Josiah and His Times: Part 5

2 Chronicles 34‑35  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 8
We feel it to be of real moment to insist upon the principle laid down in the closing paragraph of our paper for September, namely, that the only ground on which we can believe any doctrine is its being revealed in the Divine Word. It is thus we believe all the great truths of Christianity. We know nothing and can believe nothing of what is spiritual, heavenly, or divine, save as we find it revealed in the word of God. How do I know I am a sinner? Because scripture hath declared that "All have sinned." No doubt, I feel that I am a sinner; but I do not believe because I feel, but I feel because I believe, and I believe because God has spoken. Faith rests upon divine revelation, not on human feelings, or human reasonings. " It is written," is quite sufficient for faith. It can do with nothing less; but it asks nothing more. God speaks, faith believes. Yes, it believes simply because God speaks. It does not judge God's word by outward appearances, but it judges outward appearances by the word of God.
Thus it is in reference to all the cardinal truths of the christian religion. Such as the Trinity; the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ; His atonement; His priesthood; His advent; the doctrine of original sin; of justification; judgment to come; eternal punishment. We believe these grand and solemn truths, not on the ground of feeling, of reason, or of outward appearances, but simply on the ground of divine revelation.
Hence, then, if it be asked, On what ground do we believe in the doctrine of the unity of the body? we reply, Upon the selfsame ground that we believe the doctrine of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the atonement. We believe it because it is revealed in sundry places in the New Testament. Thus, for example, in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians Corinthians, we read. " For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." Again, " God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body......Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
Here we have distinctly laid down the perfect and indissoluble unity of the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on precisely the same authority as any other truth commonly received amongst us, so that there is just as much ground for calling in question the Deity of Christ as there is for calling in question the unity of the body. The one is as true as the other; and both are divinely true because divinely revealed. We believe that Jesus Christ is God over all, blessed forever, because scripture tells us so; we believe that there is one body because scripture tells us so. We do not reason in the one case, but believe and bow; nor should we reason in the other case, but believe and bow. " There is one body and one Spirit."
Now, we must bear in mind that this truth of the unity of the body is not a mere abstraction—a barren speculation—a powerless dogma. It is a practical, formative, influential truth, in the light of which we are called to walk, to judge ourselves, and all around us. It was so with the faithful in Israel of old. The unity of the nation was a real thing to them, and not a mere theory to be taken up or laid down at pleasure. It was a great formative, powerful truth. The nation was one in God's thoughts; and if it was not manifestly so, the faithful had only to take the place of self-judgment, brokenness of spirit, and contrition of heart. Witness the case of Hezekiah, Josiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra. It never once occurred to these faithful men that they were to give up the truth of Israel's unity because Israel had failed to maintain it. They did not measure the truth of God by the actings of men; but they judged the actings of men, and themselves likewise, by the truth of God. This was the only true way to act. If the manifested unity of Israel was marred through man's sin and folly, the true-hearted members of the congregation owned and mourned over the sin, confessed it as their own, and looked to God. Nor was this all. They felt their responsibility to act on the truth of God whatever might be the outward condition of things.
This, we repeat, was the meaning of Elijah's altar of twelve stones, erected in the face of Jezebel's eight hundred false prophets, and despite the division of the nation in man's view. (1 Kings 18) This, too, was the meaning of Hezekiah's letters sent to " all Israel" to invite them to " come to the house of the Lord, at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel." Nothing can be more touching than the spirit and style of these letters: " Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you that are escaped out of the hands of the kings of Assyria. And be not ye like your fathers and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who, therefore, gave them up to desolation, as ye see. Now, be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified forever; and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you. For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you." 2 Chron. 30:6-96So the posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all Israel and Judah, and according to the commandment of the king, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7And be not ye like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. 8Now be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you. 9For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him. (2 Chronicles 30:6‑9).
What was all this but simple faith acting on the grand, eternal, immutable truth of the unity of the nation of Israel? The nation was one in the purpose of God, and Hezekiah looked at it from the divine standpoint, as faith ever does, and he acted accordingly. 'Ø So the posts passed from city to city, through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them." This was very sad; but it is only what we must expect. The actings of faith are sure to call forth the scorn and contempt of those who are not up to the standard of God's thoughts. Doubtless, these men of Ephraim and Manasseh regarded Hezekiah's message as a piece of presumption, or wild extravagance. Perhaps the great truth that was acting with such power on his soul, forming his character, and ruling his conduct, was, in their judgment, a myth, or, at best, a valueless theory—a thing of the past—an institution of bygone ages, having no present application. But faith is never moved by the thoughts of men, and therefore Hezekiah went on with his work, and God owned and blessed him. He could afford to be laughed at and turned into ridicule, while he beheld divers of Asher and Manasseh and Zebulun humbling themselves and coming to Jerusalem." Hezekiah and all who thus humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God reaped a rich harvest of blessing, while the mockers and scorners were left in the barrenness and deadness with which their own unbelief had surrounded them.
And let the reader mark the force of those words of Hezekiah, " If ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive." Does not this approach very near to that precious truth of the New Testament times, that we are members one of another, and that the conduct of one member affects all the rest? Unbelief might raise the question as to how this could possibly be—as to how the actings of one could possibly affect others far away; yet 80 it was in Israel, and so it is now in the Church of God. Witness the case of Achan, in the seventh chapter of Joshua. There, one man sinned; and, so far as the narrative informs us, the whole congregation was ignorant of the fact, and yet we read that " the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing." And again, " Israel hath sinned." How could this be? Simply because the nation was one, and God dwelt among them. This, plainly, was the ground of a double responsibility, namely, a responsibility to God, and a responsibility to the whole assembly, and to each member in particular. It was utterly impossible for any one member of the congregation to shake off this high and holy responsibility. A person living at Daniel might feel disposed to question how his conduct could affect a man living at Beer-sheba; yet such was the fact, and the ground of this fact lay in the eternal truth of Israel's indissoluble unity, and Jehovah's dwelling in the midst of His redeemed assembly. (See Exod. 15:22The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2), and the many passages which speak of God's dwelling in the midst of Israel.)
We do not attempt even to quote the numerous scriptures which speak of God's presence in the congregation of Israel—His dwelling in their midst. But we would call the attention of the reader to the all-important fact that those scriptures begin with Exod. 15 It was when Israel stood as a fully redeemed people, on Canaan's side of the Red Sea, that they were able to say, " The Lord is my strength and my song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation." Redemption formed the ground of God's dwelling among His people, and His presence in their midst secured their perfect unity. Hence no one member of the congregation could view himself as an isolated independent atom. Each one was called to view himself as part of a whole, and to view his conduct in reference to all those who, like himself, formed part of that whole.
Now, reason could never grasp a truth like this. It lay entirely beyond the ken of the most powerful human intellect. Faith alone could receive it and act upon it; and it is of the deepest interest to see that the faithful in Israel ever recognized it, and acted upon it. Why did Hezekiah send letters to "all Israel?" Why did he expose himself to scorn and ridicule in so doing? Why did he command that " the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made for all Israel?" Why did Josiah carry his reformatory operations into " all the counties that pertained to the children of Israel?" Because those men of God recognized the divine truth of Israel's unity; and they did not think of throwing this grand reality overboard because so few saw it, or sought to carry it out. " The people shall dwell alone;" and " I, the Lord, will dwell among the children of Israel." These imperishable truths shine, like most precious gems of heavenly luster, all along the page of Old Testament scripture; and we invariably find that, just in proportion as any one was living near to God—near to the living and ever-gushing fountain of light, and life, and love—just in proportion as he entered into the thoughts, purposes, sympathies, and counsels of the God of Israel, did he apprehend and seek to carry out that which God had declared to be true of His people, though His people had proved so untrue to Him.
And now, christian reader, we would ask you a very plain and pointed question, which is this, Do you not recognize, in the unity of the Jewish nation, the foreshadowing of a higher unity now existing in that one body of which Christ is the Head? We trust you do. We fondly hope that your whole moral being bows down, with reverent submission, to the mighty truth, "There is one body." But then we can well imagine that you feel yourself not a little perplexed and confounded, when £on cast your eye around you, through the length and breadth of the professing church, in search of any positive expression of this unity. You see Christians scattered and divided—you see innumerable sects and parties,· and, what, perhaps, puzzles you most of all, you see those who profess to believe and act upon the truth of the unity of the body, divided amongst themselves, and presenting anything but a spectacle of unity and harmony. All this, we confess, is very perplexing to one who looks at it from a merely human standpoint. We are not the least surprised at people being stumbled and hindered by these things. Still the foundation of God standeth sure. His truth is perfectly indestructible; and if we gaze with admiration upon the faithful worthies of a by-gone age who believed and confessed the unity of Israel, when there was not a trace of that unity visible to mortal eyes; why should we not heartily believe and diligently carry out the higher unity of the one body? " There is one body and one Spirit," and herein lies the basis of our responsibility to one another and to God. Are we to surrender this all-important truth because Christians are scattered and divided? God forbid. It is as real and as precious as ever, and it ought to be as formative and as influential. We are bound to act upon the truth of God, irrespective of consequences, and utterly regardless of outward appearances. It is not for us to say, as so many do, " The case is hopeless, everything is gone to pieces; it is impossible to carry out the truth of God amid the heaps of rubbish which lie around us; the unity of the body was a thing of the past, it may be a thing of the future, but it cannot be a thing of the present. The idea of unity must be abandoned as thoroughly Utopian, it cannot be maintained in the face of Christendom's numberless sects and parties. Nothing remains now but for each one to look to the Lord for himself, and do the best he can, in his own individual sphere, and according to the dictates of his own conscience and judgment."
Such, is, in substance, the language of hundreds of the true people of God; and, as is their language so is their practical career. But, we must speak plainly, and we have no hesitation in saying that this language savors of sheer unbelief in that great cardinal verity of the unity of the body; and, moreover, that we have just as much warrant for rejecting the precious doctrine of Christ's Deity, of His perfect Humanity, or of His vicarious sacrifice, as we have for rejecting the truth of the perfect unity of His body, inasmuch as this latter rests upon precisely the same foundation as the former, namely, the eternal truth of God—the absolute statement of holy scripture. What right have we to set aside any one truth of divine revelation? What authority have we to single out any special truth from the word of God, and say that it no longer applies? We are bound to receive all truth, and to submit our souls to its authority. It is a dangerous thing to admit for a moment the idea that any one truth of God is to be set aside, on the plea that it cannot be carried out. It is sufficient for us that it is revealed in the holy scriptures; we have only to believe and to obey. Does scripture declare that there is "one body?" Assuredly, it does. This is enough. We are responsible to maintain this truth, cost what it may. can accept nothing else, nothing less, nothing different. We are bound, by the allegiance which we owe to Christ the Head, to testify, practically, against everything that militates against the truth of the indissoluble unity of the Church of God, and to seek earnestly and constantly a faithful expression of that unity.
True, we shall have to contend with false unity on the one hand, and false individuality on the other; but we have only to hold fast and confess the truth of God, looking to Him, in humility of mind, and earnest purpose of heart, and He will sustain us in the path, let the difficulties be what they may. No doubt there are difficulties in the way—-grave difficulties, such as we in our own strength cannot cope with. The very fact that we are told to " endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace," is sufficient to prove that there are difficulties in the way; but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is amply sufficient for all the demands that may be made upon us in seeking to act upon this most precious truth.
In contemplating the present condition of the professing church, we may discern two very distinct classes. In the first place there are those who are seeking unity on false grounds. And, secondly, those who are seeking it on the ground laid down in the New Testament. This latter is, distinctly, a spiritual, living, divine unity, and stands out in vivid contrast with all the forms of unity which man has attempted, whether it be national, ecclesiastical, ceremonial, or doctrinal. The Church of God is not a nation, not an ecclesiastical or political system. It is a body united to its divine Head in heaven, by the presence of the Holy Ghost. This is what it was, and this is what it is. " There is one body and one Spirit." This remains unalterably true. It holds good now just as much as when the inspired apostle penned the fourth chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians. Hence anything that tends to interfere with or mar this truth must be wrong, and we are bound to stand apart from it and testify against it. To seek to unite Christians on any other ground than the unity of the body, is manifestly opposed to the revealed mind of God. It may seem very attractive, very desirable, very reasonable, right, and expedient; but it is contrary to God, and this should be enough for us. God's word speaks only of the unity of the body, and the unity of the Spirit. It recognizes no other unity; neither should we.
The Church of God is one, though consisting of many members. It is not local, or geographical; it is corporate. All the members have a double responsibility; they are responsible to the Head; and they are responsible to one another. It is utterly impossible to ignore this responsibility. Men may seek to shirk it; they may deny it; they may assert their individual rights, and act according to their own reason, judgment, or will; but they cannot get rid of the responsibility founded upon the fact of the one compact body. They have to do with the Head in heaven, and with the members on earth. They stand in this double relationship—they were incorporated there into by the Holy Ghost, and to deny it is to deny their very spiritual existence. It is founded in life, formed by the Spirit, and taught and maintained in the holy scriptures. There is no such thing as independency. Christians cannot view themselves as mere individuals—as isolated atoms. " We are members one of another." This is as true as that "we are justified by faith." No doubt there is a sense in which we are individual: we are individual in our repentance; individual in our faith; individual in our justification; individual in our walk with God and in our service to Christ; individual in our rewards for service, for each one shall get a while stone and a new name engraved thereon known only to himself. All this is quite true; but it in nowise touches the other grand practical truth of our union with the Head above, and with each and all of the members below.
And we would here call the reader's attention to two very distinct lines of truth flowing out of two distinct titles of our blessed Lord, namely. Headship and Lordship. He is Head of His body the Church; and He is Lord of all, Lord of each. Now, when we think of Christ as Lord, we are reminded of our individual responsibility to Him, in the wide range of service to which He, in His sovereignty, has graciously called us. Our reference must be to Him in all things. All our actings, all our movements, all our arrangements, must be placed under the commanding influence of that weighty sentence, (often alas! lightly spoken and penned,) " If the Lord will." And, moreover, no one has any right to thrust himself in between the conscience of a servant and the commandment of his Lord. All this is divinely true and of the very highest importance. The Lordship of Christ is a truth the value of which cannot possibly be over estimated.
But we must bear in mind that Christ is Head as well as Lord, He is Head of a body, as well as Lord of individuals. These things must not be confounded. We are not to hold the truth of Christ's Lordship in such a way as to interfere with the truth of His Headship. If we merely think of Christ as Lord, and ourselves as individuals responsible to Him, then we shall ignore His Headship and lose sight of our responsibility to every member of that body of which He is Head. We must jealously watch against this. We cannot look at ourselves as isolated independent atoms; if we think of Christ as Head, then we must think of all His members, and this opens up a wide range of practical truth. We have holy duties to discharge to our fellow members, as well as to our Lord and Master; and we may rest assured that no one walking in communion with Christ can ever lose sight of the grand fact of his relationship to every member of His body. Such a one will ever remember that his walk and ways exert an influence upon Christians living at the other side of the globe. This is a wondrous mystery; but it is divinely true. " If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." (1 Cor. 12:2626And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26).) You cannot reduce the body of Christ to a matter of locality; the body is one, and we are called to maintain this, practically, in every possible way, and to bear a decided testimony against everything which tends to hinder the expression of the perfect unity of the body, whether it be false unity, or false individuality. The enemy is seeking to associate Christians on a false ground and gather them round a false center; or, if he cannot do this, he will send them adrift upon the wide and tumultuous ocean of a desultory individualism. We are thoroughly persuaded, before God, that the only safeguard against both these false and dangerous extremes is divinely wrought faith in the grand foundation truth of the unity of the body of Christ.
(To be continued, if the Lord will.)