"And I sought for a man . . . that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap .. .but I found none", Ezek. 22. 30.
Ezekiel was a prophet who had been taken captive to Babylon with king Jehoiachin in 599 B.C. when he was twenty-three years old. Seven years later he started to prophesy and continued for twenty years. He was contemporary with Jeremiah who remained in Jerusalem - both were priests as well as prophets. Jeremiah was the man of tears, but Ezekiel looked beyond present conditions to the ultimate triumph.
His book divides into three parts: chapters 1-24 describe conditions in Judah which brought on the captivity. The central portion, chapters 25-32, shows that God would deal with the pagan nations who were jubilant over the fall of the house of Judah. The last part outlines the coming restoration. Ezekiel was prepared for his ministry by the tremendous vision of the throne and the Shekinah glory recorded in chapter 1; he mentions this repeatedly in his book.
In chapters 20-22, he divides the nation into four classes, the priests, the princes, the prophets and the people, exposing the failure of each class. The priests ignored the difference between the holy and the unclean; the princes abused their authority and were like wolves devouring the prey; the prophets daubed their hearers with untempered mortar, seeing vanity and divining lies; while the people were engaged in violence and oppression. In this dark background comes the word of the Lord through Ezekiel, "I sought for a man".
God's Provision in a Dark Day, a Man
First, there were Enoch and Noah; then Abram was called out of Ur of the Chaldees, and Moses at the Exodus, Joshua stood in the gap for God, while in the dark days of the Judges, God had His men. There was then much failure, but the main lesson of the book of Judges is that at each critical period, when things were drifting into chaos, God had His men ready.
Similarly church history provides many examples. Athanasius of Alexandria stood for sound doctrine against the flood tide of heresy; Luther protested against the abominable abuses of the papacy; John Wesley preached the Gospel of God's grace. Then we may mention John Nelson Darby, who learned the truth of the one body of Christ and its glorified Head, thereby separating from the evils of denominationalism.
Revival and its Backwash
A consideration of these men and the associated revivals shows that they all follow a pattern. First, in the prevailing darkness and apathy, God raises up His man and many are led into the light. As long as he lives, spiritual conditions prevail, though sometimes at a decreasing tempo. A few generations after his death, the revival degenerates into a movement with a downward trend. Spirituality gives place to intellectuality and finally ends in repudiation of the truth which the man who led the revival preached and practiced.
Where do we Stand Today?
During the past one hundred years, many New Testament assemblies have been planted in most parts of the world. The men who founded them were men of conviction. There was a genuine desire to follow the scriptural principles of gathering. Many of these men suffered severely, both socially and financially; they were ostracized by life long friends because, unable to continue with organized religion, they separated from it. But today, many of their children and grandchildren think differently. We have arrived at the third generation, in which some have slipped right back to what their fathers had left. It is regarded as intolerant bigotry to expose or criticize either poperty or clerisy. History is surely repeating itself.
Among assemblies, admittedly, there is much weakness and failure. There is always the tendency to go to extremes. Some have formed sectarian circles of fellowship with centralized control. Others are in the process of breaking down all hedges, allowing no line of demarcation between inside and outside. The two extremes are mutually antagonistic and have little or no fellowship with each other.
But there is a path of balanced truth. The New Testament autonomous assembly still functions, and we believe it will until the end. But a lot depends on the leaders. Where we have men of spirituality and conviction, who hold the truth in love, and who refuse to be swayed by current superficial propaganda, we have the basis for spiritual progress. But where these are lacking, there is nothing to stem the tide of decay. Where are the men to stand in the gap? Will you be one?