Footsteps of Faith For the People of God
by John Ritchie
During a recent visit among assemblies in parts of Canada and the United States, it was my privilege to minister the Word to many gatherings of the Lord’s people.
After my return home, I found that in several cases rough notes had been taken, which the writers desired to print. I have since had communications from various brethren labouring in the Gospel and shepherding the flock, suggesting that these addresses might be issued in book form, in the hope that by this means a larger number of the children of God might have the truth brought before them than I was able to teach during my recent brief visit.
I have endeavoured to give effect to the expressed desire of these brethren, by writing out the gist of what was then spoken, and having it issued in this handy form. There is nothing new or startling in the book, simply the plain fare of the Word of God, broken small for young believers and wayfaring men.
If in this form, the truth of God should be more widely spread, and by the Divine blessing prove a word in season, to help, to strengthen, and to confirm in the faith, those whose desire is to walk with God in “the old paths,” holding fast the faithful Word, the desired object will be gained.
NAMES OF PLACES where these addresses were given
Central Hall, Toronto.
Y.M.C.A. Hall, Toronto.
Y.W. Guild Hall, Toronto.
Gospel Hall, Hamilton.
Gospel Hall, Galt.
Gospel Hall, London.
Gospel Hall, Forest.
Gospel Hall, Orillia.
125th St. Hall, New York.
Y.M.C.A. Hall, New York.
Gospel Hall, Dutch Kills, N.Y.
Gospel Hall, Newark, N.J.
Central Hall, Detroit, Mi.
Gospel Hail, Cleveland, Oh.
Gospel Hall, Pittsburg, Pa.
Gospel Hall, Philadelphia, Pa.
Gospel Hall, New Bedford, Ma.
Gospel Hall, Boston, Mass.
- Life in and for Christ
- The Work of God in the Saint
- Accepted in the Beloved
- Pleasing God, the Believers Ambition
- The Child of God: His Place, Path, and Prospects
- Separation from the World
- The Lordship of Christ
- The Fellowship of Saints
- A Plain Path, Amid the Perils of the Last Days
- Our Threefold Judgment
- Gathering to Christ
- The Coming of the Lord
Life In and For Christ
In his natural state, the sinner is dead in trespasses and in sins (Eph. 2:2), and “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). He exists, and will continue to exist for ever, but is destitute of spiritual life. “Dead while he liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6), are words which aptly describe all the unregenerate. The prodigal, while away from his father and his home, is said to have been “dead” (Luke 15:24), for separation from God by sin is spiritual death. To those who are religious, but unregenerate, the Lord says, “Ye have no life in you” (John 6:33), and to the unbelieving and impenitent, who will not obey the Gospel, the solemn word, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36), excludes all hope of a change beyond the grave, and gives the lie to the devil’s favourite doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, being preached throughout Christendom, and widely accepted by those who are ready to catch at anything to salve their conscience and help them to forget God.
No life can be imparted to the soul by ordinances, as thousands are vainly taught to believe. There is not a shred of Scripture authority for the figment of “Baptismal Regeneration,” either as practised in the Roman and Anglican churches, or in the smaller communities that have borrowed the rite and modified it to fit their own theories, with much the same result. Whether the babe is made an “inheritor of the kingdom of heaven,” or “ingrafted into Christ,” or merely brought into a visible church, it is assumed in all that something has been done to make it different from others, and this “something” evolves into the assumption that “the baptized” is God’s child, and is therefore to be regarded as having life and being a Christian, unless some lapse renders the sacramental “grace” void. And thus great Babylon is built of “brick for stone” (Gen. 40:4). The “membership” of Christendom’s churches is largely composed of unregenerate, lifeless professors. Let them hear the Lord’s Word again and again: “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
CHRIST THE LIFE-GIVER
“In Him was life” (John 1:4), and “the life was manifested, and we have seen it” (1 John 1:2). The Eternal Son, co-equal with the Father, who has life in Himself (John 5:26), came into the world to give life to those who are dead in sin (John 5:25). He only is the Life-giver, as He will be the Judge. As Son of God, He gives life; as Son of Man, He will execute judgment. But before that life could be imparted to others, He must die. Like the rock in the desert, which had to be smitten ere its waters flowed to the thirsty host (Ex. 17:6), so the Son had to die, to give His life a ransom (Matt. 20:28), to lay down His life and take it again (John 10:17), ere He could give it away to others. Now the Gospel proclaims life to the dead as surely as pardon to the guilty. The written Word sets forth the dying and living Christ, that believing sinners “might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). And the testimony of the Life-giver Himself as to how this life is received and enjoyed, is full and clear: “He that heareth My Word, and believeth Him that sent Me, HATH eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, RV.). Thus the believing sinner is in present possession of eternal life: he does not hope for it, he does not pray for it—he “hath” it; it “abideth” in him. And the record of the Word is given that we may “know that we have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). There is therefore no room for doubt; it is not presumption to believe and enjoy it, nor is doubt and fear a “sign of grace,” as some in gross ignorance affirm.
And this life once received can never be lost: it is eternal and indestructible. As one quaintly says: “It can neither be burned, drowned, nor hung.” The Lord’s own word concerning all who possess it, is: “They shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Neither inward decay nor outward violence can deprive them of it.
As to its Source, “this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:1); its supply (Phil. 1:19) is in them, as they receive it by the Spirit, as a well (John 4:14), and through them as channels, rivers of life flow out to others (John 7:38).
DIVINE LIFE IN THE BELIEVER
As the iron in the fire absorbs the element in which it abides, and soon manifests the glow of the fire in the iron, so the believer “in Christ,” who is his life (Col. 3:4), is not only saved [kept safe] in His life (Rom. 5:10, R.V.), as the element in which he abides, “hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), but he “lives” (2 Cor. 5:1) henceforth in the power of that life unto Him whom he owns as Lord and Christ. It was this that the apostle had in view when he wrote: “Not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). The life thus possessed is essentially the same in all; the “babe” and the “father” alike share it. But there are varied stages of its development. Some are advancing, some retrograding. One desires the milk of the Word, and grows thereby (1 Pet. 2:2); another neglects his Bible, reads light literature, feeds the flesh on novels, and gives hours to the perusal of the newspaper, thus “making provision” for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). The life in such is stunted, and, as among the Corinthians and Hebrews (1 Cor. 3:1; Heb. 5:13), an unhealthy infantile state ensues, which is common enough, marked by that unweaned condition, which can only receive the first principles of God’s Word (Isa. 28:9), and has no exercise of soul in anything beyond that which concerns their personal salvation, and that which makes them “happy,” constantly needing to be nursed, shepherded, and cared for; whereas full grown saints, in a healthy and prosperous condition (3 John 2), are exercised daily in their “Father’s business” (Luke 2:49), and live, not wholly occupied with their own things, but also to give a helping hand to others (Phil. 2:4, 26, 30). God has provided for His people “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3), so that it is not to any one’s credit to be undeveloped, or “weak and sickly.” Life in the invalid in the hospital is in an abnormal condition, invaded by disease, whereas life in the athlete in the stadium is in overflowing measure, fit for the conflict and the race. This is what we should seek after; it is the great lack and the root cause of all the weakness among God’s people at the present hour. Outward reformation and better equipment are of little value if the secret springs of life are vitiated or diseased.
LIFE IN MANIFESTATION
Where Divine life is, it will assert its presence. Its marks and manifestations may easily be recognised. “Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because His seed abideth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In THIS, the children of God are manifest” (1 John 3:9-10, R.V.). It is not that they are perfect, that they have no sin in them—for he who says so deceives himself (1 John 1:8)—but sin is no longer the law of his being, he practiseth it not. In days of flippant profession and vaunted attainment, such words are solemn and searching; they go to the root of the matter. If one is not a “doer of righteousness”; if he does not love his brother, who is begotten of the same Father (1 John 5:1), he is “not of God” (1 John 3:10), says the Word, let him be what he may.
The new life is for the present in the old vessel, in a mortal body, subject to death, groaning for deliverance. Such is the present sphere of its manifestation (2 Cor. 4:11). The members, once the tools of sin, are to be yielded to God, and used in His service, “holding forth the Word of life” (Phil. 2:16) to others.
LIFE FOR CHRIST
“For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21); “We live unto the Lord” (Rom. 14:8); “They which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him” (2 Cor. 5:15), are words which tell of the Object of the believer’s life. As the flower turns to the sun, and the ship answers to the helm, so the outcome of Divine life in the soul is “unto God”; it produces fruit after its kind. As the source, so are the streams. Man may put on the garments of outward profession, but he cannot grow the fruit of the Spirit on a stock of nature. True devotion and discipleship without, can only result from the life of God in possession. The true longing of that heart in which the life and love of God abide will ever be:
“Nought that I have, mine own I call,
I hold it for the Giver:
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His for ever.”
LIFE IN PROSPECT
“In hope of eternal life” (Tit. 1:2); “The end eternal life” (Rom. 6:22, R.V.), view this life in its fulness and finality, when in the coming resurrection state the believer will enter upon life in a new sphere, in a body fitted for its full enjoyment and manifestation, a fit vessel for its display, as the present vessel is not. In that coming hour of victory, when, at the shout of the returning Lord, those who are “alive and remain” shall be changed in a moment, “mortality” will be “swallowed up of life” (2 Cor. 5:4), while in the case of the dead in Christ, “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). In that fair land to which we hasten, everything shall be full of life, and death will be known no more. The “river of life” for ever flowing, the “tree of life” for ever blooming and fruiting, traces of sin and death for ever gone from God’s fair creation—the New Jerusalem with its deathless, fadeless beauty; the new heaven and earth “wherein dwelleth righteousness”—will all be the pleasures which are at God’s right hand, even “life for evermore.”
“Such is the city of the saints,
Where we so soon shall stand,
When we shall strike these pilgrim tents,
And quit this desert land.”
The Work of God in the Saint: Its Commencement, Continuance, and Consummation.
(Read Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13; 4:21)
To the sinner in need of salvation, we preach “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). To the soul in quest of peace with God, we point to the finished work of Christ, where peace was made through the “blood of His Cross” (Col. 1:20). As the bitten Israelite was directed to an object outside of himself—the brazen serpent on the pole—for healing, so the sinner is pointed to the Son of Man, “lifted up,” for life (Num. 21:7-9; John 3:14-15). It is not on some internal experience, or work of the Spirit in him, that the believing sinner relies as the ground of his peace and the cause of his salvation, but on the finished work of Christ, the one great Sacrifice of Calvary offered once for all, and for ever accepted and abiding in its value before God in heaven (John 19:30; Heb. 1:3; 10:12). Reposing on the work done FOR him by Another, and confessing with the mouth Jesus Christ as his Lord (Rom. 10:9), he is saved (Acts 16:30). Many who have been taught to look to Christ thus for salvation (Isa. 45:22), and to run the Christian race “looking off unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), are preserved from the many “Sloughs of Despond” and “Doubting Castles,” into which others fall who have been taught that they have to look for it of their faith in inward experiences, and by means of continual introspective examination, discover whether they have the “right faith” or not. The work of Christ FOR US, which is perfect and never to be repeated, and the work of the Spirit IN US, which is progressive and incomplete, must be carefully distinguished, if peace with God and progress in spiritual life are to be known and enjoyed among the people of God.
The Epistle to the Philippians is essentially an epistle of Christian experience. In the great prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17, He makes a threefold petition to the Father on behalf of His people: “I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one” (v. 23, R.V.); to which the answer is given in the great and glorious truths made known in the three Epistles to the Philippians, Colossians, and Ephesians—Philippians answering, “I in them” (Christ in His people); Colossians, “Thou in Me” (the fulness of the Godhead in the Son); Ephesians, “Perfected into one” (the union of all the members in one body, growing into a perfect man). This work of God IN His people is set forth in the Philippian epistle in three distinct stages: in chapter 1 its Commencement; in chapter 2 its Continuance; in chapter 3 its Consummation.
In Acts 16 we have the story of Paul and his fellow-labourers’ first visit to Philippi, and of the firstfruits of the Gospel in that city. First, there was Lydia, a seller of purple of Thyatira, far from home, yet finding time to attend a small prayer meeting on the Jewish Sabbath by the riverside—a devout woman, a seeker after God, yet never having heard the Gospel, she was still unsaved. That the Spirit of God had been striving and dealing with her before that day, there is no reason to doubt. He convicts of sin (John 16:8-9) and sets apart from the crowd (see 1 Peter 1:2, where sanctification is “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood,”) souls convinced of need and seeking after God, sometimes long before they know deliverance and salvation. It was while in this condition that we read of Lydia, “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things that were spoken” (Acts 16:14), and hearing the Gospel from the lips of Paul, she believed and was saved. That day there was a work “begun in” her—inaugurated, as the word “begun” in Philippians 1:6 implies—by the Divine Spirit, who had previously operated upon her unto conviction, but had now regenerated (John 3:5) and sealed her (Eph. 1:13), becoming Anointing, Earnest (2 Cor. 1:21) and Indweller in her heart (Gal. 4:6). This subjective work of the Spirit in the believer, although not the ground of his peace, must not be ignored, as it often is in this day of theoretic evangelism and shallow conceptions of conversion, followed by little progress in Christian experience. Apart from a healthy inward condition and a progressive growth of spiritual life, there can be no true obedience to God or efficient service for Christ. The law of God’s kingdom is, that trees of His planting take “root downward” first, in order to “bear fruit upward” (Isa. 37:31): they are “planted in the house of the Lord” to “flourish in the courts of our God” (Ps. 92:13).
The “saints at Philippi,” of which the first was Lydia, followed by the woman who was indwelt by a demon, and the jailer with his house, had a good start. They were soundly converted, immediately confessing Christ as their Lord in baptism, fearlessly taking their place in association with the persecuted preachers. A clear start like this is of immense importance. If those truly converted do not separate themselves from the world, make a “clean cut” from their former companions, throw over the notions they had of “religion” in their unconverted days, and become companions of God’s people, “continuing steadfastly” in the doctrine of the Word and the fellowship of those who honour and obey it, they do not and cannot make progress in spiritual life, or increase in the knowledge of God.
Three Scottish sailors had imbibed too freely in a village tavern, and late at night had to cross a ferry in a small-boat to reach their vessel. Two took the oars, the third the helm, but after rowing for a full hour, they had not reached the other side. In the grey light of morning, and with returning sobriety, they discovered that all their energy had been spent in vain: they had not moved from their moorings! “An nae much wunner, lads,” said the helmsman; “for we didna pull up our anchor!” There can be no real progress heavenward so long as believers are anchored to the present evil world, or unequally yoked with the ungodly. “Loose him and let him go” (John 11:44), is the word that applies to those who have life, but lack liberty. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), is God’s way of deliverance. The saints at Philippi were “free born” (Acts 20:28), and from “the first day” (v. 5) gave a good account of themselves in manifesting their “fellowship in the Gospel.” And that “good work,” begun IN them, did not cease (nor should it in us), until its final consummation “in the day of Jesus Christ.” Thus you see its commencement is on the day of regeneration; its completion in the day of glorification.
THE WORK PROGRESSING
Although the apostle and his fellow-labourers were unable to continue long with the infant church (chap. 4:15) at Philippi, having been “shamefully entreated” (1 Thess. 2:2) and hurried away (Acts 16:40; 17:1) to other fields, the saints went on with God and His Word, owning Christ as their Lord, so that the work begun in them continued steadily. The apostle is able to say that if they obeyed in his “presence,” when he was with them, they had continued to do so “much more” since he left them (chap. 2:12). This is a good record. Often when the evangelist goes, the “revival” collapses like a house of cards, and the converts disappear like snow from the mountain top. The man there is everything. When he is gone nothing remains, or what does soon becomes absorbed in the world’s religion. When work is of the Spirit of God, the faith of those converted stands in His power (1 Cor. 2:5). They do not, like the scorched wheat in the rocky ground, “wither away,” from lack of root and moisture: they have Divine life in them, and the indwelling Spirit as strength and sustainer. Christ formed within (Gal. 4:19), is manifested in character and conduct; the “new man” created is put on, and the traits of his character in righteousness and holiness of the truth appears. For what God works “in” His people by the Spirit and the Word “according to His good pleasure,” they “work out” in practical godly life, as daily “salvation” (see Jas. 1:21; 1 Tim. 6:16) from sins and snares through which they pass. In normal healthy conditions, this growth progresses as “the blade, the ear, and the full corn” (Mark 3:26-28); “little children, young men, and fathers” (1 John 2:13) being words which mark the stages of spiritual advancement, as God would have it, the believer going “from strength to strength,” growing in loveliness of character as the lily (Hos. 5:4), and in strength as the cedars of Lebanon (Ps. 92:12).
THE WORK COMPLETED
The completion and consummation of this work is in view in chapter 3:20-21, where at the coming of the Lord from heaven as “the Saviour,” He, according to the “working” of His Divine power, will “fashion anew” the body of our humiliation, and conform us to His own image. This work (2 Cor. 5:5; Rom. 8:11) seems to be attributed to the same Spirit, who first regenerates and then transforms (2 Cor. 3:16) the children of God—the word used (morphe) implying a deep inward work, not a superficial (schema) semblance, as Satan puts on for deception the garb of an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14)—who will “fashion anew” with a deep work, and “change” with a manifest conformity to Christ, those in whom He began the good work on conversion’s day, continued it through life’s busy years, and now consummates it by making the saints “like Him,” when they “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Accepted in the Beloved
(Read Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 3:17; Ephesians 1:6.)
Long ages before the only begotten Son was manifested among men, prophets and psalmists had uttered His glories and told out the secrets of God’s heart concerning Him, whose goings forth had been from “the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2, margin). Isaiah tells of One who was Jehovah’s Elect, in whom His soul delighted (Isa. 42:1), and in Proverbs 8:22-37, R.V., the remarkable words concerning One who was set up from everlasting, whom Jehovah possessed before His works of old, who was with Him as a wise Master Workman, daily His delight and rejoicing always before Him, can refer in their fulness only to the Eternal Son, co-equal with the Father, “the Word” who was “with God” and ever “was God” (John 1:1). Away back in the eternal past, before there was a sin to grieve the heart of God, or a sinner to save, the Son was in “the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18), His Companion and the Object of His love. It is this that makes the words of John 3:16 so stupendous in their vastness, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” For God to send “rain and fruitful seasons” upon those who had given Him up, and turned to worship idols (Acts 14:5-17), was wonder enough: but to SO love a world of sinners as to send His only begotten Son—“His well-beloved” (Mark 12:6), as the parable tells us—is past human comprehension. That he was cradled in a manger and brought up in a Galilean village unknown among men, that “He was in the world and the world knew Him not” (John 1:10), only increases the majesty of the miracle of grace, for it shows what condition the world was in, and what its attitude was toward God and heaven, to make such a reception of God’s only begotten Son possible.
The thirty mysterious years of His seclusion in Nazareth, about which we know so little, reveal sufficient to tell how humble and how human His life there must have been. Subject to His parents, “increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52), “the Carpenter” (Mark 6:3), possibly the bread-winner of the family, working with His hands for daily bread. These mysteries only increase the wonder. That God’s only begotten and well-beloved Son should work for daily bread in the seclusion of a highland village, of bad repute, not once named in the ancient Scriptures, and remain for thirty years a stranger in the world His hands had made, and at last die a felon’s death, and be buried in a borrowed tomb, are facts that the world may forget, but the Most High God never can. He has in part already reckoned with the earthly people, and will yet reckon with the whole world, as to the treatment given to His only Son—the Beloved—when He stood here among men.
ACKNOWLEDGED AS THE BELOVED
Twice from the open heavens, the Son was acknowledged by God as His Beloved, the Object of His delight. Once, as He stood in the Jordan, at His baptism. On that memorable day, we are told “the heavens were opened unto Him,” and a voice from these opened heavens proclaimed: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Never before had such a testimony been borne from heaven to any man on this earth. Saints and servants of God there had been; men of faith and faithfulness to God, who had gained God’s approval and been honoured by His presence. Enoch had been His companion, habitually “walking with God.” Abram had been His friend, and received of His secrets. Daniel had proved His delivering hand, and been greeted by an angel as a man “greatly beloved.” All this was high honour, but they were only sinners saved and sustained by grace. All that they had done and suffered was due to the grace of God in them. With Jesus, it was otherwise. He was the Elect of God, in whom His soul delighted; the perfectly obedient One, who in the Bond-servant’s form had rendered full obedience to His God, always and everywhere doing that which gave God delight. In Him, all was perfection: nothing was in excess, nothing awanting. In the meat-offering of old (Lev. 2), which was doubtless a foreshadowing type of Him in His perfect Manhood, there were no rough grains; it was of fine flour mingled with oil and fragrant with frankincense. He always did that which was well-pleasing to God, as He knew and confessed to His enemies (John 8:29). How God in His high and holy heaven delighted in His well-beloved Son! What communications passed between the eternal throne in the heavens and the mountain side on which He slept, the storm-tossed boat on which He sailed, and the holy calm of that home in Bethany on the slope of Olivet, in which He was an honoured Guest!
On the holy hill again, the voice from “the exceeding glory,” as Peter tells, gave Him “honour and majesty,” when in these new surroundings He was again acknowledged, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”—the added words, “hear ye Him,” having possibly reference to His exaltation to the place of Lord (Phil. 2:9), and, thus, whether as the obedient Servant in humiliation, or the Lord of men and angels in exaltation, He is ever and always the Object of His Father’s love and good pleasure.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Now turn for a moment to the seventeenth of John, that wonderful chapter in which is recorded the prayer of the Lord Jesus to His Father for His own. Do you ever think how much of this prayer has been answered? If you go carefully through it, comparing the many requests in it with the subsequent revelations and communications of the Spirit as found in the Epistles, you will find that all the petitions made by the Lord have been already answered except one, and that is: “Father, I will, that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory” (v. 24). We have not yet seen His unveiled glory, but that too will come. But the rest is already ours. And the last is the greatest and the best. After speaking of the coming glory to which He desires His people to be brought, He falls back upon something that is greater than glory, and before it: “Thou lovedst Me, before the foundation of the world.” How His heart reposed and delighted in that eternal love! As the Father rested and delighted in the love of the Son, so the Son reposed in the love of the Father! And then, as if He had left the greatest to the last, He says: “I have declared unto them Thy Name, and will declare it; that THE LOVE WHEREWITH THOU LOVEST ME may be in THEM.” Marvellous desire! What does it mean? Not that God would love us as sinners, with a love of compassion—He had done that already (John 3:16)—but that the Father would embrace His people in the same love of relationship and complacency that He, the beloved Son, had always enjoyed; that His ransomed people might be the objects of His pleasure, as He was. He would not share this love, this place of nearness to His God, alone: He would have His Church, His Bride, loved with the same everlasting love. Is there anything in the Word to show us that this request has been granted, that this desire has been realized? Blessed be God, there is.
ACCEPTED IN THE BELOVED.
Turn to Ephesians 1:6, “To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved.” Some translators render it, “Graced us, bestowed grace upon us, taken us into favour” in the Beloved. It just means this, that the believing sinner is taken into the innermost circle of the Father’s love, that he is welcomed, accepted, and regarded with the same Divine favour as the Beloved Himself, just because he is in Him, a part of Himself, and therefore as near and as dear to God as His own beloved Son. I remember very well when I used to sing, with awe and reserve the beautiful words
“So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be:
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to Me.”
They seemed too high, too holy, to be true of a sinner newly saved by grace, fully conscious of infirmity and faltering steps. And if we seek in ourselves, or in our attainments, the cause for such love, for such acceptance, we may well hesitate to sing them, or take the position they express, but when we learn that all this comes to us, not because of any virtue in us, but simply because we are “in the Beloved,” near to God and dear to God as He is, the mists flee away, and the soul basks in the warmth and brightness of this grand, this soul-thrilling love of God. It is here that the heart finds its repose, and here too are found the springs of all true devotedness to Christ, and the source of strength in service for Christ. Until one breathes the atmosphere of being “accepted in the Beloved,” of knowing that “the Lord taketh pleasure in His people” (Ps. 114:4), there is always more or less of legality, of doing this and that to gain God’s favour, or to retain it. But when the heart is thus directed “into the love of God” (2 Thess. 3:5), “dwelling in love” and in God (1 John 4:16), the deep sense of His love and favour becomes the dwelling place of the soul, then “we love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, R.V.). O to live and breathe this atmosphere of God’s love!
“No earthly mother, whose firstborn
Lies nestling on her knee,
Bends o’er her babe so yearningly,
As yearns my God o’er me.”
The practical side of this will be, that we shall be eager to do His will, to please Him well, even to anticipate His desires. Enlargement of heart will cause us not to neglect, but ever to “run the way of God’s commandments” (Ps. 119:32), and like our Divine Lord, who left us an example, to “do always those things that please Him.”
HOW TO PLEASE GOD
The Revised reading of 2 Corinthians 5:9, “We make our aim [our ambition], whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing unto Him,” is better than that of the A.V., “to be accepted of Him.” Believers are already “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6); this is their common standing in grace, and nothing they can ever do will make them more so. But just because they are thus accepted, they make it their “aim” to be “well pleasing unto Him,” who has thus in grace accepted them.
It was the joy of the Lord Jesus, when here on earth, to do always the things that pleased the Father (John 8:29). He never sought to please men, or to gain their approval by speaking smooth things to them: His one ambition was to please God, and He did it perfectly. In our unregenerate state, as fallen sinners, this was impossible to us, for the Word emphatically declares, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). This is just as true of men’s so-called philanthropic and religious works, as of their sins. The tree being corrupt, the fruit must be of its kind (Matt. 6:18-19). Nothing that an unconverted sinner does, or can do, gives any pleasure to God, “for without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6). The first necessity for the natural man is, to be born again. Then, possessed of Divine life, with the Spirit of God indwelling the heart, it is possible to do that which gives God pleasure.
HOW TO PLEASE GOD
There need be no doubt in the mind of any true believer as to what does please God. He has given us His Word, and in that Word He has recorded what He wants all His people, through all time, to do, to give Him pleasure. There is nothing higher, nothing more God-pleasing, than obedience to those things which He has commanded. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, he was able to remind them, “Ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God” (1 Thess. 4:1). They had heard this orally from the apostle’s lips during the time he was with them, for they had not then the complete New Testament Scriptures, as we have them now, in which all the will of God is found. What a comfort it is to know that the things that give pleasure to God, are just the things He has commanded His people to do! He has not left them to guess, or be guided by human reason or man’s traditions, in such matters. The Lord Jesus says to the Father, “I have given them Thy Word” (John 17:14), and that Word is to be the Christian’s guide and counsellor in every step, at every stage, of earthly life. A notion has gone abroad, and some have even hinted at it in public ministry, that there is something higher, something more advanced, than simply “the letter of Scripture,” and when that theory is analysed it amounts to this, that some “Will o’ the Wisp” experience, some supposed “higher” life, which mainly consists of ecstatic feelings, which are as easily lost as found, and in relating them for the magnification of self. And this is considered to be more “spiritual,” more heavenly, than obedience to the Word of God! I do not believe it, and would warn you against such a deception. When our Divine Lord was here, He lived by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), and His latest moments, when suffering on the Cross, were spent in yielding obedience to that Word, “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (John 19:28). The true test of spirituality is, not relating celestial experiences in exaltation of the creature, but in obedience to the Lord, as saith the apostle, “If any man think himself to be a prophet or SPIRITUAL, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD” (1 Cor. 14:39).
A PATH OF FAITH
To go on pleasing God by walking in the path marked out in His Word, faith must be in constant exercise. This is what is evidently in view in Hebrews 10:38-39 (R.V.), where we read: “My righteous one shall live by faith; but if he shrink back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Many “shrink back” from the path of obedience, when they find it is to cost them something. What then? God ceases to have pleasure in them. As was said of God’s ancient people Israel, “With many of them God was not well pleased” (1 Cor. 10:5), so now He has “no pleasure” in those who, from fear of giving offence to ungodly men, endangering business success, or losing caste in the religious world, shrink back from obeying what they have learned of the will of God. I know a Christian husband and wife who kept a dairy, and had most of their customers among the members of “the church,” in which they were enrolled as “communicants,” although both unconverted. God in mercy saved them, and by reading His Word with opened eyes and unbiased minds, they saw it to be their privilege, as disciples of the Lord, to be baptized (Matt. 28:19), thus confessing Christ as their Lord (Acts 19:5), and accepting from God the appointed “likeness” He has provided of His people’s death and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6:5). There was—as there always will be, when God and His Word are honoured much opposition towards those who followed the Lord in baptism according to His Word, in that village, especially among the “church” people, who threatened to cease business relations with any of their number who became “dippers.” The devil knows where the weak part of every man’s armour is, and it is wonderful how many who talk loud enough about daring to “be a Daniel,” and “standing up for Jesus,” show “the white feather” and shrink back into the crowd, when there is the possibility of losing a customer or a dollar! This worthy couple sat by the fireside one night discussing the pros and cons of their contemplated baptism, and among other things, the likelihood of quite a number of the “church people” ceasing to buy their milk, was considered. That would mean something to them, and but for faith in God, the confidence that He is over all, and that them that honour Him He will honour (1 Sam. 2:30), they might have shrunk back for fear of the consequences. “If it come to that, by the grace of God we will sell the cows, but we will obey God at any cost,” said the husband. And they did obey God, without any loss either, for God sent them two new buyers for each of the old that forsook them, owing to sectarian prejudice. What can be said of a man who says he trusts the Eternal God to save and keep his soul, but cannot count upon Him to supply his daily bread?
WHAT PLEASES GOD
I can only briefly point out in the Word, and name a few of the things God tells us definitely are well pleasing to Him. The first is His people’s Worship. In 1 Peter 2:5, we are told that believers are “an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In the sham worship, the gorgeous vestments, the entrancing music, the great “swelling words of variety” uttered by unconverted choristers, the vain repetitions of worldlings pretending to worship God, He has no delight, they are a weariness to Him (Isa. 1:11-14); but where true hearts in which Christ dwells, make melody, and sanctified lips offer praise to God (Eph. 5:19; Ps. 1:23), He is glorified and well pleased. The Bodies of His people, presented to Him as living sacrifices, constrained by the mercies of God, are well pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1, R.V.); and so are their Gifts (Heb. 13:16; Phil. 4:18), when given with a willing heart and for such purposes as are according to the will of God. The Obedience of a child to parents (Col. 3:20) and Suffering for righteousness’ sake patiently endured, are both raised to high honour in being “well pleasing” to Him.
A NOTABLE EXAMPLE
Among those who honoured God by their faith in ancient time (Heb. 11), Enoch is especially named, as one who had witness borne to him before his translation that “he had been well pleasing unto God” (v. 5, R.V.). In his brief biography (Gen. 5:21-24), no great deed is recorded of him: he seems to have been a simple man, with a family, living in a dark time when iniquity was reaching its height, and the holy seed intermingling with the ungodly. But he “walked with God” (walked habitually, as the word means), and for the long period of three hundred years. He had few (if any) to speak to, to commune with, on the things of God: his path was a separate and lonely one, yet he was not alone, for he “walked with God,” and God with him, during that long dark day, testifying to the ungodly of coming judgment (Jude 14), and during that period, he had witness borne to him that he pleased God. Happy Enoch! Who would not like to be so honoured? And then to walk off the scene “without dying”; to migrate as the swallow to his own land in the company of his God, changing his place but not his company. As the Sunday-school girl so beautifully put it: “Enoch was a lonely man; but God and he took long walks together. One night they had walked long and late, and God said to Enoch, ‘You will not go back to your home tonight; come home with Me.’ ‘And he was not, for God took him.’” O to go to our eternal home like that! Is it not something worth aiming at, something which we should be ambitious to share?
One word more. If you please God, you will not be able to please men, or gain their approving smile. The Divine Lord did not, His most devoted saints and servants could not (Gal. 1:10), nor will you. On the contrary, you will likely make many enemies, get plenty of ill will, be misrepresented, and made a target of abuse. Never mind. God is over all. And here is a promise of His, which I have proved, and have seen fulfilled again and again: “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).
The Child of God: His Place, His Path, and His Prospects
(Read 1 John 3:1-2; Ephesians 5:1; Romans 8:19-20)
The entrance to God’s family is by new and heavenly birth, and there is no other. To the learned Rabbi of Jerusalem, the Son of God said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, ‘Ye must be born again’” (John 3:7), and so He speaks still. This new birth is a necessity not only for the irreligious and profane: it is as necessary for the sinner of the synagogue, who has all the outward trappings of what is called “the Christian religion,” as for the worshipper in the idol temple, and the drunkard of the tavern. All by nature are children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); by practice, children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2); and the Divine Lord said to some who were recognized leaders in the religion of His time: “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). By choice of denomination or creed, men may become members of what is called “the visible church,” but only by birth of the Spirit (John 3:5), through the Word (1 Pet. 1:23), do any enter the family of God. It is needful to emphasize and reiterate this, because so many are deceived by false teaching on this vital truth. One believes he is a child of God on the “Broad Church” theory of the Fatherhood of God, which makes all men God’s children, apart from redemption or regeneration. The Ritualist has his new birth in the initiatory rite of baptism, wherein he is made “a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven,” and notwithstanding the fact that many of “the baptized” have expiated their crimes on the scaffold, and thousands more are without creed or Christianity of any kind, some true Christians cling to “the church” in which such deception is not only practised, but by law authorized. The Lord will have something to say to them about that on a coming day. The true children are born, not by heredity or man’s will, but “of God.” And all who receive God’s Son, believing on His Name, are so born of God (John 1:12). They are children, begotten ones, having the life of God and the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3). Thus are they made meet, or qualified, to become sharers of the lot of saints in light (Col. 1:12), and can thank the Father who imparted to them this fitness, while in virtue of the love of God poured into their hearts by the Spirit (Rom. 5:4), they love God and all who are begotten of Him (1 John 5:2). They not only are “called the children of God,” but as the R.V. tells us in four forgotten words of the A.V., “and such we ARE” (1 John 3:2, R.V.). Not adopted, but born into the Divine family. And because “children, heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
THE CHILDREN’S PLACE
The titles “children” and “sons” are frequently regarded as synonymous, but they differ. “Children” views believers in their relationship to God, begotten of Him, having His life and character; “sons” as being legally set in full right and place, “son-placed,” because sons born, as “adoption” in Scripture means, able also to enjoy that position because the Spirit of the Son dwells in them (Gal. 4:6). “All of One,” with the Firstborn, who is not ashamed to call them His “brethren” (Heb. 2:11). In Incarnation, He was the Only-begotten (John 3:16), abiding alone (John 12:24), but through death and resurrection, First-begotten of “many brethren” (Rom. 8:26), God’s “many sons,” whom He is bringing to glory (Heb. 2:10). What an honour to be of the family of God, to be able to call God “Father,” and all His Spirit-born children, “brethren”!
It is the first relation one learns in nature, and also in grace. Long before we know what it is to be servants or stewards or witnesses, we are “children,” and know the Father’s love. And while, as days go by, other relations to God and aspects of Christian life may be learned, we never cease to be children, or get beyond nestling in the Father’s bosom, in the warm experience of His love, and enjoyment of His care.
“Our Father.” O what gracious ways
And thoughts of love that Name conveys!
It tells us of the tender care
Beloved children ever share.”
THE CHILDREN’S PATH
Of the Son of God here on earth, it is said, “The world knew Him not” (John 1:10); and of the children of God now, “The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (1 John 3:2). The path of the Son of God was one of rejection at the hands of the world, and so must the children’s path ever be. If they become friends of the world, and rise to places of honour in it, it is because they are unlike their Lord and unfaithful to their calling. “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), and the only way any who are born of God escape it, is by lowering their colours and sinking down to the level of the world. Then it will cease to trouble them. Separation from the world, while they pass through it as “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 1:11), is the only path of safety and spiritual progress. When the people of God of ancient time were on their way to Canaan, they said to the king of the Amorites, through whose country they desired to pass: “Let us pass through thy land: we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of thy wells; but we will go along by the king’s highway, until we be past thy borders” (Num. 21:21). Thus they would have been in the land of the Amorites, but not of it; strangers there, not at home; pilgrims passing through to the land of their inheritance. If the children of God maintained such a relation to the world through which they pass, none of them would be politicians, municipal rulers, or sharers in the election of those who are. They will render to Caesar his dues, pay their taxes, and be subject to the powers that be (Rom. 13:1-4), but never step aside from the “king’s highway” to interfere with the world’s affairs, or to remedy existing defects in its government. This is no part of their calling. They let “the dead bury their dead,” and go on preaching Christ and the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60; Acts 2:25), shining as luminaries in the midst of the darkness (Phil. 2:15).
THE CHILDREN’S PROSPECT
“We know that when He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2, R.V.). “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19, R.V.). Already sharers of grace, they await the promised glory. Then they shall be made like their Lord, fully conformed to the image of the Firstborn, as God has predestinated them (Rom. 8:29) to be. Thus, bearing the full image of the heavenly, God’s many sons will be brought to glory, and there presented faultless in the presence of the Father (Heb. 2:10; Jude 25). Then when the Lord appears in His glory, He will manifest them as “the sons of God” to the world, in which their high and holy calling had been unknown. What a day that will be!
“Thrice happy hour, and those thrice blest,
Who gather round the throne;
They share the honours of His rest,
Who have His conflict known.”
Separation from the World
(Read John 17:6; Galatians 1:4; 1 John 2:16)
In the “upper room” discourse of the Lord to His disciples (John 14-16), and His prayer (John 17) for them, many references are made to His people’s relation to the world, and in the subsequent Epistles written to individual saints and assemblies of believers, there is very much in the way of definite teaching and practical exhortation on the same subject. Most of God’s people spend the greatest part of their time in the world, buying and selling, serving or employing, working alongside, and otherwise mingling with all sorts of people. It is of the utmost importance to the Christian to know what God says in His Word, and what he is expected to give effect to, regarding the believer’s relation to and position in the world of the ungodly all around him. From lack of this knowledge, or its use in daily practice, many who profess the Christian name become so entangled in the meshes of “the present evil world,” that they cease to be known among men as the people of God, and cease to bear any testimony for the Lord, whose they profess to be, among those that know Him not.
THE WORLD AS IT NOW IS
The Cross was the world’s great “crisis.” Up till then it had been on trial. By its rejection of the Son of God it has been judged (John 12:25). Its peoples joined in the murder of the One who was God’s love gift to it (John 3:16); who came into it, not to condemn but to save (John 3:17). Its rulers, blinded by sin and led on by Satan, “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), and God, who saw and fully estimated that dark deed, has brought in “all the world guilty” (Rom. 3:19). Satan, who has usurped for a brief period the power and glory of all its kingdoms (Matt. 4:8), is its “prince” (John 14:30) and its “god” (2 Cor. 4:6). The whole world lieth in the evil one (1 John 5:19, R.V.).
GIVEN TO CHRIST OUT OF IT
If God is to have a people near to Himself; a people who are to be a body and bride for His beloved Son (Eph. 5:25-30), to share His rejection here and His glory hereafter, they must be a people separated from those who are His enemies. In speaking of them to the Father, the Lord calls them “the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world” (John 17:6). As Israel of old were a people not reckoned among the nations (Num. 23:9), so now God is taking out from the nations a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). He is not making the world as such better, but giving a people to His Son out of it, before judgment from high heaven falls upon it—that coming “day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7).
SEPARATED BY THE CROSS
As the Red Sea opened to let the people of Israel escape from Egypt’s slavery and Pharaoh’s rule, and rolled back to keep them out of it for ever, so the Cross of Christ has rescued and severed all believers from the present world. Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might “deliver us from the present evil world” (Gal. 1:4), and the Christian reckoning with God confesses: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). “The present evil age,” is God’s own description of the scene of His Son’s rejection, and of His people’s pilgrimage, and it is His will that while “in the world,” they should not be “of it” (John 17:16). They are a sanctified people, “set apart” to God (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11), to be unto Him a people for His own possession (1 Pet. 2:9, R.V.), governed by His Word and doing His will. Positionally, this is true of all; practically, only of those who “come out” from among the ungodly and remain in the place of separation to God, who delights to own all such openly as His sons and daughters (see 2 Cor. 6:14-18). What an honour to be in measure what the Lord Jesus was perfectly, when here—well pleasing to God, but rejected and despised of men.
STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS
“Citizens” of heaven (Phil. 3:10); “strangers” on earth, away from home; without rights; “pilgrims,” passing through to their own country, are God’s own words describing the relations that His people hold toward heaven and earth. Do we answer to them in our daily lives? Are we like citizens of heaven, real patriarchs, lovers of our Fatherland? Sojourners do not interfere with the affairs of the country which is not their own. Strangers have no vote, no political rights, no settled dwelling in the place of their exile. Pilgrims, passing through, do not learn the ways or adopt the fashions of the peoples among which they tarry only for a night. They hasten on to reach the land they love. Is that the experience of the people of God generally? One who knew more of it experimentally than most do now, wrote many years ago:
“I walk as one who feels that he is breathing
For whom as wiles the serpent still is wreathing
The bright and fair.
My steps, I know, are on the plains of danger,
For sin is near
But, looking up, I pass along, a stranger,
In haste and fear.”
Those believers who go “down to Egypt” for help, and others who become unequally yoked with the ungodly in business schemes, whether singly, or in the more fashionable but equally unscriptural form of being in public companies, where the conscience is not affected by the modes of making money, whether clean or gambled, should remember that it cost the blood of Christ to rescue them out of the world, and that they, in so far as their practice can, are making “the Cross of Christ of none effect.” May God awaken His people to see the dishonour done to His Name and the danger incurred by such ways to their own souls. Many become wrecks, so far as their testimony is concerned, by love of the world and the things in it (1 John 2:16). This is the root cause of so many forsaking the old paths and those who walk in them, however many other plausible reasons may be given. Very likely Demas had as many plausible arguments against Paul’s “narrowness,” exclusiveness, and lack of “progressive thought,” on that day when he “forsook” him in Rome, because he loved the present age (2 Tim. 4:10), as some smaller men who follow his lead have in their latest deliverances against separation to God. But those who know what lies behind the scenes are not astonished, nor are they disturbed. God, His Word, and His ways, will hold the field when all else has gone to smoke.
LIGHTS IN THE WORLD
“To give light and save life,” is the inscription on the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, and such is the double business of the Christian in the world. He is to shine as a light or luminary in the world, holding forth the Word of life (Phil. 2:15-16). In order to do this effectually, he must be above it, separate from it, and in fellowship with God. No compromise with error, no commingling with the world’s religion, no lowering of the standard of truth, can ever effect anything for God that He approves of, or that will be a permanent blessing to men. Lot, who was entrapped in Sodom, could not prevent himself or his house from being carried away captive. The man of real influence, who had power with God in prayer, and ability to deliver the prey from the captor, was Abram, the separated man, who abode in Mamre (fellowship) with God (Gen. 14:11-16). God help His people to see that the only place of real testimony, of godly influence, and of power with God and men, is in separation from the world, abiding in fellowship with God.
The Lordship of Christ
(Read Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36; Philippians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3)
Two great facts give distinction and character to the present dispensation of God’s dealing with mankind. First, the Exaltation of Jesus Christ to the place of Lord, at God’s right hand in heaven. Second, the Descent and Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, on earth The acknowledgment of these great truths, with their confession in practice, characterize Christianity as it is set forth in the Word of God.
The Lordship of Christ is expressed by the Spirit in the New Testament by three words. First, Kurios, which means, Owner of those He has purchased—the word which is most frequently used. Second, Despotees, Ruler of those who are His subjects. Third, Rabboni, Teacher of those who are His disciples.
By purchase (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20) and by conquest (Luke 11:21-22; Acts 26:18), saved sinners belong to Christ; and He who is their Owner is their Ruler and their Teacher. The Gospel believed not only brings salvation to sinners (Mark 15:15-16), but disciples to the Lord (Matt. 18:18-19), to be taught all things whatsoever He has commanded. To Him who here below was the perfectly obedient One, God has given the highest place, where all must own Him as Lord—some now from hearts which have been won by grace, joyfully confessing Him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28), while in a coming day His enemies shall bow by the power of His rod, and become a footstool for His feet (Heb. 1:13). To preach Christ as Saviour only, and the Gospel as a message of mercy and salvation to sinners, without proclaiming His Lordship and the object for which sinners are saved, is to keep back part of the Lord’s message, and this is what a great deal of the present-day Evangelism and what arrogates to itself the name of “Revivalism” is doing, with results alike dishonouring to God and ruinous to men, for by means of it many are easily led into a slipshod profession, which gives no evidence of any Divine work in the soul. To preach Christ Jesus as Lord (2 Cor. 4:5), and to make disciples (Acts 14:21), separating them from the world (Acts 19:9), and teaching and strengthening (Acts 14:22; 18:23) them in the truth of God, in order that they might obey it (1 Cor. 11:1), was the joy of servants of Christ in early years, and so it ought to be still. But many are turning from the Word of God to follow the fashions of the religious world. Even among those who profess to have gone “without the camp,” and take the Scriptures alone as their guide, there are some who would, if they had their way, lead on in this direction. But for the truth’s sake, and for the honour of Him whom we call “Lord,” every effort of this sort must be watched and resisted. It is due to Christ, that His claims as Lord should be honoured and His Word obeyed.
RECEIVING CHRIST AS LORD
When an awakened sinner asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?” the apostolic answer was: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). It is worthy of notice that, although it was a case of dire need, in which urgency might have excused a shorter title, the full name of “Lord Jesus Christ” was given, and in the subsequent teaching in the awakened jailer’s house, the record is that “they spake the Word of THE LORD” (v. 32) to all who were there. When the Colossians are being exhorted to a becoming walk, they are reminded that they had “received Christ Jesus THE LORD” (Col. 2:6), so they were to walk “in Him.” These and many such references clearly show that in the Gospel as preached in early times, the preaching of Christ as Lord had a prominent place in the testimony. And the great Gospel charter of Romans 10:9, so often and so effectively used in leading seeking souls to Christ, reads in the R.V.: “If thou shalt with thy mouth confess Jesus as THE LORD, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” There is a tendency among a certain class of professed disciples of Christ to use such terms as “dear Jesus,” “blessed Jesus,” and others, which are supposed to add some virtue to the Divinely given personal Name of Him whom God sent to be the Saviour, but when that apostle who saw His face and heard His voice in heavenly glory, spake in reply to His word, “Why persecutest thou Me?” his words were, “Who art Thou, LORD?” And in later years, when he was telling how he had counted all things loss, it was, he reverently confessed, “for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus MY LORD” (Phil. 3:8). He knew of no better title than that which His God had given Him on that day when, as another apostle told his hearers, “God made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Acts 2:36, R.V.).
IN THE INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER
The Lordship of Christ is to be owned by the believer in varied circles and in many aspects.
In the Heart.—“Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:15, R.V.). The heart is the citadel; “out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). To “set apart” Christ as Lord in the heart, is to recognize that it is His, that He is to indwell and rule it (Eph. 3:17), and that other lords and rivals have no quarter there.
In the Body.—“Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; glorify God therefore in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). The body is the Lord’s, and should be yielded to Him for His service, and held in condition for His use. Dress, diet, exercise; what we hear, see, and speak; where we go, what we do, and the presentation of it as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable,” to God (Rom. 12:1), come under this head.
In Social Life.—“Whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do ALL in the Name of the LORD Jesus” (Col. 3:17), leaves no room for the popular division of the Christian’s life into “sacred” and “secular” portions. Lord’s Day and Monday; in the Assembly and in the market—“all” is to be done in the Lord’s Name, worthy of Him, and under His control. What cannot thus be done, should not be done at all. The world’s standard of right and wrong is not the Christian’s rule. Marriage is to be “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:25), which is more than choosing a Christian: it is to be under His control, and with His approval.
IN THE CHURCH
Here the Lordship of Christ is inscribed on the very portals, and is marked in every institution and ordinance. Yet, alas! how little heed is given to His sovereign will. The instructions in the Corinthian Epistles—the great charter of the Church, giving the pattern, constitution, fellowship, worship, ordinances, and discipline of a local assembly of saints—opens with a reminder that they “were called unto the fellowship of God’s Son Jesus Christ OUR LORD,” followed by an appeal for unity in “the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ” (chap. 1:9-10). The great memorial feast is “the LORD’S Supper” (chap. 11:20); the section on assembly order, and ministry, opens with a confession of Christ as THE LORD (chap. 12:3), and closes in testing spirituality by the practical acknowledgment of the directions given as “the commandments of the Lord” (chap. 14:37)—yet what chapter is more universally set aside in Christendom? Human arrangement, the voice of a majority, the edicts of councils, nor men’s will, are to have any authority in God’s Assembly; the Word of the Lord is to dominate and settle everything. Receiving saints to the assembly (Rom. 14:2), ministry and its exercise (Phil. 4:21), and fellowship in service (Eph. 6:21), are all to be “in the Lord.” Subjection to the Lord is manifested in obedience to His Word, not by saying “Lord, Lord,” but by doing what He says (Matt. 7:21).
God grant that in these days of self-will, when every man claims the liberty to do “that which is right in his own eyes,” we may seek in all things to own Jesus Christ as Lord!
The Fellowship of Saints
(Read 1 John 1:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Acts 2:42; Colossians 4:11)
Fellowship has been described as “having, holding, and enjoying in common.” The word is variously translated: “fellowship” (1 John 1:3), “communion” (2 Cor. 13:14), “contribution” (Rom. 15:26). The persons who share in this are described as “partners” (Luke 5:7), “companions” (Heb. 10:33). The fellowship of the people of God, in this age of grace, is set forth in the New Testament Scriptures in varied aspects, which it is necessary to distinguish, “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) in connection with each, otherwise confusion of thought and application will result. There is, first:
THE FELLOWSHIP OF LIFE.—In this, all who are born of God are called to share. They are all partakers of Divine life and the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:2-3); the Spirit, in whom they are baptized into one body, indwells them (1 Cor. 12:13), giving them capacity for fellowship with the Father and with the Son (1 John 1:3). They have been made meet (or qualified) to be even now sharers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12), and if they walk in that light, in the fellowship of the Spirit ungrieved (Phil. 2:1), they will know all this in experience. But if they walk in darkness, allowing or cherishing sin, the enjoyment of this fellowship ceases, until the sin is judged, confessed, forgiven, forsaken (1 John 1:9), and the soul restored and again brought back to God in the light from which it has wandered. There is no disturbance of relationship; the child is still a child. But as David’s son Absalom dwelt “two full years in Jerusalem and saw not the king’s face” (2 Sam. 14:28), because of unconfessed sin on his part, so the child of God, while he retains his sin, refusing to acknowledge and be cleansed from it, may remain for long without that intercourse and communion in the light of God’s countenance, which is life indeed (Prov. 15:15), the lack of which turns his spiritual moisture into drought, while the hand of the Lord is heavy upon him (Ps. 32:4). And what debars from fellowship with God, hinders true communion among God’s people, for it is only as they walk in the light, that they have “fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7). Thus even those who are but “little children,” because they have “known the Father” (1 John 2:13) and have “an unction from the Holy One” (v. 20), if spiritually clean, are capable of having fellowship with “fathers” who have known Him who is from the beginning (1 John 1:3; 2:14). And as knowledge of God and of His will increases, and a walk worthy of the Lord is known, the scope of this fellowship will increase, as it surely does in all who continue to walk with God and with one another in the paths marked out in the Word. The chief cause of the lack of true Christian fellowship among the children of God, is departure from God and His Word; the party spirit, which chooses its own way and its own company (1 Cor. 1:10; 3:3-4), making division where there ought to be unity. Fellowship with the world, with unrighteousness, and with the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), on the part of a believer, makes it impossible for that man to have much in common with such as seek to walk in fellowship with God. Thus estrangements ruptures, and divisions are caused among those who are one, and ought to dwell together in unity as brethren (Ps. 133:1). Such was the cause of the separation of Abram and Lot (Gen. 13:5-10), the manifest distance between Elijah and Obadiah (1 Ki. 18:7-14), and of the little spiritual intercourse there often is among those who are children of the one Father, and destined to be together in the same heaven for ever. When the object in life is different, the ways must part.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF GOD’S ASSEMBLY.—It is the will of God that His people on earth at any given time should be together, sharing mutually all that is included in what the Scriptures describe as “the fellowship OF His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). This expression, occurring as it does in the opening words of an epistle addressed to “the assembly of God at Corinth” (v. 2), and applicable in its doctrine to all who in “every place call on the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” seems to point to that aspect of fellowship which is expressed in a local company of the children of God, set apart from the world and gathered unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a testimony to God in the world. This the ecclesia, or assembly of God, ever and always ought to be, whether as at the beginning when in the City of Jerusalem “all that believed were together,” continuing “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42-44), or in this twentieth century, in which the “twos and threes,” seeking to take the Divine pattern as given in the Word for their example and guide, assemble at the Lord’s bidding as in early times, outside of all human systems of religion in which saved and unsaved are congregated under the names of “churches.” Although only a feeble remnant, they have found their way back to the first foundations of God’s assembly, apart from all denominations with their distinctive names and creeds, which keep Christians asunder, and have their constitutions and rules which hinder the exercise of such ministries as are given by the Head of the Church for the edification of His people and their fitting for service (Eph. 4:11-13), generally appointing one man as leader in all worship and entire depositary of all gifts in ministry of the Word for the edification of the saints. There must be room for the exercise of the functions of the whole community of the people of God as a spiritual priesthood, able to share in offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 13:15), guided by the Spirit (Phil. 3:3, R.V.).
The fellowship of God’s assembly even now, in remnant times (while making no assumptions or claims which exclude others seeking to so assemble), must not be of a lax or voluntary character; but, remembering that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints, and to be had in reverence of all that are round about Him” (Ps. 89:7), it must be according to the pattern given in the Word of God, which is the same to us of this present time as it was to the saints of the first century. No man or company of men has any more right to devise a new pattern or constitution of church fellowship, than to make a new way of salvation. The same God who gives the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, gives the constitution of the assembly in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and we have no more right to substitute a church order of our own or of other men’s devising in place of the latter, than to supplant “the Gospel of God” by “another gospel” (see Gal. 1:6-8). The fellowship of saints in this aspect involves a common share in all the privileges and responsibilities of the assembly in worship, breaking of bread, ministry, and giving, according as God hath given to every man; and the acts of receiving to (Rom. 16:42), expulsion from (1 Cor. 5:4, 13), and restoration to (2 Cor. 2:7-10), the assembly’s fellowship, are the corporate action of the whole, not of overseers or individuals. There is absolutely nothing in the Word to warrant the casual bringing in of individuals from denominations to “break bread” for a day, who refuse to become identified with the assembly in the rest of its privileges and responsibilities, or for individual believers bringing their visitors and personal friends to the Lord’s table, with the same ease as they would to their own tea-table.
There is a place in God’s assembly for those young in spiritual life, and for others “weak in the faith” (Rom. 14:1); and where there is evidence of true conversion, and a desire to learn and do the will of the Lord as it is learned from the Word, there is little difficulty in at once welcoming such to the fellowship of saints, in a godly and orderly manner. That thousands have been so received, and continue happily walking in love and in the ways of the Lord, in many cases becoming helpers of others and acceptable preachers of the Word, there is ample evidence in the many companies of God’s people in these and other lands, who seek to continue following on in the old paths. But some have risen up who contend for another order of things altogether, which may be summed up in this: they want to break bread with believers gathered in the Lord’s Name when it suits them, and to be found at other times as preachers or hearers in one or other of the various denominations, regarding the assembling of the saints in the Lord’s Name as perhaps the better way, but not to the extent of separating from sects in which God’s order has been supplanted by man’s. These do not take the place of untaught believers willing to learn the truth of God, but usually assume that they are possessed of superior knowledge, and want to bring others into subjection to their perverse and self-chosen way. It is hard to see why such persons should ever have left their denominations, or sought to identify themselves with assemblies which, in their origin and definitely avowed principles, are outside of all sects, and generally opposed and accounted as “the offscouring of all things” by them. It is clear that those who want to “go and come” among the world’s churches, preaching where they can get in, and thus help to build up and perpetuate them, have never seen the dishonour done to God and the deception wrought upon unsaved church members by these systems of error. Equally clear it is, that they never judged themselves before God and were cleansed from their sin in being in and of them. If they had, then they would never go back, for the Word that severs one from that which is evil, will never lead him back to it again. Such conditions show the need of godly care in receiving to the assembly, and the wisdom of setting the principles of God’s Word that constitute and govern it, before those who seek to be added to its fellowship. All this will no doubt be branded as “narrow,” spoken of as “barriers to fellowship,” and given as reasons why believers in sects are not flocking to be “among us,” by such as are seeking some other reason than the true one for the condition of things that obtain where their line of things is not received, or has utterly failed. But God’s truth, and that which is due to Jesus Christ as Lord, must not be lowered to meet the self-will of man, nor adapted to please those who are manifestly giving up what of the truth of separation they once professed to know, and doing their utmost to get others to do the same. If separation from the world’s religion, and from sects which in their constitution are contrary to His Word, is not commanded in the Word, then we have no authority to be where we are—outside of them, and gathered unto His Name alone; if the Word does demand such separation, then it ought to be thorough and complete, and not in name only.
FELLOWSHIP IN SERVICE.—“We are God’s fellow-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9, R.V.); “Fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God” (Col. 4:11); “Our fellow-labourer in the Gospel of Christ” (1 Thess. 3:2), are words which tell of the fellowship of those who are under the same yoke, walking and working together in the same paths, under one Lord, of one mind, having a common object in view. One may “plant” and another “water” (1 Cor. 3:6), for there are diversities of gifts, but the teaching of diverse doctrines, or the uprooting by one of what another has planted, or throwing down of what another has built, are alike contrary to the Word and disastrous to the unity and edification of the saints. Men who teach distorted things to make parties (Acts 20:30), or who build again the things they once destroyed (Gal. 2:18), continually changing what they call their “minds” about God’s truth, and such as go in and out among sects they once professed to separate from, are wholly unfit to be accepted as teachers or recognized as guides in God’s assembly. How can the people of God be expected to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10), or to be “of one accord of one mind” (Phil. 2:2), “striving together for the faith” (Phil. 1:27), if they are continuously hearing conflicting teachings from men who either never learned the way of separation from the world’s religion, or who have given up what they once knew, and now oppose others who seek to walk in the old paths, “holding fast the faithful Word” (Tit. 1:9) and continuing in the things they have learned and been assured of (2 Tim. 2:14)? To walk in the ways of the Lord with all humility of mind (Acts 20:19), serving Him with acceptance “in reverence and godly fear” (Heb. 12:28), the servant must walk with God, not fearing the frown of man, nor courting his smile, seeking not his own but the honour of the Lord whose he is and whom he serves, waiting for his Lord’s approval and reward in the day of the Judgment-seat.
Fellowship in service, in its assembly aspect, is beautifully set forth in Acts 13:1-2, where two proved and honoured servants of the Lord, receiving the Spirit’s call to special service, go forth with the full fellowship of the assembly of which they form a part; and when their service is completed, they return to that assembly to tell “what God had done” through their ministry (Acts 14:26-28). It is not uncommon in our day to hear of some who never had any particular desire for manual labour, and others who either lost their posts through indolence, or had no success in business, “going out to preach,” without even letting it be known to the assembly in which they are supposed to be in fellowship. Then they are indignant if any who have regard for the Lord’s ways ask for their credentials, or hesitate to receive them as qualified and God-sent men. It becomes more and more necessary, as counterfeits of all kinds multiply, to act with godly care and caution in welcoming as preachers and teachers such as are little known. Evils wrought by sowers of discord and teachers of error take long to eradicate. The yoking of fellow-labourers (Acts 15:40; 16:3), and the bringing in of such as have grace and gift, to meet a special need with suited ministry (Acts 11:22-26), have a Divine and a human side, for God alone can raise up and fit men for His service in bearing the Gospel to the world and the truth to His people. But it is the responsibility of assemblies to welcome such and bring them on their way (Acts 15:3), and of fellow-labourers to find and lead forth such as are fitted of God to give the needed help. There are many who do not preach, but who can pray, and much true fellowship may be given by fervent prayer for those who preach the Gospel (Eph. 6:19-20), and for the edification of God’s people, that they may “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).
A Plain Path Amid the Perils of the Last Days
The Second Epistle to Timothy gives special instruction to the saints and servants of God, who are called to live and witness for the Lord amid “the perilous times” of these last days of declension from the truth of God and departure from His ways. The epistle was written by the aged apostle in prison, awaiting martyrdom, to Timothy, his true child in the faith, who was left to serve and stand for God amid ever increasing corruptions in the churches of that time.
It is clear from the records of the sacred historian, that very soon after the Pentecostal descent of the Spirit, and the remarkable work of grace that followed, resulting first in the inauguration of “the church which was at Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1), and subsequently in the formation of many churches, gathered from among the Gentiles (Acts 16:5; Gal. 1:2; 2 Cor. 8:1), corruptions began to develop in these newly gathered assemblies. When persecution failed to stamp them out of existence, the devil changed his tactics, and began to send into the midst of some of them “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4), who sought to bring them into subjection to Judaism, and entangle the Christians in a yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1). In other assemblies men “speaking perverse things” to “draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30) appeared, even among those who were regarded as shepherds and overseers in the flock, while wicked men, teaching doctrines destructive of the faith, had crept in privily (Jude 4, R.V.), and were doing deadly work (2 Tim. 2:18) among the Lord’s people. The apostle characterizes this condition of things as “the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1), which had already set in while he lived, and which, during the eighteen centuries intervening, have continued, the evils which were then in bud having developed and formed their fully-ripened fruit. The same principles which were at work then are operating still, and all the crop of evil doctrines, apostate religion, and godless formality which, under the name of Christianity, we see around us on all hands, is the full result of what the apostle deals with in this epistle. “There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9): the sects and parties of our own time, the “doctrines of demons,” new theologies, and denials of the foundations of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, R.V.), which are daily multiplying and being poured out from pulpit and press, are simply a fuller development of the depravities and errors of which the apostle writes to Timothy in this epistle, and concerning which he gives him full and definite instructions. I know there are those who laugh at all this, and say there is nothing in the Bible describing the state of things in the world, and in what professes to be the church, in this twentieth century, but that we must grope our way and use our reason in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I do not believe a word of that: it is an aspersion on the wisdom and foreknowledge of God, to say that He did not know what evils would come, and could not legislate for His people, giving them directions how to walk and how to act in the midst of them in these last days.
In this epistle, God, through His servant, gives specific and definite directions to Timothy, who stood amid these abounding evils and sought in the midst of them to serve and honour God. The word Timothy means “one who honours God,” and whoever through grace seeks to honour God and His truth, in the time and circumstances in which his lot is cast, will find here a plain path cast up for him by the Spirit and laid out in the pages of the Word, which never changes, and never becomes obsolete or out of date.
THE ALL-SUFFICIENT WORD
After reminding Timothy “of whom” he had learned the truth, and exhorting him to “continue in” it (v. 14), the apostle casts him upon the all-sufficiency of the God-breathed Scriptures, which are so all-embracing in their use, that they make a “child” wise unto salvation, and go on instructing, disciplining, reproving, correcting, and fully equipping the “man of God” for life and service, in all spheres, in all conditions. There is not a possible state in which any saint or servant of God can be found, but there is light for his path and sure guidance for his steps (Ps. 119:105) in the Sacred Word. What a resting-place for faith is this! What a rock upon which to stand amid all the breaking waves of unbelief and uncertainty around! God has spoken: His utterances are recorded by the Spirit in the Word, and the Word in all its fulness is to be the Christian’s guide book along the whole of his earthly path, up to the gate of heaven. Not the traditions of men, however hoary with age; these make “the Word of God of none effect” (Mark 7:13), as many know to their cost. Not the “meanings” read into God’s Word by blind men, who, being destitute of the life of God and the indwelling Spirit, are unable to see or to teach spiritual things (2 Cor. 2:14), and can only “huckster” (2 Cor. 2:17) or “handle deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2) the Word of God, darkening counsel by their “fables,” and leading those whose itching ears hear them, astray (2 Tim. 4:6); but the Word itself, taught by the Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27), keeping the heart right with God and the feet walking in His truth, than which God has no greater joy (3 John 3). I am here reminded of an aged Christian who had received a pamphlet, written in the interest of some new departure from the truth which she had learned many years before by reading her Bible, and had joyfully held fast and obeyed, with much blessing to her soul, for many years. Entering her cottage one day, a Christian neighbour mentioned that she had likewise received one of these revolutionary pamphlets, and had been disturbed in soul by its means. “I read a page or two of it,” said the aged believer, “but I found it did not lead me any nearer to God, or cause me to pray to or praise Him more, but rather spoiled my soul’s communion with God, so I threw it in the fire. I am only a simple Christian, and not able to understand such arguments, but I know what leads me near to God, and what robs me of communion with Him.” So long as a Christian has his spiritual “scent” in him, and can discern what is of God, he is not likely to be led into the bypaths of error; but a heart astray from God, and a conscience dulled by sin, can be led into anything. Seek then, dear fellow-saints, to maintain a fresh condition of soul, and to make the Book of God your counsellor and your guide in every difficulty. Then you will walk safely.
SEPARATION FROM EVIL
The apostle throughout this epistle calls upon Timothy, as one who honours God and seeks to serve Him, to be separate from evil and evil-doers. If there are those who cover up their ungodly lives with “a form of godliness, while denying [rejecting] the power,” he is told “from these ALSO turn away” (2 Tim. 3:2) There can be no association, no companionship, no fraternizing, with empty professors, who have only “a name to live” while they are dead in sin. What are the popular churches made up of? The world. The same persons who frequent the theatre, the ball-room, the concert, on Saturday, fill the pews, professing to be worshippers of God, on Sunday! If you want to honour God, to be kept clean and fit for fellowship with Him, you must have no part, no association, with shams and hypocrisies like that. There must be a “clean cut” with the world’s religious systems, which in their constitution are opposed to God and His Word, and doing more to deceive and mislead unsaved professors who are in them and support them, than any other instrument the devil has on this earth. And, remember, if the Word of God calls you to “come out” (2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:4) of unholy religious systems, it adds, “be ye separate”—in other words, keep yourselves from them. The Word that brings you out, can never take you back again for any purpose whatever, either to preach or hear, not even for a day or an hour. What God condemns and forbids His people to it in one place, is equally “unclean” in another; and no embellishment of any evil system, by the presence of one or more good men in it, can ever make that system anything else in character than what it is. Lot in Sodom did not alter the condition of that corrupt city. Jehoshaphat, in alliance with Ahab, seated beside him in convivial friendship, or sharing with him in the special mission of recapturing Ramoth-Gilead from the enemy’s hands (2 Chr. 18:1-3), did not mitigate the guilt of the man “who did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him” (1 Ki. 16:30), nor hinder the judgment of God from coming on the guilty Jezebel, who ruled and stirred him to do wickedly (1 Ki. 21:25). No more does the presence of an evangelical minister, or a few active Christian workers, make a system devised out of man’s heart, upheld by worldly people, and honeycombed with error, a clean place, into which a child of God may go and come. If any desire to be “a vessel sanctified and meet for the Master’s use” (2 Tim. 2:21), he is called to “purge himself from these,” and that includes an inward cleansing from evil teachings, if he has imbibed them, and an outward separation from those that teach or are in sympathy with them, alike in church and personal relations (2 John 2).
A PLAIN PATH TO THE END
Cast thus upon God and the Word of His grace (Acts 20:22), severed from evil-workers, resisters of the truth (chap. 3:8), and those who work unrighteousness (chap. 2:19), the believer is called upon to “follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (chap. 2:22). There is no thought of isolation or “individual testimony” (as some call it). Although “the church is in ruins” (as others tell us), the Word of God is not in ruins, nor has it altered in one jot or tittle of what the Lord gave to His people in the beginning as to their fellowship together and the way of assembling unto His Name. Surely it was with the broken condition of things as they exist today in full view, that the Divine Lord, in giving instructions to His earliest followers concerning their assembly privileges and responsibilities, uttered the memorable and ever-precious words, “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). These words can never fail: they are the charter of the church to the end, even when reduced to the lowest numbers and weakest condition. “Two or three” cast upon God and His Word, gathered by the Divine Spirit—and the words “are [or having been] gathered” imply His gathering power—unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, outside the camp of the world’s religion and entirely separated from it, may surely count on His presence “in the midst” and the power and control of the Spirit for worship and ministry to edify, as did the saints of early days. Only let those who thus gather, make no claims or assumptions to be “THE assembly of God,” unchurching all who do not gather with them, but humbly relying on the promised Presence, continue to assemble in the Name of Him whom God has made Lord and Christ, holding fast His Word and not denying His Name (Rev. 3:10). If you are prepared to share the brand of His Cross, and be accounted as the filth and offscouring of all things, then “go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Heb. 13:33), and you will never be disappointed in Him, whatever you may be in your brethren. One who obtained this freedom at great personal cost said, in relating his experience: “I heard the voice of the Lord calling me to go forth unto Him, and I arose and went—not to nice meetings, or to loving brethren or spiritual ministry, but to my Lord Himself—and when I reached Him there, I found that a number of my brethren and sisters in Christ had got out to Him before me.” That call, when heard by the soul, can never be forgotten. It is the voice of the Shepherd, who when He putteth forth His sheep goeth before them (John 10:4). He it was who first went “without the gate,” unto the place of rejection at the hands of men, and thither at His call “unto Him,” He now brings out His own. They are brought out, that they may be gathered together. Such is the true ecclesia, Himself the real bond of fellowship among saints. May we know much of its holy joy while we tread the plain path marked out in the Word, waiting for the Lord from heaven.
Our Threefold Judgment: As Sinners, Sons, and Servants
The notion of a general judgment of all mankind at the end of the world, so widely taught and commonly believed in Christendom, has no authority from the Word of God. The solemn subject of judgment is there unfolded in varied aspects, differing in character, and in time. There is, first, the judgment of sinners; second, the judgment of sons; and, third, the judgment of servants.
As a sinner, the judgment of the believer is past; as a son, his judgment is present; as a servant, it is future. To distinguish these differing judgments, the character of each, the periods in which they occur, and their issues to those who are the subjects of them, is necessary, if we would clearly understand the teaching of the Word of God regarding judgment.
THE JUDGMENT OF SINNERS
“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27), and every one of us “shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12), are words which tell of the certainty and individuality of the judgment that awaits the sinner. “He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:31), and the Father “hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22), leave no doubt that the Judge, before whose eyes of fire the living will perish (2 Thess. 1:9), and the dead stand to be judged, when heaven and earth have fled (Rev. 22:12), is the One who once in lowly form came as the Lamb of God to die, the same Son of Man who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). To all who despise His saving grace, and reject His precious blood, there is no reserve of mercy, but “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27). Let all who are without Christ be warned of this, and escape to the refuge while yet they may. Let such as are deceived by a false magnification of divine mercy, as if it rendered righteous judgment and punishment of sin void, remember, that there is not one ray of hope held out by God to sinners beyond death, or anything promised to avert the judgment that He has declared comes after death.
THE BELIEVER’S JUDGMENT PAST AS A SINNER
But to those who, convicted of their sin, condemn themselves and justify God (Luke 7:29), casting themselves only upon the merits of the Son of God, who came to seek and to save the lost (1 Tim. 1:15), whose atoning death on the Cross was on their behalf, for their sins (1 Cor. 15:3), believing on Him who was wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquities (Isa. 53), “there is therefore now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1). The judgment due to them has already been borne by their divine Substitute when He stood in their place, and looking by faith upon that Cross, the believing sinner sees himself “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20), and therefore already judged. The Cross is to the believer the “day of judgment”: in Christ he was judged there.
“And thence the child of faith
Sees judgment all gone by;
Perceives the sentence fully met,
‘The soul that sins shall die.’”
To all such, the testimony of the Word is sure and clear: “He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, R.V.). There is not only no day of judgment waiting the believer, but no uncertainty as to his salvation, for he already has everlasting life, and has passed clean out of that state upon which judgment shall come. The testimony of the Word is, that into judgment he “cometh not.” Thanks be unto God for such a certainty! Instead of being in uncertainty as to whether he is to be saved or lost, whether he is to be in heaven or hell, waiting for the decision of the Judge at “the last day,” the believing sinner knows now that he is “in Christ,” beyond death and judgment, as Noah and his family were, in the Ark on Ararat, after judgment had swept the scene. So they sing:
“Death and judgment are behind us,
Grace and glory on before;
All the billows rolled o’er Jesus,
There exhausted all their power.”
THE BELIEVER’S JUDGMENT PRESENT: AS A SON
Simultaneous with his passage from death to life, from the sphere of judgment to that of justification (Rom. 5:1), to stand in grace and look for glory (Rom. 5:2), the believing sinner is born of God (1 John 5:1); he becomes God’s child (1 John 1:12), and enters on a new relationship. Never again will he be dealt with as a sinner, or as one amenable to judgment on account of his sins. Possessed of Divine life, with the Spirit of the Son (Gal. 4:6) now indwelling him, making good to him in happy experience his new relationship to God as a child, and his new place of honour as a son, he will never at any future time be “cast out,” as was the bond-woman’s seed (Gal. 4:30). Had God received him only as a “hired servant”—which was all that the returning prodigal could ask (Luke 15:19)—he might easily have forfeited his place, for “the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth for ever” (John 8:35). When a servant is engaged, it is only for a period, and he may be dismissed if he disobeys or fails to give satisfaction to his master. You may dismiss a servant, but you dare not chastise him. When a child is born into the family, he comes to abide; and even if he fails to honour and obey his father and to be a worthy son, he is not put away. You may chastise a son, but you do not dismiss him. And so it is with those who, by second birth, have become the children of God, and whose place in God’s household is that of “sons of God.” That beautiful word in Hebrews 12:7, “God dealeth with you as with sons,” comes in here, and expresses the manner of God’s Fatherly nurture and disciplinary care over all His own, from the day that they become His, right on to the end of their earthly life. The fact that one is cared for, watched over, instructed, corrected, disciplined, trained, and chastised by a Father’s hand, is the sure evidence that He is God’s child, and not a “bastard”—one not owned or trained by his father. The word “chastisement” does not imply punishment for wrong-doing, as is generally supposed, but includes instruction, nurture (and the Greek word paideia is so translated in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Ephesians 6:4); in other words, all that a true father does for his son to fit him for life and service in the world. When all this is understood and acknowledged, it accounts for hundreds of experiences in the life of a child of God, which otherwise are insoluble. God is not at present dealing with the world in righteousness. He is not punishing men for their sins: the wicked live in ease, and there are no bands in their death. This often perplexes the children of God (Job 21:7-13), to whom waters of a full cup are wrung out (Ps. 53:3-12). But their day is coming. Judgment long delayed will be executed, and the wicked reserved unto the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9) will be punished. Like a wild, uncultivated field, the world is allowed to grow its thorns and briars (Heb. 6:8), and although “nigh unto cursing,” is immune from present judgment. The people of God are His “husbandry” (1 Cor. 3:9), watered every moment (Isa. 27:3) and watched over by the divine Husbandman (John 15:1), with the object of causing them to bring forth fruit. The God who gave His Son to bring them to Himself, whose Spirit has implanted Divine life in them, is spending all the riches of His grace and the resources of His wisdom and prudence, on those who have thus become His children (Eph. 1:5-8). Nothing is too costly to bestow, nothing too great to do for those who are set in the world to be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1, R.V.), and to manifest among men the character and ways of God their Father (Matt. 5:45, R.V.). In the world, there is much said about “free education,” but in God’s training of His own, all is costly, alike to Him and to them.
The Instruments He uses in this great work are, first, His Word. He wakeneth the children’s ear to hear (Isa. 50:4); He teacheth to profit (Isa. 48:17). The Word is all that they need for instruction, correction, and full equipment unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16). As new-born babes, if they “desire” it, they grow thereby (1 Pet. 2:1); as young men, if it abides in them, they overcome (1 John 2:14); if they take heed to their ways according to it, they are kept clean (Ps. 119:9) and practically sanctified (John 17:17). When the Word is not listened to, the pruning knife may be applied (John 15:2), and even the scourge (Heb. 12:6), for God will not suffer His children to continue in a path of disobedience, to disregard His Word, or to sin against Him, without making them feel it (see Amos 3:2). When sin is honestly confessed and forsaken, it is forgiven (Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9), the child is restored to fellowship with the Father, and cleansed from “unrighteousness”; but if the disobedience is continued, or the sin cherished and concealed, God will have a controversy with His child. Here it is that so many go wrong. Some, getting into darkness, lose their assurance, conclude they were never saved, and drift into the world, not to find rest but misery there, because they are under the correcting hand of God. Others, unwilling to yield, hug their sin as David (2 Sam. 12:7) did, until some word from God, or dealing of His hand wake them up. Many children of God are kept continually on thorns and briars in this way, and yet they struggle against God, and want to have their own way!
Thus it is, that some of God’s dealings with His children are Punitive, the result of sin unconfessed, self-will indulged, the Word disobeyed, God forgotten, the world sought after, unhallowed associations and unequal yokes formed with the unconverted, all to please themselves. So severe are God’s dealings sometimes, that sickness, worldly loss, and even death itself, ensues (1 Cor. 11:32). Some are doubtless in their graves, who might have been serving God and His people, but for Divine judgment on their ways. Seeing then that “the Father judgeth every man’s work,” let us “pass the time of our sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17), not slavish fear, but that reverent and godly fear, that holy subjection to “the Father of spirits,” who desires us to live and be partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:9-10).
Some of God’s dealings with His children are Preventive. He who sees the end from the beginning, knows what snares lie ahead of us, and prepares us to meet them. Thus it was that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given, or Satan allowed to send it, lest he “should be exalted above measure” by the revelations he received in the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:7). There are crooks in every lot, difficulties in every path, trials in every life, and God does not remove them, because He sees His children need them to keep them humble and dependent on Himself. What a mercy it is so! When Paul learned God’s grace was sufficient to enable him to bear it, he asked no more that his thorn should be removed, but gloried in his infirmities, that Christ’s power might be magnified in him.
The highest character of the Father’s dealings are Educative. This was what the Lord Jesus passed through. “He became obedient” (Heb. 2:8). He qualified for His present work of Great High Priest, able to sympathize with and succour His own, by the experiences He went through on earth. So God permits some of His loved ones to pass through deep waters, in order that they may comfort others with that comfort by which they have been comforted of God (2 Cor. 1:4). Some of our best hymns have been written by life-long invalids, and many a word of cheer and uplifting comes from those who have had a long trial in the furnace of affliction.
There are three ways in which the Divine dealings of God as a Father may be received. We may “despise” them, we may “faint” under them, or we may “be exercised” by them (Heb. 12:5, 11). The latter is the only way in which “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” is reaped by the believer. May we all know more of it, and learn to submit ourselves to God (Jas. 4:7), to humble ourselves under His mighty hand (1 Pet. 5:6), and prove His exceeding grace.
THE BELIEVER’S JUDGMENT FUTURE: AS A SERVANT
As servants of Christ (Col. 3:24) and stewards of God (Tit. 1:7), to whom has been committed their Master’s wealth during His absence (Matt. 25:14-23), to be used for His honour and gain; His Gospel to sinners (1 Thess. 2:4) and His truth to saints (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:10), each believer will have to render an account to his Lord and Master in the day when he will be manifested before His judgment-seat (2 Cor. 5:10). There will be the “crown of life” for those who were faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10); the “crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4) to those who from love to Christ fed and cared for His flock; the “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8) to those who held fast His Word in view of His appearing (Rev. 3:11). Some will receive a “full reward” (2 John 8); others will suffer loss (1 Cor. 3:15); each will receive according as his work has been, as it was seen and estimated by the Lord (Rev. 22:12). O the joy of hearing the Master’s “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23)! It will be a day of surprises no doubt, for “the Lord seeth not as man seeth.” Some who have been misunderstood, misrepresented, and maligned, will have their reproach rolled away on that day, and others who have been praised and petted by their fellows, may have very little honour, in the estimation of their Lord. Let the great business of our life be then, beloved fellow-saints, to please God, to be true to Christ, and to serve Him devotedly according as His Word has commanded. This is what gives the Lord joy in His people now, and what will be their crown of rejoicing in that day.
The present effect of all this upon the saints and servants of God should be, to cause them to judge themselves and their ways by the unerring standard of the Word, in the presence of God. No healthier, no holier exercise, can occupy our hearts and consciences than this. It is the divinely appointed means given us by God to search our motives, examine our ways, and set ourselves and our secret thoughts in the light of His countenance continually, anticipating that coming hour of review and reward, when we shall be fully manifested before the Judgment-seat of Christ, to hear His verdict on our days of earthly life and service.
Gathering to Christ
The twenty-second Psalm is pre-eminently the Psalm of the Cross. The four Gospels give the record of outward events connected with the death of the Lord Jesus, but in this Psalm the divine Spirit tells what were the inner sufferings of His soul, in that dread hour, when He died, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18). The opening words of the Psalm were audibly uttered, in the hearing of those who stood around (Matt. 27:46); the rest was known to God alone. How the heart breaks over such a Psalm, such holy utterances as these! As we listen to them, we are brought into the inner sanctuary, and allowed to hear the heart breathings of the Holy One, as they pass from the Cross of Calvary to the throne of God.
Around that Cross, and the dying Christ who hangs thereon, two groups can be seen, here, in the Psalm, and in the Gospel record. There is the great outer crowd of His enemies, composed of mocking priests (Matt. 27:1), insulting scribes (Mark 15:31), deriding rulers (Luke 23:35), railing malefactors (Matt. 27:44), heartless soldiers gambling for His raiment (John 19:24); and on the outer circle fringe of that crowd, “passers by”, hurling their coarse and cruel taunts at the Holy Sufferer as they hurried along. Differing in much, and generally standing apart, the world that day closed its ranks, and was there found “gathered together” (Acts 4:26-28) against Jehovah and His Christ. It was man’s hour, and the “power of darkness” (Luke 22:15). The hand that all along His earthly path had restrained His enemies when they came in force against Him (Ps. 27:1-3), had now been withdrawn, and the great adversary for the moment seemed to triumph. Jehovah’s Only One, was in the power of the dog (v. 20, marg.). Such was the outer circle in the day of the Cross: such it is now. Men have their religions, their creeds, their pet causes; they squabble and fight over points of doctrine; theories of theology, policies in politics, but when God and Christ and the Truth are at issue, the unregenerate all join hands and stand shoulder to shoulder against Christ, on the devil’s side. They did so then; they do so now. And when the devil’s masterpiece, the Antichrist who is to come, appears, the whole world will go after him (Rev. 13:3), and sinners in Christendom who now profess to own Christ, and call him “Lord,” will believe the devil’s lie, and go over openly to his side in the hour of testing (Rev. 3:10; John 5:43).
What did the divine Lord see in that unholy crowd, composed of mitred priests, with long-robed scribes quoting the Scriptures, soldiers gambling at the foot of His Cross, and ruffians howling out their scorn? Let us listen: “Many bulls have compassed Me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset Me round”—“Dogs have compassed Me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed Me” (vv. 12, 16). That surging, infuriated crowd, composed of religious, learned, and profane men, the Lord calls the “assembly of the wicked,” and that assembly had this distinct and awful character—it was gathered around, and against, the Lord. The Christ of God in its midst was the Object of its common hatred, and it was this enmity to the One against whom they were gathered that drew and kept them there. The Cross was the great “crisis,” the day of the world’s judgment (John 12:3), in which it manifested its true character and came out in its true colours. The world took the devil’s side that day, and it has not repented of the dark deed. It is Satan’s empire; he is its “prince” (John 14:30) and its “god” (2 Cor. 5:5); “it lieth in the wicked one” (1 John 4:19, R.V.). Let not this be forgotten. It is in this same world, among men of these principles, that we live. Whatever appearances the world may put on for occasion, as it did when it wanted to make Christ a king, it is “against Christ,” and “Crucify Him” is the real language of its heart today, as it was then. It only wants some manifestation of God’s grace and power, to bring it out; then the old enmity appears. The world’s frown is safer for the Christian than its caress; its open hostility is healthier for Christianity than its patronage. The Word of the eternal God, who knows it best, is this: “The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world, MAKETH HIMSELF AN ENEMY OF GOD” (Jas. 4:4, R.V.). Let us not forget it. But there was another group, an inner circle, around that Cross, some “standing by” (John 19:26) in honoured nearness to the Holy Sufferer “in the midst,” others beholding “afar off” (Matt. 27:55), not in the same close identification with their Lord, and therefore missing the personal intimacy of the inner group, yet true disciples of His, and ultimately devoted witnesses for His Name.
What did He discern in that little flock? Looking forward to the hour of resurrection, and the gathering together around Himself of “His own which were in the world” (John 13:1), the objects of His unchanging love, He was able to say in that hour of His rejection: “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee” (v. 22). This was sweetly fulfilled in its inception on that evening hour when the disciples were assembled with doors closed, the great world of Christ’s enemies, “the assembly of the wicked,” shut out, He stood “in the midst,” with the message of peace on His lips. That little company, with Himself “in the midst,” was as an earnest and a miniature of the “great congregation,” when all His redeemed shall be gathered around Himself in glory—the Lamb “in the midst of the throne” (Rev. 5:5-8). The time may seem long, and the process slow, but the purpose of God to “gather together in one [literally, “to head up”] all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10), can never fail in its accomplishment. It is due to Him in virtue of the Cross, and although men and demons, great ones of earth and the rabble, should take counsel and contend together against the Lord and His Christ (Ps. 2:2), they are powerless to hinder the hand of the Lord from doing that which He has determined.
“His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour.”
In this age of grace, of the Gospel’s power, and of the Spirit’s presence, this separation of the saved from the lost, of the people of God from the world, of the Church—the assembly of God’s saints—from the assembly of the wicked, is being hastened. Its inception was at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), on that day when the Comforter came down and the Gospel went forth, when a people brought out from the world are seen gathered together to Christ, in one place, of one accord, to become a testimony for God in the world. In spite of man’s failure and Satan’s rage, the work thus and then begun goes on, and will, until the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout. This will be its consummation: the circle of the Church, the assembly of the saints, His brethren, will then be complete, and He, the Head and Lord, will hold the place of honour still “in the midst.”
It is important to see from the written Word how and by what means God is accomplishing this great work. If we would be God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9), we need to stand in His counsel, to be fully assured of all the will of God (Col. 4:12, R.V.), knowing what God is doing, and what means He is using, else, with all our zeal, we may be found working on lines not according to the Word, or even fighting against God (Acts 5:39), as many in ignorance are doing at the present hour. The gathering of a people unto and around the Lord Jesus, is the purpose of our God in this age of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God, with all authority given to Him in heaven and in earth. This He is doing in three progressive stages, which may be summarized thus:
GATHERING TO CHRIST BY THE GOSPEL
God is gathering sinners to Christ crucified, to receive Him as Saviour, and to confess Him as Lord, by means of the Gospel, the Spirit making it effectual in their salvation. This is the beginning, the first stage. Until a sinner is convicted of sin and converted to God, he has nothing to do with the Church, nor any part or lot in the work of the Lord. If this were seen and acted upon, as God means it should be, it would shut out all the unconverted from membership, and deprive all unregenerate men of “office” in the various denominations. What a revolution this would make! But none need fear: it will never be. Ministers and members would alike resist such a cleansing of the camp. Let any name it, and he will find the old opposition aroused: “the assembly of the wicked” will organize against him, as they did in days of old.
The message which God uses to gather sinners to Christ is “the preaching of the Cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). The Gospel is the only weapon: “Christ crucified” the attraction (1 Cor. 2:2). The power to make it effectual is the Holy Ghost (1 Thess. 1:5). The preacher, a clean and holy vessel (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:10). The message needs no embellishments, no accompaniments. Neither organs, choirs, nor orchestras are wanted. God’s Gospel, the Spirit’s power, the preaching of the Word, are enough. To say that the divine message needs such human inventions to make it effective, either in getting a people to hear it, or in moving them when they come, is a libel on the wisdom of God. The Gospel of God needs no decoration, no attraction. Who would paint the lily, or sweeten the rose? Whatever God gives is worthy of Himself, and needs no borrowed plumes from puny man. Exalt the Christ of God; preach the Word; sound forth the old Gospel, and God will see to the results. It is thus that sinners are saved, that disciples are made for Christ (Matt. 28:19). There is no other way, no other message. False professors, empty, lifeless church members, may be brought into existence by got-up it converts’ names enrolled and advertised in religious periodicals during “missions” in which God’s Gospel and the Spirit’s power are conspicuous by their absence as angels’ visits, but God’s children are born of the Spirit, through the Word by the Gospel preached in the Holy Ghost (see 1 Pet. 1:12, 22-24).
GATHERING TO CHRIST AS CENTRE IN THE ASSEMBLY
At conversion, all relations between the Godhead and the saved sinner become new. He becomes a child of God’s family (John 1:12; 1 John 3:2), a member of Christ’s body, the Church (Eph. 5:30), and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Possessed of a new nature, with new desires and aspirations, he seeks new companions, and finds his delight in new occupations. Some of these are personal, others in association with others. “The communion of saints” is one of his privileges, to worship in company with others a divine command, and fellowship in service and testimony with others who belong to Christ a part of his calling. It is a common experience for those who have been religiously inclined before they were born again, to remain in their former church connexion, or that of their parents, without much exercise of heart, whether these are according to God’s Word or otherwise. Others, who were irreligious, become “members” in the denomination where they hear the Gospel, or make a choice according to their taste. All this might be lawful, if God had been silent on the matter in His Word. But He has not. The same Bible which tells the sinner the way of salvation, tells the saint with equal clearness how and with whom he is to assemble and call upon the Lord (2 Tim. 2:22), and also where and with whom he is not to be.
First, the Christian is not to be associated with the world in his church fellowship or worship. He is not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). The living and the dead are not to be co-mingled in the things of God. If this first law of the kingdom of God were heeded, it would work a reformation in Christendom. Nothing is plainer than God’s call to His own, “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Then the same Word condemns sects and parties (1 Cor. 2:5), and forbids divisions among Christians (1 Cor. 1:10). If all were taught by the one Spirit of God (1 John 2:27), and subject to the one Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13), there would be no denominations or sects, keeping Christians apart one from another. In early times there were none. Why? Because God’s way of assembling was observed, and men’s traditions had no place. Christ was then the divine Centre, and led by the Spirit, according to the Word (Matt. 18:20), God’s people gathered in Christ’s Name alone. “Gather My saints together unto Me” (Ps. 50:5), was the Lord’s way then, and it is His way still. Time works no change, no decay, in God’s Word. If men have set up different centres, and Christians call themselves by other names, which sever and divide, let it be ours to cleave to the one Name, and go on in the one way of assembling, which alone gives Christ His place as Lord “in the midst,” and owns the Spirit to guide, and the Word to govern, in all things.
Such a path will ever have its difficulties, just because it needs God and is opposed by Satan and the world. But “there am I in the midst,” is the sure word which never fails, as all who through grace not forsaking the assembling of themselves (Heb. 10:25) in God’s one way know, and have blessedly proved.
GATHERING TO CHRIST AT HIS COMING: IN THE AIR
When the Lord descends from heaven with a shout (1 Thess. 4:17), His word of power will raise the sleeping saints, the Spirit who indwells them will transform the bodies of the living (Phil. 3:21; Rom. 8:11), and “together,” in one united company, they are gathered unto and around Him as the Object of their love. “Our gathering together unto Him” (2 Thess. 2:1) then, and our assembling unto His Name now, are linked by the use of the same word (see Heb. 10:25, where this word occurs, and nowhere else). Yes, He who will be the Centre and the Object of every saint in that hour of triumph and reunion, is in God’s purpose and will the Centre now, and nothing pleases Him more than to see His people, even if they are only “two or three,” assembling in and holding fast that dear and honoured Name, of which it is said, “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be ” (Gen. 49:10).
The Second Advent of the Lord
(Read John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:13-18.)
Our subject this evening, beloved friends, is one pre-eminently for the heart, and my desire is, in speaking of it a little, that while our thoughts are led along the line of Scripture teaching on this theme, our hearts may be drawn toward the Person of our Adorable Lord, the One who is coming.
As many of you know, this is a subject concerning which there is much variance of thought among true Christians, the result, not of godly, careful Scripture study, but of human tradition, and consequently it has been kept very much in the background, because it is now considered uncharitable to speak publicly on matters concerning which there are differing opinions among those whose watchword is: “In essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; and in all things, Charity.” The consequence is that it is very rare to hear an address on the coming of the Lord, and the events connected with that coming.
I confess that such a bond has no attractions to me. I do not own it, but would rather say, in the language of one of ancient days: “I esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:128). With a desire to help the youngest of the Lord’s saints, and to lead them to search the Word for themselves, I will group the Scriptures thus:
1. The Personality of the Lord’s coming.
2. The Manner and Time of His coming.
3. The Results of His coming.
4. The Practical Effects on those who expect His coming.
THE PERSON WHO IS COMING.
“I will come again and receive you unto Myself” (John 14:3), is the Lord’s own precious promise. “This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go” (Acts 1:11), was the word of the two heavenly visitors who appeared to the disciples on the slope of Olivet, on that day when He was taken up. And “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven” (1 Thess. 4:16), is the Spirit’s testimony through the apostle. The same Jesus who wept at Lazarus’ tomb, who gave back the widow of Nain her only son, who took the Jerusalem children in His arms; the Christ of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Gethsemane, the Lord of men and angels, who for eighteen centuries has been “hid in God,” enthroned in glory at the right hand of God, is coming again. It is Himself—not His highest seraph, but the Lord and Lover of our souls—the One who died for us on the tree, and lives to serve us on the throne, “whom having not seen we love” (1 Pet. 1:8), He is coming again. This is surely something for the heart. Who is there that loves the Lord, who does not say in the depths of his heart and soul:
“But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming, we wait;
The sky, not the grave, is our goal”?
And who among the myriads that call Him Saviour and Lord, does not—or would not, if tradition had not dimmed their view and blighted their hope—cry out from yearning hearts:
“Lord, as we muse, the torches burn;
Thyself, Thyself, we long to see,
For Thee our hearts responsive yearn,
Our wistful eyes are unto Thee”?
The Personal and Pre-millennial Advent of the Lord is the proper hope of the believer and the Church. It is not death. At death, the believer departs to be “with Christ” (Phil. 1:23); he puts off his tabernacle (2 Pet. 1:14), he is absent from the body (2 Cor. 5:8). But when the Lord comes, there is no death: “mortality is swallowed up of life” (2 Cor. 5:6), for the living; and “death is swallowed up of victory” (1 Cor. 15:54), for the dead. That those who have gone to be “with the Lord,” are in conscious bliss as disembodied spirits, we do not for a moment doubt, but they have not, in that condition in which they now are, reached the goal of their glorified state. They are in the upper waiting-room with the Lord, while we are in the lower waiting for Him here. Their hope and ours is one: the personal coming of the Lord Jesus.
It is not a Spiritual coming—as some say, a “coming to the heart.” This, as John 14:23 informs us, is the portion of those who keep His Word now, and is already enjoyed by obedient believers. Nor can the promise, “I will come again,” be frittered away by referring it to any of the spiritual movements or revivals which have been experienced among God’s people. Who will say that any of these can be characterized as “the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him” (2 Thess. 2:1), two events which are always found together; or who will say the graves have been emptied of the sleeping saints, and the earth of the living? The fact that there are saints in the graves on yon hillside, and some hundreds of living saints in mortal bodies in this hall at this moment, are positive proofs that the Lord has not come, and that the foolish—and in some cases blasphemous—claims put forth by those who say He has already come, are false and futile.
THE MANNER AND TIME OF HIS COMING
There is much confusion in the minds of some regarding the manner of the Lord’s coming and the sequence of events, from failing to distinguish between His coming FOR His saints to “the air” (1 Thess. 4:17), and His returning WITH His saints to the earth (Rev. 19:14). The former (i.e., the coming of the Lord FOR His people) may happen at any moment; the latter (i.e., His manifestation in glory WITH them) cannot, for a considerable time. There is an interval between these events, during which great events take place in heaven and on earth. When this is kept in view, many difficulties vanish, and seeming discrepancies come into harmony. It is with the Lord’s coming to earth in judgment that the world is concerned, and it is with this same public manifestation in glory, when His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, that the deliverance of the earthly people from their oppressors, and their future glory, as the prophets have foretold (see Isa. 11, 32) begins. Of the Lord’s coming for His people, there will be no sign, no forewarning. He will come “quickly” (Rev. 22:12)—that is, speedily, in a moment. Then the dead in Christ will rise, the living will be changed, and all will be “caught up”to heaven in the twinkling of an eye. There is nothing to show that the world will be disturbed. The saints will be gone; their places will be vacant—in the home, the office, the workshop; on the railway, the steamer, the farm. Things may be disorganized for a time, but the world will go on its godless course. False religion will continue its dead formality, until the whole becomes so utterly godless, that it gives up the Lord’s Name and accepts that of Antichrist—a condition of which the forecast is already with us, only, so long as there are living saints on earth in whom the life of God and the indwelling Spirit abides, making their presence felt as “salt” secretly preserving and as “light” openly shining (Matt. 6:13-14), the bursting enmity of the godless world and that “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7), which already is working, cannot get it all their own way. There is a restraint which hinders the full tide of lawlessness from overflowing, but immediately this is removed (which it will be at the rapture of the saints to meet the Lord in the air), the salt will be gone, the lampstands (Rev. 1:20, R.V.) will all be removed, and the poor world, long blinded by sin and deceived by Satan, will believe his last great “lie” (2 Thess. 2:11), and go on to apostasy and to judgment.
THE JUDGMENT-SEAT OF CHRIST
Between the Lord’s coming to the air FOR His people, and His return WITH them in manifested glory, two great events take place in heaven—the first, “The Judgment-seat of Christ”; the next, “The Marriage of the Lamb.” Already received by the Lord and conducted to the Father’s House, to be presented faultless in the presence of His glory (Jude 24), the glorified Church is complete at last, without spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27) in heaven. First, in the Father’s House welcomed there as children, the saints are all at home; they are there on a common footing of grace, “all of one,” equally near and dear to the Father. But as servants of the Lord and stewards of God, they had responsibilities given them, and now, as glorified beings, they are to be manifested before the Judgment-seat of Christ, where each will give an account, and hear the Master’s verdict of their service and testimony in the days of earthly life. It is no question of their salvation: all this has long been settled in grace. But for faithful service there is a reward, as the Lord had proclaimed from heaven: “Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). Some, whose work has gained the Master’s approval, being done according to His Word (2 Tim. 2:6), receive a full reward; others whose works were large in quantity but deficient in quality (1 Cor. 3:12-15) suffer loss, and lose their crown (Rev. 3:11), being disapproved (1 Cor. 9:27); themselves saved (1 Cor. 3:15) but their labour lost. No cup of cold water given to a disciple of Christ for the Master’s sake (Matt. 10:42), no feeding or tending of His blood-bought flock (1 Pet. 5:2-4) from love to Him, will be forgotten in that day; no faithful service, however humble or little esteemed among men, will go unrewarded there (Matt. 25:21), but things done to be praised of men, or from selfish motives, or which had their full meed of praise in “man’s day,” will, when the Lord brings to light the motives that inspired them, be seen in their true character:
“Deeds of merit as we thought them,
He will show us were but sin;
Little acts we had forgotten,
He will own were done for Him.”
May we live and serve, beloved fellow Christians, in the light of that bema, that Judgment-seat, day by day! How soon we shall all be manifested there, to have our web of life gone over, our roll of service reviewed, and have the verdict of our Lord on it all! How the dominating power, the searching light of that Judgment-seat should be upon us now! Remember we are writing our own autobiographies, day by day, and they will all be published there!
THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB
The second great event in heaven between the Lord’s coming for and His appearing with His saints, is described in Revelation 19:1-9, as the “Marriage of the Lamb,” which I have no doubt means the public manifestation before all heaven of the present hidden union which exists between Christ and the Church. Now it is hid, a mystery to all save those who are initiated, being born and indwelt by the Spirit; then it will be manifested, first to heaven’s wondering hosts, who celebrate the grand event with round after round of “Alleluias,” and call those “blessed” who are invited even as guests to the Lamb’s Marriage Supper. The Bride herself is arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, which is said to be “the righteous acts of saints” (v. 8, R.V.)—not surely that righteousness which is theirs by faith in Christ, in which all are found alike (Phil. 3:9), but rather that which grace had wrought in them, and which the Lord had openly acknowledged and rewarded at his Judgment-seat (see 2 Tim. 4:8). With what a dignity this invests the life of faith and faithfulness to God, and the reward of Jesus Christ! It is no passing flash of glory or flourish of trumpets; its return and reward is carried into the coming kingdom and glory. Like as the mighty men who in the day of David’s rejection clung to him in the hold—some defending his field of barley, others slaying his foes in snowy days, and three taking their lives in their hands to provide him with a drink of water from the well of his native village—had each his own reward and place of honour given in the kingdom in the day of David’s glory (1 Chr. 11:10-25), according as their royal master had estimated their love and loyalty, so will all faithful service, godly stewardship, and patient suffering, have the Master’s “Well done!” and rich reward on that day.
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE LORD WITH ALL HIS SAINTS
The second stage of the Second Advent of the Lord is to the earth, in full and manifested glory, accompanied by all His saints (Col. 3:3) and myriads of angels (2 Thess. 1:8-10), as the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:3), not like the Morning Star (Rev. 22:17), silently and secretly, as His coming FOR His saints had been. Now He goes forth as a Man of War to take vengeance on His foes, to deliver His earthly people from their oppressors (Zech. 14:4), and to manifest the sons of God in their glory to the world (Rom. 8:19-22), an event for which creation groans and waits. The last time this world saw the face and heard the voice of Jesus of Nazareth, He was hanging on Golgotha, where they mocked and taunted Him in scorn. Now they quail before His majesty, and shrivel at His glance! Before the Epiphany of His presence (2 Thess. 2:9) the last great adversary is brought to nought, His enemies are slain (Rev. 19:11-19), and His down-trodden saints are manifested to the world in glory. What a day that will be! How the tables will be turned then!
THE PRACTICAL EFFECT
“What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” (2 Pet. 3:11) Peter asks, in view of these coming and eternal issues. To be waiting for Christ is not a theory, but a sanctifying and practical power, affecting every sphere and detail of daily life. Do you expect to meet your Lord tonight? Then see that you have no outstanding questions between your heart and Him. Is there anything you are engaged in, any company you keep, any place you frequent, you would not like the Lord to find you in, when He comes? Are your relations with your fellow-believers such that you can mount up as on eagles’ wings to heaven by their side? Are you square with the world, and your affairs in such a state that the ungodly will have nothing to say against you? Is there anything in your house, in your business which, when you are gone, you would be ashamed to look down upon from heaven as yours?
Will you leave piles of gold to become a curse to your sons and daughters, and to enrich the devil after you are gone, which you ought to have used for God on earth, and thus converted it into the currency of heaven? Do not hoard your money and expect to put it in your will. You may be in high heaven ere another sunrise. Hold all that you have as God’s, and lay it out for Him. Use it so as to get a return in the day of the Judgment-seat. Give while you live. The Lord gives no reward for post mortem liberality. And let all who are the Lord’s so live, loose to the world, on the tiptoe of expectation, ready to go at any moment, so that should it be in the morning, at noon, or in the lone night that the Master’s voice is heard, we may quit the world without a sigh, and rise to our Fatherland and our eternal home joyfully, saying, “This is our Lord; we have waited for Him.” Thus waiting, we shall truthfully sing:
“I am waiting for the coming
Of the Lord who died for me;
Oh, His words have thrilled my spirit,
‘I will come again for thee,’
I can almost hear His footfall
On the threshold of the door,
And my heart, my heart is longing
To be His for evermore.”