by John Ritchie
An Address to Christian Workers in St. James’ Hall, Glasgow by John Ritchie
I desire to speak to young Christians tonight, who, having been recently converted, now desire “the sincere milk of the Word” (1 Pet. 2:2). In every step of your homeward journey, you need a “Thus saith the Lord” from the Book of God, ere you can move forward in your walk as His child; and equally so in your work for Him. Only thus can you ensure His smile now, and His “Well done” at the judgment seat of Christ.
We have looked at the congregation of Israel in the wilderness, between Egypt and Canaan, as typical of the Church of God on earth, redeemed and sheltered by the Blood of the Lamb—delivered from the bondage and power of Satan, the prince of this world, even as they from Pharaoh’s lash and Egypt’s brick kilns—separated from the world by the cross and grave of Jesus, as Israel was separated from Egypt by the waters of the Red Sea.
A peculiar treasure to God—strangers and pilgrims dwelling in tent., and passing through a wide trackless desert, that yielded them nothing, they were dependent on God for everything—fed by His manna, drinking of His water, guided by His cloud, they passed onward to the inheritance secured and promised to them beyond.
Jehovah Himself dwelt in His Tabernacle, in the midst of His redeemed; His cloud abode above them, and, likes father resting in the bosom of His family, they, as children, were gathered around Him, encircling His dwelling place.
In the camp of the Redeemed, and gathered around Jehovah, were three classes of persons, viz., Priests, Levites, People—twelve tribes of people, one tribe of Levites, and one family of Priests. The Priests worshipped, the Levites served, the people followed, and each of these represents the believer in one of His relationship to God. Every believer is at once a Priest, a Levite, and one of the people of God. As a priest he is a worshipper, as we read—“Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and hath made us kings and priests to God” (Rev. 1:6-7); and again, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:9). This honour have all His saints, and not a select few as Aaron and his sons in Israel, for every believer in Christ has been cleansed with the same precious blood, and anointed with the same Holy Unction, and this is what constitutes a priest, and qualifies for the worship of God. Differences of rank, age, attainment, or experience, come not in here, all the saved are on a level as worshippers. The young convert of last night, and the father in Christ, are equally welcome and equally capable of offering praise to God. They are linked in life with the Great High Priest above, who is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb. 2:11), but in the midst of the great congregation conducts “divine service” in the sanctuary above (Heb. 8:1-2), whither they have access through the rent veil to worship God by Him. The Father seeketh such to worship Him. The mockery of unconverted sinners attempting to worship Him, He seeketh not. Such worship however intellectual or refined it may be in man’s estimation, is only an abomination to God (Isa. 1:11-15), the worship of Cain over again.
The believer is also one of the “people of God” (1 Pet. 2:10), one of the “peculiar people” (Tit. 2:14), who have been delivered from the power of darkness (1 Pet. 2:9) and from this present evil world (Gal. 1:4), and now as strangers and pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11) are being guided through this wilderness-world by a Father’s eye (Ps. 32:8), on to the rest beyond, to a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).
The Levites served. Their work was to bear the Tabernacle through the desert, to set it up when they rested, and to take it down when the cloud moved for the journeying of the camp. They than form a beautiful type of the believer as the girded servant of Jesus Christ, bearing about the Lord Jesus in all the glories of His Person, of Whom the tabernacle in each of its parts was a figure.
To this subject, viz., service or ministry, I wish now to turn, and to a child of God it ought to be one of deepest interest. As God alone can call His sons, so He must call and qualify His servants, and having done so, He has in His Word shown them the servants’ place, path, and portion, and although times and surroundings have changed, God and His Word abide for ever, and constitute our only appeal in this, as in all else connected with our lives as His people below.
May the Lord give us subject hearts, and understandings on this most important subject of service, we need it, especially on a day like ours when God’s call and God’s order are so much set aside in the matter of ministry and man’s colleges, ordinations, and orders have assumed their place. The results are apparent everywhere around us.
There are three things we do well to look at severally in connection with the Levites as Jehovah’s Servants, viz.:—
1st. The Servants.
2nd. The Service.
3rd. The Appointed Way.
The workers—the work—and how the work was to be done. All was arranged by God Himself. Man’s place, ideas, or reasonings, had no place in the ordering of the Service connected with the House of God, neither have they yet.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses saying—Bring the tribe of Levi near and present them before Aaron the priest that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle” (Num. 3:6-7), and again—“Thou shalt take the Levites for Me, (I am the Lord) instead of all the first-born of the children of Israel . . . and the Levite shall be Mine” (Num. 3:41, 45). Thus the Levites were called by the Lord to this holy work, and it requires the call of God still to make a Servant of Jesus Christ. Nothing else can do it. Paul says—“it pleased God who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him” (Gal. 1:15-16). “Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God” (Col. 1:1). God’s call and God’s will, are the credentials of His apostleship. Of the call of a church he knew nothing, he was God’s servant, and he served, “not to please men, but God, who trieth the heart” (1 Thess. 2:4).
The Levites were chosen by God for His service and He fitted them for the doing of it. But why did God choose Levi for His service? Was there any superiority found in them above their brethren? The only distinctive thing we read of concerning their father Levi is his extreme wickedness. Turn to Genesis 49:5, 7, where we get Levi’s character, dark as sin can make it—“Simeon and Levi are brethren, instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret, unto their assembly be not thou united; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger for it was fierce and their wrath for it was cruel, I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” Such was Levi’s natural character—cruel, self-willed, angry, fierce, curved, and scattered; of all Jacob’s sons he had the least to boast of, and yet the grace of God shines the brighter on so dark a background, and Levi is chosen for the service of the Lord. God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise that no flesh may glory in His Presence. Man’s nature, however fair or cultured, can have no place in the service of God, and as each fair form passes before man’s eye with admiration the voice of the Lord may be heard saying—“Neither hath the Lord chosen this” (1 Sam. 16:9) as in the case of Jesse’s seven sons—the stripling boy in the sheepfold is the one of God’s choice to guide and rule his people, and lay the proud Goliath low. One of God’s most honoured servants was a blasphemer and persecutor, even Saul of Tarsus, yet the grace of God was “exceeding abundant” and the “chief of sinners” became the “chosen vessel” to bear the Name of Jesus “before Gentiles kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), and to declare the wondrous mystery of Christ, and the Church kept secret since the world began. Swearing Bunyan, and others in our own day brought from the convict-cell, the coal-pit, and the plough, to sound abroad the name of Jesus, witness the wisdom and grace of God still, in the choice of those He calls to serve Him. Angels He uses not in this blessed work, but man the most debased and sunk of all His creatures, him he takes up and uses as the vessel to display the “riches of His Grace” now, and to bear the “eternal weight of glory” by-and-by, when earthly labour is past. O! beloved, may we walk worthy of such a call, and throw aside everything as perishable dross that would impede or trammel us in the service of such a Master. But it is written, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11) and “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord for ever” (Ps. 103:5), so the Levites must be fitted and in condition to enter upon such a work. Thus, before any of as dare enter on a path of service for the Lord, there must first be the preparation for it which is of the Lord. Let us see what the Levites needed, and thus we may gather what is necessary in order still acceptably to serve the Lord.
Turn to Numbers 8, where we get the Levites prepared for service—and first, “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them. And thus shalt thou do unto them to cleanse them; sprinkle water of purifying upon them and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean” (vv. 6-7).
Cleaning was the first thing. Man would have add—“Educate them.” God says—“Cleanse them,” and cleansing is still the first thing. “Ye must be born again” has to be sounded in the ears of a “master in Israel” are he can understand “heavenly things,” and before any one can serve God as He desires, the first essential thing is Conversion, the “washing of Regeneration,” the New birth—born of water and the Spirit. Sprinkling water on the Levites shows the action of the word of God on the conscience of the sinner on the day of his conversion. He is made “clean every whit” through the word spoken unto him (John 15:3). His sins are washed away, and by the incorruptible seed of the word of God he is born again (1 Pet. 1:21), and a nature implanted, a life communicated, in which he can live for enjoy, and serve God. Man may preach, teach, or sit in a professor’s chair, but until he is “born again,” he is unfit for the service of God; he must be made a son first, then a servant; and God’s servants are all His sons by birth, not by education or attainment, and without this he would assuredly be a servant of the devil.
Have you here tonight who go out and seek to serve God, been all “born again”? You have no right to give a tract, or teach a class in the Sunday School until you are, and even if you do so it won’t keep you out of hell at the end. Balaam and Judas preached and prophesied true things, but where are they tonight? It’s only a few months since a brother in Christ from Ireland told us how he preached five years before he was “born again,” aye even after he was “licensed,” “called,” and “ordained,” to the work. I fear he is not a solitary case, may God open blinded men’s eyes on it be too late, and leaders and led be found fallen in the ditch together.
After the sprinkling of water on them we read, “let them shave their flesh and wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean”.
First they were sprinkled by another, then cleaned by themselves. The “new born babe” is told to “lay aside all malice, guile, hypocrisies, and evil speaking” (1 Pet. 2:1), and to put off the old man with his deeds and lusts (Col. 3:8-9). These things be cannot take into the service of God with him. Think of God’s servant getting “soon angry” when he is told to be “patient” (2 Tim. 2:21). Like the Levites’ hair, then fruits of the old man must be shaven off with the sharp razor of God’s truth. The Levites’ clothes too were to be washed. They denote character, and God’s servant must be able to face both church and world unblameable in character; especially must he have a good report with those that are without. It is melancholy to hear it said, “So-and-so is a gifted teacher, or evangelist, but his conduct is so unlike his preaching it has no power over us”! Beloved, such things ought not to be, every one serving God in the smallest way ought to be able to do to at their own door, in their own workshop where they are best known first and if their “filthy clothes,” or bad character won’t allow them to do it there, better stop it altogether. God is Holy—His service is holy—and our lives as His servants as well as our character ought to be “unblamable in holiness” (1 Thess. 3:15), having a good conscience toward God and man. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, les us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Then follows the offering for their acceptance in 5:8-13. We are accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6), and His one offering for us has made us meet for service now, and glory then. Next comes separation—“Separate the Levites from among the children of Israel and the Levites shall be mine, and after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the Tabernacle” (vv. 14-15). The servant of God must be like his Master, “separate from sinners,” as it is written—“Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14), no association of the servant of God with the world or the servants of Satan. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. Lot tried it in Sodom, but he utterly failed, and others have tried it since, with the same result. The Lord’s servant must be wholly His, untrammeled to do His work at His bidding, and should the world offer its assistance, either in patronage, money, or any other way, he must be able to say as one of old, “Ye have nothing to do with us, to build an house unto God—we ourselves together will build” (Ezra 4:3), and “Ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem” (Neh. 2:20). If this we reacted upon now-a-days (and God means it should) it would considerably lessen the number of those professedly engaged in God’s work we fear, and, thank God, where it has been obeyed it has yielded its fruit.
GIVEN TO AARON
“I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron.” No more their own, but in place of Israel’s first-born, and typically dead and risen men, they were given to God’s High Priest. Ye are not your own. “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (l Cor. 7:23). Our blessed Lord and Master, in that priestly prayer of John 17, prays for the men given to Him out of the world. O beloved, may we prove true to our heavenly call. His seal and name are on us, and for no the priestly rod is blooming in the presence of God as Aaron’s bloomed and yielded fruit for the tribe of Levi who were joined unto him. The rod was Aaron’s (Num. 17), but the fruit was counted to Levi. Even so, in the Risen One our fruit is found. Abiding in him we bear fruit in our service to God’s glory, and yet as the branch, not the trunk, bears the fruit, and to it the fruit is counted although the trunk supplies the sap, so we, by drawing from Him, who is our life and power, yield the “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11).
Joined unto Aaron, they served before him, each in his ordered place waiting on his service, (Num. 8:22.24; Dent 18:2). How much more glorious is our calling, beloved fellow servant. United to our Great High Priest, within the veil, joined to the Lord, and one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). Our holy privilege is to live in Communion with His heart, while our hands are busied with His service here, waiting before Him and listening to His voice as Mary did, and in the intelligence of those who are His friends, and to whom He commits His secrets, for He says, “Henceforth I call you not servants but friends” (John 20), going forth to do His will, seeking only His glory and His smile, as one sweetly sings,
“I’ve now to please but one,”
My Saviour, Master, Lord, and Friend.”
No earthly inheritance or lot in Canaan was given them, but the Lord was their inheritance, and they were allowed to eat of His inheritance, the offerings made by fire (Deut. 18:1-2). An earthly inheritance would naturally have diverted their attention from the one great object of their lives, so the Lord gave them none; nevertheless all their needs were supplied by Him and through the gifts of their brethren (Deut. 18:6-8). The blessed Lord when hero below, went about His Father’s business, continually doing good to all around Him, yet no earthly lot was His, the lonely mountain side, or the pilgrim tent afforded by loving hearts at Bethany were His retreat, yet could He rejoice and say, “The Lord is portion of mine inheritance and of my cup, thou maintainest my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant place, yea I have a goodly heritage” (Ps. 16:5-6.) And time was, when His servants followed His steps, and one Apostle was not ashamed to say, “Silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6), while another tells us he suffered the loss of all things for Christ, and proved by hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness, bonds, and imprisonment, for His sake and the Gospel’s, it was a reality. Men in these days served not for filthy lucre’s sake, or the praise of men, but the love of Christ constrained them, and their reward awaits them in that day of coming glory. Oh! dear brother and sister in Christ, look around today, and see how the fine gold is dimmed, and the service of the Lord become little else than a comfortable way of making an easy living. Salaries, stipends, pew rents, and church collections have in many cases more attention than the salvation of souls from an everlasting Hell. False servants join like the Levite from Bethlehem-Judah, who came to Micah in search of a place, bargained with him to become his priest, received a salary of two shekels of silver yearly, with a suit of apparel and his “victuals,” and with that was “content” to remain and do the religion of the family. And probably he would have ramained, had not a “larger sphere of usefulness” presented itself to him, and an offer was given him to become priest to a tribe, which was declared to be “better,” and doubtless yielded more “hire,” and accordingly was accepted (Jud. 17:26). So he left his former “diocese” as sheep without a shepherd. This needs no comment, it is the practice in the religious world around us. May every true servant of Jesus wash his hands of the godless trade, and be content to be as His Master, who was known among men as the carpenter of Nazareth, or His Apostle Paul who laboured with his hands making tents when the work of the Lord so demanded, and with his lip, preached and taught Jesus Christ.
Such are some of the characteristics of those who served God of old, and such still are needed in the Church below. Let us thank God for as many such as we see, and pray the Lord of the harvest to send many more such labourers into his own harvest, men who are neither sloths, nor money lovers, but who, with their eyes on the judgment-seat, will serve, seeking not the smile, nor fearing the frown of men, but studying to be approved unto Him who hath said, “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me to give every man according as His work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).
THE WORK OF THE LORD
“Be ye steadfast unmovable always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58), but work and the “work of the Lord” are two very different things. May every Christian worker here be taught of God to discern this difference.
We may undertake, and pursue zealously, any service nearest our hand, or that our foolish proud natural hearts may lead us into, or that another may devise and call us to. We may be busily and actively engaged in work with man’s approval and admiration, but is this what Scripture calls “The work of the Lord”? Will this gain the Master’s “well done” when the servant and his service, with the true hidden motives that led to it, stand unveiled before the judgment seat? Nay, verily beloved. The Lord will never own such service as His work, even though the servant may be His own. It is to be feared that much of the activity of Christian workers now considered real service for God, will in that day of fiery trial, and weighing in the balances of God be found wanting in value, mere tinsel, the fruit of an unbroken will that never bowed before Jesus Christ as Lord, saying “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do”.
The work He calls to, qualifies for, and commands His own servant to do, is the Lord’s work and nothing else. So we read—“The Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey who left his house and gave authority to his servants and to every man his work” (Mark 13:34). Here, beloved worker is the “work of the Lord”. What the Master gave the servant to do, during His absence from “His house,” and His sojourn in the “far country.” And inasmuch as the Lord’s servant pursues His divinely appointed sphere of labour seeking to please his absent Lord, he is doing the work of the Lord, and, at His return will receive his reward according to his labour. This is what we are exhorted to “abound” in, and what is so beautifully illustrated in the service of the Levites to which I now turn.
We have seen the tribe of Levi, chosen, called, cleansed, and given to the Lord for His Service, and now the 8,580 girded servants stand ready to engage in “the work of the Lord”. But who is to set them to work, or how is such an army of workers to be controlled, and kept every man at his post in the midst of a waste howling wilderness? Experience they have none; examples of others who had gone before and done the same work there is no trace of; how then will it be possible to proceed, or how can they be kept from jostling one against another in their work? To man these difficulties would have been, and still are, insurmountable, and he would have turned from the scene prophesying of certain failure, democracy, confusion and strife. But it was not so, for God had ordered all and given to every man His work, and under the supervision of God’s High Priest (Num. 4:27, 33), all things were done decently and in God’s order, and not a jar was seen, or a note of discord heard among the 8,580 of God’s workers because every man was subject to the will of God, filling the very place and doing the very work assigned to him by his and allowing his fellow-worker to do the same. And this is service according to God still. The servant of the Lord having received talents from His Master and individually responsible to Him for their use, goes forth and “trades” with them, but when servants begin to interfere with their fellow-servant’s work, and to order them in the doing of it while they neglect their own, confusion and disorder are the sad results, and the work of the Lord hindered. All around us we see this, where man’s will is at work, and when man’s order has been substituted for God’s order, and man’s authority substituted for God’s word, while many of God’s true servants are grinding under committees, synods, and councils, with their laws and prohibitions, like Samson shorn and blind in the Philistines’ prison house, their power and discernment gone, affording the enemies of the cross “sport” at their utter weakness. What will such servants answer their Lord at His appearing?
Among the Levites no such disorders were seen, because the Lord had divided the work into parts, and the workers into families. To each of the three families of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari the Lord gave a part of His tabernacle to bear through the desert and to pitch when they encamped. The boards, bars, pillars, pins, and sockets, were the burden of the family of Merari (Num. 3:35, 37). Their’s was a heavy and cumbrous burden, and, as a gift from the princes of Israel, 8 oxen and 4 wagons were given them to bear their burden—the framework of God’s dwelling place through the desert. When the cloud rested for the encamping of the pilgrim host they were the first workmen on the ground. The silver sockets were laid on the desert sand, and quickly the heavy boards of shittim wood and gold were raised up and fitted into the sockets, and the bars put through the golden rings framing the boards together into one tabernacle—the dwelling place of Israel’s God. Thus their toil was ended, and their brethren and fellow-labourers the Gershonites commenced their part of the work. To the Gershonites was committed the curtains, coverings, hangings and cords, the more beautiful part of God’s dwelling place, and for the bearing of these 2 wagons and 4 oxen were given them (Num. 3:23-26, 7:7). The Service of the families of Merari and Gershon was closely linked together. Morari laid the foundation and built the framework, while Gershon covered with the curtains and coverings, and strengthened with the cords, what their brethren had already builded. They walked together on the march (Num. 10:17), and halted together for their labour—while a apace of three tribes intervened between them and their brethren the Kohathites who followed bearing the Holy Vessels, viz., the ark, the table, the candlestick, and altars, and for these no wagons were given, they were borne on their shoulders along the desert in their travelling dresses of blue, purple, scarlet, and badger’s skins (Num. 3:29-32, 4:2-14, 7:9). They found a tabernacle already built by the energy of their brethren who had gone before them, and into that tabernacle they carried the golden vessels and placed them in order in the Holy and most Holy place, and the brazen vessels in the outer court “as the Lord commanded Moses” (See Exodus 40:1-42; Numbers 10:21).
Now all this was perfectly beautiful and skews to us how, that when God’s work is done in God’s way, by Gods servants, it is well done. There was the greatest diversity and yet the most perfect harmony, every worker was performing his part in the building of the house of God and not one could have been wanted. The Merarite with a “pin” and the Gershonite with a “cord” was needed as much as the Kohathite bearing the ark of the covenant, and he was pleasing and serving God in doing the work God gave him, as much as the other—for he was doing the will of God and what does it matter to a subject, obedient Levite, whether that will was to carry a pin or a golden vessel, all was well, and be could look up from his happy God-glorifying task, and say—“This is the thing the Lord hath commanded to be done”—
“No service in itself is small
None great though earth it fill,
But that is small that seeks its own
And great that seeks God’s will.”
O beloved! may your Lord and mine write it on our hearts and may we know the blessedness of pleasing God and serving Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28). But this is no easy matter in this day of Babel confusion, when almost every man is doing that which is right in his own eyes, to gain the praise of men whether it pleases God or not, for now-a-days under the title of “the Lord’s work” every dishonest and God dishonouring trick is played, from the flagrant cheatery of the religious bazaar to raise funds to carry on what is called “the Lord’s work,” down to the meaner, and more subtle treachery of a pretended life of faith, (the counterfeit of the true servant who trusts in God alone for the supply of all his wants) which lurks around the rich, like vultures round a carcass, while the cry of “come over and help us” from the poor and the needy falls unheeded on the covetous servant’s ear. May every servant of God have grace to wash his hands of such unholy and base reproach, and be like His Lord who was the perfect Servant, content to be of no reputation here, that he might finish the work His Father gave Him to do. God has yet a dwelling place on earth, consisting of sinners saved by grace builded and fitly framed together into one glorious temple; one Holy Church founded on the Rock immovable—the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and during this day of grace and the Spirit’s work on earth it is being builded together for the eternal dwelling place of God among men (Rev. 21:3). In the building of this temple He yet employs His Levites, as it is written “We are labourers together with God” (l Cor. 3:9), and in so for as His servants labour in His work in fellowship with Him they build up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11). Called to such a holy service, and to work in company with the Holy One as His fellow-workers, O how watchful we need to be, lest we grieve the Holy Ghost our power for service, or build after another pattern than the one laid down in the Word of God.
To the word of the Lord we will now turn to learn His will on this important matter of Ministry or Service (the word in the Greek is the same) in the building of the Church of God the antitype of the tabernacle of Israel which we have just considered, and what we are about to read is the Master’s unrepealed will for His servants in all ages; although many tell us, its now “out of date” and “old fashioned,” but this is only an excuse for the rejection of God’s revelation of His will on Ministry, which, if it were believed and acted on, would cut at the root of all human appointment, church ordination, and giving of orders practised at this hour in the professing Church around us, it is for us, beloved, to have an ear open to the word of God, and a willing heart to obey in all things if we would please Him.
Turn to Ephesians chapter 4 and read verses 7 to 14. This is God’s thoughts on Ministry. The source of all these gifts is the Ascended Christ, “He gave” gifts to men and they received them, and used them for Him. No other authority or ordination was required, and none other but He could confer a gift. The Church did not choose, nor the Presbytery appoint, but the Church owned and thankfully received what God had given, but had no power to control; every man who had received the gift was individually responsible to the Lord for the using of it—and so are you my brother. If the Master has given you “talents” to use for Him, go forth and “trade” with them, or you’ll blush if His coming finds them buried in your “napkin” (Matt. 25:14-29).
See too, the variety of ministry we find here, and for what purpose—“He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).
Apostles were made so by the Lord Himself, such as Peter, James, John, and Paul. We have their epistles for our edification, and thus they minister to us still. Successors they have none, except “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13), ministers of Satan, of whom Paul warned the Ephesian elders to beware as “coming after him” like “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29), and who evidently did, calling themselves “apostles,” but were tried and found “liars” (see Rev. 2:2). Let the modern pretensions to “restored apostles” be tried by the same test, and it will as speedily vanish, notwithstanding the glare of misplaced Scripture subtle minds have thrown around it.
Prophets too are gone. They spoke by revelation from God apart from the word and before the canon of Scripture was complete. Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), also Agabas (21:10), were prophets, as well as others we read of in 1 Corinthians 14. We do not see such men now, because we do not require them; the word of God is complete, and not to be added to on penalty of a curse, and all pretended “prophecies” we now hear so much of, are the mere fancies of “false prophets” misleading unstable souls, and seeking to beguile the saint from the diligent study of the written word, wherein all the prophecies of God are stored for our practical use as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawn (2 Pet. 1:19). Apostles and Prophets were in the “foundation” (Eph. 2:20) of the Church, but nowhere else to be seen in the building, therefore we look not for them among the servants of Jesus Christ.
Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers, come next in order. The service of the former is toward the world with the Gospel; and the latter two toward the Church; comprising the ministry of the word, and the tending of the flock. The Lord in grace continues to give such gifts to men, fitting them for the various ministries “till we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), which will only be when He comes. Till then sinners need to hear the Gospel from the lips of the Evangelist—and saints need the Pastor’s care and the Teacher’s instruction in the word. Let us therefore recognise and receive such, thanking God for them, while we remember Christ Jesus the Lord is the Head of the Church, and the centre of its unity. Unto him—“Jesus only”—we gather; not to His gifts however great or good, but unto Himself, as it shall be by and by above, when we gather around the Lamb slain.
O how terrible has been the Church’s sin, in placing his servants before Himself, and glorying in the gift instead of the giver. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers are often gloried in among saints, and treated as Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were at Corinth; while Christ Himself stands knocking at the door without (Rev. 3:20).
Let us look now a little at the work of each, and turning back to the service of the three families of of Levites, viz.—Merarites, Gershonites, and Kohathites, we shall find typified in beautiful order the work of the Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher—I will connect them thus—
Marari—The Merarites laid the foundation and built the framework of the Tabernacle. This is the work of the Evangelist.
Gershon—Thu Gershonites covered with the curtains and bound up with the cords, what the Merarites had builded. This is the work of the Pastor.
Kohath—The Kohathites carried in the vessels, and placed them in order in a builded tabernacle. This is the work of the Teacher.
These are the workers, and this is the work of the Lord done after the due order. When the cloud rested, the Merarite was the first workmen on the spot. Upon the bare sands of the desert he commenced by laying the massive silver sockets: next the heavy boards of shittim wood overlaid with gold were raised and fitted into them, each in its own place; and finally all the boards were bound together by the bars passed through the golden rings. Thus their work was finished, and they gave place to their brethren the Gershonites.
This is the work of the Evangelist—He goes forth into the world, guided by the Spirit of God (Acts 13:21), to preach the Gospel. His sphere is the world (Mark 16:15)—the city of destruction; sinners wherever he can find them, solitary or in crowds, he appeals to; like the Merarite with the socket, he preaches Christ crucified as the sinner’s foundation—this is his theme; to get sinners converted is his object. He enters city, town, village, or hamlet, chiefly where Christ is not named—“the regions beyond”—and commences his work by preaching the Cross, as Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ (Acts 8:5), and to the Ethiopian in Gaza’s desert and preached Jesus (v. 35). May brethren who preach the Gospel remember this, and keep at their point, “the Gospel is the power of God” (Rom. 1:16). It requires no “precedent,” steppingstone, or “handmaid,” as some tell us, who instead of preaching Christ crucified, spend their precious hours in preaching of morality, the law, and repentance, and I know not what else. But the silver socket, the type of Redemption through the blood of Christ, was laid on the bare sand of the desert, and to borrow the happy figure of another—the evangelist carries the Cross “to the market place of the City of Destruction” and says—“Behold the Lamb of God”. What the sinner needs is Christ, and Him the evangelist is called to preach in the power of the Holy Ghost; and he ought to speak simply, pointedly, and plainly in a way his bearers can understand. This is the kind of preaching by means of which sinners are saved. This done, the next thing is to get the board into the socket—the convert established and settled in Christ, and filling his place in the building, the Church of the living God; and finally by means of the bars all was framed together into one tabernacle. This we find Paul did at Corinth—he preached Christ (1 Cor. 2:2), laid the foundation (3:10), and “continued a year and six months preaching the Word” (Acts 18:11), until he left there a well-ordered assembly. At Ephesus he entered the synagogue, and for three months preached to sinners (Acts 19:7). This was not all. The Boards had to be put into the sockets and fastened together. He separated the disciples from the unbelievers, and for two years remained with them, teaching them publicly and from house to house (Acts 19:19, 20:20). The evangelist is responsible to God to do, or see this is done, and when such is not the case, the work suffers and the converts go back to the world. Many minor parts of Merarite or evangelistic work comes in here. Some had “pins” to carry, and in the work of the Gospel the service of some, as helpers in the work may be as certain women who laboured with Paul (Phil. 4:3), or John Mark (Acts 13:5). Gaius, Lydia, and Philip lodged the Lord’s servants. Others may give tracts, sing, speak to the anxious, or invite sinners to the preaching, and thus be helpers in the Gospel; alas that any should be so high-minded as not to care for such lowly work. Some would always be on the platform, whom God has not fitted to be there, rather than “carry a pin” his God-given work.
The Merarites’ work being finished, their fellow-labourers, the Gershonites, commenced. Theirs was an important toil. To cover with the curtains and the heavy badger akin covering the boards of shittim wood and gold, and to bind together and strengthen with the cords, so that no storm might shake or wind destroy the lovely dwelling-place of God. This is the pastor’s work. His is a precious, and, one may add, a rare gift. He ought to cooperate with and follow after the evangelist. His work is to care for and tend the lambs and sheep of the flock of Christ. Pastoral work requires great patience, gentleness, and faithfulness, and deep acquaintance with the heart of the Shepherd Who bled for the sheep, in His tender and self-denying love for them. Like the good, great, and chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, he must be ready to lay down his life for the brethren (1 John 3:16), to carry the lambs in his bosom (Isa. 40:11), to feed them (John 21:15), go before them (John 10:4) leading gently lest he overdrive the flock (Gen. 23:13).
Several bright illustrations of shepherd or pastor work appear throughout the Word for our learning Such as Jacob who when be tended Laban’s flock was consumed by drought in the day, and by frost and ceaseless watching by night (Gen. 31:39-40). Bethlehem shepherds watched their flocks while others slept during the lone night—watches preceding the coming of the looked-for Messiah (Luke 2:8), and David encountered the lion and bear to deliver his father’s lamb (1 Sam. 17). All these show the self-denial of a good and true shepherd. He seeks out the young one heals the broken, feeds the standing still (Zech. 11:17), comforts the feeble-minded, supports the weak, and warns the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14). Like Barnabas, he follows the evangelist, and binds together his work, exhorting the converts to cleave to the Lord (Acts 11:23). Ephphras, a true Gershonite, laboured fervently in prayer for the saints at Colosse (Col. 4:12), and Epaproditus longed after the Philippians (Phil. 2:25). Under this head much comes in like the cords of the Gershonite to help to bind the work together and preserve it from the enemy and the attacks of wicked men. Visiting the young believer, the backsliding, and the sick, nursing and cherishing the Lord’s little ones as Paul did at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:8). Others may gather the converts together, or have them individually in their homes as Aquila and Priscilla had Apollos instructing him in the way of God more perfectly (Acts 17:24). And continuing so to do till Jesus comes, when the faithful pastor will receive from His hand a crown of unfading glory (1 Pet. 5:4).
Thus the ancient dwelling-place of God in the desert was builded and compactly framed together, and if this order were observed by the servants of Christ so would the Church, the habitation of God on earth, be built up now. But how dark is the picture of failure portrayed by Jehovah Himself through the prophet—“My Tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken, my children are gone forth from me, there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains. FOR THE PASTORS ARE BECOME brutish and have not sought the Lord” (Jer. 10:23-24).
But although the building was finished, and firmly Wind together and beautified, important work had yet to be done, without which no priestly service could be carried on within the holy place. The Kohathites came up bearing on their shoulders, with steady pace, the holy vessels. The Ark and Mercy-seat were deposited within the veil, the Candlestick, Table of Showbread, and Golden Altar in the holy place, while the Laver to wash the hands and feet of the priestly household, and the Brazen Altar for their offerings filled their places in the outer court. All this is divinely beautiful, and shows the work of the teacher bringing into the already gathered assembly of saints, with holy care, and as they are able to bear them, truths from the Word of God, the antitype of these vessels. From the Brazen Altar and Layer—the acceptance of the believer in Christ, and his daily cleansing in the Word, on to the believer’s standing in resurrection as a priest before God in His temple, worshipping at His altar, feeding at the table, communing at His Throne instructing and building up the saint, on their most holy faith, and labouring to present every man perfect—a full grown man in Christ. To be “apt to teach” he must himself be a diligent student of the Word of God and have it richly dwelling in Him. To be able to communicate it to others, and with holy diligence and, watchfulness give to all food convenient for them, milk for babes, and strong meat for those who can bear it, he must study the need of the souls of those to whom he ministers. The edification of those he ministers to ought to be his object, and the glory of God his aim, and when this is sought, a well ordered Assembly like that in Antioch (Acts 13:1) will be the result. How often have the Evangelist and Pastor performed their part in the gathering together of the saints, but instead of the teacher following after and carrying in among the saints as a true Kohathite, the truths of the believer’s acceptance, walk, worship, fellowship, testimony, and communion with God, figured in these vessels, they have been allowed to famish as the prophet laments—“The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst, the young children ask bread, and, no man break it unto them” (Lam. 4:4).
May those who have these gifts use them in the light of the judgment seat. O how soon we all may be there.
Thus, beloved, the work of the Lord was done of old, and thus the Master desires it to be done still. To act on these divine principles may cause the servants of Jesus Christ to tread a lonely and a narrow path, but they may rest assured it is the path of obedience and therefore of trial. God will sustain them in it, if they walk with Him; and when their hour of earthly toil is past, and their wilderness burdens no longer to be borne, they shall receive the reward of their labour, in company with their glorified Lord—“where His servants shall serve Him, and they shell see His face and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev. 20:3-4). Amen.
The Northern Witness Vol. 8 (1878)