented as “Son,” thus in this variegated character we are called up to “Consider Him.”
In chapter one, He is seen as Son in a threefold way: in verse two, it is His Character as “Son,” His Dignity ; in verse five, it is “My Son,” His Declared Relationship, and in verse eight, it is “The Son,” His Deity. See the multi-coloured facets of His Dignity in the character of “Son” and what a son. Heir of all things, the creator of the ages, the effulgence of God’s Glory, the exact Expression of His Substance, and the upholder of all things by the word of His Power, the great Sin Purger, and the Exalted Son at the Right Hand of the Mighty Majesty in the Highest. “Who is like unto thee among the mighty ones, who is like unto thee, Glorious in Holiness, Fearful in Praises doing wonders” (Exodus 15:11). Thus, the Greatness and the Glory of the Son in the perfectness of these dignified qualities are now made known to us in all His Superiority as Son that, while others might Wonder and Perish, we, might Wonder, and Worship Him.
My Son, His Declared Relationship: Angels are sons by Creation and that collectively. We are sons by Redemption, but He is Son in all the uniqueness of an Eternal Generation unbegun. The Only Son is the Eternal Son, and as such shares equality with each of the other Persons in the Godhead: It was because of this claim that the Jews sought to kill Him for in so doing He was making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18 and John 10:29-33). As He moved in the consciousness of this relationship, it was His Constant Claim “I do always those things that please Him” (the Father). Associated with this we have the Spirit’s Comment “even Christ pleased not Himself” and in His acknowledgment of this we have the Father’s Corroboration “My Son in whom I am well pleased.” I understand that the phrase used by the Father “I am well pleased” is in the constative aorist tense and carries with it the idea that I am, and have been, and will always continue to be “well pleased with Him.” Surely this covers more than time.
11. Father of all believers. 13. Heir of the world, thro’ faith.
17. Quickened by faith and became father of many nations (those of faith).
3:6. Believed and justified
8. “In thee all nations blessed.”
10. Curse of the law.
11. “Just shall live by faith.”
14. Blessing of Ab. on Gentiles and promise of the Spirit.
16. Covenant and Seed (Christ).
18. Inheritance by promise.
4:22. Two sons and mothers (bond and free)
24. Two covenants.
25. Two mountains.
27. Two mothers.
29. Enmity between them.
11:8. Call and sojourning
11. Sarah’s conception.
12. Multitude from “the dead.”
17. Offering up of Isaac. 19. Isaac “raised up”
6:13. Oath consequent on above.
7:1-10 Abraham and Melchizedek.
BONDAGE TO THE LAW
BONDAGE TO THE FLESH
BONDAGE TO RELIGION
Mr. Borland in his article in July/August Assembly Testimony “Some Aspects of Discipleship,” writes, “often trivial matters are permitted to be a cause of dissension, as in the case of Barnabas and Paul when they contemplated a second missionary journey. They differed over the defection of John Mark when he abandoned them on the first journey.”
Does it not do a great injustice to Barnabas and Paul to state that these men of God “who had hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” finally departed asunder the one from the other over “a trivial matter,” this “TRIVIAL MATTER” being the defection of John Mark.
Perhaps a closer look at his defection may reveal something Paul felt to be fundamental to the “truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). The following points may throw some light on the defection of John Mark.
He was Peter’s ‘‘son in the faith.” (1 Peter 5:13)
Peter was a well-known visitor at John Mark’s home (Acts 12: vs. 12-14).
It would not be stretching things too far to suggest that Mark was influenced by Peter. Most commentaries agree that Mark’s Gospel is the Petrine gospel.
The type of man Peter was is summed up in his own words to Cornelius “Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.” (Acts 10:28). Whilst it is true that “God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7) yet Galatians 2: vs. 7-9 indicate that Peter’s gospel ministry was to the circumcision.
Despite the fact that Peter had received such a vision from heaven as is recorded in Acts 10: vs. 9-16, yet he never fully learned the lesson that the Gentiles were on exactly the same footing as the Jew, “God putting no difference between us and them:” (Acts 15:9) He only paid lip service to these beliefs as witness Galatians 2: vs. 11-12. To some it only appeared that he was changing his seat from one table to another, but to the discerning eye of Paul it was “the truth of the gospel” that was being attacked. And notice the outcome v. 13 “insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulations.” Bearing in mind such a background i.e. “a son” of Peter and a nephew of Barnabas may we not at least suggest that he had been influenced in his thinking by these men. Taking a look at Acts 13 we notice that they first preached in “the synagogue of the Jews” and note the following phrase, “and they had John as their attendant (v. 5). There was no difficulty there as John Mark ministered among the Jews. But their next contact is not with Jews but with a Gentile, the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus. This is a most interesting incident and should be studied well; indeed it may well set the pattern for Paul’s future ministry, i.e. the blinding of the Jew (v. 11) and the conversion of the Gentile (v. 12). What Elymas the Jew did in Acts 13:8 his fellow countrymen repeated time after time (See Acts 13:45; 14:2). Is it not significant that hard upon the conversion of the Gentile in v. 12 comes the terse statement in v. 13 “and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” There is no suggestion in this section of Acts 13 that there was violent opposition to these servants; this did not happen till later on as v. 50 would indicate. It doesn’t say much for Mark if “he found the going too hard for him” in the light of what is revealed in Acts 13:5-13.
So then the defection of Mark may have been more serious than some would suggest; and for this reason Paul would not have him while he still shewed the tendencies exhibited by Peter and Barnabas in Galatians 2. This was still very fresh in the mind of Paul when the dissension took place at the close of Acts 15.
Having said all the above, it is difficult to see how the incident between Paul and Barnabas could be used as an illustration of “the mote and the beam.” Was “the beam” in Paul’s eye or in the eye of Barnabas? And who would dare suggest that any of these two men were “hypocrites” (Matt. 7:5). The man with “the beam in his eye” is almost invariably a carnal man who continually criticises the spiritual man for his small faults, yet he himself is totally blind to his true condition.