We come now to the second division of these epistles of Paul, those which speak not so much of standing, nor of the grace of divine righteousness which has put us before God complete in Christ. They present to us rather our relationship to God, our association with Him, and the responsibilities which flow out from that association. I might say that they link quite closely with those of Peter on the one hand, and with John on the other. They present family relationship, and in a certain sense an earthly responsibility. You know that John's theme is family relationship, and Peter's is earthly responsibility. This second part of Paul's epistles forms the connecting link, you might say, between that book of Leviticus, the book of the holiest, and the book of Numbers, which is the practical walk in the wilderness.
If you notice you will find in the latter part of Leviticus something like that; you get the practical side of things. In the first part you get the sacrifices, the work of Christ, the person of the Lord, and the priesthood. Then you get the practical cleansing and access to God, — in the sixteenth chapter. From there on there are practical questions of holiness in the daily life. Now I think it is a matter of real interest that just as in the book of Leviticus, you have these two portions — that which speaks of standing, and that which speaks more particularly of relationship, — so you have in Paul's epistles.
These books have been grouped for us, and I am sure it commends itself to us as being their natural order. I might say at the very beginning, you have a very suggestive thought in the fact that many of these books are double. It is a second portion, and no less than three of them are double books. We have first and second Thessalonians, first and second Corinthians, first and second Timothy: all of them double books, giving us something supplementary in each case, with a special object as we shall see when we come to look at them. That in itself is characteristic of a second portion.
We have first, the two epistles to the Thessalonians as the beginning of this portion, the Genesis you might say. Then the two epistles to the Corinthians as the second, or the book of Exodus, speaking at least of fellowship which grows out of redemption. Then in the third place Hebrews, which none would question as the book of Leviticus or the sanctuary book. Its whole theme is that. Fourthly Timothy, giving us responsibility in connection with the Church on earth, and closing with Titus, which quite resembles Timothy in some respects, and yet has an outlook toward the future as well.
Bearing in mind that the theme of them all is relationship, it is very striking to notice at the beginning of the first epistle to the Thessalonians, that it is addressed to "the Church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ." We have the expression "in Christ" in the other epistles, but here we have a most remarkable expression "in God the Father." "In Christ" is position, but "in God the Father" is relationship. We are only in the Father as we are related to Him by new birth. That thought of birth suggests Genesis or beginning. And is it not a precious thought that in these epistles in which we have much of our responsibility and, alas, much of our failure too, we are spoken of as "in the Father?" "I write unto you little children because ye know the Father." It is first, the beginning of all relationship; and that is what characterizes this whole epistle to the Thessalonians.
It is a very simple book. As a matter of fact it is the first epistle written; and it was written very shortly after the conversion of the Thessalonians. Not very many weeks had elapsed after the apostle had left Thessalonica, before he sent this epistle to confirm them in their newly found joy and relationship. There are several main subjects; and one at the beginning that I wanted to call our attention to, though it is familiar to us unquestionably. Just as you have, first of all, birth in relationship to God, you have, in the second place, in the ninth and tenth verses of that same chapter, what marks true conversion. True conversion, true relationship comes from being born of God; not profession, not taking any outward place — the true relationship is by birth.
Their true conversion is just what is described here in these verses. He declares, "They show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come." What a summary you have of the work of God. How much is summed up in those few words for us. There is true repentance shown in turning to God. The order there, you have often noticed, is most suggestive, most powerful. You tell a sinner to give up his sins, to turn from this and that sin, and he hesitates, he has not the power to do it. You present to him God and the claims of His grace, and if the word takes hold on him and he turns to the living God, he will turn away from sin. There is just that difference; it is not turning from sin to God but to God from sin. There is power in that.
That is the past. As to the present, they were serving the living and true God. That is true service. Then as to the future, they were waiting for His Son from heaven. Then he gives us the ground of both the waiting and the service: "to wait for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, whom He raised from the dead, who delivered us from the wrath to come." How beautifully is all put in! The death of Christ for our sins delivering us from the coming wrath and judgment, and His resurrection the full manifestation of that fact.
It is beautiful to think of these early Christians: the apostle had spent a very short time in Thessalonica, and during that short stay there had been much persecution. Yet how beautifully clear these dear souls were. They knew Jesus; they knew their relationship to the Father; they knew that they had been delivered from the wrath to come; idols of sin had no more place in their life, and they knew they could happily wait for that One who had set them free from wrath; so they waited constantly for the coming of the Son of God. Think of the Christians in our day, — twenty years children of God, forty years perhaps, — how few comparatively there are who can be described in these words. And yet that is what the power of God would do now if His word were truly received, just as it was among the Thessalonians. We can test ourselves and the character of the gospel that we preach by what you have in that chapter.
We go on into the second part of the epistle, from chapter 2 through to the fourth chapter and the twelfth verse. Here we have the apostle's account of his work amongst them, and it is very interesting to see how he mingles exhortation with narrative. He calls them to witness as to his life amongst them when he was with them. He tells them how tender he was of them! how solicitous! how careful! and the effect of it. He tells them of his example, He presents himself and says, You know "how holily and justly and unblameably" we lived, and you know the effect of it. Then he uses that as an inducement to them as to their life, basing his exhortations upon these happy reminiscences of himself. It certainly does seem that the work in Thessalonica was unique and remarkable. It also shows us how brief a time it takes for God to do His work. Here, in the short compass of perhaps two or three months, saints have been brought out in the midst of persecution, and established as an assembly of God, and epistles written to them to establish them still further. How beautifully complete, and all in a short time! Would that we could see something of that in this our day as well, and have some such reminiscences of love from the saints to the Lord and to one another, as you find exhibited throughout this epistle.
At the thirteenth verse of the fourth chapter we are brought to the third place — you might say to the blessed hope itself. The whole epistle is devoted to the Lord's coming. It is alluded to in every chapter. But there it is dwelt upon at large, and it is one of the few passages that we have in the whole New Testament that exclusively deals with the rapture of the Church.
I sometimes think that perhaps in presenting the precious truth of the Lord's coming for His Church, we forget the other great side of truth which is the most prominent even in the New Testament, — the Lord's coming to take His kingdom — to display Himself in all His glory. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that there are only partial revelations as to the rapture of the saints; nor that in many of those other passages where we have the Lord's coming spoken of, we do not have the rapture included. I believe we do. But it is very significant that the Lord will have us have part in His thoughts as to His coming with relation to the world. I ask you, for instance, who that reads the book of Revelation, and sees there all the solemn details connected with the appearing and judgment of Christ ere He sets up His kingdom, can doubt for a moment that the Lord would have us intelligent and clear as to them? And while our hearts dwell with delight upon the precious fact that the Morning Star rises before the Sun of Righteousness, let us remember that, in a very important sense, we are waiting for the Sun of Righteousness too. We are looking for the time when He shall reign, whose right it is, and set up His Kingdom in all the holiness, power, and glory which will one day be fully manifested as His.
Now, bearing that in mind, we come back to our passage here in Thessalonians with fresh interest. Here is a special secret for the Church, just as the truth of the Church itself was a secret hid in God which was not revealed unto the prophets previously, but only now, the apostle tells us, to him, — a secret which had been hid in God from the foundation of the world. So too the rapture of the Church, the coming of the Lord to take His Church, and all the dead in Christ, out of the world.
Though familiar, do you grow weary of it — that beautiful unfolding of the rapture of the saints; the dead in Christ raised first, and then, — not they who are alive, but "we who are alive;" showing that it was a present and ever precious hope, an expectation on the part of the saints of that day — "we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall be caught up together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. . . Wherefore comfort one another with these words." Precious, dear brethren! to see in this infant Church, in this earliest, this primer of all the epistles, the prominence of this truth!
Thus you have in this epistle, first, our relationship with God shown by our true conversion to Him to wait for His Son; secondly, the exhortation to love and holiness growing out of all the apostle's ministry amongst them; and thirdly, the hope fully enlarged upon as to the coming of the Lord to take us out of the whole scene, to be with Himself. I might say as to the closing chapter of the first epistle that we have exhortation based upon this truth of the Lord's coming.
In the second epistle you have what is often the case in a second epistle, warning or correction. Very natural that is. For instance, a first letter might be misunderstood, might be applied in an extreme way, and needs a second as a corrector. Both of these are true in the case of 2 Thessalonians. Its three chapters give us a corrective of the errors that might have come in through failure to understand. For instance, as to waiting for the Lord, what more beautiful as an attitude than for children of God to be waiting for God's Son from heaven? But there came in the failure of neglecting their earthly duties while they were waiting for Him.
You remember when the Lord first revived this precious truth, how abuses came in almost at the beginning in connection with it. There was Millerism, grown up today into the tenfold more active form of Seventh-day Adventism. There was Irvingism and other forms of error — all in connection with the truth of the Lord's coming.
I do not believe there is another doctrine in Scripture that has been so much perverted as this truth of the Lord's coming, and we need not go far to find the reason: one is that Satan is eager to corrupt this bright and blessed hope; another is, to take it away from God's people entirely.
Now he knows if he corrupts the hope, he does the other too. For instance, if the Lord's coming is associated with certain set times, or false doctrines, as in Adventism — where the child of God is put under the law, and where the deadly error of annihilation is taught; — there you can see how at once Satan has destroyed all the moral and sanctifying power of that precious truth.
On the other hand if he connects it with vagaries, with extreme fanatical views, sober-minded people will refuse to take up the truth of the Lord's coming at all. How many sober-minded Christians there are today who connect in their minds all thought of the Lord's coming with the wild dreams of people who do strange and unscriptural things! Look, for instance, at the case of Irving; he taught quite clearly many of the truths connected with the Lord's coming. But with it he linked the jargon he called "tongues," the claim of the restoration of the twelve apostles, and of the prophetic gifts. Mixed with that were all the rites and ceremonies of the church of Rome itself, and, most solemn of all, the spotless purity of our blessed Lord was assailed. What is the result? Sober-minded people say, when you speak of the Lord's coming, That is Irvingism, or Adventism; there is error connected with that; we will have nothing to do with it.
Thus the enemy works, by introducing error, at once destroying the moral power of the hope, and preventing the sober-minded amongst God's children from taking up the reality.
Now this second epistle is to correct such perversion and corruption. You find, for instance, in the first chapter, the apostle puts them in their true relationship as saints, to those who are to be judged. When the Lord will be revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus, we will be at rest with Christ. In the second chapter, he goes on to correct the error that they were already in the day of the Lord. How we can see the wiles of the enemy in introducing such things into the simple, precious hope that the Spirit of God had put before them. They were to wait for God's Son from heaven. Here the error comes in, brought in by an epistle "as from us," — that is a forged epistle. Some one was disturbing them, teaching that the day of the Lord was already present; that they were already in the midst of His judgments, and therefore that the day of the Lord's coming was already past. That would be the practical effect of it.
That gives occasion for that most important revelation as to the apostasy, and the rise of the man of sin. The Holy Spirit in the Church is the hindrance to the full development of lawlessness and apostasy. When the Church is taken up the Holy Spirit is "taken out of the way." Then apostate Judaism, with the lifeless form of the Church — the Spirit having been taken to heaven, — will be ripe for the rise of the Antichrist.
Because men have refused the truth of Christ, they will believe the lie of Antichrist. Then the day of the Lord will be revealed, and His judgments will be poured out upon a world that would not have His grace. How utterly foreign would all this be for those who were looking for a Saviour and not a Judge.
In the third chapter, we have the other correction: If we are waiting for the Lord, they say, What is the use for us to go on with our daily work? Let us not be occupied with earthly things. Let us give them up, and simply be waiting for God's Son from heaven. How clear cut, how pungent the apostle's words: "If any man will not work neither let him eat." Not only that, but "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly." So he goes on, and shows them how this wrong use of the Lord's coming to make people indifferent as to their earthly responsibilities, is utterly contradictory to every thought of divine holiness.
He says, If you are not working you are busybodies, going from house to house meddling in things that do not belong to you, dragging the saints down from their true occupation with Christ, and thus destroying the testimony of God.
How common those things are, and as we remember that God has set them before us, let us learn from this second epistle to be corrected as to any abuse of the Lord's coming. You may say, We are well guarded against these things, and are quite clear as to the doctrine; no danger of getting it confused. Ah, if the doctrine of the Lord's coming is not a sanctifying and a separating truth it will do us harm; like every other truth held intellectually but not in divine power.
May the Lord thus lead us into the true place, the true privilege attached to our relationship with Himself as given in these two epistles to the Thessalonians.
We come next to the epistles to the Corinthians — a double epistle again. They are the Church epistles. You have two prominent Church epistles in Paul's writings, you might say, looking at opposite sides of Church truth.
Ephesians is the great Church epistle as to our standing. Corinthians is the great Church epistle as to our relationship and responsibility. You find in these two epistles many thoughts in common, and yet there is this difference: In Ephesians you have Christ in heavenly places put before us as the Head, and the Church linked with Him; while in Corinthians you are upon the earth, and appropriately the Holy Spirit takes the place that Christ occupied in the epistle to the Ephesians. How wonderfully consistent and beautiful that is! The Holy Spirit is down here, and has formed the Church by baptizing it into one body. His activities in the varied gifts that come from Christ in glory are therefore prominently before us.
It has been often noticed that there was much to correct amongst the Corinthians. The first epistle seems nearly all correction. Sometimes we wonder why there is so much trouble in connection with the assembly; and that there is so much strife over Church truth. Let us remember this, that the great Church epistle is mainly taken up with correction; and that the assembly of God on earth should be always ready for correction, always ready to have its failures and shortcomings pointed out in order to be made really a vessel of divine service.
The first ten chapters of the first epistle are chiefly taken up with cutting off this, that, and the other evil. The apostle, as it were, draws the line of demarcation between the saints and the outside world.
First of all he cuts off the wisdom of this world. The Corinthians were like other men, walking as men. They had parties amongst them — schools of thought like the Greek philosophies. The wisdom of the world was prominent among them, and as a result the divisions of the world came in. Where man's wisdom comes in, and thoughts have a place, you may be sure there will be division and strife. If I say, "I think thus and so," you have a perfect right to say the same, and there comes in discord. If it is not what you or what I say, but "thus saith the Lord," you may rest assured that there is no room for strife or division.
You have noticed how this matter is corrected before the moral evil is touched. Their moral condition was perfectly dreadful. We can hardly conceive the possibility of such a state, because the long familiarity with the holy truths of the word of God have rendered well nigh impossible the outward corruption such as was manifest in Corinth. Yet there are many holy lessons for us to learn from it. If that moral state is impossible in assemblies of God's people now, notice there was another evil back of that which the apostle probed first; and that was the taking of this world's wisdom and this world's ways as guides in the affairs of God's house.
He corrects the division before there can be the power to deal with the moral evil. He sets them right as to principle before he takes up practice. You will often find that is the only way to do, — the necessary way. There must be true spiritual power from the truth, before we can actually take up the moral state or specific conduct.
Now we have, as I was saying, first this wisdom of the world dealt with; then the corruption of nature, — corruption of the flesh. You have the terrible case of immorality in the fifth chapter. They were exhorted to put away from among themselves that wicked person, — commanded to do so. Then in the sixth chapter, you have the correction of their going to law, and questions connected with the fifth chapter. The seventh chapter is devoted to the same subject. Thus you have the flesh dealt with in all its wretched filthiness.
Then from the eighth to the tenth chapters he deals chiefly with idolatry, or rather eating meats offered to idols, and their connection with the diabolical systems of heathenism. Even Christian liberty was not to be used as a stumbling-block to the weak. Thus he has marked for us the separation entirely from the world, from the flesh, and from the devil.
Having shut out evil, he now spreads the Lord's table. With these evils corrected, they have a clean place in which to set forth, to announce, the death of the Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.
Thus in the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth chapters, you have the assembly in its activity. The eleventh chapter gives us the Lord's supper. The twelfth gives us the one body, which is connected with the Lord's supper, and the gifts and activities of that body. The thirteenth gives us the love which is the moving principle of the whole thing; and the fourteenth chapter gives us the exercise of gifts in the assembly, and the order of God's house. All those things are provided for when the evil has been shut out and judged. Just as you have the principle, "cease to do evil; learn to do well."
That brings us to the last part of the epistle, the great resurrection chapter, which is the third section of the epistle. It fully presents to us that great fact which is the glory of the gospel and the very foundation of it.
When we come to the second epistle you find supplementary truth, just as we found in Thessalonians. It is not exactly correction of misapprehension, though the apostle goes on to probe still more deeply into all their consciences and hearts. He has a readiness to avenge all disobedience when their obedience is manifested. But you have more particularly in it, the development of the truth in connection with Christian ministry. The first two chapters give us the foundation, the source of all Christian ministry; and that is its connection with Christ, who was not yea and nay, but yea, only yea. All the promises of God are yea and amen in Him. Therefore the apostle could proclaim a gospel just as sure and stable as the person of Christ Himself.
It is very touching to see that this unwavering stability in the holiness of God in our life is perfectly consistent with grace, toward those that are truly restored; such as the man in the fifth chapter of the first epistle, who had been brought to repentance by faithful dealing.
Passing to the third chapter you see the ministry of the Spirit as contrasted with the law; the new covenant, the ministry of grace as contrasted with the old covenant, — the ministry of condemnation written on tables of stone. The passage from bondage to liberty is magnificently described at the close of the chapter.
The third portion we have in the fourth and fifth chapters, where we are introduced into the glory, a most precious unfolding of the glory of God, shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Christian ministry has to do with all that. Follow it a moment. It is based upon unchanging verity connected with the person of Christ. It is connected with the Holy Spirit as contrasted with the law. It takes the veil from between us and God; the veil that was upon Moses' face is removed in the face of Christ. The full character of God is manifested, as the apostle says, "We use great plainness of speech." So he does, particularly in the fourth and fifth chapters, which we cannot dwell upon at length.
Then you have, in the sixth and seventh chapters, the tempting, the trial by the way. It is a fourth section. And you find that when the apostle has had a glimpse, — nay, not a glimpse, but a full view, — into that sanctuary where Christ is, he can come down into the world and be persecuted, oppressed, pass through afflictions, yet always rejoicing; be poor, yet making many rich. No matter what his outward circumstances may be, — weak, helpless, despised, the filth and the off-scouring of the earth, — he can glory in the all-sufficiency of Christ. That is the character of Christian ministry — we are linked with those unchanging verities which give us a power that nothing can withstand. Look at Paul, what a weak, contemptible man he was, humanly speaking. There was nothing in him to attract attention, or to command respect: his bodily presence was weak, his speech contemptible. Yet he is led in triumph as a sweet savor of Christ unto God in his Christian ministry, because it had that blessed character.
Then you have the fifth division in the eighth and ninth chapters, which speak of our responsibility here upon the earth. They take up such questions as the assembly collection, and ministry to needy saints; showing that the highest form of heavenly ministry is also a practical thing connected with earthly responsibility.
In the sixth portion of the book, in the tenth and eleventh chapters, you have the power to overcome everything, and it is this power that we have already alluded to. The details of apostolic life are given to us here.
In the last portion, the last two chapters, the man in Christ is presented; the man in Christ in whom the apostle glories. He does not glory in himself, the weak, helpless man, but in the man who was caught up to glory; and yet that man come down here to earth was in himself weak and helpless. Yet he was one in whom all the power of Christ could manifest itself. That is overcoming. Such is the secret of Christian ministry.
The epistle to the Hebrews brings us fairly into the sanctuary, not merely as to our standing, but as to our responsibility also.
I will, by way of reminder, point out the five main divisions of the book to show how completely they bring out the truth as to the sanctuary, and our relationship to God in it.
First of all, you get Christ in His pre-eminence in the first chapter. Then in His humiliation from the second chapter nearly to the close of the fourth chapter.
How beautifully contrasted are these two portions. All through Hebrews, the one subject is the pre-eminence of Christ. Christ is presented to faith as the One to occupy the heart, and to keep these Hebrew Christians, who had all their wonderful history behind them, all their pride within their hearts, and all the temptations to apostatize, — to give up Christ. The remedy is, more of Christ.
Ah! if the heart is cold, if the world tempt us, do we not feel that it has power over us? What is the true remedy? More of Christ; let Him be presented in His pre-eminence, and we will find that the world and Satan lose their power just in proportion as Christ is enthroned in the heart.
But how amazingly He is presented! First, we see Him as the Creator, the Upholder of all things, made higher than the heavens, after having purged our sins, taking His seat on high. Then the apostle brings before us, as in a panorama, one wondrous theme after another. He puts before us the angels that excel in strength, and as we admire them he puts them aside, displaces them by Christ Himself. It is not the fathers, it is not the prophets, it is not angels. God has spoken to us by the Son; He presents Him in all His majesty, in all His glory.
Then immediately succeeding that, he says that we ought to give the more earnest heed to these things, lest at any time we should let them slip. That, you notice, is the characteristic of Hebrews; you will have the most wondrous unfolding of what Christ is, and in connection with it the most solemn warning against apostasy. These two things go together, and had their effect doubtless upon those addressed.
I am sure we have all felt it, the power of warning connected with the presentation of Christ.
The second part gives us, not Christ exalted, but Christ made low. Here you have Him, the faithful One in all His house, faithful as was Moses, but He as a Son, not a servant. Just as the angels passed from the scene, so must Moses. Then Joshua comes on as the one who led them into the land; but Joshua passes away, leaving Christ — Christ alone before us, as the One who can give lasting rest. In connection with that rest is the warning again lest they should fall away.
From the close of the fourth chapter through the tenth you have the heart of the epistle, that is, the holy place made manifest. First of all the Priest, then the warning in the sixth chapter. Connected with that the anchor taking hold within the veil. Roughly the themes of the following chapters are, —
Seventh, Melchisedec, displacing Levi and Aaron.
Eighth, The new covenant, displacing the old.
Ninth, Sacrifice, displacing those of the law.
Tenth, The Holiest of all.
These are all blessedly connected with the Priest and the place into which He has brought us.
That brings us to the fourth portion, which is the world, or wilderness part. Beautifully you have it in the eleventh chapter, the pilgrim life. "The just shall live by faith," and there the apostle arrays examples before us one after another Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and a host of worthies. As he gets past the books of Moses, you notice he gets more rapid. Very striking that is. He gets into the period of the Judges and says time would fail to tell of Deborah, Gideon, Barak, and all the others; and he concludes the subject by saying, "Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and run with patience the race set before us, looking" — not to these worthies of the past, save as they give us an example of faith, — "but looking off unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith."
Then we reach the close in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters, a recapitulation of many precious truths; and we look on to the end, to which we have already in faith come — Mount Zion, the heavenly city, with its blessed company. What power in such truth to hold the soul steadfast to the end!
Hebrews thus fills the third — the Leviticus — place in these epistles, opening the sanctuary to the people of God.
Next we come to the fourth, or that which is practically the earth side of these epistles — the epistles to Timothy. They have to do, you know, primarily with the Church. The two epistles, just as we have seen in both Thessalonians and Corinthians, give us double truths. You have in first Timothy the Church as it came from the hand of God; and in the second epistle, the Church as it is found in the hands of man.
In 1 Timothy, as we have often noticed, you have the Church of the living God, the pillar and the ground of the truth. There you find unfolded the various duties of those who are in the Church, the varied ministry. In fact you have the official position of those that Timothy was authorized to set in the Church. In the early days, it was all put forth in an orderly way, as he says, that he "might know how he ought to behave himself in the house of God."
What a contrast it is when we come to 2 Timothy! Everything has gone to pieces. The beloved apostle is in prison; all those that are in Asia, those that had hung upon his ministry, who had delighted in the precious truth he preached, — all those in Asia have departed from him. They have forgotten their first love. And that Church which ought to have been the pillar and ground of the truth, what is it? A great house, filled with all kinds of vessels, some to honor and some to dishonor. That house which had been a testimony for God, became a habitation of all manner of evil. What is Timothy exhorted to? He is exhorted to purge himself from the vessels to dishonor that he may be a vessel to honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use. I believe it is very customary to say there are only two classes, vessels to honor and vessels to dishonor. That is true in a sense. And yet are there not three, — vessels to honor, vessels to dishonor, and vessels that are not purged, not cleansed? So you find the great question of association is here presented as to our responsibility. We are to be first of all ourselves vessels to honor. Surely that would take up our own state of soul, our own communion with God. Next we are to purge ourselves from that which is wicked, whether it be in practice or in doctrine we are to purge ourselves from the vessels to dishonor.
Now that raises the question as to association with the large mass of the Lord's beloved people, whose consciences have not been touched as to their responsibility to purge themselves. Is not that just what we find around us today? Look at the Lord's professed people.
Alas! we have clearly vessels to dishonor; by that I mean those who bring in wicked doctrine or sinful practice amongst the Lord's people. Then we have comparatively few who have a conscience as to association with evil, and who have separated themselves, not from the house of God, not even from the great house of Christendom, for that would be to give up the name of Christian, — but who have separated themselves from these vessels to dishonor. They will not be associated with those that hold wicked doctrine or have wicked practices.
But alas! is it uncharitable, is it censorious to say that the vast bulk of the Lord's people have never been awakened as to their responsibility in the matter of association? They say, The wheat and the tares must grow together till the harvest. So they must, but where? Not in the Church, but in the world. We must needs go out of the world, if we would be separated bodily; but in that which is called by the name of Christ, or as the apostle says, If any man be called a brother, and yet is of this character, with such a one not to eat. I speak of the vast bulk of the Lord's people being unawakened as to this question. It has been suggested, and it seems to me probably true, that the reason why evil doctrine crept into the Church at the beginning, why they lapsed so quickly into legalism and into a mere carnal, earthly religion, was because the separation that was enjoined here in this epistle to Timothy was not practiced. As a result the whole Church was soon corrupted. A little leaven leavened the whole lump.
Contrast the inspired writings with the best, the earliest uninspired writings. Take the writings of Polycarp; or those they have been talking about lately, that they have discovered on scraps of manuscript. They say it is a sort of supplement to the Gospels — "The sayings of Jesus." But contrast them, and you will find it is like comparing wine with water. They are utterly flat, worthless, and insipid compared with the precious book of God.
It seems as if the early Christians had not grasped these precious truths, and I believe one reason was that there was not the practical separation and order enforced amongst the Lord's people. So error came in and marred the testimony at the beginning. It went on, going down into the darkness, linked with the civil power under Constantine, and then going on down still further into the darkness, until all the horrors of Rome were grafted upon the Church. That is the course of Church history.
God in His mercy recovered the truth of justification by faith, and other truths, in the days of Luther; but let me tell you, I believe that the great truth of the Church of God and the order of God's house was — I should perhaps say, is — being recovered in these our days. I surely do not mean to boast. I surely do not mean to say that the main truths have not long been brought out, but I believe that in God's infinite mercy, He is entrusting to us at this time these precious truths as to the Church, to work them out. And if sorrow comes, if testing comes, if many a dear one seems not to walk in all the energy and joy and power of it, as the Lord would love to see all walk — as we ourselves feel our hands hanging down, our knees weakened — what is there for us to do, but to stir one another up, to exhort one another to hold fast, and to seek indeed to exhibit the precious truth of God's Church? At the close of the wilderness journey we find in this wilderness book of Timothy, as you might call it, something analogous to the captivity books of the Old Testament. Those remnant times resemble these in which we are living.
The Lord give us courage. We need to encourage and help one another; we need above all to pray for one another.
Titus gives us the closing part, and is therefore quite similar' to Timothy. You do not, however, find the same completeness as to order, and already there is set before him rather "that blessed hope." You remember that Deuteronomy is a summary of the path, and a looking forward into the future. So while you find in Titus a summary as to Church order, the various offices — such as bishop, deacon, and elder, — yet on the other hand you find that magnificent passage which opens the windows of heaven to us.
We see how that brings us right to our starting-point. In Thessalonians you had just that they were turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven. And in the book of Titus, which closes this portion, you have again the serving the living and true God; the living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; and the looking for that blessed hope, the waiting for God's Son from heaven.
Thus we have gone around the circuit and come back to the simple point whence we started, with our eyes fixed upon that glory, which is very near.
Thus we have in these epistles, our relationships and our responsibility. You have not the great flights of truth that you have in the first division of Paul's writings; but what solid footing to stand upon! what practical instruction! what responsibility fully pressed upon us!
The Lord give us, brethren, to enter in heart more and more into this sanctuary of Paul's epistles, and to have our minds, our hearts, our lives permeated with their truths, that our lives may be to Christ's praise!