Josiah and His Times: Part 6

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It may here be proper to inquire what is the suited attitude of the Christian in view of the grand foundation truth of the unity of the body. That it is a truth distinctly laid down in the New Testament, cannot possibly be questioned. If any reader of these pages be not fully established in the knowledge and hearty belief of this truth, let him prayerfully study 1 Cor. 12 and xiv.; Eph. 2 and iv.; Col. 2 and iii. He will find the doctrine referred to in a practical way in,the opening of Rom. 12, though it is not the design of the Holy Ghost, in that magnificent epistle, to give us a full unfolding of the truth respecting the Church. What we have to look for there is rather the establishment of the soul's relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Christ. We might pass through the first eleven chapters of Romans, and not know that there is such a thing as the Church of God, the body of Christ; and when we reach the twelfth chapter, the doctrine of the one body is assumed, but not dwelt upon.
There is, then, " one body" actually existing on this earth, formed by the " one Spirit," and united to the Living Head in heaven. This truth cannot be gainsaid. Some may not see it; some may find it very hard to receive it, in view of the present condition of things; but, nevertheless, it remains a divinely established truth that " there is one body," and the question is, how are we individually affected by this truth? It is as impossible to shake off the responsibility involved therein as it is to set aside the truth itself. If there is a body of which we are members, then do we, in very truth, stand in a holy relationship to every member of that body on earth as well as to the Head in heaven; and this relationship, like every other, has its characteristic affections, privileges, and responsibilities.
And, be it remembered, we are not speaking, now, of the question of association with any special company of Christians, but of the whole body of Christ upon earth. No doubt, each company of Christians, wherever assembled, should be but the local expression of the whole body. It should be so gathered and so ordered, on the authority of the word, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, as that all Christ's members who are walking in truth and holiness might happily find their place there. If an assembly be not thus gathered and thus ordered, it is not on the ground of the unity of the body at all. If there be anything, no matter what, in order, discipline, doctrine, or practice, which would prove a barrier to the presence of any of Christ's members, whose faith and practice are according to the word of God, then is the unity of the body practically denied. We are solemnly responsible to own the truth of the unity of the body. We should so meet that all the members of Christ's body might, simply as such, sit down with us and exercise whatever gift the Head of the Church has bestowed upon them. The body is one. Its members are scattered over the whole earth. Distance is nothing: locality, nothing. It may be New Zealand, London, Paris, or Edinburgh; it matters not. A member of the body in one place, is a member of the body everywhere, for there is but " one body and one Spirit." It is the Spirit who forms the body, and links the members with the Head and with one another. Hence, a Christian coming from New Zealand to London ought to expect to find an assembly so gathered as to be a faithful expression of the× unity of the body, to which he might attach himself; and, furthermore, any such Christian ought to find his place in. the bosom of that assembly, provided always that there be nothing in doctrine or walk to forbid his hearty reception.
Such is the divine order, as laid down in 1 Cor. 12 and xiv.; Eph. 2 and iv.; and assumed in Rom. 12 Indeed we cannot study the New Testament and not see this blessed truth. We find, in various cities and towns, saints gathered by the Holy Ghost in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; as, for example, at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica. These were not independent, isolated, fragmentary assemblies, but parts of the one body, so that a member of the church in one place was a member of the Church everywhere. Doubtless, each assembly, as guided by the one Spirit, and under the one Lord, acted in all local matters, such as receiving to communion, or putting away any wicked person from their midst, meeting the wants of their poor, and such like; but we may be quite assured that the act of the assembly at Corinth would be recognized by all other assemblies, so that if any one was separated from communion there, he would, if known, be refused in all other places; otherwise it would be a plain denial of the unity of the body. We have no reason to suppose that the assembly at Corinth communicated or conferred with any other assembly previous to the putting away of " the wicked person" in chapter v.; but we are bound to believe that that act would be duly recognized and sanctioned by every assembly under the sun, and that any assembly knowingly receiving the excommunicated man would have cast a slur upon the assembly at Corinth, and practically denied the unity of the body.
This we believe to be the plain teaching of the New Testament scriptures—this the doctrine which any simple, true-hearted student of these scriptures would gather up. That the Church has failed to carry out this precious trufh is, alas! alas! painfully true; and that we are all participators in this failure is equally true. The thought of this should humble us deeply before God. Not one can throw a stone at another, for we are all verily guilty is this matter. Let not the reader suppose, for a single moment, that our object, in these pages, is to set up anything like high ecclesiastical pretensions, or to afford countenance to hollow assumption, in the face of manifest sin and failure. God forbid! we say with our very heart of hearts. We believe that there is a most urgent call upon all God's people to humble themselves in the very dust on account of our sad departure from the truth so plainly laid down in the word of God.
Thus it was with the pious and devoted King Josiah, whose life and times have suggested this entire line of thought. He found the book of the law, and discovered in its sacred pages an order of things wholly different from what he saw around him. How did he act? Hid he content himself by saying, "The case is hopeless; the nation is too far gone; ruiu has set in, and it is utterly vain to think of aiming at the divine standartl, we must only let things stand, and do the best we can?" Nay, reader, such was not Josiah's language or mode of action; but he humbled himself before God, and called upon others to do the same. And not only so, but he sought to carry out the truth of God. He aimed at the very loftiest standard, and the consequence was that, " From the days of Samuel the prophet, there was no passover like to Josiah's kept in Israel; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover."
Such was the result of faithful reference and adherence to the word of God, and thus it will ever be, for " God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Look at the actings of the remnant that returned from Babylon in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. What did they do? They set up the altar of God, they built the temple, and repaired the walls of Jerusalem. In other words, they occupied themselves with the true worship of the God of Israel, and with the grand center or gathering point of His people. This was right. It is what faith always does, regardless of circumstances. If the remnant had looked at circumstances, they could not have acted. They were a poor contemptible handful of people, under the dominion of the uncircumcised Gentile. They were surrounded by active enemies on all sides, who, instigated by the enemy of God, of His city, of His people, left nothing undone to hinder them in their blessed work. These enemies ridiculed them and said, " What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?" Nor was this all; not only had they to contend with powerful foes without, there was also internal weakness; for " Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish, so that we are not able to build the wall." (Neh. iv.) All this was very depressing. It was very different from the brilliant and palmy days of Solomon. His burden-bearers were many and strong, and there was no rubbish covering the great stones and costly with which he built the house of God, nor any contemptuous foo to sneer at his work. And yet, for all that, there were features attaching to the work of Ezra and Nehemiah which are not to be found in the days of Solomon. Their very feebleness; the piles of rubbish which lay before them; the proud and insulting enemies which surrounded them—all these things conspired to add a peculiar halo of glory to their work. They built and prospered, and God was glorified, and He declared in their ears thtse cheering words, " The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts." (Hag. ii. 9.)
It is of importance, in connection with the subject that has been engaging our attention, that the reader should carefully study the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. They are full of most blessed instruction, comfort, and encouragement in a day like the present, Many, now-a-days, it may be, are disposed to smile at the bare mention of such a subject as the unity of the body. But let them ask themselves, Is it the smile of calm confidence, or the sneer of unbelief? One thing is certain, the devil as cordially hates the doctrine of the unity of the body as he hates any other doctrine of Divine Revelation; and he will as assuredly seek to hinder any attempt to carry it out, as he sought to hinder the rebuilding of Jerusalem, in the days of Nehemiah. But let us not be discouraged. It is enough for us that we find in God's word the precious truth of the one body. Let us bring the light of this to bear upon the present condition of the professing Church and see what it will reveal to our eyes. It will, most assuredly, put us on our faces in the dust, before our God, because of our ways; but, at the same time, it will lift our hearts up to the contemplation of the divine standard. It will so enlighten and elevate our souls as to render us thoroughly dissatisfied with everything that does not present some expression, however feeble, of the unity of the body of Christ. It is wholly impossible that any one can drink into his soul the truth of the one body, and rest satisfied with anything short of the practical recognition thereof. True, he must make up his mind to bear the brunt of the enemy's opposition. He will meet a Sanballat here, and a Rehum, there; but faith can say,
" Is God for me? I fear not, though all against me rise;
When I call on Christ my Savior, the host of evil flies."
There is ample encouragement for our souls in the word of God. If we look at Josiah just before the captivity, what do we see? A man simply taking the word as his guide—judging himself and all around by its light—rejecting all that was contrary to it, and seeking, with earnest purpose of heart, to carry out what lie found written there. And what was the result? The most blessed passover that had been celebrated since the days of Samuel.
Again, if we look at Daniel during the captivity, what do we see? A man, acting simply on the truth of God, and praying toward Jerusalem, though death stared him in the face as the consequence of his act. What was the result? A glorious testimony to the God of Israel, and the destiuc-tion of Daniel's enemies.
Finally, if we look at the remnant, after the captivity, what do we see? Men, in the face of appalling difficulties, rebuilding that city which was, and shall be, God's earthly center. And what was the result? The joyous celebration of the feast of tabernacles which had not been known since the days of Joshua the son of Nun.
Now, if we take any one of the above interesting eases, and inquire as to the effect of their looking at surrounding circumstances, what answer shall we get? Take Daniel, for instance. Why did he open his window toward Jerusalem? Why look toward a city in rains? Why call attention to a spot which only bore testimony to Israel's sin and shame? Would it not be better to let the name of Jerusalem sink into oblivion? Ah! we can guess at Daniel's reply to all such inquiries. Men might smile at him, too, and deem him a visionary enthusiast. But he knew what he was doing. His heart was occupied with God's center, the city of David, the grand gathering point for Israel's twelve tribes. Was he to give up God's truth because of outward circumstances? Surely not. He could not consent to lower the standard even the breadth of a hair. He would weep, and pray, and fast, and chasten his soul before God, but never lower the standard. Was he going to give up God's thoughts about Zion because Israel had proved unfaithful? Not he. Daniel knew better than this. His eye was fixed on God's eternal truth, and hence, though he was in the dust because of his own sins and his people's, yet the divine banner floated above his head, in its unfading glory.
Just so, now, dear christian reader, we are called to fix the gaze of faith upon the imperishable truth of the one body, and not only to gaze upon it, but seek to carry it out in our feeble measure. This should be our one definite and constant aim. We should ever and only seek the expression of the unity of the body. We are not to ask " How can this be?" Faith never says, " How?" in the presence of divine revelation. It believts and acts. We are not to surrender the truth of God on the plea that we cannot carry it out. The truth is revealed, and we are called to bow to it. We are not called to form the unity of the body. Very many seem to think that this unity is a something which they themselves are to set up or form in some way or another. This is a mistake. The unity exists. It is the result of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the body, and we have to recognize it, and walk in the light of it. This will give great definiteness to our course. It is always immensely important to have a distinct object before the heart, and to work with direct reference thereto. Look at Paul, that most devoted of workmen. What was his aim? For what did he work? Hear the answer in his own words, I " now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake which is the Church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the, Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; where-unto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily." Col. 1:24-2924Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:24‑29).
Now, this was a great deal more than the mere conversion of souls, precious as that is most surely. Paul preached the gospel with a direct view to the body of Christ; and this is the pattern for all evangelists. We should not rest in the mere fact that souk are quickened; we should keep before our minds their incorporation, by the one Spirit, into the one body. This would effectually preserve us from sect-making—from preaching to swell the ranks of a party—from seeking to get persons to join this, that, or the other denomination. We should know nothing whatever but the one body, because we find nothing else in the New Testament. If this be lost sight of, the evangelist will not know what to do with souls when they are converted. A man may be used in the conversion of hundreds—a most precious work indeed—precious beyond all expression—and if he does not see the unity of the body, he must be at sea as to their further course. This is very serious, both as to himself and them, and also as to the testimony for Christ.
May God's Spirit lead all Christians to see this great truth in all its bearings. We have but glanced at it, in connection with our theme; but it demands much serious attention at the present moment. It may be that some of our readers are disposed to find fault with what they may deem along digression from the subject of ',Josiah and his times." But, in truth, it should not be looked on as a digression, but as a line of truth flowing naturally out of that subject—a line, too, which cannot possibly be overestimated.
(To be continued, if the lord will.)