A Time To Keep Silence

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens:… A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” – Ecclesiastes 3 v 1, 7

There are times in my life which are exceedingly dark. Times when I’ve so selfishly and unrelentingly catered to the flesh and neglected the things of God, that I’m brought to the point of utter misery. Sometimes God gives us what our flesh desires, to show us that it cannot ever satisfy, and eventually it becomes sickening. It was His way in response to the murmuring and weeping of the children of Israel in Numbers 11: “… and Jehovah will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Not one day shall ye eat, nor two days, not five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but for a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils, and it becomes loathsome unto you; because that ye have despised Jehovah who is among you…” (v 18-20).

A moment of self-examination shows the same ungrateful flesh in me – the flesh which hankers after spiritual Egypt, and despises the spiritual manna. The flesh has no taste for Christ. I have to confess that all too often I’ve murmured inwardly against God’s blessed provisions. In Numbers 11 the culmination of God’s dealings is a righteous judgement of evil, unsparing and final, so that the place came to be called Kibroth-hattaavah, ‘graves of lust’. Thanks be to God that there’s One who is infinitely greater than Moses, making intercession on my behalf, a patron with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2 v 1) – One Who has borne the wrath I so richly deserve, made propitiation for sins.

Having been brought through one of these dark times of waywardness and neglect, it’s often my first instinct to get on my knees before God, to confess my sins, lament my weakness, beg the Spirit’s help, and to pour out all my misery. A right instinct, I should think, but sometimes it’s “a time to keep silence” in the presence of God. Sometimes He would say, “Enough. Now, you will listen to what I have to say to you.” After a time of distance and turning away, it’s a wonderful relief, having come to myself like the younger son (Luke 15 v 17), and repented, to simply spend a moment at the feet of the Lord and hear what He would teach me about what has happened. There is always a lesson to be learned in these incidents – often a deeply humbling one. Every failure of mine and the consequent discipline is part of my education. The failure is allowed, and the discipline administered, by a God and Father Who loves me far beyond my feeble ability to comprehend.

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Thoughts on Anger and Violence

On the subject of the invention and use of gunpowder in warfare, historian Edward Gibbon observed the following: “If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.”*

We see how quickly violence entered the world of man, and how promptly it immersed mankind – a few chapters in the divine account between the moment the Cain rose up against his brother Abel in the field and slew him (Genesis 4 v 8), to the time when God made the solemn observation: “The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is full of violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” (Genesis 6 v 13). History repeats itself: a battle for the city of Aleppo in Syria which has lasted for four years has claimed over 400,000 lives. 600 years ago, the conqueror Timur put the same unfortunate city to the sword, massacred its inhabitants with the exception of a few artisans whom he sent captive to his capital, and left behind him desolation and columns and pyramids composed of hundreds of thousands of human heads. The history of the world is stained a deep crimson by innumerable bloody incidents, some on the colossal scale of great wars, commemorated and mourned for a thousand years, and some remembered only by families and friends, the lives of whose loved ones have been extinguished in the pettiness of a grocery store robbery or a late-night altercation. The world points to declining crime figures and the absence of world-engulfing conflict, “saying, Peace, peace! when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6 v 14).

Anger is at the root of so much of this history of violence – Cain’s anger brought violence into the world. “For the pressing of milk bringeth forth butter, and the pressing of the nose bringeth forth blood; and the pressing of anger bringeth forth strife.” (Proverbs 30 v 33). There is the fury which flames into impulsive violence, and there is the slow-burning anger of conquerors and warlords which endures through sieges and crushes nations. There is the violence of actions and the violence of words. We’re warned to stay away from people who are angry: “Make no friendship with an angry man, and go not with a furious man; lest thou learn his paths, and get a snare to thy soul.” (Proverbs 22 v 24-25). Anger is often seen as a necessary – and even positive – thing in the world of business: one is seen as being firm and decisive if one can give an incompetent subordinate or a difficult supplier a tongue-lashing. However, the scripture says this: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” (Proverbs 16 v 32). It is written of our beloved Lord Jesus, Who has gone before us in this pathway of challenges, dangers, and temptations – suffering but remaining perfect and sinless – “when reviled, reviled not again; when suffering, threatened not; but gave himself over into the hands of him who judges righteously…” (1 Peter 2 v 23). He is the perfect Exemplar in all things to us. His pathway was marked with perfect evenness (so unlike ours!): when a strong rebuke of evil was required He delivered it without hesitation, and when gentleness was required He would draw near to the needy sinner in tender care. Sometimes we need to be angry. The Lord found in the temple the sellers of oxen, sheep, and doves; he made a scourge of cords and cast them all out, poured out the change of the money-changers, turned over the tables. “And his disciples remembered that it is written, The zeal of thy house devours me.” (John 2 v 17). The Lord’s every thought and action as a Man here was perfect. He was full of righteous zeal for the house of His Father, angry at the debasing of it by merchants and their merchandise. We should have zeal for the spiritual house, God’s house, of which we are a part, “which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth” (1 Timothy 3 v 15). Our anger needs to be governed by the Spirit. “Be angry, and do not sin; let not the sun set upon your wrath, neither give room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4 v 26-27). Our anger needs to be spiritual, not fleshly, directed against what God’s own anger is directed – sin – and only for a limited duration. Any deviation from the direction of the Spirit in our anger gives room for the devil, and he’ll be quick to turn it into a source of strife and violence.

However, there is a need for spiritual violence. “But from the days of John the baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and the violent seize on it.” (Matthew 11 v 12). Only with strong exercise, with spiritual vigour, will we be in the good of kingdom, will we truly possess it. When John was baptising, those of Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the country around the Jordan came to him to be baptised, confessing their sins (Matthew 3 v 5). They seized upon what came in by John, the opportunity to separate from the corruption of the Jewish nation, to confess their part in it and separate themselves from it in baptism. They came apart, they did violence to the ties that bound them by nature and kinship to their brethren in the flesh. Are we willing to do violence to what holds us back from going apart from the world and committing ourselves to the Lord? We may be part of a great crowd following Jesus, but have we put ourselves to the test? “And great crowds went with him; and, turning round, he said to them, If any man come to me, and shall not hate his own father and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yea, and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple; and whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14 v 25-27) (See also Matthew 10 v 34-39).

Anger and violence are a necessary part of our walk as believers, but not anger and violence as the world knows it. This anger and this violence serves a wholly different purpose, and secures far more than the temporary and unstable kingdoms of this world. We may suffer losses, we may have to give up what’s naturally very dear to us, but we’ll be rewarded with infinitely more than we’ve sacrificed. God is no man’s debtor. May we all be encouraged to take up that cross, day by day, taking each day at a time.

*The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, viii, c 65, p 136

 

The Fear of ‘I’

 

I don’t like to write about myself.  Even writing that sentence has filled me with a moderate level of anxiety, and a sort of guilt.  As a believer, it feels somehow wrong to speak about oneself – immodest, unbecoming.  Many other believers blog about their lives and share their personal testimonies, speaking about themselves in a way which has helped others, including myself.  I don’t condemn that, not at all – I’ve begun to learn that what’s right for others may not be right for me.  I need to learn that I need to tread my own pathway in dependence upon the Lord, in self-judgement, and not looking to judge other believers for what their conscience permits them to do, but mine doesn’t.

Why do I not like writing about myself?  Perhaps it’s because I look at my life and I feel ashamed.  I feel ashamed of my sins of commission and omission – the secret acts of wilfulness, selfishness, and cold neglect.  I can look at myself, sighing, and truly say, “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell…” (Romans 7 v 18).  I don’t like to write about myself because that requires self-examination and self-judgement that I’d rather avoid.  Yet there’s another reason.  Fear.  Fear that Satan will find another point of attack, my pride, occupation with self, so that I become “vainly puffed up by the mind of [my] flesh” (Colossians 2 v 18).  I fear that some natural ability of mine, knowingly or unknowingly revealed, will be praised by others, and I’ll find that praise intoxicating.  Praise would make me feel adequate for a while, when I know in my heart how inadequate I am.  The praise of men can be a weapon in the hands of the enemy.  It’s so very true that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” (Proverbs 27 v 6).

As I write this, a great sense of relief has come over me – I have the answer to my difficulty.  I remember the words of John the baptist which are on my WordPress profile: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3 v 30).  If I speak about myself, I don’t need to speak about my failures, my weaknesses, or promote myself in an effort to forget these things.  My failures and weaknesses are very real, and I have to judge the flesh which they stem from, and have done with it.  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” – there’s no Friend more faithful than the God we adore.  How often I need the loving wounds He inflicts – the gentle rebukes and chastening of my heavenly Father, the discipline which makes me a truer disciple.  The more I make way for the Spirit, the less I make room for my flesh, the more I’ll decrease.  And the more I decrease, the more scope I’ll have to speak about myself.

Only, I won’t be speaking about myself – the self that I’m ashamed of and afraid of.  Self will have ceased to occupy me, and when I present myself to others, what they’ll see is the wonderful work of God in me, shining out.  That’s what I find so heartening and encouraging, that there is a work of God in me which is perfect and untouchable, and not in any way affected by my failure.  There’s a beautiful inevitability to the progress of this great work in my soul – the apostle Paul could write to the Philippians, “having confidence of this very thing, that he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day.” (Philippians 1 v 6).  There’s a great end in view, and God will secure it.  Of course, I am responsible not to grieve the Spirit of God, to make way for that divine workmanship to progress, but it will progress, that I can be sure of.  I don’t need to look to my own poor flesh to find the strength to go on – every resource is found in God.  I don’t need to apply my limited thoughts to what the next step should be – the great thoughts of God have encompassed everything.  I simply need to trust Him.

“Confide in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own intelligence; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will make plain thy paths.” – Proverbs 3 v 5-6

What an antidote to self!  What amazing reassurance!  I couldn’t remove one sin by myself, but my Saviour removed every single one, washed them away in His blood.  I can’t take one step in my own strength, but in Jesus I find the resource for every single step on the pathway.  If my pathway is on the plain paths set out by God, then there’ll be so much I can speak about of His goodness, faithfulness, power, and holiness, to the glory of God, and to the encouragement of my fellow pilgrims.

“My soul shall make its boast in Jehovah: the meek shall hear, and rejoice.” – Psalm 34 v 2

The Decline of Religion In The UK: Why It Doesn’t Worry Me

A recent study has shown that the United Kingdom is one of the least religious countries in the world. A mere 30% of the population consider themselves religious – to set that in context, the figure for Armenia is 94%. This figure includes, of course, all religions, and not only Christianity, which would indicate that the profession is at a very low ebb in this country.

These statistics, like all statistics of this kind, have provoked some reaction from experts, pundits, and religious leaders. There’s satisfaction expressed in some atheistic and humanistic quarters that the scourge of religion is on the decline. Among professing Christians, the reaction has been mixed: some have been gloomy, some have been fearful, and some have been optimistic. This last school of opinion suggests that these things are cyclical, and that a great revival is just around the corner.

Throughout this corner of Christendom, however, I believe there’s a consensus among those who have any sort of firm conviction. That consensus is that things have become more difficult, and are likely to be increasingly difficult, for Christians in the UK. Undoubtedly, it’s become increasingly taboo for a believer to speak about their faith publicly – in the workplace, for example. Politicians come under particularly intense scrutiny – witness the demise of evangelical Christian and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. British Prime Minister Teresa May is a regular church-goer, and yet she won’t be drawn into speaking about her faith in publicly. Not so long ago, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had no such qualms and faced no such pressure to keep her light under a bushel. In today’s world, even for the private individual there’s a sense that speaking about one’s faith makes others uncomfortable, and amounts to a vaguely antisocial act.

That is the subtly introduced constrictive atmosphere which has arisen in this country – one that tries to stifle the public expression of Christian faith. Apart from that, there are times when militant secularism has come into direct conflict with faith. We would be reminded of the attempts to force bakers and hoteliers to compromise their principles to appease the homosexual lobby. Force isn’t required in the case of other religious professors – I recently heard “the secularisation of religious institutions” referred to. That is, the principles of the world coming in, displacing divine principles, and governing companies of professing Christians to their incalculable harm. Even the most empty and unspiritual professors of Christendom seem to be concerned that the institutions of Christendom are losing what makes them distinctive: churches are more and more resembling secular charitable organisations or political think-tanks. There is a fear that they’ll lose what makes them distinctive as religious organisations, alienate members, lose revenues, and fade out of existence.

Yes, a bleak picture. The believer can’t fail to be moved by the sad situation of the people of the United Kingdom – the decline even of the profession of Christianity in a country which was once called Christian. We would pray that the gospel would be fruitful, that there would be a revival and many turning to Christ as Saviour. This is not something we can take lightly – that isn’t what I mean why I say that this decline doesn’t worry me. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t worry me in relation to my own personal circumstances as a believer in Christ.  On the contrary, I see in it a field of opportunity.

Not so long ago, it would’ve been relatively easy to be a Christian in the UK.  The majority of the population would’ve professed Christianity, and even been church-goers.  To confess the name of the Lord Jesus publicly wouldn’t have been seen as an odd thing to do, as it is now.  There’s a distinct stigma attached to that confession now.  As the Lord warned His disciples, “Ye will be hated of all for my name’s sake.” (Luke 21 v 17).  In many parts of the world at the moment the fires of persecution are burning against the people of God, and all those who are identified with that Name are openly and violently hated of all.  The enemy is taking a different approach in this country – the hatred isn’t expressed in outbreaks of physical violence, but rather in the form of a more subtle, pervasive discomfort with the expression of faith, and attempts to stifle it.  In this atmosphere, any fearless confession of the name of Jesus becomes all the more distinctive.

To be a believer in the UK today is becoming, more than ever, an exercise in swimming against the tide.  The gulf between what are rapidly becoming societal norms and values and what we know to be true and of true value is ever-expanding.  More and more, the truth is becoming unacceptable – unsavoury, even – to society at large.  Any believer who upholds scriptural truth and won’t compromise divine principles will increasingly find that society has no place for them – no room at the inn.  Perhaps it’s been comfortable for believers to sit on the fence to some extent – not anymore.  We would be reminded of the divisions of Reuben, in which there were “great resolves of heart” (Judges 5 v 15).  Perhaps we’ve gone on in indecision for some time, treading a careful line between fitting into the world and being identified with the name of Jesus.  Joshua’s challenge is ringing in our ears: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…” (Joshua 24 v 15).

For me, this challenge is exceedingly testing, yet I welcome it.  The fact that my faith is increasingly unacceptable in society doesn’t worry me – I see, over all, the hand of the Almighty, Who is ever in control, and can use adverse circumstances to further His own blessed purposes.  The heat is of the furnace is increasing, but the fire is used by the Refiner: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the refiner…” (Proverbs 25 v 4).  In the addresses to the seven assemblies in Revelation, the Lord speaks to the overcomer.  In the United Kingdom at the present time, as well as in other places, a distinct opportunity is being given to believers to overcome in the face of increasing pressure, using divine strength and resources.  With Joshua, we can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.”

Thoughts On The Rapture

The following is was originally posted in May 2017 on another forum.

This morning, I happened to notice the OP by our brother G——, entitled “2 Thessalonians 2:3 has a different interpretation”. Having read it, and having totally misconstrued our brother’s remarks, thinking he was saying the opposite of what he was in fact saying, I felt deeply burdened, and I felt it’d been laid upon me to make some remarks on the truth as to the rapture. Now that I read the post again, I see that his remarks are both truthful and helpful. Nonetheless, I feel it might be profitable to continue on the line of teaching our brother has begun on, and reinforce this vital truth. I hope to be simple in what I say, and brief as possible, because being complicated and lengthy will defeat the object I want to accomplish, which is to set before the brethren an easily digested presentation of very important truth.

Before I go on that, I just want to make a brief remark regarding our brother’s point as to 2 Thessalonians 2 v 3 (“Let not any one deceive you in any manner, because it will not be unless the apostasy have first come, and the man of sin have been revealed, the son of perdition…” (New Translation by J.N. Darby)). The “it” in the phrase “it will not be” refers, here, to the day of the Lord, the day in which He will come in judgment, bringing an end to the great tribulation and ushering in the millennial period, which is not the same event as the rapture of saints, which, as the scriptures amply show, will occur before the tribulation. Now, I have no difficulty with anyone translating aphestimi as apostasy, or falling away, or rebellion, or departing. They mean the same thing. We must be clear in our minds, brethren, that any departure from truth once received is apostasy in character. If I get light as to a certain aspect of the truth, and then I turn around and deny that truth, having had light as to it, that has the character of apostasy. It is rebellion against God, and a serious matter. This character of things is developing now – “For the mystery of lawlessness already works…” but is held in check while the Holy Spirit is here indwelling the saints: “… only there is he who restrains now until he be gone, and then the lawless one shall be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall annul by the appearing of his coming…” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). When the Spirit is gone, the lawlessness which is in development (although restrained) in Christendom now will be unchecked, and there will be “the apostasy” or wholesale departure from the truth. Having said that, I’ll happily continue to the main thrust of what I feel has been laid upon me.

That scripture, 2 Peter 1 v 19-21, comes to mind when considering the subject of the rapture: “And we have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed (as to a lamp shining in an obscure place) until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that the scope of no prophecy of scripture is had from its own particular interpretation, for prophecy was not ever uttered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Spirit.” Every true prophetic utterance throughout the history of time has been spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit. Therefore, as Peter says here, the scope of no prophecy of scripture is had from its own particular (or discrete, separate) interpretation – it is all part of one divine utterance, from one Source. We cannot pick up isolated parts of prophecy and expect to understand the scope of them by looking at them in isolation. This is as true of the prophetic scripture regarding the rapture as it is of any other prophetic word of scripture.

We all know, from scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15 v 51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4 v 16-17 that there will be a rapture of the saints, and the form that this rapture will take. Nothing is said here in these scriptures as to the timing of this rapture in relation to other events. Many believers (myself included) have been convinced that the Spirit of God places the prospect of the rapture before us as something to be expected at any time, something which keeps our gaze fixed on the heavens and the One who sits at the right hand of God in the glory, and our affections for Him stimulated and engaged. The apostle writes to the Thessalonians, “we, the living who remain”: he (or the Spirit, rather) places the rapture before them as a present expectation: they, saints of the 1st century, should expect the Lord to come at any time, just as we, saints of the 21st century, should expect the Lord to come at any time. The language of the Lord is, ” Yea, I come quickly” (Revelation 22 v 20). However, God in His wisdom and grace, has not left us to speculate about the timing of the rapture in relation to other future events. The scope of prophecy shows it clearly.

Our brother, in his OP, has referred to Mr J.N. Darby and the recovery of the truth as to the rapture, which had been lost sight of for so many centuries. In first half of the nineteenth century, a number of influential writings as to prophecy aroused a great deal of interest in the subject in general. This general interest resulted in what were called “The Prophetic Meetings”, occasions for study of the prophetic scriptures which were held in Albury, Surrey, England, and in Powerscourt Castle, Wicklow, Ireland. At first these meetings were attended by a number of clergyman and laymen, but latterly the attendants were mainly of that movement which was popularly called “the Brethren”, of which Mr J.N. Darby was a part. It was during this time of general inquiry into prophetic subjects that the truth of the rapture, and its timing in relation to other future events, was recovered and widely embraced. The fact that this truth was recovered in the course of a study of the wide scope of prophecy, in the restoration of Israel to their own land, and the glory of the millennial kingdom, is highly significant.

What I would like to draw particular attention to in this OP is how the prophetic scriptures concerning the remnant of Israel are of great importance in relation to the truth as to the rapture.

First, we must be clear that there is to be a remnant of Israel which will be restored to a place before their God, recognised as His people and owned of Him, after passing through the tribulation. Regarding the Jews, what they must pass through and their restoration is spoken of in Zechariah 13 v 8-9. They will be brought into the land, and there the remnant will be separated out. Then there’s the ten tribes of Israel, scattered throughout the nations now: they’re spoken of in Ezekiel 20 v 33-38. They will be brought “into the wilderness of the people”, not into the land immediately as the Jews are, and the rebels from amongst them will be separated out and removed. The final consequence, the end result of this sifting and refining process, is that both will be united into one in the land – see Ezekiel 37 v 11-28.

The process of the restoration of the Jews to the land – in unbelief – has already begun. The state of Israel has been created through divine providence, and Jews have been returning to the land. The place has been prepared, we might say, the scene has been set. After the Church is taken from the earth at the rapture, that process of the restoration of the Jews to the land will be rapidly accelerated, and the period of tribulation will commence, during which the remnant will be brought to light, refined, kept through the time of “Jacob’s trouble”. What must be carefully noted about all this is that it marks the resumption of God’s direct dealings with Israel – dealings which have been interrupted for 2,000 years. When God takes up the Jews and the ten tribes, He resumes dealings with His earthly people. There will be a testimony to Him on the earth in the form of the remnant of Israel. There is a testimony to Him now on the earth – that is the Church, Christ’s assembly – the testimony lies with the assembly now, and not with Israel. When the Church is taken away out of this scene, God resumes His dealings with Israel, in the form of the remnant, and they are His testimony on the earth. If we’re to believe those who teach that the Church will remain on earth during the tribulation, while all the events described in the prophetic scriptures referred to above take place, then that would mean that God would have two centres of testimony on the earth. That is clearly confusion and disorder, and God is not a God of disorder but order.

However, some would challenge the statement that the centre of testimony on the earth is now the Church, and that God has broken off His dealings with Israel at the current time, until He resumes them again when the Church is taken away. Everything must be tested by scripture, and I will now test this statement by scripture. We can see the breaking off of God’s direct dealings with Israel as a nation in the Book of the Acts.

The Church was formed on Pentecost (Acts 2 v 1-4) with the coming down of the Holy Spirit for the first time. At this time, Peter gives his extraordinary gospel preaching (Acts 2 v 14-36) and who is he preaching to? “Men of Judea, and all ye inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v 14), “Men of Israel” (v 22). This preaching is to the Jews and to Israel – things were not yet opened up to the Gentiles. Peter preaches from the prophecy of Joel which describes the conditions which will prevail in the millennium. If all Israel had accepted that gospel message, if they had, as a nation, repented of their wickedness in rejecting the Messiah, then He would have come again immediately, and these conditions prophesied of by Joel would have been fulfilled immediately. But, in a sense, it’s not profitable to speculate about what might’ve been: God knew full well that the many would continue in hardened unbelief, and the salvation would be opened up to the Gentiles. In the next chapter, Peter and John go up to the temple, and Peter preaches again: “Men of Israel” (Acts 3 v 12) – God is still appealing in patient grace to Israel. The Spirit has come, the Church is formed, yet God is still speaking in grace to Israel. In chapter 4, the opposition of the religious element comes to the fore: the priests, the captain the temple, and the Sadducees come and arrest the apostles. Then they’re brought before the rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the high priestly family – the whole religious establishment of the Jews. Peter preaches again… I’ll let the brethren follow through these scriptures for themselves, for the sake of brevity. I’m sure the point I’m trying to make is becoming obvious. The opposition of the religious element continues and grows in intensity. In Acts 6, we have “Stephen, full of grace and power”, who is seized and brought before the council of the Jews. Stephen preaches to them, a full witness; “they were cut to the heart, and gnashed their teeth against him.” It brought out nothing but opposition. “But being full of the Holy Spirit, having fixed his eyes on heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…”, and when he spoke of this, they rushed on him, cast him out of the city and stoned him. He saw Jesus, standing. We have references elsewhere in scripture to Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, but here Stephen sees Him standing. We see in this the movement of the testimony – the testimony was moving on, away from Jerusalem, away from unbelieving and rebellious Israel. Saul was standing by, consenting to Stephen’s being killed – he didn’t know it yet, but he was being prepared as a vessel for this great movement of the testimony – he was to be the apostle of the Gentiles. In the stoning of Stephen, the Jews had rejected the testimony. Stephen saw Jesus in heaven, not enthroned in Jerusalem – the glory of God had departed the city. And yet still, God is speaking in grace to Jew first, and then to Gentile, securing individuals as material for the Church, for the assembly. There is still a going on with things Jewish, Paul still going into the synagogues on the Sabbath and reasoning with the Jews. We have another landmark moment in Acts 21 v 30: “And the whole city was moved, and there was a concourse of the people; and having laid hold on Paul they drew him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.” The doors of the temple were shut. After that, we have no more mention of believers going up to the temple to pray or worship. That order of things was definitively closed. God in His grace had appealed to Israel, again and again, but finally that avenue was shut off, His dealings with them were broken off. There could not be two centres of testimony on the earth: the Church was the centre, a body composed of Jew and Gentile, with no difference made between the two.

So, for the centre of testimony on the earth to be Israel once more, the Church must be taken out of the way. This will occur at the rapture, then God will resume His dealings with Israel on the earth, first in judgment and trial during the tribulation, then in blessing during the millenial period. The prophetic scriptures regarding God’s dealings with the remnant of the Jews and Israel show that this must be the case – unfamiliarity with these scriptures is what has led to some falling into the error of a mid- or post-tribulation rapture. We must look at the whole scope of prophetic scripture in order to interpret it correctly. These errors lead to further confusion: lowering the heavenly hopes, promises, and expectations of the Church to the level of the earthly hopes, promises, and expectations of Israel, or even losing sight of the thought of there being a Jewish remnant altogether. I feel that this important truth has only been touched on very lightly above, and the abundance of prophetic scriptures only very briefly and selectively referred to. I would encourage every one of us (myself most of all) to study these scriptures in dependence on the Holy Spirit, so that the scope of prophecy might be had by each one of us, and we might have a clearer and fuller personal understanding of the purposes of God. Considering the above has impressed me very strongly (and like never before) with the need to apply myself to the study of the length and breadth of scripture, and not to take scriptures in isolation. Broad-ranging study, even in the limited way which led me to gather up these impressions, has embedded so much more firmly in my soul the truth of the rapture and its imminence, and that can only be a good thing.

Some thoughts on the necessity of avoiding public contention

“And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. And Abram said to Lot, I pray thee let there be no contention between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are brethren.” – Genesis 13 v 7-8

There are so many fundamental lessons contained in the first book of the Bible – it’s often referred to as the ‘seed-plot’ of the scriptures.  I’ve been led increasingly by the Spirit of God into the appreciation of the treasures contained in Genesis. The scripture quoted above was discussed recently in one of our enquiries in the scriptures in the assembly setting.  There’s an important lesson in this for our day, and the conditions in which we find ourselves.

The events described in Genesis 13 will be familiar to most – Abram and Lot were journeying together, both had cattle, the land couldn’t support them (v 6), and contention and strife arose between Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen.  Abram acts in wisdom to deal with the source of the strife, and, although the events which follow are both interesting and instructive to the believer, they’re perhaps best left for another discussion.

The Spirit of God, in inspiring the record of scripture, has ensured that every important detail was included.  Here, it’s recorded that “the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.”  Sadly, we live in a time when there’s a good deal of strife between the people of God.  Real believers are mixed up with unbelievers in the systems and organisations of men throughout Christendom, which is utterly destructive to unity and in opposition to peace.  Among those who have come apart, separated themselves to the Name of the Lord (Matthew 18 v 20, 2 Timothy 2), and gone to Him “without the camp” (Hebrews 13 v 13), the devil is always active to disrupt – if he can – the unity the saints.  Strife and contention among brethren is something to be deeply regretted and it calls (speaking for myself first and foremost) for self-examination and judgement of anything that may have come in as the result of the activity of the flesh and the grieving of the Spirit.  Not only is it to be regretted, it’s often all too public in this age of the Internet.

When the world and the unbeliever – the Canaanite and Perizzite of our day – see contention and strife between the saints of the assembly, it can only be dishonouring to the Lord Jesus, whose assembly it is.  We have to admit, humbly and with deep, heartfelt sorrow, that the Church doesn’t subsist in the state of unspotted purity and outward unity on the earth which existed at the beginning.  The declension was quick – an apostle could write about the time in which he lived being “the last time” and that “even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2 v 18).  Christendom is running to outright apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2 v 3) and the mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the time of the apostles (2 Thessalonians 2 v 7).  We have to admit all this, and acknowledge that there’s been a failure in responsibility for keeping these things out, and that we have our part in that failure.  And yet, what God has established will go through to eternity, untouched by every exertion of the enemy and every failure of man in responsibility.  Hades’ gates shall not prevail against the assembly which is of Christ’s building (Matthew 16 v 18).  However, this consideration (however comforting it is to the faithful believer) doesn’t absolve us of our current responsibility to “strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2).  How we do that is a large subject in itself, and one which can’t be done justice to in a short article.

It’s our duty, beloved brethren, not to ‘break ranks’ by engaging in public strife and contention with one another.  Speaking from my own experience, it’s a trap which is very easy to fall into.  An even-tempered discussion on a public forum can quickly turn into an acrimonious debate. We have to always keep in mind that troubles which have arisen among the people of God should be dealt with in a priestly way in the circle of the saints. The unbelieving world doesn’t share the divine valuation of things; the unbeliever, not having the Holy Spirit, isn’t able to see the preciousness of light as to the truth, the unity of the saints, or an expression of the assembly in a day of departure. The world would either be indifferent to or disdainful of what it would see as squabbling over things that are worthless, or it would actively try to interfere, causing even more confusion.

Where the activity of the enemy has introduced strife and contention amongst the brethren, there are divine resources to deal with it. If only (and I speak for myself) we would depend on those inexhaustible resources more often. In Genesis 13, Abram depends on the sovereignty of God – he wouldn’t choose the direction in which he should go. After Lot separates himself from him, Abram lifts up his eyes when invited to by God. You might say that vistas open up before him. He’s brought into the knowledge of the purposes of God. Thus, by taking up the matter privately with his brother, before God, not acting wilfully, walking by faith and not by sight, Abram proves divine blessing. May we all prove that abundant blessing.

Has the Church of Scotland discarded the revelation of God?

The following post was first published in May 2013.

As I write, Britain is in the grip of a fierce debate. The website of the BBC and the letters page and opinion columns of The Herald, a Scottish national newspaper, are alive with the controversy. The topic under discussion is homosexuality: in England, the focus is the government’s policy regarding the right of homosexuals to marry, and in Scotland, concerning the decision of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly to allow open homosexuals to be ministers.  It is the latter subject that is discussed here.

The question I would like to raise with the reader is this: do we have a revelation from God? To put it another way, has God revealed Himself to His creature in any way? Do we know what His mind and will is on any subject? The answer to this question is emphatically yes. God has seen fit to reveal Himself to man in the divine workmanship of the created sphere which surrounds him, given him His inspired Word in the form of the Bible, and – most wonderful of all – revealed Himself in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ*. There have been those in the past who have denied the revelation of God, said it is impossible to know Him, and that any and every revelation purporting to be of God is fraudulent. Undoubtedly, this delusion exists to this day, though it has become more fashionable to avow outright atheism, denying that there is any God to reveal Himself. But, it’s not my object to dwell on such narrow-minded infidelity. Instead, the topic of the moment is the strange infidelity of certain clergy and congregants of the Church of Scotland.

Readers will be in no doubt where this writer stands on the issue of homosexuality: on solid scriptural ground. The inspired Word of God is absolutely clear in its condemnation of it as sinful. I needn’t reference the chapters and verses which explicitly set out this truth, as I’m sure they’ll be familiar to all, whether they accept them or not. Faithful students of the Word will be familiar with the wider context of scripture which fully bears out this truth. Some are willfully blind (what else but self-will could blind a person to such clear instruction?) to the Word of God they claim to honour.

Paganism presents us with a pantheon of gods, each dedicated to supplying a need or satisfying a lust, and without an application to conscience of the individual. This is clearly what many in Christendom would prefer.

The letters page of The Herald seethes with correspondence, featuring words and phrases such as “inclusiveness”, “toleration”, “a broad church” and a “non-judgmental Gospel”. Many laud the decision of the General Assembly, stating that it has “preserved the unity of the Church”. Yet one online comment summed up these sentiments concisely, with the words “synagogue of Satan”.

It is difficult to describe how detestable it is to see the grace of God abused and portrayed as a licence to sin, a get-out clause by which any iniquity may be tolerated. At this point, undoubtedly the many will call me judgmental, intolerant, lacking in what they claim to be the Christian spirit and virtues, on which they apparently have a monopoly. But, I tell you this: God hates sin, and His love is towards the sinner. It does not please God if we tolerate sin in ourselves, or overlook it in others. The many would claim that it is loving to tolerate sin in others. It is in fact hateful to put to sleep a conscience which has been needfully awakened. “Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” (Proverbs 27 v 5-6).

Let me be clear, and use the language of scripture. We cannot judge others. In the words of the Lord, “Let him that is without sin among you first cast the stone…” (John 8 v 7), and the words of the apostle Paul, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3 v 23). Therefore, we are unable to judge persons, and God is the only righteous judge of man.

And again, the words of the Lord, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8 v 11) and of the apostle, “What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” (Romans 6 v 1). Scripture is clear. We cannot judge others, because we ourselves are sinners. But we can and should judge sin, and not live in it. But that, as the many would argue, is only self-judgement, that we have no responsibility for our fellow man in this regard. I would answer, again, with scripture: “Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2 v 19). The context of this verse shows what it means, without any shadow of doubt. We are to withdraw from iniquity, that is, conscious, sustained and deliberate wickedness, whether in persons or institutions. This is what the Church of Scotland has just irrevocably failed to do.

Yet all of the above is of no account to the self-appointed editors of the revelation. Any passage which is inconvenient, which is unpopular with the thinking of the moment, which they find difficult to understand, all these can be excised.  After all, the Word of God is fallible and the Almighty Creator of the universe is incapable of expressing Himself with clarity and definiteness. Such is their degraded and blasphemous thinking.

Dear faithful reader, let us be in no doubt that we are approaching the close of this era. Christendom is in the Laodicea state. The many praise the wisdom of comprise and toleration. The Lord says this: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would that thou wert cold or hot. Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3 v 15-16). I feel the edge of these words as I quote them, and I am made painfully aware of my inadequacy on that score. Yet, I do not speak on the basis on my own righteousness, but on that of the righteous Judge of all the Earth. I do not speak with my own authority or using my own words, but rather the authority of Word of God, that authority which is being so blatantly denied. Therefore, I feel confident to let scripture speak for itself, even if the rest of my words fall on deaf ears.

As a young Christian – young in the faith and in age – I am anxious for my generation. People my age, and how much more so the coming generations, are living in a world in which the truth has been neglected and distorted more than it has ever been before. As the apostle Paul warned, “wicked men and juggling impostors shall advance in evil, leading and being led astray.” (2 Timothy 3 v 13). Indeed, the most fundamental of truths are being eroded. Who hears Paul’s words now, when he says that “every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (v 16). Evil in all its forms is endemic in Christendom. We fight it at every turn. My fellow young brethren, let us be “good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2 v 3) in the final battles of our part in the conflict.

I have not written the above simply in order to complain and criticise. What would be the point of that? I hope that what I’ve written I’ll first take to myself and learn from it, and that it might strengthen and encourage others. Satan is trying to do away with most of the teaching of righteousness, and make the part of it that remains seem an end in itself. Righteousness and piety are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. We do not present ourselves as living sacrifices in order to just be living sacrifices, but to present ourselves to God in acceptability – clothed in Christ – to come into the blessings the God would love to give us without reserve. We, like Paul, should “pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3 v 14).

 

* And, of course, as Father and Holy Spirit, as well as Son.

Politics and Pilgrims: Are The Two Compatible?

The following post was first published in July 2013.

The question of whether or not Christians should be involved in politics is one which seems to provoke very little debate in Christendom today.  It would appear that scant thought has been given to the matter, and this is hardly surprising, considering the lamentable state of the public profession.  I’d like to raise this question with individual readers, the majority of whom will have the right to participate in the political system of their countries by voting and also stand for election.

I feel that I needn’t explain to my intelligent readers that the course of this world is toward destruction, that it is evil and opposed to God.  In Ephesians 2 v 2, the apostle refers to the “… ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience…”  Some well-intentioned but sadly deceived believers hold that, through the work of evangelism, the world will be steadily improved until it reaches a suitable state of morality, whereupon the Lord will return.  This idea of continual improvement flies in the face of plain scripture, and the whole of the Word of God gives us a picture of the moral bankruptcy of the world and its systems.  We have plain scripture to tell us that we, believers in the Lord Jesus, have been redeemed out of this “present evil world” (Galatians 1 v 4) and that the direction of it is fatal (Proverbs 14 v 12).  We have to personally come out from the world – in a moral way – if we are to conduct ourselves suitably and enjoy the blessings of present salvation (2 Corinthians 6 v 17).  The principle of separation from the world should be well-known to the most ill-taught of believers.  Many find it testing – I find it testing, very much so.  But it is vital to the enjoyment of our present salvation.  The Lord said “Ye are my friends if ye practise whatever I command you.” (John 15 v 14).  It has been said that the salvation of Christ is unconditional, but the friendship of Christ is conditional.  I cannot claim to be a friend of Jesus if I don’t keep His commandments.  I want to be a friend of Christ.

Having established that, firstly, the world is evil, and secondly, we must be separated from it, what are we to make of its politics?  Scripture tells us to be subject to the authorities (see Romans 13 v 1, Titus 3 v 1, 1 Peter 2 v 13-14), and to render to them what is required by the law (Mark 12 v 17).  Nowhere are we instructed to participate in government.  Indeed, the pernicious effects of an uncontrollable democratic force can be seen all around us at the present time, as the prophecy of Daniel 2 v 41-44 describes.  The feet and toes of iron and clay, strong and brittle mixed together, represent rapidly evolving modern democracy.  The authority of government is weakened by this mixture of rulers and ruled in the business of government.  The events of recent weeks, months and years show the increasingly insubordinate nature of the people of world.  Anti-government protests, demonstrations and riots are becoming a common occurrence in many areas of the world.  Furthermore, legislation in democratic nations is increasingly being shaped the immoral and self-willed mandate of their infidel people.  Secularism is rife and the attempts of its proponents to erase even the outward display of Christianity from public life are meeting increasing success.  Seeing that this is so, many Christians would argue that we need to fight these tendencies through the channels of government by participating in politics.  I will now go on to examine that view.

I will say, first and foremost, that God undoubtedly has people in all areas of society, in all professions and walks of life.  There are Christian politicians, and we should be thankful for what restraining influence they are able to exert over the course of evil in high places, and the way that they serve God’s people in their activities.  A prominent example of such people are those US senators who advocate on behalf of the persecuted Church.  Thank God for them, and may He preserve them.  But, is this the best position from which they can serve God and protect His interests?  I would suggest that it isn’t.

At various times and in various places, we see examples of how Christians are being harmed by the assumption of temporal power in Christendom.  A notable example of the anti-scriptural and ungodly lust for temporal power has always stood before us in the form of the Roman Catholic Church.  This is the error taken to extremes, and the results, detrimental in so many ways, can be clearly seen.  In past Nazi Germany and present communist China, members of the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy are being persecuted for their refusal relinquish the belief that the pope is the ultimate authority, not the government.  One can, of course, be sympathetic with these sincere – if misguided – persons, who defended and continue defend what they hold to be sacred, at the cost of their freedom and in some cases, their lives.  This tenacity has cost these people a great deal, but for what?  They aren’t defending the sovereignty of the Christ, but rather that of a temporal religious ruler – a thing never contemplated in scripture, and which goes against it in fact.  The pope, if he believes the word of God, should encourage those over whom he claims pastoral care to submit to the authorities in all things, as far as conscience allows.  But, the conscience of the Roman Catholic is burdened by man-made rules, laws and superstitions which drive him out of the sphere of safety in subjection to the authorities when this isn’t required of him.  Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that Christians in China who attend house-churches are facing similar persecution, but this, I believe, is persecution for righteousness sake, not for the sake of a mere earthly religion.  Likewise, many believers were persecuted in Nazi Germany because they resisted the authorities – quite rightly, because they weren’t willing to collude with evil and and condone murder.  Eschewing temporal power does not, of course, guarantee freedom from persecution for the believer, but it goes a long way to safeguarding that peace, as we walk within the boundaries of scripture and – as far as conscience permits – the law of the land.

That is, of course, an example of temporal religious power being exercised in the political sphere – an unholy mixture if there ever was one.  But what of ‘pure’ politics?  What of citizens voting to elect political candidates who vow to protect family values?  Surely, this is a positive exercise of democratic power on the part of the Christian?  On the face of it, it would appear so.  But, when we meddle with politics, we meddle with a capricious force and walk off the grounds of scripture and onto uncertain ground.  For example, say that I cast my vote for a candidate and a party which promises to respect and uphold the values which I would like to see in wider society.  My favoured candidate wins the election.  But, when they get into power, they find that their idealism gives way to pragmatism.  Perhaps they feel that they must compromise a little in the short term in order to effect change in the long term.  As a result, they drop that staunch defence of moral values in order to keep a hold on power.  Perhaps they forget, in the long term, the principles with which they set out.  These things happen in politics.  Perhaps this is an overly cynical view.  It is born of continual – yet probably spiritually unprofitable – observation of politics in the United Kingdom, of many compromises, u-turns, and instances of very poor moral judgement on the part of our leaders.  But, whether you believe I am overly cynical or not, I feel that you can’t deny that there’s no surety in politics, and our Surety has not asked us to defend His rights by getting involved in it.  As far as I’m concerned, my Man is always in power and my petitions are heard, day or night.

In January of this year, the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, delivered a lecture at Portcullis House, Westminster.  Mr Nazir-Ali and I would undoubtedly disagree on a number of fundamental issues, but he said some sound things in his discourse on the increasing erosion of the rights and freedoms of Christians.  One of the things he said was this: “Christianity teaches that it is by giving up power that you change the world.  Islam teaches that it is by taking power that you change the world.”  What a contrast we have here, between the true faith and the infidel religion.  One is the heavenly course and way of walking, the other is the earthly.  The former characterises the true profession of Christianity.  As the apostle Paul says in the inspired word: “Since Jews indeed ask for signs, and Greeks seek wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews an offence, and to nations foolishness; but to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ God’s power and God’s wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1 v 22-24).  What does the religious and the secular world see as is looks at Christianity and the Christian?  It comes across a stumbling block on one hand and an object of derision on the other.  In the eyes of the world, what weakness was displayed on the cross!  Christ, slain!  But to the believer, there is seen the power and wisdom of God.  The world sees Christianity as the butt of jokes and an easy target, while it fears the growing power of Islam and the outright violence of Islamism.  The power of God – although manifested all around the unbeliever, in the mighty works of creation, in God’s dealings with man, in sending His only-begotten Son into the world, and the testimony of the Christ in the believer – is invisible to him.  The unbeliever sees scheming, deception and violence as things which get him power and allow him to shape the world.  He may legitimise these methods by so-called ‘rationalism’, secular humanist dogmas and ‘objective moral truths’, but they remain what they are: instruments of Satan.  Where do we see this hypocrisy more than in the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America?  Many American believers cling patriotically to the assertion that the constitution of the nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values.  This basis on Judeo-Christian values, commendable though it may be, failed to prevent slavery, civil war, the practice of thinly disguised and much denied imperialism, and the present rapid moral decline and rise of secularism in the nation.

Mr Nazir-Ali’s statement that we can change the world needs to be treated carefully.  I agree with it though.  As I stated earlier, the belief that we can improve the state of the world by evangelisation is erroneous.  That’s not to say, however, that believers have no effect on the world.  Indeed, scripture indicates that after the Church is taken from the earth to be with the Lord, the chaos of the Tribulation immediately ensues**.  This is the result of the removal of divine restraint of evil on the earth – temporarily, of course, prior to the return of the Lord to assume His rightful Headship in that sphere for the millennial period – and the removal of believers from earth, indwelt as we are by the Holy Spirit.  We have power and influence over the world.  It is not of ourselves, of course, but because of the Spirit of God within us.  Matthew 5 tells us that believers are the salt of the earth and light to the world, as we are characterised by the One who brought savour to a savourless scene of moral failure, and is the Light of the world.  This is power.  God’s power.  What other power do we need?  None else can have any moral effect on us, or on the world around us, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual power of wickedness in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6 v 12).  We have the full armour of God to withstand the efforts of these principalities, these authorities, this darkness, this spiritual power of wickedness.  Not a partial armour, to be supplemented with temporal arms and temporal strength, but full armour.

It is my personal conviction that if we participate in politics we are acting wrongly.  The motivation we have for doing so undoubtedly varies.  If it is for selfish reasons, in order to get a party into power which will take less of our income in taxes for example, or which will increase spending in an area which we are particularly interested, then that’s self-will.  Self-will leads us astray.  What might be good for us might not be good for our neighbour.  If I vote for a party which will cut my taxes, spending on the welfare of the poor might be cut too, and I would be culpable for it, in part.  Equally, if we do it for what we consider moral reasons, to combat some liberalising legislation on abortion, or the use of recreational drugs, or pornography, for example, then we are equally at fault.  If I use my earthly democratic rights to defend heavenly principles, I am stepping out of dependence on God, and into dependence on myself and the political system.  I am saying that I believe it’s more likely that morality will be defended by my taking matters into my own hands, rather than getting down on my knees and praying about it.  I am saying that I don’t need the armour of God, because I have the flak-jacket of my constitutional rights to protect me and my liberty.

And yet, perhaps neither of the above reasons – getting what our natural selves desire, or trying to defend the principles of our faith – is the reason why we would get involved in politics.  Perhaps we, having rejected that idea that we can improve the world by evangelising, get further into confusion and error by thinking that we can improve the world by legislating morality, but forcing moral values on an immoral world.  I don’t think I can adequate express the futility of such a course of action, so I leave it to the homely and awkward (but nonetheless true) words of that much-used servant of the Lord, John Nelson Darby, sometime in the 19th century.  He had this to say on the subject of trains running on a Sunday, replying to arguments that such services were necessary for transportation of the sick and other such noble undertakings:

“The poor, everyone labouring during the week, should insist on the Sabbath [so-called]: it is essentially his own day.  For the same reason, if my vote decided it (and happily for me I have none, and would have or use one), not a train should run on Lord’s Day.  As to excursions, they are a thorough curse to all engaged in them.  I cannot help: I leave them there.

“But as to Sunday trains, I do not believe they are for sole reasons to meet cases of necessity and mercy, as men speak; they are to make money.  If it be alleged that the requirements of Society oblige it, what are requirements of Society but haste to be rich, and an imperious claiming of the right to have one’s own way?  One understands very well that, railroads monopolising the roads, there is a kind of supposed obligation to meet the case of those who could have travelled at any rate; but if obliged, they can hire something to go.  No, it is facility and cheapness they want; it is money and will.  They are as free to travel as they were before.  I have nothing to do with these things, and never intend to have to do with them.  The world goes its own way, and I am not of it.  The allegations of Christians about it I have to answer; and I do not accept them, or the accommodating Christianity to what is termed progress.  The Christian has to form his own ways, and not expect to mend the world.  There is no moral gain in its progress.  We have telegraph and railway, very convenient no doubt; but are children more obedient, men happier, servants more faithful and devoted, homes and families more cherished?  Is there more trust and genial confidence among men, more honesty in business, more kindly feeling between master and man, employer and employed?  Let everyone answer in his own heart.  You have more facilities in the money-making, but more anxiety and restlessness in making it; more luxury and show, but not more affection and peace.”

Extract quoted in and reproduced from ‘John Nelson Darby: a Biography’ by W.G. Turner (1926)

What more is there to say?  I can only express the hope that all believers in the Lord Jesus – and I take this to myself first and foremost, because I need the lesson more than anyone – would be more dependent on Him for the realising of godly hopes and desires.  Is our hope and expectation to “mend the world” as J.N.D. said, or is it the soon coming of our beloved Lord to take us to be with Himself?  If we hope for progress and morality in the world, we’ll be disappointed.  If we hope, at any and every moment, for the Sun of righteousness to arise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4 v 2*) to mark the end of this dark night, then we will be preserved and kept in fresh and living expectation.  That hope will never be disappointed.  On the contrary, it will be realised in rapture.

 

* This scripture, as I understand it, applies to the restoration of Israel, rather than to the Rapture, but I hope the reader will bear with me as I use it in this context, because the imagery of it is so delightful, and I think it can have a figurative application to us and our present hope.  I would absolutely be subject to correction in this, as in all things.

** I now know that this statement isn’t quite correct – that the great tribulation will not occur immediately following the rapture of the saints.  I leave the text as it is though.

What is Worship?

The following post was first published in July 2013.  Some of the phrases used here are perhaps not the ones I would employ now, but I leave everything as it was originally published.

What is worship?  It’s a simple question, yet one which would appear on the face of it to have many answers.  In Christendom today, a great variety of activities are called ‘worship’.  The word is attached to organisations and inserted into job titles.  It would seem that ‘worship’ is a word which describes any sort of well-meaning and wholesome activity, directed God-ward.  It is my feeling that the word ‘worship’ has been sadly misused.  Although there might, legitimately enough, be a range of descriptions of what is worship, there is one which – in my view – is particularly apt.  “Worship is the adoration of the soul that is in the complete satisfaction of the knowledge of God.”*  The writer of this observation then goes on to remark that if the heart is not satisfied, there may be thanksgiving, but there will not be true worship, and “How could would we be in this absolute satisfaction, except by the Spirit of God?”  Therefore, Christian worship is an activity from which the Spirit of God is inseparable.  Without Him in it, it is not worship.

Scripture would assure us, unequivocally, that we worship by the Spirit of God.  “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in flesh.” (Philippians 3 v 3).  Very well, many might say.  What’s the problem?  What goes on in my church, and the church down the street, and the meeting hall around the corner, and the chapel in the next town, all of it is worship if the Spirit of God is the source of it.  That would be true, if that were the case.  However, it would appear many Christians are happy to take the first part of of Paul’s statement, to regard themselves as the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God.  They may even, outwardly, take on the second part.  It is the third part which is not properly attended to, which it should have been if we are of the circumcision, having seen our flesh cut off and dead to us.  But, it is very much to be feared and guarded against that “the mind of the flesh” (Colossians 2 v 18) and “the satisfaction of the flesh” (v 23) do not intrude and spoil what should rightly and wholly be for God amongst those that are His.  In Ephesians 4 v 30, the apostle warns against our natural tendency to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which ye have been sealed for the day of redemption”.  How does this happen, how is the Spirit grieved?  By the resurgence of our flesh, our old nature, which we have died to, and should be cut off: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other…” (Galatians 5 v 17).  This is what spoils what is for God and causes inevitable disappointment and despondency in His would-be worshiper.

Where is there evidence, then, of the mind of the flesh and its satisfaction in Christendom today?  Everywhere.  Amongst Protestant Christian denominations, there is wide-spread condemnation of the idolatry of Romanism, and rightly so.  The histrionic services, empty rituals and pagan mysticism of the Roman Catholic Church shows the religious flesh, displayed in all its gross decadence.  Here we see a system which was devised by the mind of man at the inspiration of Satan, and solely dedicated to the satisfaction of the flesh which walks by sight, and not by faith (2 Corinthians 5 v 7).  Here was see what Paul warns the Colossians against: “Let no one fraudulently deprive you of your prize, doing his own will in humility and worship of angels, entering into things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh…” Satan is keen that the mind of the flesh should be kept alive and active in each and every one of us, so that we mistake real piety and true worship for things “(which have indeed an appearance of wisdom in voluntary worship, and humility, and harsh treatment of the body, not in a certain honour,) to the satisfaction of the flesh.”  Allowing the mind of the flesh to have scope leads to the satisfaction of the flesh, and not the satisfaction of God, which is surely the purpose of worship.

“However”, the Protestant might argue, “none of this idolatry is in my church”.  Isn’t it?  Now we come to the real test, the hard word for many of us at this time.  Is the flesh dominating our ‘worship’ and setting it at nought?  It may not be the blatant idolatry of Romanism, it may be more subtle, but it is equally destructive.  I feel compelled to say at this point, Thanks be to God for every believer, every earnest believer with right Christian desires, indwelt of the Spirit of God who desires to worship together with their brethren in Christ.  These believers are scattered throughout broken Christendom, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, of a thousand denominations and titles, but all of Christ, and members of His Body, whether they own it or not.  It is because of these brethren that I feel it is important to address – as far as my feeble capacity to do so will allow – this vital issue.

When I was a child, my parents brought me along to Christian meetings.  I was too young to understand what was being discussed, so I sat through them, entertaining myself with toys, and latterly a notebook and pencil which I was allowed to doodle in during the teaching.  When I was old enough, I didn’t bring my notebook, and instead gave the meetings my attention.  If an adult were to bring out their smartphone in a church or meeting room in the middle of proceedings and start playing games on it, people would certain look askance at that, and quite rightly so.  But, is that not what many of us are doing?  Aren’t we bringing our toys to church?  In many churches, services of worship are accompanied by playing musical instruments, lights, video presentations, choirs, vocal solos and all manner of entertainments, ancient and modern.  This, I would assert, is sowing to the flesh and not to the Spirit (Galatians 6 v 8).

Undoubtedly, the above statement will raise great consternation and indignation in many who read it.  Undoubtedly it would be regarded by some as legal, by others as Pharisaical (I fail to see the logic of that, but it has been said), and yet others as an attack on Christian liberty.  To the last rebuttal, I would have to say that anyone making it has a poor idea of what true Christian liberty is.  In particular, musical instruments used in worship is a cherished and almost sacred practice of many churches.  From the traditional church organ to the modern electric guitars, to small orchestras in some places, it is quite a common thing now.  I can say with utmost confidence that it wasn’t so from the first, that there were no such innovations in the early church.  To counter this view, proponents of the use of musical instruments will point to the Old Testament scriptures, numerous scriptures, which speak of the use of instruments in the praise of Jehovah.  In 1 Chronicles 23 v 5 we have it recorded: “… and four thousand praised Jehovah with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith.”  These, and many other scriptures, are used as justification for the present use of musical instruments in the service of God.  This shows – and I say this with all due respect and affection, mixed with sorrow, to those saying it – a dreadful ignorance of dispensational truth.  The Jewish order of things, God’s dealings with His earthly people, are merely shadows of that which was to come.  Colossians 2 tells us as much, and even a casual study of the scripture would reveal them to be such.  In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle expands on this theme in great and rewarding detail**.  If we take Jewish things and try to fit them into our Christian worship, we are attempting to restore an order of things which God has brought to a close, a system of things which He has superseded with something infinitely greater.  To those who would bring instruments into the worship of God: are we to bring incense back too?  Are we to go right into apostasy and bring back many atoning sacrifices for sin, as the Romish system has?  God forbid that that terrible, blasphemous notion should get hold in the sphere of Christendom which is largely free from Rome’s baleful influence!  We should be clear that these things were right, proper and necessary, divine ordinances – in their time.  But to bring them into this dispensation, when symbolical things have been replaced by realities… that is both an terrible affront to God and a denial of the blessings of Christianity to the Christian.  Just as the many sacrifices have been utterly superseded by the one sacrifice of a perfect Lamb, once and for all, the use of the product of the works of man’s hands has been utterly superseded too by the service of the Spirit of God.  In 2 Chronicles 7 v 6, we have a wonderful scene, complete with “the Levites with Jehovah’s instruments of music, which David the king had made to praise Jehovah”.  Has not the Christ, the true David, made instruments to praise Jehovah, secured them in His death?  He has indeed: us, dear believer.  We are Jehovah’s instruments of music, for the praise of God.  The work of God Himself in us is ever refining our tone and pitch, His Holy Spirit plays on us in the service of the praise of God.  This is a wonderful and blessed truth, one of many of this dispensation: the shadows and the typical representations of the old dispensation having their realisation in this one, and beyond it, on into eternity.  I could continue on this wonderful topic, but I have stick to the bounds of the subject in hand.

There are some, even when presented with these points in view, clearly scriptural in their basis, who would say accuse me of pendantry and dealing in semantics.  I would strongly refute that, and say that these things are of the highest importance.  “Where’s the harm in it?”, many might ask.  In case the harm of feeding the flesh with sights and sounds is not established clearly enough above, I will use an theoretical example.  Two believers go to the same service of worship at a place where musical instruments and multimedia of all sorts is employed to “augment” the occasion.  Both are genuine and faithful, both have a right desire to worship God, a desire which is produced by His working in them.  One believer enters into the service fully, contributing to it in spirit and in voice, joining in with the singing of hymns and spiritual songs, worshiping by the Spirit of God, entering into the true spiritual things which – hopefully – remain despite the dross of worldliness and the Judiazing influence which has sadly been at work in the place.  The other believer is distracted by the sights and sounds of the service and gets caught up in it.  He enjoys the musical accompaniment, the theatrics and the emotion.  The Holy Spirit is grieved as the believer is taken up with the things which his natural senses appreciate, while he gets a lift and a feeling of joy and happiness from them.  But this is only a temporary boost, as results from anything which feeds our flesh but not our spirit.  He goes away from the service feeling joyful and peaceful, but this quickly fades.  The other believer goes away with something substantial having been worked out in his soul, the result of a real spiritual experience.  His weaker brother in Christ gets dejected and despondent: what he thinks is a spiritual experience is not satisfying him.  He sees his stronger brother grow in the knowledge of the truth and have his links with the Lord strengthen.  The weaker brother begins to question whether this thing called Christianity is indeed for him…  Of course, this could be regarded as a worse-case / best-case scenario, a sharp contrast between the two.  But, the fact remains that it could happen, and it has happened, no doubt.  Is it not our duty to have regard for our weaker brethren, and not cause them to stumble?  Is it not the spirit of Cain to question and to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Assuredly, we are, if we truly walk in fellowship with one another.

On this point, the part that choirs and ‘worship bands’ have to play in the worship of God has to be questioned.  It is strange and disturbing that, while Protestants may condemn the ritual and theatrics of Rome, they have such things as these themselves.  Not everyone can sing in a choir, not everyone is naturally gifted to be able to do so.  Not everyone can play an instrument, because not all have that natural ability or have devoted the time to acquiring the skill.  Are these performances not theatrical, and for the entertainment of those watching?  It mirrors the corruption of Romanism.  The word ‘mass’ which is used to describe that histrionic ritual which the Romish church substitutes for the Lord’s supper, is in fact a corruption of the word which was, in times past, used as a command, to dismiss those from the place who were not there to join in communion.  The opposite is true of the Roman Catholic mass.  Those who do not communicate, who do not take part in the communion, watch the spectacle unfold.  And this, if you credit it, is called worship!  This being the case, why are entertainments and spectacles called worship by those Protestants who condemn so roundly the pageantry of Rome?  Again, the flesh is fed by these things, and the Spirit is grieved.  The flesh is fed in those watching, and in those performing.  If we feel that we’re being admired for our natural or acquired abilities, then that can lead to pride.  This is natural: that is the mind of the flesh.  It’s nice to admired for our talents.  In some measure, that is harmless.  But it has no place in the service of God, where He is the object – or should be – the object of all adoration and worship.  The apostle Paul is ever a good guide: he lists his many qualifications and achievements in his epistle to the Philippians, and then what does he say?  Does he say that, since he is so qualified and has achieved so much naturally and without God, that he should use it for the glory of God (as some have indeed argued!)?  Does he say that it is because of these qualifications and achievements that he is an apostle?  No.  “But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ…” (chapter 3 v 8).  He lost all, and counted it filth.  Not “a great sacrifice”, not even “a small sacrifice”, but “filth”.  All that he was, all that he had achieved, all that he had worked at was worthless and undesirable to him.  He’d seen Christ, and that was all that filled his vision.

Would that we were more Pauline in our valuation of things here and heavenward looking in our gatherings, there would be no room for musical instruments, or choirs, or bands, or multimedia, or any of the passing things of this world which can only hinder the enjoyment and prevent the entering in of the believer into true worship.  “But, if we get rid of all those things”, asks the dismayed church-goer, “what will we have left?”  My friend, you will have the Spirit of God, free to move and operate among those He indwells, stirring their hearts in praise and worship to God.  That is all the God requires.  Nothing we can do will add to the service of God, we must use what He provided.  Consider the wedding feast of Matthew 22, and the displeasure of the King when he found a guest who wasn’t wearing the wedding garment that He had provided.  Consider the returning prodigal of Luke 15, destitute and without resource in himself at all.  Consider Cain, bringing the fruits of his own labour from the cursed ground as a sacrifice to Jehovah.  Can we find ourselves another means of salvation, other than that which is in Jesus, something we ourselves can bring to present to the righteous Judge, of our own making?  No.  Can we any more bring anything to the worship of God, other than that which God in His infinite grace has provided?  No.  He has done it all.  “All things ready; come to the wedding feast.” (Matthew 22 v 4).

These are just a few words, feebly spoken, on a vast subject of great importance.  I hope that every believer who reads them would weigh them carefully and follow up any exercise produced in the soul by them.  I would again encourage anyone who sees an error, typographical or doctrinal, in the above, to raise it with me for my help and correction.  I would again encourage anyone who reads this to be a good Berean, and search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
* ‘The True Grace of God’, paper entitled ‘Christianity’, C.A. Coates.

** For further reading on this subject, I can’t recommend more highly ‘Jewish Bondage and Christian Freedom, or Jewish and Christian Worship Contrasted’ by J.L.H., 1899.