The Times of the Gentiles
The Things Which Are
Rev. 2 And 3
But there is another word He says as to Himself, and that is, “the holy and the true.” This suggests another phase of responsibility that was apprehended at that time as belonging to the Church of God. That is the truth as to Him that was committed to the Saints to maintain. It has ever been Satan’s aim to drag Him down from His excellency by introducing into the Church questionings as to who He is and what He is. The Church of God was the house of God and if we turn back to the Old Testament and read about the house of God we find that it was not only built according to the specific directions of God, as to size and form, but its furnishings were ordered by Him with the same careful attention to every detail. Now what was the house of God in the Old Testament, whether the tabernacle or the temple, is but a picture of the Church of God, His house in this dispensation, (1 Tim. 3:15). And every part of the furnishing of that house in olden times was a picture of the furnishing of the house of today. And moreover it all speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the Church of God today was furnished with the truth as to Him that it might maintain it and proclaim it. Within its sacred precincts no word save that which declared Him as He was, the Holy One of God, would dare to be uttered. But early in the dispensation or comparatively so, Satan sought to introduce that which dishonored Him. Arius, a man who was a leading figure in the Church, began to teach that which robbed Him of His true Deity. Thank God, this inroad of Satan was resisted to the uttermost and although many were carried away with the sophistries of Arius, the Church as a whole remained true to the faith as to the Lord’s Deity. But Satan is ever on the alert to blaspheme that Blessed One and even in the day in which this movement was stirring all Christendom, there were covert attacks being made on the Lord. Edward Irving, a clergyman of London, a man of great eloquence and apparently deep piety, became deeply exercised about the state of the Church of God and especially about the absence of the gifts that marked the early days. He did not see any reason why we should not have the gift of tongues and every other manifestation of the presence of the Spirit of God. At last there broke out among his followers what he termed the gift of tongues and many were carried away with it. But it developed soon that Mr. Irving was teaching very grave error as to the Lord Himself, holding that he had in Him the law of sin and death as we all did by nature. Of course when this came out it was opposed with intense earnestness, especially by those who had taken the position of gathering to the Lord’s Name alone. To them mere displays of power meant nothing if the Lord were dishonored, to them He was the Holy One of God and the true One and nothing must be allowed to touch the ark of God. Other trials too of the same kind arose but as a whole, thank God, anything that in any wise lowered Him from the place God has given Him and revealed Him to be in His word was sternly opposed and driven out. To them He was “He that is holy, He that is true.” Perhaps some of the measures taken to keep out everything of this kind were extreme but one cannot but thank God today that there are some places where one can go in the certainty that not a word of dishonor to Him will be permitted. In the assemblies of saints gathering in His Name alone, wherever they are found, He is still the Holy and the True. Alas! one hardly knows where else he would be safe as to this.
The work of God at the time of what is called the Reformation led, in so far as forms are concerned, to the establishment of the great bodies of Protestant churches owning no allegiance to Rome, but claiming a measure of independence of each other, as if there were many churches. True enough it is that we find the word churches in the Bible, but it is not at all in the sense in which it is so often used. There is no such thing as churches in a city anywhere but the church. We read of the church in Jerusalem ( not of the first church and second church and such like), and we know it numbered thousands, nor do we read of the churches in Corinth although it too was very large. But the language of Scripture is as to Corinth “if the whole church be come together into one place,” and in Jerusalem we are told of an occasion when the apostles called the multitude together, (Acts vi. 2). But in the Reformation as we have said more than once, there was little attempt to bring things in every way into conformity to the Word. A minister of the church in England was not a minister of the church in Germany.
He might be permitted to minister of course, but he belonged to a different thing, another communion, another church. Because Zwingli and other Swiss believers rejected the theory of transubstantiation as held and taught by the German Reformers, Luther would not acknowledge them as brethren in Christ, so there came into being the Swiss Reformed church and the German and so on. But when the Church of God was perceived, then national distinctions were forgotten, distance meant nothing, it was the Body of Christ wherever it was found, and “there is one Body,” Ephesians iv. declares. An apostle in the church in Jerusalem was nothing less when he went to Antioch, and a prophet the same. The language of the Word is, “God hath set some in the Church, first, apostles secondarily, prophets, thirdly, teachers; after that, miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” So the saints at this time met in little groups on the Scriptural principle, given for guidance in all conditions, “Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them.” His presence was all that was sought and all that was needed, for that secured all the blessing of this dispensation. As servants of the Lord went from place to place, they were received as members of the Body of Christ in this circle of twos and threes or whatever the number might be, and they ministered to them according to the gift of Christ in the unity of the Spirit.
There was no pretence to re-establish the church as it was of old and there were not any claims to anything save to be members of Christ meeting as such in His Name. There was felt very strongly the bond that bound them, not only to those with whom they met but, to every member of Christ wherever he was or in whatever ecclesiastical circle he might move. Every gift the Lord might give was thankfully accepted and they did not look for what people ignorantly claim to have today, a Pentecostal church, with all the glory of those days, in the way of display of power. The language of the letter to Philadelphia is “Thou hast a little strength,” and it was this sense of weakness that was their strength. He opened doors for them and helped them in their testimony and that was enough.
It is a curious thing that in the two churches where there is not the call to repent, there is the mention of opposition from those who claim to be Jews, that is to say, in Smyrna and here in the letter to Philadelphia. Why is this? We cannot doubt that in the letter to Smyrna there were really Jews in the racial meaning of term who formed this synagogue of Satan. But here it seems to us it is the principle of legality and hatred of the grace of God that calls for this name to be applied to them. In the letter to Smyrna there was the recognition of the hostility of the religious element as well as the persecution from the power of the secular authorities, but here, it is the opposition from the religious element only that is noticed. As a matter of fact in the period treated of in Smyrna the government of the world was enlisted in the service of Satan in his attack on the Church of God, but in the time of Philadelphia the governments of earth did not meddle with religious affairs in the way of opposition, but the religious authorities launched their energies and whatever weapons they could use in antagonism to this new movement. It was derided, scoffed at, assailed by calumny and every other device that could be resorted to in order to bring it into contempt and disrepute. But the Lord here assures them that from out of that army of opposition He will give them who will do homage to them and acknowledge the hand of the Lord as having been with them. Who can doubt the meaning of this? Look if you will in the library of any man in Christendom who seeks to know the meaning of the Word of God and you will find books written by those whose names were vilified while living for walking in a path of separation from the religious systems of men, and those expository works are regarded as the clearest and fullest of all commentaries. Not only so but there are those who have had a great name as Bible Teachers who are simply passing on what they learned at the feet of such men without acknowledging’ their indebtedness to them. All this the Lord sees and in His own time will adjust.
There is one thing more we must notice ere we leave this lovely picture and that is the way the Lord speaks of His coming. The language is the language of the early days of the history of the Church and what would be begotten in the heart by such a statement is the ardent expectation that characterized those early days. He says, “Behold, I come quickly.” When did this note, so long forgotten in the Church’s history, begin to be sounded out again? All one has to do to settle this is to read the religious literature of the last century on the prophetic Word. Prior to that time there is hardly one distinct statement as to the Lord coming for His own and coming quickly. The whole thought before that was that the Church was here to convert the world and when that should be accomplished He would return to judge the world. But now the truth is again blazing out, the midnight cry is sounding forth, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh.” The effect of this on the lives of the saints who came under its influence was, naturally, turning away from everything of earth to look up to Heaven and wait for Him.