A Few Helpful Remarks For the Present Times

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{Compare John Jewell Penstone (36_mis5, page 145). This article is understood to have been written by John Jewell Penstone.}

This is the time of trial for the beloved brethren gathered to the name, and for the name, of the Lord Jesus, because the pretensions and energy of man are strongly manifesting themselves. It is not an easy thing to content ourselves with being simply that which we are in reality before God. Times of "revival" make manifest the thoughts of many hearts; but to learn, in a day of grace, to be still, and know that God is God, is completely above the education of the flesh.

The spirit of the age affects many Christians, who labour to restore old things for the service of God, instead of being broken before Him by the sense of their downfall. I do not at all doubt their sincerity, but I fear that they have not judged themselves and they do not know the true state of ruin surrounding them; so that they cannot have an adequate confidence in the living God alone, as the God of all resources, in the midst of a scene where man has failed everywhere and in everything. We ought never to be afraid of the whole truth. To confess openly that which we are in the presence of that which God is, is always the way to peace and blessing. Even when only two or three are together before God, if it be thus with them there will be no disappointments nor deluded hopes. If the wells dug in Abraham's days have been filled and stopped up by earth, we have to do with a God who can bring water out of the stricken rock, and make it flow in the dry desert, to refresh His thirsty, weary people. I do not envy the labour of those who dig channels in the sand for water-courses which, after all, may take another direction.

6 God's ways of acting, in all times of blessing, consist in reproducing the glories and the work of the Lord Jesus. The darker becomes the long night of apostasy, the more distinctly the Light of Life makes itself seen. The word for the remnant is, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." He is the only centre of gathering. Men may make confederations amongst themselves, having many things for their object or aim, but the communion of saints cannot be known unless each line converges towards this living Centre. The Holy Ghost does not gather saints around mere views, however true they may be, upon that which the church is, upon that which it has been, or that which it may be, on the earth, but He always gathers them around that blessed Person, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) One may be certain that Satan and the flesh will seek to resist this work and this path of the Lord, or seek to overturn them.

We need to be watchful against boasting, as people do in these days; need to be still in the presence of God. There is much independence and self-will almost everywhere. "We shall do great things" is the most inappropriate cry we can hear just at this time, when the light has shown how little we have done. God would have us know His truth as that which delivers us. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." This liberty is not that of the flesh, because it penetrates our hearts with all the reality of a separation well known to God, who is holy. We enter, unhinderedly into this position, with hearts broken and humiliated. If any one speaks of separation from evil, without being humiliated, let him take care lest his position becomes simply only that which at all times has constituted sects, and produced, doctrinal heresy.

7 As to our service we have seen our precious Lord and Master, in profound self-abasement, wash the feet of His disciples, making Himself an example - for whom? For us, surely. Now I know, at the present time, of no service which is worthy of Him, or agreeable to Him, if it is not done in humiliation. This is not the time to speak of a place for ourselves. If the church of God, so dear to Christ, is dishonoured in this world; if it is scattered, ignorant, afflicted, he who has the mind of Christ will always take the lowest place. True service of love will seek to give according to the need, and because of their need, he will never think of slighting the objects of the Master's love because of their necessity. Men taught of God, for His service, go forth from a place of strength, where they have learnt their own weakness and their own nothingness. They find that Jesus is everything in the presence of God, and Jesus is everything for them in all things, and everywhere. Such men, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, are real helps for the children of God, and they will not contend for a place, or a distinction, or for authority, amongst the scattered flock. The communion of a man with God about the church will shew itself in a willingness to be nothing in himself, and such a one will rejoice in his heart to spend and to be spent.

8 In our personal recollections we have lessons to learn with fear and trembling. May the thought of power never occupy our hearts too much. "Power belongeth unto God." Nearly twenty years ago there was a time of great excitement; everywhere people sought power, and would have crossed the seas to find it. Many thought of the church, but it was rather the church in power. Feeling that power was lost, they said: How are we to regain it? Thenceforth they again occupied themselves with earthly things, as if they could work deliverance on this earth. Many remember how, at that time, Satan was able to bring man forward; the result has been the same everywhere.

Whatever was the form that such efforts adopted, they were followed by deceptions and invariably it was agreed to renounce them (for all failed of their end), and nothing but sects was the result. There were deadly marks of hostility against the Lord Jesus; or else, if His name was left without spot, the path was prepared for another terrible result, namely, to annul the presence of the Holy Spirit who alone can glorify Jesus.

The great Shepherd will not forget the work done in His name, with a willing heart, for His beloved sheep, so poor and needy. Abundant praise and an unfading crown of glory, in the day of His appearing, will be the portion of those who act thus. God will remember all He can remember, and nothing will lose its reward. I am not surprised at the disappointments which have followed all the efforts people have made in the church to introduce some formal system of ministry, authority or government. God cannot permit us to enlarge the ground upon which, in these days, He is pleased to find and to bless His saints. We know well what is the way of the flesh which has never concerned itself at all about the fall of the church: it is to seek to occupy a position among men in the place where God has never granted it.

9 There is great instruction in the conduct of Zerubbabel, recounted in the book of Ezra. The son and heir of David takes his place with the remnant returned from the captivity; he is content to labour at Jerusalem, without throne or crown. Building the altar of the Lord and the house of God, he served God and his generation in all simplicity. Heir of the place which Solomon had occupied in days of prosperity and glory, he spoke not of his birth, nor of his rights. However, he is faithful in all the path of separation, of sorrow, and of conflicts he is obliged to pass through.

May the Lord give us to be more and more confident in Himself, in these days of trial. "When I am weak, then am I strong," is a lesson Paul had to learn by a very humiliating process. If we speak of our testimony upon the earth, it will soon be evident that all is but weakness, and, like the seed lost upon the wayside the testimony will like wise end to our shame. But if the living God has by us a testimony to His own glory upon the earth, then the sense of weakness will only bring us more directly into the place of His power. An apostle with a thorn in the flesh learnt the sufficiency of the grace of Christ. A little remnant is re-united and gathered, having nothing wherein it can glory in the flesh; but it is thus that it is ready to remain faithful to the name of Jesus, when that which seemed to be something before men has failed.

10 Neither the anger, nor the prudence, nor the pretensions of man can do anything, in the state of confusion in which the church is now. I freely own that I have no hope in the efforts which many make to assure themselves an ecclesiastical position. When the house is ruined in its foundations by an earthquake it matters little how one tries to make it an agreeable dwelling-place. We shall do better to remain where the first discovery of the ruin of things by man's deed has placed us - with our faces in the dust. Such is the place which belongs to us by right, and, after all, it is the place of blessing. In Revelation, it is in falling at the feet of Christ that John learns the actual state of the churches. Afterwards he was taken to heaven, that from thence he might see the judgments coming subsequently upon the earth; but the evil in the church cannot be well known, unless one is humbled at the feet of Jesus.

11 I have read of a time when several were gathered together in such sorrow of heart, that for a long time they could not utter a single word; but the floor of the meeting-room was wet with their tears. If the Lord would grant us such meetings again, it would be our wisdom to frequent these houses of tears. "They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy." (Ps. 126:5) It is not only for the earthly remnant that this is true, it is also written for us. I would willingly take a long journey to join these afflicted ones; but I would not go a step with the object of receiving from the hands of most excellent men power to overturn all today, and reconstruct tomorrow.

All we can do is to walk watchfully, but quietly thinking of the interests of the Lord Jesus, and having nothing for ourselves, nothing to gain, and nothing to lose. The path of peace, the place of testimony, is in seeking to please God. We need to watch over ourselves, lest, after having been preserved from the corruption of the age by the very precious truths revealed to us in our weakness, we should be taken in the net of presumption, or thrown into insubordination. These are things which God can never recognise or tolerate, since we are called to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

The word of God remains the same today as always. Nothing which has happened has changed His purpose, which is to glorify the Lord Jesus. If we are humble before Him, all that which is for the glory of Christ will be of the greatest importance to us. What would we more?