2 Cor. 11:2; Gal. 4:19.
H. C. Anstey.
Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887, p. 101.
The beginning of all decline is the heart getting away from its privilege to be for Christ, and its responsibility to take up everything in connection with Him. Among the early assemblies of Christians, while apostles were still living, decline had come in, both in Corinth, and also in the assemblies of Galatia, and the attention of Christians was directed to this; viz., Christ had not His place among them. This is what we have here, and it is insisted on in both these verses.
No doubt there was local recovery, both in Corinth and also in the assemblies of Galatia. Still, what marks the day in which we live is not local declension merely, but the wide-spread departure of professing Christians from what would mark us if Christ had His real place in our hearts. Every Christian must take his and her place here as one who has part in the ruin in which the assembly of God, the Church, is found. The way of recovery is the matter that concerns us now. It is for me to first learn this with God, and practice it as an individual, ere I can in any way minister as His servant in the present condition of the assembly on earth.
In the book of Haggai we have a day of weakness before us. The encouragement then was, "I am with you, saith the Lord," and "my Spirit remaineth among you." Everything the remnant took up was to be taken up with direct reference to this encouraging revelation from God Himself to them. Nothing could be of greater cheer to their hearts than this revelation. At the same time it corrected all selfishness in the hearts of those who took it up in faith. It was no longer for them a question as to the comfort of their own "ceiled houses," or of their gains, but of God's house and of His interests, and of what was real gain God-ward. No one who has learnt this but has rejoiced that it delivers from the "BAG WITH HOLES," into which the energies of all that does not set God and Christ first are now being dropped by professing Christians, those who answer now to the Jewish remnant in the days of Haggai.
"I have espoused you to one husband," thus writes the apostle, "that I may present a chaste virgin to Christ." Worldliness was stamped upon the Corinthian Christians whom he addresses. And what is worldliness? It has thousands of forms. It does not come to all of us in the same way, but each of us knows what it is in himself. It may be summed up in few words. It is unfaithfulness to Christ; it does not give Him the first place. That is all, and that is decline. "I have espoused you to one husband" is true of everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian. It is not for you or for me to look at other Christians, to see how they act up to, or fail to act up to, this relationship. Comparing ourselves thus among ourselves the same apostle says is not wise. It is trying to find an excuse for the path of decline upon which we have entered. The heart loves its own ease, and seeks this path for itself where it can hold the "profession" of Christianity, but give to Christ a secondary place. It wants heaven, but refuses to give up earth.
The remedy is at hand. May that "jealousy" of the Spirit (who is here for Christ) arouse us from the worldly lethargy into which we have fallen, whenever and wherever we are not putting the Lord first. Nothing else will deliver us from the worldliness of this present day. I must go forth with the one distinct object before me, that I am here for Christ, for Him whom the world crucified. And this will deliver from it, and will also display itself in the manifestation of the life of Christ in me. No matter what others are doing, I shall "walk as He walked."
If possible, the state of the Galatians was more critical than that of the Corinthians. He has to say, "I stand in doubt of you." Were they really Christians? He says, "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." His confidence is in God; for he says, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." Ah! what is religion (and there was plenty of it in Galatia) without the display of the life of Christ? It is but the path of decline, whatever people may once have known, or however faithfully they once trod, the right path. They are not now in it. If Christ is formed in us, His life must express itself in our lives. Anything less than this, anything other than this, is decline. It is not in law keeping, not in circumcision, nor in obedience to ordinances that Christianity consists. It is in the display of the life of Christ, which can only be found where Christ is put first.
The beginning of the Church's decline in Rev. 2 is, that she had got away from Christ. "Thou hast left thy first love." And the way of recovery for individuals in Rev. 3 (at the lowest point of the Church's history) is, "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me;" that is, you must give Christ His place. May the Lord not only open our eyes to see that there is decline, but give us to take individually the way of recovery which He points out to us in these Scriptures. H. C. Anstey.