It is a great thing for us, beloved friends, in all our path, to know where we are, and then to know the mind of God, not only as to where we are, but as to our own place in the path in which we find ourselves.
Not only has God visited us in grace, but we have to take into our own mind what the present actual result of the grace is that has reached us, so that we hold fast the great principles under which God has set us as Christians, and at the same time be able to apply those principles to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. These circumstances may vary according to our actual position, but the principles never vary. Their application to the path of faith may vary, and does.
I mean such a thing as this:
In Hezekiah’s time, they were told that “in quietness and confidence shall be your strength,” and that the Assyrian should not even cast a mount before Jerusalem; they were to stay perfectly calm and firm. And the host of Assyria was destroyed.
But when, in Jeremiah’s time, the moment of judgment had come, then he that went out of the city to their enemies, the Chaldees, should save himself.
They were still God’s people as much as before, though He was saying for the time (in judgment), “not my people,” and that made the difference.
It was not that God’s mind was altered, or His relationship to His people changed; that never will be. Yet in the latter instance the conduct of the people was to be exactly the opposite. Under Hezekiah they were protected; under Zedekiah they were to bow to the judgment.
I refer to these circumstances as a testimony that while the relationship of God with Israel in this world is immutable, yet their conduct had to be the opposite at one time to that at another.
And so we have to know where we are, and, at the same time, to learn what the path of God is in the position in which we find ourselves.
Look at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, as regards the church, God’s assembly in the world. There I find the full display of power; all had one heart and one mind; they had all things in common; and the very place was shaken where they were.
But suppose I take the professing church now, including the Roman Catholic system and all else; if we look at that sort of thing and own it, at once we bow down to every thing that is evil.
Although God’s thoughts never change and He knows His people, yet we need spiritual discernment to see where we are, and what the ways of God are in the circumstances, while never departing from the first great principles which He has laid down for us in His word.
We have, too, to take account of another thing as a fact of Scripture: Wherever God has set man, the first thing man does is to spoil his position; we must ever take that into account.
Look at Adam, Noah, Aaron, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar.
God goes on in patient mercy; yet the uniform way of man, as we read in Scripture, has been at once to upset and destroy the thing which God set up as good. Consequently, it is impossible that there can be any walking with a true knowledge of our position, if this is not considered.
But God is faithful, and goes on in patient love.
Thus, in Isaiah we find, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes,” and so on; but it was not fulfilled till eight hundred years after; and when Christ came they rejected Him.
God waited in patience; individual souls were converted; various testimonies were rendered by the prophets, and a remnant was preserved still.
But if we should plead the faithfulness of God, which is invariable, in order to put a positive sanction upon the evil that man has brought in, our whole principle is false.
That is exactly what they did in Jeremiah’s time, when judgment was coming, and what Christendom is doing now. They said: “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these”; and, “The law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise,” when they were all going to Babylon.
The faithfulness of God was invariable, but the moment they applied that to sustain them in the place of evil, it became the very ground of their ruin. If we lose the sense of where we are, the very principles which would be our security become our ruin.
We get the word, “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for 1 called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him”—a passage constantly misapplied. God is saying there, “Abraham was alone, and I called him.” Israel, to whom God spake this, was then but a little remnant— “Don’t let that make you uneasy, I called Abraham alone.” Their being little was of no consequence; God would bless them alone, as He had blessed Abraham.
Now, in Ezekiel, that is denounced as iniquity. There they said, “We are many”; “Abraham was one, and he inherited the land,” God blessed him, and so He will bless us still more.
From want of conscience, really, they misapprehended the condition in which they were, and with which God was dealing.
So now, if we have not the sense of our own condition, I speak of the whole professing thing in the midst of which we find ourselves, we shall be marked by an utter lack of spiritual intelligence.
I think we are in the last days, but sometimes I think people do not weigh the full force of that.
I think I can shew you from Scripture that from the very outset, the church as a responsible system down here has got into the condition of judgment, and that the state of it is such as to require individual faith to judge it.
Many seek to find a kind of resource from the present confusion in the doctrine that the church teaches and judges, and does this and that.
But, on the contrary, God is judging the church.
He does, shew patience and grace, calling souls to Himself as He did in Israel; but what we have to look in the face is that the church has not escaped the effect of that principle in poor human nature that the first thing it does is to depart from God, and ruin what He has set up.
When we speak of the last times, it is not a new thing, but one which we have in Scripture, one which God in sovereign goodness has given us before the closing of the canon of Scripture.
He allowed the evil to come up so that He could give us the judgment of Scripture upon it.
If you look at Jude—and I take now merely some of those principles which the church of God wants—he says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” The faith was in danger already; they were obliged to contend for that which was slipping from them, so to say,” for there were certain men crept in unawares,” etc., so that you must look at judgment now. As God saved the people out of Egypt, and then had to destroy them that believed not. So, too, with the angels in like manner.
Enoch prophesied of those of whom he speaks as having come in, as those upon whom the Lord will execute judgment when He comes again.
These were there then, and the starting point of the evil in the apostles’ days was sufficient to give the revelation of God’s mind by His word; the ground of the judgment when the Lord comes again was there present already.
If you take John’s first epistle, chapter 2:18, he says, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”
So that it is not a new thing that is developed, but it began at the first, just as in Israel they made the calf at the outset; yet God bore with them for centuries, but the state of the people was that which a spiritual man judged.
John says, “We know it is the last time.” I suppose the church of God has hardly improved since then. In verse 20 he adds, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” —you have got that which will enable you to judge in these circumstances.
Again, take the practical state of the church as seen by Paul in Philippians 2:20, 21: “I have no man like minded who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” That was in his days. What a testimony! It is not that they had given up being Christians.
He tells Timothy, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me; I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge,” 2 Tim. 4:16. Not one stayed by him.
Peter tells us, “The time is come, that judgment must begin at the house of God.”
I name these as the authority of the word of God, shewing that even then, at the very beginning, there was that going on outwardly which the Spirit of God could discern and testify that it was the ground of final judgment. It was already manifest in the church of God.
There is another thing that shews this principle strongly, and that is the ground of action in the circumstances portrayed in the seven churches of the Revelation.
I do not doubt that that is the history of the church of God; but the point is, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” The churches could neither guide nor have authority, nor anything else of the kind; but whoever had an ear to hear God’s word had to judge their state. That, very evidently, is an important principle, and a very solemn thing it is. He is speaking to the churches, not as Head of the body, though He is that for ever and ever, but He is looking at them as responsible down here on the earth.
It is not the Father sending messages to the church, as in the different epistles; but it is Christ walking in the midst of the churches, to judge them. He is, therefore, seen here, neither as the Head of the body, nor as the Servant. He has His garment down to the feet, but if I want to serve, I tuck my garment up. He is walking in their midst to judge their state. That is a new thing.
It is a question of responsibility. So you find some approved and some disapproved. Their condition is the subject of judgment on the part of Christ; and they are here called to listen to what He has to say. It is not, properly speaking, the blessings of God which you get here in the churches, though they had many blessings, but the condition of these churches, when these blessings had been put into their hands—what use had they made of them?
Look at the Thessalonians; in their freshness, the work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope were manifest. But in the first epistle to the churches, that to Ephesus, you get: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience.” Where were the faith and the love? The spring was wanting. Ah! I will take your candlestick away if you do not repent. They were put in a place of responsibility, and He deals with them according to it. And the first thing is, you have left your first love; so the time was come that judgment should begin at the house of God.
Peter’s words allude to Ezekiel, when he says, “Begin at my sanctuary” —God’s house at Jerusalem; for that is where God looks first for what is right—to His own house.
I feel it is an exceedingly solemn thing, and one that should bow our hearts before God.
The church has failed in being the epistle of Christ—it was set as such in the world; but now, is it anything like it at all? Can a heathen—that is the way to look at it—see anything of it?
Individuals may be walking blessedly, yet where do we get faith like Elijah’s, though he knew no one in Israel who was true, while God knew seven thousand? Blessed man as he was, even his faith failed, and God asks him, “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
This should not be discouragement either, for Christ is sufficient for us. Nothing reaches up to the full perfect faithfulness of God’s own grace, and our hearts ought to be thoroughly bowed as to that.
Neither is it the thought of attacking or blaming, for we are all in it in one sense, but our hearts should take note of that which was set up so beautiful in the power of God’s Spirit— what has it all come to?
It casts us on the strength of Him who can never fail.
When the spies returned to Israel, the faith of ten gave way. Caleb and Joshua say: Do not let us be afraid, these giants shall be bread for us.
It is the same now for us in view of difficulty or opposition.
We are called to see where we are, and to know what the path and the place are, in which we have to walk, and to have a consciousness of the state all around us is in.
Yet though the church has utterly failed, the Head never can fail. Christ is just as sufficient for us now, in the state of things in which we find ourselves, as He was when at the first He set up the church in beauty and blessedness. It may require us to look at His word, to see what His mind is, but we must not shut our eyes to the state of things in which we are.
In reading the Acts it is most striking to see that there is power in the midst of the evil.
When we get to heaven there will be no evil at all, and we shall not want faith or conscience in exercise then; but now we do, and when evil is dominant, the only thing we have is the power of the Spirit of God, and, by it, we should be dominant over the evil in our path.
It does not say that every Christian will be persecuted, but it does say, all that will “live godly” in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. If a man shew the power of the Spirit of God, the world will not stand it—that is the principle. In the Acts, when we get the power of the Spirit shewn in miracles, as it had been in Christ before, what did it draw out? The enmity that crucified the Lord.
What we now have is good in the midst of evil (that is what Christ was, perfect good in the midst of evil), but the effect of the display of God in Him (inasmuch as the carnal mind is enmity against God) was that it drew out hostility; and the more the display, the more the hostility drawn out; and so, for His love He had hatred.
As yet, we have not got evil done with, that will be the case when Christ comes again, and therein is the difference between this present time and that time; that time will be the coming in of good in power so as to bind Satan and put down evil.
But the presence of Christ in this world, and afterwards that of His saints, what is that but good in the midst of evil, while Satan is the god of this world?
Directly these got mixed up together, the good was swamped.
Take the wise and the foolish virgins, while they are asleep, they can all stay together, why should they not? But the moment they trim their lamps, there arises the question of the oil, and they do not go together any more. And we shall find it the same.
Again, in Joshua, it was a time of power. True, they fail at Jericho, and get beaten at Ai, but the general character is power; enemies are subdued and cities walled up to heaven are taken. Faith overcomes all—a most blessed picture. Good in the midst of evil, power carrying on the good and putting down enemies.
In Judges, it is the contrary. God’s power was there, but the power was manifested by the evil because the people were not faithful. They got at once to “Bochim,” i.e., tears, weeping, whereas in Joshua they went to Gilgal, where the total separation of Israel from the world had taken place; they had crossed the Jordan, and that was death, and then the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. But the angel of the Lord went to Bochim, he did not give Israel up, though they had left Gilgal. It was grace going after them.
And on our part, if we do not go to Gilgal, if we do not go back to the utter annihilation of self in God’s presence, we cannot come out in power.
If a servant’s intercourse with God does not surmount his testimony to men, he will break down and fail; he must renew his strength.
The great secret of Christian life is, that our intercourse with God should make nothing of ourselves.
God did not, however, give Israel up, and they built an altar unto the Lord; but at the altar they were weeping, not triumphing; and they were constantly being triumphed over. But though the people had lost their place, God sent them judges, and He was with the judges.
That is what we have to consider in the same way. “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s”; was not that losing their place? (Not that such ceased to be in the church of God, I do not mean that.) And unless we do consider this, we too shall get to Bochim—the place of tears. The whole state of the church of God has to be judged—only the Head can never lose His power; and there is grace that fits the condition, too.
What I see in the beginning of the history of the church is. first, this blessed power converting three thousand in a day. Then came opposition: the world put them into prison, but God shews His power against that, and I do not doubt that now, if we were more faithful, there would be a great deal more of the intervention of God. The power of the Spirit of God was there and they were walking in a blessed unity, shewing that power, and that, too, in the midst of the power of evil; though we find, alas, evil working in that scene, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. They get credit for giving up their goods, falsely; the Spirit of God is there, and they fall down dead, and fear comes upon all, both inside and outside.
And that is the first display of it so.
Then before the history of Scripture closes, the time has come that judgment must begin at the house of God.
It is a most solemn thing characterising the present time until Christ comes, when His power will put down evil—a different thing.
Next we get the testimony to the gross evil where the good ought to be: “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves,” and so on.
There, the professing church—for such it is—has the same description given of it as that which the Apostle gives of the heathen in the beginning of Romans. It is a positive declaration that such times should come, and that the state of things would return back to what it had been in heathendom. And it goes on to say that evil men “shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
But he tells Timothy to continue in the things he had learned; 2 Tim. 3:14. People say now the church teaches these things, but I ask, what is that? The church? What do they mean? It is all something in the air; there is no inspired person in the church now to teach. I must go to Paul and to Peter, and then I know from whom I learn. Just as he says to the elders from Ephesus, “I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace.”
Evil men and seducers had waxed worse and worse, but the apostle casts Timothy on the certainty of the knowledge he had got from particular persons; to us now, it is the Scriptures which are able to make us wise unto salvation.
We have to learn this when the professing church is a judged thing, and the form of godliness characterises it.
And this is what I think Christians must look in the face. Do we not see men now turning away who were once called Christians—such turning infidels? A well-known person told me recently, “You would not find one young man in forty down in the South who is not turning infidel.” That may be exaggerated, but mere formality is throwing people more and more into open infidelity or open superstition.
It is notorious how things are going, even in an outward way. In itself Christianity is Christianity as God gave it, but outwardly as seen around us, it is gone. And it is Christianity that we want, as it is in the word of God. Not that there is anything to fear; it is a blessed time, in a sense, casting us upon God.
Only we must look at things simply and steadily.
There is not a more blessed picture of lovely faith and godliness, before the gospel came in, than that which you find in the first two chapters of Luke, amidst the abounding iniquity of the Jews, we see Zachariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna, and other like-minded ones.
And they knew each other, for Anna “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” Just as we ought to be doing in another way.
But I wanted to say that as regards the present state of things, viewing it from the side of man’s responsibility, man has departed from what God set up; and then comes in a growing corruption, until judgment is necessary.
John spoke of the last days as being already come, because there were even then many antichrists; but God’s patience has been going on, until at the close perilous times have come.
And now, I will add a word as to how we are to walk in the midst of such a state of things. It is clearly by the word of God, i.e., by immediate reference to it. Not that God does not use ministry. Ministry is His own ordinance. Still for authority we must turn to the Word of God itself. There is found direct authority of God, as determining everything. And we have the activity of His Spirit to communicate things.
It is an unhappy thing if a person only goes to the Scripture, refusing help from others; and so much the worse for him.
And again, it is a different thing for you to look at them as a direct guide, and deny the Spirit’s place.
A mother ought to be blest in the care of her children, and so should a minister among saints; that is the activity of the Spirit of God in an individual—he is an instrument of God. But while owning that fully, we must go to the Word of God, and to that directly; that is what we have to insist upon. We all say that the Word of God is the authority, but we have to insist that God speaks by the Word. A mother is not inspired; no man is inspired; but the Word of God is inspired, and it is direct: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” I never get the church teaching; the church is taught and does not teach; individuals teach. But the apostles and others whom God used in that way were the instruments of God to communicate directly from God to the saints. So it is, Let “the letter be read to all the holy brethren.”
This is of all importance, because it is God’s title to speak to souls directly. He may use any instrument He pleases, and you cannot object; “the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee”; but when you come to direct authority, it is a most solemn thing to touch that. Neither do I talk of private judgment in the things of God, I do not admit it as a principle. You have to discern about many other things, but the moment I get into divine things, am I going to talk of judging the Word of God?
That is one sign of the evil of the times that are come in. When I own the Word of God brought by His Spirit, I sit down to hear what God will say to me. And then it judges me, not I it.
When the divine word is brought to my conscience and heart, who am I to judge God when God is speaking to me? It would be denying that He is speaking to me. To have real power, it must be the Word of God to my soul; and then I don’t think of judging it, but I sit down before it to have my heart drawn out, and my conscience exercised.
But then I must have “that which was from the beginning.” Why? Because God gave that. At the beginning we have the thing not as it was spoiled, but as that which God set up.
It will not do to speak to me of the primitive church. I must have that which was from the beginning. I then get the inspired Word, and the unity of the body.
But after the beginning, the very next thing in ecclesiastical history was all wretched division; whereas John says, “If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” You lose your place in the Son and in the Father, if you go away from that which was from the beginning.
It is evident, then, in applying this, I must take notice of the circumstances we are in, for there I find, not what was set up from the beginning, but what man has made of that which God set-up at the beginning. People say the church is this and that, but if I take what God has set up, I see the Unity of the Body, and Christ the Head, and this is what the church was manifested to be on the earth.
But do we get it so now? On the contrary we are warned. Paul, as a wise master builder, had laid the foundation, and when others would build he warns them not to build with wrong materials, wood, hay, stubble, all of which will be destroyed.
The work of building was put upon man’s responsibility; as such it became the subject of judgment. “Upon this rock I will build my church” gives me Christ’s building, and that is going on building, it is not finished yet; and again in Peter, “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house”; there too, the building is seen still going on; then, in Ephesians 2, it is described by Paul, as fitly framed together, and growing unto an holy temple in the Lord.
All that is Christ’s work—what men call the invisible church, and so it is.
On the other hand, “let every man take heed how he buildeth” (that is on the foundation laid by Paul), there you have man’s work as a responsible instrument.
Now men have confounded these two things, they go on building with wood, hay, stubble, and then they speak of the gates of hell not prevailing against that, because they do not give heed to the word of God.
But we have to look at God’s principles, and to the power of the Spirit of God; to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, and to discover truly where we are, so finding the path which God has marked out, and in which we are distinctly to walk.
We need also faith in the presence of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will use the Word, and make us take notice of the state of things, not confounding God’s faithfulness with man’s responsibility (what the superstitious world is doing), but owning that there is a living God, and that that living God is amongst us, in the Person and power of the Holy Ghost.
All is founded on the cross, surely, but the Comforter has come, and, by one Spirit, believers were all baptised into one body.
And now whether I take the individual or the church, the secret of power for good against evil, outside or inside; I find in this fact—the word being the guide—of the presence of the Spirit of God.” “Know ye not,” he says to people going on very badly to correct them, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?” Do we believe, beloved friends, that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost? Then what kind of persons ought we to be?
In 1 Corinthians 3 the same thing is true of the church, “Ye are the temple of God.”
The presence of the Spirit gives power, and practical power, too, for blessing, whether in the church or in the individual; and He alone can do anything for real blessing.
Again, it is only on the footing of redemption that God dwells with man. He did not dwell with Adam innocent, though He came down to Him; He did not dwell with Abraham, though He visited him and ate with him; but when Israel came out of Egypt, He says He brought them to himself “that I may dwell among them.” At once the tabernacle was built, and there was God’s presence in the midst of His people.
Of course, now, we have true and full redemption, and the Holy Ghost has come down to dwell in those who believe, that they might be the expression of what Christ was Himself when He was down here. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God,” and, “hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
Where a person is really a Christian, God dwells in him; not merely he has life, but he is sealed with the Holy Ghost, who is the power for all moral conduct.
If we believed that the Spirit of God dwells in us, what subjection there would be, and what manner of persons we should be, not grieving that Spirit!!
And further, in i Corinthians 2, I find, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God.” Now the Spirit of God and the world are always in contrast.
But then I find the revelation is in contrast with what is our state. We have to say, “Eye hath not seen.” These things are so great; we can’t conceive them, but God hath revealed them by His Spirit.
Taking the state of the Old Testament saints, they could not find out or know these things. But with us it is just the opposite. We do know them and He has given us His Spirit that we might know them.
In this passage you get the Holy Ghost in three distinct steps: first, these things are revealed by the Spirit; next, they are communicated by words the Spirit taught; and then, they are received by the power of the Spirit, i.e., they are “spiritually discerned”; all three are the operation of the power of the Spirit of God.
If I were to take the Word of God by itself, and say, I can judge of it and understand it, then I am a rationalist; it is man’s mind judging the revelation.
But when we get God’s mind communicated by the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost the power to receive it, then I get God’s mind.
There is just as much wisdom and power from God for us to meet the state of ruin in which we now are, as there was at the first when He set up His church.
And that is what we have to lean upon.