We must make a distinction between the intention of God by the Gospel and the disposition of His gracious heart expressed therein. I say we must make a difference, and my reason for saying so is because the Scriptures do, and we are shut up to them for our knowledge of His will. I will not trouble the reader with a multitude of texts to prove this, but will content myself with two plain passages to which I desire to turn attention. In 1 Timothy 2 we read of God our Saviour, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Here we have His gracious disposition set forth, and proved in the death of the Mediator, who gave Himself a ransom for all. Then we have in Acts 15:14 the statement made that “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name.” This gives us the intention of God by the Gospel, as far as the Gentiles are concerned. On the one hand, His grace goes out to all; and, on the other hand, He will accomplish His purposes of love.
My object in making reference to these great facts is that the mind of the reader be freed from the erroneous ides which taken hold of some, with reference to the Gospel, that it has in any way failed as to its mission. That the whole world is not saved is no fault of the proclamation, for salvation is for all without exception. The fact is, men will not have it. But this was all foreseen of God; therefore we have, “He that believes not” as well as ” He that believes.” Men prefer the world. No one came to Christ when He was upon earth except those who felt their need, and it is so today: “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Prov. 27:7). Still, God has His intention in and by the Gospel, and from among the Gentiles, as well as from among the Jews, He is able to take a people “for His name.”
There has not been the slightest failure in the design of the Gospel. It has done, and is doing, that which God intended it should do. It is not preached that the world should be made better. The world, as such, never will believe it; we have no warrant in Scripture for the assumption that it will make any alteration on the world, or that the preaching will bring about the millennium. The world (I mean the world-system and those who are of that system) is its bitter and implacable persecutor, and will never be anything else. It was persecuted in the person of God’s Son, in the persons of the apostles, and in the persons of all who believed through their word, and to the end of this dispensation it will be in affliction. The antediluvian world rejected the preaching of Noah, and the Sodomites that of Lot; and “as it was in the days of Noah” and “as it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17).
But a much more serious question than the unbelief of the world arises in the mind when the state of that which professes the name of Christ is contemplated. One would naturally have expected to have found faithfulness in that which bears His name; but here more than anywhere else do we find Him enduring “the contradiction of sinners against Himself.” As from the beginning a Judas was found among the disciples of the Lord, so shall it be till the end. That “spot” which was found at the Passover supper, though for a brief moment removed from the heavenly garment, reappears, and with amazing rapidity spreads its leprous defilement through warp and weft, until the green canker of corruption has eaten its way through every fibre of the blue, and the whole must be cast into the burning.
But was not this anticipated? Did not the Lord tell His disciples of the enemy who would sow tares among the wheat? and of the woman who would place the leaven among the meal? And does not Paul tell the Ephesian elders of the grievous wolves which, after his departure, would come in amongst the flock? and of the perverse men who from their own midst would arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them? (Acts 20). Though few in number they were present in the days of the apostles: “Spots in their love feasts.” And there was no getting rid of them. They were like the dead fly in the ointment of the apothecary. They blackened by their presence the fairest thing ever set up on earth by God; and they were to increase in number (2 Peter 2:2), and in virulence (2 Tim. 3:13). Jude speaks of them as “Turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” The effect of this is that they revel in all kinds of fleshly pollutions and rebel against every lawful authority. They “defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” We see this today in the leaders of certain societies who preach a gospel (?) of spoliation and murder, and set themselves up against every existing authority. “Woe unto them,” Jude says, for they have committed three evils: “They have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” The way of Cain is seen in his obstinate rebellion against the testimony of God that death lay upon him on account of sin, and that there was no way of approach to God but through the death of a victim which was not chargeable with his offence, and which had personal excellency in the sight of God; in figure through Christ and on the ground of His sacrifice Christ and His precious blood were rejected. Next, the people of God were hated and murdered. It is not difficult to find this “spot” today; the whole body of Christendom festers with these sores, which inoculate every thing they touch. The error of Balaam is ecclesiastical. It is teaching the people of God, whose citizenship is in heaven, to form alliances with the world through which they are passing, and to become to all intents and purposes citizens of earth. The gainsaying of Core is rebellion against the Lordship and Priesthood of Christ. He is our Moses and Aaron, and between Him and His people there is no intermediary. These were “spots” in the love-feasts of the early believers. They would not sever themselves from Christians, but were there to corrupt everything with their baleful presence. They were “clouds without water”: a semblance of refreshing rain but without heavenly moisture. “Carried about of winds”: borne on the crest of popular opinion. “Twice dead”: dead by nature and dead by apostasy. “Raging waves of the sea”: loudest in the clamour of the nations, but only “Foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.”
What a picture of lawlessness, rebellion, and corruption, and drawn by His faithful and unerring hand, who loved the Church and gave Himself for it. But we have been well forewarned. We may have turned a careless ear to the trumpet sounding alarm, and we may have been lulled to sleep in the cradle of false security, until the evil has made such headway that the complete casting off of Christianity, even in name, seems to be only a matter of months. It is no longer a few loathsome spots upon a body in the main energised by the Spirit of life, but it is the whole body of Christendom covered with the plague, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. Paul speaks of these days, and calls them “Perilous times.” Peter speaks of them in similar terms, characterising the leaders as “Spots and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you” (2 Peter 2), and declares that their “Judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” He gives us three witnesses that such men cannot be tolerated by God: the angels which sinned were cast down into the deepest pit of gloom, the ungodly antediluvian world was overthrown by a flood, and the cities of the plain were destroyed by fire; hence the destruction of these “spots ” is inevitable.
Up to the present time they call themselves Christian. Some of them, indeed very many of them, wear the livery of ministers of Christ, and palm themselves off upon the multitude as such, while they deny everything that distinguishes Christianity from the theories of the rest of the world. It is surely time to wake up and in the presence of God ask ourselves if our associations are either healthful for our own souls or pleasing to God, when a leading ecclesiastic addressing a congress of clerics tells them, “They might accept St. Paul’s epistles as genuine, as being the letters of Saul of Tarsus, but could we today accept the view they champion about the origin of sin and the primitive fall of man? Could we accept, as it stood, St. Paul’s doctrine of sin and death, a doctrine so closely bound up with the story of Eden and the forbidden fruit? They knew they could do nothing of the kind. The story of Adam and Eve belonged to Asiatic folk-lore. But few doubted that the knowledge of the Book of Genesis was not science. There was no use shirking the plain fact: we did not now receive Paul as an authority on the origin of sin and death. We acted as critics of what he had to say, and the authority of the Bible in these matters had given place to the authority of geological and anthropological science.” What light has their geological and anthropological science thrown into the face of death, or upon man’s unhappy condition, as an evil being who would rather die than have the wretched secrets of his wicked heart made public? How truly the apostle has spoken of these men as “Sporting themselves with their own deceivings.”
But what is the place of those who love God in the midst of this vast leprous profession? This is plainly pointed out in the word of God. By it we are throughly furnished unto all good works. Our place is analogous to that of the godly remnant of Israel in the days of the prophet Malachi, when the people said it was in vain to serve God; when the proud were called happy, and when they that wrought wickedness were built up, and they that tempted God were delivered: we are told that “THEN they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.” The faithful drew closer together. The very circumstances in which they found themselves were used to awake them up to the deep blessedness of having to do with Himself, and to realize what a refuge He is in the day when everything is black with rebellion and corruption. In the brightest day He is everything to us, for it is Jesus who makes the day bright for us; but in the darkest day His brightness remains undiminished, and it is our blessed privilege to open the door to Him, and if we do we have His word for it that He will come in to us, and will sup with us and we with Him (Rev. 3). Jude says to those to whom he has pointed out the evil with which they would have to contend: “Ye beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God.” What a pure and spotless atmosphere the love of God is! And we are to make our home there. But if this is to be so with us we must get away from the society of those “spots,” for the atmosphere in which they dwell is black with the vapours of the abyss of evil, and to come into contact with them is to be in danger of asphyxiation, for the fumes are poisonous.
We are not to expect things to improve: we look for “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” The coming of Christ is the way out of the evil. In the meantime we are to seek to extricate others: “Of some have compassion, making a difference.” We must distinguish between the leaders and the led; and we will be able to do so if we keep ourselves in the love of God, for our spiritual perceptions shall be quickened, and we will be “vessels unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Masters use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2). By the prophet Malachi He says, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.” What an honourable position! May we seek to be so well pleasing to Him that He may be able to use us in this way.
We have come to the close of this dispensation of grace. The Lord is coming. May we be found looking for Him; and may that be true of us which is recorded of the remnant of Israel in the day to which I have referred: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” Let self-will, contention, and strife come to an end; let us get low in the dust before Him who has been so sorely wounded in the house of His friends; let us speak often to one another; let our subject be Himself and His great love, and we will he thus able to help one another, and the Lord will hearken and hear, and use us for the deliverance of others.
“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”