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 combined with the fidelity of a remnant to prevent for awhile the extreme result, and to separate mere professors from the confessors of Christ. Still, through it all, the leaven of Judaism did its deadly work; and no sooner was the 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 God?"
The second step we saw in the rise of a clergy, a special priestly class, replacing the true Christian ministry, the free exercise of the various gifts resulting from the various position of the members in 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 wider-opening door, the distance between the two classes increased, and more and more the clergy became the channels of all blessing to all 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 now come to look at the issue of all this when circumstances favored. In Pergamos, the change in the Lord’s position is noteworthy and characteristic. He presents Himself no longer in the tender and compassionate way which He exhibits toward His suffering ones in Smyrna. It is "These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges." His word is a word of penetrating and decisive judgment. It is with this two-edged sword that He by and by smites the nattions (chap. xix.), so that there can be no question to its meaning. And while it is of course true it is not His own at Pergamos who are smitten with it, yet it is those whom He charges them with having in their midst (v. i6).
The characteristic thing in Pergamos is that they are dwelling where Satan’s throne is. "Throne," not merely "seat," is the true word, though our translators, as it would seem, because of the strength the expression, shrank from using it. To what is referred in the actual city, no commentator can tell us. Trench remarks, "Why it should have thus deserved the name of ‘Satan’s throne,’ so emphatically repeated a second time at the end of this verse - "where Satan dwelleth," must remain one of the unsolved riddles of these epistles." But did the Lord bid him that hath an ear to hear what must remain an unsolved riddle? Assuredly not. It is one of the characteristics of the prophetic view in these epistles, that it delivers one from the necessity of waiting until some archeologist shall be found who can explain such things, and gives us one for our profit both clear and satisfactory, derived from Scripture itself. But not only so. The actual worth of the archeologic rendering would very likely little, if it could be gained. Of what value would it be if we believed with Grotius that is expression had reference to the worship of Aescu1apius, whose symbol was a serpent? Surely very little. Whereas the prophetic view flashes light upon the whole condition.
Satan reigns in hell, according to the popular belief; and Milton’s picture, while it reflects this, has done much to confirm and make it vivid. But hell is a place of punishment, and Scripture is quite plain that he is not confined there. Then he must have broken loose, is the idea. God’s prison was not strong enough! One might ask, How do we know, then, it will ever be? Think of the government which allows the chief malefactor to reign in his prison over those less evil than himself, and to break prison, and roam freely where he will! God’s government is not chargeable with this. In hell, Satan will be, not king, but lowest and most miserable there; and once committed to it, no escape will be permitted. But this will not be till after the millennium, as Rev. xx. assures us.
But this idea permits people to escape from the thought - an appalling one, no doubt, - that he is still what the Lord designates him - "prince of this world:" "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me."
And indeed the expression is stronger even than this. For the margin of the Revised Version is assuredly right, and it is the word "age," not world," which the apostle uses. "The god of this age" is surely a very solemn title to be given to Satan after the Christian dispensation, as we call it, had already begun. Yet there it stands; and scripture cannot be broken."
Yes, it is over the world, and in these Christian times, that Satan exercises this terrible sway, and this is what makes the expression here, "dwelling here Satan’s throne is," so sadly significant.
For "dwelling in the world" is another thing than being in it. We are in the world perforce, and no wise responsible for that, but to be a dweller it is a moral state: it is to be a citizen of it, the condition which the apostle speaks of in Philippians 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 citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Their characteristic is that they are enemies, not Christ personally, but of the cross - that cross by which we are crucified to the world and the world us. Their hearts were on earthly things, which, not satisfying them, as earthly things cannot, made their god to be their belly; their inward craving came their master, and made them drudge in its service. The Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. That 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 the idea is rather of the sorrows and trials of which the world is full, and which Christians are exposed to like the men of the world themselves. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward;" and pilgrimage in their minds is a thing perforce. The world passes away, and they cannot keep it; so they are glad to think that heaven is at the end. 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. But a pilgrim is not one whom the world is leaving, but who is leaving it. Otherwise the whole world would be pilgrims, as indeed they talk about the "pilgrimage of life." But this is the abuse of the term, and not its use. We can be pilgrims in this sense, and find all the world companions; and such, in fact, 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. God said they were dwelling where Satan’s throne was.
It was the history of old Babel repeating itself. You may find the vivid type of it in Gen. xi., where men "journeyed," indeed, but not as pilgrims, or only as that till they could find some smooth spot to settle down in. They "journeyed," as colonists or immigrants on the look-out for land; from the rough hills beyond the flood, where human life began; "from the east " - with their backs, that is, toward the blessed dawn; "and they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there." Such was, alas! the Church’s progress - from the rough heights of martyrdom down to the level plain where there were no difficulties to deter the most timid souls. There the Church multiplied, ~nd there they began to "build a city, and a tower whose top should reach to heaven." But "a city" was not Jerusalem, but Jerusalem’s constant enemy; not the "possession of peace," but a 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 what they could with the clay which was native in that lower land. "They had bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar." We seen some of this work already. It looks well, and lasts in the fine climate of these 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. Man-made Christians, compacted together, not by the cementing of the Spirit for eternity, 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 tower." Again, divide it into the two words into which it naturally separates, and you have per, "although," a particle which "usually serves to call attention to something which is objected to" (Liddell & Scott), and garnos, "marriage." Pergamos, - " a marriage though." It was indeed by the marriage of the Church and the world that the "city and tower" of Babylon the Great was raised; and such are the times we are now to contemplate.
Before we proceed, however, let us to this double proof unite another, that the threefold cord may not be broken. The parallel between the first addresses to the churches and the first four parables of the kingdom in Matthew xiii. I have referred to before, The first parable gives the partial failure of the good seed, as Ephesus gives the initial failure of the true Church. The second parable gives the direct work of the enemy - the tares sown among the wheat, as the address to Smyrna does the "synagogue of Satan." But the tares and wheat are separate, and the view is, in the first two parables, an individual one; the third parable is entirely different in this respect. One seed stands here for the whole sowing, and what is seen is now the aspect of the whole together. The little mustard-seed produces, strange to say, a tree, in which the birds of the heaven lodge, and the tree is a type of worldly power. Turn to the fourth chapter of Daniel, and you will find in Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, such a tree. Surely it is significant that in every direction in which we look from here there is a finger-post which points to Babylon! And here in Pergamos, as in the mustard-tree, it is the Church as a whole which is spoken of. It is established, as men triumphantly say: it is fallen is the lament from heaven.
For this is not the Church’s establishment upon its Rock-foundation, where the gates of hades cannot prevail against it, but in the world’s favour; and Satan be the prince of this world, what must be the price of this?
As a consequence, we find not only Nicolaitanism fully accepted, but the doctrine of Balaam also. They are still what is called "orthodox." "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, in in those days wherein Antipas was My faithfull witness, who was slain among you where Satan dwelleth." For these are the Nicene times, the time of the first Christian council called (at Nicea) a Roman emperor, and which maintained the deity of Christ against Arianism. It was a sight, they said, to see at the council the marks of the confession of Christ in those who had endured the late persecutions. The Nicene period was that of two, at least, of the creeds substantially acknowledged by the faith of Christians every where since. But theirs was an orthodoxy which, while maintaining (thank God!) 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 men. Orthodox as to Christ, it was yet most unorthodox as to the gospel.
Where 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 is acknowledged "one baptism for be remission of sins," but there is entire silence as any other. In the Athanasian, it is owned Christ suffered for our salvation," but how we are to obtain the salvation for which He suffered is again omitted. Practidally, the belief of the times was in be efficacy of baptism, and so painful and uncertain ras the way of forgiveness for sins committed afterward, that multitudes deferred baptism to a dying bed, that the sins of a lifetime might be more easily washed away together.
The Lord goes on to say, "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them which hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a trap before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication."
Balaam, the destroyer of the people, is a new graft upon Nicolaitanism. A prophet, in outward nearness to the Lord, while his heart went after its own covetousness, - a man having no personal grudge against the people, but whose god was his belly, and so 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 round about. The type is easily read, and the examples of it distressingly numerous. When the Church and the world become on good terms with one another, and the Church has the things of the world with which to attract the natural heart, the hireling prophet is a matter of course, who for his own ends will seek to destroy whatever remains of godly separateness.
It is one step only in the general, persistent departure from God never retraced and never repented of. Solemn to say, however much individuals may be delivered, such decline is never recovered from by the body as such. At every step downward, the progress down is only accelerated. "Have ye offered Me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon. There were many reformations afterward, more or less partial, but no fresh start.
So with the Church. Men talk of another Pentecost. There never was another. And the first lasted for how brief a season! "Unto thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."
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 beonly glad to see things as they are?
Now this "yoke" forbidden has various applications. It applies to any thing 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 come 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. All national 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. That is much to do indeed, and it is all in this way possible.
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, and rapidly, adherents, money, and worldly influence; 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 Scripture; 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 principles that "the end sanctifies the means" - but still, what are they to do? God is in theory of course sufficient, but they must use the means, and the nineteenth century no longer expects miracles.
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, irrecoverably 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 it will not please Him our giving! It is not reasonable: we do not believe it, and you cannot believe it yourselves!"
No: the world does not believe in giving something 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 it 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 would not dare to tell you what deeds are done in 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 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 saying, as of His people of old, "Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people: Ephraim is 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 is who can be the most successful candidate for the world’s favours. The example of one emboldens another. Emulation, envy, ambition, and a host of unholy motives are aroused; and Scripture, the honour of Christ, the jealous eyes of a holy, holy God - ah, you are antiquated and pharisaic if you think 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. They 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. The 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 suck 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 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 characterize it, it is not of the Father, nor the Father of it. And then, why in that passage does 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 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 the world.
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 get?
"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, beloved, is there much sign of His presence whose own sign was, "To the poor the gospel is preached"? Enough of this, however; it will be neither pleasure nor 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 underfoot, 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 cannot 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 honour 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 thand 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 extract. 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 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 more 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 His care?
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 skillful 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 to Him for their support, you would do more weed out such traffickers than by all your careful labour otherwise. Stop the hire, and you will banish the hirelings, and the blessed ministry of brist 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 tim, let them seek out some honest occupation where they may gain their bread without scandal. 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! you dare to say those were the days of His 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 mount awhile and lacked a leader? They made God of the gold which they had brought out of Egypt took them, and fell down and worshipped the work of own hands. History repeats itself. Who can deny that we have been looking on the counterpart of that?
Is there any measure, it may be well to ask here, 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 an 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 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.
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 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. We are all born (new-born) to Nazariteship, which is implied and necessitated (in a true ense) by the life which we receive from God. But the necessity is not one externally impressed upon - 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 then would have been unavailing, and a mere bondage "Not grudgingly, or of necessity," is, as we have seen, Scripture rule. But that does not at all mean that people characterize as "cheap religion" It does not mean that God will accept the "mites" of a niggard as the Lord did those of the woman in the Gospels. Christ does not say now, Give as much or as little as you please: it is all one. No: He expects intelligent, free surrender of all to as on the part of one who recognizes that all is really His.
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 man. 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 of course God’s,] who will give you that which is your own?
Thus our own things are distinct altogether; and I must 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, your own possessions, to be liberal with or to hoard up, - in both cases you misapprehend the matter. You have as to things here your Master’s goods, which if you hoard up here, you surely lose hereafter, and turn into accusers. On the other hand, 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 lifetime 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 him?
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."
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 the Lord."
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 not bring with them out of the world!
One last hope remains for Pharaoh "And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, ‘Go serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you"
"Leave your 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 kept 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 devil went is our Lord’s Own illustration of the fact that an empty house will never lack a tenant. The sweeping and gardishing 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 possession of it by another, who will not and need not give it up. So we must bring Christ into every thing, 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 really 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, as well as time, and not only distraction, but the seed of worse 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 thus is not permeated by divine life, it becomes the necessary and speedy subject of decay and death. To a beleaguered garrison, a holiday may be fatal. We cannot ever here ungird our loins or unbuckle our armor. 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 with (or give place to) the devil within the counting-house.
Does this startle you? does it seem to require too much? It requires that you should be with Christ in constant companionship, at all times and on all occasions. Is that narrow, - a rigid, an uncomfortable view of matters? Does it distress you to think of giving Him such a place as that? There are those who believe that he is the picture of a converted man, who complains he never got a kid to make merry with his friends. Do you realize that? Do you sympathize with such a view? Have you friends that you would like to run away to for a while out of Christ’s scrutiny or company? Beloved, when you think of heaven, is it of a long monotony of being "ever with the Lord"? You startle at that suggestion; and no wonder. But if you will find eternal joy then, and now can think of it as that, to be ever with Him there, is it less happy to think of being always with Him here?
At any rate, you cannot alter the reality by all your thoughts about it. None of our thoughts can change the nature of things. You cannot find in all this world a clean corner in which you can be apart from Christ and yet apart from evil. And if you could, the very idea of being so would of itself pollute it with evil. No; Christ must be a constant Saviour as to every detail of our walk and ways. Communion with Him is the only alternative of communion with evil. The wisdom that has not Him in it, will be "earthly, sensual, devilish;" if it come not from above, come it will from below.
Thus you see 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. God gives it us thus in the typical picture here, and it is not a blot or deformity in the picture, but rather an essential part. 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, and it will drag you back into the world. You are keeping it back from Him; you have a divided interest; how can this but affect all your intercourse, all your happiness (or what you ought to have) with Him? 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?
And practically, it gets to be much less. He gets a part of our superfluity, and that is all. We must dress like our neighbours, live up to our rank of life, put a little by for a "rainy day," and something for our children. "We must be just before we are generous," we think. And then, with some reserve for recreation, and some for miscellaneous trifles, all the rest shall be the Lord’s. It may be but a "mite," but did not He accept a mite? So the very narrowness of our dole to the Lord who has saved us links us with her who had His special commendation.
Better keep it all back than give it in that fashion. For the amount given just hinders from realizing where we are. We give it ungrudgingly, perhaps: we think it has the Lord’s approval therefore. We do not think how much it is that we can give ungrudgingly.
The "doctrine of Balaam" thrives upon the restlessness 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 given cause, are giving cause, to those who sneer at the advocates of "cheap religion," we are giving it the most effectual possible support. In words, you denounce; in deeds, you justify. You tell them that it is vain to trust to the power of Christ’s love in Christians, - that your own barn is practically dearer to you than all God’s house; and they can point to you triumphantly as proof of the necessity of all that they contend for.
Beloved, I have done. 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 unsuspectingly 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, call 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. How few, when they speak of cost, put this into their balance-sheet! Yet, “if I wash thee not,” He says, “thou hast no part with Me.” Are there not many trying to keep up appearances, when that is the inward trouble of their souls?
But the door is open, beloved, to came 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 that 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 fullness 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. From our own will and ways and thoughts, in His blessed will, His thoughts, His love. God grant it to us for His name’s sake, even now.