Amalgamation or Separation
From Ephesus to Laodicea
W. E. Earl
The Path of Faith
A. T. Stewart
Gleanings from John 17
J. K. Duff
AMALGAMATION OR SEPARATION
By WM. BUNTING
Having shown in our last paper how weak and unsatisfactory are the popular arguments frequently advanced in favour of our uniting in service with the denominations, we now propose to suggest certain undesirable elements which are essentially involved in this practice. It will be found that where scriptural teaching upon godly separation is disregarded and saints who gather in the Lord’s Name make common cause with one or other of the systems of Christendom (whether it be the worldly, sacredotal congregation or the more conservative evangelical mission), that the following results will sooner or later inevitably manifest themselves. This intermingling:
MISTAKES THE TRUE AIM OF THE CHRISTIAN.
What is the true aim of the Christian? What is his highest goal? If it be to win souls, then, it may be argued with a semblance of truth, that every other interest, such for instance, as assembly responsibility, should go by the board, in order that this end may be achieved. Great and important as the work of evangelism is, however, the Scriptures make it perfectly clear that for the Christian there is a service nobler even than winning souls. It is that of living so as to glorify God. This is the saint’s loftiest ambition. It it be asked how this can best be done, the answer is, by implicit obedience to His holy will as revealed in His Word. “Greater joy have I none than this.” declared the Apostle John, “to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4. R.V.). This, of course, will include soul-winning, but it includes much more.
It is here, we suggest, that many of the Lord’s people err. They think that the presence of blessing upon evangelistic work, regardless of how or by whom it is conducted, is quite sufficient ground to justify them in identifying themselves with it They overlook the fact that God in His sovereignty can bless His spoken Word, though the speaker may not be in fellowship with Him at all. Repeatedly the Holy Spirit has shed abroad the light of salvation through texts of Scripture quoted by unconverted Roman Catholic priests. Would that be a valid reason before God for our uniting with such men or with the system they represent? “An outward show of fruitfulness in the way of many professing conversion at our meetings,” wrote the late Mr. W. Rodgers, “is no guarantee that we are walking in a path pleasing to the Lord. When Moses in his disobedience of Num. 20 struck the rock, it is stated that ‘the water came out abundantly,’ which is more than is said in Ex. 17, on the occasion when he acted in strict obedience.” “The presence of blessing,” says Mr. P. Parsons in a recent and timely paper in “The Believer’s Magazine,” “is not in itself a ground for our association with a movement. Moses marred a pattern when he struck, instead of speaking to, the rock (Numbers 20:7-12). In spite of his act of disobedience, the water of life flowed to a vast multitude, but the incident showed what importance God attaches to a pattern, for Moses was then excluded from entry into Canaan. Later, the’ reprobate Balaam was the instrument of blessing (Num. 22:24). Although blessing flowed in both instances, no godly person would wish to associate himself with either Moses or Balaam on such occasions. God attaches great importance to the pattern which He has given us, in the Church Epistles, for His people, and it can be ignored or marred only to our loss ultimately, although there may be blessing at the time.” “And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5. R.V.).
There is another side to this. Experience teaches that much of the interdenominational evangelistic work, about which there is usually a great blowing of trumpets, and which therefore attracts unwary Christians in assemblies, is of the evanescent kind which fizzles out in a short time and proves to be not a work of God at all. Mass-production of converts which leaves a district or town full of empty false professors is not only soul-destroying, but also God-dishonouring. We greatly err if we mistake this type of work for real blessing from the Lord. Let us in all humility adhere to the Divine pattern, put our best into the work, and keep our hearts aglow with the love of Christ. We shall then prove that God will not pass by Scriptural assemblies, but will grant them true and permanent blessing. On .the other hand, no wilful departure from the New Testament pattern can possibly have upon it the abiding blessing of God, whatever present appearances may be.
LINKS THE ASSEMBLY WITH THE RELIGIOUS WORLD.
There are aspects of professed Christian fellowship of which the Lord decidedly disapproves. With jealous care He warns His people against the peril of wrong associations. The individual who would be a vessel “meet for the Master’s use” must “purge himself’ from all forbidden company (2 Tim. 2:20. Much more, therefore, must the assembly—“the temple of the living God”—remain free and detached from every system which by its principles and practices is not true to the teaching of Scripture. It is far from the Lord’s will that little companies of saints “without the camp” (Heb. 13:13) should yet maintain a link of fellowship with the camp. The whole trend of New Testament teaching is opposed to such a thought. Yet the attendance of individual saints from assemblies at sectarian meetings, whether to assist in them or merely to pay courtesy visits, is the forging of such a link. Christians who thus run to and fro form a bridge between denominationalism and that which in the Lord’s Name professes to be a distinct testimony against it. Could anything be more incongruous? In the case of a particular assembly, the strength of the link thus formed will, of course, depend upon the percentage of its members that participates in such visits and upon the frequency with which the visits are made. Whether the link be strong or weak, however, it certainly is not of God, and in the course of, time it will produce complications of a most serious and unhappy nature.
IS A CONTRADICTION OF WHAT WE PROFESSED WHEN WE CAME INTO ASSEMBLY FELLOWSHIP.
The Word of God affords us many examples of men who lived to contradict by their conduct what they had said and done for God in an earlier day. Gideon, for example, stood nobly for the abolition of idolatry in Israel as a young man (Jud. 6), yet before he died reintroduced that horrible evil (Jud. 8). King Saul “put away those that had familiar spirits’’ (1 Sam. 28:3), yet in an hour of distress afterwards had himself recourse to a witch at Endor,( Peter, having learned that there was “no difference” between saved Gentiles and saved Jews (Acts 15:9), ate with the Gentile Christians at Antioch (Gal. 2:12). yet out of fear he a little later “withdrew and separated himself” from them. These men all acted so as to contradict the very cause which in earlier and better days they had espoused and defended. To quote Paul’s words to Peter upon the occasion referred to. they “builded again the things which they destroyed,” thereby constituting themselves “transgressors” (Gal. 2:18). Is not this precisely what the practice under review amount to? When we came into the assembly we did so because we had learned that it was scripturally constituted, and that therefore the various sects were unscriptural. If now we are right in joining up with those sects, we thereby proclaim that we were wrong in leaving them. The one action contradicts the other. If the truth of God brought us out. can it be the truth that leads us in again? and if such soul-destroying errors as baptismal regeneration, the sacrament, clericalism, and modernism be so dishonouring to our beloved Lord, why should we lend our support to build up the systems which promulgate them? It is quite absurd to say that our presence does not do so. Most decidedly it does. “If I build again the things which I destroyed, 1 make myself a transgressor” (Gal. 2:18).
LEADS TO UNWORTHY COMPROMISE.
In personal matters the Christian must not rigorously insist upon his rights. Meekness and a willingness to yield to the preferences of others are to characterise his spirit. In matters of Divine principle which involve our stewardship to God, however, it is to be otherwise. “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Paul, the author of these words, testified that he himself “shrank not from declaring the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Now, can brethren who visit the denominations and fraternise with the clergy bear such a testimony? Is there not on their part a great tendency to tone down the truth? Indeed, is there not a tacit understanding that certain subjects will not be introduced at all? We suggest that if there were less compromise there would be fewer invitations to occupy sectarian pulpits. We would also point out that to go to hear sectarian speakers also involves one in compromise. The moment we enter a meeting convened under the auspices of a denomination, we thereby give our support to all that denomination stands for. To endorse or condone its principles, however, is to compromise the position of God’s assembly and the truth it should uphold (1 Tim. 3:15). for it is morally impossible to be true at one and the same time to two opposing principles. By such willingness to co-operate we may shun a little reproach, but how can such weak yielding of truth be regarded by “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14) only as moral cowardice and unfaithfulness to our trust? Indeed, it will be so regarded even by those for whose sake we compromise, for few have any real respect for a person who is not true to what he or she professes.
GIVES RISE TO UNPLEASANT AND EMBARRASSING SITUATIONS.
Even if, for the sake of peace, certain unpalatable truths be suppressed, experience shows that only by continuous care and vigilance can happy and harmonious co-operation in service with the systems be maintained. Where at heart there are divided judgments, relations will sooner or later almost certainly become strained. Discordant elements which may lie dormant for a time, will eventually exert and manifest themselves. “Can two walk (or work) together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Mr. W. E. Earl, Norwich, has told of a Norfolk assembly which united with denominational Christians in open-air work. Differences, however, soon showed themselves. “Speakers cancelled one another out in their messages” and it was found better to discontinue the work. Even if God blesses united efforts and souls are saved, this will but add to the difficulties. Where, for instance, are the new-born souls to be directed? Are they to be left to drift into unscriptural associations, to sit under a ministry which in all probability is not only lifeless but mixed with error? Are we to allow them to use their influence to bolster up the false position of the priestly caste, without teaching them the right ways of the Lord? Surely not. Yet if an effort be made to instruct them in New Testament principles, that will meet with strong, and in many cases bitter, opposition, and a most embarrassing situation will present itself. How in such circumstances can we expect the work to prosper, since it is where there is “unity” that blessing is promised (Ps. 133:1)? In view of such probable friction, surely common sense agrees with Scripture in recommending the wisdom of working with those who in aim and method see eye to eye with us. Especially is this the case, since there is scope enough in the assemblies for the exercise of of whatever ability the Lord may have given us, so that our usefulness need not be at all curtailed. Let it not be thought, however, that in speaking thus we mean to judge unkindly the Lord’s people from whom for the truth’s sake we separate. They may in all sincerity be walking up to the light they have received. Let us, therefore, manifest towards them a loving and gracious spirit, and heartily thank God if He gives them fruit in the Gospel, but let us keep ourselves free from every embarrassment to do our work upon the lines so clearly marked out in the New Testament.
WEAKENS THE HANDS OF THE ASSEMBLY.
The assembly is a body in which each member has a function to perform (1 Cor. 12:14-31). It is axiomatic, therefore, that if the spiritual strength of a number of members be dissipated upon outside interests, the power of the corporate testimony for effective witness will accordingly be impaired. The life of the church will not be fully developed. Its operations will be deficient and unsatisfactory and a vigorous Gospel witness will become impossible. That this situation is acutely felt in certain quarters cannot be doubted. “We are faced to-day,” said the late Mr. C. S. Kent, in “Whither Are We Drifting ?” “with the extraordinary spectacle of comparatively strong assemblies finding difficulty in manning their work through the absorption of their members with service outside the assembly. And oftentimes, that service is of a ‘free lance’ or ‘dead end’ character, with which no scripturally-constituted assembly should have fellowship.” “Close and careful observation,” he further says, “leads me to a definite and profound conviction that the assemblies of to-day (if stronger numerically) are becoming weaker and weaker through this diffusion of activities,’’
It may seem a light thing to some to weaken the hands of godly brethren, who with much soul exercise and amidst many discouragements are seeking to build according to Scripture, but it is with disapproval that the Lord views it (Ezra 4:4; Neh. 6:9). Such brethren deserve our wholehearted and disinterested support.
SETS A BAD EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS.
Scripture has much to say about the power of example. “None of us liveth to himself” (Rom. 14:7). Peter’s action to which we have already referred not only swayed the Jews, but so influenced Barnabas, the companion of Paul, that he “also was carried away with their dissimulation” (Gal. 2:13). The practice we are presently considering stands condemned upon this ground also. It is a had example. Here is a case in point. After much searching of heart, a well-known brother was about to sever his connections as a Baptist, to meet with fellow-saints in a near-by assembly. Just then two brethren from that assembly came and conducted the Sunday evening service in his congregation. This so acted as a balm to the brother’s conscience that for many months thereafter he remained disobedient to the Lord. The obvious lesson is that if we are to help others out of unscriptural systems, we must keep out of them ourselves. You do not get into a basket in order to lift it, do you? Further, think of the bad example this intermingling is to saints in the assemblies. If elders and teachers “remove the ancient landmark’’ between truth and error “which our fathers set” (Prov. 22:28) by frequenting the sects, need we wonder if some, especially the young, follow them? Is this how to be “ensamples to the flock”? What would be the result if all in the assembly were to follow them? Again, is there not the danger that “this liberty” may “become a stumbling-block to them that are weak” (1 Cor. 8:9) in that their conscience will be “emboldened” (v. 10) to participate in ecclesiastical ceremonies and performances which our more mature knowledge tells us would be sinful? We perhaps think we know where to draw the line, they almost certainly do not.
It is true, the subject matter of 1 Cor. 8 has to do with the eating of certain meats, rather than with our church position, but the principle there enjoined cannot be dispensed with upon that ground. It is to govern our attitude towards others in every relationship of life. It is much to be feared that the present dissipation of energy, laxitv as to Divine principles, and ignorance of the distinctive character of the local church as a testimony for God, are to be traced directly to the example of certain modern teachers in assemblies, who, judging by some of their utterances as well as their associations, have never learned the truth themselves, and who instead of being “ensamples to the flock,” are using their influence to lead the saints back to spiritual-Babylon.
FORFEITS THE CONFIDENCE OF GODLY BRETHREN.
In view of all the foregoing, it follows that godly saints who are anxious to preserve a scriptural testimony, cannot but feel disappointed, and have their confidence sadly shaken, in brethren who engage in the practice we have been considering. How. indeed, could they feel otherwise? If I, professing myself to hold the truth which i know is dear to my brethren and which has cost some of them a high price, am prepared to sell that truth for the sake of more preaching engagements, a little popularity and applause, or some such trifle, can I in all fairness expect to retain their respect and confidence? Yet should not the confidence of godly brethren be cherished as one of our most precious possessions? Certainly once it is forfeited, it may not be easily or speedily regained, as is illustrated in the case of Paul and John Mark (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41). and the loss is one for which nothing that this world affords can possibly recompense the child of God.
MEANS THE FORFEITURE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD.
If, having learned from the Word that our place is “without the camp–’ of the world’s religious organisations, we return, even temporarily, to build up those organisations, we thereby lose a good conscience. Whether we act out of willful defiance or in weak compliance, this means that we grieve the Lord and forfeit fellowship with Him. We may not admit this. We may try to hide it even from ourselves or. indeed, we may be quite ignorant of it. Samson “wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Jud. 16:20). In time, however, it will become manifest that our power is gone. The engine may still run though the steam is turned off, but not for long. Some, alas, who once had the dew of heaven upon their ministry, have since they began to seek a wider sphere, lost their freshness and become empty and verbose.
To abide by what the Word teaches, therefore, irrespective of what others do or of what present appearances may be, is our only safe path. The wear and tear of practical experience fully justify the wisdom of that godly separation enjoined in Scripture. To depart from the clearly defined principles of the New Testament, however pleasing and popular that may be. or however great the seeming blessing it may temporarily yield, can ultimately produce only the most disastrous results.
The fourth chapter of Ezra gives us an instance of a specious overture on the part of Judah’s adversaries, which, though apparently friendly, had to be firmly declined. They came to Zerubbabel saying, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God, as ye do.” The converse side of this picture is more frequent to-day, viz., “Come and build with us.” At the risk of being misunderstood, however, the attitude of those leaders should, in spirit, be ours now —“Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.”
Those who go to build up what is not according to Scripture certainly gain nothing thereby, but as we have seen:
- They mistake the true aim of the Christian;
- They link the assembly with the religious world;
- They contradict what they once professed:
- They compromise the truth;
- They occasion embarrassing situations;
- They weaken the assembly;
- They set a bad example;
- They forfeit the confidence of godly brethren;
- They lose fellowship with God, which is the greatest loss of all.
FROM EPHESUS TO LAODICEA
By Mr. W. E. EARL
It is generally agreed that the letters to the seven assemblies in Asia give to us a brief prophetic outline of the changing spiritual state of the Church of God during its long sojourn on earth, until the Lord comes. The journey from Ephesus is seen to be one of gradual spiritual decline until Laodicea is reached, when the light of its testimony in the world fades out altogether. It is the history of back-sliding Israel repeated in that of the Church, and therefore, written for our learning and admonition iu these closing days of the Church dispensation.
The Lord is seen in the midst of the golden lampstands, clothed in His priestly robes, and faithful to His gracious promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). How blessed and encouraging to know, in storm or calm, sunshine or shadow, He is with His redeemed Church “unto the end of the age,” and therefore for us remains “Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” His eyes “as a flame of fire,” search to the innermost recesses of every heart—“I know thy works,” says He. How graciously He first commends that which gives Him pleasure before rebuking what He sees to be blameworthy. There was much to commend, but all was marred because they had left their first love to Himself, which deeply grieved Him. He loved them dearly, for had He not given Himself at Calvary to redeem them, and was He not therefore worthy of their love in return? Though their love was declining, however. His love for them remained the same.
How He values our love! No service, however zealous, can take its place with Him. “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me ?” When Peter affirms his love, then He enjoins upon him to “feed My sheep.” Love must come first—from it all true service flows (1 Cor. 13). When our love grows cold, backsliding comes in. How solemn are His words, “Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works”! How sad for Ephesus, the brightest of the assemblies, thus to have fallen! Who can tell the depth to which a child of God may morally and spiritually fall, or an assembly decline in spiritual power when out of fellowship with the Lord! There must be a return to Himself for spiritual recovery. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb 3:12). How needful is this warning for us to-day!
Let us pass over the intervening assemblies and come to Laodicea. Here the spiritual corruption seen working incipiently in the other assemblies, comes to a head. Outwardly all seemed prosperous. There was much activity, and they considered themselves to be a rich, well-to-do assembly, but they were self-centred, and thoroughly worldly. The Lord was outside of it all. Truly “little is much when God is in it,” and much is little when He is out of it 1 The test of all true service is its quality, not quantity. At the bema of Christ the gold, silver, and precious stones of service, all that is of Himself, Who is the Church’s one foundation, will abide and be rewarded, but the bulky wood, hay, and stubble will dissolve in the searching test of the fire (1 Cor. 3). There is not one word of commendation given them!
Ephesus had fallen from first love, but Laodicea had no true love what ever for the Lord she professed to serve. Luke-warm. He threatens to “spew her out of His mouth”! How solemn! He faithfully exposes to them their real spiritual poverty, as being “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” What a pitiful condition to be found in, although the apostle Paul had sent them his soul-inspiring epistles, to lead them onward and upward to the risen, glorified Christ, exhorting them to set their affections above, where He is seated, the place of their high and heavenly calling! (Col. 4:16). Yet, amazing grace, He still loved them! “As many as 1 love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent.” Again. He says to them, “I counsel thee to buy of Me, gold tried in the Are, that thou mayest be rich . . .” How lovingly He seeks to call them back to Himself! If. however, they will not return, then He appeals to each individual saint—“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” What words of ineffable love, and gentle patience!
Those cities now lie in ruins, and the lampstands no longer bum brightly there, but the messages to them, from their glorified Lord, remain with us for our encouragement and warning, as the darkness increases, and the coming of our Lord draws ever nearer, “Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
As we wait in hope, may we, by His grace, hold fast, at all costs, to His faithful Word, and not deny His Name.
THE PATH OF FAITH
AS SEEN IN ABRAHAM
By Mr. A. T. STEWART, Detroit
It has been pointed out again and again that Heb. 11 is God’s picture gallery of the heroes of faith — mighty men. and women too, who proved the power of faith in their lives. Abraham stands out preeminently in this chapter, being referred to twice and occupying verses 8 to 10 and 17 to 19.
We might look at some five things in connection with the path of faith as seen in Abraham, which I believe will strengthen our faith in these dark and difficult days.
- IT WAS A PATH OF SEPARATION. Abraham is called to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house. Separation from the world to-day — political, social and religious — is the call of God to His people. Some would tell us that 2 Cor. 6:17 does not mean to come out from the religious sects and systems around us, seeing these did not exist in the days of the apostles. 2 Tim. 3:1-6 proves otherwise. The professing Church is there seen linked up with the world, “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” The call of God is, “from such turn away.” Surely this is separation!
- IT WAS A PATH OF OBEDIENCE (v. 8). At the call of God. Abraham obeyed and went out. not knowing whither he went, Faith and obedience are united, as unbelief and disobedience are joined together in connection with Saul, the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:22). It is true Abraham failed in the beginning and slopped at Haran until his father died (Gen. 11:32). HaIfway houses are a great hindrance to God’s people, especially young Christians. The writer himself stopped at one of these places, and later, left it in obedience to the Word of God.
- IT WAS A PATH OF TESTING AND TRIAL. Abraham seems to have set his heart on Ishmael (Gen. 17:IX:21:11). It was grievous in his sight to see Ishmael cast out. but he bowed to the Word of God. In ch. 22. when he is called to offer up his only son. he conferred not with flesh and blood, but again bowed to God’s will. He believed God could raise Isaac from the dead, and he did receive him back in a figure (Heb. 11:19). His faith “stood not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). What an example for us!
- IT WAS A LONELY PATH. Abraham was a stranger in the land of promise (Heb. 11:9). The tent and altar made him a stranger and pilgrim. As such he treated the inhabitants of the land with the utmost courtesy and paid for all he received from them. See Gen. 23.
How many drift with the current because they haven’t got the moral courage to stand alone! Paul in a later day was left alone (2 Tim. 4:16), but he adds. “The Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” He will do the same for us to-day. Let us not fear to trust Him with the whole heart.
- IT WAS A PATH OF VICTORY. The sight of “the God of glory,” as we read in Acts 7:2-4. seems to have left an indelible mark upon his soul. and. like the Thessalonians in a later day, he “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” No doubt there was failure in his ife. but the tenor of it was to please and give glory to God. What a rebuke to us to-day who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have a full revelation of God s mind and ways! May our faith be strengthened to walk in the steps of our father Abraham.
He looked for a city; we look for the Saviour. When He comes the wilderness journey will be over. The sands of earth’s desert will be exchanged for the street of gold. Home will be reached at last. Blessed prospect! Glorious victory!
By Mr. HAROLD BUTCHER, London
It is upon my heart to write concerning a practice which appears to be on the increase among God’s assemblies in some quarters. The practice is after the following sort.
At the end of the summer, letters are sent to the homes of Sunday School members, inviting the recipients to join with the assembly in giving God thanks for the harvest. Produce of the earth is brought into the Assembly Hall by assembly members and from the homes of Sunday School scholars. At the Gospel meeting on a Lord’s Day evening, the collected produce is displayed and thanks for the harvest is given. Afterwards the produce is distributed to local hospitals.
It is held that this practice is in conflict with fundamental principles of the Word of God. The crucial point of error is that unbelievers are invited to bring their offerings of praise and produce. Even if no special written invitation is sent to unbelievers, it is in the very nature of things that unbelievers are invited to a Gospel meeting.
Please consider prayerfully the following three objections:
- The practice implies that the unbeliever has the RIGHT of APPROACH to God with praise. As the gospel is preached to the lost, it is urged that the one in his sins is unclean and separated from God and needs cleansing through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ before access to God is possible. The practice referred to, although taking place at a gospel meeting, is inconsistent with the gospel (see Romans 5:1,2; Hebrews 10:19-22).
The following New Testament references have been adduced to uphold a practice involving “thanksgiving” on the part of unbelievers.
- Acts 14:17, “God … did good . . . filling our (or ‘your’) hearts with food and gladness.”
Barnabas and Paul use these words in addressing the multitudes at Lystra. In the goodness of God it is possible for an unsaved person to have a glad heart; but it is obvious that a person can have a glad heart without having a praising heart, and it is certain that a person can have a glad heart without having the RIGHT of APPROACH unto God.
- Romans 1:21, “When they (men) knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.”
The passage deals with the ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings. They are without excuse, for they have sinned against divine light. They incur the wrath of God. They are condemned for not glorifying God or being thankful. It is apparent that a person can justly be condemned for not acknowledging God and for ingratitude without having the RIGHT of APPROACH to God.
In the domain of a good monarch a subject not appreciating his king could rightly be rebuked for that lack of appreciation, although he has not the right to enter into the king’s presence to express thanks unto him. Condemnation for ingratitude towards God does not imply that those so condemned have the righ to approach God with thanksgivings.
Undoubtedly God, in His infinite grace, has again and again hearkened to the cries of unsaved ones. Nevertheless the unsaved one has no access to God with praise or prayer.
- Acts 14:17, “God … did good . . . filling our (or ‘your’) hearts with food and gladness.”
- The practice by believers of inviting unbelievers to join with them in harvest thanksgiving is a violation of the principle set down in 2 Cor. 6:14, 15:“What part for a believer along with an unbeliever?” v. 15 (Darby’s translation). The unbeliever has “neither part nor lot in this matter,” for his “heart is not right in the sight of God.”
It is wrong for a believer to seek to unite with an unbeliever in a common purpose.
- The collection of the fruit of the ground from unbelievers is to be strongly deprecated The unbeliever will probably regard his gift as an offering to God. The unbeliever, deluded by Satan, is only too ready to trust in such offerings for acceptance with God. Far be it from us to afford a facility for a “good work” wherein the unbeliever may rest for standing before God.
Let the unsaved person give obedience to the Gospel before he attempts to bring any offering to God.
One may ask, “Are we not then to give thanks for the harvest?” It behoves believers both privately and publicly to thank our faithful Creator for all His mercies. As we are forgetful creatures, a special meeting for harvest thanksgiving may well be appropriate. The assembly prayer meeting in a particular week could be devoted to the purpose. There would be much more scope for believers to raise earnest praise and prayer to God of suitable character at such a meeting than at a Gospel meeting.
A display of produce is unnecessary. Ceremonial of this character is not found in New Testament teaching.
Many who support the practice we are considering do so only because a special opportunity is afforded for inducing unsaved ones to come under the sound of the Gospel. This aspect should in no way influence us in our consideration of the practice before us. We cannot justify unscriptural practices by using them as a means to a good end. Our zeal for the preaching of the Gospel to the lost must not take us along paths which are displeasing and dishonouring to God. For example, we should at once recognise that it would be wrong to hold a whist drive for the purpose of inducing lost ones to come under the sound of the Gospel. Let us not be fogged by the semblance of piety that marks the practice we are considering.
Opportunities for preaching the Gospel without violating scriptural principles are often neglected. Let us seize opportunities for open-air witness and for tract distribution by house visitation.
In a day when, through lack of spiritual power, there is a moving even amongst God’s people to religiosity, let us test our ways by the Word of God and judge right judgment.
If you now recognise that the assembly to which you belong is engaging ina practice that is displeasing to God, you may well ask, “What should I do ?”
- You should respectfully bring your conclusions to the notice of the assembly elders.
- You should abstain from supporting the practice in any way. Attendance at the harvest meeting will involve support.
- You should pray that God may cause the practice to cease.
I have sought to write firmly, but graciously, faithfully but in a loving spirit. May you recognise this as you read, my fellow-saint, and may God give to each of us understanding in all things.
GLEANINGS FROM JOHN 17
By Mr. J. K. DUFF, Belfast
The study of our Lord’s life upon earth is most profitable for every child of God. What profound lessons the reverent student will learn by contemplating the perfect walk of the One whom God could look upon with complacency and testify “This is my beloved Son. in whom I find all my delight”! The verbal ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ is also most edifying, heart-stirring, and comforting, and equally so are His recorded prayers. In connection with His prayer-life, it should be noted that whilst He often prayed in the presence of His disciples, and frequently for them. He never associated Himself with them in praying. Even when in their company He always prayed in the singular. “I,” and never in the plural, “We.” As to His person, this clearly implies that there was always an infinite gap between the Sent One of God and the most holy apostle. The Gospel according to Luke has much to record regarding our Lord praying. Throughout, many examples arc given and much of His teaching concerns this very important matter. His public life begins with prayer at His baptism (ch. 3:21). and closes with His prayers from the cross (ch. 23:34-46). This is in keeping with the character of Luke’s Gospel, where Christ is viewed as the Son of Man. but it is in the Gospel of the Son of God John—that we find a lengthy verbatim record of our Lord’s great intercessory prayer (John 17).
We turn now to this seventeenth chapter of John to notice a few interesting and instructive things therein. Perhaps we should first point out that the construction of this Gospel somewhat resembles the lay-out of the Tabernacle of old, where every whit uttered His glory. The first twelve chapters, where we have Christ in the public eye, answer to the court, which was accessible to every Israelite. Chapters 13 to 16. where we have a narrower circle involved, correspond to the Holy Place, where only the priests were privileged to enter; while chapter 17 represents the Holiest of All. where the High Priest alone could appear. In this connection it should be observed that our Lord’s prayer is doubtless intended to be a sample of His present priestly ministry in the presence of God—cf. Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7 . 24. 25. While this intercessory prayer was uttered before Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross, it was obviously anticipatory, as can be seen by the evidence contained in the prayer itself, e.g. in v. 4 He says “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to”:and in v. 11 “And now 1 am no more in the world”; and again in v. 13. “And now come I to Thee.” We may at times wonder how our blessed Lord is employed just now at the right hand of God. How comforting and stimulating to know that He is engaged for us! He feels for us and feels with us in all our afflictions and trials, and holds up His hands in ceaseless intercession that we may be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
This great prayer falls into three divisions, viz.:(1) His requests for Himself personally, vv. 1-5; (2) For His disciples, vv. 6-19; and (3) For those who would believe through their word. vv. 20-26. The Blessed One who remembered us in our low estate from the throne of His pre-incarnate glory, Who became flesh that He might suffer for us, and Who thought upon us when He instituted the remembrance feast on the night of His betrayal, now continuously thinks upon us in His exalted position at God’s right hand It is in virtue of His perfect advocacy that we are maintained in fellowship with God.
A noteworthy feature of this remarkable prayer lies in the fact that in it we find a summary of all the great truths contained in the former part of this Gospel, and embodied in our Lord’s own teaching. For example, cf. v. 1, “Thy Son,” with chapters 1 and 5, which set out so prominently the Diety and Sonship of Christ. Cf. vv. 2,3, “Eternal life,” with what is said on this subjects in chapters 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10. Cf. w. 6, 9, 11 and 12 where the saints are referred to as having been given to Christ, with ch. 6:37. Other themes such as “the truth” (ch. 8:31), “the unity of God’s people”, (ch. 10:16), “the oneness of the Father and Son” (ch. 10:30), and “the coming glory” (ch. 14:3), will readily come to our minds. By a prayerful consideration of the foregoing facts and features, the child of God will glean much for his or her edification and comfort. These are essential parts of God’s purpose for us as we read our Bible, but not all of it. The Spirit’s intention, according to 1st Cor. 14:3, is that we should be not only edified (built up) and comforted (bound up), but exhorted so that we may be stirred up to live for the glory of God and the well-being of others.
This great intercessory prayer is very practical in its import, since it reveals the deep heart-longings of our Lord Jesus Christ for His people. All that He wants them to be and to do comes out most clearly in the various requests contained in it. We can discern at least four great desires of Christ relative to His people, namely:
- THEIR PRESERVATION. They were given to Him (v. 9). He was glorified in them (v. 10). He was no longer with them (v. 11). While He was with them He kept them (v. 12), and now He prays the Father to guard them from the evil of the world. Surely if we grasp our Lord’s desire for us in this matter, we shall be stirred to pray as the Psalmist:“Preserve me, O God; for in Thee do I put. my trust” (Ps. 16:1).
- THEIR UNIFICATION. This appears to be viewed in a twofold way, viz. (a) In constitution—see verses 21, 22 and 23. This part was answered when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and baptised all believers into one Body. All who believe in Christ now share in this baptism of the Spirit, and upon believing are incorporated into the Body of Christ, and are therefore one in Christ Jesus (see 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28). It is our responsibility, not to make this unitv, but to keep it in the bond of peace, and give expression to it by a closer adherence to the assembly principles laid down in the Scriptures, (b) In purpose (v. 11). This oneness would be realised if each believer owned the Lordship of Christ, and lived in obedience to the Word of God Then all would speak the same thing and be in happy fellowship one with another. Actuated by love to Christ we would avoid every course of action which would tend to divide the people of God.
- THEIR SANCTIFICATION. Our Lord prayed. “Sanctify them through Thy truth. Thy Word is truth,” v. 17. The Word of God is the great sanctifying element for the believer, hence in order to receive its beneficial effects we must read it daily, obey its precepts, and heed its warnings (see Psalm 119:9). “Sanctify” means to “set apart” for God, and entails our separation from the world, and all that is contrary to the mind of God. There are seven little sentences in this prayer which reveal the believer’s relation to the world. They are very expressive and should be carefully considered:—(a) Chosen and given to Christ out of the world, v. 6; (b) Sent back into it, v. 18 ; (c) In the world, v. 11; (d) Not of it, v 16; (e) Hated by it, v. 14; (f) Kept from its evil, v. 15; (g) Influencing the world to believe, v. 21.
- THEIR GLORIFICATION. “Father I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where 1 am; that they may behold My glory” (v. 14). Only when He had fully performed the Father’s will did He assert His own. It may be pointed out that the word “behold” does not mean merely to view as a spectator, but to behold and partake. Peter speaks of being “a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Pet. 5:1). Our Lord envisages the great purpose of grace as unfolded in the Roman epistle, chapter 8 —“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” So we sing during the days of our pilgrimage:
- “And this I shall find, for such is His mind.
- He will not be in glory and leave me behind.”
Paul, in writing his second epistle to the Thessalonians, represents Christ as now exercising patience, as He awaits that day when the purpose of God in the out-calling of the Church shall be completed, and He comes to the air to take from the world His own. The beloved Apostle in his day had his eye upon the coming glory, and reckoned that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). In measure as we, too, appreciate the truth of this glorious destiny, our hearts will be held true to the Lord, amidst all the spiritual darkness and confusion which surround us. May we endeavour to be faithful in our testimony now, knowing that then we shall wear the image and share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
PAUL’S KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST
- ‘From amid the dazzling glory, brighter far than day,
- Hark! the words of Saul of Tarsus, stricken on the way.
- ‘Who art Thou, Lord ?’ was his question, and the answer came,
- ‘I am Jesus!’ and his spirit bowed to that blest Name.
- Years have passed, a Roman dungeon and a felon’s chain,
- Suffering, care, and broken friendships, all his present gain—
- Failure all to sight! but nothing faith’s clear eye can dim ;
- ‘AH is lost,’ he calmly reckons, That I may know Him.’
2 TIM. 1:12
- Lo! the faithful, aged Apostle nears a martyr’s death ;
- Only Luke to stand beside him as he yields his breath.
- Asia all has turned against him, brethren have deceived!
- Still, ‘I know,’ we hear him saying, ‘Whom I have believed.’ ”
- I desire grace to know that the heavenly country is very near; near both as to lime and place. There are no divine measures of distances for heaven, though there are for earth. The wisdom of man tells us of stars whose light would take thousands of years to travel to us. We need not deny it, beloved. Space is without limit, if they please, as well as duration:we may leave such thoughts unquestioned. But this is not the character of divine wisdom; this is not the way or light of Scripture. The schools teach these things, but not the Spirit. From the teaching of the Spirit in the Word we know that the place of the glory is so near, that in other days a ladder measured the same distance in the eve of Jacob. And so does it still measure the same distance in the eye of faith; and we know also that the time of it is so near, that the twinkling of an eye will be enough to accomplish the journey in its appointed season.
- J. G. BELLETT.
And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the looking-glasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Exodus 38:8.
- It was an act of extreme self-denial for the women of Israel to deliver their looking-glasses to Moses for the Tabernacle. Doubtless these crowds of women assembled at the door of the Tabernacle at its erection to do whatever needed to be done. Their act of surrendering their mirrors was as pleasing to God as the needlework they so patiently performed. Those mirrors that once reflected the beauty of the women now reflected the beauties of the garments of the high priest as he washed there to minister for them in God’s presence. Those women were more devoted to the things of God than they were to their own adornment. What a lasting memorial they had! L. S.
A GODLY WIDOW
- “We read a lot in the Word of God about widows. Most of it is all to their credit. Look them up and see for yourselves. When I was a young man there was a poor widow in our assembly. She depended on God for her support. She was a godly woman that we young fellows could go to for counsel and wise advice, and she could give us a Bible reading on our problems.
- One Lord’s Day morning as she got to the door of the hall, our brother Mr. M—— got out of his carriage at that moment, and being a gentleman as well as a Christian, he took the aged widow’s arm up the steep stairs. When he left her to go to hang up his hat and coat he pressed into her hand a crisp new one pound note. That morning the Lord’s work offering was for Africa, and Mr. M—— was one of the brethren who counted the money when the box was opened. He recognized his new pound note, and knew it was put there by this saintly widow. When I heard it I said it was just like Mrs. K—— to do that. No wonder she could counsel and guide young men and women.”
- By the late DAVID OLIVER (“Wholesome Words’’)