Israel’s Wilderness Failings
Questions touching Christian Fellowship
S. T. Stevens
“The Way that Seemeth Right”
H. F. Norman
Numbers 10—14 (concluded)
By A. McSHANE
THE NEXT TROUBLE which arose in Israel’s camp flared up in the family circle of their great leader—Moses. His sister Miriam, supported by her brother Aaron, made an attack upon him because of his Ethiopian wife. Trouble, as in this case, often arises from unexpected quarters. Miriam, who so carefully and tenderly guarded her younger brother in his infancy, must have been almost 90 years old by this time, and should have known sufficient of his character to make her slow to speak against him. In her remarks we can trace a tinge both of envy and pride—“Hath he not also spoken by US?” Possibly Moses’ stand against the mixt multitude in the former episode may have drawn attention to his own partner who was not one of the house of Israel. Indeed, she was a comparative stranger in the camp, because she had left her husband when he was going to deliver Israel from Egypt, and only joined him when he returned to Mount Sinai (Ex. 18:1-16).
The slander of Aaron and Miriam which was intended to degrade Moses only led to his exaltation and glory. Yes, it revealed him to be a true leader—one who had no necessity to fight to retain his position. The Lord, Who raised him up and put him at the head of the nation, was his defender and vindicator. Those who fight the Lord’s battles can safely leave Him to fight their own. It is true that God may have spoken through Aaron and Miriam on some occasions (for he was a priest and she was a prophetess), but He never communed with them in the same intimate way that He had done with Moses. His special privilege was direct communication, for to him the Lord spake “face to face.”
The swift judgment upon Miriam was no doubt meant to teach her some solemn lessons. The first of these would be that it is a serious matter to speak against God’s faithful servants; the second, that whiteness can be evidence of worse corruption than blackness—(there is little doubt that part of the complaint about Moses’ wife was her dark skin); the third, that it is wrong to judge the action of others without having regard to all the circumstances; and the fourth, that God can bring His people into a situation where the prayers of those spoken against are urgently required.
On this occasion God honoured His servant Moses in three ways—(1) by appearing at the door of the Tabernacle; (2) by speaking on his behalf; (3) and by answering his prayer.
There is still a grave danger of God’s people finding fault with the instrument He may have seen fit to use as His messenger. All who desire to be faithful to Him must be prepared to pay the price. “Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?” is a question that clearly implies that no servant of God can speak His Word unreservedly and not suffer persecution in some form or other. If wrongs are rebuked, those who commit them will almost certainly retaliate. Many, it is to be feared, in order to escape this opposition and with a view to remaining popular with everyone, say nothing against evil-doing but busy themselves in making carnal Christians comfortable. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Therefore, we need grace to see beyond the servant that the Lord may use to correct us, and take rebukes as from Himself.
Israel made no progress while this matter of Miriam’s evil speaking was being dealt with. The whole camp was delayed seven days longer in the waste howling wilderness than otherwise it would have been necessary, as the result of her foolish act. Could it not be that many a company of God’s people to-day has ceased to advance spiritually because of the presence of those who have spoken evil of some of God’s faithful servants?
It must have been a thrilling moment when at last Israel arrived at Kadesh —in sight of the country about which they had heard so much and to which they had been journeying so long. Behind them was the dread and drought of the desert, before them lay the fruitful fields of the “land of milk and honey.” We might think that they would have been so anxious to seize the prize which was now at hand that Moses would have had difficulty in restraining them. Alas, this was not the case, for, instead of exultation and joy, there were scenes of mourning and weeping in the camp. Notwithstanding all they had experienced of God’s delivering hand both in Egypt and in the wilderness, unbelief and cowardice filled their hearts. The report of the spies, who had searched out the land, was far from encouraging. These men, except two, saw more of its giants than of its grapes, more of its fortifications than of its fruits, and more of its walls than of its wealth. Reluctantly they admitted it was a land of plenty, but hastened to explain that it was beyond their power to possess it. They exaggerated the difficulties and disregarded the strength of the Almighty. If God’s hand were ruled out, of course, what they said was undoubtedly true, for they were as helpless to conquer Canaan as they had been unable to sustain themselves in the desert. So disheartened were the people by this evil report that they decided to return to Egypt under a new captain. It appeared to them that nothing but death awaited their wives and families if they ventured over Jordan. What an insult to God! The inference was that He had showed them kindness in the wilderness with the end in view of leading them into the trap of death. Such implications were too grave to escape His wrath and judgment, so He swore they would never enter His rest. All that were numbered of the tribes, except the Levites and the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, were doomed to destruction. It must be remembered, however, that Caleb’s courage and determination to go over and fight with the enemy did not spring from his natural qualities, however good these may have been. No, two little phrases are used concerning him that must not be overlooked. “But My servant Caleb, because he hath another spirit with him and because he followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land.” Fellowship with God and walking in the power of His Spirit, enabled Caleb to do exploits that would have been impossible to human strength.
Now the counterpart, in the New Testament, to Israel’s possessing of Canaan, is the saints’ enjoyment of their position as seated with Christ in the heavenlies. There is with us as there was with them, the grave danger of losing heart and of settling down to wilderness experience, instead of living in the good of our portion in Christ. Satan sees to it that as far as possible God’s people are kept out of their rightful inheritance. But his power cannot avail where faith in God and the power of His Spirit are operating. Let us not underestimate the strength of the foe. He has long experience, wiles and darts; but, on the other hand, let us not fail to value the Divine help which is at our disposal. “Greater is He that is for us than he that is against us.”
When spiritual blessings are not enjoyed, the soul is almost sure to be attracted to the things of this poor world. The Israelites were as ready to go back to Egypt as they were to turn away from Canaan. The worldliness witnessed amongst professing Christians to-day can only be the outcome of unbelief and coldness of heart. When that which God has for us to enjoy is not possessed, earthly things are grasped as a substitute. Indeed, the Christian who is walking in fellowship with God and in the delight of His presence could not be induced to indulge in even the best that this world has to offer.
- “Oh what is all that earth can give?
- I’m called to share in God’s own joy;
- Dead to the world in Thee I live,
- In Thee I’ve bliss without alloy.”
By E. A. TOLL (Newport, Mon.)
A MISUSE OF SCRIPTURE
HERE we might refer to what it cannot be wrong to call a most mischievous innuendo in Mr. Goodman’s address, little as Mr. Goodman may have meant it to be so, although he seems to lack the courage to state the matter plainly. Still, the inference is clear. After quoting Acts 2:44-47, Mr. Goodman adds, “What a blessed thing it is when that really happens. It is not often that we find it,” and goes on to mention the case of a certain “Hall which had secured the goodwill of the neighbourhood” by being “faithful in this recent great campaign.” Is this, then, why Mr. Goodman is so anxious for assemblies to be identified with the London campaign, so that they can bask in the sunshine of its popularity? But let us look a little more closely at the passage of Scripture Mr. Goodman so misuses. The Spirit of God had visited Jerusalem. Thousands of Jews received Peter’s message as to the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus without for one moment intending, or being required to, sever their Jewish connections. Therefore they “continued daily in the temple” (a point Mr. Goodman significantly ignores), and carried on with their Jewish practices with more enthusiasm than ever. This they did “with gladness and singleness of heart” and with praise to God so that “all the people,” i.e. the Jews, who were themselves professed worshippers of God and, as yet unaware of the real significance of what was being taught, regarded them favourably. But how long did this continue, and why did it cease? A change is noticeable as early as Acts 4:1-3, and gradually develops until we read in Acts 8:1. “at that time there was a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and they were all scattered.” Where is “the goodwill of the neighbourhood” now, and why has it turned to persecution? Had the conduct of the believers changed? There is no indication that it had. The cause lay in a quite different direction. It had now been apparent that Judaism and the gospel of a crucified, risen and glorified Christ could not go on together, and “the people`” were not prepared to abandon their Judaism.
Something of a similar nature is recorded in connection with the Lord Jesus in Luke 4. In verse 15 it is said, “He taught in their synagogue, being glorified of all,” and in verse 22, “all wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” Many present-day preachers stop here, but the Lord Jesus did not, and as He proceeded to give point and application to His teaching (His teaching) “all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath” (verse 28) and made efforts to destroy Him. So soon as they saw the full implication of what He preached, they resented it and rejected Him, and were not satisfied until they saw Him at last upon the cross. Is Mr. Goodman going to put the blame for this upon the Lord Jesus, as he does upon the assemblies to-day?
So Paul also found it. When it became clear that acceptance of the gospel which he preached involved the repudiation of Judaism then his troubles began. In Gal. 5:11 he asks, “If I yet preach circumcision why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.” It was his preaching of the cross, and doing so in a way consistent with the theme, and making fully clear the implications of what he preached, that aroused persecution for Paul and that from the very people whose “favour” Mr. Goodman seems to imply he should have courted. If it is, as Mr. Goodman says, “a blessed thing” to enjoy the “goodwill of the neighbourhood,” then Paul must have been singularly unfortunate, but he does not appear to have thought so himself, judging from his words in 1 Cor. 4:9-13; and again in Col. 1:24 and Gal 6:12.
Nor can it be otherwise to-day. If the full implications of “the cross” had been preached at Harringay, and it had been made clear that it demands the “crucifying of the flesh with its affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24), and that the believer regard “the world as crucified unto him and he also to the world” (Gal. 6:14), then we should have had quite a different story. But what was practised at Harringay was a denial of the cross, for the cross can be no more consistently preached under the auspices of denominationalism than under Judaism; baptismal regeneration is no more consistent with it than circumcision; clericalism and priestcraft are as opposed to it as the ritual of the Tabernacle; all the fleshly display and appeal of Harringay were as much out of keeping with it as the carnal ordinances of the temple at Jerusalem. To insinuate that God needs or accepts all the strength and wisdom and ingenuity and accomplishments of that flesh whose innate hostility to Himself has been exposed in the cross, and which He has abased by the cross, in order to make effective “the message of the cross” is self-contradictory and an outrage against Him Who has chosen that message as His power to save men. This explains the popularity of Harringay.
Has the Lord Jesus, then, died upon a cross in vain? Have Paul and other wise and faithful servants of God suffered so many things improperly? Does the Scripture so repeatedly exhort believers to “suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God” without any necessity to do so? And does Peter, who himself “rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name,” wrongly declare that “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ happy are ye,” so that we can “rejoice inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings,” that Mr. Goodman would now have us suppose it is “a blessed thing” to enjoy “the goodwill” of the world? At this late stage of the dispensation are the implications of the gospel to be left so much in doubt that the world will be favourable towards it? It is a monstrous perversion even to insinuate it.
There is cause, too, for doubt as to whether even the aim of the London campaign was consistent with the cross. From repeated references in Dr. Graham’s public utterances to political conditions and the frequent use of such expressions as “saving civilisation” and “saving this country and that” he appears to regard his mission as a means of improving political and social conditions on earth and not merely as a means of communicating to men the message of salvation from the wrath and judgment of God. If men are saved they will doubtless be happier even on earth, but this is not the goal of the gospel. On the other hand, if men live consistently with the cross which saves them, they certainly will not be politicians at all, not popular members of the community.
Even Mr. Goodman, in his booklet, leaves us in uncertainty as to what he thinks is the real purpose of the gospel. He asks, “Have we got anything to say to people who have been working all the week that will encourage them or reach their hearts?” Will Mr. Goodman say what there is in the gospel that was ever intended by God to “encourage people who have been working all the week.” This is not what makes them need the gospel (for even saved people have to work all the week)—rather is it that they have been sinning all the week. If no mention is made of their sins, but only of their troubles, the preacher will, of course, have favour with the people, and it is to be feared that this is becoming the prevailing type of preaching even in assemblies. But it is the fact of man’s sin and his rebellion against God and refusal to bow to the authority of His Son which constitute his real and urgent need, and to obscure this is not to serve the interests of the sinner nor the glory of God. It is indeed to save man from the eternal consequences of this (whatever his circumstances on earth) that the message of the cross is to be proclaimed and warning given of reliance upon any other means. There is no promise in the gospel that the one who believes it will be saved from the troubles and trials of this life. It may be that his real trials will only then begin. They will certainly increase as he learns to suffer with and for Christ at the hands of the world which crucified his Lord, but there will be grace to endure this and to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
A LATER ARTICLE
The foregoing had been written when the writer’s attention was drawn to a still more recent contribution to a periodical circulating among assemblies, referring to the same matter. It begins by warmly commending the address by Mr. Goodman to which exception has been taken above, and proceeds to give advice of a similar nature as to how the gospel testimony of assemblies can be made “to cope with modern conditions and to reach modern people.” Perhaps if Mr. Goodman reads it. it will cause him to pause and consider the logical end to which his ideas may lead. In the same foolish way as in the booklet, everything is argued from the point of view of what is calculated to please and attract modern people. The teaching of Scripture counts for very little.
A MODERN GOSPEL
The first reference in the paper is to halls which “put people off” and to which they “dislike coming,” but this is a minor detail compared with what it says about the gospel itself. “ ‘God be merciful to me a failure,’ ” it says, “might make a bigger appeal to a present-day audience than ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ The former is an equally good translation and brings the matter up-to-date.” It is difficult to write with restraint when dealing with such deliberate falsification of the truth of the gospel as this, and that in a so-called assembly magazine, and all in the name of modernisation. Doubtless there is many an audience which will be glad to be “assured that their sin is only “failure,” for failure may well be excusable, but sin, never. Failure does not imply guilt, but sin does—failure does not necessarily merit judgment from God (indeed it may claim that it only needs help from God), but sin cannot and should not escape it. And we are asked to believe that “failure” is an “equally good translation” as “sinner!” What a warning to those who “halt between two opinions” as to where present trends are leading! and to Mr. Goodman, who wants a gospel for “people who are working all the week!”
The paper then proceeds to complain about what it calls “the anonymity” of assembly halls, and urges the need for labelling them. “Why,” it asks, “go on pretending we are not a distinct body of believers? Why go on talking glibly about ‘the sects’ as if we were not one in practice?” Evidently it causes that writer no shame that assemblies should act as “a sect” rather should they “come out into the open” and confess it and name their halls accordingly, as the conveners of the conference before-mentioned labelled their gatherings. Assemblies of God will cease to be “distinct bodies” if they follow this advice. That assemblies when ordered according to God do form “distinct bodies (not ‘a body’) of believers” is freely admitted and there is no desire to pretend otherwise, but rather to glory in it by those concerned about the will of God in the assembly, but that distinction lies in the very fact (among other things) that no “distinctive” name is employed to label them. In this they are “distinct” from all other communities, and it is hoped they will not yield to popular clamour to the ultimate loss of their assembly status. It is not surprising that one who can write this sort of thing enthusiastically praises the “Crusade at Harringay.”
Finally, the paper asks, “Can we expect the Holy Spirit to bring people along while we do nothing? Can we expect God to blind people to our oddities and peculiarities?” The paper does not answer the questions, but there is no doubt as to what is meant. The real inferences are, firstly, that God is dependent upon, or desires to use, every modem invention and every “catching” device of man in order to do work in men’s hearts which will result in their seeking and accepting salvation. This we have already shewn is contrary to God’s chosen way of working. Secondly, it is implied that if the Christian lives in a way that the worldling considers “odd” or “peculiar” he will discourage the worldling from wanting to be a Christian. The Christian manner of life is then to be shorn of everything which is distasteful to the worldling, so that the worldling will wish to be a Christian! Far from wishing God to “blind the people to our oddities and pecularities,” we should glory in the fact that He has done a work in us as a result of which “the world knoweth us not even as it knew Him (Christ) not” (1 John 3:1). There was a time when such was the peculiarity of the people of God that “of the rest durst no man join himself to them,” but this did not hinder the work of God, for “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:13, 14). At such a price would some bring “the gospel” up-to-date and make it more fruitful in the salvation of men! Can it be doubted that this is the surest way of producing “tares”?
The paper complains of “the dead hand of tradition” and of “harking back to the old days at Tooting and Tunbridge Wells.” This scornful reference to a work which was undoubtedly of God reveals the real spirit behind these efforts to modernise assemblies. If anything of God was recovered in “the old days at Tooting and Tunbridge Wells” why give it up now? What the Scriptures taught men of God in those days they teach to-day. Calling it “tradition” does not get rid of the Word of God, and the real revolt is not against human traditions but against “the traditions” (1 Cor. 11:2 R.V.) preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures. It is the voice of Absalom who with his beauty and plausibility “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” from the man whom God had put upon the throne—a man who sought to order the affairs of Israel “according to the Word of the Lord,” though given so long before through Moses (see 2 Sam 15; 1 Chron. 15:15).
What egregious folly (if not worse) it is, too, to suggest (as the paper does) that the only way to keep young people is to give them what they want. Will the author never learn? Is it not just that that the denominations have been doing for decades, and with what results? So soon as one novelty loses its hold another new thing has to be resorted to, and yet even this has failed. And the same policy has failed, and will fail wherever adopted, in assemblies. It is true (as the paper laments) that “young people are drifting to other pastures.” But what is the reason? Can it be denied that assemblies are becoming so like the denominations in their activities that young believers can discern little, if any, difference between them? A taste for denominational practices is being created and fostered by assemblies, so is it any wonder that uninstructed and unspiritual believers go where they can gratify their taste to the full and in this are they not more honourable than their leaders? Strange wisdom, is it not, and strange honesty, too, to advise making assemblies like the sects to discourage young people from going to the sects! And if young people are counselled and urged to take part in Harringay with all its fleshly-wise and flesh-gratifying features, will it be any wonder if they continue seeking self-gratification in the world’s religious systems? It will be a wonder if they do not. In any case, what good purpose can be served by lowering the spiritual tone of assemblies by the introduction of unspiritual practices? Even if young believers are retained they will be of no value to the assembly and the assembly will be of no advantage to them. Of all things necessary, the one thing essential is the restoration and maintenance of the purity and spirituality of assemblies, and however much the advocates of modernisation and fraternisation protest to the contrary, what is being advocated is a way of things that will gratify and glorify the flesh, and so further destroy the whole spiritual character of assemblies.
So we see the fallaciousness and futility of the advice given by Mr. Goodman and others. Merely to incite to increased activity or to the em-
ployment of more and more modern machinery or to co-operation with those who have no regard for the ways of the Lord, simply leaves the need untouched, except to aggravate it. It is to be as foolish as Israel was in Haggai’s day “Ye have sown much, but bring in little. Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home I did blow upon it. Why? said the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste.” And the remedy? “Consider your ways.”
The suggestion that the feebleness and fruitlessness of assembly testimony to-day is due in any way to their not being up-to-date, or unwilling to co-operate with the denominations, is as contrary to fact as it is to Scripture, and surely those who make these suggestions must know this. It was when saints left the denominations (not seldom at great cost to themselves) and met in places far less modern or orthodox or appropriate (as men speak) than most gospel halls are to-day, compared with other buildings used for religious purposes, that God made use of them in rich and widespread blessing both to other saints as well as to the unsaved. This in itself gives the lie to the idea that the way to spiritual prosperity lies in the copying of, or co-operation with, the denominations. The very opposite in fact is the truth.
On the contrary, only let there be a real humbling before the Lord, and a genuine desire and effort to learn from Him the reason of His displeasure and withholding of blessing, and a readiness to adjust everything to His will as revealed in His Word, and all the ills which now affect assemblies will be remedied. The believers, young and old, composing the assemblies, will become spiritually vigorous as the result of spiritual ministry, and their service in the gospel carried on in spiritual power by spiritual means, will be spiritually fruitful to the glory and pleasure of God. Anything else is the spurious and false growth of the mustard tree.
WOULD it be correct to say that there is only one Fellowship in Scripture, into which all believers are brought upon accepting Christ ‘ as their Saviour?
If this is so, how are we to understand the Fellowship of 1 John 1?
Again, does not the New Testament teach Assembly Fellowship, into which a believer can be received, and from which he can be put away? and are letters of commendation necessary?
Further, does the local church in any district include all the believers in that district? and should a professed believer who belongs to a sect, but who comes to our Lord’s Day Morning Meeting and expects to get breaking bread, be received, though he has no intention of severing his ecclesiastical association?
ANSWERS BY THE LATE MR. WM. RODGERS
The statement that “there is only one fellowship in Scripture, into which all believers are brought upon accepting Christ as their Saviour,” is absolute
nonsense. The particular kind of fellowship in any passage where the word “Fellowship” occurs has to be gathered from the context there; and an examination of this will reveal that there are various “fellowships” spoken of in the New Testament. Moreover, it is to be remembered that the Greek word “Koinonia,” which is usually translated “fellowship” in the New Testament, is also rendered “Communion,” “Communication,” “Contribution” and “Distribution.”
The first occurrence of the word is in Acts 2:42, where it is said that the new converts “continued steadfastly in the … fellowship.” Here we have “fellowship” in which one may “continue” or not continue; and to apply it to the fellowship of life in Christ, in which all true believers cannot avoid continuing, is to make the statement of the verse meaningless.
It is next found in Rom. 15:26 (where in our English Version it is rendered “contribution”). Could it be said that every saint of the present dispensation, or even every saint then living, had fellowship in the gift which the saints of Macedonia and Achaia sent to those of Jerusalem?
The Epistle to the Philippians supplies perhaps the most interesting examples of the various uses of the word “fellowship.” In chap. 1:5 we read of their fellowship in the gospel.” Are all saints in this? In chap. 2:1 we have mention of the “fellowship of the Spirit.” If all have this, why does Paul say, “If there be any”? In chap. 3:10 he speaks of the “fellowship of His sufferings,” which he himself desired to know. But could saints who never had the least experience of persecution for Christ’s sake claim to be in that fellowship? Lastly, in ch. 4:15 (R.V.) we get the fellowship of giving.
As to the passage in 1 John 1, in which we have the last four occurrences of the word “fellowship” in the Scriptures, the expression in verse 3, “that ye also may have fellowship with us,” implies a fellowship which they might or might not have, according to the extent of their knowledge of Christ and His Word; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, of which they might have more or less, according to whether they knew more or less of Christ and His Word. The further references in verses 6 and 7 are clearly to a fellowship in which we can only claim to be, so long as we walk in the light. A man who says he is in it, while yet he is not walking in the light, is described as lying.
As to the next question—whether there is such a thing as “assembly fellowship, into which a believer can be received, and from which he can be put away’—only a person of warped mind would deny this. When Paul said, in 1 Cor. 5:13, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” and the Corinthians obeyed him, was the one who was so “put away” to continue in the circle and insist on breaking bread, as being a member of the so-called “local church”? And if, while yet in the position of having been “put away,” he goes to reside in another town, must the assembly in that town also set him down at the Table, because since he now has his home there, he is a member of their “local church”? If these things are so, we may leave the first Epistle to the Corinthians out of future editions of our Bibles.
With regard to the meaning of the word “church,” when used locally, I have to say what I have already said about that other word, “fellowship.” What it includes or does not include in any particular case must be judged from the context there. In 1 Cor. 10:32 it evidently takes in every saved person in the district, just as the other two terms in the verse, “Jews” and “Gentiles,” take in all the others in the district. But in the same Epistle at chap. 11:18 and chap. 14:19, 28, 35, it just as plainly means none but those who come to the Meeting, and this is made even clearer by chap. 14:23, in which, after “the whole church” has come together there may still come in one who is spoken of as “unlearned,” yet who is distinguished (by the little word “or” that follows) from an unbeliever. In other words, he is a saved man, but not yet in the “local church,” in the sense in which the term “church” is used in this verse.
Moreover, not only can a person be put out of a local church when he deserves it, but according to 3rd John 10 he may be “cast out of the church” even when he does not deserve it. One might well ask, who were still “in” this local church after Diotrephes had cast these brethren “out” of it? Or were the cast out brethren “out” and “in” at the same time?
As to “letters of commendation,” is it not clearly enough stated in 2 Cor. 3:1 that some needed them, though Paul, being well known to everyone, did not. How often would some require a thing to be stated in Scripture, in order to feel themselves bound to act accordingly?
With regard to the other matter—the case of a professed Christian who belongs to some sect, but comes to our meeting and expects to get breaking bread for one Lord’s Day, and then return to his own company—I would need a good deal of convincing that the one who wished so to act was an honest man. If he believes that we are right, why should he not come to stay with us? If he believes us to be wrong, and his own sect right, why should he want to do wrong even for one Lord’s Day? And if he can do without “breaking bread” on fifty-one Sundays in the year, why should he be so insistent on being allowed to do so on the remaining one?
(By S. T. STEVENS, Christchurch, Hants)
It is of much importance that we should be fully aware of what God has said in His Word about spiritual conditions in the professing Church in these last days. To draw the attention of fellow-believers to this, the following lines are penned.
For the sake of those not familiar with the Book of Revelation, we would suggest that a key to it is found in chap. 1:19, where John was commanded to write concerning :
- “The things which thou hast seen”—which have to do with the past;
- “The things which are”—which have to do with the present age; and are portrayed in the seven messages of chaps. 2 and 3;
- “The things which shall be hereafter”—that is, after this age has ended.
THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Regarding chaps. 2 and 3, it is true, of course, that the seven churches to which letters are there addressed were companies of saints which existed in Asia Minor in John’s day. Most students, however, see in those letters a prophetic picture of the Church from Pentecost to the end, a view which is confirmed by even an elementary knowledge of Church history.
Ephesus represents spiritual conditions at the beginning. There we have the loss of “first love.” This is the initial step in all departure from God. Next comes Smyrna with its persecution, which is allowed of God to call a remnant back to that “first love” which had been left in Ephesus. In Pergamos we see the saints settled down in the world. Thyatira sets forth the growth of worldliness and priestcraft, which became a predominant feature in the Dark Ages and goes on to the end. Sardius represents the Protestant Reformation. In it we have a partial recovery of truth. In Philadelphia we have a further recovery of divine things and a clearer testimony to the Lord’s Word and Name. Finally, we have Laodicea, which is marked by lukewarmness, self-complacency, deception, and spiritual poverty. Generally speaking, it is an accepted fact that we are in the Laodicean stage. Are we awake, however, to the spiritual conditions which mark this closing period of the Church’s history? Are we living as those who believe that the day of testimony will shortly end and that then we must be made manifest before the Judgment Seat of Christ?
Now, let us consider the extent to which Laodiceanism affects us individually and collectively. The word “Laodicea” is composed of two words and means “the rights, or justice, of the people.” How well this expresses the spirit of the world to-day! In a word, it is Democracy. The Word gives no place for such an idea in the assembly, or in the individual life of the child of God. The Scriptures must ever be our sole rule of faith and practice. The tastes of the people change, but not so the truth of God. “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). That Word leaves no room for modem ideas and methods. Observe that it is to Laodicea that the Lord presents Himself as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” That expresses what He is to His faithful Word, and it has been the cleaving to it, or departing from it, that has been the cause either of the rise or fall of God’s people down the ages.
Modernists to-day openly deny God’s truth, and amongst the assemblies, innovations which find no support in Scripture are creeping in, under the pretext of brightening our meetings to attract the young. Are these movements of the flesh or of the Spirit? Surely if the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to gather out the Church, He is all-sufficient to continue the work until the last living stone is added to the spiritual building, without the aid of worldly methods. Do you not think so?
In order more fully to appreciate this Laodicean message, we must keep mind the significance of the two messages which precede it. Sardis, we have suggested, represents Protestantism, which dates from the time of the Reformation. Then the glorious truth of Justification was preached and God’s Word was put into the hands of the people. Philadelphia follows. The word means, “love of the brethren,” and here emphasis is laid upon our Lord’s “WORD” and “NAME”—“thou has kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (v. 8). This, we believe, sets forth the great movement by the Spirit of God which took place in the early part of the last century. Saints were drawn together in love, which, of course, flows from love to Christ and from His Word abiding in us and controlling our lives. The Word of God was restored to its true place, as the only court of appeal in all matters of church life: and in recognition of the oneness of the Body of Christ, His Names became the centre of gathering, and saints in many quarters of the world came out from the systems of men and took their stand upon Scriptural ground. This was perhaps the greatest and most scriptural revival since Pentecost. We who meet outside the camp of the religious world to-day are reaping the fruits of it. Do we value our goodly heritage?
Alas, this happy Philadelphian position soon became the object of Satan’s malice. He knew that unity is strength and subjection to God’s Word the sure way to blessing, and he succeeded in dividing and scattering those early assemblies. This paved the way for Laodiceanism. It is possible to say we are Philadelphian as to our ground of gathering, but are we that at heart? Are we departing from Philadelphian principles? Many, it is feared, have been brought into assemblies that have never been taught the truth relative to our place outside the camp. And may I at this point ask our dear overseeing brethren if they put this position before the young Christians who seek assembly fellowship?
Now, let us faithfully face up to what the Lord here says about our condition. “I know thy works that thou art neither cold nor hot.” He does not complain, observe, of the coldness of death in which grace found us, but rather that there is not the glow of all that His grace has wrought in us. His mighty love has not so captivated our hearts that He is everything to us. O the tragedy of these half-and-half lives of ours, because we are not willing to go all the way that His holiness demands!
Then He deals with our self-complacency. “Because thou sayest I am rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing.” “Rich”—and just what is the standard of being rich? All our riches are in Christ. The children of Israel were rich. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). What privileges they enjoyed! How near they were to God! But we are rich in soul-union with Christ. The Laodiceans, however, were not enjoying Him. They were wrapped up in themselves, and were missing the true riches. Are we like them? We have an open Bible, good halls, large collections, teachers and much written ministry by gifted men who have experienced the truth in their souls. But are we so occupied and satisfied with these blessings that Christ has little place in our affections Has He to say. “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”? “Wretched” depicts a fallen condition. What a contrast this is from the Philadelphian glory in which the hearts of the saints were bound together in holy love! Misery follows as the result of such a fall. “Poor”—yes, spiritually so, and spiritually blind, too. How the story of Samson brings out this sad truth! Born a Nazarite, his life was one of triumph while he kept his vow; but how “wretched, miserable, poor, and blind” he became after his unequal yoke with the Philistine! He lost his hair, the secret of his strength, and became the sport of the enemies of God. What a picture it is of conditions in the professing Church! It can be said of many a spiritual Samson to-day, “He wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” Philadelphia stood for Nazariteship, but in Laodicea this character is absent. The last word in this sad description is “naked.” It is the believer’s joy that he has been clothed in the “best robe” and fitted for the Father’s house. There is a sense, however, in which he is to clothe himself. He is responsible to “put on the armour of light,” to “put on the Lord Jesus” (Rom. 13:12, 14), to “put on the new man,” to “put on as the elect of God holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” . “And above all these things put on charity which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:10, 12, 14). This is intensely practical, and here Laodicea failed. Yet, alas, they knew it not. In light of these solemn things it is our responsibility to search our hearts. “It is high time to awake out of sleep,” brethren. The world is in the blackness of midnight, and soon our day of testimony will be ended.
Sad as is this state, Christ goes on to say : “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see.” What grace to a poor, fallen church! All the remedy is in Christ. He is the unfailing One, “the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.” May we on our side have grace to respond to His pleading.
Again He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock : If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come to him and will sup with him, and he with me.” You see, with all their church organisation, outward activity, and boasted riches, Christ was outside. Standing there in lowly grace, He pleads. And if the Church as a whole will not open to Him, He will come in to the individual who repents and makes room for Him. This promise recalls that of John 14:23, “If a man love me he will keep my words and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him.” Here is the secret of “overcoming” (Rev. 3:21). Read the words slowly, dear saint. “If a man love me.” The root of all the trouble and departure in the seven churches was, “Thou has left thy first love” (ch. 2:4). Here is the way back. Note what follows in John 14:23 : “He will keep my Word.” This is the next step. What place has His Word in our lives? Do we fear to do anything in the home, in the business, in the assembly which is not strictly according to His Word? In early assembly life in our land the Scriptures were the touchstone of everything. This is the only way to the overcoming life.
The promise of reward follows, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” What an inducement to live for Him alone! And what an honour to sit with Him in His throne! Let no one, then, be discouraged. We can overcome in His power, dark though the day be. He now “sits with His Father in His throne” to minister to us the needed grace for testimony all the journey through.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
H. F. NORMAN (Portsmouth)
ONE OF THE GREATEST MISTAKES of the people of God in all times is to apply moral judgment or common-sense, so-called, to conditions and circumstances, instead of adhering strictly to Divine principles as taught by the Spirit of God in the Scriptures of truth. It is the mistake of acting according to what appeals to the natural mind, instead of according to the mind of Christ. Since we in this dispensation have a full revelation, such behaviour is all the less excusable. In Christendom there has been a steadily increasing recourse to “the way that seemeth right to a man” and less and less attention to Divine principles and precepts, with the inevitable result of its present arrival in “the ways of death”; the Sardis condition of having a name that it lives, while it is dead. When a similar condition is seen developing amongst companies of the Lord’s people who profess greater spiritual enlightenment, it is a matter of deep concern and sorrow.
God has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways,” and in spiritual matters—matters pertaining to God—common-sense, the natural sense of right and wrong, can have no place whatsoever.
In Luke 9, disciples who had just witnessed Christ demonstrated from the excellent glory as vastly superior to Elijah, see him in very similar circumstances to that prophet—ill used by Samaritans; and their natural feelings would demand that their Master should now deal as Elijah had done with the captains and their fifties. To them it seemed right that He should call forth judgment upon those who despitefully used Him. Instead, Christ rebuked them with “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” The natural sense of what was right proved contrary to the mind of Christ. The disciples were not spiritually sensible of the occasion. The time was yet to come when Divine wrath would fall from heaven upon Christ-rejecting men; it was not to be then.
To disciples who thought that their Master would not want to be troubled by parents bringing little children (those of us who have children may understand the parents’ concern), He showed His displeasure (Mark 10:14), and how human reasoning again had failed to read His heart.
The servants in Matt. 13 sought to do what seemed right and proper— to weed the crop, to remove the tares that might choke the wheat. This would certainly seem the logical thing to do. But the Lord of the harvest said, “Let both grow together.” The thoughts and purposes of God “Who sees the end from the beginning” were to be revealed in that field, and man’s logic cannot be allowed. Time and time again we see this lack of right judgment on the part of even the close companions of Christ. On one occasion it called from the depth of His heart the yearning “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” Oh that we might know Him, and that that knowledge might order our lives individually and as local assemblies. Oh that we might have the apprehension, understanding and heart’s grasp of what is of Christ, of what answers to His mind for us, and not just what seemeth right to natural intelligence.
Recently I was shown an assembly’s invitation card to its Women’s Meeting. Together with the attractions of a cup of tea, and singing, was offered a Thrift Club. Think of it, a Thrift Club, organised by a local assembly—a company of saints claiming to be God’s dwelling-place, intended by its glorified Lord to give a true account of Himself and His holy, heavenly character. Evidently such things seem right to that assembly, but they certainly do not savour of the things that be of God. but of men. One remembers with trembling that the only occasion that the Lord displayed wrath in the days of His flesh was when cleansing the House, from those who carried on business in money within its doors. It is to be lamented that such things are to be found amongst us to-day—practices whose origin is entirely in the natural mind, having not one iota of Divine authority.
One often finds the Lord’s people zealously engaged in various assembly activities and very energetic in what is claimed to be the Lord’s service, and of course it is better to have zeal than coldness and indifference, but that zeal is frequently “not according to knowledge.” The account of the moving of the Ark of Testimony from Kirjath-Jearim in 1 Chron. 13 is full of significance regarding this matter. There the zeal of David and the people would be engaged with moving the Testimony as they judged the moment demanded, in a new way (v7) and “the thing was right in the eyes of all the people”; indeed they “played before God with all their might.” How familiar all this sounds! New methods in presenting the old. old story seem necessary, and often they are borrowed from this present evil world. There is much emphasis upon music and singing, and it all seemeth right. But the zeal and joy of David and the people were no excuse for acting contrary to God’s purpose. Disappointment and confusion resulted. Beloved, let us examine our ways and methods in local testimony. Let us see if we are doing what is right before God, and not just what is right in the eyes of all the people.
Music and singing are gaining a place of prominence in some assemblies. Some even boast of a choir, and one finds that certain choirs, having gained prowess and popularity, unite with the sects of Christendom. Indeed, in one known case an assembly’s choir performed on a Pentecostal platform. Brethren, these things ought not so to be; they are to our shame and our Lord’s dishonour. The most that can be said for musical ability, or any natural talent, is that it can only be regarded as “the best of Amalek.” It was bad enough for Saul to disobey the Lord (1 Sam. 15) and spare the best of Amalek, but to offer it as a sacrifice to Jehovah was gross presumption and ignorance. Yet Saul claimed to have “performed the commandment of the Lord.” By all means let us sing, but “let us sing with the understanding also.”
Beloved brethren, let us grasp with spiritual intelligence that God’s glory, the honour of His Son, and the display in the assembly of His wisdom and ways are not to be left to the concepts and workings or feeble limitations of man’s wisdom and moral judgment. May we seek grace to be not as they “who err in vision, and stumble in judgment,” but may the mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus, who did always that which pleased the Father.
- WHAT IT MEANS IN THE DAILY LIFE
- It means the most utter faithfulness,
- The most transparent truthfulness.
- The most decided honesty.
- It means every word you speak is perfectly true.
- It means you never flatter or slander anyone.
- That you never try to convey a false impression;
- That you are all through alike, in business, in religion, in the home life.
- It means you set yourself to bring every thought into harmony with the will of God.
- It means you will do to others as you wish to be done by them.
- It means purest chastity.
- “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14)