"As at the first"

F. B. Hole

(Extracted from Scripture Truth Vol. 40, 1959-61, page 177.)

The of the early "Fathers" of the church are by no means to be relied on, but one of them spoke truly when he said that, whatever was first was pure; whatever was later was adulterated.

The Scriptures support this. To backsliding Israel God said, "I will … purely purge away thy dross … and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and they counsellors as at the beginning" (Isa. 1:25-26).

Again, we read as a matter of history that, "the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not to Baalim" (2 Chr. 17:3). David was the first king really chosen by God, who in spite of serious defects, adhered to the worship of God, and was not turned aside after the other gods, which later crept in amongst both the kings and the people. What was first in the history of God's dealings with Israel's kings was the purer thing.

We turn to the New Testament and descend to individuals of a very humble sort in 1 Timothy 5:11. Here are certain "younger widows," amongst the professed believers, "having damnation," or better, "being guilty," because "they have cast off their first faith." They left a life of service for a life of ease, because the "faith," that made Christ a living, bright Reality to them, had sadly declined. Their " first faith " expressed itself in works of a devoted sort; later it was badly adulterated.

The same feature meets us in Revelation 2:4. Here love and not faith is in question; and a church, and not individuals, is being scrutinized by the Lord. As the first century drew to its close the church at Ephesus had left its "first love," and this, as the next verse shows, had affected its works. They are therefore called upon to recognize how they had fallen and, repenting of it, to do "the first works."

If now we turn back to Jeremiah 2:1-3 we find that a similar decline took place in Israel's history, though the word "first" does not actually occur there. The word of God to Israel was, "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals." When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, He espoused them to Himself; and the love of their espousals we find expressed in their triumphant song, recorded in Exodus 15. Then Israel was "holiness to the Lord," giving, "the first fruits of his increase." What fearful declension had taken place by the time Jeremiah prophesied.

Turn where we will in the Scriptures, we find testimony to the fact that what is first is marked by purity and what is introduced later brings in adulteration.

The same thing is obviously true if, turning from Israel we look back over the history of Christendom. Just as God granted revival in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, so He did in the great spiritual movement which we call the Reformation. The spiritual impetus that marked its beginnings soon faded out, as it lapsed into political and even warlike actions. The same thing has to be said, though often differing much in details, about revivals that followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In each case that which was at the first was a work of God, though committed into the hands of men; and that which was introduced later was not an advance or an improvement, but an adulteration.

What then is the call from our Lord, that reaches us as an admonition in these days, as we draw near to the coming of our Lord? We think that we might sum it up by saying, "First love;" "First works." These are the things set before us, as desired by our Lord, and as recorded and illustrated in the Scriptures. And the Scriptures themselves, we must remember, are the Divinely given record, that has reached us "from the beginning;" an expression that is found so frequently in John's first epistle.

Before the first century closed there arose the Gnostics — i.e. "The knowing Ones" — who claimed to give a more intellectual version of the faith than had been given by the "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13), as the Apostles were from a worldly standpoint. Thus they turned some aside. It was an adulteration, and hence John's repeated reference to what was "from the beginning." Nothing other or different from that is set before us in the Scriptures.

There are others today, sad to say, who imagine that what they have produced altering, or adding to, that which is from the beginning is an advance to higher things. In the light of God's word such things will prove to have only been an adulteration.