To be wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16), to be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10), to be filled with the Spirit (v. 18), to rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1), are exhortations which every saint of God without exception is to take to himself. But such qualities as these are at present but very little found among saints; nor indeed have they ever marked the spiritual condition of the people of God as a whole, if we except the first hour of this present dispensation, when it is said of them that, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 4:31).
There have always been in the Christian community the feeble, the faint-hearted, the dissatisfied, the murmuring, the disappointed, the carnal, and the contentious. The sick, the lame, the languid, the ill-nourished, the dyspeptic, have always been found there. Those with weak constitutions, those with little or no desire for the Word, those who are always weary of the way, those who are on the continual look out for a smooth path for their tender feet, those who are always looking back at the Egypt they have professedly left, and longing for a little of its carnal dainties, because they have not learned the satisfying joys and the infinite delights that are to be found in Him in whom is centred the good pleasure of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And these have to be very tenderly cared for, and helped by suitable ministry, meat in due season, the pure mental milk of the Word, by example, by precept, by warning, by rebuke, by encouraging words, and by sympathetic support, for His sake to whom by redemption they belong.
Not every one can walk alone; and very, very few can truly be looked upon as a stay, support, counsellor, and comfort, to the weary, the short-sighted, the cowardly, and the ready-to-halt in this day of sorry declension, division, and departure from God, from Christ, and from the Word of life.
The darkness of this world’s night has fallen close down upon that which bears the name of Christ, and its narcotic influence has to a large extent paralysed spiritual activity. As in a man under a powerful anaesthetic, only here and there in the body of this huge Christendom can be found a feeble beat of the pulse of life. But that pulse is there, thank God, the witness that the Spirit is still here and that the soul is in the body. The moment this pulse-beat ceases to be felt the professing body will be nothing but a putrid corpse.
When this state of things comes to be contemplated in the Word of God the individual, and not the professing body, comes into prominence. It is so in the Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy, and it is so everywhere else in Scripture where the ruin of the corporate testimony comes under consideration. “To that man will I look,” says God, “even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” (Isa. 66:2). And this is the man that truly loves the Lord (John 14:21-24).
God never leaves Himself without a witness. However dark the day may be; whatever character the departure from the living God may take; however widespread and universal the revolt from His authority: the man of God, the witness raised up and supported by His power, is always to hand; and the darker the hour the brighter shines the witness, just as the darkness of the night serves to bring out the glory of the stars that shine in the cloudless blue.
The ungodliness of the antediluvian world brought the elect of God into prominence, among which Enoch and Noah shine conspicuously. The idolatry of the world, even in the days of Shem, brought out from Ur of the Chaldees a mighty witness to the true God, a brilliant star in the firmament of God’s governmental dealings with the world that far eclipsed every other luminary, though there were other brilliants that feebly twinkled through the vapours of their worldly surroundings; Lot, for example. It was so in the days of the apostasy of the nation of Israel, when they made the golden calf, that Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, calling it the tabernacle of the congregation. It was so in the days of Elijah, when alone he stood for God against four hundred of the prophets of Baal, and confounded them all, though they had all the unholy support that the godless king and queen of the people could give. In the days of Malachi, when they said it was vain to serve God, and when the proud were called happy; and when they said that those that wrought wickedness and that tempted God were the people who prospered, they that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name find an honourable place in His book of remembrance.
And is it different today? In the midst of the innumerable sects of Christendom, each of which is by its respective founders, champions, and adherents, designated the temple of the Lord (Jer. 7:4), on what does the eye of the Lord rest? and who are they that are pleasing to Himself? Who could they be but the individuals who call on the Lord out of a pure heart? Such belong to no sect or party, nor do they look at themselves as connected with anything less than the body of Christ and family of God. Such will seek to walk in harmony with the whole revealed will of God. Men of such spiritual calibre will be a light to those who are seeking the pathway of God’s will, and they will be a source of strength to their weaker brethren; they will be greatly used also to help those who have no intention of following their lead in rigid separation from this world; and above everything else they will be pleasing to the heart of Christ, and their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded in the day of His glory.
From the great break-up at the time of the Reformation the power and presence of God have not been with any company on earth as such, but with individuals who walk in separation from iniquity, call on the Lord out of a pure heart, speak often one to another, and together follow righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Such are men of God, devoted to the interests of Christ, diligent in His service, unworldly to a degree, and finding the home of their hearts in the love of God, as it has come to light in Jesus.
To such many attach themselves who may be at the outset carried away by the glamour of what they call “new truth,” but who are very little able to distinguish between truth and error, and these in some cases make a measure of profit by what they hear; for the Word tells us that, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise” (Prov. 13:20); but being unspiritual and lacking in faith, instead of connecting themselves with their living Head in heaven, and with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, they connect Him with themselves, like Jacob and his altar, calling it El-elohe-Israel (Gen. 33:20). Position, church position, is everything to them, and the presence of the Lord in the midst, and His sanction of their ecclesiastical position they determinedly connect with their little company; the flesh gets a loose rein, and the fact that all believers are members of the one body of Christ is overlooked; self-occupation, the allowance of flesh, biting and devouring one another, divisions and separations take place. Pride of heart, spiritual pride, the worst pride of all, has been a disease from which we all have suffered, and rightly has it been visited with the rebuke of God. And to pride of heart partyism owes its origin, for neither is of the meek and lowly Head of the body.
No: the truth, the testimony of our Lord, the interests of Christ—all are today maintained by the individual in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. The man of God is the only man at the present moment to be counted on. I do not mean that we should put our trust in any human being, save the Lord in heaven. But the man of God is the only man that is standing for God in the midst of this corrupt profession. The man of God will let nothing slip of Paul’s doctrine, nor will he pay little regard to his manner of life. He will not be under the Roman delusion that that which is ecclesiastical is the only thing that God has respect to, and that moral and spiritual state is of little account. He will understand that God has no respect to the claim to outward ecclesiastical correctness where the inward spiritual condition is bad. He will be well aware that the ecclesiastical edifice, as set up by the great Apostle to the Gentiles, and which has been built upon by others, has become corrupted and has fallen into decay, but that the life which is in Christ Jesus is beyond the reach of contamination by evil. This life is that to which the saint is called, and it is that which is already his by the quickening power of God, though to have it in its own sphere and according to eternal purpose involves glory with Christ.
And it is on this life Paul falls back amid the ruin of the church. It is a life unassailable by the forces of the enemy, and on this great fact the Apostle can, and does, retire with confidence.
Beloved saints of God, we have not much longer to be here. Of this most of us, I doubt not, are thoroughly persuaded. The coming of the Lord is at hand. Already we can see the day approaching. The Morning Star will soon put forth all His mighty and attractive power, and in incorruption, power, and glory shall come forth His people from the graves, the living shall be changed by that same power, and then we shall rise to meet Him, and to see Him as He is. And what a glorious meeting that will be!
Let Him not find us disputing with one another over a mere ecclesiastical position, but let us rather be found of Him without spot and blameless, and in the exercise of divine affections, caring for His interests, holding forth the Word of life, ministering to the needs of His beloved people just because they are His people. Let Him not have to say to us that we sought our own, and not the things that are His (Phil. 2:21); or that His sheep wandered through all the mountains, and were scattered upon the face of all the earth, and that we had not searched or sought after them (Ezek. 34:6), or that if we did seek after them it was only to gather them to ourselves, and not to Him. May we act before Him, as under His eye, seeking only to have His approval, and being content with it whatever men may say about us or to us.