Amalgamation or Separation
“When Ye Come Together”
Shammah – A Character Study
A. G. Westacott
AMALGAMATION OR SEPARATION
Rom. 16 : 17; 2 Cor. 6 : 17; 2 Thess. 3 : 6; 2 Tim. 2 : 21; 3 : 5; Tit. 3 : 10; Heb. 13: 13; 2 John 10 (R.V.)
By WM. BUNTING
(continued from No. 10)
A little thought will confirm that the characteristics of the individuals from whom these Scriptures call upon us to separateourselves, are the very characteristics which to-day are so pronounceda feature of the religious world. Indeed, Christendom, whether we think ofthe Roman Pontiff claiming infallibility and arrogating to himself the verytitles of Deity, or the Protestant Bishop ruling from his palace the clergyof his diocese, or the congregation selecting by vote the pastor of its choice,is a complete denial of the supreme authority with which God has investedthe blessed Man at His right hand. Viewed thus, we can appreciate thereason for, and imperative need of. our Lord’s clarion call to His saints inBabylon: “Come out of her, my people” (Rev. 18:4). “We believe.” wrotethe late Mr. Wm. Hoste. “that the Christendom around us. with its foundationof infant sprinkling, its principles of mixed fellowship between believers andthe unconverted, its worship after the Jewish model, etc., based above allon the root evil of clericalism, which sets aside Christ as Centre and theSpirit as Leader, and which makes collective Christian worship impossible,is the very counterpart of Babylon. It was something more than a fewquestions of church order which led many of us at some cost out of theChurch of England and other denominations. It was the whole deadly system,making the Word of God of none effect by its traditions, which stifled usand drove us out.”
Beloved brethren, if these oft-repeated appeals of Scripture for separation from all that is derogatory to Christ’s honour were implicitly obeyed to-dayby all who profess to own His Lordship in worship and service, and if ourunited energies were bent upon strengthening the testimony which is accordingto God’s Word, what a transformation assemblies everywhere would experience ! It is to be regretted, however, that to many these plain commandsof Holy Writ mean very little, if anything at all. In a day that is past, menof God bore obloquy and shame, yea, in many cases “suffered the loss ofall things” because of severing their connections with unscriptural associationsand coming out to the Lord’s Name. To-day. the truth they bought so dearlyis being sold for nought. By blinding our minds to the twin evils of clerisyand sectarianism, Satan is making it easy and popular for us to “build again”the compromising principles which those stalwarts for God “destroyed” (seeGal. 2:18).
It cannot be denied that in many quarters, the truth relative to the local church as a distinctive testimony for God, is at a serious discount, andinter-denominationalism is increasingly becoming the order of the day. Thefavour of the clerical caste is courted, whereas our fathers counted it aprivilege to bear the odium of its reproach. One has only to read regularlysome of the magazines and other literature which circulate amongstassemblies, to know the direction in which the modern trend lies. A contributor in one periodical some time ago asked : “Are these ecclesiasticalmatters so utterly important? … Do we fear to associate in gospel workwith any of the Lord’s servants who affect a particular neck-dress?” Anotherwriter a little later advised brethren to invite a certain denominational clergyman as speaker to address their meeting, in preference to a brother connected with assemblies, because the former was more able. Quiterecently it has been intimated in the same magazine, as though it were amatter of normal procedure, that a certain public brother, who for yearshas been in assembly fellowship, has accepted an invitation to become”minister” of a Baptist Church (he is now advertised before the world as “the Rev.—–“). Why, one wonders, should this notice appear in an assembly magazine? and why is no word of disapproval of such a stepexpressed by the Editor? Many such extracts could be quoted, but in actualpractice the present line-up with unscriptural sects far exceeds what onemight conclude from magazine articles. Things have so drifted that someelders and teachers can afford, when occasion suits, to ignore the assemblyand without a blush associate themselves with one or other of the religioussystems at the hour at which the saints with whom they profess to be infellowship are gathered for the Remembrance Supper. Such never seemhappier than when fraternising with men whose very garb is the badge ofthat which is an open denial of God’s order. In “Cross Currents inAssemblies,” Dr. R. C. Edwards quotes a writer who in describing certaininterdenominational conventions speaks of “the Presbyterian hobnobbingwith the Baptist, the Methodist with the Congregationalist. Even the’Brethren’ are now, as in other British communities, among the ‘religioneslicitae’ ” (= recognised religions). With reference to this Latin term, Dr.Edwards explains that “Christianity was not one of the permitted religionsof the Roman Empire until its unholy alliance with the world in the timeof Constantine. To the Christian who appreciates the circumstances,” hepertinently adds, “the term reeks with dishonour.” It is all very saddening,but there it is. The tide of compromise is gradually and steadily rising.Fidelity to New Testament principles is on the decrease. Few now raisetheir voices or lift their pens against the prevailing tendency. The oft-repeated affirmations of Church truth, so characteristic a feature of an earlierday, are seldom, if ever, heard in some assemblies, and as a result of the”softening-up” process, which has been going on for years, many are notaware of how far they have drifted from the plain teaching of God’s Word.Others who never learned for themselves the truth of separation, but whomight have been instructed “in the way of God more perfectly,” areencouraged to walk in the same devious paths. Surely it is time forassemblies to wake up and inquire, “Whither are we drifting?”
While we thank God that it is only in certain areas that these tendencies manifest themselves to the extent which this article indicates, decline fromthe right ways of the Lord is on the increase almost everywhere, and weare now undoubtedly in the Laodicean age (Rev. 3:14-20). Should thepresent retrograde movement continue, one wonders what vestige of resemblance to the New Testament pattern some professed assemblies will retainin a few years’ time. A writer tells of coming to a cross-roads in Canada,where the following notice was displayed: ‘Take care which rut you take,you will follow it for 25 miles.” Where will the rut in which the complacent,plausible men of mixed principles are to-day leading assemblies, end? Letus not forget that an assembly may decline from God’s ways until it becomesnothing but a religious mission, having the breaking of bread as a mereappendage. We therefore say to all who have an intelligent grasp of thetruth, and who value it, be vigilant, beloved brethren, be vigilant. May theLord open the eyes of His dear people to the peril of compromising principlesand unhallowed associations. We do not deny the danger of being right positionally and all wrong conditionally. We do not suggest that there are no godly, devoted saints in the denominations. Far be the thought. We donot for a moment advocate “exclusivism.” We only plead for a return tothat separation of heart and life, and an adherence to the pattern of thelocal church, as was plainly taught by our Lord and His Apostles.
“WHEN YE COME TOGETHER”
By A. McSHANE
(1 Corinthians 11 : 1-22)
Having dealt with the subject of Fellowship in chapter 10, the apostle proceeds, as already mentioned in our first paper, to giveinstructions regarding the matter of Headship. He would have themto understand that their meetings to remember the Lord were to be characterised by godly behaviour as well as by happy fellowship. Two principaldangers confronted the Corinthian assembly. First, there was the temptationto go outside and associate with idolatrous worship (ch. 10:20-22), andsecond, the tendency to introduce heathen practices amongst themselves(ch. 11:5-22). There is little doubt that the uncovered head and shorn hairof the women, as well as the shameful drunkenness at the Lord’s table ofwhich they were guilty, were reproductions of what characterised the feastsin the heathen temples. Israel had fallen into these same two evils duringtheir wilderness journey. They fell into the former when they joined inBaal-worship with the Moabites (Num. 25), and into the latter, when copyingEgyptian idolatry, they danced round the golden calf (Ex. 32). No one willdeny, that to this day, nearly all the troubles which arise in the assembliesof God can be traced to one or other of these two wrongs. There are thosein assembly fellowship who have little conscience about their associations,and there are others who perhaps do even more mischief, since their mainobject seems to be to introduce into the assemblies unscriptural practicesof the religious world.
It is characteristic of this epistle for the writer to trace the various subjects with which he deals, to their highest point. For example, worldly wisdom,regarding which so much is said in chapters 1—4, is exposed as the heightof folly in that it crucified the Lord of glory. In ch. 6, inability to settlepetty differences amongst brethren is shown to be absurd in light of the factthat saints will judge not only the world but angels; while the denial of theresurrection in chapter 15 is shown to be not only the removal of onefoundation stone, but the sweeping away of the entire basis of our faith—the resurrection of Christ. Likewise in this chapter the subject of Headshipis traced to its highest ideal—to God Himself. It must ever be kept in mindthat headship is not a question of superiority. Thus the expression, “thehead of Christ is God” (v. 3) in no way implies His inferiority to the Father,but rather teaches His submission to the Father’s will and direction. Neitherdoes the passage teach that the woman is inferior to the man, but ratherthat she is expected to be submissive to his authority. This subjection onher part is symbolised by a covering or vail worn on her head, togetherwith her natural covering of long hair. Because man is not only under Christas his Head, but also Christ’s representative as head of the woman, he musttake the place which God gives him and uncover his head in the assembly,lest he dishonour Christ.
A careful reading of this passage will show that the woman’s hair is to be allowed to grow to its natural length, and that it is a shame for her to shear it off. Indeed it teaches that if she cut it partially away she might aswell take the next step and shave it off close by the scalp. In New Testamenttimes there were two temptations relative to the hair which sisters had toguard against. The one referred to in this passage—that of cutting it off ;the other mentioned in 1 Tim. 2 : 9 and 1 Peter 3 : 3—that of giving it anunnatural appearance. (According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary the wordbbroided,” 1 Tim. 2 : 9, is signified in the Vulgate as “ringlets” or “curls”).After nearly two thousand years these same two temptations have still to bewithstood by our sisters. It is very humiliating to have to admit that somereally true sisters allow their glory to fall at the hairdresser’s feet, andothers who would not dream of telling a lie with their tongues have littleconscience about giving a false impression with their hair. These mattersmay be treated lightly, and those who mention them may be branded asextremists, but surely the Lord has the right to order conduct in His ownhouse. Spiritual women have never resented them, but have counted it aprivilege to please Him in them as in other matters.
Nature also acquiesces in these instructions, hence the question, “is it comely for a woman to pray unto God uncovered?” (v. 13). Note the absenceof “prophesy” here in contrast to v. 5. Does not this suggest that althoughbprophesying” was there mentioned the writer does not mean to sanctionprophesying by sisters, as he a little later so clearly states in chapter 14?
These verses are sometimes cited as supporting meetings for sisters only (a type of meeting not elsewhere contemplated in the New Testament), but thesimplest reader will appreciate that if such a gathering had been in Paul’smind he would not have referred to men having their hair short andtheir heads uncovered.
In ch. 10:20-21, idol worship is stated to be energised by demons. Behind the visible image are the invisible powers of darkness. Here in thischapter, the assembly is an object lesson to unseen powers of a very differentorder—the holy angels. These heavenly beings who witnessed Divine orderat creation and saw the man and the woman put in their respective placesby the Creator, behold the behaviour of the saints while assembled beforethe Lord. They themselves vail their faces in His presence and must expectto see the same reverent conduct by both brethren and sisters at His table.What their thoughts must be regarding the disorder in some assemblies isdifficult to imagine.
Before leaving this subject of Headship, the apostle is careful to point out that although women own by their long hair and covered heads theirsubmission to the man, they are not on that account to be despised. Bothby grace and by nature they have an honoured place. God is saving womenas well as men, and therefore both alike are “in the Lord” (v. 11). Likewiseto woman belongs the glory of motherhood. She is the source of all mankind(v. 12).
The Corinthian assembly had imitated heathen practices in yet another way. Instead of soberly partaking of the remembrance supper they turnedit into a common meal. The rich selfishly feasted while their poorer brethrenfasted. This disrespect for the church of God brought upon them the judgment of the Lord, so that some were afflicted in their bodies and othershad been removed by death. The same hand that had destroyed the evildoersof Israel in the wilderness was manifesting its power in their midst —another reminder that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly ofthe saints, and to be had in reverence of all that are about Him” (Ps 89:7)
SHAMMAH—A CHARACTER STUDY
By Mr. A. G. WESTACOTT
THE GREATNESS OF THE SMALL
Consider the deed that gained Shammah renown. At first sight it looks a tame affair. He defended a plot of lentiles. He was not out to shakeempires nor to storm cities, nor even to slay giants, as some of hiscontemporaries had done. He did a small thing in a great way. He foughtfor a trifle because it involved a principle. “He who can take no interest inwhat is small,” says Ruskin, “will take false interest in what is great. Hewho cannot make a bank sublime will make a mountain ridiculous.”Shammah “made his bank sublime.” He may have known the owner andthat owner David, if so that would give value in Shammah’s eyes. Seeinga foraging troop about to reap what Israel had sown he made a stand thathas ever since added lustre to his name. Look at him and wonder ! Withno organisation at his back, with no one to give him a cheer, he braced hisnerves and, single-handed, challenged the foe. There is more here thanmeets the eye, for man is more than man when God lays hold of him. Thusstood Shammah, strong as if a thousand hearts were combined in one,fearless as if invisible battalions were at his back. He slew the Phillistines,pointing the old lesson that victory awaits the man who sides with God anddares to stand for the right.
GOD AND THE FRONT PLACE.
The character of his deed should be noted. In making a stand Shammah was actuated by a sense of right which is an advance on the mere performance of duty. What he did was linked to the loftiest spiritual thoughts andreinforced by unearthly sanctions. Spiritually it makes little difference whatour work is : it is the manner of our doing it. Shammah knew what he wasfighting for. It was not for personal gain or glory; not for promotion orrenown, although he ultimately became one of the first three of David’smighty men. The plot he defended was God-given territory; the lentileswere for the life of the community who at the time had a food shortagefollowing the ravages of war.
Who can estimate the worth of men who reserve for God the front place in their lives. They are the salt of the earth. If men would only bringeverything into the sweep of true religion—money matters, business matters,and all the complex relations of daily life! For if we offer anything to Godwe must offer everything, as Paul says, “whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoeverye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Of necessity there mustfirst be the acceptance of what He offers, namely Christ as personal Saviour,and the acknowledgment of Him as Lord and Master. “And the Lord wroughta great victory.” Miss that and the story loses half its value. It shows howGod’s plans materialise through consecrated personality. It pictures theInfinite making of man’s weakness a platform upon which to exhibit Hismighty strength. Cross out the supernatural and the exploit becomes impossible, whereas “nothing is too hard for the Lord” (Jer. 32 : 17).
Shammah’s story is not without points of contact with ourselves. Every redeemed life is art- allotment. “Ye are God’s tillage” (tilled land) is thePauline way of expressing it. The soil differs according to gifts andtemperaments, so does the produce; but whether “the yield” be comparableto barley, wheat or lentiles matters little, provided it is the best yield possible.
Though hedged by special Providence, a believer’s life is still exposed to invasion while nothing of good in it can be held without a fight. That is why John Bunyan in “The Holy War” gives prominent mention to Standfast(who might have sat for Shammah’s portrait) and Valiant-for-Truth.
How is it with the reader? Has sin turned into desolation what might have been a garden, or turned into a dumping-ground for rubbish what oughtto be a fruitful plot? Even so, the case is not hopeless. It is not God’s willthat men should perish or become a prey to evil powers, though too oftenwhen threatened by the Philistines that are around us, off or down they go.
What then is to become of the human plot of which the enemy has made havoc, leaving the owner nothing to defend? For answer we turn to a sceneenacted eleven hundred years after Shammah, yet in a mystical way connected with his glorious deed. Yonder, at a place called Calvary, “Jehovah-Shammah” champions the cause of a lost world, and through death effectsits deliverance. The scene is one of tragedy and triumph. The powers of hellhave done their worst. Human hate and wickedness have nailed the Son ofGod to a Roman gibbet, following maltreatment and a mock trial. Nowthe Sun is veiled, the earth quakes, and it is both the darkest and greatesthour in human history. Deserted by friends, derided by foes “they crucifiedHim and two other with Him, on either side one and Jesus in the midst”(John 19:18). Nevertheless “He wrought a great victory,” for in dying Hebslew the enmity” between God and man, spoiled principalities and powers,and by virtue of His resurrection was declared to be both Saviour and Lord.And more ; for as the Israelites who fled from the Philistines shared thevictory wrought through Shammah, even so we undeserving sinners areprivileged to share the benefits of Christ’s greater victory through faith inHis name. And then once He is trusted the life-plot presents a new aspect.It is redeemed, cultivated and made productive of much fruit to His praise.Marvellous grace! Higher than the stars, deeper than the oceans, broaderthan spheres I What shall we say to these things? “Thanks be unto Godwho giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
By Mr. HECTOR ALVES, Vancouver, Canada
“STRANGE CHILDREN” (PS. 144 : 11-15)
If from the “strange woman” there comes “strange doctrine,” then the fruit of this strange doctrine will be “strange children.”
Ps. 144 is one of David’s psalms, written, no doubt, when he had subdued his enemies round about him. He begins by praising the Lord whohad taught his hands to war and his fingers to fight. He is not unmindfulto render thanksgiving unto God for his deliverance from the hurtful sword,saying in verse 9, “I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God: upon a psaltery,and on an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto Thee.” TheLord had given him the head of Goliath, and had subdued his enemies,but with all that there is something which changes David’s praise to prayer.He is unable to rid himself from the hand of “strange children,” hence heceases to praise and begins to pray.
Why does David want to be rid of these strange children? The reason is given in the following verses. It is because sons and daughters, gamers,and sheep and oxen are being affected by them; and the condition in the house and in the street is not what it should be on their account. Is there not a voice in all this for us to-day? The sons and daughters are the truechildren of God, our young people. How good it is to see our young brethrenas plants grown up in their youth. The apostle John writes, “I have written unto you young men, and the Word of God abideth in you.” Not spiritualdwarfs, they are grown up in their youth. Then the daughters, our youngsisters, are “polished after the similitude of a palace.” What beautiful language,and so expressive; but where are such to be found? Thank God for allwho answer to this description ; but “strange children’’ are getting in amongstthem, and the result is disastrous. “None of us liveth to himself,” we havean effect upon others for good or for evil, and this is the case when “strangechildren” get into our midst; the sons and daughters are hindered in theirspiritual growth and tripped up in their walk.
The garners might speak of the assemblies of God people, where all manner of store should be found, and where the sons and daughters shouldbe fed. The sheep would speak of the Lord’s people—the sheep of His pasture;and the oxen would speak of those who labour in the Word and doctrine.All these may be affected by the “strange children.” “Strange children”are getting into our assemblies, and they are making their influence seenand felt; the sheep are being turned aside and the oxen are distressed onaccount of them. In Israel’s day it was the mixed multitude who fell a lusting;they wanted the leeks, the onions, and the garlic, etc., things that belongedto Egypt, earthly things; their whole history is the same, they never improved;and they were the means of leading Israel into lust and sin. We see thesame evil in Nehemiah’s time. Whether then or now. “strange children” whoget into the assembly mar the testimony by their carnal and worldly ways.Not only are the sons and daughters affected by them, but the garners thatought to be full of all manner of store, cease to be such, and instead of thechildren being fed. there is a spiritual barrenness. The oxen feel the pressureof this state of things, and are handicapped. No doubt this prayer of Davidhas been on the lips of many a man of God ; the overseer and pastor hasbeen made to cry, “Rid me and deliver me from the hand of strange children,whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” The true overseer who has a heart for the welfare of the assembly,becomes discouraged by the continued ill behaviour of these “strange children,”and at times feels like giving up. Another way that the labourer is beingaffected by them is this : When the plain Word of God is being ministeredthey are listless and unconcerned, no more interested than the seat on whichthey sit; there is no receptiveness to the truth of God at all. In many cases,such are a positive hindrance to the ministry and to the progress of themeeting.
“That there be no breaking in.” Who does this “breaking in?”—these “strange children.” Professors are being made in large numbers, and manyof them are getting into the assemblies—people who never were born again.Also, “grievous wolves shall enter in,” said the apostle. In Jude’s day,bcertain men crept in unawares.” To-day there is a breaking in; strangedoctrine makes this not only possible, but easy: in some places it wouldappear as if elders want to get in all they can. regardless of their spiritualqualifications. If we rush them in we may afterwards want to rush them out.when their true character is seen, but that may not be so easy. May theLord help those who have a care for the Church of God, to be very carefulin the matter of reception. Not only is there a “breaking in.” but there isalso a “going out.” It is the same class; those who do the “breaking in” also
do the “going out.” They would break down the walls of separation. These are carnal and self-willed men, who would remove the old landmarks, setaside Scriptural principles, and build again that which we profess to havedestroyed. Alas, there are always plenty of “strange children” to cater to thissort of thing and to support them in their lawless ways. They break out inwhat they call “liberty,” and go to places that the Word of God wouldforbid to all who are Scripturally gathered to the Name of the Lord; andif they are rebuked or spoken to about it, then they start a new thing oftheir own devising, and call it an assembly of God. The next thing we haveis “complaining in our streets.” Where does this “complaining” come from?Surely from these “strange children”; the text would imply that. They complain that the path is too narrow, complain about the ministry, and complainabout the oversight. In a word, they become dissatisfied and murmur againstGod’s whole order of things in the assembly.
May this prayer of David find an echo in our hearts: “Rid me and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity,and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.”
(From “WORDS IN SEASON”)
(To be continued, D.V.)
SPIRITUALITY — WHAT IT IS NOT
By Mr. E. A. TOLL, Newport, Mon.
There are few saints in assemblies who would not agree, at least in theory, that everything done in the assembly, and indeed everywherein “the work of the Lord,” should be done “in the Spirit,” even as thebeliever is exhorted to “walk in the Spirit.” Agreement is not so generalwhen it becomes a matter of deciding what this really means or how weare to distinguish between what is “of the Spirit” and what is “of the flesh.”Many appear to read Gal. 5:19-21 as if it were simply an exhortationto refrain from the bad things of the flesh, while others seem to think it wasmeant to teach that the flesh is not capable of anything but the ugly andunpleasant things listed in those verses, and that those whose lives are freefrom such things must be spiritual. The apostle had quite a differentpurpose. In ch. 3:13 he asks the Galatians, “Having begun in Spirit areye going to be made perfect in flesh?” (N.T.). The Galatians were notwanting to commit murder or immorality, or to steal or get drunk. Theywere wanting to attain perfection, and hoped to reach it by cultivating theflesh. In reply the apostle says, in effect, “How can that flesh, which iscapable of such evils, produce perfection?”
It is true that the flesh may produce many things that appear to be good, that seem in fact at times to be identical with “the fruit of the Spirit” (foreven unsaved people, who have not the Spirit, can be affectionate and joyfuland peaceful, and show toleration, gentleness and kindness), but the factthat the flesh is guilty of the other things shows that what appears to begood is. after all. only deception.
The Lord Jesus taught something very similar in Matt. 7:15-20. Having warned against false prophets who, though appearing to be sheep, are reallywolves. He adds, “Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?”Now true grapes (which are a figure of “the fruit of the Spirit”) properlygrow on the vine which has no thorns, so that whatever may be producedby a thorn-bush (and there is a thorn-bush which produces grape-like fruit) cannot be “the fruit of the vine.” The thorns on the bush arc evidence that the fruit is not grapes, and the fact that the fig-like fruit has comefrom a thistle is proof that it is not really what it seems to be. It wouldnot do to argue that these look like grapes, and therefore they must comefrom a vine, and these like figs, therefore they must have come from a figtree. Rather it would need to be argued: “These were not borne on a vine,therefore they cannot be grapes, in spite of what they look like; and thesewere not produced by a fig tree, therefore they cannot be figs, notwithstanding their appearance.”
Thus the same double lesson emerges, viz. The flesh (or Satan through the flesh) can produce what may so easily pass as “the fruit of the Spirit,”but what is, in reality, as corrupt as any other of its products.
This same lesson can be learned in many places even in the Old Testament. Lev. 2:17 is an example. The meat (or meal) offering prefigured the perfectlife and character of the Lord Jesus as a Man amongst men. It will thereforebe quite readily understood by most in assemblies why no leaven was to beincluded in it. Leaven it is said (and rightly so) is a type of evil and therewas nothing evil in the life or character of the Lord Jesus. But why washoney also excluded? To which question there is but one possible answer—because that too (in this case) typifies evil, for the flesh can be sweet aswell as sour. There was a sweetness in the life of the Lord Jesus, but it wasnot the sweetness of the flesh, which is no more acceptable to God thanits sourness. Thus again Scripture teaches us that the flesh can be pleasant(as men speak) as well as unpleasant, but even its most attractive featuresare not to be confused with “the fruit of the Spirit,” of which they arebut a fraudulent imitation and as “contrary” to them as any other productof the flesh. Failure to make and maintain this distinction is workingdisastrously, if deceptively, in and amongst assemblies to-day.
Recently in a large West of England “conference” a well-known speaker was urging upon the company to whom he spoke to be more Christ-like intheiT character. Said he in substance, “It is not enough to have rightassembly order—what we need is to be more like Christ,” and as a sampleof what he meant, he went on: “How do we tender our fares to the conductorwhen riding in a bus? Do we just hold out our money and, in a gruff voice,say ‘Tuppenny,’ or do we look up with a cheerful smile and say in apleasant voice ‘Tuppenny, please’?” He spoke, too, in a similar vein ofthe behaviour of the Christian as a customer toward the person behind thecounter. What in fact he pleaded for was nothing more than what is trueof numbers of people who make no profession of faith in Christ at all.If this sort of thing, of itself, is evidence of Christ-likeness, how manyChrist-like sinners there must be! Certainly the spiritual believer will becareful of his conduct on a bus or in a shop, but a cheerful smile andpleasant voice or any other of the charms of nature are not in themselvesany guarantee of spirituality or likeness to Christ, and are often engagedin direct opposition to them. A person may have all these and yet bethoroughly unspiritual and un-Christ-like.
We have an illustration of this in Rom. 16:17-18. where men of whom it is pointedly stated that they “serve not our Lord Jesus Christ,” are saidto employ “good words and fair speeches” to deceive the simple or unsuspecting. The point of importance here is that those who create divisionsemploy the technique, not of hard and bitter words, but “smooth and fairspeeches” (R.V.), “kind words and flattering speeches” (Rotherham) to fulfiltheir evil designs, from which it is abundantly clear that kindliness of word and pleasantness of manner are no “hallmark’’ of devotion to Christ or service to His people. It is not suggested, of course, that these should notbe present, and in ever-increasing degree, in all who professedly serve Christand His people. What the writer does want to emphasise is that they areno guarantee that the one whom thev characterise is really spiritually-minded,or his doctrine sound, or his activities according to God. They may beemployed by the most carnal believer, or even the unsaved. They may beused to destroy the work of God as easily as to build it up. The teacherof error may be as much marked by them for even more so) as one “soundin the faith.” The correctness of a man’s teaching is not established bygraciousness of manner or kindliness of speech. Nor is it certain that abrother is of sound spiritual judgment or the proposals he makes areaccording to the Scripture because he has a pleasant smile and genialdisposition. Yet how often are these and other sweet things of the fleshmistaken for marks of spirituality and even preferred to them, and theconsequences can only be disastrous. The flesh is opposed to the Spirit inany of its forms or phases, but it is never more so than when it masqueradesas spirituality or is mistaken for it or is desired instead of it. The flesh,even in its most cultured forms, can only produce flesh, for “that which isborn of the flesh is flesh” and “he that soweth to the flesh” even in itsmost refined and pleasing features, “shall of the flesh reap corruption.” Isthere not need to reflect upon all this in view of the prominence andimportance given to much which cannot, by the widest stretch of imagination,be called spiritual in assemblies to-day. although often introduced andmaintained by men with most genial personalities and attractive, if notseductive, manners?
Not to speak of the purely social and recreational activities, where the flesh can enjoy itself to the full, where cheerful smile and friendly wordand hearty handshake can all be exchanged apart from the Spirit of Godaltogether, what must be thought of the heavy emphasis laid upon musicand singing in gatherings professedly intended to serve spiritual ends. Needit be pointed out that the ability to play a musical instrument is not aspiritual gift, nor is it increased by increasing spirituality. Similarly withsinging. The ability to sing well is neither bestowed by the Spirit norimproved by any advance in spirituality. Both are essentially naturalaccomplishments possessed alike by unsaved and saved, and their appealis only to nature. They can in themselves effect nothing spiritual but theydo entertain the flesh and provide great scope for its display. Why thenthe ever-increasing demand for more and more music and singing, and whythe eagerness to cater for it?
What, too, is the reason for the growing popularity of speakers who stand upon the platform with a perpetual smile upon their faces, and in themost charming manner and with most felicitous phrases, seasoned (not withsalt but) with jokes and witticisms give forth what, judged by spiritualstandards, is completely valueless. The net result can only be the gratifyingand therefore the strengthening of the flesh. And let it be remembered thatif the flesh be cultivated, even in its fairest forms, and even under thepretext of serving spiritual ends, sooner or later a harvest in kind will bereaped, and then it can be expected that its uglier features will also bemanifested. There are not wanting signs that this has already begun. Whatis the secret of the marked increase in self-assertiveness, pride, self-interest,strife, contradictions in doctrine and practice, etc.? Is it also withoutsignificance that one of the foremost advocates of the kind of thing this paper deplores has recently abandoned assembly testimony altogether and become identified with one of the sects of Christendom?
The positive and distinctive marks of true spirituality are of a different kind altogether, but they cannot be considered now. It will be no smallgain if saints awaken to the fact that the flesh has its delusive counterfeitsand be put on their guard against them.
(To be continued)
As “ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY” enters upon its third year of publication, we wish to express cordial thanks to all those who in so many ways have helped in the work which it involves. Without their co-operation and support it would be impossible for us to carry on. No charge is madefor the magazine. We look to the Lord alone for the necessary funds, andthrough the gifts of His people all expenses to date have been fully met.We feel deeply grateful for this, especially since the circulation in the twoyears has increased from 2,500 to 9,000 per issue.
The letters received from almost every part of the world, telling of blessing experienced through our printed page, are a great encouragement. Our aimis to give a well-balanced ministry — devotional, expositional, and practical.We are convinced that in exposing present-day evils, “great plainness ofspeech” is absolutely necessary, but we also appreciate the need of ministrythat will “build up” the saints “on their most holy faith” (Jude 20).
Of course, it is difficult to please all in which connection the lines addressed by John Bunyan to those who objected to his “little book,” aptlyexpress our viewpoint:
- “For those which were not for its coming forth,
- l said to them, offend you I am loath;
- Yet, since your brethren pleased with it be,
- Forbear to judge, till you do further see.
- If that thou wilt not read, let it alone;
- Some love the meat, some love to pick the bone.”
If applying for “Assembly Testimony,” please write your name and address in block letters, and state how many copies you require. In viewof the increasing cost of production, and of the fact that this work is carriedon solely by the free-will offerings of the Lord’s people, do not ask for morecopies than you can use to real advantage. On the other hand, we desireeach family in the assembly to receive one copy. Kindly return surplusmagazines.
We regret we must beg to be excused if replies to letters are brief.
The magazine is published bi-monthly or quarterly, as the Lord may lead. We earnestly solicit the prayers of God’s dear people that spiritual wisdomand grace may be imparted alike to contributors and those who arrange thereading matter.
MY NEXT FLITTING
- No house, however new and grand,
- But is only built by man’s weak hand ;
- And on a patch of fire-doomed land,
- Unstable as the shifting sand —
- I’LL HAVE TO FLIT AGAIN.
- And hair gets grey, and back gets bent,
- And life itself has just been lent,
- And years are fast becoming spent.
- Nor can my soul be here content—
- I’LL HAVE TO FLIT AGAIN.
- Hut one fine day will see the end.
- And I to Heaven shall gladly wend
- My happy way ; and my voice lend
- To sing the praise of my dear Friend,
- AND NEVER FLIT AGAIN.
- What? Never flit again?
- No! Never flit again!
- My soul has reached her biding place,
- The object of His matchless grace;
- Caught up to see His glorious face,
- And ever in His glad embrace —
- I’LL NEVER FLIT AGAIN.
- By the late Mr. Hunter Beattie.