I am sure no one instructed in the mind of God can have any question that we have now arrived at the very close of the Christian dispensation. Very soon not only the doctrine of Christ, that has largely been given up already, but the name of Christ will be completely cast aside. This is the trend of everything in Christendom at the present moment. This dispensation, like every other, will end in the rejection of the mass of those who have been tested by it. The dispensation before the Flood closed in the destruction of the human race, a small remnant only being preserved through the judgment. The Patriarchal dispensation ended in the emigration of Israel from the land of promise into Egypt. At the close of the dispensation of law a mere handful of godly souls were found to welcome the advent of the Son of God into the world, and those who prided themselves in being disciples of Moses imbrued their hands in the blood of the Messiah. The personal reign of the Christ will wind up in the revolt of the nations against the rule established by God in the “Camp of the saints and the beloved City.” The present dispensation will be no exception. Forty years had not elapsed since the day of Pentecost until the Holy Spirit was testifying that in latter times some would apostatise from the faith (1 Tim. 4), and that in the last days difficult times would be present (2 Tim. 3), and that the time would come when they would not endure sound doctrine, but would heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and that they would be turned from the truth to fables (chap. 4). In Revelation 2 and 3 we have the history of the professing Church in the place and having the responsibility of witness for Christ upon earth. Decline in affection is the first thing that marks its downward career. “Thou hast left thy first love.” This results in Thyatira, and there the loathsome maggot of perdition spawns in the heart of the only morsel of fruit for God upon earth, and blackens and paralyses with its venom everything vital in the vineyard of God, except a few branches far removed from the sorceries of the wicked Jezebel. This remnant is exhorted to “hold fast till I come.” Sardis is marked by an acquisition of light, but they had a name to live and were dead. They are exhorted to remember how they had received and heard, and to hold fast and repent. But Laodicea, which marks the last state of the profession upon earth, has got Christ outside altogether, and can do very well without Him. At this stage we have already arrived.
Let no one say that I am in the least pessimistic. Neither pessimism nor optimism has any place in the things of God. What we have to do with is the truth. That there is no hope for an amendment of Christendom causes no depression upon the spirit of anyone who knows the truth. Nothing in the way of evil that has ever entered into the profession of Christianity has the slightest power to frustrate or even to retard the accomplishment of the purposes of God. As in silent majesty the sun traverses his pathway of glory across the face of heaven, dispensing light and blessing, unaffected by the storms and tempests of this nether world, so does the living God move onward in the fulfilment of His counsels, undeterred alike by the failure of His people or by the rage of His enemies. It has always been, and ever will be, failure on the part of the creature who is placed upon the footing of responsibility to maintain anything for God; but this only makes room for the blessed God to bring in that which He had in His heart to accomplish before the world was.
And what rest and peace it gives to the heart to know this! Our confidence in man, in ourselves, is long-lived; but God is a patient teacher, and in the end brings us to see that there is no good in the flesh, so that we cease to be astonished at its faithlessness; we are led to expect nothing from it, and to have our whole confidence in God. Neither optimism nor pessimism has any place in our thoughts; we look neither at the dark side nor at the bright side of man’s earthly exploits, but on the living God and know that
“Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.”
How good it is to be brought out of darkness into His marvellous light! How very good it is to be able to make our boast in Him, and to feel that we can truly say that we know whom we have believed! We expect everything from God, nothing from man. We are not disappointed with the state of the world or with the condition of that which bears the name of Christ, for we have been taught to expect nothing better. The blessed God has not deceived us or led us to expect that which has not come to pass. It is said, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed” and this is true with regard to those whose one desire is to be here for the pleasure of God; and He is the One who has both forewarned and forearmed us, so that we might recognise the evil day when it would be present, and stand firm as the rock when the tide of iniquity would sweep everything before it.
Today in that which has the name of Christ many are not sure if ever such a Person as has been set before us by the four evangelists really existed, nor do they very much desire to know. To them He is a mere ideal personage, a teacher of ethics, a great socialistic leader; but a Saviour of sinners, no. This is considered to be but a remnant of the babbling of the childhood of man. To the legalist the preaching of the cross was always a stumbling-block, and to the philosopher, folly. It was so at the beginning of the present dispensation, and it is so today. Those two types of humanity were, in the days of the apostles, represented by the Jew and the Greek, but today both are found in Christendom; and it is of very little importance which direction the individual soul takes, for both lead away from the only source of salvation—the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor, indeed, is there much real difference between the two, for the mind of both is distinctly infidel.
I think it would not be a libel upon the profession of Christianity to affirm that every vital and divine truth has been, by the vast majority, thrown to the winds, and very much weakened in the minds of the rest. The idea of a personal God is questioned by many; the account of the fall, as given by the Holy Spirit of God in Genesis, is a fable, as is the total depravity of the flesh and the virgin birth of the Son of God, and can only find a place in weak intellects. Man, by the aid of his clever and inventive mind, is looked to as possessed with ability to work out the salvation of the human race. But in the meantime, in spite of all the inventions and discoveries of men, sin, disease and death go on in their work of destruction throughout the world, as undisturbed as if men were idly dreaming out their existence.
But now, let me ask, what about the beloved people of God? How do they fare in the midst of this corrupt profession? Jude says, after setting before us the evil which abounds in our midst, “Ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Everyone must be in measure affected by his environment. In the midst of the sea we must be careful that our ship does not leak. If we cannot resist and keep out the destructive element around us we must perish. We require to be more on the alert today than when all was according to God. The overcomer is brought into prominence in every one of the seven churches of Asia. The evil is there, and not outside the profession but well established inside, and every individual soul must stand up and do battle for his life. We must overcome, or be overcome. The atmosphere is unhealthy, and we need to be on our guard lest our souls become asphyxiated by the fumes from the abyss of evil.
No apostle uses the word “overcomer” so frequently as John. Jesus is the Overcomer in the gospel, and the saints are the overcomers in his first epistle. In His parting words to His disciples Jesus says, “Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.” This is of great encouragement to us. We have to do with a world that is hostile to us because we are of God, but it has been already overcome. It cannot attack us in the energy of a foe, flushed with victory. It is a defeated world. The Captain of our salvation has defeated it, and if we keep our eye upon Him we will be more than conquerors; “Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Paul says: “The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Again: “Whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world.” John sets before us that which the gates of hell cannot prevail against. No one can be an overcomer but the one born of God, and the home of such a being is the love of God. Hence Jude says; “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is where we grow and become strong. If we fail to keep our hearts well in the love of God we shall find ourselves as weak as water, and the enemy will triumph over us to our confusion. We need also to see that it is really in the power of God that we stand. We are not to underestimate the enemy, neither are we to be in the least dread of him. But there is always the tendency of the flesh coming in to take part in the conflict, and we are ever ready to trust to it and hold the enemy in contempt. Of the wicked one it is said: “As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.” Most of us know a little of this spirit, but it should not characterise us. We ought to be well aware that only in the power of God can the foe be met. If we attempt to meet him in the power of flesh it will be disaster. It is not the foe we require to be afraid of, but rather our own selves. The man who keeps himself in the love of God will always be in the power of God, and over him the foe will have no advantage.
Our most holy faith is to be more precious to us than our lives. We are to build ourselves up on it, and contend for it to the finish, and seek to help others out of everything that is contrary to it. It is our very life, for it is the unfolding of the mind and thought of God in Christ for us. Better for us to lose our natural lives than lose it, for if we lose it we lose eternal life. And in the affections of God we are to seek to bring others into the benefit of it: “Of some have compassion, making a difference; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude). We are to save ourselves, and them that hear us (1 Tim. 4:16).
I have said that everyone must be in measure affected by his environment, and this is true. The Church at Jerusalem, even in the days of the apostles, never got clear of the influence of Judaism; and even the great apostle of the Gentiles seems, when in the infected district, to have fallen a victim to the malady which hindered the growth of the souls of the believing remnant. It is so with respect to the people of God in this day. Nigh a century ago, by the mighty power of God, His living truth, which had lain in obscurity almost since the days of the apostles, was brought to light and ministered to us in the freshness of the Holy Spirit. Other men laboured, and we entered into their labours. We drank from the clear living fountain which they digged for us with their staves, and our souls were refreshed, and filled with thankfulness. The work of Christ, His resurrection and cession at the right hand of God were brought into prominence. The gospel was preached with clearness. The grace of God sang its shining, life-giving way, through the barren wastes of an empty profession, to the very limits of Christendom, and far beyond; and many a heart parched by desert drought and ready to perish heard the music of the waters and turned aside to drink and thirst no more. The heavenly calling and the heavenly character of the Church, as the Body and Bride of Christ, were brought forward, and the glitter of the world became eclipsed by the glory of the things which God had prepared for them that love Him. Translation, as the hope of the Church, in contradistinction to the appearing of Christ to the world and our appearing with Him, was pressed home to the heart both in preaching and in teaching, and we drank from a full cup of unmingled joy. The blessings of the gospel were seen to be the portion, the present portion, of the believer. We had been seeking to get into relationship by fulfilling our obligations, but now we saw that our obligations flowed from the relationship in which we were set by the grace of God. We began to be able, under this spiritual and life-giving ministry, to take our place as justified, saved, quickened in the life of the risen Son of God and sealed by the Holy Spirit, and we knew also that all these blessings were our eternal portion; we could never lose them. We were children of God, the love of the Father our present portion, heaven our eternal home, and we were awaiting adoption, the redemption of our body. All this has been placed before the vast profession around us. In public halls, at the street corners and from every quarter the glad sound has gone forth. Christendom has refused to listen to the grace of God, and darkness has set in. A strong delusion is abroad, and thousands are falling under it.
What about ourselves who love the Lord and rejoice in His changeless and eternal love to us? Has the glory of all this become bedimmed in our souls? Have we left our first love? Does that which we have heard from the beginning abide in us, or has it become weakened in our souls? Is my reader as fully persuaded that the blessings of the gospel are his present portion, as he was when by the delivering power of God he first saw his place in Christ? As we advance in the knowledge of God our realization of these blessings should be greatly increased and our testimony regarding them should have a clearer ring. It is true there is a way in which we may view the blessings of righteousness, salvation, sonship and eternal life as yet future; but while this is true, there is another sense in which every one of these blessings are just as truly the portion of the believer at the present moment as ever they will be. In the sense in which we have justification in Romans, salvation in Titus, sonship in Galatians and eternal life in John’s writings, they are our present portion as truly as ever they can be; but in the way we have righteousness presented in Philippians 3:9, salvation in verses 20 and 21, sonship in Romans 8:23, and eternal life generally in Paul’s writings, notably in Titus 1:2, these blessings are still future. I have noticed a hesitancy on the part of believers, from whom one would have expected better things, to speak of these blessings as being their present portion, and this is why I speak as I do. Someone may tell me that there has been so much claim to these blessings on the part of men who are characterised by the greatest worldliness that, on account of this, they have shrunk from speaking decidedly about being saved and having eternal life. But this is an argument similar to that used by infidels in excuse for not believing the gospel—so much unreality. Besides, if one cannot declare that the gospel has saved his own soul, how can he tell another man that it will save his? If the medicine has not cured me, I cannot tell my neighbour that it will cure him of the same malady. Besides, I should like to speak as the Scriptures speak, and they are very emphatic in their declaration that the blessings preached in the Gospel are the present portion of all who believe. A worse moral state could hardly exist amongst believers than that which existed in the Church of Corinth, and yet the apostle tells them that they are in Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). No one can do much good by making a believer question the fact of his relationship with God. If a man cannot say his soul has been saved by the gospel he had better let preaching alone until he can say it.
I would beseech my reader to stand up in the might of God and do battle for that which is his life, and to remember that there is no quarter given or taken on either side. If it cost him the loss of every friend he has and the last drop of his heart’s blood, let him let all go. Better lose our lives than lose the faith. It is not hard to see the tactics of the enemy; man is put in the place of God. There is no God, they tell us, except the God that may be found in men. If there is a personal God, He is beyond our reach, and we can have nothing to do with Him. Atonement is a fable, as is the resurrection of the body, eternal punishment, and the Godhead of Christ; Christ is dead and gone, and the world will never see Him again; and heaven as our hope is an old-fashioned nursery legend. This is blasphemy in all its naked boldness and wickedness, and every true believer will flee from it as he would from a pestilence. But we need to take care that it does not come to us in a garb of sanctity and adorned with priceless pearls pilfered from the casket of eternal truth, for then we might welcome it to our bosoms as a brother and a friend.
Let us not be deterred by the immodest boldness of the enemy; at the same time let us not imagine that he can be met by carnal weapons. We must find our artillery in the armoury of God, and we must go forth in confidence in Him; and let us not be faint-hearted but of good courage. Let us rather fear to be afraid (Jer. 1:17). Our responsibility is to hold fast the truth, and to state it fearlessly. We are not responsible for the consequences, be they what they may. In all our service we will find much failure, and this will keep us humble; and no doubt the enemy will be quick to take advantage of it, to divert attention from the main question at issue; but this will only disclose to us that it is the enemy, if we have had any doubts on the subject, and will have the effect of casting us more entirely upon God for future service, if it may please Him to leave us longer here.
Soon we shall see Him as He is. I take it for granted that the reader looks forward to this as the consummation of all his hopes and desires. It is well if it be so. It is also the writer’s expectation. This being so we are bound together, if by nothing else, by our fervent love to Christ. Let us then together seek to please Him. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder in the battle, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and let us not be terrified by the adversary. At the same time let us not be occupied with the evil, but with the good. There is no power in occupation with the abounding wickedness around us; power is only found in occupation with the love of God. It is necessary that the evil should be pointed out to us, but when this is done we have done with it. The love of God is the home of our hearts and our everlasting abiding place. May the blessed Lord keep the hearts of all His people in that atmosphere, until He comes and takes us to that home “where love eternal reigns.”