In Jeremiah 7 he begins another strain. He takes up the temple itself, and shows that the tide of evil in Judah had completely polluted the very sanctuary of Jehovah. Moreover, in the midst of their peril, they were trusting not in God nor in His word, but in lying words of their own that the outward forms would be a sufficient stay against the destroying Gentile. "Trust ye not" therefore, he says, "in lying words, saying, The temple of Jehovah, The temple of Jehovah, The temple of Jehovah, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever" (verses 4-7).
And he shows them that their boast in an uninterrupted succession of national privilege was a vain trust. This false confidence was quite as strongly the notion of the Jews as it has ever been of papists and others in Christendom. The delusion was equally destructive to them as it will be to Christendom. There is nothing more certain to bring destruction upon Christendom than the notion of an indefectible security.
I do not mean security for the soul, for the believer. This assurance is quite right. We cannot too strongly hold the eternal life of the believer; but to apply to the state of Christendom the notion that it will go on indefectibly when God, on the contrary, has warned us in His word that Christendom will fall just like the Jewish state before it is to be caught by the wiles of the wicked one. Such a notion is precisely the delusion by which Satan brings about its total departure from God.
What is perfectly true for the soul in Christ is thoroughly ruinous for the general collective state in religion. There is nothing finer than the faith that gives God credit for grace to the soul; but there is no greater pit of delusion than to predicate generally of the apostate state of things in Christendom what is only true of and for the individual soul; because the one is real genuine faith, and the other is most arrogant and lofty presumption, which God will judge.
Now this is precisely the moral of Jeremiah 7. And the prophet makes his text, so to speak, to be the fact that Shiloh had lost its prestige. Shiloh was the place where the tabernacle was originally set up in the land (verse 12). What was Shiloh now? God had profaned it: and God would do the very same thing where the ark was now placed, where the sanctuary was in Jerusalem. Impossible that God should bind Himself to maintain an empty form. He would no longer sustain what was a beautiful figure of His truth, when the state of the people and of the priests was the most offensive evil under the sun in His eye. The greater the truth, the blessing, or at any rate the privileges, that had been accorded to the Jewish people and their priests, the greater the wickedness of their insults to His holiness in His own temple.
Hence, therefore, so far from the temple being their strong fortress against the judgments of the king of Babylon, the temple would be the main point on which all these judgments would converge, and if the city of Jerusalem, in general, would be destroyed by him, the sanctuary would suffer most of all. And we find that the house of God was precisely the great object of the invader's desire; for there was an instinctive feeling of animosity among the Gentiles against this temple where Jehovah had placed His name. They knew right well what Jehovah had done in times past by the overthrow of the nations. The question was whether Jehovah would allow His temple to be plundered now, and the name of Jehovah, as it were, to be razed from the earth.
The campaign by Babylon against Jerusalem was a great venture. What had Jehovah not done to Pharaoh? What had He not done to the kings who attacked the children of Israel in the wilderness and in the land? Thus, no doubt, there was a certain tremor and qualm in the midst of the enemies of Judah. The destruction of the ten tribes by the Assyrian, no doubt, encouraged the king of Babylon to go forward, but still there must have been a certain anxiety till the thing was done.
And it was precisely this vain confidence in the past that supported the Jews. They assumed that such a thing as the conquest of Jerusalem could never be, and that whatever might be their faults God would never allow them to go completely down into the ditch. But this Jehovah did, and He allowed the Gentile to triumph thoroughly over them and over His own sanctuary. But then the very prophets that show the judgment that was coming proclaim the deliverance and restoration that will certainly follow in due time.
Now we live in a state of things where this ultimate recovery is not believed. The reason why men in general in Christendom do not now believe in the restoration of Israel - there are individuals of course who believe it - but the reason why there is general scepticism about the return and restoration of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a scene of glory for the Lord, is this: there is an instinctive sense that the blessing of Israel supposes the judgment of Christendom; for if Christendom goes on it is impossible that this reinstatement can take place.
And this view is quite true. There cannot be the restoration of the Jews without the complete judgment of Christendom, because God cannot have two corporate witnesses at the same time on the earth. And if the present witness becomes apostate then God will judge it, and when the judgment has taken place, then He will restore His ancient people. Such is the declared order of Scripture.
Well, naturally, those who consider this judicial overthrow of Christendom an impeachment of their honour, and who shrink from the unwelcome thought of the judgment of the present state of things, are reluctant to hold that God has such a bad opinion of what is being done in Christendom now. Consequently, they fight against this truth to the last, and the way in which their opposition shows itself is by denying the coming of the Lord to the earth in judgment, and consequently the restoration of the ancient people of God.
But the New Testament is perfectly explicit that what these prophets of old maintain is true and divine. What the Old Testament declares, the New Testament does not weaken, but establishes and seals. And the moral reason why the Old Testament will in due time be verified is because the New Testament also discloses that the final result of the gospel will be the setting up of the man of sin (2 Thess. 2). This will be, of course, the result of the gospel abused, perverted, corrupted.
Now this conclusion of the present day of privilege is nothing at all harsh on God's part. Many say, "What an awful end!" No doubt it is. But the corruption of the best thing is always the worst corruption, and therefore it is of necessity that if the corruption of the law of God ended in such a state as God judged by the Assyrian of old and the Babylonian, sweeping both parts of the people into captivity, the result of the corruption of the gospel in Christendom will end in a still more fiery judgment, still more sorrowful to contemplate.
This judicial period is what is spoken of in scripture as the great tribulation when both Jew and Gentile must endure a retributive dealing by God, when, finally, He will put down the pride of man both in Judaism and Christendom and then bring in a blessing - a time of blessing when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.
When a dispensation is diverted from its proper character because the people of God are unfaithful to their responsibility, it is no longer a question with them of maintaining its outward forms in their original integrity, because they are invalidated in practice by this departure from the truth. And with the faithful, it is a question of falling back not upon something new but upon whatever is harmonious with the confession of the ruined state.
We must always be in the truth of a state of things, as before God. For instance, if I am a sinner I cannot be blessed unless I take the place of a sinner; and, in like manner, if the outward dispensation is ruined I cannot be fully blessed unless I recognise and feel the ruin. If I think that everything is prosperous when God is preparing to judge, it is plain that I am out of communion with Him, perhaps not as regards my own soul but as regards the general state of things.
The moral difference involved is that when things are all right and smooth at the beginning of a dispensation the duty of a man is faithfully to throw himself into everything when everything is good; but when things are corrupted it is his duty to separate himself from what is corrupt and only to continue with what bears the stamp of the Spirit of God upon it. That is the difference. You will find that in every dispensation outward forms always fall into the hands of deceivers, because an outward form is easily copied and easily maintained. Hence the priests and the false prophets were the persons in Judah and Jerusalem that kept up the name of zealousness for the law, and on this ground they claimed the allegiance of the people.
These are the persons against whom the faithful are warned by Jeremiah and the prophets. So, in the same way, there is no doubt at all that supposing Christendom is to continue uninterruptedly as a religious system the people that have the greatest claims are the Papists, and therefore if Christendom is indefectible we ought all to be Papists. But it is plain that the conscience and spirituality of every believer revolt against such an appalling thought. We all feel that it is impossible that the God of truth and grace should bind us to worship the Virgin Mary or the saints and angels and so on.
We feel that the Papists are idolaters, and we are quite right. They are idolaters, and they are worse idolaters than pagan idolaters, for if it is a bad thing to worship Jupiter and Saturn it is a far worse thing to worship the Virgin Mary. I cannot take knowledge of the Virgin Mary unless I know that she is the mother of the Lord, and knowledge of the Virgin Mary supposes the knowledge of Mary. Therefore I have the knowledge which ought to guard me against worshipping the Virgin. The very fact of knowing that the Virgin Mary was the mother of Christ ought to preserve me from Mariolatry. Therefore, I think that, of all idolatries that have ever been under the sun, the idolatry of the Church of Rome is the vilest.
It may be asked whether the ruin of the church is generally known and considered. It is not, because a great many of God's children have never fairly faced the matter. They think when they hear of the ruin of the church, or of Christendom, that it means somehow that God has not been faithful to His promises, whereas it is no question at all of fidelity to promises. Fidelity to promises goes with faith not with forms; but so far from despising forms the reason why I never could stand the kind of thing that is common in Christendom now was that I would not give up the forms of God's word.
For instance, take a congregation choosing a minister. Well, I never could be a Dissenter for that reason, because that is the invariable plan. I know there are many Dissenters who think the same thing; Isaac Taylor who wrote The Natural History of Enthusiasm and other books was one. He was a congregational deacon, and he wrote a book on this subject.
Scripture provides for the choice of a person to distribute funds. You ought to have confidence in the person who distributes funds or you will shut up your purse, but there is no such idea in God's word as choosing a man to preach. All the great denominations do so; not merely Dissenters, but all sorts of sects.
The whole scheme is out of course. It is wrong in principle. The principle is that he chooses who gives. I give the money and I am allowed to choose a person to be the distributor of it, but I do not give the Holy Spirit to the church, and therefore I must not choose the minister. If God supplies gifts without asking me I am not acting in a proper and becoming way as a Christian in choosing them among my spiritual brothers and sisters.
I own every spiritual person as a brother and sister, and desire grace to behave as such myself. This is perfectly plain, but, of course, just as the relationship of spiritual brothers and sisters is all settled by God's grace and God's will, so much more the appointment of persons to rule or teach or preach. We are not competent to choose. No one is competent. There never was a pretension even on the part of the apostles to do that. The apostles did appoint elders, but it is a mistake to suppose that elders are the same as gifts in the church. There were a great many elders who were not gifts. An elder you cannot have now, for an elder is a direct appointment from the Lord.
I mention this to show that for my own part I am a decided stickler for apostolic forms, and I do not therefore at all hold that one can set up new forms according to his own will. One of the reasons that makes me feel the present ruined state of Christendom is that not only is there unbelief in the authority of the word but there is also an unlawful exercise and assumption of authority without the Lord's having warranted it.
The exercise of man's will in such matters has the deepest possible moral influence on the Christian profession. If you have not the authority of the Lord, you have man's will. I consider that man's will in the things of God is nothing but sin. The whole business of the church and of the Christian is to do the will of God upon the earth. Indeed, there is no reason for us to be on the earth except simply to be the servants of God, and thus we are called to do His will all our life from the time that we are redeemed by blood of Christ. We are not, therefore, allowed by God to do one single thing out of our own heads. I am persuaded that in himself man is incompetent to act aright, and that we need to be guided by the word and by the power of the Spirit of God continually.
Now where the human will is allowed, every evil thing may be the result. When once you bring in the principle of man's will in any one single thing - take, for instance, the choice of a minister by a congregation - you may by the same system vote a cardinal or you may vote a pope. It all rests on the same false principle.
There is, however, ample authority for the present day. There is the standard, and the only one - the word of God. I go upon the assurance that God foresaw the end from the beginning and also every want of the Christian and of the church upon the earth, and that He provided in His word not only for what was then wanted but for all that would be wanted until the Lord comes to receive us up into glory. Then, having confidence in the word of God our first business is to find out what the will of God really is. I discover what His will was when things were right, then I find the direction that He gives when things are wrong. I learn what is the right state of things in what I call the wrong state of the church.
I know that it is thought by some that God has left the mode in which the church is to be governed an open question and that they can change the procedure according to the country or the circumstances. I deny this policy as a first principle, and I say it is false, and not only false, but that it results in the most serious consequences, because the result of it is that I am not divinely guided but I am humanly guided.
I thoroughly hold ministry to be a divine institution, and I do not believe that the ruined state of the church touches ministry in the smallest degree. There are persons over us in the Lord, but the moment you touch the source of ministry, that moment you separate ministry from the principles of the word of God. Now I believe that both the church and ministry are divine institutions, but in order to preserve their divine character they must be regulated by the word of God and not by men's new inventions and shifting ideas.
I contend for the highest antiquity: Irenæus and Justin Martyr are too low for me; that is, they are too modern. To me, everything is modern except the apostles; that is, I hold that genuine antiquity is what is divinely revealed. So far from thinking that the church of God is a thing according to men or a thing to be shifted with new fashions, I hold for the true, remote, and only divine antiquity. I believe that is what we all ought to do, but then that is a matter for each one to learn from God. I would not force any brother on such a point.
The term, "the ruin of Christendom," grates on many ears. Perhaps the Lord means it to grate. It is well to pull persons up when they are wrong. I grant that if one could explain the term more fully that would soften what after all is just the converse of what Jeremiah tasted. It is bitter to the taste but it is sweet to the soul to be with God and have the certainty of doing His will.