W. W. Fereday
From the Bible Treasury Vol. N1, page 27.
Let me offer a few remarks with reference to the work of the Lord. It is undeniable that we are living in a day of extraordinary activity. On every hand enormous efforts are being put forth by professing Christian men, perhaps to a larger extent than at any time since the days of the apostles. But the efforts vary much in kind and character. The enemy of souls is busy (never more so), so that error of every sort is assiduously propagated; indeed, the more serious the error, the more earnest the advocates seem. Souls are poisoned by Ritualism and by Rationalism; the person and work of Christ are despised; the scriptures are called in question, and attacked unblushingly at every point; and many are lulled into a false security with vain hopes of ultimate universal salvation (though through fire), to speak of no other vagaries. On the other hand, many true hearts are found earnestly carrying the gospel of Christ (or what they know of it) to those near and far who are in the darkness of nature, and away from God: may the number of such be increased a hundred-fold is our earnest prayer!
It is as to the latter class of labourers I desire to say a few words; for one cannot but feel that a very large proportion of labourers, even of pious men in the present day, falls far short of the objects which God has in view, and which He has revealed in the scriptures for our guidance. One would think, to hear evangelicals in general speak, that God's sole aim and object is the deliverance of men from hell. This is to make man the object, not God; man's conversion the end in view, not the divine glory. It is not meant that the salvation of souls has a small place in the plans of God. Blessed be His name, it has a very large place. It is the delight of His heart to save and to bless; but is salvation from the wrath to come God's grand object? It is recorded of Jonathan that he "wrought with God." (1 Sam. 14:45) To do this calls for discernment of His mind, and an understanding of what He is doing at any particular time. This Jonathan had (his armour-bearer too, in measure); while Saul and his people were utterly in the dark as to it all.
It is important to see that God is carrying out at the present time a purpose and work of a peculiar character. He is not now dealing with an earthly people, laying down His righteous requirements from man in the flesh, and making a nation the centre of His governmental ways with regard to the earth. He is doing something incomparably higher. He has revealed Himself in the person of His Son come in flesh. That blessed One having been rejected and cast out (accomplishing while man was doing his worst, the wondrous work of redemption), God has exalted Him to His own right hand in the heavenly places. No longer is a Messiah on earth proclaimed (though this will yet be put forward in its day); but a Christ dead, risen, and exalted to glory. The Holy Ghost has come down consequent upon Christ's glorification, and is here on earth to give effect to the purposes of love and grace formed in the divine heart before the world was. He is here not merely for the salvation of souls, though this be true in its place, but to gather out a people for His name, and, as Caiaphas expressed it, to "gather together in one the children of God scattered abroad."* This is a totally new thing, and could not be until the coming of the Comforter. In every age God has had His own saints here, men in whose hearts and consciences His Spirit has wrought; but never, till redemption was accomplished and the Holy Ghost descended, was there any gathering together of such. Indeed there was no Head in heaven to whom they could be united. When manifested here, He abode alone, so that there was no union with Him; in fact, union with Him could never have been the portion of any, had He not gone into death and wrought redemption. But being risen and exalted, the true corn of wheat bringeth forth much fruit. He in glory is the Head of the body, the church, Who is the beginning, the First-born from among the dead. By the Spirit Who has come down, all who believe in His name are joined to Him in one body (1 Cor. 12:13).
[*This is rather what the evangelist adds to what the high priest uttered; which seems not to have gone beyond the expediency of one man dying for the people. Compare John 11:49, 50, with 18:14. Ed.]
This is the present work of God, while His Son is hidden in heaven, and His Spirit is here below. To the body, thus formed on earth, gifts are given for its edification and advancement. The Head has given some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4). The two first connected gifts, of a foundation character, have necessarily ceased (though we have their inspired writings for our permanent profit); the others remain, and will continue to be given by the church's faithful Head, "till we all come" etc. The object of giving such gifts is declared to be primarily "the perfecting of the saints." "The work of the ministry" etc. comes in as subsidiary. Thus we find Paul aiming not only to preach Christ, and to warn men, but to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus (Col. 1:28). We see him alas in great conflict for the saints at Colosse and Laodicea, "that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even Christ" (Col. 2:1, 2). He endured all things for the elect's sakes, that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10). It might have been said of the apostle in a modified way what is written of Christ, that he loved the church and gave himself for it; not of course in the way of atonement (this glory must be Christ's alone), but of self-sacrificing love. He bore the church and all its members ever on his heart before God, and filled up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for His body's sake, the church (Col. 1:24; 2 Cor. 11:28). Epaphras also, who was according to his measure a kindred spirit, laboured fervently for the saints in prayers that they might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God (Col. 4:12).
Thus did these devoted labourers serve in accordance with God's objects. They sought not only the salvation of the soul (though this must be enjoyed before we can speak of "perfection"), but the gathering of the saints to a divine centre, and their perfection and growth as members of one body on earth. The evangelist's work was no more independent of this than that of the pastor and teacher. Such went out from the bosom of the assembly, and into that circle they gathered souls, that they might find their divinely ordered place in the body on earth, and be led on in the ways of Christ.
It is not denied that, in a day like the present, the evangelists find a smoother and more popular path by becoming, what has been termed, a "free lance." Such have apparently no responsibilities; they seek the salvation of men, then allow them to drift where they will, or be caught by the first watchful wolf, or perverse man. Thus are souls permanently injured; and who cares, so long as a fair show is maintained? What matters it, that Christ's members are stunted in growth and starved in soul, so long as men applaud? And on the other hand, how much of the effort put forth is merely for the extension and strengthening of party? Souls are viewed as useful, in so far as they fill the register and swell the funds. Is this saying too much, or are not these things sorrowfully true on every hand? Oh, for a Jonathan who "wrought with God!" Oh, for a Timothy, who will "naturally care" for the state of the saints! Those are the labourers for the moment; and who can supply them but the church's Head? W. W. F.