The Church in a Day of Ruin

2 Timothy 2  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
TI 2:1-26{In a former chapter we sought to present the mind of God as to His House. We have also seen that, through the failure of man in responsibility, evil doctrines and evil men have been brought into the House of God, reducing the House to a ruin and exposing it to judgment.
It has been pointed out that while the first Epistle to Timothy presents the House of God in order according to the mind of God, the second Epistle presents the House when it has become ruined by the failure of man, and, in its ruin, likened to "a great house" in which "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" (2 Tim. 2:2020But 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. (2 Timothy 2:20)). The believer who has once seen the truth of the Assembly as the House of God as unfolded in Scripture, may well say, "I see nothing on earth that answers to the truth." How pitiful that this is true! In a day of ruin the truth of the House of God can only be known in an abstract way, there being no longer any concrete expression of the truth. All that can be actually seen in Christendom is "a great House" containing vessels to honor and dishonor. This raises other questions in the mind of the believer who desires to walk in obedience to God: Does the Word of God give any directions for God's people in a day of ruin? Is there any light as to how we are to walk and with whom we are to walk in a day when Christendom has become corrupt? However great the difficulties or however dark the day, it is not possible to think that God ever leaves His people without sufficient light for their pathway through this world. Through lack of spirituality we may fail to discern the light; through lack of devotedness we may fail to walk according to the light, or through sheer apathy we may be wholly indifferent to it; nevertheless we may be sure that the Word of God provides full light for our pathway.
There are three facts of the first importance for our souls to realize, if we desire to walk through this world according to the mind of God.
First, we have to learn that, however great our natural intelligence, however highly the mind may have been trained, however great our knowledge of Scripture, however sincere our desires, we cannot, if trusting to our own minds, find God's path for His people in the midst of the confusion of Christen-dom. We are not competent to find our way through the increasing difficulties of the path, to face the continual opposition to the truth, or to solve the various questions that constantly arise.
But, second, having discovered our utter in-competence, we are very greatly relieved to learn that we are not left to find our way as best we can and that God never expected that we should have any wisdom or competence in ourselves to walk according to His mind. The Lord could say, "Without Me ye can do nothing."
Third, it is a very great day when we discover the rich provision that God has made in order that we might be intelligent in His mind. First, we have a Head in Heaven-Christ in glory is the Head of His Body, the Church-and all wisdom is in the Head, so that though we have no wisdom in ourselves, we have full wisdom in Christ. One has truly said, "Christ is made wisdom to us, that is intelligence. He alone could lead men through the perplexities of this world of moral confusion, where there is no way." It is then of the first importance to give up our own "heads" and look to Christ as "the Head" to guide us. If we trust our own heads, we are "not holding the Head" (Col. 2:1919And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Colossians 2:19)).
Second, the Holy Spirit-a Divine Person-is on earth. The Lord knew well that His people would not be able to support themselves in a world from which he is absent; thus, before He left, He could say, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16,1716And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16‑17)). The preservation and maintenance of the truth is not dependent upon the saints, but upon the abiding presence of the Spirit of Truth.
Third, we have the Holy Scriptures given by inspiration of God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16,1716All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‑17)). We read that "the House of God which is the Assembly of the living God" is "the pillar and base of the truth"; but, when the House of God has become a ruin, and we no longer have the truth livingly set forth in the Church, the man of God still has the infallible authority of Scripture by which to prove all things.
Now it must be manifest that no ruin in Christendom can for one moment alter Christ, or the Spirit, or the Scriptures. Christ remains the Head in Heaven, with boundless stores of wisdom for His people to draw upon, as much in these last days as in the first days of Christianity. The Holy Spirit abides with unabated power to guide and control. The Holy Scriptures remain with absolute authority.
Yet Christendom has largely set aside Christ, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. The great religious systems of men have indeed retained the name of Christ, but have set aside Christ as the Head in Heaven by appointing earthly heads. Rome has its Pope; the Greek Church, its Patriarch; the Protestant Churches, their Kings, Archbishops, Presidents or Moderators. Then in these great systems there is little left for the Spirit. The religious machinery and carnal devices of men have largely shut out the Spirit. And, lastly, men have made the most deadly attack upon the Scriptures, until there is hardly a sect in Christendom that holds with any degree of unanimity that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God."
If, then, we desire to give Christ His place as the Head of the Church, to own and submit to the control of the Holy Spirit and to implicitly bow to Scripture, what are we to do? Scripture very definitely answers that we must maintain and act upon two great principles. First, separation from all that is contrary to the truth of God-all that is a denial of the truth of the Church, of Christ as the Head of His Church, of the Holy Spirit as ours all-sufficient guide, and the Scriptures as our absolute authority. Then, after we have separated from evil, Scripture insists upon another equally important principle-association with all that is according to God. In a word, we must "Cease to do evil; learn to do well."
First, then, let us seek to learn what Scripture has to say as to separation from evil. All would admit, however much we may come short in practice, that separation from this evil world has ever been incumbent upon the people of God; but in a day when Christianity has become corrupted, we have special instructions for a threefold separation. First, separation from every religious system which by its constitution is a denial of the truth of Christ and the Church. The word in Heb. 13:1313Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Hebrews 13:13), is very plain, "Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." The camp was the Jewish religious system originally set up by God and making its appeal to the natural man. In it no question of new birth was raised; all depended upon natural birth. It was composed of people outwardly in relationship with God, with an earthly order of priests who stood between the people and God. It had a worldly sanctuary and an ordered ritual (Heb. 9:1-101Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. 2For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary. 3And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. 6Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 7But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: 8The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:1‑10)). It is only too manifest that the religious systems of Christendom have been formed after the pattern of the camp. They are largely composed of unconverted men; they, too, make a definite appeal to the natural man; they, too, have their worldly sanctuaries, their ritual, and their humanly ordained priests that stand between the people and God. But in imitating the camp, Christians, as we have seen, have set aside Christ as the Head, the Holy Spirit as Guide, and the Scriptures as authority. If, then, we would give Christ His true place we must, in obedience to the Word, "Go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach."
TI 2:19{But, second, separation from the camp order of things as set forth in these religious systems is not enough. Scripture also plainly enjoins separation from evil doctrine. In 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), we read, "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." Every one who confesses the name of the Lord is, by profession, identified with the Lord and is responsible to withdraw from iniquity. The iniquity may take many forms, but the preceding verses plainly show that evil doctrines are especially in view. We must not link iniquity with the name of the Lord. It may cost us much in time to separate from iniquity, but it will cost us much more in eternity to link up the name of the Lord with iniquity.
TI 2:20{Third, the same Scripture demands separation from evil persons. Verse 20 speaks of vessels to honor and to dishonor, and in the following verse we are enjoined to purge ourselves from the vessels to dishonor in order to be sanctified and meet for the Master's use. Here it is clear that persons are in view, not merely doctrines. It has been truly remarked: "It is always in proportion to your separation from these vessels-persons, not their doctrines merely, that you are sanctified and meet for the Master's use.... Few have an idea how one suffers from unhallowed society. It is not enough not to hold their doctrines; but their society contaminates. You are colored by the lowest company that you keep. Every effort has been tried in Christendom to weaken the force of this passage; every one is great in proportion to his separation."
Thus it is clear that Scripture plainly enjoins separation from religious systems that are a denial of the truth, from false doctrines that undermine the truth, and from vessels to dishonor who do not practice the truth.
TI 2:22{This, however, is not enough. Separation, however necessary, is only negative; there must be also that which is positive. This leads us to the second great principle, association with good. Just as separation is to be from evil things as well as evil persons, so, too, the association is to be with things that are right and good as well as with persons who are right with the Lord. We are to "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)). Righteousness of necessity stands first. Whatever profession a man may make, if there is not the maintenance of practical righteousness, there cannot be a walk according to God. But righteousness is not enough: mere right and wrong is not sufficient to determine the Christian's path. He must indeed do right, but to take the path of the Lord requires faith. Therefore with righteousness "faith" must be followed. But righteousness and faith make way for "love." If love is not guarded by righteousness and faith, it will degenerate into mere human affection and be used as a plea for the allowance of laxity and the passing over of evil. Then these three qualities lead to "peace." Not a dishonorable peace that is only a compromise with evil, unbelief and hatred; but an honorable peace that is the outcome of righteousness, faith, and love. But if we follow these beautiful qualities, we shall find others who are doing the same-those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart-and with such we are to associate. The fact that they call on the Lord out of a pure heart can plainly be discerned by their practical lives, inasmuch as it can be seen that they have "departed from iniquity," purged themselves from vessels to dishonor, and follow "righteousness, faith, love, peace." It is therefore clear that the path of separation is not a path of isolation. Scripture shows that there will always be those with whom we can associate.
TI 2:23-26{However, those who, in the midst of the corruption of Christendom, take this path of separation from evil and association with good, will have raised against them "foolish and senseless questions" by those who oppose a path that they have not faith to take. To meet such it will be necessary to cultivate a spirit of "gentleness," "patience," and "meekness." Only as we wear this character will it be possible to avoid strife while seeking to instruct (2 Tim. 2:23-2623But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (2 Timothy 2:23‑26)).
It will be noticed that in these Scriptures that give such definite instruction for the people of God in a day of ruin, it is not once suggested that we should go outside the House of God. Indeed, to do so is impossible without going outside Christendom, which would involve leaving the world altogether. But while we cannot go outside the House, we are responsible to separate from the evil in the House. Again, we are not told to reconstruct anything. We are not told to rebuild the House. We are not called to form a pattern Church or to start anything new. We are simply to walk in the light of that which was in the beginning and which still exists under the eye of God in spite of all the failure of man in responsibility. That is to say, it is still our privilege and responsibility to walk in the truth of the Church, in the recognition of Christ as the Head, under the control and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and according to the instructions of Scripture.