“The Open Table”
Jottings from Malachi
Late Frank Hunter
By T. W. BALL
WHILE we do not doubt the sincerity, impugn the honesty, nor belittle the ability of teachers who advocate the kind of Reception known as “The Open Table”, we feel that some fallacies attaching to that view of things should be pointed out.
THE PROOF TEXT: ROM. 15:7
To support their contention these teachers usually quote Rom. 15:7: “Receive ye one another”, as if that were final, and authoritative on the point. This injunction has, however, nothing to do with reception to an assembly, but as the wording makes plain, refers to the mutual receiving of Christians already enjoying assembly privileges. The initial reception to a local company is allowed for in the words of chap. 14:1. “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.” A sample of that which affects visitors and migrants is seen in chap. 16:1 in the case of Phoebe. The fact of her identification with the assembly at Cenchrea is stated as making is possible for the saints at Rome to “receive her in the Lord.”
“THE ONE BODY”
Lest the truth of all believers belonging to the one Body should be obscured or jeopardized, they say that God’s assembly should have an “open table.” We heartily agree that to ignore this, or any other New Testament truth, would be tragic for an assembly, but are we obliged to set aside godly order to keep it in view? To be quite logical in this position, we would have to support (betimes) every system, and enterprise, with which we know true Christians to be identified. Would that build up the assembly? Surely one of the “all things” to be done “in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) is receiving into the assembly, in a manner that will not “make fish of one and flesh of another.”
“LIFE, NOT LIGHT IS THE TEST”
This hackneyed saying is so much used in this connection, that to question its validity seems almost sacrilegious We make bold, however, to ask those who speak thus, to produce one truly bom again soul who possesses life and has no light whatsoever. Isn’t it palpably contrary to John 6:45:“They shall be all taught of God”, and 1 John 2:27:“the same anointing teaches you of all things”? To insist upon full knowledge to begin with, would be as foolish as expecting the wisdom of a man from an infant; but how are we to know the applicant has life if he cannot answer some elementary questions calculated to reveal what light he has?
“PRINCIPLES, NOT RULES ARE OUR GUIDE”
The advocates of the “open table” never cease to inveigh against what they call “hard and fast rules,” “cast-iron concepts,” and all “rule of thumb.” Again we quite agree that there are no rules, but rather principles, to guide us in the Scriptures. But what IS the New Testament principle? The fundamental one is that a person (having been baptized as a believer) is received by an assembly into its fellowship (not to the Lord’s Table merely, or other privilege), to “continue steadfastly” therein, the saints being cognisant of the one thus welcomed (Acts 2:42; 9:28). A promiscuous group of professing Christians, for example, on trek or on holiday in a camp, cannot with Divine authority set up the Lord’s Table. They cannot Scripturally receive into fellowship, nor can they put away. To attempt to do so would be most disorderly.
“PAUL WAS INTRODUCED BY BARNABAS”
This is taken to justify the practice of a believer bringing along a visiting friend on Lord’s Day morning, whom he vouches to be a Christian, desirous of breaking bread with the saints. Though this friend may not be in fellowship in any assembly, and perhaps not even baptised as a believer, it is supposed to be quite right to receive him as requested. Four points, at least, in the Acts 9 narrative are invariably ignored :
- That Paul first “assayed to join himself (i.e. to adhere to, or be identified with) the disciples,” and that, too, at a time when they were being fiercely persecuted.
- That the apostles, acting as overseers, were fully satisfied; indeed they were pleasantly astonished at the “light” he had and the ability he showed.
- That upon being received he remained with them, “coming in and going out.”
- That Paul was a baptized believer, one who would afterwards teach and practice believers’ baptism.
No, Acts 9 does not lend countenance to a usage which makes the assembly a place of convenience without conviction.
“YOU ARE SHUTTING OUT,” Gal. 4:17 (R.V.)
Being hard put to it to prove their “open” theory, this verse is alluded to, so as to give the impression that any other method of reception would cause a “shutting out” of believers. The absolute irrelevance of this scripture is obvious at a glance. It refers to the Judaizers making a breach between the apostle and the Galatian assemblies, in order to win them over to their pernicious teaching. But does orderly reception shut out anyone? Does it injure anyone? Does it make anyone feel unwanted? It certainly need not, and should not, do so. Time is given to the applicant to know what is believed, and to see what is practised, amongst the believers. Time, too, is given the brethren to enquire into the background, associations, behaviour and verbal testimony of the person in question. In due time he is, without undue formality, but with becoming solemnity, received into the company to which his Spirit-given exercise caused him to gravitate.
“ONLY THE GENUINE WANT TO JOIN US”
This statement shows that alertness to the sad fact of abounding false profession is considerably dulled by the “open table” idea. It deprecates “eagle-eye” vigilance, and praises a “welcome-on-the-mat to all” attitude. It takes nearly everyone’s sincerity for granted—“Give him the benefit of the doubt; or, better still, doubt no one.” A question such as, “Are you a believer? a Christian?” or “Do you love the Lord?” is deemed sufficient. Anything more personal or searching savours of rudeness. The “scraping,” probing Evangelist is not so welcome as one who is easily pleased in profession. Large-heartedness is the “one thing needful.” One can easily me the effect of this plausible credulity, especially after some “high-pressure” Gospel campaigns in the district. Bitter disappointment is sure to fallow such idealism.
“SCRIPTURAL DISCIPLINE IS NOT IMPAIRED’’
Though they maintain that they are firm on this, we cannot but doubt it. Seeing that it is difficult to carry out discipline even where godly order is adhered to, how can the standard be maintained when it is in measure set aside? The clear line of demarcation between the “within’’ and the “without” (1 Cor. 5) is bound to be ultimately obliterated. Such practices as brethren going to the denominations to preach, and sisters allowing worldlings to marry them, will pass unchallenged. Yielding to the desire to put the assembly on a more popular basis will soon blind the eyes, shut the mouths, and tie the hands of responsible overseers. Worldliness will stamp the homes, and stifle the progress, of the saints.
“ IT IS THE LORD’S TABLE ”
“Don’t forget,” these teachers say, “that it is the Lord’s Table, not man’s.” Yes, that is the very point. If it were that of an earthly friend, I could conceivably — without compromise — sit down to a meal beside unbelievers of various shades of opinion (compare 1 Cor. 10:27). Many Christians have to do so daily at their work. The Lord’s Table, however, prohibits such a mixed gathering. It is part — a great part — of the privilege of those in fellowship. They must judge sin before coming to it. “Let a man examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28). Elders of the calibre of 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1, are guardians of its honour. It is, therefore, not only appallingly shallow but dangerously misleading, to assert or imply that one can sit beside the same company at the Lord’s Table, as in a private house.
In concluding, let us ask the following question:In districts where the “open table” principle is operative, has it produced more of the fear of God, more clean-cut separation from the world, more true unity amongst believers, and more sin-exposing ministry from teachers—more sobriety of conduct and more zeal for the Gospel, with its Heaven-or-Hell issues made clear? Even If an affirmative answer could be given—and that is impossible —the Scriptures do not afford a four-square basis on which to build this line of teaching.
By WM. BUNTING (Continued)
DIVIDED OPINION has ever been a potential danger to the people of God. Disagreement on some issue too often leads to sides being
taken, each contending obstinately for its own point of view. When such grievances are allowed to drag on over a period of time misunderstandings are sure to arise. Complications develop, personal feelings become embittered, and faults are magnified. The growing tension becomes fraught with dangers of a most serious nature to the testimony.
UNANIMITY OF JUDGMENT
It follows, therefore, that unanimity of judgment in all essential matters is indispensable for the harmonious working of an assembly. “Now I beseech you. brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all SPEAK THE SAME THING, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in THE SAME MIND and IN THE SAME JUDGMENT” (1 Cor. 1:10). The “mind” here has reference to our inward frame of thought or understanding; “judgment,” to the sentiment which is formed of it; and speech (“speak”) to the outward expression of both. In this oneness of mind, oneness of judgment, and oneness of speech we are to be “perfectly joined together.” This last expression represents a word which occurs some 13 times in the New Testament and which means “to adjust thoroughly, to knit together, to unite completely.” It is said to have been a term used in surgery and applied to the setting of broken bones and dislocated limbs. Its first occurrence in the New Testament is significant. It is the word used in Matt. 4:21 where we are told that James and John were “MENDING their nets.” That newly repaired network of Zebedee’s sons, its numerous meshes so interwoven that it must have resembled a spider’s web. is a fitting picture of what an assembly ought to be—a company of saints knitted together in one common cause by the Spirit—a company which with “one mind and one mouth will glorify God” (Rom. 15 ; 6), and in which no rent or schism can be found. Such was the character of the church in Jerusalem when in the bloom of its first love, and such is the Divine ideal.
For this unanimity Paul here pleads with the Corinthians, and his appeal comes ringing down the ages to us in these last days. He does not command with apostolic authority, though he might have done that. Rather he “beseeches” us—beseeches us by our blood-bought relationship as “brethren”, and by the name par excellence, “the name of our ‘Lord Jesus Christ.” Can we. if we have hearts at all. resist such an appeal? “From this beseeching exhortation.” says J. R. Caldwell, “it is evident that it is no light matter that the children of God should all speak the same thing; that to be speaking different things, contrary the one to the other, each holding and propagating his own opinions, is not the mind of God.”
How then is the Divine ‘deal to be realised? How can we be of one mind and one mouth? This is the crux of the matter. Yet the solution seems simple—it is surely by having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). If we drink deeply of His Spirit we shall all think and speak the same thing. “But some one,” Mr. Caldwell again says, “perhaps has the thought, it is best to agree to differ; a common thought and perhaps well meant, but not of God. Dare we agree to differ where God HAS SPOKEN? He says, Be of one mind.’ Are we willing to bow before God, saying in our hearts, ‘Lord, I have no mind of my own, and I want to have no mind of my own; but show me Thy mind in Thy Word’?” Is not our trouble often just this, brethren, that we are unwilling to let go our own opinions? Our spirits are too proud to own we have been mistaken. In a word, we are self-willed. O the havoc this self-will—this stubborn self-will—has wrought amongst God’s people ! “Do you know the three words in the language which are most difficult to pronounce ?” said a half-wit to a man conceited in his knowledge. Admitting he did not, the latter asked what they might be, to which the simpleton replied, “They are the words, I AM WRONG.” The poor fellow knew more than people thought, for it is indeed hard to acknowledge we are mistaken. The spiritual man, however, will gladly jettison his own opinion that he may have the mind of Christ.
WAITING UPON GOD
If, however, the assembly be divided as to what the Lord’s mind is, what is to be done? Let us suppose a case of discipline arises. Some think drastic action should be taken, while others believe a rebuke will suffice. What is the remedy for this lack of oneness? In all such cases let the saints honestly seek God’s face for guidance, meanwhile holding their decision in abeyance. Especially let the elders wait upon Him for unanimity, so as to be able to give a lead to the flock. We are persuaded that if this were done in the right spirit, with real humility before God, He would reveal His mind to His people. There is no problem too complex for Him to solve, and it is a Divine principle that “If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching” (Jo. 7:17, R.V.), “and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Phil. 3, 15). In seasons of difficulty godly elders of a hundred years ago sought God with fasting and prayer until the cloud lifted and His mind became known. How many leaders do this to-day? Yet how much better this would be than to come to a hasty judgment which would probably override the consciences of exercised souls, lower the spiritual tone of the assembly, and inflict a wound which years will not heal ! Of his long association with Mr. Wm. Hake, Mr. R. C. Chapman wrote: “Our fellowship has been ever growing, and during its 59 years continuance never was strife or bitterness between us. . . . For guidance of our steps, the ordering of our ways . . . we always waited on God together for His mind. … If judgments did not agree, we waited on God to give us oneness of mind, and NEITHER OF US EVER TOOK A STEP AGAINST THE JUDGMENT OF THE OTHER —HENCE NO STRIFE, NO BITTERNESS!” (our capitals). Again, writing of the Bethesda assembly, Bristol, of which Mr. Geo. Muller and Mr. Henry Craik were elders, Mr. Jas. Wright was able to testify that its “affairs had been conducted upon a Scriptural principle, namely, that of waiting, before deciding any matter, until unanimity of judgment had been arrived at,” the result being that “for sixty years uninterrupted peace and harmony . . . characterised this church.” If these brethren could bear one with the other and Unitedly wait upon God until His mind was ascertained why can we not do likewise? Are our wills too obdurate and perverse, or has God changed? Are we allowing Him “to work in us that which is well pleasing in His sight ?” Alas, how little we know of the humble mind and of the patient waiting upon the living God which marked those saintly characters. What untold sorrow has been erased by strong-minded men—men who should have known better -who in spite of every protest and remonstrance and regardless of consequences, have, like their prototype Diotrephes, persisted in running counter to their brethren!
CONFIDENCE IN EACH OTHER
Considering these things, how important it is that we should eschew all that is calculated to weaken the confidence of brethren one in the other? For if confidence be forfeited and brother becomes suspicious of brother, how can true unanimity of judgment ever be realised? If for example, the financial affairs of the assembly are not fully reported by those responsible, or if the Lord’s offering is disbursed by one or two elders who never consult the wishes of fellow-saints in the matter, a deep distrust and feeling of dissatisfaction is bound to grow up. Again, if it becomes known that prior to the eider’s meeting in which some important issue was to to be discussed a little clique of brethren had already reached their decisions privately in some home or office, will not confidence in the sincerity of such brethren be seriously shaken? Surely the realm of sacred things is not the place for scheming, intrigue, and worldly diplomacy, all with a view to getting the better one of another. Let us be straightforward, sincere, transparent, as those that fear God, and we shall have gone a long way toward being of one mind in the Lord.
RULE BY MAJORITY
It may be objected, however, that the words in 2 Cor. 2:6 (R.V.) “This punishment which was inflicted by the many” – imply rule by the majority. The term here translated “the more” occurs some ten times in the New Testament. Let us consider a few of its occurences. In Acts. 19:32; 27: 12, “the more part” could no doubt be rendered “the majority” for that plainly is its meaning. In 1 Cor. 9:19 and Heb. 7:23, however, where the word is translated “the more” (“that I might “gain the more” and “many” (“they truly were many priests”) respectively, it just as plainly could not be so understood, its obvious meaning being “more than would otherwise have been the case” This, we suggest, is the thought in 2 Cor. 2 ; 6. Paul had been “grieved” (see verse 5) by the sin committed, and had “judged already as though he were present, concerning him that had done this deed” (1 Cor! 5:3). Now the Corinthians also were “grieved” 2 Cor. 2:4,5) and acting upon the apostle’s instructions had cleared themselves in the matter. Thus the punishment was inflicted by “the more” – the ??? than would have been the case if the Corinthians had not corroborated his judgment. Sir Robert Anderson used to say that “It is the context that determined the meaning of a word,” and we have here an illustration of his diction, for if the term in verse 6 could be proved to signify “the majority”, how are we to understand verse 5:“But if any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow not to me. but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all (R.V.) Since by the “you all” there Paul must mean all the saints of the church of Corinth, so by “the more” here he likewise must mean the Corinthian assembly and himself. We would add that nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything to countenance the idea of a section of the assembly acting without the co-operation of their fellow-believers. The thought of a church decision by a vote is entirely foreign to Scripture.
In the case of a brother dissenting from the otherwise unanimous judgment of the saints, surely if he is a godly man he will not press his view to the extent of holding up the whole assembly, but will stand aside and commit his cause to the Lord in the confidence that He will in time manifest the right. Of coarse if the saints do not feel happy about acting without his support, that is another matter. For one brother, however, to imagine that the judgment of the entire assembly should be set aside in deference to his opinion would be to introduce one-man rule. Now if rule by a majority is wrong, so also is rule by a minority, and that would be minority rule with a vengeance.
“Finally, brethren, farewell Be perfect, be of good comfort, BE OF ONE MIND, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”* (2 Cor.. 13: 11).
(to be continued)
By the late Frank Hunter
THE condition of things ia the world and in the Church proclaim with a loud voice, “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh.” Men’s hearts are failing them for fear as they think of what the future may hold. But while the worldling’s vain hopes rest upon the wisdom of statesmen, the child of God can rest confidently upon the fact that the Most High ruleth in the heavens, and that He sitteth upon the waterfloods. Alas! many are living for the world. Let us rather, as pilgrims in this doomed scene, continue on our way, against all opposition, until we reach “the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,”
To be faithful to God, in a day when all bespeaks unfaithfulness and dishonour to His Holy Name and Word is a singular privilege which we might all covet.
The Book of Malachi was God’s last message to the remnant that had returned from Babylon. But it was written also for our instruction (Roms. 15:4), and gives encouragement for closing days to the true-hearted. The Temple was rebuilt, priestly service was restored, yet it appeared to most to be a vain thing to serve God. There was not a man faithful and courageous enough for God to shut the doors and extinguish the fire on the Altar, for that is the right thought in v. 10 of ch. 1. God had no pleasure in them. Connect this last clause with Heb. 10:38 (R.V.).
But who was to blame for the condition of things in Malachi’s day – the priests or leaders of the people?—and is it not the same to-day? Look how ch. 2 opens, “O ye priests … if ye will not hear and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto My Name saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and l will curse your blessings.”
When God speaks to His people concerning their moral and spiritual state, the least they can do is to hear and lay to heart what God may have to say. Those who refuse to hear when God speaks are indeed in a hopeless state, be they leaders or otherwise. Their souls are withered up, and there is no fruit for God. I have no pleasure in you.” “Neither will I accept sin offering at your hand.” What little evidence there seems to be among
God’s people today that they “hear” and “lay it to heart”! Those who instruct the intellect will get a hearing and a following, but the messenger of the Lord who speaks to the conscience will be neglected and rejected. The people will “heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” but they would stone the messenger of the Lord who would lift up his voice-like a trumpet and show them their transgressions and sins.
On every hand we are face to face with the low condition of God’s people. The divisions, the contentions, the bitterness amongst the saints are manifest on all sides—yet how little they are laid to heart; how little mourning before the Lord ; how little confession to one another ; how little do we lay to heart the sorrow and shame to ourselves, and the dishonour to the Lord! And the result of this is that there is much that passes for ministry of the Word, but alas ! it produces little progress among the saints. You find them just where they were years ago—the blessing is withheld.
We can get a true estimate of our condition in the end of a dispensation only by comparing it with the condition at the beginning that is the sole way to learn the extent of our departure from what is according to the mind of God as revealed in His Word.
In the beginning the Priest was marked by (1) life, (2) peace, (3j the fear of the Lord, (4) the law of truth in his mouth, (5) a walk with God in peace and equity, (6) iniquity not found in his lips, (7) a real blessing to others – turning them from iniquity and instructing them in the knowledge of His ways. Such is the mind of the Lord for the one that would go before the flock or take the place of a servant of the Lord to preach and teach His truth.
In the beginning the priest “feared Me” and “walked with Me, saith the Lord”; but now they had departed out of the way, with the result that instead of turning many from iniquity they “caused many to stumble and brought themselves into contempt in the eyes of the people (vv. 8,9) Then we see that there was another wrong- -they were dealing treacherously one with the other; while from v. 11 on it is the condition of the people m general that is described. Judah married the daughter of a strange god. – worldly alliances of the most intimate character. So while the leaders were wrangling, the sheep were wandering, drifting into the world and forming unholy associations. All this has certainly its counterpart to-day.
However, there was a remnant within a remnant, as the next chapter shows. When things were at their worst, there was a little company who feared the Lord, thought upon His Name, and spoke of Him one to another. In this way they were preserved by Him in a dark and evil day. Their safety was in fearing Him ; their comfort was in thinking of His Name; and their fellowship was in speaking of Him one to another. The Lord observed it all; although unnoticed by the mass around, or if noticed only to be despised ; but they were not too insignificant to attract the notice of the Lord. He observed them, and they were of great value in His sight and a book of remembrance was written “before Him,” and they will be honoured with His public recognition in the day of glory. They were satisfied with the Lord’s approval to sustain their faith and cheer them on the path of separation and testimony to His Name. They had no expectation that evil would decrease, or that the world would grow better until the Lord came. I think if you look at the opening chapters of Luke you get a ; faithful remnant in Zacharias, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna.
They had to keep to what God gave them at the, beginning, law of Moses,” a sure and infallible guide for their walk, service and worship without lowering the divine standard or attempting to accommodate divine oracles to a human condition of weakness or failure. And, my brethren, since divine principles never change, whatsoever be the dispensation, it goes without saying that all this has an application for us to-day.
Thank God, amidst all the drift that has set in, there are faithful ones who cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart, and hold fast to His truth to-day, at the close almost of this present dispensation, as there were faithful ones who cleaved to Jehovah in the closing period of the Jewish dispensation. We should seek In every way possible to encourage such in these last and closing: days of the Church’s history on earth.
Col. 1:18; 3 John 9.
PRE-EMINENCE AS JEHOVAH’S SERVANT “HE could not be hid”—Mark 7:24
HE Gospel according to Mark presents Jehovah’s Perfect Servant in ail 1 His unflinching obedience to the Father’s will and in all the unchanging and unchangeable submission of His own. Mark starts with the Lord pressing immediately into service. There is no genealogy, no account of His childhood or youth, but straightway He is at work for God. His holy pathway as recorded by Mark is characterised by the patient and lowly ox, even as Matthew is characterised by the lion. The typical man of the Gospel is Jacob, the one who toiled faithfully and well for his allotted span, even as Matthew’s typical man is Joseph, the one who was exalted to power and glory. Further, Mark’s Gospel is portrayed in the ark of the covenant (that unique and exclusive type of Christ) by the tables of stone upon which was written the law for the obedience of men, even as Matthew’s Gospel was illustrated by the crown of gold round about the mercy seat. This is all very wonderful, showing how jealously the Holy Spirit has guarded every type and shadow of the Person of Christ throughout the whole Book of God. The Father has left us in no doubt whatever as to the utter supremacy of His Beloved Son in every aspect and in every characteristic which marked Him out. God would have us contemplate with holy reverence His Well Beloved as He is brought before our wondering gaze by Mark. “Behold My Servant whom I uphold, Mine Elect in Whom My soul delighteth.” It is a most blessed occupation to be taken up with the Beloved Lord in servant character His glory shining out resplendently in His humiliation and grace. What shall we say to His own record concerning Himself—”I am a worn and a nobody”? Of Isaiah’s prophecy—“He did not cry nor lift up His voice in the street”? Or of Mark’s historical comment—“He would have no man know it”? His humility and lowliness are at once His transcendent glory and majesty. But who is this that “Did a Servant’s form assume, beset with sorrow round”? He who is Jehovah’s Servant is none other than Jehovah’s Fellow.
Let us look for a moment at the divine record of the pathway that led from heaven’s highest glory down to Calvary’s depth of woe, as recorded for us by the beloved apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians. You will be careful to observe that this portion has to do with the One who was in the form of God, but Who, stepping out from the throne, veiled His glory and took upon Himself the form of a bond-slave, being found in fashion as a man. This was no compulsory obedience—”He made Himself of no reputation”—but a sublime voluntary act which shines with a radiance unsurpassed and unsurpassable. Passing by angels and archangel, He came down into the world His hands had made, and became a man upon earth to do the will of God. “A body hast Thou prepared Me,” and “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O My God,” and to do it “straightway”—“immediately (two words characteristic of the Gospel by Mark, even as “I say” characterises the Gospel of the King—Matthew). Onward He went, amid vicious opposition, against bitter misunderstanding, against cruel revilings and reproach, always with amazing grace accomplishing the will of God. Although in Himself He was “God over all, blessed for ever,” yet He did nothing of Himself; the words He spoke, the path He trod, the works He performed were all of the Father, and utterly in the Father’s blessed and perfect will. Never for a moment did He deviate from this pathway ; He was amongst men as One that serveth, and in that serving He was ever the good pleasure and delight of God. His whole pathway was marked by His absolute devotion as God’s Perfect Servant, but out of this unique history of service, we feel there is one instance which must be recorded in this article. It was immediately before the passover, the shadow of the cross was already cast upon Him, and knowing the hour that He should depart out of this world to go to the Father, He gathered His own around Him, and girding Himself with the insignia of the bond-slave, He took the towel and basin and washed their feet. Words are too feeble, too inadequate, to describe this profoundly amazing scene.
- “Oh, Blessed Lord, what hast Thou done?”
The Lord of life and glory, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Son of God and God the Son, washing men’s feet! We are not concerned immediately as to the effect of this in our own pathway or of the lesson the Blessed Lord Himself taught His disciples ; what we do want to press home upon each reader is the absolutely amazing stoop made by Jehovah’s Blessed and Perfect Servant. The full radiance of it, the exalting glory of it, the transcendent majesty of it, defies and baffles human knowledge or description. Like Himself, its depths are unfathomable, its heights unreachable. Think you, would the gates of Eternity have closed against Him had He chosen to go back—ALONE? The period of His service upon earth was now fast drawing to a close ; soon, full soon, would He become obedient unto death, although death had no claim upon Him. But how was Hte going out? Says the type in Exodus 21, “He could go out free”; but replies the Servant—
- “I love My Master.”
- “I love My wife.”
- “I love My children.”
- “I will not go out free.”
So they took Him to the door-post, to the place of public exhibition, aad bored His ear through with an awl. How wonderfully in both the lSatms and the sublime Prophecy of Isaiah is this ear-digging connected with sacrifice and offering and with the ploughers making deep their furrows upon His back—in other words, the ear-digging is intimate with Calvary. There the marks were made upon His Holy Person that are to be the evidence that He will serve for ever. This is where He so blessedly brings you aad me into hallowed association with Himself. His love to the Father has eMr been absolute and perfect, unchallenged and unchallengeable. Never, either in time or eternity, will this love be questioned ; that were utterly impossible. For thirty-three long years He sojourned in this scene, then at the end of that period He took the final step—“even the death of the cross”—and there having fully accomplished the will of God, He cried with a loud voice, the voice of triumph, that one grand, glorious, eternal word.
- TETALESTAI—“It is finished.”
But “He loved His wife” “He loved the church and gave Himself for it” – and He who travailed for her will not rest until she is complete, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” and at Home in His presence for ever Further, “He loved His children”—“He loved me and gave Himself for me”—and—“having loved His own which are in the world, He loved them unto the completion,” and by and by every blood-bought soul will be resplendent in His own likeness. At this very moment He is in the presence of the Father to serve His beloved people and to minister to them all along this earthly pathway. Soon. He is coming again to gather the redeemed from every clime and nation, a vast multitude which no man can number, and then, oh blissful thought ! He shall gird Himself and serve them for ever. The marks of the ear-digging—the thorn marks, the pierced side, the wounded hands and feet (the Lamb newly slain), shall ever be manifest throughout the long eternal day to bring forth the unhindered and unending praise of all the ransomed host to HIM, JEHOVAH’S PERFECT SERVANT.
—By J. F. J.
HE glorious Person of our Lord Jesus Christ and His work form the theme of this great epistle. In dealing with these, it will be observed, the writer touches upon many fundamental doctrines of our most holy faith. In ch. 1 the Deity and Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus are clearly proven from Scripture. In ch. 2 reference is made to His true and proper Humanity. Chapter 10 sets before us His vicarious sufferings and propitiatory Sacrifice. Chapter 13 mentions His glorious Resurrection. In ch. 4 we have the Divine Authority of the Word of God ; while in ch. 6 Eternal Judgment is named as one of the “first principles of Christ.”
As with unveiled face we behold in this mirror the glory of the Lord, we can but exclaim:What a great Saviour, and what a great Salvation ! The writer shows our Lord Jesus Christ to be the Perfect Saviour, meeting our needs in all their diversity and in all their entirety, as to the past, the present, and also the future. The testimony of Scripture is that “God requireth that which is past,” and that all sin is offensive to God and must receive condign punishment. But herein we read this glorious Gospel pronouncement:“But now, once in the end of the age hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Blessed truth, in virtue of which the sinner upon believing, is cleansed and forgiven. The Holy Spirit witnesses, saying:“their sins and iniquities will 1 remember no more” (ch. 10: 17). What peace this brings to the troubled conscience! How comforting to know that our sins have all been righteously dealt with, and the dreadful penalty borne by our Divine Substitute ! Well it becomes us to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” and to sing
- “All our sins were laid upon Him,
- Jesus bore them on the tree ;
- God Who knew them laid them on Him,
- And believing we are free.”
As to the present, Christ is the answer to all our needs, manifold though they be. The good Shepherd Who gave His life for the sheep (John 10: 11) is “the great Shepherd” Whom God has “brought again from the dead” (Heb. 13:20), and now He “tends with sweet unwearied care, the flock for which He bled.” God’s dear people have many sorrows and trials during the days of their pilgrimage. In wisdom and love God allows it to be so, for their spiritual profit and blessing, but He knows and He cares. Whan the Israelites were in Egypt suffering oppression and the galling yoke, God said, “I know their sorrows,” and when He redeemed them by blood and power. He ordained for them a high priest who could have compassion sad who wore their names engraven upon his breastplate and shoulderplate when be went into the tabernacle. But a greater than Aaron is our “Great High Priest who is passed into the heavens, even Jesus, the Son of God.” “For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of ear infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” He is able to sympathise (ch. 4:15); He is able to succour (ch. 2:18); and He is “able to save to the end all that come unto God by Him” (ch. 7:24). “Hallelujah ! What a Saviour.”
Then concerning the future, everything is fully assured by the immutable promise of God. There is the stedfast hope (ch. 6), the “city which hath the foundations” (ch. 11), the “better country” (ch. 11), “the things which cannot be shaken” and “the kingdom which cannot be moved” (ch. 12). These are all in the programme of grace, and will be realised when the Lord comes. In the measure in which we grasp these eternal verities by faith, will we be able to accept our true status as pilgrims and strangest on the earth now. Living in the power and good of the world to came will give us ability to live in this present evil world so as to manifest that we are not of it—to “go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For here have we now continuing city, but we seek one to come” (ch. 13:13, 14).
- “Happy reproach to bear,
- Shame, for His sake to share,
- Since we the crown shall wear
- When He shall come.”
It will be evident to any thoughtful reader that a working knowledge of the Old Testament is absolutely necessary to an intelligent understanding of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Very especially must one have a grasp of the Books of Moses and the Psalms, as the types, history of Israel, sad prophetic writings referred to are largely drawn from these parts of the Bible. We must always keep in mind that this Epistle was written primarily to Jewish Christians who were well acquainted with the sacred oracles. Many readers find great difficulty in understanding certain passages, because their fail to perceive the typical, historical and prophetical background in the Old Testament. The general purpose before the mind of the writer seems to be twofold. Firstly, to confirm the faith of those Hebrews who had trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, by showing His super-excellence above everyone and everything which was dear to the heart of a Jew — that He was the Antitype of all that was connected with the tabernacle, “every whit of which uttered His glory” (Psalm 29:9, marg). Secondly, to wean the Hebrew Christians from Judaism and to warn them of the danger and serious consequences of apostasy. It was a big step on their part to leave the religion of their forefathers—the temple ritual with all its grandeur, and the sacrifices which had Scriptural sanction, to attach themselves to a Person Whom they had never seen, and concerning Whom they had only heard. Such action would appear to be the sheerest madness to the eyes of unbelief. The natural heart can only appreciate what the eyes can see, the ears hear, and the hands handle. Thus Judaism with its rites and ceremonies appeared to have much to offer, and consequently had a powerful attraction for the mere religionist. On the other hand, Christ and Christianity can only be apprehended by faith. ‘To those who believe He is precious,” as they alone have the God-given faculty to see Him Who is invisible, and look upon things not seen. The writer seems to have in mind the case of the unbelieving Jews against the Hebrew Christians, charging them with folly in leaving the temple, its sacrifices, its priesthood, and the prospect of future blessing— in fact, giving up all that was worthwhile, to have nothing solid or tangible. Such an argument may, on the face of it, appear to be convincing, but it is rendered null and void by three great assertions in this letter. Armed with the knowledge of the truth, the Christian could reply: But “we have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle” (ch. 13:10); “we have such an High Priest, Who is set on the right band of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (ch. 8:1); and we have a hope—”which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec” (ch. 6:19. 20). Thus it is seen that the spiritual assets of the Christian are invaluable, real and eternal, in comparison to the things of Judaism, which at best were only typical, shadowy, and transient. Truly the Lord has spoken good concerning the Israel of God. His great Salvation will issue in eternal glory.
- “And though awhile He be
- Hid from the eyes of men.
- His people wait to see
- Their Great High Priest again ;
- In brightest glory He will come,
- And take His waiting people home.”
While this Epistle is largely doctrinal, let us not forget that it is intensely practical, and like every other part of God’s truth, is designed to have a sanctifying effect upon us. Many times as we travel through this inspired document we are confronted with the words. “Let us.” They imply a command for our attention and obedience. Here are some of them:—
- Let us therefore fear (ch. 4:1).
- Let us come boldly to the throne of grace (ch. 4:16).
- Let us go on to full growth (ch. 6:1).
- Let us draw near with a true heart (ch. 10:22).
- Let us consider one another (ch. 10:24).
- Let us lay aside every weight (ch. 12:1).
- Let us have grace whereby we may serve God (ch. 12:28).
- Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him without the camp (ch. 12; 13).
- By Him, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God (ch. 12:15).
If we heed these injunctions and carry them out, we shall be well-pleasing in God’s sight through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
A copy of a letter written for the benefit of young believers who were exercised about their fellowship in the denominations.
MY dear F—, We can fully appreciate the difficulties about which you spoke, having come the same way ourselves in early Christian experience. But the soul that has found complete deliverance from the penalty and power of sin is usually so deeply touched with a sense of its own unworthiness and indebtedness that no sacrifice seems of any account in the desire to obey God and live to His glory. Such exercise is the work of the indwelling Spirit and is the evidence of love to Christ (1 John 4:19; 5:2, 31.
When considering the matter of fellowship with the children of God, it is necessary at all times to distinguish between the Lord’s people themselves and the man-made religious systems in which many of them are found. Fellowship between the children of God can never be dissolved, as it is based on our fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3). Consequently fellowship with anything that is not of God is fundamentally wrong. That which expresses the oneness of the Body of Christ is the product of the Spirit, and is rightly regarded as the Unity of the Spirit, but that which expresses the unity of men, irrespective of the label used, is nothing more than an expression of the spirit of unity—a vastly different thing from the unity of the Spirit (Psalm 133; Eph. 4: 1-6).
We must not fail to recognise that the spirit of this age has in many respects invaded the Church. One outstanding instance of this is in the cry of democracy—“United we stand, divided we fall”—which has been taken up by many sincere believers who fail to discern between that which is natural and that which is spiritual, between that which is of man and that which is of God. This has resulted in many true Christians in the sects drawing together for reasons of fellowship of a temporary nature, but dividing again to continue their association with error and formalism. One gravely doubts the pleasure that such half-hearted measures will bring to God (Rev. 3:13, 16).
In the early church the unity was endangered by those who tended to revert to the more popular form of religion. Judaism, which had, in fact, its origin in God in an earlier dispensation (Gal. 2 ; 18; 6:15). Whatever divides the people of God, He condemns (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:3-5; Rom. 16:17), and surely association with that which God condemns cannot be termed true obedience (1 Tim. 5:22; 1 Sam. 15:22). Personal experience proves that association with mixed companies from the sects of Christendom involves one in the support of errors such as the Non-eternal punishment theory, the “Falling-away” doctrine, Sinless perfection teaching, not to speak of clerisy with its present-day denial of foundation truth and the creation of a caste system in the church.
Such questions as godly order and discipline, and the liberties and responsibilities of believers within the local church, are sure to press upon the attention of the exercised saint, who will sooner or later discover that the only ground where he can properly function and wholly serve God is where the whole Word of God holds sway, in a scripturally ordered assembly.
Obedience to revealed truth brings with it further light and liberty, and with each successive step of obedience there is given a joy in divine fellowship and communion known only to those whose delight is in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1) Herein lies the highway to spiritual fruitfulness and prosperity.
May the Lord guide and keep the feet of His saints in these days of compromise and declension.
His and yours by grace,
MAY be “golden,” but more often it is guilty. The normal thing for a Christian is to speak of what he knows, to deal frankly against error, and to maintain freedom of discussion whenever challenged by an honest appeal to plain facts. But to shut up like a clam is sin by omission—failing to study God’s Word, or fearing the cost of voicing unpopular testimony.
Too many subjects are marked “controversial” and avoided as untouchable without giving God a chance to offer needed help. “Strength to the upright” will always be found in His way and “great peace” is their portion who LOVE the course He has set (Ps. 119:165 ; 2 Tim. 2:5). No one is ever stumbled IN it; it is always offside where we offend and division is made by a UNITING to oppose the truth !
Wisdom from above is gentle, humble, easy to entreat. There is time allowed for investigation. It will patiently endure contradiction and reproach; it is frank and impartial. Other impressions come with hard and aloof manners, a hasty spirit, evasive, unteachable, unyielding to inquiry. Self-reasoning this is. and just as sinful as all other self works.
A normal Christian testifies and exhorts “so much the more” (not less) as confusion, error and iniquity abound. When love waxes cold, speaking the truth in love is the remedy—nothing less will do. Silence is not a lovely thing when truth is hid to avoid controversy. Truth is able to help in any situation, for it is “the power of God.”
Spirit-led use of Truth will help those who are “approved” (rightly dividing, 2 Tim. 2:15), and will manifest those who do the opposite (1 Cor. 11:19). How can we be right when we are so fearful, evasive and unwilling to investigate? Why fear to be a witness if one KNOWS whereof he speaks? If one has no FAITH for the problem—only hearsay, supposition and self-reasoning—he should confess it and ask God for help (Prov. 2:1-6).
Silence will not be “golden” at the judgment of works if to speak was our duty and we left it undone for any excuse.
- Camest Thou far, my Beloved,
- To seek for Thine own ?
- From Heaven’s high wonder and glory I travelled alone.
- From height that thine eye ne’er beholdeth, Past planet and star,
- Down distances measureless, shining,
- Yea, I came far.
- Did’st Thou leave much, O Beloved,
- In coming for me?
- My Home in the love of my Father 1 gave up for thee;
- For aye through the song and the music,
- My heart heard thy call.
- I gave up My freedom, My glory,
- Yea, I left all.
- Did’st Thou bear much, O Beloved,
- That I might be free ?
- The thorn-crown, the mocking, the scourging. The death on the tree—
- The wrath of My God—ah ! This sorrow The thought cannot touch—
- I died from the stroke of His anger,
- Yea, I bore much.
It is reported that a man who was grieved at the use of the word “you” in addressing God in prayer compiled the following facts about the use of the words “you,” “thee,” and “thou” in the Bible :
- In our English Bible the word “you” is found in 2,011 verses. It is used when God addresses men and when men address one another, but never when man speaks to God.
- In the book of Psalms, “you” and “yours” occur thirty times and never in addressing God, but “thy” and “thou” occur 2,860 times. Solomon’s great prayer recorded in 2 Chronicles uses “thy” 61 times, but “you” is not to be found.
- The prayer of our Lord in John 17 lacks a single “you,” but contains “thou” and “thine” 41 times.
In view of these facts, it seems only proper that we address God according to the pattern set forth in His Word. God is sovereign, eternal and infinite. As such, He deserves utmost respect from His creatures.
While “thee,” “thine,” and “thou” may not be familiar terms to the world in general, it is for that reason that they lend themselves aptly to addressing God in a distinctive and reverent manner.