We have seen, beloved friends, two main Steps in the
Church’s outward decline, after the loss of first love had made any
departure possible. First of all, the divine idea of the Church was lost.
Instead of its being a body of people having, in the full and proper sense,
eternal life and salvation, children of God, members of Christ, and called out
of the world, as not belonging to it, it became a mere "gathering together" of
people, for whom indeed the old names might in part remain, but who were in
fact the world itself, with true Christian people scattered through it.
Children of God they might be reckoned by baptism, and by it have forgiveness
of sins also, but that was no settlement for eternity at all. They were
confessedly under trial, and uncertain as to how things would finally turn out
- a ground which all the world could understand and appreciate, with sacraments
and means of grace to help them on, and prevent them realizing the awfulness of
Of course, this immense change from Church to Synagogue
was not at once effected. Yet the Church historically known to us, outside of
the New Testament, is but in fact essentially the Synagogue. The fire of
persecution helped to prevent for a while the extreme result, and to separate
mere professors from the confessors of Christ. Still through it all the leaven
of Judaism wrought its deadly work; and no sooner was persecution stopped than
the world’s overtures for peace and alliance were eagerly listened to; and
with Constantine, for many, the millennium seemed to have arrived. Could the
Church of the apostles have fallen into the world’s arms so? Their voice
would have rebuked the thought as of Satan, as indeed it was: "Ye adulterers
and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with
The second step we saw in the rise of a clergy, a spiritual or
priestly class, replacing the true Christian ministry, the free exercise of the
various gifts which resulted from the various places of the membership of the
body of Christ. The clerical assumption displaced the body of Christian people
- now a true "laity"- as at least less spiritual and near to God; a place,
alas, easily accepted where Christ had lost what the world had gained in value
with His own. As Judaism prevailed, and the world came in through the
ever-opening door, the distance between the two classes increased, and more and
more the clergy became the channels of all blessing to the rest. Practically,
and in the end almost openly, they became the Church; and the Church became,
from a company of those already saved, a channel for conveying a sacramental
and hypothetical salvation.
We come now to look at the issue of all
this, when circumstances favoured. In Pergamos (where the Lord presents Himself
no longer in the tender and gracious sympathy He manifests for His suffering
ones in Smyrna, but as having the sharp sword with two edges - His Word to
judge the state of things among them)- in Pergamos, the characteristic thing
is, they are "dwelling where Satan’s throne is." "Throne," not "seat," is
confessedly the word used. The translators apparently shrank from the use of
the stronger word: for, according to current belief, Satan reigns in hell, not
on earth; that is, in the prison in which God has put him, but from which he
has strangely broken loose. Milton’s picture is the popular one, and with
it, no doubt, you are familiar. But it is as unscriptural as it is
unreasonable. What would be thought of a government which allowed a chief
malefactor to reign in his prison over his fellow culprits, and to break prison
and roam freely where he would? God’s government is not chargeable with
this. In hell Satan will be the lowest and most miserable there; and when
committed to it there will be no escape permitted. But that will not be until
after the millennium, as Rev. xx. assures us.
This idea, however,
permits people to escape from the appalling thought that Satan is now the
"prince of this world," and the "god of this world" (or age) which Scripture
plainly declares him to be. It is over the world he exercises authority, and
this gives to the "world" and "dwelling in the world" an exceedingly solemn
character. For, "dwelling in the world" is quite another thing, of course, from
being in it. We are in the world perforce, and in no wise responsible for that;
but to be a dweller in it is a moral state; it is to be a citizen in it - the
condition which the apostle speaks of in Philippians as obtaining among
professing Christians: "For many walk of whom I have told you before, and now
tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose
god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For
our conversation (or citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for
the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (iii. 18-20).
is, that they are enemies, not of Christ personally, but of the Cross, that
Cross by which we are "crucified to the world, and the world to us." Their
hearts were on earthly things, which, not satisfying them, as earthly things
cannot, made their god to be their belly ; - that inward craving became their
master, and made them drudges in its service.
citizenship is "in heaven." That forms his character, and delivers him from the
unsatisfying pursuit of earthly things. But little, indeed, is this understood
now. Even where people can talk and sing of the world being a wilderness, you
will find that in general their idea of it is a place of sorrow and trial, to
which all - the world and the Christian alike - are exposed. Pilgrimage, in
their minds, is a thing perforce. The world passes away, and they cannot keep
it; but, if honest, they would own that they would keep it if they could. As
they cannot, they are glad enough to think there is such a place as heaven at
the end of it; in the meanwhile they go on trying (honestly, no doubt, if you
can call such a thing honest in a Christian) to get as much of it as they can -
or, at least, as much as will make them comfortable in it.
It is a
different thing to be a pilgrim really - a man journeying on earth with an
absorbing purpose to reach a fixed point beyond: not one whom the world is
leaving, but one who is leaving it. By the very fact that the stream of time is
carrying us all down with it, if that constituted a pilgrim it would make all
the world pilgrims; and so, in fact, people do talk of the "pilgrimage of
life:" but this is the abuse of a term, and not its use. We can be pilgrims in
that sense, and find all the world companions; and such, indeed, had got to be
the idea of pilgrimage in the Pergamos state of the Church. They talked of it,
no doubt, and built their houses the more solidly to stand the rough weather:
if they owned there were "rainy days" ahead, it was the more their duty to lay
by for a rainy day. God said they were dwelling where Satan’s throne was.
The history of old Babel was repeating itself. You may find the vivid
type of it in Gen. xi., where men "journeyed" indeed, but not as pilgrims, or
as only that till they could find some smooth place in which to settle down.
They journeyed as colonists or immigrants on the lookout for land, from the
rough hills where human life beyond the flood began; "from the east" (that is,
with their backs to the blessed dawn), and "they found a plain in the land of
Shinar; and they dwelt there."
That was, alas, the Church’s
progress: from the rough heights of martyrdom down to the smooth level where
were no difficulties to deter the most timid souls. There the Church
multiplied, and there they began to build "a city and a tower whose top should
reach to heaven:" but the city was not Jerusalem, but Jerusalem’s old
enemy; not the "possession of peace," but the city of "confusion " - Babel.
Yet it prospered. They built well. True, they were away from the
quarries of the hills, and could not build with the stone they had there been
used to. They did the best thing they could with the clay which was native in
the soil of that lower land. "They had bricks for stone, and slime for mortar."
We have seen some of this work already. It looks well, and lasts, in the fine
climate of those regions, quite a long time-human material, not divine -
"bricks," man’s manufacture, "for stones," God’s material. They
cannot build great Babylon with the "living stones" of God’s producing.
Men-made Christians, compacted together, not by the cementing Spirit, but by
the human motives and influences whereby the masses are affected, but which the
fire of God will one day try - so is great Babylon built.
Now it is
remarkable that the word Pergamos has a double significance. In the plural form
it is used for the citadel of a town, while it is at least near akin to Purgos,
"a town." Again, divide it into the two words in which it naturally separates,
and you have "per" (although) a particle which "usually serves to call
attention to something which is objected to" (Liddell and Scott), and "gamos,"
(marriage). It was indeed by the marriage of Church and world that the "city
and tower" of Babylon the Great was raised. And such are the times we are now
They were the times of the great Constantine - the
time of what is significantly called the "establishment of the Church;" but
not, alas, its establishment upon its Rock-foundation, where the gates of hades
could not prevail against it, but its establishment in the world’s favour,
and under its protection. It was the success of Satan, the triumph of his plan
by which the Church became the synagogue; but not now God’s, but in
opposition to God.
As a consequence, you find not only Nicolaitanism
now fully accepted, but the "doctrine of Balaam" also. They were still what is
called orthodox. "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even
in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you,
where Satan dwelleth." They maintained, in general, the truth of Christ as
against Arianism, which denied His proper deity. It was the period of the
creeds - of Nicene orthodoxy. But it was an orthodoxy which, while maintaining
(thank God for it) the doctrine of the Trinity, could be, and was, very far
astray as to the application of Christ’s blessed work to the salvation of
man - orthodox as to Christ, most unorthodox as to the gospel.
in the Apostles’ Creed (so called), do you find the gospel? "The
forgiveness of sins is an article of belief, no doubt; but how and when? In the
Nicene Creed there is "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins,"
and entire silence as to any other. In the Athanasian it is owned that Christ
"suffered for our salvation," but how we are to obtain the salvation is again
omitted. Practically, the belief of the times was in the efficacy of baptism,
and so painful and uncertain was the way of forgiveness for sins committed
afterwards, that multitudes deferred baptism to a dying bed, that the sins of a
lifetime might be washed away together.
The Lord goes on to say: "But I
have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the
doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the
children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit
Balaam, the destroyer of the people, is a new graft upon
Nicolaitanisrn - a prophet in outward nearness to the Lord, while his heart
went after his own covetousness ; - a man having no personal grudge against the
people, but whose god was his belly, and who would curse them if his god bade ;
- one whose doctrine was to seduce Israel from their separateness, into guilty
mixture with the nations and their idolatry around. The type is easily read,
and the examples of it distressingly numerous. When the Church and the world
became on good terms with one another, and the Church had the things of the
world wherewith to attract the natural heart, the hireling prophet was a matter
of course, who for his own ends would seek still further to destroy all godly
How glad one would be, to be able to think that a thing
of the past! But it is one step only in a persistent departure from God on the
part of the professing Church at large, never retraced or repented of. Nor,
solemn to say, however much individuals may be delivered, is such decline ever
recovered from by the body as such. Every step downwards only accelerates the
progress down. In the wilderness Israel took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and
the star of their god Remphan, and the Lord’s word appended is, "I will
carry you away beyond Babylon." There were many reformations afterwards, more
or less partial, but no fresh start. So with the Church. People talk about a
second Pentecost. There never really was. The true Pentecostal times lasted for
how brief a moment!
It is a sad and terrible thing to speak of evil,
and we have indeed ever to watch ourselves, lest in fact we should be rejoicing
in that which we affect to judge. But if the Lord has pronounced, woe will it
be to us if we are not with Him in His judgment. It would be unfaithfulness and
dishonesty, as well as real breach of charity, not to say what the Lord says.
To modify or alter it would be dishonest. "He that hath My word, let him speak
My word faithfully," He Himself says.
From Constantine’s day to
the present, Pergamos has characterized the state of things. World and Church
have been one in Christendom at large; and wherever this is found, there in
truth is Babylon, although Rome may be head of Babylon, as indeed she is.
Let us look about us with the lamp the Lord has given us, and see
whereabouts we are with regard to these things. How far are we individually
keeping the Church and the world separate? How far are we really refusing that
yoke with unbelievers which the passage in 2 Cor. vi. so emphatically condemns?
Our associations are judged of God as surely as any other part of our practical
conduct; and "be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" is His word. He
cannot, He declares, be to us a Father as He would except we come out and be
separate. Solemn, solemn words in the midst of the multiplicity of such
confederacies in the present day! Can we bear to be ourselves searched out by
them, beloved brethren? Oh, if we value our true place as sons with God, shall
we not be only glad to see things as they are?
Now this forbidden yoke
has various applications. It applies to anything in which we voluntarily unite
with others to attain a common object. Among social relations, marriage is such
a yoke; in business relations, partnerships, and such like; and in the foremost
rank of all would came ecclesiastical associations.
To take these
latter now: there are certain systems which, as we have already seen, mix up
the Church and the world in the most thorough way possible. All forms of
ritualism do - forms wherein a person is made by baptism "a member of Christ
and a child of God." Where that is asserted, separation is impossible, for no
amount of charity, and no extravagance of theological fiction, can make the
mass of these baptized people other than the world.
churches in the same way mix them up by the very fact that they are national
churches. You cannot by the force of will, or act of Parliament, make a nation
Christian. You can give them a name to live; while they are dead. You can make
them formalists and hypocrites, but nothing more. You can do your best to hide
from them their true condition, and leave them under an awful delusion from
which eternity alone may wake them up.
All systems Jewish in character
mix them up of necessity. Where all are probationers together it is not
possible to do otherwise. All systems in which the Church is made a means to
salvation, instead of the company of the saved, necessarily do so. When people
join churches in order to be saved, as is the terrible fashion of the day,
these churches become, of course, the common receptacle of sinners and saints
alike. And wherever assurance of salvation is not maintained, the same thing
must needs result.
Systems such as these naturally acquire adherents,
and rapidly; money and worldly influence prevail, and among such the doctrine
of Balaam does its deadly work. The world, not even disguised in the garb of
Christianity, is sought for the sake of material support. Men that have not
given themselves to the Lord are taught that they can give their money. It is
openly proclaimed that God is not sufficient as His people’s portion; His
cause requires help, and that so much that He will accept it from the hands of
His very enemies. There is an idolatry of means abroad. Money will help the
destitute; money will aid to circulate the Scriptures; money will send
missionaries to foreign parts; money will supply a hundred wants and get over a
host of difficulties. We are going to put it to so good a use we must not be
over-scrupulous as to the mode of getting it. The church has to be maintained,
the minister to be paid. They do not like the principle that "the end
sanctifies the means," but still, what are they to do? God is sufficient, of
course, in theory, but they must use the means, and this century no longer
But why go over the dreary round of such godless and
faithless arguments? Is it a wonder that infidelity bursts out into a
triumphant laugh as Christians maintain the impotence of their God, and violate
His precepts to save His cause from ruin? Nay, do you not in fact proclaim it
ruined, irredeemably ruined, when His ear is already too dull to hear, and His
arm shortened that it cannot save? Money will build churches, will buy Bibles,
will support ministers - true. Will it buy a new Pentecost? or bring in the
Millennium? Will you bribe the blessed Spirit to work for you thus? or make
sheer will and animal energy do without Him? Alas, you pray for power, and
dishonour Him who is the only source of power!
But what is the result
of this solicitation of the world? Can you go to it with the Bibles you have
bought with its own money, and tell it the truth as to its own condition? Can
you tell them that "the whole world lieth in wickedness?" that "all that is in
the world-the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life is not of the Father, but is of the world?" Can you maintain the separate
place that God has given you, and the sharp edge of the truth that "they that
are in the flesh cannot please God?" Of course you cannot. They will turn round
upon you and say: Why then do you come to us for our money? You ask us to give,
and tell us our giving will not please Him! It is not reasonable, we do not
believe it, and you cannot believe it your selves I
No: the world does
not believe in giving anything for nothing. Whatever the word of God may say,
whatever you may think of it in your heart, you must compromise in some way.
You must not maintain the rigid line of separation. Balaam must be your
prophet. You must mix with the world, and let it mix with you: how else will
you do it good? You must cushion your church seats and invite ft in. You must
make your building and your servIces attractive; you must not frighten people
away, but allure them in. You must be all things to all men; and as you cannot
expect to get them up to your standard, you must get down to theirs.
Do I speak too strongly? Oh, words can hardly exaggerate the state of things
that may be everywhere found, not in some far-off land, but here all around us,
in the present day. I should not dare to tell you what deeds are done in the
name of Christ by His professing people. They will hire singers to sing His
praises for admiration, and to draw a crowd. They will provide worldly
entertainments, and sit down and be entertained in company. And, as more and
more they sink down to the world’s level, they persuade themselves the
world is rising up to theirs; while God is saying, as of His people of old,
"Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs
are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not. And the pride of Israel
testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek
Him for all this" (Hos. vii. 8-10).
It is a downward course, and being
trod at an ever increasing pace. Competition is aroused, and it is who can be
the most successful candidate for the world’s favors. The example of one
emboldens another. Emulation, envy, ambition, and a host of unholy motives, are
aroused, and Scripture, the honor of Christ, the jealous eyes of a holy, holy
God - ah, you are antiquated and Pharisaic if you talk of these! There is one
feature in this melancholy picture I cannot pass by briefly thus. The ministry,
or what stands before men’s eyes as such, how is it affected by all this?
I have already said that Scripture does not recognize the thought of a minister
and his people. Upon this I do not intend to dwell again. But what, after all,
in the present day, has got to be the strength of the tie between a church and
its ministry? Who that looks around can question that money has here a
controlling influence? The seal of the compact is the salary. A rich church
with an ample purse, can it not make reasonably sure of attracting the man it
wants? The poor church, however rich in piety, is it not conscious of its
deficiency? People naturally do not like to own it. The ministers persuade
themselves, successfully enough, no doubt, that it is a wider and more
promising field of labour that attracts them. But the world notoriously does
not believe this; and it has but too good reason for its unbelief.
contract is ordinarily for so much money. If the money is not forthcoming, the
contract is dissolved. But more: the money consideration decides in another way
the character of man they wish to secure. It is ordinarily a successful man
that is wanted, after the fashionable idea of what is success. They want a man
who will fill the church, perhaps help to pay off the debt upon it. Very likely
the payment of his own salary depends upon this. He will not be likely most to
please who is not influenced by such motives: and thus it will be only
God’s mercy if Balaam’s doctrine does not secure a Balaam to carry it
out. But even if a godly man is obtained, he is put under the influence of the
strongest personal temptation to soften down the truth, which, if fully
preached, may deprive him of not only influence, but perhaps even subsistence.
Will the most godly man be the most popular man? No: for godliness is
not what the world seeks. It can appreciate genius, no doubt, and eloquence,
and amiability, and benevolence, and utilitarianism; but godliness is something
different from the union of even all of these. If the world can appreciate
godliness, I will own indeed it .is no longer the world. But as long as the
lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, still
characterize it, it is not of the Father, nor the Father of it. And why, in
that passage, does the apostle say "the Father?" Is it not because, in thinking
of the Father’s relation to the world, we must needs think of the Son? As
he says again, in another place, "Who is he that overcometh the world but he
that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" And why? Because it is the Son of
God the world has crucified and cast out; and that Cross which was the
world’s judgment of the Son of God, is for faith God’s judgment of
Was Christ popular, beloved friends? Could He, with divine
power in His hands, and ministering it freely for the manifold need appealing
to Him on every side - could He commend Himself to men, His creatures? No,
assuredly. But you think, perhaps, those peculiarly evil times. They understand
Him better now, you think. Take, then, His dear name with you to men’s
places of business and to their homes today, to the workshop and the
counting-houses and the public places. Do you doubt what response you would
"In the churches?" Oh yes; they have agreed to tolerate Him
there. The churches have been carefully arranged to please the world.
Comfortable, fashionable, the poor packed in convenient corners, eye and ear
and intellect provided for: that is a different thing. And then it helps to
quiet conscience when it will sometimes stir. But oh, is there much sign of His
presence whose authenticating sign was, "To the poor the gospel is preached?"
Enough of this, however. It will be of no profit to pursue it further.
But to those with whom the love of Christ is more than a profession, and the
honour of Christ a reality to be maintained, I would solemnly put it how they
can go on with what systematically tramples His honour under foot, yea, under
the world’s foot - falsifies His gospel, and helps to deceive to their own
destruction the souls for whom He died? The doctrine of Balaam is everywhere:
its end is judgment upon the world, and judgment too upon the people of God. If
ministers can not be supported, if churches cannot be kept up without this, the
honestest, manliest, only Christian course is, let the thing go down! If
Christians cannot get on without the world, they will find at least that the
world can get on without them. They cannot persuade it that disobedience is
such a serious thing when they see the light-hearted, flippant disobedience of
which it is so easy to convict the great mass of professors, while it is so
utterly impossible to deter them from it. "Money" is the cry; "well, but we
want the money." Aye, though Christ’s honor is betrayed by it, and
infidels sneer, and souls perish! Brethren, the very Pharisees of old were
wiser! " We may not put it into the treasury," they whispered, "because it is
the price of blood"
It will be a relief to turn to Scripture, and to
examine what we have there upon this subject. It is very simple. There was no
organized machinery for supporting churches; none for paying ministers; no
promise, no contract upon the people’s part, as to any sum they were to
receive at all. There were necessities of course, many, to be provided for, and
it was understood that there was to be provision. The saints themselves had to
meet all. They had not taken up with a cheap religion. Having often to lay down
their lives for it, they did not think much of their goods. The principle was
this: "Every man as he is disposed in his heart, so let him give: not
grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." It was to be to
God, and before God. There was to be no blazoning it out to brethren, still
less before the world. He that gave was not to let his left hand know what his
right hand was doing.
It is true there were solemn motives to enforce
it. On the one side, "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and
he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." But on the other side
- most powerful, most influential of all - was this: "Ye know the grace of our
Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for your sakes became poor,
that ye through His poverty might become rich."
Such was the
principle; such was to be the motive. There was no compulsory method of
extraction, if this failed. If there was not heart to give, it was no use to
So as to the labourer in the Word, it was very clearly
announced, and that as what God had ordained, that "they which preach the
gospel should live of the gospel," and that "the labourer is worthy of his
hire." But although here also God used the willing hands of His people, it was
not understood that they "hired" him, or that he was their labourer. What they
gave, it was to God they gave it, and his privilege it was to be Christ’s
servant. His responsibility was to the Lord, and theirs also. They did not
understand that they were to get so much work for so much money. They did not
pay, but "offered." There is a wonderful difference: for you cannot "pay" God,
and you do not "offer" (in this sense of offering) to man. The moment you pay,
God is out of the question.
Do you think this is perhaps a little
unfair on both sides? that it is right that there should be something wore of
an equivalent for the labour he bestows - for the money you give? That is good
law, bad gospel. What better than simony is it to suppose, after this fashion,
"that the gift of God can be purchased with money?" Would you rather make your
own bargain than trust Christ’s grace to minister to your need? Or is it
hard for him that he who ministers the Word should show his practical trust in
the Word by looking to the Lord for his support? Ah, to whom could he look so
well? and how much better off would he be for losing the sweet experience of
No: it is all unbelief in divine power and love, and
machinery brought in to make up for the want of it. And yet, if there is not
this, what profit is there of keeping up the empty profession of it? If God can
fail, let the whole thing go together; if He cannot, then your skitful
contrivances are only the exhibition of rank unbelief.
And what do you
accomplish by it? You bring in the Canaanite (the merchantman) into the house
of the Lord. You offer a premium to the trader in divine things - the man who
most values your money, and least cares for your souls. You cannot but be aware
how naturally those two extremes associate together, and you cannot but own
that if you took the Lord’s plan, and left His labourers to look to Him
for their support, you would do more to weed out such traffickers than by all
your care and labour otherwise. Stop the hire, and you will banish the
hirelings, and the blessed ministry of Christ will be freed from an incubus and
a reproach which your contracts and bargainings are largely responsible for.
And if Christ’s servants cannot after all trust Him, let them seek out
some honest occupation where they may gain their bread without scandal. In the
fifteenth century before Christ, God brought a whole nation out of Egypt, and
maintained them forty years in the wilderness. Did He, or did He not? Is He as
competent as ever? Alas! will you dare to say those were the days of His youth,
and these of His decrepitude?
So serious are these questions. But the
unbelief that exists now existed then. Do you remember what the people did when
they had lost Moses on the mount awhile, and lacked a leader? They made a god
of the gold which they had brought out of Egypt with them, and fell down and
worshipped the work of their own hands. History repeats itself. Who can deny
that we have been looking on the counterpart of that?
It may be well
to ask here, Is there any measure of the Christian’s giving, for one who
would be right with God about it?
The notion of the tithe, or tenth,
has been revived, or with some two tithes, as that which was the measure of one
Israelite’s giving. Jacob has been propounded to us as an example, as he
stood before God in the morning after that wonderful night at Bethel, when God
had engaged to be with him and to be his God, and to multiply his seed, and
bring him again into the land from which he was departing. "If God will be with
me," he says, "and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to
eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in
peace, then the Lord shall be my God; and this stone, which I have set for a
pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that Thou shalt give me, I will
surely give the tenth unto Thee."
God’s ways are so little like
our ways, His thoughts so little like our thoughts, it is not very wonderful
man does not understand them. But, surely, Jacob does not here enter into the
blessedness of God’s thoughts. I need not dwell now upon his case, but
only notice it to say that for a Christian at least the whole principle is a
mistake. You are not to ransom nine tenths from God by giving one. You are
bought with a price, you and yours. In a double way, by creation and redemption
too, you belong, with all you have, to God. Many people are acting upon the
perfectly wrong idea that whether as to time, money, or whatever else, God is
to have His share, and the rest is their own. They misunderstand the legal
types, and do not realize the immense difference that accomplished redemption
has brought in with it.
Before "Ye are bought with a price" could yet
be said, it was impossIble to deduce the consequences that result from this.
Grace goes beyond law, which made nothing, and could make nothing, perfect. The
very essence of the surrender of the life to God is that it must be a voluntary
one. Like the vow of the Nazarite, (which was a vow of separation to the Lord,
and which reads, "when any one will vow the vow of a Nazarite,") that surrender
must be of the heart, or it is none. Nor is it a contradiction to this that
there were born Nazarites - Nazarites from the womb, as Samson and the Baptist.
Christians are all born (new-born) to Nazariteship, which is implied, and
necessitated, in a true sense, by the life which we receive from God. But the
necessity is not one externally impressed upon it: it is an internal one. "A
new heart will I give you," says the Lord: but the new heart given is a heart
which chooses freely the service of its Master. A legal requirement of the
whole would have been unavailing, and a mere bondage. "Not grudgingly, or of
necessity," is, as we have seen, the Scripture rule for the Christian. But that
does not at all mean what people characterize as "cheap religion." It does not
mean that God will accept the "mites" of the niggard, as the Lord did those of
the woman in the Gospels. Christ does not say, "Give as much or as little as
you please: it is all one." No: He expects intelligent, free surrender of all
to Him, as on the part of one who recognizes that all is really His.
If you will look at the sixteenth chapter of Luke, you will find the Lord
announcing very distinctly this principle. The unjust steward is our picture
there - the picture of those who are (as we all are as to the old creation)
under sentence of dismissal from the place they were originally put in, on
account of unrighteous dealing in it. Grace has not recalled the sentence,
"Thou mayest be no longer steward." It has given us far more, but it has not
reinstalled us in the place we have thus lost. Death, in fact, is our removal
from our stewardship, although it be the entrance for us as Christians into
something which must be confessed "far better." But grace has delayed the
execution of the sentence, and meanwhile our Master’s goods are in our
hand. All that we have here are His things, and not ours. And now God looks for
us to be faithful in what is, alas, to men as such (creature of God, as indeed
it is) "the mammon of unrighteousness" - the miserable deity of unrighteous
Moreover grace counts this faithfulness to us. We are permitted to
"make friends of this mammon of unrighteousness" by our godly use of it;
whereas it is naturally, through our fault, our enemy and our accuser. It must
not be imagined that the "unjust steward" is to be our character literally all
through. The Lord shows us that this is not so when He speaks of "faithfulness"
being looked for. No doubt the unjust steward in the parable acts unjustly with
his master’s goods, and it must not be imagined that God commends him - it
is "his lord" that does so - man as man admiring the shrewdness which he
displayed. Yet only so could be imaged that conduct which in us is not
injustice, but faithfulness to our Master-grace entitling us to use what we
have received, for our own true and eternal interests, which in this case are
one with His own due and glory.
But then there are things also which
we may speak of as "our own." What are these? Ah, they are what the Lord speaks
of as, after all, "the true riches." "If ye have not been faithful in the
unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye
have not been faithful in that which is another’s, - not "another
man’s," but God’s, of course, - " who will give you that which is
your own ?"
Thus our own things are distinct altogether; and I need
not tell Christians what they are. I need only remind you that if you have in
your thoughts, as men down here, a quantity of things as your own possessions,
to be liberal with, or to hoard up - in both cases you misapprehend the matter.
As to things here, you have your Master’s goods, which, if you hoard up
here, you surely lose hereafter, and turn them into accusers. On the other
band, you are graciously permitted to transfer them really to your own account,
by laying them up amid your treasure, where your treasure is -"in heaven."
The rich man, in the solemn illustration at the end of the chapter,
was one who had made his lord’s "good things" his own after another
fashion; and in eternity they were not friends, but enemies and accusers.
"Son," says Abraham to him, "remember that thou in thy life. time receivedst
thy good things; " - that was all. But what a solemn memory it was! How once
again the purple and fine linen and sumptuous fare met the eyes they had once
gratified, and now appalled. Lazarus had been at his gate, but it was not
Lazarus that accused. And oh, beware of having things your own down here. There
was a man who had his "good things" here, and in eternity what were they to
I know this is not the gospel. No, but it is what, as the
principle of God’s holy government, the gospel should prepare us to
understand and to enter into. Have you observed that the most beautiful and
affecting story of gospel-grace, the story of the lost son received, is what
precedes the story of the unjust steward? The Pharisees, who in the fifteenth
chapter stand for the picture of the elder son, are here rebuked in the person
of the rich man. Will not the prodigal received back to a Father’s arms be
the very one who will understand that he owes his all to a Father’s love?
Is not "ye are bought with a price" the gospel? But then ye are bought: ye are
not your own.
Put it in another way. You remember that when God would
bring His people out of Egypt, Pharaoh wanted to compromise - of course by that
compromise to keep the people as his slaves. Three separate offers he makes to
Moses, each of which would have prevented salvation being, according to
God’s thought of it, salvation at all. The first compromise was "worship
in the land."
"And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go
ye, sacrifice to your God in the land."
And still the world asks why
need you go outside it? You are entitled to your opinions, but why be so
extreme? Why three days’ journey into the wilderness? Why separate from
what you were brought up in, and from people as good as you? Ah, they do not
know what that three days’ journey implies, and that the death and
resurrection of Christ place you where you are no more of the world than He is!
Egypt - luxurious, civilized, self-satisfied, idolatrous Egypt - and the
wilderness! what a contrast! Yet only in the wilderness can you sacrifice to
Then he tries another stratagem
"And he said unto them, Go
serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go? "And Moses said, We
will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters,
with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto
"And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will
let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. Not so:
go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire."
By their little ones he had them safe, of course - a perfectly good security
that they would not go far away. And so it is still. How many are brought back
into the world by the children they did not bring with them out of the world.
One last hope remains for Pharaoh : -
"And Pharaoh called unto
Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be
stayed: let your little ones also go with you."
possessions," he says: and how many leave their possessions! Themselves are
saved; but their business, their occupation, these are still not sacred things,
they are secular: what have these things to do with the salvation of the soul?
But God says, No: bring them all out of Egypt: yourselves, your families, your
property, all are to be Mine.
And, in point of fact, His it must be if
we would ourselves keep it, for we cannot keep it of ourselves. The man out of
whom the demon went is our Lord’s own illustration of the fact that an
empty house will never lack a tenant. The sweeping and garnishing, and all
that, will not keep out the devil, but perhaps only make him more earnest after
occupation. Nothing will save from it but the positive occupation of it by
another, who will not, and need not, give it up. So we must bring Christ into
everything; or, by that in which He is not, we shall find we have but made room
for another - Christ’s opposite. The parable has application in many ways,
and in many degrees, to those who are Christ’s people, as well as to those
who are not. Our idle hours are not idle. Our useless occupations have a use -
if not for Christ, then against Him. Our so-called recreations may be but the
frittering away of energy, and seeds of distraction. We are in a world where on
every side we are exposed to influences of the most subtle character; where
corruption and decay are natural; and where all that is not permeated by divine
life becomes the speedy subject of decay and death. To a beleaguered garrison a
holiday may be fatal. We cannot ungird our loins here, or unbuckle our armour.
It is not enough to withstand in the evil day, but having done all, still you
must stand. So, if you leave Christ at the door of the counting-house, you will
have to contend alone, or give place to the devil within the counting-house.
No, Christ must be a constant Saviour as to every detail of our walk and ways.
How important it is to be right here! It is not a mere question of
points of detail; it is a question of truth of heart to Him, which affects
every detail - the whole character and complexion of our lives, indeed. So you
must not wonder at a question of cattle being concerned with a deeper question
of salvation itself - looking at salvation as not merely being from wrath and
condemnation, but of salvation from the sin also which brings in these. Be
persuaded of it, beloved friends, that only thus can we find, in the full power
of it, what salvation is.
We have been looking at this from the side
of responsibility. Surely it is good to look at it also from the side of
salvation. Until you are clean delivered in these three respects you cannot be
happily with God, nor even safe. Of course, I am not talking about reaching
heaven: you may be safe in that respect. But whatever you have that is not
Christ’s, that is the world’s still, will drag you back into the
world. Can you go to your business and shut the door upon Him and He not feel
it, and you not feel it? Can you say to Him: Lord, Sunday is yours, and Monday
is mine; or, Lord, there is your tenth, and these nine are mine - and feel
perfectly satisfied that all is right with Him? Better keep it all back, than
give in that fashion; for the amount given just hinders from realizing where we
In this great world of sorrow and of evil, Christ has interests
dear to His heart - how dear, no one of us has perhaps a notion of. Souls lie
in darkness to whom His Word would give light, and in bondage to whom it would
bring deliverance. He says to us, I count upon my people to do this. How can we
answer to Him for this confidence He has placed in us? Shall we say, Lord, I
have had to keep up with my neighbours, to provide for the future, to do a
great many things which I thought of more importance? Or, shall we say, Lqrd,
Thou art so great, so high, so powerful, Thou surely canst not want my help in
a matter like this! Or, Lord, Thou art so gracious, I am sure Thou wilt accept
anything I may bring. I would not suppose Thee a hard Master, to want me to
bring Thee much? Alas, what shall we say? Shall we not rather own with broken
hearts how little we have valued Him?
The "doctrine of Balaam" thrives
upon the heartlessness of God’s own people. Do not let us imagine, because
we denounce the mercenary character of what is current all around, that we can
have no share in upholding what we denounce. It is far otherwise. If we have,
or are giving cause to those who sneer at the advocates of "cheap religion," we
are giving it the most effectual possible support.
Beloved, I have
spoken out my heart, and I must pray you bear with me. Who that looks around,
with a heart for Christ, upon all the abominations practiced in His name, but
must be led to ask, Did not all this evil spring out of the failure of His own
people, of those who at heart loved Him? And further, how far are we perhaps
now, unsuspectedly, helping on the very evils we deplore? Do we not pray for
Him to search out our hearts, and shall we shrink from having them searched
out? If the search detects nothing, we need not fear it. If it shows us
unanticipated evil, it is well to realize that the truthful judgment of the
evil is ever the truest blessing for our souls. It will cost us something, no
doubt, to walk in what is ever a narrow way - a race, a warfare, calling for
energy and self-denial. But ah, beloved, it will cost us more, much more, to
have Christ walk as a stranger to us, because our paths and His do not agree.
But the door is open, beloved, to come back. He has never shut it. The
one thing so greatly lacking now is whole-hearted integrity. So few without
some secret corner in their hearts they would not like to have searched out by
Him. That corner must be searched out, for He must be a Saviour after His own
fashion; and if we would not have it, we can have little apprehended the
fulness and reality of His salvation. Not alone does He save from wrath - He
saves from sin. It is in subjection to His yoke that we find rest.
grant it to us for His name’s sake even now.