•  51 min. read  •  grade level: 8
TWO things mark the end of the history of the professing Church on earth.
1. A revival of affection for Christ and the recognition of His presence and authority in the midst of His own.
2. A great "falling away" from the truth; and as Christ is the personal embodiment of the truth—"I am the truth" (John 14:66Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6))—the "falling away" is really from Christ Himself. It is spoken of as "the apostasy" when it is finally consummated (2 Thess. 2:33Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2 Thessalonians 2:3)). It needs hardly to be said that the "Spirit of truth" is on one line, and the "father of lies" on the other. It is a solemn consideration that Scripture holds out no hope whatever for an apostate. But no unenlightened heathen could be one; and no truly converted person could become one. It is only professing Christians that can apostatize. Apostates give up, turn from, and even oppose the truth they once professed to hold: they become "adversaries" (Heb. 10:2727But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:27)).
They "willfully" and openly sin against the truth they once, as a matter of mental knowledge, professed to hold, and no more sacrifice remains for them—nothing but "certain judgment" and "fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries." "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance" (Heb. 6:4,64For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, (Hebrews 6:4)
6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:6)
). Alas! that the general state of profession should become such that those who in spirit are apostates are allowed to retain their outward association with true believers.
But to return. By return we mean a waking up to what has been lost; accompanied by an energy that will put up with nothing less than restoration to what is according to the original a return to "that which was from the beginning," as John puts it (2 John 66And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. (2 John 6)), to the "faith once delivered to the saints," as expressed in Jude 33Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. (Jude 3). It is really an awakening to what is due to Christ; and Eph. 5:1414Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians 5:14) well expresses the thought: "Wake up, thou that sleepest, and arise up from among the dead, and the Christ shall shine upon thee." This verse is followed by the mention of three things which, in a drowsy state of the Church, are soonest lost sight of —
The word 'revival' could not correctly refer to the conversion of sinners. There is nothing in the "natural man" to revive. A man may be very near to death and be revived. While one spark remains, a fire may be rekindled. But you could not speak of reviving a stone just taken out of the quarry. It is dead. It never has lived. Only by divine power can dead stones become living. The unregenerate sinner is "dead in trespasses and sins."
At the same time a special revival in the souls of the converted has almost invariably been accompanied by some special awakening in the souls of the unconverted; and we shall certainly see, in considering the 'last revival', that the souls of the unconverted are a special mark of the Lord's care. But we do not dwell upon it here.
Scripture speaks of a last revival before Jesus was born into this world, and a last before He comes again.
The last revival for Israel was in view of the coming of the promised Messiah. The last for the Church is in connection with the advent of the expected Bridegroom.
The necessity for a revival in Israel is seen in the last book of the Old Testament—Malachi. The necessity for a revival in the Church is found in the last book of the New. See address to Laodicea (Rev. 3).
The moral correspondence is remarkable in many ways. We will only here look at three things.
The first mark is, Insensibility to Jehovah's love. "I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?" (Mal. 1:22I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, (Malachi 1:2).)
The second is, Insensibility to Jehovah's authority. "If then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?" (Mal. 1:66A son honoreth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? (Malachi 1:6).)
The third is, Insensibility to what was due to God. "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?" (Mal. 3:88Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. (Malachi 3:8).)
If we turn to Rev. 3 we see at once how strongly marked is this same insensibility. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:1717Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (Revelation 3:17)).
The fact of His having to stand knocking outside His own door only proves how insensible they were to what was due to Him. Standing there He reminds them, first of His love, and then of the day when on His own throne His authority would have to be regarded.
But how refreshing after such sad disclosures to turn to a little company in Jerusalem as they are brought before us in Luke 2. Here we may see, however small, a real revival.
Things generally in the 'Pleasant Land' were in sad disorder—leaders and led in a sorry plight. But the Spirit had been at work, and there were hearts, even in Jerusalem, ready to welcome the Coming One, though the great mass, along with Herod, were "troubled" when the wise men brought the news that the "King of the Jews" had been born.
What marked this remnant-expression of what the God of Israel delighted in was simple, happy confidence in God's faithfulness. The promised Messiah was before their hearts: His coming their expectation and their theme. They knew that He only was able to put things right, and they were waiting for Him. Two get special mention, though there were others also "who looked for redemption in Israel." Simeon, just and devout, was, at the appointed time, ready to go. Anna, at a great age, self-denying and prayerful, and in the delight of making known the good news to others, was willing to stay. Lovely picture!
But if a real revival involves a return to what has been departed from through following the thoughts and traditions of men, it will be important, in approaching this subject, first to consider what the assembly is in the thoughts of God, both as to His purpose and as to man's responsibility. We will take three distinct views of it as presented in Scripture.
1. The assembly as God's workmanship, seen in the heavenly light of God's mind and purpose; and, as such, beyond all thought of restoration, because beyond all possibility of ruin.
2. The assembly in the light of her responsibility, ruined beyond remedy as a united testimony.
3. The open door for a bright revival in the hearts of individuals, in the light of the Lord's coming—an awakening to what is treasured up in Christ for the Church, and what is due to Him from the Church: that is, to answer to God's thoughts about it, and this notwithstanding the general failure referred to.
First, then, let us look at
The Assembly According to God's Mind.
There is inexpressible comfort in considering this side of the subject; for God has not been defeated, nor will He be. If man has proved himself beyond everything untrustworthy, every purpose of God's heart has, notwithstanding, been secured for His own eternal pleasure—secured in Christ. Taking human form, in order to give effect to this, His beloved Son was tested to the uttermost, with the result that in Him personally, God was glorified in the highest.
Then redemption has been accomplished, and beyond death, in resurrection and therefore beyond the spoiling of sin and Satan everything has been eternally established. Sin has been righteously met. Grace has gloriously triumphed. Satan can no longer use the fear of death to bring man into bondage. God has made use of it for His own ends, to declare His love and cast out fear; while His power has been displayed in raising from the dead the "Firstborn" of a new family. For that family, therefore, life is forever beyond the power and reach of death. Yes, all that was obnoxious to God in us has been removed in Christ's death, and all that God could desire for us He has found in that same blessed Person, now risen from the dead; and all that our hearts could desire is found in Him also.
In other words, all in the believer which God could not love has, in His eye, been removed in death, so that we might, in the power of a risen life and by the Spirit of adoption, delight our worshipping hearts in the love that has done it. The flesh is still in us, but we are privileged to hold the sentence of death upon it. The secret of the Church's ruin as a testimony for God on earth, lies in the neglect of this.
But all this does not go further than the individual blessing of a believer; and God's purpose does go further.
By redemption God has not only secured individuals "many sons" for glory, He has secured a bride for Christ and a dwelling place for Himself among men, and that eternally (Rev. 21:33And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)). The assembly of God is presented to us in Scripture in a double way, as a "body" and as a "building". "He (Christ) is the head of the body, the church" (Col. 1:1818And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)). The Church is the "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)). "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 5:3030For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. (Ephesians 5:30)). "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12:55So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:5)).
This marvelous union was in the mind of God, "hid in God" during ages past (Eph. 3:5-125Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. (Ephesians 3:5‑12)). God is righteously consistent in all His ways; and since the union of Jew and Gentile in one body involved the setting aside of any standing, according to the flesh, before Him for either, He patiently waited not only until His Christ had been murdered by religious men, but until a man, i.e. Stephen, filled with His Holy Spirit had been deliberately murdered by them also. Then, when the end of all hope had been fully demonstrated, as to even religious flesh, He made known His "secret" in connection with "Another Man" "the Firstborn from the dead," whose bride should be "meet for him" as quickened out of death with Him, and by the Holy Ghost united to Him, thus forming "one body in Christ."
No membership is contemplated in Scripture save membership of His body. There is no such thought as members of a church or of a meeting; and in His body there are no partly joined members, and no mutilated members. The work is entirely divine. How could anything else be united to that Glorious Head in the glory of God! The same power (as the apostle tells the Ephesians) that wrought in Christ, raising Him from the dead and setting Him at His own right hand, had wrought in them. "In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13, 19-2313In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13)
19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:19‑23)
Christ had spoken (Matt. 16), on the confession of Peter that He was the Son of the living God, of building His assembly, which would be proof against all the assaults of the enemy. As Son of God He had life in Himself. He was "marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of (the) dead" (Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4) Darby Trans.). Though Satan had the power of death, he cannot prevail against what is established, in Christ beyond death. Living stones only would be built in. They would partake of the nature of the."Living Stone," and would form a spiritual house (Matt. 16:16-1816And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:16‑18); 1 Peter 2:4,54To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4‑5)). "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one" (Heb. 2:1111For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11)). There could be no admixture of human failure here. It would grow into a "holy temple in the Lord." Though not at present complete, the thought of the holy temple embraces the whole assembly.
In Eph. 1 we have the assembly spoken of as the body according to the purpose of God in its full result. It is spoken of as "the fullness of him that filleth all in all." In Eph. 2 the work of God is to give effect to His purpose by the saints being quickened together with Christ, raised up, and made to sit in heavenly places in Him, their Head.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians the members of the body are spoken of as set in the assembly by God. In 1 Cor. 12: 13 we are told how the body was formed on earth—namely, by the baptism of the Holy Ghost. "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 all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:12,1312For 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. 13For 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. (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13)).
This may be called the constitution of the body. In the latter part of this chapter we have the functions of the various members, and the practical importance of maintaining the harmony of all by the mutual care of each. In Eph. 4:2525Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25) we are exhorted to put away lying, "for we are members one of another."
In 1 Cor. 10:1717For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:17) we are told how the body formed on earth is manifested in its outward unity; and that partaking of the Lord's supper is the external sign or expression of it. "We being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." So that all saints, wherever found, are associated in the thought of the one loaf partaken of. There is no body but one—the body of Christ—and any true local answer to the divine thought about it will regard itself as part of that great unity. It will act, under the direction of the one Head, for the whole.
This bring us to the second aspect.
The One Assembly on Earth in the Light of Her Responsibility
No one can soberly contemplate the present state of the professing Church without acknowledging that her outward condition is one of saddest confusion. The Lord's addresses to the seven Churches in Asia give a solemn prophetic picture of this, ending, in Laodicea, with a state utterly offensive to Him, as expressed in His terrible threatening: "I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:1616So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)).
But notwithstanding all this being brought to light at the beginning of the Revelation, "the bride, the Lamb's wife," is seen at the end in the figure of the new Jerusalem, filled with the glory of God and of the Lamb! How gracious of the Lord to present it thus! For had the Church been presented in her undiminished glory at the beginning, and in her ruin as a responsible witness for God in the end of the book, we might possibly have concluded that for God all had hopelessly gone in the wreck. But not so. No matter what her breakdown in responsibility as to her testimony for Christ before men, and as to the outgoing of affection to Christ, that which God has made her, according to His own sovereign purpose, will assuredly survive all the designs of man and Satan; and Christ will present her to Himself, "holy and without blemish" yea, "glorious" as well as "blameless," without "spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Eph. 5:2727That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)). She will also be seen in the same glory as Christ, loved as he is loved, the habitation of the glory of God and of the Lamb, the display of divine righteousness and the light of God. It is of the utmost importance that our faith should hold this firmly in considering that which is now before us.
The assembly on earth is the habitation of God in the Spirit. A quotation from the pen of a valued servant of the Lord may be helpful—
`If the differences peculiar to the assembly of God which distinguish it from every other association upon earth are not seen, every one must fail in the attempt to live in it properly, and to partake of the suffering incidental to it, and to carry out its activities. Its essential distinctive pecularity is that God the Holy Ghost dwells in it to animate it in all its parts, and to direct and regulate it as something dear to Christ Jesus, who is on the throne in heaven. It is God's habitation on the earth. What other assembly but it can be called by Him, who is its all-pervading Spirit, to walk worthy of these characteristics?... Dwelt in by the Holy Spirit, in the world though not of it; on the earth, and passing on from heaven's side of the cross to the Lord returning upon the cloud of glory—it is of God; and its calling is to show out, in its walk here below, the privileges grace has bestowed upon it, the same character and walk as the Lord its head.... It bears upon it, as united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the name of the Lord Jesus—spite of world, and flesh, and Satan.
`Of what other company can these things be said? Are we awake to these things? Do we see that each assembly is but a part of the one whole? that its walk depends upon the Spirit and our subjection to His written Word?' G.V.W.
I suppose we might say that assembly responsibility is the moral necessity of answering to the place in which grace has set her. Her responsibility is not to attain to some position, but suitably to maintain the position already accorded to her, and for which she has been thoroughly furnished.
Hence the Lord draws the attention of the Church at Ephesus (Rev. 2) to the fact that with all else outwardly correct she had descended to a lower level. "Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev. 2:55Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:5)).
In 2 Cor. 11 the assembly is looked at in the figure of "a chaste virgin," espoused to one Husband Christ but in danger of being corrupted from her first simplicity and the fervor of her affections. Had His love been as warmly appreciated by her as hers had been by Him, how vastly different the result!
But, alas! the history of the Church, as it has come before the eyes of men and angels, could hardly be sadder. Her failure to answer to the mind of God, as set forth in Scripture, is patent to all.
Set up in responsibility, in man's hands, in order that Christ might be seen and God be glorified, the Church has scandalously disgraced herself. Her corruptions and inconsistencies are the ready weapons of open blasphemers; her divisions a puzzle to the heathen, who naturally suppose that all get their directions from the same "book"; her moral nakedness a standing shame to herself.
But see her set up in Christ and all is perfection, and God is glorified. "To him be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages" (Eph. 3:2121Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21) Darby Trans.).
Order According to God in His Assembly
There are two things which will mark every well-ordered household—affection and subjection, love and authority. There is a third which we shall try to consider separately, viz. purification.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things that heads of households find to do in the present day is rightly to hold the balance between love and authority. Love without authority will soon result in as many conflicts as there are diverse wills, and peace will be destroyed. On the other hand, enforce authority without love, and joy will depart (John 15:10, 1110If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. (John 15:10‑11)). If you want to see the effect of authority without love, look at the face of an average borstal boy. Subjection is rigorously enforced, but true affection is little known as a motive power.
Only in one Person can both love and authority be perfectly adjusted and harmoniously combined. It is only in relation to Him who is Lord and Christ that they can be rightly maintained.
It is the enjoyment of His love, the appreciation of His authority, that gives the assembly its true character and proper atmosphere. What could be more blessed than when the lovely moral traits of Christ are seen, as when the "new man" is "put on". "Bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another" and, over all, "love... is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:12-1412Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. (Colossians 3:12‑14) Darby Trans.).
Without love we should get hard and legal: without authority, indifferent to order and righteousness.
How beautifully they shone in the Lord Himself in humiliation! His love considers His poor disciples' fears; His authority stills the storm. His love weeps with the bereaved sisters; His authority compels death itself to give back their brother.
Some who heard Him wondered at the gracious words that came from His lips; others wondered at the authority by which He spoke.
In John 13:11Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1) we read that "having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end"; yet John 13:33Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; (John 13:3) shows that all authority is his. "Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands," He girds Himself for the most lowly service of love, and washes their feet. In Matt. 21 He leaves Bethany, where His love was fondly appreciated, to come to Jerusalem, where His authority to purify the temple was boldly questioned.
Love took Him to the cross to bear sin's judgment; authority has been given to Him to execute sin's judgment.
In His address to the assembly at Philadelphia His love and authority are still in striking evidence. As to the latter, He has the "key of David." He "openeth and no man shutteth"; He "shutteth, and no man openeth." As to the former, "I will make them of the synagogue of Satan... to come and worship before thy feet and to know that I have loved thee" Rev. 3:99Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (Revelation 3:9).
At the close of Rev. 3, we have, at the very darkest hour of the Church's history, a most refreshing exhibition of the same thing. To Laodicea He speaks of His love, and reminds the overcomer of the time when His authority would be fully recognized, adding that when that day was reached he (the overcomer) should be the associate of that authority.
Once more. On the cross, where. the very superscription over His head proved their bitter hatred and determined refusal of His authority, His love is heard to speak: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Then a dying robber, won, no doubt, by such grace, is the solitary witness of His place of authority. "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And the one who owned His authority got the present fruit of it. As though the Lord had said, 'You own that I shall have authority in the coming kingdom. I will prove to you My authority to-day, and take you with Me to paradise.' Blessed Savior! None like Thee!
Let us now look a little at the third thing mentioned, as properly characterizing a well-ordered household, viz. purification. The exclusion of evil for the enjoyment of the good is a great principle in all the ways of God with man from the beginning. It is seen in the "walls great and high" of the heavenly Jerusalem, and "His angels shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity" (Matt. 13:4141The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; (Matthew 13:41)).
So it is now in the assembly. "Holiness becometh thine house forever:' This leads us directly to the responsibility of
That is, separation according to God's thoughts of His own house.
The dying thief just referred to was not slow in learning that there was a great moral gulf between himself and his fellow-robber. He rebuked him, and said, "Dost not thou fear God?" "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and instinctively he did what the Holy Ghost, in after years, taught the Ephesians. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:1111And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ephesians 5:11)).
If we are left here for a time, to enjoy His precious love and own His righteous authority, we cannot be indifferent to the fact that the world would have neither, and cast Him out. May the words spoken to Edom in connection with having stood "on the other side," looking on while the oppressors of this brother Jacob were carrying away his force and casting lots upon Jerusalem, never apply to us: "Even thou mast as one of them" (Obad. 1:1111In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them. (Obadiah 11)). What a reflection would such a charge be upon the reality of our affection for Christ. May our daily prayer be, 'O Love divine, search us more deeply:
`In us may all mankind behold
How Christians lived in days of old;
Mighty their envious foes to move,
A proverb of reproach and love.'
Alas! the great mass of profession is found taking Edom's place to-day, and not only standing with the world "on the other side," but glorying in it. On the other hand, the Spirit of God is working, and doubtless will do so. The end, judging by the fearful inrush of the spirit of apostasy, seems to be approaching rapidly. The Spirit of God is awakening believers to the real state of things in which they find themselves. Many are mourning over these things; but they are powerless to help, because the Spirit is grieved by their continued association with what they know to be wrong. Others have gone still farther and left old links with evil, but only to start (as they would fain persuade themselves) a 'purer Church'; although they have not the authority of one line of Scripture for any such thing.
Some young converts were one day speaking together. They said they were not quite clear as to whether they would join one of the old churches or form a new one! An older Christian who heard them, said: 'I should as soon think of starting a new world as a new church!' This astonished them. But it is as impossible to start the one as it is to start the other. We are too late for both. The world has been started; but we may learn better how to behave ourselves in it. The Church has been started started by God the Holy Ghost at Pentecost it is for us to learn better how to behave ourselves in it, "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:1515But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15)). Every true believer is part of that living structure which started then and has been growing ever since.
Every true believer will agree that when the political and religious world gave Jesus a gibbet for a throne and a wreath of plaited thorns for His crown, He was being badly treated in His own world. They denied God's anointed His rightful place of administration. But since then the assembly has been formed, and though men can no longer place a reed in His hand and scoff at His authority, they can (and His own people can) ignore the very idea of His authority being maintained collectively in the assembly of God. In the midst of such a state of things what can those who love Him do? They can stand apart; they can "be separate" (2 Cor. 6:14-1814Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14‑18)). They can "go forth unto him" (Heb. 13:1313Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Hebrews 13:13)). They can "go forth to meet him" (Matt. 25:66And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. (Matthew 25:6)). They can be "over-comers" for His sake by refusing what is unworthy of His holy name.
What We Cannot Separate From
It is as important to see what, as believers sealed with the Holy Ghost, we cannot separate ourselves from, as what we can.
We cannot separate ourselves from God's assembly upon earth unless we can separate ourselves from God's Spirit who has baptized all believers into one body. We are united to the same Head; and Christ will not give up the feeblest member of His body. We are "living stones" in the same divine structure; and Satan himself could not possibly remove one of them. Hence an overcomer in the assembly at Laodicea is not told to leave the assembly there. He is (as in all the seven assemblies) to be an "overcomer" in the midst of the state of things in which he finds himself. But "overcomers" could no more sever themselves from what God has wrought in other Christians than from what God has wrought in themselves, "We love the brethren" (1 John 3:1414We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (1 John 3:14)) for example, because we and they are born of God; and this is not less true when we have to leave them in unworthy associations. It is only from what man has brought in, contrary to the thoughts of God, that they separate themselves. They cannot leave the Church as God has formed it. They themselves are part of it. God has set them in it. But it may be asked, What will be the subsequent position of an overcomer? The second epistle to Timothy furnishes the answer.
The professing Church is likened to a great house in which there are not only "vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; some to honor, and some to dishonor." And in applying the figure by the Spirit of God the apostle says: "If a man therefore purge himself from these (the vessels of dishonor), he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:20, 2120But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20‑21)).
That is, in the very midst of what is for the Lord's "dishonor," an individual may have the privilege of being regarded as "a vessel unto honor." For this, only one way is open he must purge himself (that is, separate himself) from the vessels of dishonor (2 Tim. 2:20, 2120But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20‑21)). He is not asked to put the professing Church right; he is expected to set himself right. He is not responsible to discover who are really the Lord's and who are not. "The Lord knoweth them that are his.” But one thing is certain. "Iniquity" and the name of the Lord can no more be held together on earth than in heaven. "Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:1919Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:19) Darby Trans.). Hence he proves how much he values the name of the Lord by departing from that which dishonors Him.
This is what it is to be an "overcomer"; not that he has overcome, once for all, but that which marks him is, that he is overcoming. Like a man who is swimming across a wide river. Weeds in one place, strong currents in another, are against him; but though the further bank has not yet been reached, you can see he is making headway against every obstacle. By keeping clear of the weeds he has all the more strength against the opposing currents. This brings us to another thing, the privilege of holy
For it may be asked, Will such an overcomer be called upon to stand in isolation for the rest of his days? No. But he would prefer even this to being associated with that which is a practical denial of the rights of his Lord. If it is iniquity to rob your fellow-man of what rightly belongs to him, is it less iniquitous to rob your Lord of what is rightly due to Him? This scripture (2 Tim. 2), however, supposes other overcomers; and with them he is exhorted to associate himself. Mark the contrast between "withdraw from" (2 Tim 2:19) and "pursue with" (2 Tim 2:22). "Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." But what is a "pure heart"? A pure heart does not suppose the impossibility of evil arising, but sensitiveness as to it and the unsparing condemnation of it when it does arise.
Now those who thus separate themselves from evil associations do not, by so acting, become "brethren," or "members of the body of Christ," or "living stones." If they were not in those relationships before, no act of individual faithfulness to the Lord could make them such. Nor do they by this separation form a new assembly. They were part of the one assembly of God, though residing in this or that town, before they saw any responsibility to withdraw from iniquity, especially from the religious iniquity of putting man's authority in the place of the Lord's, and they were not more so afterward.
They are only a few overcomers (not that they would so style themselves) seeking to answer to God's thoughts of the whole assembly in relation to Him whom He has made both Lord and Christ.
The less they think of themselves and their position, and the more of that which is due to Christ, the better. Without a moral foundation all the rest falls to the ground. Indeed, when such a company gives plain proof that it has been overcome of evil, on what righteous ground can it be claimed that they are still worthy of recognition elsewhere, as acting under the authority of the Lord in their midst?
There is one thing here that calls for special notice. It seems to be the habit of some earnest men to content themselves with protesting against flagrant evils and remaining in association with them.
But those who do so only call attention to their own disobedience; for if it is proved "iniquity" which they protest against, God has called them to separate themselves from it, and yet they are continuing with it. While so acting, the louder their protest the louder the witness of their own lack of spiritual power. Crying out against the river-weeds that entangle you is the sign of weakness, not power. It is the dog that finds himself chained that makes the loudest barking. "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:99The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger. (Job 17:9)). That verse indicates very distinctly what an overcomer really is.
We have seen that in the midst of a state of departure from God's thought of His assembly the Lord looks for "overcomers." We have seen also that Scripture furnishes individual over-corners with proof that they have the Lord's authority for breaking their outward connection with "vessels to dishonor," and for departing from iniquity; and not only so, they are furnished with the plainest instructions as to the mind of God respecting their future associations. But is this all that is necessary? No. There is another thing to be considered. The privileges and responsibilities of forming part of God's one assembly on earth belong to them; and if they have sought to maintain individually what is due to the Lord's name, they will now seek by the Spirit to recognize collectively, as a company, part of one great whole, what is due to His presence and unitedly seek His direction in everything. What now pertains to them is the solemn charge of
Assembly Administration Under the Authority of the Lord.
It is important to see the difference between legislation and administration. Legislation, as we know, has to do with making laws; administration has to do with an orderly way of carrying them out. The Queen in this country stands nominally at the head of both.
But when we speak of administration we mean that the Queen provides means whereby the laws she has sanctioned shall be respected by the whole nation, and every one making a breach be called to account.
Now to use the figure. The assembly has no place in legislation. It can make no new rules, no fresh regulations for itself. The Word of God is its only statute book, the Holy Spirit the One who unfolds it. By the Holy Scriptures the man of God is thoroughly furnished unto all good works (1 Tim. 3:16, 1716And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)). In the Scriptures he has the mind of God for every epoch of the assembly's history on earth. Her place is one of administration, not legislation. That is, she has to see that what has been set forth by inspired writers as the mind of God shall be jealously carried out carried out in connection with her own peculiar sphere in which grace has set her during the time of her Lord's rejection.
If we had nothing more than the addresses to the seven Churches we should have been at a loss as to what overcoming really involved. As we have seen, 2 Tim. 2 supplies the needed link. But if we had no further instruction, a company of overcoming ones would be left, as so many individuals, seeking to cleave to truth and holiness and to one another in love, apart from that which denies their Lord's name. All very blessed: but there is much more. Scripture shows plainly that such a company is invested with the honor of administrating under the Lord's sovereign authority, and therefore in the interests of the whole assembly during the time of His rejection. Instruction for this we get from the Lord's own lips in Matt. 18.
The first mention of the assembly in Scripture is in Matt. 16. But there love has its own way; hate and evil have no place whatever. The second mention is in Matt. 18. But here the domain of love has been trespassed upon. It is not, that what Christ builds can be mixed with evil. But whenever it is a question of man's responsibility, failure is very soon apparent. So here. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor"; but here we have one brother trespassing against another! If the trespasser has failed from lack of love, the one trespassed against must not run short also. He is told to try and "gain" his unhappy brother, not get rid of him. If a personal, private interview has not accomplished this end one or two more are to go with him. This failing, "tell it unto the church"; but "if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." No higher court of appeal on earth is available, and the Lord proceeds to show why. It has even now a link with heaven. The decision is that the offender should, while unrepentant, be henceforth regarded as an outsider. A "heathen man" was a Gentile outsider; a "publican" was regarded as a Jewish outsider.
But if he is to be regarded as such the one trespassed against, he must necessarily be so regarded by all the rest. The assembly in agreement, as representing the Lord's authority, has now had to say to him, and hence the finality of its decision.
The Lord then makes a most momentous statement, and links His "Amen" with it. "Verily (that is, Amen) I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
In Matt. 16 the Lord commits this solemn charge to His apostle Peter: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Note the word "thou". It is essentially apostolic. But that which is looked upon as peculiar to the apostle Peter in Matt. 16 is committed by the Lord to two or three gathered in His name in Matt. 18.
It is not that an assembly can bind in heaven, as though it could claim divine rights of its own. It can do no such thing; nor could Peter. But the assembly has its own peculiar sphere of privilege on earth; and in that sphere it has its own responsibilities under the Lord. If wickedness makes itself manifest, in conduct or doctrine, it must be put away. Until the offender judges himself and stands morally separated from the evil committed, the assembly has no choice but to regard the wickedness as bound up with the person guilty of it, and to obey the instruction, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person." As far as assembly privileges are concerned they "bind" the consequences of the sin upon him who has committed it. And heaven sanctions their act.
But in the case of the evil-doer at Corinth repentance and godly sorrow are wrought. The man becomes morally separated from his act; and now the consequences, as far as the assembly is concerned, are lifted from him. He is "loosed" from them and gladly taken back. Once more heaven sanctions their administrative act and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.
An assembly cannot forgive an offender in the sense of granting eternal forgiveness, which depends on faith in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son; but it can forgive in the sense of restoring a repentant offender to the privileges on earth his sin had forfeited.
It is of great importance to keep what is due to Christ on earth and what has been accorded to Him in heaven very closely bound up together in the faith of our souls. Our danger is to put them too far apart. The time will come when, after Israel's last revival (Psa. 85:1111Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11)), "Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven." Heaven and earth in perfect accord! Happy the day which will find the Father's will done upon earth as it is done in heaven!
But what of the present? Has God left the earth? No. The world is in opposition to Him, but His dwelling-place is here notwithstanding. The Spirit is still here in that habitation, bearing testimony to Christ and what is due to Him. On leaving this world Jesus said to His disciples: "All power (literally, authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth... and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." What a wonderful honor, therefore, is conferred upon two or three gathered in His Name who are privileged to act under His immediate direction in matters pertaining to His own peculiar interests in the world during His absence.
Some seem to think that to be gathered "in my name" only means that you have no sectarian name that you have dropped all such distinctions and are called by His name alone. But this is to miss entirely the main thought of the passage; and 1 Cor. 1:1212Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:12), with 1 Cor. 3:3, 43For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:3‑4), shows that it is possible to make Christ's name a sectarian name. But read the apostle's word by the Spirit to that assembly in connection with the wicked person found amongst them. "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:4,54In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:4‑5)). Here the assembly is seen acting in His name when gathered together.
To act in the name of a person is no light matter. You virtually make that person responsible for your act. And therefore, before you can honestly do such a thing, you must know the mind and get the consent of that person. To purchase goods in another man's name without his sanction would be regarded as a criminal act; and to have the means of getting his sanction, while neglecting to do so, would doubly aggravate the offense.
When an ambassador goes to a foreign land, as representative of his sovereign's interests in that country, not only is he furnished with a code of general instructions, but the most effective means of communication is established between himself and the home government for using that code. Why all this? He is really responsible to act in his sovereign's name, and must therefore have ready access to his sovereign's mind. If he is to make himself certain of his royal master's sanction, he must constantly take counsel with him or with his ministers for him. He has got to busy himself in endeavoring to keep right with other of the king's ambassadors all over the earth. He jealously keeps himself in touch with his sovereign's direction; and each representative doing the same, there is harmony of action. One center of authority controls the whole.
Keep the illustration in mind and turn your thoughts to Matt. 18.
After the Lord had spoken of the sanction of heaven upon an assembly's act on earth, He graciously opens up to them a very definite means of communication between themselves and heaven, and between heaven and themselves; so that faith need be in no uncertainty whatever as to the light and direction it requires in connection with the maintenance of His interests.
Consider His words: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:1919Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 18:19)). Mark, again, the mention of "earth" and "heaven"; and specially note the definiteness of the divine guarantee, "It shall be done for them".
This is not all. He tells them who would furnish them with what they needed; "My Father which is in heaven"; and, still more, why His Father would do it. The word "for" points to the reason. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)).
It was as though He had said, Such is the regard of My Father in heaven for the honor of My name on earth that the answer to your united cry is certain: "for there am I in the midst of them."
But let us not forget that against such honor paid to Christ by the Father in heaven and by a few of His gathered saints on earth, Satan's most determined opposition will be set. By every subtle wile at his command will he seek to draw us away from availing ourselves of this unique privilege, and the necessary exercise of soul in seeking to give effect to it.
Need we wonder that it is so when we remember that Satan induced men to give Him hatred for His love, and insult in place of submission to His authority? and that it was "His citizens" (those who ought to have known Him best) that "hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:1414But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. (Luke 19:14))?
What a blessed witness on earth if every company of Christians had been joined, by the unction of the Spirit, into one bright flame of responsive love, both to Christ and to one another; and every company in such intimacy with the will of God's great Sovereign Administrator in heaven, that His authority had been absolutely, joyfully carried out on earth! But instead of that (such the triumph of the great enemy), the very idea of such a thing is totally foreign to the great mass of even true Christians. Yet this does not lessen, in any degree, their responsibility. The soldier is responsible to behave according to where the king has set him in the regiment; and the believer responsible for where God has set him in the assembly. The soldier has not only an individual responsibility, but a collective one, and to be true to each he is responsible. If when the regiment is summoned together only half a dozen are found on the barrack ground to answer to the call of the commander, each is responsible to be found in his place as if every man in the regiment were in his proper place. He must answer to military authority. His position supposes it, yea; claims it, whether he is found answering to it or not. If there should be a standing order that, at eleven o'clock, this regiment shall give three cheers for the King, those six men could act for the whole regiment and raise their united voices at the appointed hour. Feeble it might be, when compared with what it ought to be from the whole regiment. But if the King on the telephone could hear even six faithful men he would be gratified, whatever he might feel about all the rest.
So with those who form the assembly. As surely as God has set Christ in heaven as Head over all things to the Church which is His body, and has set the members in the body as it hath pleased Him, on earth, so is the privilege and responsibility of each person that belongs to it clearly defined. There is no escaping it.
How the Present Position of Christ Should Affect Us
There are three facts concerning our Lord Jesus Christ which ought to touch the hearts of all who love Him.
1. His suffering service on the cross.
2. His rejection by the world and consequent return to heaven; and the sending of the Holy Spirit; His present service there on behalf of His own still left in the world; His subduing power in their hearts and His care for them individually. And His present administration in connection with the assembly of God.
3. The catching away of His saints (the Church) to meet Him in the air, and then His return in power with His saints as God's appointed Administrator over the whole earth, with authority to judge, and reign, and bless.
Now, the vast majority, even of true believers, do not seem to realize much beyond the first fact (and not enough of that to give them settled peace, except that they believe He has gone to heaven after dying, in order that they might go there too. They regard themselves pretty much like spiritual orphans, left on earth to get on as well as they can for themselves, until their turn comes to go to heaven also (though their hope about it is very uncertain), and think that this state of things will continue here on earth (perhaps with improved conditions) until the world comes to an end at the day of judgment.
Of recent years a more limited number of believers have been waking up to the truth of Scripture, and to see that it is a mistake to think that things are going always to continue as they are to the end of the world. In other words, they see something of what is expressed in the third fact His coming again.
But the very thought of the Lord's coming has aroused the more enlightened of them to consider their own security in the light of the promised One's speedy return. Since nothing less than full assurance could possibly satisfy them under such circumstances, they are, as a natural result, largely occupied with their own blessing.
This must be so until they are brought to understand that all the evil which they discover in themselves, or which God's holy eye could discover in them, has already been brought under His judgment in the death of a crucified Christ; and that all the positive good, all the absolute merit, they could possibly desire, or God could desire for them, is treasured up for them in a glorified Christ, and all reckoned by God to their account the moment they give up all hope of bettering themselves and turn for everything, in the way of merit or standing, or acceptance, to Christ.
But, alas! thousands of such are piously hoping to find in themselves that which only can be found in Christ. They hear marvelous stories of the experiences of others, and they are fired with the desire to reach the same state also. But it is absolute, perfect satisfaction that they are really after; and this they will never find in themselves until they reach the glory of God perfectly conformed to the image of God's Son. But in Christ, acceptance and absolute completeness are ours to-day. It is in the mind of God, and revealed in His word for every true believer.
But even most of those who have got beyond this and know a measure of deliverance, both from the bondage of sin and from the snares of the world, entirely fail to recognize the present position of Christ in relation to the assembly on earth, and their own inevitable responsibility as forming part of it. Their highest collective thought seems to be the holding of believers' meetings locally, or as gathered together at large "conventions." And then their own blessing, or their being used to the blessing of others, is the great thing before them. True, of course, they think of the glory of God in it all. But the glory of God in their blessing all the same. They may possibly try to assure themselves that they are becoming less and less sectarian in their sympathies, because they are getting sufficiently broad and liberal in their views to recognize (if only occasionally) other sects as well as their own. But it is evident they have never learned to connect the mind of heaven with the church on earth.
But all this falls far short of giving Christ His present rights as Head of and Supreme Administrator in God's assembly. Jonathan's blessing sought for was one thing; David’s rights another.
Had he sought David's rights as God's anointed man, destined to reign, it might have cost him much; but neglecting to recognize them cost him more!
It may be helpful at this point to bring before the reader what we may call
Two Awakenings.
The writer desires to draw the reader's attention to the awakenings of two converted men, both preachers. Each awakening proved an important epoch in their individual histories, and brought many deep exercises. Both servants are now at rest with their Lord, but both stories are perfectly authentic. One has left the record in his autobiography, which is in print to-day.
The popular and highly gifted minister of a Baptist church at Boston, in America, fell fast asleep one Saturday night after the weariness of preparing his sermon for the following day. He dreamed that, while delivering it, a stranger came quietly into his church. He walked gently down the aisle until one gentleman in the congregation offered him a seat in his own pew. There he sat as no ordinary listener. Indeed, the whole demeanor of the unknown visitor so arrested the preacher's attention from the very moment he entered, that he constantly found himself, during the discourse, turning to where he sat, and always found the most fixed attention.
When the service was over he hastened from the pulpit to speak to him. Alas! the stranger had departed! He has passed into the crowded aisle, where it was impossible to reach him.
Then he inquired of the one who had civilly offered the stranger a seat, Do you know him? "Oh yes," was his reply. "Jesus of Nazareth!" Then the minister expressed his sore disappointment that he had not spoken to Him; but the only comfort offered was, that He would be sure to come again!
But this brought serious and painful reflections even in his dream. What would He think of their highly paid, unconverted professional singers? and of all the rest that was in keeping with it, in their splendid building and popular "service"!
What was the result? On waking he came to a firm determination to reform his church, or, as he spoke of it, to "cleanse the temple." Now let us come to the other preacher.
An Irish curate in the Established Church, in reading his Bible one day, discovered that he was actually united to Christ in heaven by the Spirit of God! But if this is really true, he thought then the same thing is really true of every other believer on earth who has received the Holy Spirit. So he discovered what he had never apprehended before, that Christ the Head in heaven and all the members of His body on earth are one.
Thus one preacher was wakened up partly, no doubt, by his Master's silent rebuke in leaving the place without even speaking to His servant, and partly by the thought that He would be coming again, to consider the real state of that with which he stood connected, as a sort of "figurehead." Alas! his exercises went no further than how he should reform his own church according to a higher ideal of a church which he hoped to reach, but never did.
The other preacher was wakened up to what the Church is in the thoughts of God. Having reached God's ideal to start with, he soon discovered how sadly those composing it had lost sight of His great design for it.
Thus one began with a church as part of the sect he belonged to, and which he found to be deplorably in need of reformation; the other with the Church as the body of Christ embracing all true Christians as its members. Reaching up to God's thoughts about His one assembly, he saw that every sect on earth was a standing denial of those thoughts; and hence the necessity of dropping all that did not correspond with the same. One began at the bottom, to reform what never had God's sanction from the outset an unscriptural sectarian position, though many true Christians are to be found in it as in other sects; the other at the top, where all its divinely perfect, and by the Spirit livingly united to Christ as Man in glory, according to God's eternal purpose.
The latter saw no need for a new start, or of any reformation either. A new good sovereign needs no reforming, and a counterfeit is not worth it. The good may have long been covered from view in the midst of a heap of dust and rubbish. But when the sovereign is at last discovered, all that you do is to let go the dust and hold fast to the golden coin.
To apply the figure, when the Spirit of God first drew the attention of the Irish curate to it, the truth of what the Church is had long been covered up in the dust and rubbish of worldly religiousness, human tradition, and ecclesiastical dictation.
The question which tested the religious men when the Savior was here on earth is the one which tests every religious thing to-day: "Is it of heaven or of men?" And with the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the Holy Scriptures in our hand it is no more difficult to arrive at an answer than it is to discriminate in our choice between what belongs to the mud-heap and what came from the king's mint. What is of man will come to the dust; what is of God abide forever.
We are under no obligation whatever to hold to and reform what man has originated and by his sectarian rules established. We are under the strongest obligation to hold to what God has established in Christ by the Spirit, and to see that that which does not give Christ His true place must be abandoned for that which does.