Establishments, and a Money Basis
We have seen, beloved friends, two main steps in the Church's outward decline, after the loss of first love had made any departure possible. First of all, the divine idea of the Church was lost. Instead of its being a body of people having, in the full and proper sense, eternal life and salvation, children of God, members of Christ, and called out of the world, as not belonging to it, it became a mere "gathering together" of people, for whom indeed the old names might in part remain, but who were in fact the world itself, with true Christian people scattered through it. Children of God they might be reckoned by baptism, and by it have forgiveness of sins also, but that was no settlement for eternity at all. They were confessedly under trial, and uncertain as to how things would finally turn out — a ground which all the world could understand and appreciate, with sacraments and means of grace to help them on, and prevent them realizing the awfulness of their position.
Of course, this immense change from Church to Synagogue was not at once effected. Yet the Church historically known to us, outside of the New Testament, is but in fact essentially the Synagogue. The fire of persecution helped to prevent for a while the extreme result, and to separate mere professors from the confessors of Christ. Still through it all the leaven of Judaism wrought its deadly work and no sooner was persecution stopped than the world's overtures for peace and alliance were eagerly listened to; and with Constantine, for many, the millennium seemed to have arrived. Could the Church of the apostles have fallen into the world's arms so? Their voice would have rebuked the thought as of Satan, as indeed it was: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?"
The second step we saw in the rise of a clergy, a spiritual or priestly class, replacing the true Christian ministry, the free exercise of the various gifts which resulted from the various places of the membership of the body of Christ. The clerical assumption displaced the body of Christian people — now a true "laity" — as at least less spiritual and near to God; a place, alas, easily accepted where Christ had lost what the world had gained in value with His own. As Judaism prevailed, and the world came in through the ever-opening door, the distance between the two classes increased, and more and more the clergy became the channels of all blessing to the rest. Practically, and in the end almost openly, they became the Church; and the Church became, from a company of those already saved, a channel for conveying a sacramental and hypothetical salvation.
We come now to look at the issue of all this, when circumstances favored. In Pergamos (where the Lord presents Himself no longer in the tender and gracious sympathy He manifests for His suffering ones in Smyrna, but as having the sharp sword with two edges — His Word to judge the state of things among them) — in Pergamos, the characteristic thing is, they are "dwelling where Satan's throne is." "Throne," not "seat," is confessedly the word used. The translators apparently shrank from the use of the stronger word: for, according to current belief, Satan reigns in hell, not on earth; that is, in the prison in which God has put him, but from which he has strangely broken loose. Milton's picture is the popular one, and with it, no doubt, you are familiar. But it is as unscriptural as it is unreasonable. What would be thought of a government which allowed a chief malefactor to reign in his prison over his fellow culprits, and to break prison and roam freely where he would? God's government is not chargeable with this. In hell Satan will be the lowest and most miserable there; and when committed to it there will be no escape permitted. But that will not be until after the millennium, as Rev. 20 assures us.
This idea, however, permits people to escape from the appalling thought that Satan is now the "prince of this world," and the "god of this world" (or age) which Scripture plainly declares him to be. It is over the world he exercises authority, and this gives to the "world" and "dwelling in the world" an exceedingly solemn character. For, "dwelling in the world" is quite another thing, of course, from being in it. We are in the world perforce, and in no wise responsible for that; but to be a dweller in it is a moral state; it is to be a citizen in it — the condition which the apostle speaks of in Philippians as obtaining among professing Christians: "For many walk of whom I have told you before, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. For our conversation (or citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (3:18-20).
Their characteristic is, that they are enemies, not of Christ personally, but of the Cross, that Cross by which we are "crucified to the world, and the world to us." Their hearts were on earthly things, which, not satisfying them, as earthly things cannot, made their god to be their belly; — that inward craving became their master, and made them drudges in its service.
The Christian's citizenship is "in heaven." That forms his character, and delivers him from the unsatisfying pursuit of earthly things. But little, indeed, is this understood now. Even where people can talk and sing of the world being a wilderness, you will find that in general their idea of it is a place of sorrow and trial, to which all — the world and the Christian alike — are exposed. Pilgrimage, in their minds, is a thing perforce. The world passes away, and they cannot keep it; but, if honest, they would own that they would keep it if they could. As they cannot, they are glad enough to think there is such a place as heaven at the end of it; in the meanwhile they go on trying (honestly, no doubt, if you can call such a thing honest in a Christian) to get as much of it as they can — or, at least, as much as will make them comfortable in it.
It is a different thing to be a pilgrim really — a man journeying on earth with an absorbing purpose to reach a fixed point beyond: not one whom the world is leaving, but one who is leaving it. By the very fact that the stream of time is carrying us all down with it, if that constituted a pilgrim it would make all the world pilgrims; and so, in fact, people do talk of the "pilgrimage of life:" but this is the abuse of a term, and not its use. We can be pilgrims in that sense, and find all the world companions; and such, indeed, had got to be the idea of pilgrimage in the Pergamos state of the Church. They talked of it, no doubt, and built their houses the more solidly to stand the rough weather: if they owned there were "rainy days" ahead, it was the more their duty to lay by for a rainy day. God said they were dwelling where Satan's throne was.
The history of old Babel was repeating itself. You may find the vivid type of it in Gen. 11, where men "journeyed" indeed, but not as pilgrims, or as only that till they could find some smooth place in which to settle down. "They journeyed" as colonists or immigrants on the lookout for land, from the rough hills where human life beyond the flood began; "from the east" (that is, with their backs toward the blessed dawn), and "they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there."
That was, alas, the Church's progress: from the rough heights of martyrdom down to the smooth level where were no difficulties to deter the most timid souls. There the Church multiplied, and there they began to build "a city and a tower whose top should reach to heaven:" but the city was not Jerusalem, but Jerusalem's old enemy; not the "possession of peace," but the city of "confusion" — Babel.
Yet it prospered. They built well. True, they were away from the quarries of the hills, and could not build with the stone they had there been used to. They did the best thing they could with the clay which was native in the soil of that lower land. "They had bricks for stone, and slime for mortar." We have seen some of this work already. It looks well, and lasts, in the fine climate of those regions, quite a long time — human material, not divine — "bricks," man's manufacture, "for stones," God's material. They cannot build great Babylon with the "living stones" of God's producing. Men-made Christians, compacted together, not by the cementing Spirit, but by the human motives and influences whereby the masses are affected, but which the fire of God will one day try — so is great Babylon built.
Now it is remarkable that the word Pergamos has a double significance. In the plural form it is used for the citadel of a town, while it is at least near akin to Purgos, "a town." Again, divide it into the two words in which it naturally separates, and you have "per" (although) a particle which "usually serves to call attention to something which is objected to" (Liddell and Scott), and "gamos," (marriage). It was indeed by the marriage of Church and world that the "city and tower" of Babylon the Great was raised. And such are the times we are now to contemplate.
They were the times of the great Constantine — the time of what is significantly called the "establishment of the Church" but not, alas, its establishment upon its Rock-foundation, where the gates of hades could not prevail against it, but its establishment in the world's favor, and under its protection. It was the success of Satan, the triumph of his plan by which the Church became the synagogue; but not now God's, but in opposition to God.
As a consequence, you find not only Nicolaitanism now fully accepted, but the "doctrine of Balaam" also. They were still what is called orthodox. "Thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." They maintained, in general, the truth of Christ as against Arianism, which denied His proper deity. It was the period of the creeds — of Nicene orthodoxy. But it was an orthodoxy which, while maintaining (thank God for it) the doctrine of the Trinity, could be, and was, very far astray as to the application of Christ's blessed work to the salvation of man — orthodox as to Christ, most unorthodox as to the gospel.
Where, in the Apostles' Creed (so called), do you find the gospel? "The forgiveness of sins" is an article of belief, no doubt; but how and when? In the Nicene Creed there is "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins," and entire silence as to any other. In the Athanasian it is owned that Christ "suffered for our salvation," but how we are to obtain the salvation is again omitted. Practically, the belief of the times was in the efficacy of baptism, and so painful and uncertain was the way of forgiveness for sins committed afterwards, that multitudes deferred baptism to a dying bed, that the sins of a lifetime might be washed away together.
The Lord goes on to say: "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication."
Balaam, the destroyer of the people, is a new graft upon Nicolaitanism — a prophet in outward nearness to the Lord, while his heart went after his own covetousness; — a man having no personal grudge against the people, but whose god was his belly, and who would curse them if his god bade; — one whose doctrine was to seduce Israel from their separateness, into guilty mixture with the nations and their idolatry around. The type is easily read, and the examples of it distressingly numerous. When the Church and the world became on good terms with one another, and the Church had the things of the world wherewith to attract the natural heart, the hireling prophet was a matter of course, who for his own ends would seek still further to destroy all godly separateness.
How glad one would be, to be able to think that a thing of the past! But it is one step only in a persistent departure from God on the part of the professing Church at large, never retraced or repented of. Nor, solemn to say, however much individuals may be delivered, is such decline ever recovered from by the body as such. Every step downwards only accelerates the progress down. In the wilderness Israel took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of their god Remphan, and the Lord's word appended is, "I will carry you away beyond Babylon." There were many reformations afterwards, more or less partial, but no fresh start. So with the Church. People talk about a second Pentecost. There never really was. The true Pentecostal times lasted for how brief a moment!
It is a sad and terrible thing to speak of evil, and we have indeed ever to watch ourselves, lest in fact we should be rejoicing in that which we affect to judge. But if the Lord has pronounced, woe will it be to us if we are not with Him in His judgment. It would be unfaithfulness and dishonesty, as well as real breach of charity, not to say what the Lord says. To modify or alter it would be dishonest. "He that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully," He Himself says.
From Constantine's day to the present, Pergamos has characterized the state of things. World and Church have been one in Christendom at large; and wherever this is found, there in truth is Babylon, although Rome may be head of Babylon, as indeed she is.
Let us look about us with the lamp the Lord has given us, and see whereabouts we are with regard to these things. How far are we individually keeping the Church and the world separate? How far are we really refusing that yoke with unbelievers which the passage in 2 Cor. 6 so emphatically condemns? Our associations are judged of God as surely as any other part of our practical conduct; and "be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" is His word. He cannot, He declares, be to us a Father as He would except we come out and he separate. Solemn, solemn words in the midst of the multiplicity of such confederacies in the present day! Can we bear to be ourselves searched out by them, beloved brethren? Oh, if we value our true place as sons with God, shall we not be only glad to see things as they are?
Now this forbidden yoke has various applications. It applies to anything in which we voluntarily unite with others to attain a common object. Among social relations, marriage is such a yoke; in business relations, partnerships, and such like; and in the foremost rank of all would come ecclesiastical associations.
To take these latter now: there are certain systems which, as we have already seen, mix up the Church and the world in the most thorough way possible. All forms of ritualism do — forms wherein a person is made by baptism "a member of Christ and a child of God." Where that is asserted, separation is impossible, for no amount of charity, and no extravagance of theological fiction, can make the mass of these baptized people other than the world.
All national churches in the same way mix them up by the very fact that they are national churches. You cannot by the force of will, or act of Parliament, make a nation Christian. You can give them a name to live, while they are dead. You can make them formalists and hypocrites, but nothing more. You can do your best to hide from them their true condition, and leave them under an awful delusion from which eternity alone may wake them up.
All systems Jewish in character mix them up of necessity. Where all are probationers together it is not possible to do otherwise. All systems in which the Church is made a means to salvation, instead of the company of the saved, necessarily do so. When people join churches in order to be saved, as is the terrible fashion of the day, these churches become, of course, the common receptacle of sinners and saints alike. And wherever assurance of salvation is not maintained, the same thing must needs result.
Systems such as these naturally acquire adherents, and rapidly; money and worldly influence prevail, and among such the doctrine of Balaam does its deadly work. The world, not even disguised in the garb of Christianity, is sought for the sake of material support. Men that have not given themselves to the Lord are taught that they can give their money. It is openly proclaimed that God is not sufficient as His people's portion; His cause requires help, and that so much that He will accept it from the hands of His very enemies. There is an idolatry of means abroad. Money will help the destitute money will aid to circulate the Scriptures money will send missionaries to foreign parts money will supply a hundred wants and get over a host of difficulties. We are going to put it to so good a use we must not be over-scrupulous as to the mode of getting it. The church has to be maintained, the minister to be paid. They do not like the principle that "the end sanctifies the means," but still, what are they to do? God is sufficient, of course, in theory, but they must use the means, and this century no longer expects miracles.
But why go over the dreary round of such godless and faithless arguments? Is it a wonder that infidelity bursts out into a triumphant laugh as Christians maintain the impotence of their God, and violate His precepts to save His cause from ruin? Nay, do you not in fact proclaim it ruined, irredeemably ruined, when His ear is already too dull to hear, and His arm shortened that it cannot save? Money will build churches, will buy Bibles, will support ministers true. Will it buy a new Pentecost? or bring in the Millennium? Will you bribe the blessed. Spirit to work for you thus? or make sheer will and animal energy do without Him? Alas, you pray for power, and dishonor Him who is the only source of power!
But what is the result of this solicitation of the world? Can you go to it with the Bibles you have bought with its own money, and tell it the truth as to its own condition? Can you tell them that "the whole world lieth in wickedness?" that "all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father, but is of the world?" Can you maintain the separate place that God has given you, and the sharp edge of the truth that "they that are in the flesh cannot please God?" Of course you cannot. They will turn round upon you and say: Why then do you come to us for our money? You ask us to give, and tell us our giving will not please Him! It is not reasonable, we do not believe it, and you cannot believe it yourselves!
No: the world does not believe in giving anything for nothing. Whatever the word of God may say, whatever you may think of it in your heart, you must compromise in some way. You must not maintain the rigid line of separation. Balaam must be your prophet. You must mix with the world, and let it mix with you: how else will you do it good? You must cushion your church seats and invite it in. You must make your building and your services attractive you must not frighten people away, but allure them in. You must be all things to all men; and as you cannot expect to get them up to your standard, you must get down to theirs.
Do I speak too strongly? Oh, words can hardly exaggerate the state of things that may be everywhere found, not in some far-off land, but here all around us, in the present day. I should not dare to tell you what deeds are done in the name of Christ by His professing people. They will hire singers to sing His praises for admiration, and to draw a crowd. They will provide worldly entertainments, and sit down and be entertained in company. And, as more and more they sink down to the world's level, they persuade themselves the world is rising up to theirs; while God is saying, as of His people of old, "Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this" (Hosea 7:8-10).
It is a downward course, and being trod at an ever-increasing pace. Competition is aroused, and it is who can be the most successful candidate for the world's favors. The example of one emboldens another. Emulation, envy, ambition, and a host of unholy motives, are aroused, and Scripture, the honor of Christ, the jealous eyes of a holy, holy God — ah, you are antiquated and Pharisaic if you talk of these!
There is one feature in this melancholy picture I cannot pass by briefly thus. The ministry, or what stands before men's eyes as such, how is it affected by all this? I have already said that Scripture does not recognize the thought of a minister and his people. Upon this I do not intend to dwell again. But what, after all, in the present day, has got to be the strength of the tie between a church and its ministry? Who that looks around can question that money has here a controlling influence? The seal of the compact is the salary. A rich church with an ample purse, can it not make reasonably sure of attracting the man it wants? The poor church, however rich in piety, is it not conscious of its deficiency? People naturally do not like to own it. The ministers persuade themselves, successfully enough, no doubt, that it is a wider and more promising field of labor that attracts them. But the world notoriously does not believe this; and it has but too good reason for its unbelief.
The contract is ordinarily for so much money. If the money is not forthcoming, the contract is dissolved. But more: the money consideration decides in another way the character of man they wish to secure. It is ordinarily a successful man that is wanted, after the fashionable idea of what is success. They want a man who will fill the church, perhaps help to pay off the debt upon it. Very likely the payment of his own salary depends upon this. He will not be likely most to please who is not influenced by such motives: and thus it will be only God's mercy if Balaam's doctrine does not secure a Balaam to carry it out. But even if a godly man is obtained, he is put under the influence of the strongest personal temptation to soften down the truth, which, if fully preached, may deprive him of not only influence, but perhaps even subsistence.
Will the most godly man be the most popular man? No: for godliness is not what the world seeks. It can appreciate genius, no doubt, and eloquence, and amiability, and benevolence, and utilitarianism; but godliness is something different from the union of even all of these. If the world can appreciate godliness, I will own indeed it is no longer the world. But as long as the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, still characterize it, it is not of the Father, nor the Father of it. And why, in that passage, does the apostle say "the Father?" Is it not because, in thinking of the Father's relation to the world, we must needs think of the Son? As he says again, in another place, "Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" And why? Because it is the Son of God the world has crucified and cast out; and that Cross which was the world's judgment of the Son of God, is for faith God's judgment of the world.
Was Christ popular, beloved friends? Could He, with divine power in His hands, and ministering it freely for the manifold need appealing to Him on every side — could He commend Himself to men, His creatures? No, assuredly. But you think, perhaps, those peculiarly evil times. They understand Him better now, you think. Take, then, His dear name with you to men's places of business and to their homes today, to the workshop and the counting-houses and the public places. Do you doubt what response you would get?
"In the churches?" Oh yes; they have agreed to tolerate Him there. The churches have been carefully arranged to please the world. Comfortable, fashionable, the poor packed in convenient corners, eye and ear and intellect provided for: that is a different thing. And then it helps to quiet conscience when it will sometimes stir. But oh, is there much sign of His presence whose authenticating sign was, "To the poor the gospel is preached?"
Enough of this, however. It will be of no profit to pursue it further. But to those with whom the love of Christ is more than a profession, and the honor of Christ a reality to be maintained, I would solemnly put it how they can go on with what systematically tramples His honor under foot, yea, under the world's foot — falsifies His gospel, and helps to deceive to their own destruction the souls for whom He died? The doctrine of Balaam is everywhere: its end is judgment upon the world, and judgment too upon the people of God. If ministers cannot be supported, if churches cannot be kept up without this, the honestest, manliest, only Christian course is, let the thing go down! If Christians cannot get on without the world, they will find at least that the world can get on without them. They cannot persuade it that disobedience is such a serious thing when they see the light-hearted, flippant disobedience of which it is so easy to convict the great mass of professors, while it is so utterly impossible to deter them from it. "Money" is the cry "well, but we want the money." Aye, though Christ's honor is betrayed by it, and infidels sneer, and souls perish! Brethren, the very Pharisees of old were wiser! "We may not put it into the treasury," they whispered, "because it is the price of blood."
It will be a relief to turn to Scripture, and to examine what we have there upon this subject. It is very simple. There was no organized machinery for supporting churches none for paying ministers no promise, no contract upon the people's part, as to any sum they were to receive at all. There were necessities of course, many, to be provided for, and it was understood that there was to be provision. The saints themselves had to meet all. They had not taken up with a cheap religion. Having often to lay down their lives for it, they did not think much of their goods. The principle was this: "Every man as he is disposed in his heart, so let him give: not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver." It was to be to God, and before God. There was to be no blazoning it out to brethren, still less before the world. He that gave was not to let his left hand know what his right hand was doing.
It is true there were solemn motives to enforce it. On the one side, "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." But on the other side — most powerful, most influential of all — was this: "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich."
Such was the principle; such was to be the motive. There was no compulsory method of extraction, if this failed. If there was not heart to give, it was no use to extract.
So as to the laborer in the Word, it was very clearly announced, and that as what God had ordained, that "they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel," and that "the laborer is worthy of his hire." But although here also God used the willing hands of His people, it was not understood that they hired" him, or that he was their laborer. What they gave, it was to God they gave it, and his privilege it was to be Christ's servant. His responsibility was to the Lord, and theirs also. They did not understand that they were to get so much work for so much money. They did not pay, but "offered." There is a wonderful difference: for you cannot "pay" God, and you do not "offer" (in this sense of offering) to man. The moment you pay, God is out of the question.
Do you think this is perhaps a little unfair on both sides? that it is right that there should be something more of an equivalent for the labor he bestows — for the money you give? That is good law, bad gospel. What better than simony is it to suppose, after this fashion, "that the gift of God can be purchased with money?" Would you rather make your own bargain than trust Christ's grace to minister to your need? Or is it hard for him that he who ministers the Word should show his practical trust in the Word by looking to the Lord for his support? Ah, to whom could he look so well? and how much better off would he be for losing the sweet experience of His care?
No: it is all unbelief in divine power and love, and machinery brought in to make up for the want of it. And yet, if there is not this, what profit is there of keeping up the empty profession of it? If God can fail, let the whole thing go together; if He cannot, then your skillful contrivances are only the exhibition of rank unbelief.
And what do you accomplish by it? You bring in the Canaanite (the merchantman) into the house of the Lord. You offer a premium to the trader in divine things — the man who most values your money, and least cares for your souls. You cannot but be aware how naturally those two extremes associate together, and you cannot but own that if you took the Lord's plan, and left His laborers to look to Him for their support, you would do more to weed out such traffickers than by all your care and labor otherwise. Stop the hire, and you will banish the hirelings, and the blessed ministry of Christ will be freed from an incubus and a reproach which your contracts and bargainings are largely responsible for. And if Christ's servants cannot after all trust Him, let them seek out some honest occupation where they may gain their bread without scandal. In the fifteenth century before Christ, God brought a whole nation out of Egypt, and maintained them forty years in the wilderness. Did He, or did He not? Is He as competent as ever? Alas! will you dare to say those were the days of His youth, and these of His decrepitude?
So serious are these questions. But the unbelief that exists now existed then. Do you remember what the people did when they had lost Moses on the mount awhile, and lacked a leader? They made a god of the gold which they had brought out of Egypt with them, and fell down and worshipped the work of their own hands. History repeats itself. Who can deny that we have been looking on the counterpart of that?
It may be well to ask here, Is there any measure of the Christian's giving, for one who would be right with God about it?
The notion of the tithe, or tenth, has been revived, or with some two tithes, as that which was the measure of one Israelite's giving. Jacob has been propounded to us as an example, as he stood before God in the morning after that wonderful night at Bethel, when God had engaged to be with him and to be his God, and to multiply his seed, and bring him again into the land from which he was departing. "If God will be with me," he says, "and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God; and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee."
God's ways are so little like our ways, His thoughts so little like our thoughts, it is not very wonderful man does not understand them. But, surely, Jacob does not here enter into the blessedness of God's thoughts. I need not dwell now upon his case, but only notice it to say that for a Christian at least the whole principle is a mistake. You are not to ransom nine-tenths from God by giving one. You are bought with a price, you and yours. In a double way, by creation and redemption too, you belong, with all you have, to God. Many people are acting upon the perfectly wrong idea that whether as to time, money, or whatever else, God is to have His share, and the rest is their own. They misunderstand the legal types, and do not realize the immense difference that accomplished redemption has brought in with it.
Before "Ye are bought with a price" could yet be said, it was impossible to deduce the consequences that result from this. Grace goes beyond law, which made nothing, and could make nothing, perfect. The very essence of the surrender of the life to God is that it must be a voluntary one. Like the vow of the Nazarite, (which was a vow of separation to the Lord, and which reads, "when any one will vow the vow of a Nazarite,") that surrender must be of the heart, or it is none. Nor is it a contradiction to this that there were born Nazarites — Nazarites from the womb, as Samson and the Baptist. Christians are all born (new-born) to Nazariteship, which is implied, and necessitated, in a true sense, by the life which we receive from God. - But the necessity is not one externally impressed upon it: it is an internal one. "A new heart will I give you," says the Lord: but the new heart given is a heart which chooses freely the service of its Master. A legal requirement of the whole would have been unavailing, and a mere bondage. "Not grudgingly, or of necessity," is, as we have seen, the Scripture rule for the Christian. But that does not at all mean what people characterize as "cheap religion." It does not mean that God will accept the "mites" of the niggard, as the Lord did those of the woman in the Gospels. Christ does not say, "Give as much or as little as you please: it is all one." No: He expects intelligent, free surrender of all to Him, as on the part of one who recognizes that all is really His.
If you will look at the sixteenth chapter of Luke, you will find the Lord announcing very distinctly this principle. The unjust steward is our picture there — the picture of those who are (as we all are as to the old creation) under sentence of dismissal from the place they were originally put in, on account of unrighteous dealing in it. Grace has not recalled the sentence, "Thou mayest be no longer steward." It has given us far more, but it has not reinstalled us in the place we have thus lost. Death, in fact, is our removal from our stewardship, although it be the entrance for us as Christians into something which must be confessed "far better." But grace has delayed the execution of the sentence, and meanwhile our Master's goods are in our hand. All that we have here are His things, and not ours. And now God looks for us to be faithful in what is, alas, to men as such (creature of God, as indeed it is) "the mammon of unrighteousness" — the miserable deity of unrighteous man.
Moreover, grace counts this faithfulness to us. We are permitted to "make friends of this mammon of unrighteousness" by our godly use of it whereas it is naturally, through our fault, our enemy and our accuser. It must not be imagined that the "unjust steward" is to be our character literally all through. The Lord shows us that this is not so when He speaks of "faithfulness" being looked for. No doubt the unjust steward in the parable acts unjustly with his master's goods, and it must not be imagined that God commends him — it is his lord" that does so — man as man admiring the shrewdness which he displayed. Yet only so could be imaged that conduct which in us is not injustice, but faithfulness to our Master — grace entitling us to use what we have received, for our own true and eternal interests, which in this case are one with His own due and glory.
But then there are things also which we may speak of as "our own." What are these? Ah, they are what the Lord speaks of as, after all, "the true riches." "If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's, — not "another man's," but God's, of course, — "who will give you that which is your own?"
Thus our own things are distinct altogether; and I need not tell. Christians what they are. I need only remind you that if you have in your thoughts, as men down here, a quantity of things as your own possessions, to be liberal with, or to hoard up — in both cases you misapprehend the matter. As to things here, you have your Master's goods, which, if you hoard up here, you surely lose hereafter, and turn them into accusers. On the other hand, you are graciously permitted to transfer them really to your own account, by laying them up amid your treasure, where your treasure is — "in heaven."
The rich man, in the solemn illustration at the end of the chapter, was one who had made his lord's "good things" his own after another fashion; and in eternity they were not friends, but enemies and accusers. "Son," says Abraham to him, "remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things;" — that was all. But what a solemn memory it was! How once again the purple and fine linen and sumptuous fare met the eyes they had once gratified, and now appalled. Lazarus had been at his gate, but it was not Lazarus that accused. And oh, beware of having things your own down here. There was a man who had his "good things" here, and in eternity what were they to him?
I know this is not the gospel. No, but it is what, as the principle of God's holy government, the gospel should prepare us to understand and to enter into. Have you observed that the most beautiful and affecting story of gospel-grace, the story of the lost son received, is what precedes the story of the unjust steward? The Pharisees, who in the fifteenth chapter stand for the picture of the elder son, are here rebuked in the person of the rich man. Will not the prodigal received back to a Father's arms be the very one who will understand that he owes his all to a Father's love? Is not "ye are bought with a price" the gospel? But then ye are bought: ye are not your own.
Put it in another way. You remember that when God would bring His people out of Egypt, Pharaoh wanted to compromise — of course by that compromise to keep the people as his slaves. Three separate offers he makes to Moses, each of which would have prevented salvation being, according to God's thought of it, salvation at all. The first compromise was "worship in the land."
"And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land."
And still the world asks why need you go outside it? You are entitled to your opinions, but why be so extreme? Why three days' journey into the wilderness? Why separate from what you were brought up in, and from people as good as you? Ah, they do not know what that three days' journey implies, and that the death and resurrection of Christ place you where you are no more of the world than He is! Egypt — luxurious, civilized, self-satisfied, idolatrous Egypt — and the wilderness! what a contrast! Yet only in the wilderness can you sacrifice to God.
Then he tries another stratagem: —
"And he said unto them, Go serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go?
"And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord.
"And he said unto them, Let the Lord be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you. Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire."
By their little ones he had them safe, of course — a perfectly good security that they would not go far away. And so it is still. How many are brought back into the world by the children they did not bring with them out of the world.
One last hope remains for Pharaoh: —
"And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you."
"Leave your possessions," he says: and how many leave their possessions! Themselves are saved; but their business, their occupation, these are still not sacred things, they are secular: what have these things to do with the salvation of the soul? But God says, No: bring them all out of Egypt: yourselves, your families, your property, all are to be Mine.
And, in point of fact, His it must be if we would ourselves keep it, for we cannot keep it of ourselves. The man out of whom the demon went is our Lord's own illustration of the fact that an empty house will never lack a tenant. The sweeping and garnishing, and all that, will not keep out the devil, but perhaps only make him more earnest after occupation. Nothing will save from it but the positive occupation of it by another, who will not, and need not, give it up. So we must bring Christ into everything; or, by that in which He is not, we shall find we have but made room for another — Christ's opposite. The parable has application in many ways, and in many degrees, to those who are Christ's people, as well as to those who are not. Our idle hours are not idle. Our useless occupations have a use — if not for Christ, then against Him. Our so-called recreations may be but the frittering away of energy, and seeds of distraction. We are in a world where on every side we are exposed to influences of the most subtle character; where corruption and decay are natural; and where all that is not permeated by divine life becomes the speedy subject of decay and death. To a beleaguered garrison a holiday may be fatal. We cannot ungird our loins here, or unbuckle our armor. It is not enough to withstand in the evil day, but having done all, still you must stand. So, if you leave Christ at the door of the counting-house, you will have to contend alone, or give place to the devil within the counting-house. No, Christ must be a constant Saviour as to every detail of our walk and ways.
How important it is to be right here! It is not a mere question of points of detail; it is a question of truth of heart to Him, which affects every detail — the whole character and complexion of our lives, indeed. So you must not wonder at a question of cattle being concerned with a deeper question of salvation itself — looking at salvation as not merely being from wrath and condemnation, but of salvation from the sin also which brings in these. Be persuaded of it, beloved friends, that only thus can we find, in the full power of it, what salvation is.
We have been looking at this from the side of responsibility. Surely it is good to look at it also from the side of salvation. Until you are clean delivered in these three respects you cannot be happily with God, nor even safe. Of course, I am not talking about reaching heaven: you may be safe in that respect. But whatever you have that is not Christ's, that is the world's still, will drag you back into the world. Can you go to your business and shut the door upon Him and He not feel it, and you not feel it? Can you say to Him: Lord, Sunday is yours, and Monday is mine; or, Lord, there is your tenth, and these nine are mine — and feel perfectly satisfied that all is right with Him? Better keep it all back, than give in that fashion; for the amount given just hinders from realizing where we are.
In this great world of sorrow and of evil, Christ has interests dear to His heart — how dear, no one of us has perhaps a notion of. Souls lie in darkness to whom His Word would give light, and in bondage to whom it would bring deliverance. He says to us, I count upon my people to do this. How can we answer to Him for this confidence He has placed in us? Shall we say, Lord, I have had to keep up with my neighbors, to provide for the future, to do a great many things which I thought of more importance? Or, shall we say, Lord, Thou art so great, so high, so powerful, Thou surely canst not want my help in a matter like this! Or, Lord, Thou art so gracious, I am sure Thou wilt accept anything I may bring. I would not suppose Thee a hard Master, to want me to bring Thee much? Alas, what shall we say? Shall we not rather own with broken hearts how little we have valued Him?
The "doctrine of Balaam" thrives upon the heartlessness of God's own people. Do not let us imagine, because we denounce the mercenary character of what is current all around, that we can have no share in upholding what we denounce. It is far otherwise. If we have, or are giving cause to those who sneer at the advocates of "cheap religion," we are giving it the most effectual possible support.
Beloved, I have spoken out my heart, and I must pray you bear with me. Who that looks around, with a heart for Christ, upon all the abominations practiced in His name, but must be led to ask, Did not all this evil spring out of the failure of His own people, of those who at heart loved Him? And further, how far are we perhaps now, unsuspectedly, helping on the very evils we deplore? Do we not pray for Him to search out our hearts, and shall we shrink from having them searched out? If the search detects nothing, we need not fear it. If it shows us unanticipated evil, it is well to realize that the truthful judgment of the evil is ever the truest blessing for our souls. It will cost us something, no doubt, to walk in what is ever a narrow way — a race, a warfare, calling for energy and self-denial. But ah, beloved, it will cost us more, much more, to have Christ walk as a stranger to us, because our paths and His do not agree.
But the door is open, beloved, to come back. He has never shut it. The one thing so greatly lacking now is whole-hearted integrity. So few without some secret corner in their hearts they would not like to have searched out by Him. That corner must be searched out, for He must be a Saviour after His own fashion; and if we would not have it, we can have little apprehended the fulness and reality of His salvation. Not alone does He save from wrath — He saves from sin. It is in subjection to His yoke that we find rest.
God grant it to us for His name's sake even now.