The substance of an address on Exodus 33:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:16-22.
W. J. Hocking.
Published by C. A. Hammond, 1939.
There is an intimate connection between the two passages I have read in the Old Testament and in the New. Both contain divine instruction for those who seek to do the will of God in a day of apostasy, and they have therefore a special application in the present day.
The word apostasy implies a departure or a falling away from what is true and from what was formerly held to be true. It is an abandonment of truth, giving it up to take another standing, or make another confession instead of the former one. Apostasy was found in the children of Israel according to Old Testament history and it was found in the church of God even in New Testament times. Both Israel and the church departed from their first standing given them of God in the earth. They departed so very seriously and so very quickly from the truth that they exposed themselves to the immediate judgment of God. But we learn from scripture that God was pleased to withhold the execution of His judgment.
Meanwhile God has prescribed a pathway for the just, or a course of conduct, which is pleasing in His eyes, which He will reward in the future, and in which He gives immediate compensations. These conditions hold good for those who at the present time are faithful in the face of apostasy.
Israel Chosen to Witness to the One God
These two passages, then, tell us of the abandonment of divine truth by both Israel and the assembly of God, His earthly people and His heavenly people. They tell us also of the mercy of God rejoicing against His immediate judgment upon the apostates, and of the manner of conduct at such times which receives His approval and His presence.
Now look first for a little at the apostasy of Israel recorded in Exodus. At this time Jehovah had but just recently brought the people of Israel out from the house of bondage in a way that astonished the nations of the world. It had never been known in human history that a vast company of men, women and children should be brought dry-shod through the midst of the sea in a single night, and that their enemies and oppressors should disappear in that same night and in that same sea. But this was the way in which Jehovah redeemed His people out of Egypt, and brought them across the Red Sea.
The children of Israel had been purchased, in figure, by the blood of the Lamb. In the hour that the judgment of Jehovah fell upon the ungodly Egyptians, His people were sheltered by the symbol of His presence; the pillar of cloud and fire saved them and destroyed their enemies.
Jehovah brought them through the Red Sea into the wilderness in order that He might make plain to them the purpose He had in so doing. He had been dealing with them, the seed of Abraham, in this striking and exceptional manner to carry out a certain object before Him. He was about to commit to their keeping His honour and glory in the world as the one God, the only supreme One, the One commanding absolute worship and service from all nations and all His creatures. By their fidelity to His will, they were to be a witness against the idolatrous nations around them that there was but one God, and that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was that God. They themselves were to have no other god but Him. If they fulfilled this purpose, obeying His voice, and keeping His covenant, they should be His own people, a peculiar treasure to Him, above and beyond all the nations of the world.
Jehovah brought the house of Jacob and the children of Israel to the foot of Mount Sinai to hear this news and the terms of His covenant, which was conditional on their implicit obedience to Him. Now, they were a people proud and self-satisfied with themselves, and were quite prepared to carry out these conditions, whatever they might be.
You would have thought that the long years of bitter bondage in Egypt would have humbled their spirits and caused them to distrust themselves in the presence of Jehovah's majesty. They were kept captives under Pharaoh, and were powerless to deliver themselves. They had no hope in themselves for deliverance, nor strength, but Jehovah alone by His right hand had brought them out. We should have thought they would have learned the lesson of looking without and not within themselves for strength. Henceforth they would surely trust exclusively to Jehovah, to His power and help in this new relationship. But they did not know the evil of their own hearts. They were confident in their own ability to discharge all obligations laid upon them. Although their backs were still scarred with the whips of the taskmasters, and the degrading brands of slavery were upon them, they were nevertheless a proud and stiff-necked people at the foot of Mount Sinai.
When Jehovah proposed the terms of His covenant with them, by which they must keep His law and be faithful to His name, they said, with deplorable levity, “All that Jehovah hath spoken, we will do.” Lightly they accepted the obligation of perfect obedience. They stood before their Deliverer and Redeemer confident in their own strength to fulfil His law, although that law, brief as it was (for its precepts might be numbered on the two hands), those ten words carried with them the sentence of death for disobedience to even one of them.
Nevertheless, the people said, through their elders, “We will risk the consequences. We can trust ourselves. We believe we can love God with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves. We will undertake it, and we will endure the penalty if we fail.” So the covenant was solemnly sealed. It was sealed with the blood of sacrifices which was sprinkled on the book of the covenant and upon themselves. It was a covenant of death, but they accepted it. They heard the voice of Jehovah in the mountain, speaking with thunderings and lightnings, with those terrible notes that made them tremble in their sandals, but still they said, “We will obey the law and keep it.”
Moses Receiving the Tables of the Law
The children of Israel having accepted the covenant of law, Moses went up into Mount Sinai to receive the ten words in a written form, as a permanent standard of reference. Jehovah undertook to write with His finger on two tables of stone those words which He had commanded through the lips of Moses. Moses, accordingly, went up into the divine presence, and disappeared from sight in the cloud that enveloped the mount. He was there with God, fasting for forty days and forty nights, to receive from Him the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” that the people had undertaken to fulfil under the penalty of death for disobedience.
Now it was in the absence of Moses that the trouble arose in the camp (Exodus 32). “The man that trusteth in his own heart is a fool,” because he leaves God out of account. He allows the prejudices of his own opinions and the pride of his own desires to influence him rather than the word of God. He is governed by the sight of his eyes rather than the faith of his heart.
So it was that as Moses tarried in the cloud, the unbelieving people said to Aaron, “What has become of Moses we know not. We have lost the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” Mark their words: “the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” Was this true? It was false. They had only to cast their memories back three months for the date of their great deliverance. Consider what this meant. Look back three months from tonight May, April, March. Think of events so stupendous as the death of the firstborn and the passing through the Red Sea happening at the beginning of March, and of us giving the credit for such wonders to man and not to God!
But Israel forgot God their Saviour and Moses His servant. They said, “Up,” Aaron, “make us gods.” This man Moses has disappeared. What has happened to him we do not know and we do not care. What we want is something visible to which we can bow down, and give the allegiance of our hearts. Make us some image to be our deliverer and redeemer, our guide, our helper through the wilderness.
A dumb idol was the terrible delusion they sought for themselves; and Aaron, poor, weak-minded man, true of heart in many ways but vacillating in purpose when confronted by the uneasy, restless mob of Israel clamouring for a god, could not resist their demands.
Aaron told them to break off their golden ear-rings and bring them to him. Perhaps he thought they would not make such a sacrifice, but they did. They were in earnest. Aaron took their ear-rings, melted them, and moulded the form of a golden calf. The people were satisfied and said, “This is thy god, O Israel; (that calf) brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” Three months ago the power of that calf clave the Red Sea, and brought us through, and our women and children, and all that we have! That calf! And they bowed themselves down and worshipped “the similitude of an ox that eateth grass”!
The people made a feast to Jehovah, even attaching His name to the worship of the idol. They rose up early, slew the burnt offerings, and fed upon the peace offerings. They sat down to eat and drink, and rose up for orgies of play. Yet God had said of them to Moses, “This nation shall be My nation; they shall have no other gods before Me.” Now they were dancing around the golden calf, and giving themselves up to licentious indulgence. They had already broken both tables of the law. They not only had dishonoured God and worshipped the golden image of a calf, but in their sinful lusts they had dishonoured one another. Gross apostasy had already set in. The nation had openly abandoned their trust.
Jehovah's Eye sees Apostasy in the Camp
Now what should be done? The eyes of Jehovah in the mountain saw what was taking place at the foot of Sinai. He spoke to Moses, and told him that Israel was worshipping a molten calf. Using the people's words, Jehovah calls them, “thy people which thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt.” They are thy people, Moses. Thou didst bring them out of Egypt. The people say so. How can I call them My people when they are doing the very thing I brought them out of Egypt that they might not do? They have turned back to the idols of Egypt. They are taking away My glory and giving it to a senseless, inanimate image.
God told Moses He would destroy them. The penalty of the law they undertook to obey should fall upon the nation because of their disobedience. “Let Me alone,” He said, “that My wrath may wax hot against them and that I may consume them.” Jehovah threatened to sweep them from the face of the earth because of their sinful apostasy.
How was it then they were not swept away, and why did not Jehovah's wrath break forth? Moses was there with Him. Moses heard the solemn words Jehovah uttered in His righteousness, and he took a new office, a blessed office for his sinful nation. Moses became a mediator for his apostate people. They had fallen into idolatry, and he interceded with Jehovah for them.
The Mediator in the Mount
It may be mentioned here that in scripture the functions of three important offices are connected with those who name the name of the Lord — the Mediator, the Advocate, and the High Priest. Our blessed Lord acts in all three offices. The Mediator is for those who have sinned, and departed from the estate given to them by God; the Advocate is also for one that has sinned, but the Advocate is with the Father (1 John 2:1), and it is through Jesus Christ, the Righteous, that the communion of those in the family of God is maintained. The High Priest is for the pilgrims of God as they pass through the wilderness, encompassed with infirmity and failure. To these the Great High Priest ministers strength and sympathy in the hour of their need.
I only mention the other two offices by the way. Moses was the mediator on the Mount, and he prayed to Jehovah for this people, otherwise doomed. But he called them, not his people, but Jehovah's people. He said, “Why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people?” Moses reminded Jehovah of His oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and that He had chosen this people when He made His promises to the fathers, and had called out their seed as a nation to be His witnesses in the land promised to be their inheritance.
Well now, this mediation of Moses stayed the outpourings of the vials of judgment upon the people. Jehovah hearkened to the voice of the mediator. He could not contradict what Moses had pleaded. He had promised Abraham that his seed should bring blessing to the whole world and that they should possess the land of the Amorites. How could Jehovah gainsay His own word, confirmed by His immutable oath, even if the people fell into idolatry?
The Broken Tables the Sign of Israel's Apostasy
Accordingly, Jehovah stayed His hand, and Moses came down from the Mount at the close of the forty days with the two tables of the law in his hand. But when he came into the camp, and saw the glittering idol in the sunshine and the people gathered around it in their wicked feast of dancing and merriment, his anger “waxed hot.” He who had bowed himself before Jehovah in the Mount and had interceded with his whole heart for the guilty people, was now consumed with zeal for God's honour. He cast the tablets of stone out of his hand because they symbolised the transgression of the people.
How could Moses take into the camp given up to idolatry those tables that said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”; “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” nor bow down to it; “thou shalt worship and serve Me, and Me only.” These words the people had heard, but had not heeded the covenant they had so solemnly made, nor kept its bond.
Moses therefore smashed the tables in the presence of the people. The law was broken in fact and in figure before it reached them. We find from the history that Moses interceded for the Israelites again and again, three times; but we must not continue this part of the history now, interesting and instructive as it is. I commend it to your attention as a most important parenthesis (Ex. 32 — 34) in the narrative contained in the Book of Exodus.
During the first forty days, Moses had received the law and various instructions concerning the building of the tabernacle, the dwelling place for Jehovah in the camp (Ex. 25 — 31). Then came this sin of apostasy, and after this is dealt with in the parenthesis, the subject of the building of the tabernacle is resumed (Ex. 35). At the moment, we are concerned only with the fact that Israel stood before Jehovah a people that had destroyed itself, breaking the covenant and forfeiting the status given to them.
Like Failure in the Church
Now to this painful episode in the early history of Israel, there is an analogy in the early history of the church of God which began on the day of Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came down according to promise, and by His invisible, almighty power He consolidated all the believers on earth at that particular moment into one company. This unity was formed, not by ties of flesh and blood, not by similarity of opinions or of deeds or of rank, but by His own peculiar power of assimilation because they had been redeemed by Christ's precious blood, and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.
So by a divine power, strange to earth, come down from heaven, believers were made one, one in heart, one in purpose, the oneness being unique, having as its essential feature that all on earth who were Christ's were bound to Christ, the Head in heaven. The unity of the church or assembly, therefore, was not that of a human nation or brotherhood, nor that of a human company formed by mutual agreement upon a certain object or upon a certain manner of life, or upon some special interest common to all in the company. The church of God is united in itself because it is united to Christ in heaven, apart from its own choice or desire.
The Lord said in effect to His own before He went on high, “Ye shall be My witnesses. If ye love Me, keep My commandments. I am going away, and you will be alone in the world. But I will send the Comforter to you, and He shall be with you, not to tarry for a period only, but to be with you continually. So long as the church is in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit will abide or dwell in it. I want your hearts to be loyal to Me, and that you may adhere to My words. The Holy Spirit shall be your Teacher, and open your hearts to receive My words. You shall know what is My mind and will for you, and I want you to be obedient while I am away. You will not see Me but you must be true to Me, every one of you.” The Lord did not then unfold to them the truth of the assembly, the one body, but gave them the moral principles essential to its practical life, especially that of faithful obedience during His absence.
Now in the Acts, we have the history of the formation and the extension of the assembly of God by the preaching of the gospel, and in the Epistles we have the doctrinal and practical exhortations addressed to the assembly. And from the same scriptures we also learn that failure and apostasy appeared in the church at the very outset. We have not to turn many pages in the Acts before we find that the holy and beautiful assembly of Christ was disfigured by sin. Ananias and Sapphira lied to God the Holy Ghost. They deliberately said to the apostle what was false, and sought to deceive him in the midst of the assembly, the habitation of God by the Spirit. Thus the holiness of Christ, the Head of the church, was besmirched for the first time, so to speak, amongst His own. Right there on the threshold, almost before Christ had taken His seat on high, there was sin unto death in the very midst of the assembly of God.
I do not now intend to remind you in detail of the doleful tale of what took place in the early church. Read through Corinthians, Galatians and Colossians. Nearly all the Epistles speak of wrong teaching and evil practice sullying the honour and glory of Christ and denying His holy word. As you read such things, and meditate upon them, you may well ask, Why is it that the church which sinned so grievously nearly two thousand years ago is on the earth today? Why did not the glory of the Lord wipe out that unfaithful company from the earth, as it did Ananias and Sapphira? Why does the church still stand? Why is it still here?
We answer such questions by the analogy we have in Exodus concerning Israel. There is a Mediator, a High Priest, an Advocate on high for the church. There is One at the right hand of God, the God of holiness and righteousness. Christ is there to plead for His church, and to save the whole assembly on earth in spite of prevailing apostasy.
What does Christ plead for its preservation? He pleads His own love and His own purchase. “Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” He could say, “It is My church, O God. I bought it. I went beneath the waters of judgment and death and made it My own. I sanctify and cleanse it daily with the washing of the word. Before Me is the bright vision of the day when I shall, take to Myself that church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. It must not be consumed by wrath.”
Besides, it is the eternal purpose of God that the church shall share the glory of Christ. God's foreknowledge and predestination to this end, as set out in Ephesians, are involved in its maintenance until that end is accomplished. Upon this ground the church stands, and upon it, too, rests the intercession of Christ on high. It would not be consistent with the principles of God's righteousness that the apostate church should be here today, apart from the mediatory service of Christ, of Him Who died and satisfied the righteousness of God in respect of what believers are by nature and practice. There was a respite for Israel because of God's promise from the foundation of the world, and also a respite for the church because of His promise before the foundation of the world.
Israel's Bitter Draught
We have seen that Israel was spared, but their sin was not passed over altogether. We read that when Moses came into the camp, he acted for God to show the people God's mind about their awful sin. He destroyed the golden calf and ground it to powder. He strewed the powder upon the water and made the people drink it, the fruit of their own doings. Those that drank it, drank the bitter draught of self-condemnation as idolaters. The god to which they bowed down and worshipped as their deliverer from Egypt, they accepted as only dust, and they swallowed it! What a god to worship!
The people publicly owned their sin in this way. Not all of them would do so. Apparently there were those who refused, and stood for the golden calf. On these the penalty for their sin fell. Moses called for volunteers to stand by him and act for the glory of the name of Jehovah. And the sons of Levi, his own tribe, to a man gathered at his side.
They were told to gird on their swords, go through the camp, and slay the unrepentant ones who held fast to their idolatry and immorality. These leaders in wickedness were justly slain because they were poisoning the camp with their idolatry and licentiousness. So the holy name of God was cleared by this act of judgment, and the righteousness of the law upheld by the death of the three thousand. Moreover, we read that Jehovah “plagued the people because they made the calf which Aaron had made” (Ex. 32:35), but these were not utterly destroyed.
A Centre of Meeting outside the Camp
After this public condemnation of the apostasy; a new thing took place. Moses set up the tabernacle, or tent, without the camp. This could not, of course, be the tabernacle constructed afterwards, in which the glory of Jehovah dwelt in the midst of the camp, because its construction had not even begun. We are not told what sort of tabernacle it was. It was probably an ordinary tent, but one well-known to the tribes. Moses took it, however, outside the camp, “afar off from the camp.”
Why was a separate place chosen? Because the polluting dust of the idol was still in the camp, and it was a defiled place before God. The camp had been judged, but not cleansed. The name of Jehovah, the living and true God, had been dishonoured there; and Moses took the tabernacle outside the camp, and entered it himself. He did not call others to go with him, but he himself stood apart from the camp, as being under Jehovah's ban. He was as jealous for the honour of Jehovah's name in the camp as on the Mount.
Moses called this tent “the tabernacle of the congregation,” the tent of meeting. Now where did he get this name? Moses did not invent it. The previous chapters give the instructions Moses received in the Mount. There he saw the pattern of Jehovah's tabernacle, fashioned according to things in the heavenly places, and there he heard its name, “the tabernacle of the congregation” (see Ex. 29:10, 44; Ex. 30:26).
This then was the name by which Jehovah's tent should be known when it was set up in the midst of the camp. Moses used this term for the emergency tent, indicating that he was acting upon the communications he had received from the Lord during the forty days. He, as it were, said, “O Jehovah, I know Thou meanest to dwell in the midst of Thy people. I know a tabernacle must be erected according to Thine own specifications. This cannot be done now because of the defilement wrought by the calf, but I set up this tent away from the polluted camp and call it by the name Thou hast chosen 'the tent of meeting'.”
The Presence of Jehovah outside the Camp
Moses, leader of the people as he was, went into the tent before them all. The people were astonished, standing every one at his tent door. They said, “What a strange thing is this! Moses went up into Sinai, and we nearly lost him then. Shall we lose him again? What is going to happen?” For Jehovah had heard the prayer, the unspoken prayer, of Moses and signified His approval. The pillar of cloud descended to the door of the tent, associating itself manifestly before the eyes of the apostate nation with that tent of meeting.
The children of Israel recognised that pillar. They had seen it only a few weeks before, when they crossed the Red Sea. It had then stood between them and their foes. Now they saw that protecting symbol of Jehovah's presence, not in the midst of the camp, oh no, that was defiled, but standing at the door of the very tent which Moses had pitched outside the camp and where he then was.
As Moses went into the tent, the cloudy pillar stood at the door, signifying the divine approval of this new meeting-place. There Jehovah talked with Moses, not with that terrible voice he had heard on the mount, which caused him to say, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” That was the condition under the law only, but now the law having been broken, mercy had come in through intercession; and Jehovah, in His mercy, in this solitary tent, outside the camp, spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
This new meeting-place, then, was the place of intimate communion with Jehovah Who had placed His name there. Moses himself was obedient and “faithful in all his house.” And every man in the camp who had similar feelings and was zealous for the honour and glory of God, turned his face away from the place that the idol had defiled and “sought Jehovah,” going out where the pillar of cloud was, outside the camp.
Was not it better to be where Jehovah was? Was it not better to be standing for His name along with His servant Moses than to be in the camp polluted with the dust of the idol, and with the moral disfigurement of its worship upon the people in that camp? Yes, it was better to be where Jehovah was, and gather to the pillar of His presence. And many chose that “good part.”
Analogy not Correspondence
Herein, I take it, lies the chief point of the analogy to what we have in 2 Timothy 2. There are other points of likeness, but I do not dwell on them now. I will endeavour to show the analogy between the two cases of apostasy.
There is not in church conditions an exact correspondence because what we have in the Old Testament was under the law, and not under the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. Even after the repeated mediation of Moses had partially prevailed with Jehovah and the tables of testimony were given a second time, and Jehovah had proclaimed His name (Ex. 34:6, 7), His grace was unknown. His name showed that He was a God of mercy, but that He was a God of judgment too, Who would “by no means clear the guilty”; grace and truth had not yet come into the world.
Compare, as probably you have done, what Jehovah said of himself when the ten words were first given (Ex. 20), and what He said when He proclaimed His name to Moses, as he was hidden in the cleft of the rock. Jehovah declared Himself to be “merciful and gracious,” but still “visiting iniquity.” There would be a display of His mercy, but only partially, and only for some. Under the renewed covenant Jehovah would be merciful and gracious, but in a limited measure.
The apostle in 2 Corinthians 3 calls these renewed and modified covenant relations with Israel the ministration of death and condemnation; law and mercy mixed never gave life and liberty. Nevertheless, this is what Christendom has adopted in these days. They proclaim a mixture of law and grace. They set the commandments of Jehovah before them, and try to fit in the words of mercy with the words of inexorable law, and the two do not and cannot agree.
The result is a ministry of death and judgment, which the apostle disapproves. But through the revelation of grace we have the ministry of life and glory, the glory of God which we see in the face of Jesus Christ. And oh, what liberty this knowledge gives!
Divergence from the Standard of Christianity
Now here in our passage from 2 Timothy we have some instructions for the day of apostasy, with which you are familiar. You know them well, but let us briefly consider them again. They certainly apply to us now, as they applied in the days of the apostles. Indeed, they have even greater force and urgency today because the departure from revealed truth that began then has been increasing ever since. When a line begins to deviate from another straight line, the further it extends the further the amount of divergence from the standard of direction increases. The two lines never meet, nor become parallel to each other. It is a departure from rectitude, and if there is no correction, the degree of divergence must continue to increase.
Well now, in the apostle's day, departure from the truth began in the assembly. And Paul spoke of “perilous times” ahead. Evil doctrine and evil practice sprang up in the church itself, which was the appointed guardian of the truth. Just as Moses brought down to Israel the second edition of the law, written again by the finger of God, for them to maintain, as they went through the wilderness, and as they lived in the land of Canaan, so the maintenance of the written word was committed to the assembly.
Moses gave Israel Jehovah's law, His word, and it was deposited with them for safe keeping and observance. Certainly the two tables of testimony were encased in a little wooden box, the ark of shittim wood, for security, a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom the integrity of the law was maintained intact. So the word of God, His revealed will and His express commandments, were given to the church to keep according to their original terms. We are, therefore, to hold fast, without addition or subtraction, the form of sound words, particularly those addressed directly to the church in the scriptures.
The whole of the New Testament makes a very small tract in bulk. But although small it contains much truth, which is exceedingly broad in its application. This is for your maintenance and for mine. The difficulties in doing so have increased even of late, and are likely to increase still further. But we are responsible to keep the precepts of the Lord relating to church matters, to hold them fast, to obey them as those who have to stand before Christ on His judgment seat, and there be examined as to our integrity. We must, therefore, be faithful to the words of truth which we find in the New Testament. Because we are not under law but under grace, we cannot excuse ourselves either from a laxity in obedience to God's word, or from a neglect to ascertain our duty.
The Tendency to Laxity
Beloved friends, have you realised that we who know the riches of God's grace are often the very first to abuse it, and make light of sin? Remember how we came to God, to Christ, laden with our sins, with that huge burden of guilt pressing us to the very earth. They were all forgiven in a moment, and what do we say? We say, “Thank God for the forgiveness of our sins.”
But because mercy came to us so freely, our evil hearts may say, “Sin does not matter, disobedience is not serious. We can have forgiveness again in a moment. Let us do what we like. We have only to ask for forgiveness and it will be given. We can please ourselves.” We thus say in effect, “As for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. He is out of sight, and out of sight means out of mind. What he says about keeping the covenant does not matter. We will have what gods we please.” Thus in a spirit of apostasy we often abuse the grace that redeemed us. Is this true, or is it not?
“Oh yes,” you say, “it is true of Christendom generally.” But what about ourselves here tonight? Are we all absolutely true, faithful, and loyal to the word of our Master and to the truth in His word? Certainly, we have known persons professing Christianity give up the Bible piece by piece. They tear out pages here and there and throw them into the waste paper basket, and say that much of the rest is no good except for those who believe in the fairy tales of literature. To such lengths do men go.
In all directions, God's word is despised and disowned; but where is your reverence for that word? Do you value it so highly, and believe it to be so precious that you cannot live a day without it, that you need it to guide you every step of the way, and keep you from the sin of disobedience? If you do not in this sense believe it, you will one day have to tell the Lord why you have neglected His word and done what is absolutely contrary to it.
The Firm Foundation amid the Quicksands
Well, here in chapter 2 we have divine instructions for the conduct of the faithful man of God in a day of general departure from His word. Paul speaks about profane and vain babblings to be shunned, and the words of some spreading as a gangrene. The figure is that of the evil devouring the good, like Pharaoh's lean kine, and it denotes the general state of the Christian profession. But on this I do not dwell, but on what remains, and withstands the corrupting influence of evil.
In 2 Tim. 2:19 we read, “Nevertheless” — in spite of all the apostasy, in the face of the spiritual ruin in Christendom “the firm foundation of God stands fast.” What God has wrought and what He has said is imperishable and all the sinfulness of men and all the strategy of the evil one cannot overthrow what He has established. The church is founded upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone. The foundation is sure and steadfast. The revelation concerning it is immutable. The hills and mountains, the earth itself, may pass away, but not one syllable of the word of God shall ever fail. Here, then, we have a solid foothold remaining amid the shifting sands of religious opinion.
I commend this solidity in the scriptures to my younger friends. You must not let this go. You may be taught differently in your schools, and in the office your companions may tempt you to disown the infallibility of God's word. They will say that it is of no consequence whether you read the word of God every day or not. It does not matter whether you believe the whole of the Bible or not. Times have changed, they say, since it was written, and it is now out of date. Your answer is that the foundation of God stands fast. What we have now is as true as when it was written, like the tables of stone, with the finger of God. The scripture is written upon an imperishable material, a foundation which can never be destroyed. So let us hold fast the word of God, and not be carried away by the profane and vain babblings of Christendom.
The Seal with a Double Inscription
Then, having declared the permanence of the firm foundation of God, the apostle used the figure of a seal to indicate the supreme authority attached to this foundation. Moreover, this seal bears a double inscription, each of the two parts being of special significance in the light of the context. The words are, “having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His; and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.”
The fact that there are two sentences upon the seal suggests that the allusion is to a public seal in its highest character. The great seal of England, for instance, has an obverse and a reverse impression. It has two sides, in distinction from an ordinary common seal of a Government office with only one side. The great seal of England that is affixed to all State documents of high importance would be invalid with one only of its sides. It bears on one side the effigy of His Majesty, crowned and enthroned, with a suitable inscription, and on the other an effigy of him in some official capacity, as Admiral of the Fleet, Commander of Land Forces, or something of the kind, with another inscription.
There are thus two sides to the seal, and impressions of both are necessary to establish the validity of the document sealed. Then it becomes authoritative all over the world, because the power, prestige, and integrity of the whole British Empire are represented by the two faces of the seal. Both of them impressed upon one piece of wax are a symbol of sovereignty and supreme government. I believe that divine authority is what the seal signifies in the text. The seal indicates the sovereignty of the Lord on the one hand, and on the other His will for those that acknowledge His Lordship and government. It applies to the firm foundation of God, and is specially attached to this inspired document written by Paul the apostle to Timothy on the eve of his departure to be with Christ on high.
The seal, then, tells us two things. First, it declares the divine omniscience concerning those that are His in a time of ecclesiastical declension and disorder; in such a time “the Lord knoweth them that are His.” This statement must not be hastily dismissed as a truism. It is of particular value for these times. When the wheat is mixed with tares, and the leaven is in the meal, when the professor and the possessor are mingled inextricably in a mass of confusion, the Lord knows which are His. He knows the hypocrite and the humble. We may make mistakes in identity; He never. He knows who belong to that church He loves so much, which He will present to Himself by and by. He looks down upon this mass of confusion calling itself by His holy name; His eye is never deceived, and He knows them that are His. There is an immense comfort in this for all who are distressed by the conditions in Christendom, and fear lest He should have forgotten.
But on the other side of the seal we have the personal responsibility of the individual: “Let every one . . . . We like to have the best of everything with nothing to pay. Most of us like free gifts. And what great blessings God has given to us without money and without price! But having all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, our responsibility to act accordingly begins. God makes us rich in His Son, and then makes us responsible proportionately to the value of those riches.
Note that the first inscription is in the plural, “The Lord knoweth them . . . ,” while the second is in the singular, “Let every one . . .” . Personal responsibility is thus plainly indicated upon the seal, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from unrighteousness.” This is a more correct translation of the injunction. “Lord” is the title used in both these inscriptions. “Christ” is the term of affection and love, but here responsibility is pressed upon each one to his “Lord.” After all, though the times are disorderly, we are still servants of the Lord, and we have to render an account to Him Who is our Master. While unrighteousness and unfaithfulness prevail in Christendom, are we striving to be approved of the Lord as His good and faithful servants?
Depend upon it, the Lord will talk to us one by one by and by about our behaviour in this day of ecclesiastical apostasy because we name the name of the Lord. We know Him as Lord; let us each one do the things He has said, and the things that will give honour to His name. When Moses stood apart from the people for the honour of Jehovah's name, “it came to pass that every one who sought Jehovah went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.”
“Let every one,” for this is a personal responsibility, now as in the day of the golden calf, “that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.” Perhaps some imagine that “unrighteousness” is a less serious matter than “iniquity.” But unrighteousness is particularly hateful to God. It means doing that which is not right. And from this conduct we who call on the Lord must depart. We must not be links between the righteous Lord and unrighteousness. The gospel is the revelation of the righteousness of God, and therein also “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:17, 18).
This passage should be an eye-opener for any of us who have been holding truth in one hand and unrighteousness in the other. We may be priding ourselves that we are holding fast the truth, that professing Christianity is doing what is wrong, but that we are doing what is right. But are we holding the truth in righteousness, or in unrighteousness? The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and He tells those that name His name to withdraw from unrighteousness, for “what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” The will of the Lord is that those bearing His name should avoid association with the evil of unrighteousness.
We know how easily physical infection is communicated by contact, and in like manner contact with spiritual evil defiles us. A nurse drops a bandage on the floor, and what a severe reprimand she gets from the surgeon! The floor might be clean, but no risks of infection are allowed with the patient. The communication of a single germ might bring terrible results. So even the common experiences of life teach us the danger of infection by contact, and the motto on the seal of God's firm foundation is “Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness.”
The Great House and its Vessels
Now the figure of the “great house” which the apostle introduces seems to be an enlargement of the instruction conveyed by the foundation and the seal. The figure of the house is not new, but it is remarkable that here the name of God is not attached to it. Timothy would at once observe the omission. In the First Epistle (1 Tim. 3:15), it is called “the house of God, the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” Here in the second, it is simply “a great house.”
The idea conveyed by “a great house” is that it is one built by a man of substance in order to reflect his own eminence and glory in the world. There has been deterioration, therefore it can no longer be called “the house of God,” the place where His glory is seen on earth.
“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour and some to dishonour.” Now in the passage no invidious distinction is made between the vessels of gold and silver, and the vessels of wood and earth. The “honour” of the vessels seems to depend upon their use rather than upon their intrinsic value. They are of different materials and for different uses. The vessels of gold and silver may be to the honour of the Master, and so may the vessels of wood and clay be equally to His honour, all fulfilling the purpose for which they were designed.
The main point to consider is that in the Master's eyes the vessels take their individual character from their utility. They are in the house for use not for ornament. In His estimation, the vessels that have been misused have been debased, not in their composition, but by their contact with impurity. Thus, the golden vessels of the Temple that were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon were used to dishonour there. His grandson Belshazzar, for instance, made impious use of them at a banquet to his gods. Libations to his idolatrous images were placed in the vessels consecrated to Jehovah. Could anything be more dishonourable to Jehovah than that?
Well, such is the principle involved in this figure. The criterion for judging the vessels is whether the honour due to the owner is withheld or not. Therefore, is not the dishonourable use of a vessel, whether silverware or earthenware, an act of unrighteousness Take the steward who tampered with his master's debts, was he righteous or unrighteous? When the debtor was told by him to write fifty instead of one hundred, was he not guilty of an act of unrighteousness? The steward was a vessel unto dishonour, for a steward is a servant in the house, specially responsible to look after the interests of his master, and to “depart from unrighteousness.”
How to become a Vessel unto Honour
Continuing the figure, the apostle recurs to our personal responsibility. We are in the great house, and among its assorted vessels. The Master is on high; the great house is here in ruins and desolation, with its many vessels: what are we to do? Some vessels are being used to dishonour. What is one to do to avoid being counted a vessel unto dishonour? The answer is given: “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour.” Previously, each one was called to depart from unrighteousness: here it is a man purifying himself from the vessels unto dishonour by separating himself from them.
The departing or withdrawing is from acts of unrighteousness, while the purging is from persons who are called “vessels unto dishonour.” This purging or cleansing oneself is an act which reflects honour upon the name of the Master, and the one so doing becomes thereby a “vessel unto honour.”
Why am I standing aloof from vessels of dishonour? Because my Master whom I serve has made me a representative in the world of His righteousness and holiness during His absence, and I must be true to this trust. I must be pure and holy in my outward contacts. The result is that I shall thus be “a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work.” It is not said that by this means a vessel of wood or earth shall become a vessel of gold or silver. The intrinsic value of the vessel is unchanged, but it is available for a service “unto honour,” because of its avoidance of certain associations.
Now if the Master comes into the great house to seek a vessel unto honour, which will He use? Not one of gold, if it were dirty, unclean, defiled. He would select one even of earth if it were sanctified and made ready for His use. Notice then that the man who acts for his Master in His absence as if He were present is the one who is “serviceable” to the Master, “meet” for His use. Why? Because in a day of apostasy he puts his Master's honour above everything else. He says, “I will be true to my Lord, and will live alone for the honour of His name. What I am, and what I do, and what I associate with, must agree with the holiness and righteousness of my Master.” Such a one is a vessel to honour, and can be used for anything the will of the Master may determine.
Personal Pursuits for the Purged
But beside purging myself from others, I must take great heed to myself and my new association. “Flee also youthful lusts; but follow (pursue) righteousness, faith, charity (love), peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The apostle does not enjoin a pathway of isolation for the one who separates himself from the vessels unto dishonour. He still has his own personal responsibility to the Lord on which he has acted, but it does not follow that he must remain entirely alone. His place apart is not one of isolation, but of insulation. Keeping oneself free from contagion is a plain duty, but then there will be others who do likewise. And with them we are to follow or pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. This is the company of those that seek the Lord “outside the camp.”
First of all, before you go into such a company look after your own spiritual condition. Flee from the lusts to which the energy of youth is specially liable. For instance, you may be lifted up with pride even because you have purged yourself from vessels to dishonour. There is the danger of saying, “Stand away. I am holier than thou. Do not defile my garments.” It is the Pharisaic feeling of being superior to others because of being separated from external evil. Such pride is an abomination to the Lord, and a stumbling-block to others.
Next, the apostle enumerates spiritual qualities which should be personally pursued by those who seek to be separate from the uncleanness of Christendom. They have departed from unrighteousness: therefore, they must first of all follow after righteousness, individually and collectively. The Lord said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.”
In the assemblies, for instance, see that the rent is paid promptly, that the widows are cared for, and that all its affairs, private and public, are conducted in righteousness. As vessels of the Lord, do not fall to the level of the world. Never do what is unrighteous, nor say what is unrighteous. Do not go behind somebody's back with what is ungracious, unkind, untrue, and whisper slander. These things are unrighteous. If you depart from a company on the ostensible ground of departing from iniquity, do not spread iniquity yourself in another company. No, if you go to those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart, you must pursue righteousness with the energy of one striving for a goal.
After “righteousness” comes “faith” as an object to pursue. I take it personal belief for salvation is not meant, but the faith once delivered to the saints, the sum and substance of Christian doctrine, given to be believed. We have to act on what the Lord has given us in His word, and on that only.
Then there is “love,” which is a better rendering of the original than “charity.” There is a love that is spontaneous. You cannot help loving some brethren because of their gentle, gracious manner. But “love” here suggests effort; it is a love to be sought, to be pursued. That person with awkward corners, always ready with a snappy word, harsh and biting, is to be loved by you. You must love Alexander the coppersmith who does you much harm as well as Barnabas the good man who renders you great service. Seek after this love. It is needed even among those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Love learns to love the unlovely, because the Lord set the example. But it must be pursued to be attained.
Finally, “peace” is to be pursued. Peace is the fruit of righteousness, and also its twin-brother in the kingdom of God. Therefore, do not sow discord among those calling on the Lord out of a pure heart. Remember that self-will is the great enemy of peace. In an assembly a great deal of quarrelling and mischief is often caused by one or two insisting upon their own way. One says, “I know what should be done. I have learned it for myself. I know it is true. It must be done. I feel responsible to the Lord to see it is done, and it shall be done.” This may be self-delusion, but it is certainly self-will. And such sinful egotism is a frequent cause of division in the gatherings. But I am to follow peace with all, the things that make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another.
Harmony in the gatherings is often disturbed through impatience. How often our Lord might have opened His mouth in correction and rebuke, but did not do so! He listened, He endured, He waited patiently on God for the time to speak. For He had come to bring peace, not a sword. This is what we must do, for this is the way to pursue peace.
If I clearly know the will of the Lord about a matter and others are dull, I can tell Him. I can say, “Lord, I believe this is Thy will. These brothers and sisters do not see it; show them also. If I know it, O Lord, it is because Thou hast taught me, and if Thou hast shown it to me, Thou canst show it to others. I was a long time learning it, but Thou wast patient. They may be even longer, be patient with them, and give me patience with them too.” The Lord will hear.
If we earnestly seek peace in this way as we mingle with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart, there will be a much happier state among the saints of God.
There is a great danger, beloved friends, when we turn away from the ruin of Christendom because we see its unrighteousness before the Lord, and go into the company of those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart, of taking with us the very elements of personal disobedience to the word of God that caused the ruin of Christendom from which we departed. We may carry with us the seeds of insubjection to God's will, or of worldliness, which lead to apostasy. If we are not careful to walk in the ways of holiness, pursuing righteousness, faith, love, peace, we may ourselves introduce infection in the company of those that “call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
Let us not be guilty of such dishonour. Let us rather be true to the Lord, and to His word, while the multitude of those who confess Him are content to do what is right in their own eyes.
The Lord is coming at the very earliest possible moment for His church. He tries our patience a little, but so long as He waits let us depart from unrighteousness, and covet earnestly to do only those things and to be only those things that are well-pleasing in His sight. This is the path of the just which is “as the shining light, going on and brightening until the day be fully come” (Prov. 4:18, N.Tr.).