THOUGH full of joy and encouragement, the Christian's path cannot be expected to be otherwise than testing.
We shall not be prepared to take the path suitable to believer, the path of a disciple, unless we are at ease in our souls about such matters as the forgiveness of our sins, our justification, peace with God and our acceptance before Him.
In this little book we are assuming, however, that the reader is quite clear on these important matters.
We must also assume, in considering the path of the Christian, that the reader has owned Jesus as Lord, and has confessed, His worthy name.
Our confession, however, must be supported and shown to be real by a life of obedience to the Lord; the Lord's rule is to be that which we recognize in practice in our daily lives. The question of Saul of Tarsus,
Nothing can be more important in its place than the confession of Jesus as our Lord, and the practical recognition of His claims as such.
From the manner in which many professing Christians speak of divine things, it might almost be supposed that modern ideas and customs, or our "opinions" entitle us to set aside the very commands of the Lord!
If the journey has be taken, a start, a beginning must be made; and we certainly cannot begin the Christian's path unless we have believed on the Lord Jesus and confessed Him as our Lord, and desire to be subject to Him and thus own His rule in everything.
Walking here subject to the rule of the Lord Jesus is a new kind of life; it is, indeed, described in Scripture as walking "in newness of life".
- Our break with the world is complete as far as our minds and our hearts are concerned.
It is here we see the force of baptism.
- "Know ye not", says the apostle in Romans 6: 3,4, "that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life".
- In our hearts and minds our break with the world, with its hopes, fashions and pleasures should be as thorough as if we had actually died.
- It is because we are to live here in the place where Jesus died that we are baptized. Baptism is a figure of death and burial. If we were going to be with the Lord at once, we should not need to be baptized;
- for our baptism has nothing whatever to do with our place in heaven; it refers to our place on earth.
- In being baptized we are in figure identified with the death of Christ. His death, therefore, now stands between us and the world in which we had previously lived. If Christ has been refused here and gone out of this world by death, has died out of this world so to speak, it is not for us in our hearts to remain in it.
- We have been left in it as to fact to be a witness for Christ, John 17: 15; and we can only be a true witness if we obey from our hearts the form of doctrine which has been delivered to us, or, as the passage more correctly reads, "into which he were instructed".
- The "doctrine", or teaching, spoken of in Romans 6: 17, is the teaching of the death of Christ; the "form", or type, of the teaching is our baptism.
We can well understand, therefore, such a path is rightly described as walking "newness of life".
- It is an entirely different kind of life from that which has been ours as unconverted; it is a life under the rule of the Lord Jesus in complete separation from the world.
- Just as the children of Israel were delivered from the control of Pharaoh and were set free from Egyptian slavery by passing through the Red Sea and coming under the rule Moses, their leader; so the Christian, by faith in the Lord and accepting in his heart and mind the teaching of baptism,
- namely, the death of Christ, and in coming under His rule, finds deliverance from the bondage of this world, with its pleasures of sin.
The Power for Christian Life
The question may reasonably arise in the mind in facing such a pathway, 'In what power is it possible to attempt such an undertaking?'
- It is certain that it would be impossible for a sinner with no power but his own resolutions or desires, and strength of will, to walk such a path.
- But Scripture does not lead us to expect power from these sources; it does not suppose such an impossibility but supplies us with an answer to our difficulty.
He who believes in the glorified Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, not only receives the forgiveness of sins and is accepted in all the excellence of Christ as a glorified Man in heaven,
- but receives the gift of Holy Spirit, who has been given him as an all-sufficient power – as well as for many other purposes – the power for his pathway here.
- The epistle to the Romans makes it abundantly clear that we are not left here to our own charges. At the cross the principle of sin in the flesh was condemned in our blessed Substitute, the Lord Jesus, so that we might receive the Spirit as our power of life -- the power for our pathway.
Indeed we have a twofold support: Christ, our High Priest in heaven is able to save completely all who come to God by him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them;
- and the Holy Spirit who has been given to us to be our power of life enabling us to walk in the path of the will of God.
- With such support we may with courage look forward to the experiences to be known in the path of the Christian and step out with faith, full of confidence in our almighty Saviour.
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|2. THE CHRISTIAN'S COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCES|
WHEN we are converted and know the Lord Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, we feel by a kind of spiritual instinct that we are somehow linked with every other Christian.
- We feel that our interests are really the same; we all know the Lord; we are all blessed with the same blessings; we all love Him who first loved us; and are all treading a path that is leading to the same glorious end, Christ in glory, to whom we are all to be conformed. We all wish to please Him, however much we may be conscious of our failure.
- Moreover, we have all received the Holy Spirit, who makes us conscious of the love of God, shedding it abroad in our hearts, and who is our power for our pathway here, where Christ has been refused. No wonder we feel linked together.
- The poor world knows nothing of these joys. People of the world, with whom we have to meet in our business life, cannot understand us. If we are faithful to the Lord, confessing His name, they may shun our company, even if the sneer of contempt or a mild sort of persecution is not made our lot.
- We must not be surprised, indeed, if definite persecution and suffering are our part; for are we not followers of a rejected Christ, whose pathway here ended on the cross? He who is our Model, our Example, was a Sufferer here!
- But we feel quite different when we meet a believer. The spiritual affinity of which we have spoken is invariably experienced.
It is confirming to know that such experiences are normal. The feelings we have are the outcome of a fact; our sentiments proceed from a cause.
- The Holy Spirit whom the believer has received, not only links him with the Lord, as we learn in 1 Corinthians 6, but also links him with every other believer.
- This subject will come before us more fully later on; it is necessary to mention the fact now to explain the particular view or character of the Christian's path which it is purposed to consider.
A Christian Is Not Merely An Individual
Of course we each have our individual experiences and our several responsibilities, but if we are to understand the Christian's path we must see that the believer is not merely an individual. His responsibilities cannot cease there.
- The bonds that bind Christians together vitally should do so practically. We have relationships with other Christians which cannot be ignored. The Lord has placed us in collective relationships, and He holds us responsible to regard them.
It is our purpose to consider this side of the Christian's path, his collective experiences – his privileges and responsibilities.
- We cannot read our Bibles without noticing that Christianity necessitates what is collective. Several epistles refer to this side of our experiences.
In order to pursue our subject intelligently a further question has to be faced, namely:
- What is the church?
- How frequently the word church occurs!
- Have we understood what this expression really means?
The reader will probably know that the word translated church in the Authorised Version of the Bible really means a company of persons called out, and is far more accurately rendered assembly. It never means a building.
- The word translated "churches" in Acts 19: 37, should be "temples", or rather the expression is "temple plunderers". The word translated "assembly" in James 2: 2, should be rendered "synagogue".
What, Then, Is the Church or the Assembly?
In one view the church, or as we may more rightly say the assembly, includes all believers on the Lord Jesus from the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came – see Acts 2 – until the time when the Lord Himself shall come and take us all to be with Himself, 1 Thessalonians 4: 16.
- It is spoken of in that way, that is in its completeness, in Ephesians 1: 23 and 5: 25-27, but there are other views of the assembly.
We may also rightly speafs the assembly as existent and complete on earth at any moment, and thus comprising every believer on earth at any given time, that is to say, all who have received the Holy Spirit. The assembly is so presented in 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
- Hence the first epistle to the Corinthians is addressed to
- "The church" [or assembly] "of God which is at Corinth #8230; with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours":
- that is all those who profess to be the Lord's.
- The assembly is thus viewed in a universal way on earth and bound together with all who own the Lord. And, further, we learn that all such are called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, the assembly may be viewed locally, and as we have seen, the assembly at Corinth was thus addressed.
- It is important to recognize this aspect of the assembly, but it is equally necessary to approach our considerations of this view of the assfsembly, and take up our experiences in connection therewith, from the larger view and wider experience of what we are as one with all other believers on earth universally.
- The assembly is one universally, but God has seen fit that it should not be an organization governed by one central authority;
- His people are to be set together in the places where they live in local assemblies, not as independent companies, but, though separate, bound together in the sense of the living realities common to them all;
- every company be governed by the same principles and recognizing, both spiritually and practically, one fellowship.
This subject will come before us in more detail in a later chapter. It may suffice here to remind ourselves that what is universal is always to be kept before us.
- The house of God is a great spiritual reality, it is one universally, believers are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.
- There is "one new man"; there is "one body", since we have been baptized by one Spirit into one body; we have "one hope" of our calling.
- In the light of these great universal, or catholic, realities we are to take up our local experiences as set together in the places in which we live; not, however, as so many independent local companies,
- but as those regulated by the light Scripture affords regarding local assemblies and the administration connected therewith.
- If we kept this before us it would preserve us from local independency, what is termed congregationalism, and we should ever remember that our local setting is in no way an independent one, as one fellowship binds us all together.
Now let us further enquire:
What Is Fellowship?
Fellowship means partnership and every Christian has been called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- When we are converted and learn the love of Christ, and consequently love those who are His, as already remarked, we feel, by a kind of spiritual instinct, that we are linked with every believer.
- This is not only a spiritual instinct, however, but the result of a fact. We have all the same Lord –
- "to us there is but … one Lord",
- and 1 Corinthians 8, says: we have all the same Spirit – having been baptized by "one Spirit", and have all been called into one great partnership; for this is what fellowship really is.
In the early days of Christianity all Christians were bound together in this bond of fellowship, and were one in a very practical way. The unity of the assembly was an evident matter.
- "One Lord" as well as "one faith" bound believers together, and they were all professedly separate from the world, of which separation their "one baptism" so clearly spoke.
- In the course of time, however, the profession of the Lord's name did not necessarily mean that the one who made the profession was really converted, was really the Lord's.
- Christianity became popular; Emperors became Christians, anyhow professedly so.
- Not only did the little seed of mustard become a big tree, of which we read in Matthew 13, but evil gradually permeated the whole sphere of the Christian profession. The leaven of evil leavened the whole lump.
- If Christianity became popular in the world what might be expected? To follow the path of a rejected Jesus of Nazareth would not attract those of the world that had rejected Him.
- The assembly had to drop to the level of the world if it wished to become popular in the world. This is always the case with an individual or the assembly as a whole. Whenever a believer gets on with the world, we may be sure that he has dropped to the world's level in some way.
The Worldly Popularity of Christianity
Alas! The assembly, which should have maintained the place of a stranger here where Christ was crucified, became worldly, and to use the expression the Lord uses when addressing the assembly in Pergamos,
- the assembly dwelt where Satan's seat or throne is, as it should read; that is in the world, for Satan is the god of this world.
Hence the assembly ceased to be marked by the holiness and real separation from the world that at one time characterized it.
- Evil men had crept in, as the apostle had foretold, as we may read in Acts 20: 29, etc. All the later epistles speak of his departure from the faith.
The gross worldliness and departure from the truth which marked that which professed the name of Christ, caused many to take paths which seemed to them more in accord with what Scripture enjoined, setting up some kind of church order, as it is called, according to the measure of light they had.
- The idolatry and worldliness, and general departure from what the Scripture had taught grieved many godly souls. Whole sections of the professing church endeavored to reform that part over which their leaders had influence.
- Hence we hear today of Reformed Churches and we cannot be ignorant of the many different Sects named according to the particular tenets professed.
- We must remember that many of these movements were occasioned through the gross departure from the truth that marked the general body of those who professed Christianity; and were the outcome of sincere desire to do the will of God according to the light possessed.
- Yet the fact that the assembly in its outward form was, and is still, split up into hundreds of fragments is one that can only make us feel ashamed.
We must solemnly face these facts, dear reader. In our further remarks we are assuming that the reader recognizes that the assembly is no longer marked by the beauties it once possessed;
- that, indeed, it has failed, and in its outward form is in ruins! Broken up into hundreds of fragments, abounding in doctrinal evil, seeking after worldliness, the confusion may well humble us in the dust and fill us with shame.
- The blame is ours; there is no failure with the Lord. His constant and patient love still knocks at the door, from without, obviously, and seeks admission to any who love Him and will open the door.
- How truly faithful men of old felt the common failure and general departure from God on the part of Israel! See Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9.
This being the case it might be asked whether it is possible to tread a path of collective character. In other words, Is there such a path for the Christian today?
We could not for a moment suppose that the Lord would leave His own without a path to take in which they will be pleasing to Him.
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|3. THE WAY OUT OF CONFUSION|
IT is difficult to understand how any believer can read the New Testament scriptures believing them to be, as they are, inspired of God, and thus owning them as authoritative over his soul as to every question,
- and not see that the assembly as described in Scripture, and the professing body as seen publicly today are two very different things. The latter is a travesty of the former.
- Moreover, who could possibly maintain that the commands of the Lord regarding the assembly are obeyed today by that which professes His name?
- If it is assumed that we may set aside what the Lord has said and accommodate Scripture to our modern ideas, we may as well say so plainly. We are very little, if at all, different from infidels if we take up such an attitude.
- If we give up our Bibles, that is give them up as divinely inspired and thus as authoritative over our souls, we have no certain guide and no light, and we are left to the uncertainty of human tradition,which as the Lord said, makes the word of God of no effect.
- "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them", Isaiah 8: 20.
- I trust my readers bows to Scripture.
Is a Collective Path Possible?
Whatever failure has come in on our part, we must not give up the truth or any divine thought; nor must we suppose that the Lord can be baffled in securing His pleasure.
- All the failure was perfectly foreseen by Him before any breakdown occurred, and He has graciously made provision for these "last days", these "perilous times". Thanks be to His blessed name!
How, then, is it possible to tread a path that is collective in character, one proper to the whole assembly, when the assembly itself, as far as the outward or public profession is concerned, is in ruins?
The Lord has given us directions for days of difficulty. Last days and perilous times are spoken of in Paul's second epistle to Timothy. Other epistles also refer to such times as we may see: 2 Peter, John and Jude.
- In 2 Timothy we are told that there would be departure from the faith, and professing Christians are likened to a "great house" in which are vessels to honour and dishonour.
- If we are to be serviceable to the Master; if any one of us is to have the features proper to a vessel to honour, it is necessary to purge ourselves from the vessels to dishonour by separating ourselves from them.
- This is an individual act, and each of us should be very definitely concerned that we carry out the instructions given to us, for only thus can any one of us be sure of being "a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work".
If anyone names the name of the Lord he must depart from iniquity. As the prophet Isaiah says, he must
"Cease to Do Evil".
This command is to be obeyed; it is imperative.
We are not to suppose that the word "iniquity" necessarily means wickedness in the form of unrighteous dealings with our fellow men, immorality, or crime. Such things are iniquitous, obviously very iniquitous;
- but iniquity covers more than these characters of sin, which would violate any upright and intelligent conscience.
From Leviticus 5: 14-19 it is clear that it is possible to commit iniquity in "the holy things of the Lord". Moreover, such an iniquity might be committed in ignorance and inadvertently.
- This fact, however, did not nullify the trespass, as we may learn from verse 17: "though he wist it not, yet is he guilty and shall bear his iniquity … he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord".
Anything that is contrary to divine command is iniquity; and this particularly is the case when "the holy things of the Lord" are concerned.
- The setting up of a church order, or a kind of service, other than that which is according to divine commandment, is iniquity; that is, it is simply not right.
- The thing itself is wrong, however excellent the persons may be who carry it on, or however good their motives or intentions.
- To enumerate all that is thus iniquitous would not be possible nor desirable, as it would be attempting to give a formal code and prevent spiritual exercise.
- Merely to illustrate the meaning of the word iniquity in the holy things of the Lord, it may be helpful, however, to cite the case of David in his first attempt to bring up the ark from Kirjath-jearim, 1 Chronicles 13.
The sincerity of David's heart and his real devotedness to the Lord, no one could question, but he overlooked divine order, as we may learn from his own remarks in 1 Chronicles 15: 12-13.
- When he acted according to that order "God helped the Levites", verse 26.
- The devotedness and sincerity of David did not relieve him of the responsibility of recognizing divine order. God came in and made a breach upon those concerned.
A New Testament illustration may be taken from the first epistle to the Corinthians. The passage is cited purely for the sake of illustration.
- The commands of the Lord forbid that a woman should speak in the assembly, 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35. To violate that command, that "due order", is iniquity in the holy things of the Lord.
- Again, according to 1 Corinthians 14 there must be liberty in the assembly for all to prophesy, one by one, and at most two or three, on any one occasion. A religious system that forbids this liberty, or restricts it, is iniquitous; to do so is contrary to "due order", 1 Chronicles 13.
It need scarcely be said that the gross forms of infidelity such as are seen in so-called modernism; the setting aside of the authority of Scripture as divinely inspired, as well as the ignoring, by those who professedly own its authority, of the many injunctions contained therein, are all included in the word "iniquity".
There is all the difference been failing in practice, which we all do in some way or another, and knowingly going on with what is not right.
- If we fail we ought to confess our sin and forsake it. We thus sever ourselves from our failure and become morally cleansed from it, but to go on with what we know to be wrong and thus sanction it, is very serious.
- It is not uncommon to hear it remarked that you cannot find a perfect church; and folks go on with what they know to be wrong and try and make themselves comfortable in what is not right.*
* This is really the force of the word adikia – "iniquity".
- This is iniquity; it is "iniquity in the holy things of the Lord". May the Lord deliver us from it if we are guilty, and ever preserve us from every link therewith.
- We must depart from iniquity; and to depart from it is not merely to cease from committing iniquity oneself personally, but to depart from it wherever it is found.
- Personally, in the first instance of course, but we must also clear ourselves of it in all our associations.
If anyone is associated with what iniquitous it cannot be said that he has departed from iniquity; and injunction is plain:
- "Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity".
- Moreover, the scripture is clear that if anyone would make sure of being a "vessel unto honour sanctified and meet for the masters use" he must purge himself from vessels to dishonour.
The opportunity and privilege of being a vessel unto honour, and meet for the Masters use, must be very attractive to the heart of every one who loves the Lord!
- Does the reader desire to be such a vessel? Does he wished he sanctified and meet for the Masters use?
- Then let him follow the path so clearly marked out in this scripture; let them depart from iniquity and purge himself from vessels to dishonour.
- Association with evil defiles, and to remain associated with iniquity is a very serious matter. Scripture is very clear on this subject.
How many godly souls are sighing in their spirits and are deeply grieved in their hearts because of evil allowed in the religious systems with which they are connected.
- It is well, indeed, that they do sigh. The Lord hears every sigh, but our spiritual exercises are not complete if we only sigh. Has not the Lord told what to do? Most certainly He has. The question is, Are we willing to do what He tells us?
- The Lord appreciates our feeling what is contrary to His holy name; He values every sigh, but His word tells us what He desires us to do. We must depart from iniquity; we must sever our links of association with the evil by which we are rightly grieved;
- for if we are associated with evil we have obviously not departed from it.
- These are very solemn statements, but the instructions of 2 Timothy 2: 19-21 are clear.*
* The word for "purge" occurs here and in 1 Corinthians 5: 7.There it was to get rid of the "old leaven" out of the lump; here the one who names the name of the Lord has to "purge" himself from among the vessels. Literally, it is, "purifes himselfway from these". See New Translation by J. N. Darby..
- "If therefore one shall have purified himself from these" [i.e. the vessels to dishonour] "in separating himself from them, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work".
- Nothing could be plainer. As another has said,
- "we learn from 2 Timothy 2: 20 that those who have the character of 'gold and silver' vessels are responsible to maintain purity in their associations. This is essential in view of any kind of holy service.
A mixed condition of things, such as is found in 'a great house' where vessels to honour are found along with vessels to dishonour is not agreeable to the Lord.
Therefore everyone who names the name of the Lord is called upon to withdraw from iniquity, and to purify himself from vessels to dishonour in separating himself from them.
There are vessels to honour in the Christian profession, men who love the Lord and seek to honour him, but alas! they are to be found sometimes in association with those who are really vessels to dishonour.
To remain in such an association is really to imperil their own title to be regarded as vessels to honour, for it is of the one who has purified himself in separating himself from vessels to dishonour that it is said, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work".
But if, through grace, this path of separation is taken and righteousness, faith, love and peace are followed, and two or three are found together in such a path, it is possible for them to walk in a collective path and have collective experiences
- In walking in this path they are not beginning anything new, nor attempting to reform things. They are simply recognizing that the assembly is still here and that they form part of it, notwithstanding the public ruin.
- However separate in his pathway, the believer must still be prepared to accept the shame of the public ruin; he is part of it. Though separate in his conduct and associations, he is still part of that which bears the name Christian and would not wish it to be otherwise.
- In ceasing to continue with that which is marked by departure from the truth we may revert to the holiness that is proper to the assembly. We begin nothing new; we but leave what at one time or another (some time after Scripture days) was marked by departure; we return to what was from the beginning.
- We now have to "learn to do well". See Isaiah 1: 17. This is our business now. Our path outwardly is to be one of separation from all that is not according to the truth; in its moral features, it is a return to what is proper to the whole assembly. Could our love or our faith recognize anything less than this? No, indeed!
- Vitally the assembly is no different now from what it was at the beginning. There is still "one body"; the Holy Spirit is still here. Vitally, not publicly, there is no change. Hence publicly, or outwardly, a path of individual separation from all that is contrary to the name of the Lord is the only one for those who would be true to that name.
- Nevertheless, the moral conditions of the assembly – holiness, righteousness, faith, unity, peace – as well as the recognition of what is universal may still be maintained; and if they are, a path consistent with our place in the assembly and the privileges proper to it may be enjoyed.
What Is Proper to the Whole Assembly
Nothing less than what is proper to the whole assembly will satisfy either faith or love.
- Every departure from the truth must be abandoned; every moral condition or feature proper to the assembly must be cherished and the practice according thereto followed.
- Any who act thus would never assume to be the whole nor act in a public way as if they were; their path of separation declares that they are not the whole.
- Publicly they are but individuals who accept the shame of the whole, the public ruin, and who desire to be separate from all that is contrary to the features of the whole; and in faith they will seek to be marked by assembly features,
- yet without any assumption of being the whole, which they are not.
- How simple the path becomes, yet how testing to faith and love!
It is clear that only as the moral conditions proper to the whole assembly are recognized and maintained, can a path of proper to the whole be taken up;
- if they are absent, it is morally impossible, whatever may be assumed. Mere position counts for little in this day.
- He who would please the Lord must ask himself: Am I separate from iniquity personally and in my associations? Am I following righteousness, faith, love and peace in these lawless days? Am I following with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart?
- Am I with others who take such a path, content with nothing less than the moral conditions proper to the whole assembly? If so, with such if only two or three, we may together take a collective path and enjoy the collective privileges of the assembly.
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|4. "LORD, IF IT BE THOU" MATTHEW 14: 28|
IT may be well, at this point of our considerations, again to remind ourselves of our individual links with the Lord; we must ever move under His immediate direction and act as under His eye, He Himself being our commanding Object at all times.
- His commands are not to be carried out at a distance from Him, but as being consciously in His presence.
- Whether it be our path of separation from evil or following what is right, we must move as directed by the Lord Himself and under His immediate influence. We have constantly to inquire, Where is the Lord in this matter? How does it affect Him?
A remarkable illustration of this spiritual exercise may be seen in Exodus 32 and 33.
- During the absence of Moses from the camp of Israel, when he went up the mount to Jehovah, the children of Israel fell into idolatry. Jehovah told Moses to go down from the mount, for His people had corrupted themselves.
- On his return of Moses found the condition as God had described, idolatry and degradation marked them.
- Acting in holy instinct, he took the tent and pitched it outside the idolatrous camp, and called it the "Tabernacle of the congregation". We read:
- "And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp".
- Note, dear reader, everyone who sought the Lord did so. It was
A Movement of Heart to the Lord
that led one and another of the people to take that outside place. Each one had to act for himself if, and because, he sought the Lord. Idolatry and Jehovah could not go on together.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 13, we have the New Testament application of this scripture, an additional force being given to it by the meaning of the type of Leviticus 16.
- The sin offering on the day of atonement, when the blood had been taken into the holiest, had to be consumed with fire "without the camp".
– the gate of Jerusalem; and we are exhorted to go forth
- "Wherefore Jesus also", says the writer of the epistle, "that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate"
- "unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach".
- Christ Himself as the One to whom we go. His death determines our position; He Himself is our Object.
What Is the Camp Today?
The camp of Israel in the days of Exodus 32, and the camp of Judaism in the days of Hebrew 13,
- find find their equivalent in much in Christendom today, which is marked by practical, and in some instances actual, idolatry, as well as in the formality of present day religious systems.
- The appeal comes with fresh power to our hearts as we realize how largely so-called Christian worship, in current religious circles, has dropped back into Jewish customs and formality.
Our movement, however, is not merely a negative one, however incumbent on a believer is separation from evil; for it is never assumed that we go along with what is wrong.
- No; our movement is positive, and based on a personal attraction to Christ Himself. We are called to "go forth … unto him" – to Jesus, who suffered for us on the cross.
- How attractive and appealing such a path becomes! The answer to our question, Where is the Lord? settles the matter! He is outside; He died outside the camp, and His death claims that we should take our place there. We go forth to HIM!
- However painful to our hearts the breaking of many links of friendship and old associations may be, a greater affection, a deeper feeling, moves our hearts. It is to JESUS we go. Where is He? Where He is we must be!
The Path of Faith
Another illustration of this movement of faith is seen in Peter's action in leaving the boat and walking on the water to go to Jesus, as reported in Matthew 14.
This incident in Peter's life has especial force for, in his first epistle, he himself gives us its teaching.
- As walking on the water is beyond our powers physically, so to take the path of faith is quite beyond mere nature. It is impossible to nature. It is impossible without faith; but
- "without faith it is impossible to please" God.
To be in a boat on the water is a reasonable position. To use a boat recognizes that we cannot walk on the water, and a boat accommodates and provides for our weakness in that regard.
- To get out of a boat when on the water, and attempt to walk on the water is quite another matter. Nature would fail us us here. Yet it was this that Peter did.
- He saw the Lord walking on the water. He was in a position in which nature could not support anyone. Peter took the step, for he was attracted to the Lord.
- How strikingly this incident illustrates the path of faith today. The path of faith is always impossible to nature; is impossible to anything but faith.
What Did the Boat Signify?
The Lord's position on the mount in Matthew 14 is full of meaning. His rejection is told us in chapters 11 and 12; in chapter 13 the new phase that the kingdom of heaven would thereupon assume is explained; that is, the kingdom would be in mystery.
- In chapter 14 the Lord goes up a mountain to pray and is there alone, which prefigured the new place He would take in heaven while His own would be left here.
- He commanded His own to get into the ship and thus placed them in a position which answered figuratively to their spiritual circumstances as connected with an earthly religion, characterized by what was material and much that could be seen, suiting man "in the flesh".
- Judaism, the form at that time of what had once been set up by God under Mosaic law, had an earthly order of priesthood, material sacrifices and a material temple, and Jewish hopes were connected with an earthly inheritance. All this was suited to man as living here, and had no application to him beyond death.
The Lord's intention was to call His people out of this sight system of earthly religion, marked by what was material and visible, to Himself as risen from the dead, the centre of a system of faith, and to go forth to Him outside the camp bearing His reproach.
- In a future day He will return to His earthly people and again recognize their hopes of earthly blessing; the house of God then will be a building of a material kind and Israel will enjoy an earthly inheritance, being established in their land. This is figuratively set forth in Jesus' return to the ship, when those in the ship recognized Him as the Son of God.
Judaism has ceased to exist now; the Jews are a scattered people. What, therefore, resembles it nowadays? In other words
What Answers to the Boat Today?
Any humanly arranged religious system is virtually the boat.
- In the Christian profession there has been a return to Judaism; the many difficulties that present themselves to the human mind when spiritual matters are considered are sought to be solved by human arrangement, instead of recognizing the power and presence of the Holy Spirit on earth.
The possible danger of confusion would seem great to the natural mind if the liberty of ministry as ordered in the 14th chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians were allowed.
- The thought arises, If we had one person to do it all, and an educated, capable person, this difficulty might be overcome.
- As the Jews had a separate class – Levites – let us have ministers to do this work. Such an arrangement suits our weakness. It is virtually Judaism; it is the principle of the boat; to leave the boat needs faith.
Again, the greater difficulty of conducting the service of praise, the worship of God, might well make nature hesitate!
- We might think that a formally appointed priesthood and a humanly arranged service would help us; and that education and some so-called ecclesiastical training based on the experience of ages, will provide for our weakness. This is a virtual return to Judaism.
- Nature is content with natural means. It likes a boat on the water; to leave the boat needs faith. So we might multiply illustrations.
- Nature likes what is customary and natural to look to. To go on the water in a boat is perfectly natural; to attempt to walk on the water, to have no boat, seems an absurdity!
While Peter and the other disciples were in the boat on the water, they saw the Lord walking on the water near them, and Peter was attracted to the Lord.
Where was the Lord? Will Peter's faith rise to the desire of his heart? It will.
Peter well knew he could not take such a path without the Lord's command to do so. He had an Object for his heart, and he waits for the command on which his faith may act.
- "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee", he says.
A Divine Object and A Divine Command
The Lord delights in our affection and our faith, and He did not disappoint either of these precious qualities in Peter's soul; He will not deny us similar joy.
- "And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus", Matthew 14: 29.
What the other disciples thought of his action we are not told. Very possibly they may have wondered whatever he would do next! Many an onlooker today wonders what one who is treading the path of faith will do next! Why leave the boat?
- But where is Jesus? If He is outside, affection must move to Him. We go forth to Jesus! If, indeed, it means bearing His reproach, as it does, we must go to Him. Peter had a divine Object; he receives the divine command, Come!
Has the reader had a similar experience? If so, may he in faith and courage take the path that Peter's action here so aptly illustrates. Only faith can sustain us; it is a path impossible to nature.
- Faith was not needed in the boat, but it was needed when Peter left it to walk on the water to go to Jesus. We have sometimes been so occupied with Peter's failure when he saw the wind boisterous and began to sink, that we may have overlooked the fact that Peter did actually walk on the water.
- "He walked on the water, to go to Jesus".
If Christ as our divine Object attracts us and faith enables us to take such a path, that same Object and the exercise of faith will alone sustain us in it.
- Christ must ever be our Object, and faith, which moves in obedience to His command, ever mark us.
To look at circumstances is not faith, and it was this that caused Peter to be begin to sink. If we look at circumstances we also shall fail.
- Peter was evidently near the Lord; having Christ as our Object and moving at His word will ever place us near Him. Peter's cry is speedily answered by the Lord. He now proves the divine support.
What an experience for Peter to walk on the water! Though, through looking at circumstances, he momentarily failed, his cry for help gave him to prove the sweet experience of the sustaining power of the hand of Jesus, and the gain of His word of admonition, yet of cheer.
* * * *
In his first epistle, Peter speaks of a spiritual movement which is illustrated by his own experience of leaving the boat and walking on the water to go to the Jesus, and of his further experience as recorded in Matthew 16 when Jesus gives in the name of Peter, 'a stone'.
1 Peter 1 tells us of our redemption by the precious blood of Christ. We have heard and believed the gospel, and it has been used of God to our souls so that we have been born again by the incorruptible word of God, which was preached to us
- It is not always recognized that the Lord has been, and is still, rejected here; He is "disallowed indeed of men".
- In chapter 2 we are exhorted to lay aside all that would hinder us in our spiritual path and to desire earnestly the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby (or, as the passage may more correctly read, grow up to salvation). We are assumed to have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and now a new move of soul is contemplated.
Coming to Christ the Living Stone
We are exhorted to come to Christ, not now as to a Saviour, our Redeemer, but to that same blessed Person as disallowed by man, as rejected here.
- Though disallowed by man He is chosen of God and precious. He is the Living Stone, the foundation of a spiritual house and a spiritual system in which the service of praise to God is maintained.
It is in coming to Christ thus we are built up a spiritual house and are constituted a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Him.
- It suffices for our present purpose to remark that it is a movement to Christ Himself that leads to all the blessed experiences enjoyed in the holy service of the praise to God.
Christ Always Our Object
Our hearts must ever have an object. Though divine principles must be regarded and acted upon, it is our link with Christ personally and having Him as our Object in all our movements that gives power and happiness to the path.
- Christ is our Object and must ever be. May our affection for Him, and faith in His word govern our hearts at all times.
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|5. THE BELIEVER'S HOUSEHOLD|
BEFORE further consideration of the collective experiences of the believer it will be well to notice what Scripture says about his household responsibilities and privileges.
- The Christian's household and how it is to be held for the Lord, and the believer's own behaviour in it, cannot be severed from his path; indeed, it has an important place in Christian life. One of the efforts of the enemy is to rob us of this part of our inheritance.
- Family life plays an important part in God's ways of blessing for man, and of His testimony here.
Old Testament Instances
God commanded Noah to come with all his house into the ark, and the Holy Spirit's comment on his action, in Hebrews 11, where we are told that he built and ark for the saving of his house,
- shows how closely a man's household is linked with himself and how greatly God appreciates faithfulness in connection therewith.
Jehovah's recognition of Abraham that he would "command his children and his household after him" makes it evident that God values the exercise of such authority and influence.
- Indeed, from Genesis 18: 19, it appears that this influence over his household was necessary in order that God might bless them as He had promised.
The commendation of the action of Moses'parents in esteeming their child "fair to God", Acts 7: 20, margin, and in acting in faith in regard to him may well encourage parents in this day to act similarly.
- The seriousness with which God regarded Moses' neglect to circumcised his son proves equally that God holds us responsible regarding our children.
Eli is a very sad instance of neglect in this respect, 1 Samuel 3: 13. The judgment of God was pronounced not only because Eli's two sons made themselves vile, but because "he restrained them not".
The subtle suggestion of Pharaoh to have the children in Egypt while the men went to serve Jehovah, was promptly and absolutely refused by Moses.
- "We will go with our young and with our old" was his reply.
New Testament Days
Nor do we find it otherwise in New Testament days. If one would desire to exercise oversight in the assembly, his household must be in order, for,
- "if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" 1 Timothy 3: 5.
The faith of Noah, of Moses' parents, of Moses himself, and of Hannah, who devoted her child to the Lord, finds its New Testament parallel in Lydia, and the Philippian jailor.
- The household of Stephanas speaks of the like faith bearing its happy fruits, 1 Corinthians 1: 16, and 16: 15.
The solemn charge given to parents, both in the epistle to the Colossians, and that to the Ephesians to care for their children rightly, not discouraging but bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, impresses the heart with the fact that
- God regards our household life as most important, as an integral part of Christian life.
The Meaning of Baptism
In this connection it is important that we recognize the place baptism has in the Christian household.
- Let it at once be stated that the so-called infant baptism with this oft-accompanying error of baptismal regeneration has nothing whatever to do with the baptism of the believer's household.
- The one is as false as the other is true, according to the teaching of Scripture. Never let us confuse the two.
- It is true that children in the Christian household should be baptized, but that is because they are of the household, not because they are infants.
- Let it also be stated that the connecting of the baptism of a child in a Christian household with any thought of regeneration, indeed, with the idea of any change in the state of the child, is entirely unscriptural and would be a fatal error.
- The baptism of the believer's household is quite a different matter. Let us then briefly consider this interesting question.
Before noting the way baptism applies to the believer's household, we must ascertain the significance and bearing of baptism itself.
Baptism is a figure of death and burial, and we are baptized unto Christ's death.
- Moreover, it is not in itself an evidence that blessings have been received by the person baptized, but is viewed rather as a doorway into a position where blessings are enjoyed.
- Nor is baptism connected with the idea of state or condition, either as already existing in the person before baptism, or produced by it.
- Baptism relates to our position, our place here where Jesus died.
By baptizing a person we profess to place him under the rule of the Lord Jesus. We baptize him "in the name of the Lord" or "to the name of the Lord Jesus", Acts 10: 48; 19: 5 (see New Translation by J. N. Darby);
- and by accepting baptism he takes up this position which is that of Christian profession.
- Hence the formula of Christian baptism is not only to the name of the Lord Jesus, but also to, or in, the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28: 19.
The death of Christ is the great dividing line between the world and those who own the Lord.
- Baptism signifies this, and in being baptized we profess to pass by the way of the death of Christ out from the world in our interests, and as a controlling factor in our lives and to come under the rule of the Lord.
- In baptism we are, so to speak, buried with Him and a newness of life under the rule of the Lord is henceforth to be ours. This has come before us in a previous chapter.
Some Instances of Baptism
A remarkable statement is found in Acts 22 regarding Saul. Ananias says to him
- "arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord".
- Clearly the washing away of sins here is not the question of purgation, of atonement or the like. The blood of Christ alone avails to wash away in that regard, and baptism could never put one sin away atoningly.
This Scripture refers to a change of position of which, indeed, baptism always speaks.
- Up to that moment Saul had been linked with his sins and all that he had been as a sinner. Accepting baptism and calling on the name of the Lord, he availed himself of the way out from that position.
- He severed himself from his past, his sins an all else, by putting the death of Christ between himself and all that he had done and had bdeen.
Acts 2 gives another case. In answer to the inquiry,
- Peter tells those who were pricked in their hearts, to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was with a view to receiving these blessings that they were baptized, not because they had received them.
- Peter says "Save yourselves from this untoward generation",
- and those who received his word were baptized. That is, they accepted Christ's death, of which baptism speaks, as their only way of escape.
- They "saved" themselves in severing their links, by placing Christ's death between themselves and the world, the untoward generation that had crucified Christ.
In Acts 8, all those who had believed had been baptized, they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and laid their hands on them.
- God ordered it thus that those in Jerusalem should recognize His work in Samaria, and that the Samaritans should not be independent of those who believed in Jerusalem.
Acts 10 supplies another instance. In this case the Holy Spirit fell on those in Cornelius' house before there were baptized. God has acted to confirm Peter's faith in this remarkable step of receiving the Gentiles.
- Baptism altered their position. Seeing God had received them and showed this by giving him the Holy Spirit, Peter could not do otherwise.
Yet one another instance of baptism is given to us in Acts 19. In this case the disciple spoken of had been baptized with John's baptism.
- This scripture enables us to distinguish between this and Christian baptism. After hearing the gospel of their salvation, Ephesians 1: 13, these Ephesian believers were baptized to the name of the Lord Jesus.
- Until then they were not on Christian ground, nor had they receive the Holy Spirit. They were not baptized because they were Christians, but they became so professedly by being baptized. After they were baptized they received the Holy Spirit.
Baptism in Christianity is not precisely a question of fulfilling all righteousness, as the Lord said when He was baptized with John's baptism, nor is it exactly a question of obedience.
- Obedience to an ordinance is scarcely suitable to the Christian dispensation.
- Baptism is a matter of privilege, see Acts 8: 36, and 10: 47, an opportunity of passing through a door out from the world and thereby professedly coming under the rule of the Lord.
- This of course means subjection the Him and involves obedience. In baptism we enter the sphere of Christian profession.
The cases of Acts 8 and 10 were abnormal for special reasons; those of Acts 2 and 19 were more normal.
Baptism of Households
In Acts 16 we read of Lydia's conversion and of her household being baptized. The Lord opened her heart, we read, and she attended to what Paul said, but she and her household were baptized.
- Lydia says "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house".
- She placed her whole house in a new position and she was faithful in doing so. Her actions made a clean place, so to speak, with which the testimony, represented in these two servants, could be identified.
- Nothing is said in the scripture as to who composed the household, nor whether they believed. We are told that the Lord opened Lydia's heart, that she believed and that she was faithful, but that she and her household were baptized.
- So if any one were to act similarly today, we could not say that he was faithful. It is assumed by some that her household must have believed, but this is going beyond Scripture; it is "transgressing" to do so. We must leave Scripture as it is. (See 2 John 9.)
The Philippian jailor's case is very clear. He asked how he could be saved. Paul's reply was that if he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ he and his house should be saved.
That the word of the Lord was spoken to all his house in no way affects the matter, but affords a happy example for us all to follow.
- As an Israelite's child, who might have been an infant when the Passover lamb was slain for him, had to be taught its import and meaning as he grew up, so the children of a believing parent are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7: 14, implies the suitability of children of a believing parent being brought positionally into the realm where the Lord's authority is owned.
- In Israel's day a mixed marriage involved the children in defilement. See Deuteronomy 23:1-8.
- In Christianity the believing husband or wife has a sanctifying effect upon the unbelieving partner, and the children are said to be "holy". It is not that they are no longer sinners, but they are such that are not excluded from the congregation. Christ has come to save them, Matthew 18: 10-14. It is not the will of the Father that one of them should perish.
- Children of believers are directly addressed in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians as children. They are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, under whose rule they are professedly placed through baptism.
Noah only is spoken of as righteous in Genesis 7: 1, but he is told to come with all his house into the ark. By faith he had built the ark for the saving of his house. Hebrews 11.
- He thus was saved by water, "The like figure" we are told in 1 Peter 3: 20, 21, "whereunto even baptism doth also now save us".
As Israel came out of Egypt with their old and their young and "all" were baptized to Moses, 1 Corinthians 10,
- so the Christian is privileged to bring all he has out from the world and under the Lord through baptism, thus placing the death of Christ between the world and himself with his household.
The Dedication of Children to the Lord
Every Christian parent would, surely, desire to dedicate his children to God.
- To bring to God a child who is in itself sinful without the recognition of the death of Christ, of which baptism is the symbol, would be to bring unjudged flesh to God – a very serious thing.
In baptizing our children we recognize that they are sinful, but we also own, and thankfully own, that the death of Christ is the only way by which we can bring them to God.
- As we have already seen, baptism does not suppose or imply an effect produced in the person by his being baptized, nor does it imply that blessing has been received before being baptized.
- It implies a change of position; it relates to our place here where Jesus died.
When Hannah brought Samuel to the Lord she also brought that which spoke of Christ and His death,
- and a believer rightly recognizes in baptism a symbol of Christ's death through which alone he can bring his child to God.
God would never see the household of a saint divided. He would have us all come out of the world. How could we leave our children there?
- The children of a Christian household cannot be regarded, or spoken of, as if they were in the world. Though, like Samuel, they may not yet personally know the Lord, yet they are in a position of salvation.
Many practical reflections flow from this consideration.
- Are we faithful to the Lord? Have we recognized His claims over all we have? Have we availed ourselves of the privilege of devoting our children to the Lord and owning that His death is the only way to present them to God?
- If such be the case, what need there is for watchful care in the training of our children. Have we accepted our responsibility to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
What a place of salvation the Christian household is! It is an immense mercy to a child to have its course ordered as under the Lord.
- When brought to know the Lord, he or she continues the course in a vital away, thus confirming the act of the parent. The course is now continued vitally; for God alone gives life.
- We must keep the question of baptism distinct from the question of life. Baptism refers to position; life obviously to condition before God.
What a sphere of education for the parents also is the Christian household!
- How many a lesson is to be learnt here if we are to occupy our place rightly in God's assembly, and endeavor in any way to "take care" of it.
- How many disputes have to be settled among the little ones! What watchfulness lest the world or worldliness is sanctioned in our houses! What prayer and waiting on God as to everything!
Though the assembly as a public vessel of testimony has broken down, the Christian household still remains. May we guard it jealously! The enemy is against it; it is part of our inheritance.
- Every household should be an asset to God's assembly and a bulwark against the infidelity of the day. What holy sanction and encouragement all this is in the case of a Christian marriage! May the Lord give us all to be faithful and devoted, holding our household of everything else for Him.
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|6. PRINCIPLES RELATING TO FELLOWSHIP|
IN a path of a collective character pleasing to the Lord is to be taken by us, not only must the moral features consistent therewith be maintained – such as: righteousness, holiness, faith and love –
- but the principles governing such a path must also be recognized by us and carried out in practice.
- It will be profitable, therefore, to consider some of these principles and note their practical application.
No believer has a right to regard himself purely as an individual.
- As we have seen, he has been called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord;
- and if we seek to walk in the path pleasing to the Lord, the Christian's path, it is imperative that we regard our relations one with another.
- We have been called into the great partnership of Christian fellowship.
The principles, therefore, to which we shall first refer are those which govern
From 1 Corinthians 1: 9 it is clear that all believers are called to the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Hence in 1 Corinthians 1: 2 the epistle is addressed not only to the assembly which is at Corinth, but to
- "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord both theirs and ours".
- Whether all have responded to that call and answered to the responsibilities of the fellowship is another matter, but from the passage quoted is evident that all believers are called to it.
The fellowship being that of God' Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Lord Himself is the bond of our fellowship. To us, Christians, there is one Lord. We must be true to His name. This is a matter of immense practical importance.
- In an earlier chapter we considered the necessity of confessing Christ as our Lord and of owning His authority over us in every department of our lives.
- If the reader knows of anything in his own life, his personal conduct, habits, etc., business or domestic, which does not please the Lord, let him judge himself, for until he does so it is useless, indeed damaging, for him to attempt to take up the question we are about to consider.
- To discuss church questions when we know there is something in our lives individually which is not pleasing to the Lord, is damaging to a degree. If we are to speak about "our Lord", and His will for us, each of us must recognize Him as Lord, and do His will in our personal lives individually.
- We cannot be right collectively, unless we are right individually; but in addition to our individual history with the Lord, we have a collective responsibility as forming part of the assembly which He loved and for which He gave Himself. It is to this side of our spiritual exercises, obviously, that are inquiry applies.
To Us There is One Lord
It is very evident that anyone whose life is moulded on the principles inculcated by the word of God, of obeying the Lord Jesus, will find little real companionship with those whose life is fashioned according to the world;
- the whole principle of life is different and practically there will be little or nothing in common.
- The believer, however, is by no means to lead a life of isolation. He may find himself very isolated from the mere worldling, from worldly-minded Christians also. They may separate him from their company; he may be despised and rejected, as was his Master before him.
- But although isolated as to the world, the believer can say, as the Psalmist did,
- "I am a companion of all them that fear thee", Psalm 119: 63.
- It is here that fellowship comes in.
There is no part between him that believeth and an unbeliever; but there is a very great deal in common and a very real and vital bond between all believers,
- and if our lives are what they should be in practice, we shall find real companionship in those that do the will of God.
- The One we obey is the One they obey; and obedience to that one Lord will blend our lives together. Not only does each individual believer know Jesus as Lord, but as together in the same path of obedience to His will we can say, Jesus Christ our Lord.
- "To us there is … one Lord, Jesus Christ", 1 Corinthians 8: 6.
- The fact of every believer owning the same the Lord establishes a bond between them. We are called into the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We must be true to this bond and this fellowship.
- Fellowship is only practically realized as we recognize in our conduct and in our associations what is in keeping with the Lord's name.
Hence, before fellowship becomes realizable the believer must be true to the name of the Lord not only in his personal conduct, but in all his associations.
- It is important to see that we may be defiled by associations as well as by actual conduct. Numbers 19: 22, makes this very clear:
- This same principle of defilement by association is seen in the New Testament. See Galatians 5: 9, 1 Corinthians 5: 6, 7, 2 John 10, 11.
If the believer's personal conduct is inconsistent with the name of the Lord, who is the Holy and the True – he is by that very fact morally, or spiritually, unclean.
- It is not always seen, however, that if others associate with such a one, that is to say, if he "touches" them, or they "touch" him, they also become unclean.
- Further, if a believer, whose personal conduct may be otherwise consistent, identifies himself with those who are associated with the unclean person, he also becomes unclean. We may have opportunity again to refer to this important matter.
Each of us is to own the Lord and be consistent with His name in every sphere of our lives. If we own Him thus, fellowship ceases to be a mere term, and becomes a practical reality.
- Clearly, if things are otherwise, and every man does what is right in his own eyes, fellowship is impossible. One Lord is to control us all.
- What is consistent with His name is to be recognized by each of us. So only can the expression, "to us there is … one Lord", have vital meaning.
The Communion of the Blood of Christ
Christian fellowship is also the fellowship of Christ's death, the communion of the blood of Christ, of which the Lord's Supper is the repeated expression,
- and to which we commit ourselves by partaking of the Supper, by drinking of that one cup.
As an Israelite who ate of the sacrifices was professedly in communion with the altar of Jehovah, so a believer who partakes of the Lord's Supper avows his communion, or fellowship, with the death of Christ.
- Nothing inconsistent with the death of Christ can ever be allowed.
- Christ in His death has become our altar – the basis of fellowship for all believers – at once severing us from Judaism, or that which answers to it today; that is, any system of worship of a material or formal kind, and from idolatry, whether in its past or present-day forms.
- How really exclusive Christian fellowship is! The more we consider the communion of the death of Christ, the more we shall see how necessarily it shuts out all that is of the world, religious or profane.
We may well speak of the cup as the "cup of blessing which we bless", but we must remember equally that it is the communion of the blood of Christ.
- If we are partakers of the benefit secured by the death of Christ, we must be true to that which that death witnesses and to which we are committed.
- The death of Christ forbids any link with the world. We saw this to be so when considering the question of baptism. It is again forced upon our attention as we partake of the Lord's Supper.
- He who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God. To be one with the world would be virtually to deny the death of Christ of which "the blood of Christ" is the witness.
- The cup of blessing is the communion of the blood of Christ. How great the blessing secured thereby! How great the love expressed therein! It was a love that gave up all for us so that endless and measureless blessing might be ours. We are sharers together in that cup of blessing; we must together, as one, refuse the world.
- Any worldliness would provoke the Lord to jealousy. His love is so great He can have no rival, no idol in our hearts. We must not allow another to share our hearts with Christ. To do this after committing ourselves to such a bond of fellowship, would provoke Him to jealousy, and we should find ourselves typically speaking, under the "curse" referred to in Numbers 5.
- There is a suggestion of this type in 1 Corinthians 10: 22 and 16: 22. Worldliness among God's people is very serious.
The world has a religious form as well as a profane one.
- Judaism has its present-day features in much that is current in the professed circles of Christianity.
- "Sodom and Egypt" are typical of the profane world; "where also our Lord was crucified", speaks of the religious world. See Revelation 11: 8.
- Worldliness is most seductive when it wears religious clothing.
- Idolatry is most deceptive when linked with a "feast to the Lord". See Exodus 32: 4, 5.
- May the Lord keep us clear of all such association, ever remembering that by taking the Lord's Supper we are professedly in "the communion of the blood of Christ".
The Communion of the Holy Spirit
"The communion of the Holy Spirit" is a remarkable expression; it is found in 2 Corinthians 13: 14. We have been baptized by one Spirit into one body. We may have occasion to develop this side of our subject a little later on.
- Here we may remark that since the Holy Spirit is the power of Christian fellowship, anything of the world or the flesh, anything in the way of mere human arrangements in the assembly of God, or the maintenance of merely social links one with another, must necessarily greatly hinder the fellowship.
- It need scarcely be remarked that the setting aside practically of the liberty of the Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 by the appointment of a minister, or any attempt to arrange the service or worship of God, must greatly grieve the Holy Spirit and thus hinder fellowship and prevent what is normal to our collective experiences.
- Moreover, in the measure in which we recognize in our assembly life, friendships on the basis of what is merely natural, links of social kind, etc., in that measure fellowship is hindered, yea, is impossible.
Our links as Christians are not in the flesh or according to what we are naturally, socially, nationally or racially, but according to what we are "in (the) Spirit".
- Here we have a power, the Holy Spirit, that binds us all together, that gives us spiritual tastes in common one with another, spiritual sensibilities and perception.
- And in the measure in which we recognize what is of the Spirit in a practical way, we shall prove what is "the communion of the Holy Spirit".
Many practical considerations flow from these facts. May we not each ask himself the questions: Am I minding the things of the Spirit? Am I walking in the Spirit?
Now it is obvious that the character of Christian fellowship being such, it must of necessity be universal in its bearing.
The Universal character of Christian fellowship
The universal character of fellowship is a fact of wide and practical bearing. Whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, America or Australasia, the fellowship is one, and wherever we are we must be true to it.
- Conduct suitable to it in one place, is suitable to it in any other place; and what is unsuitable to it in one place is unsuitable to it in any other.
- Locality can make no difference in a matter of this time, for the considerations are moral and therefore universal in their application. Let us ever remember this fact.
Moreover, the same principle has its application to persons. If anyone is suitable for fellowship in one locality, he is obviously suitable for it in any other locality.
- Hence, in the early days of the assembly, letters of commendation were customary, which enabled a believer going from one place to another to be received suitably by those into whose district he might be going.*
- * 2 Corinthians 3: 1; Romans 16: 1; Acts 18: 27.
- Similarly, if the conduct or associations of anyone are such that he is rendered unfit for fellowship in one place, he is unfit for it in any other place.
- If we seek to be true to Christian fellowship, we must always and everywhere recognize this principle. How often it is, and has been, overlooked by believers. To do so is to deny the character of fellowship.
The principle applies equally to actions of a collective nature. If evil exist in one locality, unless dealt with according to God, those in any other locality acknowledging bonds of fellowship with those allowing such evil are identified therewith and are responsible as to the matter, as being involved in the evil by association.
- Any discipline that might be necessary as to dealing with evil, would have to be exercised in the locality in which it is, as they apostle shows in 1 Corinthians 5; but nevertheless, the acknowledgment of the bonds of fellowship carries with it all that fellowship implies, which is complete association, and, let us remember, association with evil defiles.
Moreover, fellowship being universal, nothing relating thereto can have a purely local character or effect.
- This fact entirely forbids anything in the nature of an independent or local fellowship.
- Hence in like manner this principle necessitates that the action of any one gathering walking consistently with Christian fellowship, involves every other gathering acknowledging the bonds of fellowship therewith; and similarly, if a gathering refuse to judge evil in their midst, this involves in its guilt those in fellowship with it.
- No action can be purely local in its character or effect.
We would ask the thoughtful reader to consider how seriously these principles have been overlooked or ignored by many Christians, however unwittingly.
- It is not uncommon to find believers meeting together in a place to take the Lord's Supper and maintaining that their fellowship is purely local, that they are an independent local company of Christians.
- This is, in practice, to deny the very fellowship professedly expressed in their assumed action of taking the Supper.
- The Supper cannot rightly be taken apart from recognizing the fact of "one body" being here on earth, and nothing is clearer than the apostle's words in the first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 10: 17:
- "For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread".
- This "we" is what may be termed the Christian "we", that is to say it embraces the universal "one body" of all the believers, the one fellowship of which is normally expressed in taking the Lord's Supper.
- To attempt to take the Lord's Supper and at the same time profess to be an independent local company, is to deny the first principle of Christian fellowship; for Christian fellowship is universal.
- It may be replied however, But we are in fellowship with all Christians! Yet this, surely, cannot really be meant.
- Do such me to say that they are in fellowship with every professing Christian whatever his conduct or associations, be he immoral or a blasphemer or in fellowship with such, or be he linked with some anti-Christian, or religious system, which they who so speak would denounce as wrong? If so, this is evil indeed!
- It is true that all Christians are called to Christian fellowship, the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and we should be true to this fellowship, as we have already seen. But are all Christians true to it? If not we cannot say we are in fellowship with them.
- Were the Corinthians in fellowship with the man whom they were told to remove from among themselves? Clearly not. They had to cut their links of fellowship and not even to eat with the incestuous person.
- No, dear reader, fellowship means partnership, and this involves identification, and for any to be identified with evil means they are evil too.
Now that the assembly, so far as its outward profession is concerned, is in confusion and all manner of evil exists in the sphere of Christian profession, it becomes increasingly necessary to adhere to divine principles.
- If we are to take a path of a collective character, the Christian's path in days of difficulty, we must recognize the principles governing Christian fellowship.
- If we would depart from iniquity and follow righteousness, as we are instructed to do in 2 Timothy 2, we must follow what is right. May the Lord help us all to do so for His name's sake.
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IN considering the subject before us, namely the Christian's path in days of difficulty, we must constantly remind ourselves that, as believers on our Lord Jesus, we are not merely so many individuals.
- However separate from evil and from evil associations we each must be individually, since we have received the Holy Spirit, we are vitally linked with all believers on earth; we all have been baptized by one Spirit into one body; 1 Corinthians 12: 13.
- Therefore in addition to the principle already considered as governing Christian fellowship, we must also consider the principles governing the assembly as "one body".
The fact of the assembly being one body has both a local and a universal application. Though local assemblies are recognized, Scripture makes it abundantly plain that the assembly is one universally.
- Those who composed local assemblies as having been baptized with all other believers by "one Spirit", made but "one body";
- though the local assembly was to have the character of Christ's body as we may see farther on.
Whatever breakdown may have taken place in the public profession of Christianity, the assembly of God, as already remarked, has in no way ceased or changed in its vital existence and character.
- The apostle addresses Christians thus in the 1 Corinthians 1. Let the reader pay attention to this epistle.
- The manner of address shows that although the epistle was written to the particular assembly in Corinth, its bearing was universal. Hence we find such expressions as,
- "so ordain I in all churches", 1 Corinthians 7: 17.
- "We have no such custom, neither the churches of God", chapter 11: 16,
- and again, "as in all churches of the saints", chapter 14: 33, etc.
Moreover, the manner in which the apostle addressed the assembly in Corinth also shows it was identified, or associated, with "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord", who, indeed, was Lord both of them and to all other believers; for to us, Christians, there is but "one Lord".
The Body One Universally
Other Scriptures show equally that the assembly as "one body" is considered as one whole existing on earth at any given time. Ephesians 4: 4 tells us that there is
- "one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling".
- For there to be the hope of our calling, the "one body" must be here.
- Ephesians 4: 15-16, again speaks of the assembly as the "whole body" increasing and growing, Christ being the Head. To increase and grow the body must be here.
- Then again in Colossians 3: 15, we read that we are "called in one body".
- From the nature of the exhortations given in these passages it is clear that they could not possibly apply to us when we are in heaven; they refer to us here and speak of what has been brought about on earth.
Jew and Gentile have been formed into one body, which clearly refers to what has taken place on earth; and this is confirmed by the exhortations in Ephesians 4: 3-4, to maintain the unity of the Spirit, because
- "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling".
1 Corinthians 12: 13, however, very emphatically asserts this unity as existing on earth, having been brought about by all believers having been baptized by "one Spirit".
- The "we" of verse 13 is clearly a universal "we", and includes every believer on earth, since all have been baptized by "one Spirit".
- Whereas the "ye" of verse 27, refers to those in the Corinthian assembly.
- "Now ye are Christ's body, and members in particular".
- Let the reader carefully note this fact: the assembly is one body on earth at this present time, one body universally. Fellowship is one and the assembly is one, "one body".
Yet we must equally observe that local assemblies existed. We have seen this to be so in Corinth.
- Those who composed each local assembly were not only "one body" with all other believers on earth, as we have already seen, but the local assembly which they composed was to have the character of the whole;
- characteristically it was "Christ's body", as is seen from 1 Corinthians 12: 27. Notice the change of pronoun: verse 13, "we all" in verse 27 it is "ye".
The writer of this book of Acts refers to many such local assemblies as having been established by Barnabas and the apostle Paul, chapters 14: 23, and 16: 5, as well as those previously existing in Judea, chapter 9: 31.
- These local assemblies, however were not independent bodies, but were bound together by the common bond of Christian fellowship; and by the fact that all believers had been baptized by one Spirit into "one body"; hence, as remarked, the "we" of 1 Corinthians 12: 13, is undoubtedly a universal "we".
- The local assemblies were to have the features of the whole.
- "Now ye are Christ's body, and members in particular".
Is to be regretted that a great number of believers are allowing the idea of independent assemblies.
- It is difficult to conceive anything more contrary to the teaching of the epistles. We can scarcely imagine the apostle Paul, who insists most strongly on the unity of the assembly as one body on earth in his epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, establishing local assemblies and teaching them that they were independent.
- The assembly is not an aggregate of a number of independent bodies; it is not a confederation of a multitude of local assemblies; it is one whole, as Scripture most plainly asserts.
- "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling", Ephesians 4: 4.
However, it is necessary to see that the administration of the assembly is not carried out universally; that is to say, by any central body or authority governing the whole,
- but is carried out in the several localities, bearing in mind that their actions have a universal effect inasmuch as their bonds of fellowship are universal.
This being the case, it is necessary that we take up our places locally in the recognition of what we are as forming with all other Christians "one body" universally. In other words, we approach our local exercises from a universal standpoint.
- As already remarked, it was God's desire that the assembly should not be a universal organization governed by some metropolitan centre such as Jerusalem was, such as alas! Rome assumes to be.
- It was His will that though one universally, it should find characteristic local expression in whatever place believers might be.
- It was to be truly catholic, that is "universal", (for the word Catholic means universal) a vital organism, "one body" universally; yet to have administrative powers locally, which were to be exercised in the consideration of what was universal.
- Hence, as we have noted, the address at the beginning of the epistle to the Corinthians is not unto the church of God which is at Corinth with all that call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, but "with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord".
- That is to say, there was the definite recognition of locality in regard of believers as constituting the assembly in the place in which they lived; yet they were not independent, for they were all bound together in the bonds of one universal fellowship, and by the fact that all believers form but "one body" on earth.
The Lord has greatly helped many of His beloved people, not only to recognize that they are vitally linked with every believer on earth as forming with them one body,
- but to recognize equally their place locally, and to seek to carry out in their own locality principles which govern the assembly universally.
The Effect of Action of Assembly Character
From the foregoing remarks it is evident that the action of any one assembly in the early days of the Christian epoch would not have had a purely local bearing.
- If the command of the Lord was carried out in Corinth it would necessarily have to be regarded by all who in every place called on the name of that Lord.
- Moreover, the "body" being one universally, those who composed the local assembly were part of the one whole; therefore, their action in carrying out administration in their locality; that is to say, the action of the local assembly, affected the whole, and had a universal bearing.
The principle is of the utmost importance, but, it is to be feared, very much overlooked.
- If we would seek to walk in a path pleasing to the Lord in this day of difficulty, if we today seek to walk in the light that Scripture affords us regarding the assembly and to depart from all that is contrary to divine principles we must recognize, at least, that the assembly is one universally, "one body".
The action of any local gathering of such who so walk, therefore, cannot have only a local bearing.
- If today an individual is under discipline as an evildoer, and is so judged by those who act in their locality in the light that Scripture affords regarding the assembly, so that he cannot be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper with them, he cannot rightly be received anywhere else.
- For another gathering to receive him would be an act of independence and a denial of Christian fellowship and of the fact that the assembly is one universally. As another has said, If a person is to be received in one place when he is rejected in another, it is evident there is an end to unity and common action.
- The assembly being "one body" universally, and fellowship being universal also, the action of any one gathering of believers walking in the light that Scripture affords regarding the assembly and acting on divine principles, involves all others who are so walking in the bonds of fellowship.
Similarly, if a gathering refuses to judge evil in its midst, it involves in its guilt those in the bonds of fellowship with it.
- There is no warrant in Scripture for independent assemblies or purely local fellowship. The assembly is one universally.
It may be added here that owning these great spiritual realities and principles, would lead us to recognize that a believer is local in the place where he resides.
- Hence if anyone were under discipline by an assembly and were, while in that state, to move into another locality, if or when the Lord graciously brings about recovery, his case would have to be dealt with by saints in the gathering in the locality in which he is at the time of his recovery. If he is living in Corinth, so to speak, is local their assembly; if in Colosse, he is local there.
All administration, whether of discipline or recovery, must be carried out locally.
- These passages put this question beyond controversy. The person is recovered in the place where he resides at the time of recovery.
In dealing with such a case, the few who desire to act according to principles proper to the assembly, would rightly get all the help they could come from those who had to deal with the person when the discipline was exercised;
- they would in the Lord's name call upon any one anywhere to give evidence to them; but clearly those in the locality where the person resides would have the responsibility of handling the matter, and the Lord would support them in the discharge of their responsibility.
- It is well that this fact should ever be remembered. The present state of a person is only known in the place where he lives; and the Lord supports those in that place in discerning matters, for it is their responsibility.
Letters of Commendation
Another subject, closely connected with what we have been considering, is that of "Letters of Commendation".
From 2 Corinthians 3; Acts 18: 27; and Romans 16: 1, it is evident that such letters were customary in the early days of the assembly;
- and if we desire to act according to the principles of fellowship we must not overlook the necessity of such letters now.
- Indeed, the very state of the assembly at the present time makes them the more necessary. Fellowship can only be maintained in righteousness and holiness as we faithfully discharge our responsibilities in this matter.
Those who are well known, obviously do not need such letters, as we may learn from 2 Corinthians 3: 1; the apostle saying "as some others" shows that those others did need them. As we have seen, such letters were customary.
- It is important that those who give those letters should faithfully commend the person concerned, avoiding anything like flattery, yet commending what rightly should be commended.
- At times it might be the case that very little could be said other than that person was walking in the bonds of fellowship with those who commend him. Very humbling that it should ever be so. In every circumstance faithfulness demands that letters of this kind should be true.
- Indeed, unhappy circumstances might exist in which commendation is impossible. If such should be the case when a person has to leave one locality for another permanently, special spiritual exercise is called forth.
- If the believer's locality is being changed, possibly through providential ordering, then, in order rightly to maintain fellowship a notification of this fact should be given either orally or by letter, describing the spiritual condition of the one concerned, so that those in the locality to which he is going may exercise proper spiritual care over him.
- The functions of the "one body", the members having the same care one for another, etc., are worked out locally, though always recognizing their universal bearing.
- Local responsibility is a matter of immense importance; the Lord will not overlook His rights in this respect, and we must ever recognize them. We cannot count upon divine support unless we recognize divine principles.
Doctrine Must Govern Practice
There is no doubt that much of what is written in the foregoing pages is recognized by many believers as correct doctrine.
- It is contended, however, that as the true church or assembly of God is virtually submerged in the mass of profession, it is impossible to act on such principles.
- But, we may ask, are we to suppose that because the enemy has succeeded in corrupting what is external, we are no longer to act upon and enjoy what is vital and real? Is there no longer "one body" and one Spirit?
- If so, we must give up everything that is collective on the ground that we are only, and purely, individuals. Is such the case? Indeed no!
- There is still one body, and, moreover, if we assume to take the Lord's Supper, by that very fact we affirm we are one body, and only as one body can we take it; for Scripture says,
- "we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread", 1 Corinthians 10: 17.
No, dear reader, we must either admit that there is no longer one body and one Spirit, which it would be impossible to do in the face of 1 Corinthians 12: 13 and Ephesians 4;
- or, whatever the failure, we must seek grace to walk according to the truth.
Let it be observed that the fact of believers being "one body", necessitates something in addition to having brotherly relations with each other.
- The epistle already cited, 1 Corinthians, is not addressed to the brethren in Corinth, but to the assembly of God in that city.
- The believers composing the assembly were brethren of course, as is often seen in the epistle; but to be the assembly of God is a further thing and one that must have its corresponding spiritual exercises.
The fact of believers being the assembly of God and thus "one body", is meant to have a most practical effect on all our ways, and especially in regard of what we are collectively, both as moving in fellowship and as acting in assembly character. May the Lord help us to do His will in this matter as in everything.
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|8. THE HOLINESS OF THE HOUSE OF GOD|
TWO facts which have an important bearing on the principles that govern the path of the Christian in days of difficulty, have been before us, namely, the universal character of Christian fellowship and the unity of the assembly on earth as "one body".
- We must now refer to a third fact which involves an abiding principle, namely, the holiness of the house of God
- "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever", Psalm 93.
Whether it be the first mention of God's house in Genesis 28, or later on in Genesis 35; whether it be the tabernacle or the temple; whether it be in Solomons's day, in Uzziah's reign or in the time of the restoration from Babylon;
- holiness is always the character of God's house.
- Nor could it be otherwise in New Testament days.
- "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and … the temple of God is holy", says the apostle in 1 Corinthians 3;
- so again, "In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord".
- So also in the book of Revelation, where the idea of the holy city and the temple seem to blend. Nothing that defiles can enter. The wall is great and high.
It is scarcely necessary to say more to prove this, for every divinely given sensibility of our hearts confirms what Scripture so plainly says. The thrice holy God must a have holy dwelling.
- If He be the glory in the midst of His city or people, He is equally a wall of fire around about them. Zechariah 2: 5.
It is the fact of the holiness of God's dwelling that makes discipline, in the way of dealing with evil, a necessity. The words to Joshua are clear,
Israel had sinned, for one Israelite had taken of Jericho's accursed things.
- "neither will I be with you anymore, except ye destroy the accursed from among you", Joshua 7: 12.
The instruction to Israel in Numbers 5 to put out of the camp every leper, etc., the care with which each case was to be investigated, Leviticus 13;
- the responsibility that rests upon all Israel to stone with stones such as should be so dealt with, Numbers 15; their common responsibility even if they heard of departure from God in cities afar off from their gates;
- all these facts show how imperative was the command to deal with evil and the responsibility that rested upon all Israel to do so.
The passage in Deuteronomy 13 is especially instructive in this regard. If an Israelite "hear say" that in any one of his cities evil had been done,
- he could not shut his ears and say: that is not my matter, the evil is not in my city. This uncertain report is concerning a far distant place; it has nothing to do with me.
- No, he, as each other Israelite, was responsible. He had heard say. He had to inquire, to make search, to ask the diligently; for Israel was one whole; Israel might have sinned.
Is our responsibility less today? Is the unity of the church, which is "one body", less than that of Israel? Is it to be less holy? Are our responsibilities less than theirs?
- Such questions claim but one reply. No, indeed: quite the reverse. What more holy than the dwelling place of God, "an habitation of God through the Spirit"? What more really one than "one body"?
It was the solemn sense of this collective responsibility that the apostle Paul sought to press upon the conscience of the whole assembly in Corinth.
- Mark, dear reader, no few elders were addressed; the whole assembly was called to hear. Israel had sinned in Joshua's day, though Achan was the actual transgressor.
- The assembly in Corinth had sinned in the days of 1 Corinthians, though the incestuous man was the person guilty. The assembly as a whole was responsible to deal with evil.
- That such an action of the assembly in Corinth was to be recognized by those who called on the name of the Lord Jesus in every place, is plain from the way the epistle is addressed.
- The "within" and the "without" (1 Corinthians 5: 12) did not refer merely to the local assembly at Corinth, but to the assembly as a whole.
- The assembly in Corinth, where the evil-doer was, had to deal with evil; the holiness of God's house demanded it; they had to clear themselves of it and they did so. This action was universal in its effect, though locally carried out. Surely the Lord's command had to be recognized in every place by every assembly.
Defiling Character of Evil
Closely connected with the fact of the holiness of God's house and the need of dealing with evil, should it be present in the assembly, is the fact of the defiling character of evil snd the principles relating to defilement.
The command to put outside the camp every leper was given lest they should the defile the camp in the midst of which God dwelt, for defilement could spread.
Nor do we find the principle otherwise in New Testament days. Whether it be moral evil as at Corinth, or doctrinal evil as in the churches in Galatia, that
- "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump"
- was a principle the apostle pressed home to the conscience. See 1 Corinthians 5: 6; Galatians 5: 9.
- The Corinthians had to purge out the old leaven, that is to say they had to judge the evil, not only remove the offender; for the principle that "Israel hath sinned" applied to them.
- They were defiled; the whole assembly was leavened, for evil was in their midst unjudged. In judging the evil they became a new lump, as they were such as normally constituted.
- It is most important to remember this principle of defilement by association. The "elect lady" addressed in the second epistle of John is warned that she should not receive into her house one who brought not the doctrine, for he who biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds.
In this day of gross departure from the truth, how necessary for us to be careful about our associations.
- It is not uncommon to find a believer who may be visiting a locality where he is quite a stranger, who wishes to partake of the Lord's Supper with certain Christians who may be seeking to act on the principles of which we have been speaking, but to whom he is quite unknown.
- The stranger referred to, is surprised, and sometimes, apparently, quite hurt, because he is not permitted to do as he desires, since he confesses that he is a believer. He cannot understand that he is not accepted purely on his profession,
- but such an one can scarcely have regarded the holiness of God' house nor respected the conscience of those who desired to recognize it.
- Is it not first necessary to ascertain if a man who professes to be a believer is really walking consistently with his profession before allowing him to partake of the Supper? In the days of the Numbers 1, Israel's men who were to be numbered as men of war, had to declare their pedigree; in other words they had to show that they were really Israelites.
- Then again, is it not incumbent upon believers, and especially today when so much evil exists in the profession of Christianity, to ascertain that anyone desiring to walk with them, is separate from all that is inconsistent with the Lord's name?
- Let us use a simple illustration: Suppose a child from a neighbor's house, where, so you hear, some of the family have scarlet fever, comes to your front door and asks if he may be allowed to play with your children.
- You express surprise that the child should ask to do so, and you remark that you have heard that they have scarlet fever in their house. The little one persists that he has not scarlet fever. You rightly reply, But your brothers have; and you must not mix with my children until we know that you are clear of infection.
- And yet, when things divine are in question, the most appalling indifference as to associations seems to mark believers, who in many other respects are God-fearing and pious.
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|9. "ASSEMBLY" DISCIPLINE|
IN DAYS OF DIFFICULTY
IN our previous chapter we saw that the holiness of the house of God demands a practical conformity thereto being maintained by those who would seek to answer to God's thoughts;
- and, if evil occurred in the early days of the assembly's history and suited repentance and self-judgment did not mark the evil-doer, assembly discipline had to be exercised.
- n the first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle insists that the local assembly in that city should so act.
- The conscience of the whole assembly had to be brought to this, and, through grace, it was brought to it, and the discipline of the assembly was carried out in spiritual power.
- What blessed results issued from this solemn act the second epistle to the Corinthians clearly shows. Repentance was brought about in the individual, and restoration followed, there being withal great gain to the local assembly. See chapters 2 and 7.
It may be thought, however, by some that while the principles we have considered are scriptural and might have operated in the days when the assembly was visibly one, it is quite impossible to act on them today.
- We cannot get the assembly in one locality together, it may be argued, let alone get it to judge evil; much less to realize the universal character and effect of an assembly action. The whole body of profession is contaminated.
- But Scripture will not allow us to reason thus.
The Present Situation
A very helpful and solemn illustration of the present situation is found in Israel's day.
- In Numbers 15 Israel acted under divine command, and evil was effectually dealt with, as we may see in verses 32-36.
- In chapter 16, however, there was such a general condition of evil that the injunction was to
- depart "from the tents of these wicked men".
- These two passages illustrate the difference between days of order and days of confusion.
- "On the morrow" God in His glory came in and power and order were restored, but for the moment those who obeyed God's word separated themselves from what was evil.
Earlier a similar action had been the path of any who sought Jehovah.
- When Israel as a whole were idolaters, Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, and every one who sought the Lord went out to the tent of the congregation, which was without the camp.
In New Testament days we are not left without guidance for these difficult times.
- The name of the Lord and the holiness of God's house demand the same holiness in our relations in this day as in the earliest days of the assembly's history;
- and if the assembly as a whole in its outward profession is marked by evil,
- he who names of the name of the Lord must depart from iniquity as is so plainly said in 2 Timothy 2: 19, etc.
In the days when the assembly was outwardly one, and apostolic care in spiritual power maintained it in order, the injunction was
- "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump".
- In other words, evil had to be, and was, judged and the offender removed, "put away", 1 Corinthians 5.
But as we noticed in an earlier chapter, in days of 2 Timothy, that is to say in our days when the assembly is outwardly in confusion and evil is characteristic of the whole, the injunction is:
- "If a man … purge himself from these", that is, the vessels of dishonour.
- If it is not possible to get the assembly in a locality as a whole to deal with evil, he who would be faithful to the Lord cannot go on with evil, and he must therefore purge himself: he must depart from iniquity; he must cease to do evil.
Moreover, the Lord gives us instruction as to what should mark us as following righteousness, and as having previously departed from iniquity.
- Among other reasons, it is doubtless with a view to our having intelligence in divine principles that, in his second epistle to Timothy, the apostle, under inspiration of God, directs our attention to Scripture, and tells us that
- "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works", 2 Timothy 3: 16-17.
Now, dear reader, "All scripture … is profitable … for instruction in righteousness".
- The typical teaching of the Old Testament and the direct teaching of the New, afford instruction in righteousness. The Lord has given us direction for this difficult day of the assembly's history.
- The typical teachings which we have already noticed, give us great help in general principles.
- Then the instruction given to the Corinthian assembly directing them how to judge cases of evil, affords us guidance regarding the judgment of evil.
- Then, again, the Lord's instructions in Matthew 18 show us how He supports us in days of weakness, when only two or three of the assembly may be available;
- and 2 Timothy 2 (where departure from iniquity is insisted upon) supplies us with direction for this difficult day how to act wherever and whenever evil occurs.
- Indeed, all Scripture instructs us in righteousness.
Two or three of the assembly, if gathered unto the Lord's name, may count upon His presence, if right conditions exist, as we learn from Matthew 18: 15-20.
- If there is departure from iniquity; if there is true separation from all that is inconsistent with the Lord's name; if there is a gathering unto His name, even though only two or three,
- such have moral conditions proper to the whole assembly,
- and the action of such, it really done in His name, would have His authority and would therefore be ratified in heaven and thus possess, morally, the character of an action of the assembly in the early days of her history.
We must ever walk in accordance with the principles proper for the whole assembly.
- "Two or three" of the assembly are obviously not the whole, but there are no other principles to guide us in our assembly relations but those governing the whole assembly, and we must act in accordance with those principles.
- If not, what principles can we act upon? Scripture will not guide us if we attempt to act on any others; nor will the Lord supporters.
- No, dear reader, either we must act according to the divine principles, principles governing the whole assembly, and such as operated in early days, or we are left to follow a path defined by the traditions of men – traditions which make the word of God of none effect. The Lord would never leave His people thus.
Collective Judgment of Evil and Withdrawal Therefrom
Recognizing these principles would on the one hand preserve any who still act from assuming to be the assembly,
- and on the other hand would keep them from dropping to the level of human principles.
As governed by the light which Scripture affords regarding what is proper to the whole assembly, even two or three may arrive at the judgment of evil in the light of 1 Corinthians 5 and then,
- since the assembly in a locality as a whole cannot even be got together, much less be brought to judge evil as it should,
- they would carry out the action by withdrawing from the evil one, acting together in fellowship yet with individual exercise in the light of 2 Timothy 2.
- The judgment of 1 Corinthians 5 can be arrived at without assuming to be the assembly; or assuming to "put away" the evil-doer, which can only rightly be done by the whole assembly in a place;
- and the action may be carried out by withdrawal in keeping with the present ruin of the professing body.
- We are bound to judge evil; and in this most difficult day God has provided us with directions so that we never need to go on with what is displeasing to Him.
An interesting type of this spiritual exercise is to be found in Leviticus 4: 13, where the instructions regarding the sin offering for the congregation are given.
Two words are used in Exodus 12: 6, to describe Israel, viz., "congregation" and "assembly". A note in the New Translation by J. N. Darby says
- Congregation is, I apprehend, the actual subsisting congregation composed of all its members. Assembly more the congregation looked at as a moral whole, a corporate person before God.
- The employment of these two words as in the New Translation, referred to above is most instructive: the A.V. uses them otherwise.
In the event of the "whole assembly" sinning, that is through one of its members, as in the case of Achan (see Joshua 7: 1 and 11, where it is said "Israel hath sinned")
- when the sin is known, the consciences of all are to be concerned, for the "congregation" shall bring a sin offering, Leviticus 4: 14.
- That is to say, each one composing the congregation is to be in exercise about the matter.
- Yet it is the elders of the "assembly" who are to lay their hands on the head of the victim. The "elders" would typify the responsible element therein,
- that is, those in the congregation who by reason of spiritual sensibilities accept and feel the burden of the sin; those, in other words, who represent the moral whole.
- All should take it up; but these elders do so. They are the elders of the assembly, even if not occupying or claiming any official status.
In this day of outward ruin and confusion but of great spiritual privilege, if evil arise among believers collectively, merely to withdraw from the evil-doer,
- whilst a necessity of righteousness if we are to be clear of evil, does not wholly meet the case.
- There must be the first taking up of the sin as ours and judging it before God, for we are of the moral whole, the assembly, that sinned.
- In this way not only is the gravity of the sin felt, but the conscience of the assembly is enabled to be cleared and a deeper appreciation of Christ is reached.
To withdraw from the evil-doer must and would follow, being a necessity for the full clearance of the conscience and of the Lord's name;
- for there must not only be a judgment of sin, but the departure therefrom or withdrawal from the evil-doer.
- This action would normally follow, and show that the judgment that had been reached was real.
- We cannot, surely, go on with what we judge to be sin, or with those who are characterized thereby, but we must judge the sin as ours as well as withdraw from the evil-doer.
Note too, the gain of doing so. A deeper appreciation of Christ results: the sin offering "is a sin offering of the congregation". (Not here, observe of the "assembly".)
- For we are each to learn afresh and in a deeper way how Christ took up the whole question of sin.
- We are to learn, also, how His moral and inward excellence Godward was exhibited in doing so – the fat and the inwards were offered to God on the burnt offering altar.
- A sense, too, of holy divine judgment of sin is borne home to each of our souls – the carcase is consumed with fire outside the camp. The blood shed speaks of atonement made. If we are spiritually intelligent we would accept the responsibility as that of the assembly.
What loss is ours if we miss any of the spiritual exercises.
If we take up our common failure rightly, a holy judgment of sin, a deeper appreciation of Christ, and an entire separation from evil will all be ours,
- together with a loving desire for the recovery and restoration of the offender.
May the Lord increasingly exercise His beloved people and lead them to value their privileges and responsibilities, as of the assembly;
- withal giving them sensitive consciences, intelligent spiritual understanding and devotedness of heart to Him who has loved them so dearly and proved His love by dying on the cross.
Only so shall we rightly tread the Christian's path in days of difficulty. We must not suppose that it will be an easy path; the days are difficult,
- but if we do the Lord's will we shall find it a safe path and one full of blessing, joy and encouragement.
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LET us now summarize what has been before us. We were to consider the Christian's path in days of difficulty.
- We saw, however, that before we can view such a question rightly, we must be free in our hearts from all matters regarding our own soul's safety and our place before God.
As believers on our Lord Jesus Christ, we are entitled to be conscious of being justified in our risen Lord; indeed God Himself is our Justifier. We should also have the sense of a perfect acceptance before God in Christ as a glorified Man in heaven.
- This being so, we are now free to think of our path here in the place where Jesus died.
In our baptism we profess to place the death of Christ between ourselves and the world; and we are called to walk here in "nearness of life". This we are able to do in having received the Holy Spirit, which is our power of life here for the discharge of all obligation in our several paths of responsibility.
- We are also helped and supported by Christ to this end, who is our High Priest in heaven, and who ever lives for us; not only representing us before God but interceding for us that we may be maintained in suitability to our heavenly position and calling.
We also noted that we are not merely so many individuals, but are bound together in the common recognition of Jesus as our Lord, and have been called to the fellowship of God's Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
- Hence we are to walk a collective path together as being of the assembly on earth, the "one body" as it is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12.
- The present state of that which professes the name of Christ – the public profession of Christianity – makes this path a very testing one, though simple if we implicitly follow the teaching of Scripture.
The Lord has not left us without direction for this difficult day. Our way out of confusion is in obedience to the Lord and in walking consistently with His name.
- Hence a path of separation from all that is contrary to that name must be ours. We take this path in devotedness to Christ whose name we love.
- Though a path of separation from evil is obligatory for every believer and therefore a necessity if we are to keep good consciences, yet it is affection to the Lord Himself, and a movement of soul to Him, that leads us to take this path, as in the case of Peter leaving the boat to go to Jesus on the water; for Jesus Himself must ever be our Object.
We must also be faithful to the Lord in our respective households; for the Christian's path cannot rightly be trodden unless we discharge our responsibilities in the domestic sphere of life.
It is a path, moreover to be marked by the recognition of every divine principle, hence, it is one collective in character, for our place in the assembly necessitates this feature.
In this connection we noticed that Christian fellowship has features to which we must ever be true: that the death of Christ as the basis of it; that the Lord is the bond; and that the Holy Spirit is the power by which it is made living and real.
- Then, too, Christian fellowship is universal in its character and involves an abiding bond to which we are ever to be true, wherever we are.
The assembly of God is one universally, "one body"; it is such on earth, for "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body";
- and although local assemblies existed in the early days of the assembly's history, those who composed them were bound together in the unity of "one body" universally and by the universal fellowship;
- local assemblies were not independent assemblies.
The house of God is holy, which fact necessitates that if evil occurs in the assembly, it has to be judged and dealt with by discipline;
- the action of any one assembly thus dealing with evil is binding on all other assemblies, for the assembly is one, and the fellowship is universal.
Then also evil is defiling; and if evil be in an assembly it is leavened until the evil is judged and dealt with by discipline;
- therefore all in such an assembly are defiled, and are themselves defiling to others by reason of their association with the evil.
Let the reader prayerfully consider these important principles. They are very seriously overlooked today. Let him ask himself if he is ignoring what Scripture so plainly says.
- Is he by association linked with anything that is contrary to these divinely instituted principles?
As we have seen, is not that any few Christians who seek to follow the Lord here, who seek to walk in separation and, walking together, seeks to recognize the principles of which we have spoken, would assume the title "assembly";
- but having nothing less than the truth proper to the whole assembly before them, indeed having the whole assembly on earth in their hearts, their faith would lead them to seek to act according to the principles proper to the whole assembly.
Finally we saw that the believer must never continue in evil. Individually he is to follow the Lord, walking in separation from every form of evil and from all who continue in evil or evil associations.
- He cannot put the whole assembly right; but he ought to do what is right himself, and this involves not only personal holiness, but holiness in all his associations.
- Moreover, any two or three, who seek to keep clear of evil and walk together, may act together in fellowship in the exercise of discipline. If evil occur in their midst and they would clear themselves therefrom, they must first judge the evil before God as theirs, being themselves guilty through their association with the evil-doer.
- Then, surely, they would have to withdraw unitedly from the person actually guilty. Whoever would have been disciplined by the assembly in days of order, should obviously be withdrawn from today.
- Moreover, whoever in this day of disorder identified himself with evil by association therewith, should also be withdrawn from; assuming, of course, that repentance is not brought about. Only so can holiness proper to the house of God be maintained.
Some Practical Difficulties
When the truth begins to be seen by us, and the Lord graciously gives light to our souls, how many are the difficulties the enemy would raise, which in our minds make it appear quite impossible for us to take the path we begin to see his according to God.
It may be some "service" in which we have been happily engaged – evangelical work, as it may be called.
- It may be our families which we may have guided into the very course that we now begin to see is not according to Scripture.
- It may be our friends, many of whom we may have helped into the path which we now consider abandoning. All these matters come before the mind and we wonder what to do!
Has the path of faith ever been easy? Does faith consider results? Does it not rather act in obedience to the Lord's word and leave the results with God?
Are we to place service before obedience? Is not obedience better than sacrifice and to hearken better than the fat of rams? If we do God's will can we do more?
- Can we not leave all with Him? Could our lives be more successful than by are simply doing God's will?
- To do God's will is the maximum achievement of any one life, as another said long ago, Jesus' life was one of doing the will of God.
Are we to fear the consequences upon our families if we do the will of God? We may well fear results if we do not do His will! But we may safely leave results with God if we but do His will!
- May we who are His not claim an equal blessing for our households if we act in obedience to God's will, as that promised to the Philippian jailor who was told:
- "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house"?
- Surely we may! Let us but do God's will and we need never be anxious about results.
How many difficulties does the enemy raise when he sees we are about to do God's will more fully! Let us remember the Lord's warning:
- "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me".
What love has our Lord Jesus shown to us! He gave His all for us. He looks for a response from His assembly.
- Shall we not seek to answer to His mind and refuse everything not pleasing to Him and with loyalty of heart, without reserve, seek to do His will.
- He is coming soon. Is He not to find, in His own, features proper to His assembly? We believe He will.
- May we be among those who possess those features, following Him who was despised and rejected of men, content with His approval alone, and so be treading the Christian's path in days of difficulty.
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