F. B. Hole.
As believers, we are redeemed to God, and a day is coming when redemption in its full power will be applied to our bodies, which will mean our full entrance into the glorious estate which is ours in Christ. Meanwhile for a longer or shorter time we live on in the world. Externally nothing was changed in the hour of our conversion. That great revolution was internal, yet profoundly effective. It has put us in altogether new relations with God. How has it altered our position here?
Mankind is dominated by a triple alliance of evil — the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The first is that organized system of things produced as the fruit of human thought and activity, without God and in opposition to Him.
The second is that corrupt nature, inherent in man as a fallen creature, which finds expression in the world, and is quite at home there.
The last is the mighty personage, the very source and originator of evil itself. The world as an elaborate system has been built up by men, but unknown to them the inspiring genius of its developments has been the devil, and he controls the machine thus created. He is the god and prince of this world (see 2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31).
From all three the death of Christ is our deliverance — a deliverance to be experimentally enjoyed even now in the power of the Spirit of God. As delivered we are set up here in witness for our absent Lord, and against these evil powers which formerly held us in bondage.
Let us consider a few scriptures that deal with this important part of the truth; and first of all as to the devil.
As the god of this world he has "blinded the minds of them which believe not lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ … should shine unto them," but the apostle immediately adds, "God … has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4-6). The believer is, therefore, one who is no longer kept under the blinding influence of Satan. God has, in his case, broken through the devil's line of dark defence and let the light in.
Consequently ours is the happy privilege of "giving thanks to the Father … who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear son" (Col. 1:12-13). Notice that this deliverance is stated as an act of God and not something realized progressively in our experience. It is as much an act of God as was that great deliverance wrought when God overthrew Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea, bringing Israel into the light of the Pillar of His presence, and the further light of the triumphant morning on the eastern banks, when Moses and all Israel sang their thanks to Jehovah out of full hearts. Indeed this latter is the type in the material realm. The former is the far greater reality in the spiritual realm. We have been called "out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
We English-speaking Christians but feebly realize the triumphant ring of these words. What must it have been to the Eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts 8), or the Jailer of Philippi (Acts 16), or Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17), to step out of the dark unfathomed caves of pagan superstition and vice, whether rough and barbaric or polished and intellectual, into the clear sunlight of the Gospel!
Next the world. Here too the line of demarcation is clearly and sharply drawn. The Lord Jesus Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). Hence anticipating the cross He prayed for His disciples, saying, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world" (John 17:16), and consequently we are enjoined, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world" (1 John 2:15). By the Cross the world is crucified to the believer, and the believer to the world (see Gal. 6:14).
Lastly, as to the flesh. This too is a condemned thing. It is utterly worthless, inasmuch as no good is found in it (see Rom. 7:18). "Sin in the flesh" is "condemned" (Rom. 8:3), and consequently "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24). This last scripture shows that it is not contemplated that any are brought into allegiance to Christ, and so belong to Him, without their having themselves solemnly endorsed and verified the sentence executed against it at the Cross. For the believer, as well as for God, the flesh is a worthless thing and he condemns and repudiates it in its practical workings. This is possible, of course, by reason of the fact that we have a new nature and possess the Spirit of God.
The bare recital of these great facts will prepare us for that which Scripture indicates as our present position on earth. The flesh being held as a crucified thing we are set in sharpest conflict with the powers of darkness (see Eph. 6), and we are severed from the world; so totally are we severed that if we do practically come into alliance with it we are addressed as "adulterers and adulteresses" and told that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).
In the light of this scripture we are safe in saying that no true Christian deliberately and of set purpose stands forth as an enemy of God and a friend of the world; but, on the other hand, there is grave danger for every Christian, even the most devoted, lest they should be allured by the world in one of its many fairer forms, and thus, deceived and decoyed, fall under its power. The man of God from Judah, you may remember, had not much difficulty in declining the proffered hand of friendship, extended by Jeroboam, for that hand was stained by idolatry and open rebellion against God. He fell an easy victim though to the wily old prophet of Bethel. His words were smooth and religious. His proffered hand was professedly pious and guided by an angel of Jehovah — "but he lied to him." The man of God struck up an alliance and fell (see 1 Kings 13). That is our danger.
What, then, is our business in the world? Why are we here? In order that we may be for Christ just as once He was here for God. His place and position in the world is just the pattern of ours. His own words were: "As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world" (John 17:18). Here He clearly views us as taken out of the world and sent back into it to be for Him.
Did he appear as a great Social Reformer? He did not. On the one occasion when He was appealed to, and urged to interfere because of social and pecuniary inequality, He flatly refused to have anything to do with it (see Luke 12:13-15). Neither are we left here to be social reformers.
Did He bear witness for God? Indeed He did. He came and spoke to men; He did "among them the works which none other man did;" He bore "witness to the truth" (John 15:22-24, and John 18:37). We, too, should be witnesses to truth by word and by work.
Was He sharply antagonized and hated? He was: and that to such an extent that the scripture was fulfilled which said, "They hated Me without a cause" (John 15:25). We too are warned by His lips, "Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:19).
Again we say — His position here is ours. We stand out, severed from the world system, and delivered from satanic authority. The powers of darkness are against us. We need the whole armour of God to stand in the defensive attitude against these unseen forces of evil. And if grace is ours to take the offensive in the service of the Lord, we must still remember that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). The "strongholds" may be in human hearts; the "imaginations" or "reasonings" may be in human heads; but the pride that exalts itself against the knowledge of God is satanic in its origin and we are confronted with that.
If here our subject ended we should be left in a panic-stricken frame of mind, similar to that of the ten spies who felt themselves but grasshoppers in the presence of the giants. It does not end here, however. Just as Israel, fighting Amalek under Joshua in the valleys below, had Moses interceding effectually on the top of the hill (see Ex. 17:8-13) so we are left in the conflict with not only the Spirit of God to indwell us but with Christ's continuous present service in heaven to sustain us. The Spirit of God does indeed help our infirmities and make intercession for us according to Romans 8:26, but verse 34 tells us that the Christ who died and rose again "is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." In the succeeding verses all the adverse forces are surveyed. Not only those which proceed from men, such as persecution and the sword, but also the far more terrible principalities and powers of darkness. Yet in the face of them all the Apostle triumphantly asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" We may sum up his answer by replying, No one! Nothing! Never!
When we come to examine more closely this present service of Christ we find that it falls into two main divisions.
The first is that of His priesthood, which is so largely developed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, In keeping with its great theme of approach to God. Our approach is based on the blood, but it is by the Priest (see Heb. 10:19-22). In order, however, that He may thus serve, much priestly work of another kind is His. He concerns Himself with the "infirmities" of His saints (Heb. 4:15), and in view of these infirmities He proves Himself "able to succour" (Heb. 2:18), able to sympathize (see Heb. 4:15), and "able … to save … to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25).
The second is that of His advocacy. Scripture says, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). As is well-known, the word here translated "Advocate" is translated "Comforter" in John 14, 15, and 16; the fact being that we have the Spirit of God here below as Comforter (or Advocate), and Christ above with the Father as Advocate (or Comforter).
As Advocate He charges Himself with our concerns, and especially acts in relation to our sins. He leads us to repentance concerning them, so that we confess them to God according to 1 John 1:9; He also is there before the Father on our behalf as the One who has accomplished propitiation, and thus, repentance and confession having taken place, the communion that had been disturbed by the sin is re-established.
Bear in mind, then, the following distinctions:
As Priest He deals with and counteracts the infirmities of His saints that He may lead them in their approach to God: as Advocate, He deals with the sins of His saints.
As Priest, He acts that we may not fall in spite of our infirmities: as Advocate, He lifts us up when fallen.
His Priesthood, in a word, has as its first object, prevention. His advocacy has as its object, cure.
In Christ's present ministry on high we have thus a perfect provision for our sojourn in weakness below. We are truly in the enemy's land and in the presence of his power; yet we may be maintained in the conflict against our foes, because sustained in our approach and nearness to God by the priestly action of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Should the Christian be silent in the presence of earth's great wrongs?
Ought he not to strive to put the world right?
It is hardly conceivable that the Christian should be silent and thus condone the wrongs. The point, however, is this: — when he opens his mouth against them, what is his object in doing so?
Have Christians been commissioned by God to set the world right? Are they set as kings upon God's holy hill of Zion to dispense judgment and justice in the earth? They are NOT. But a day is coming in which CHRIST will be, according to Psalm 2 and Psalm 72, and other scriptures. The putting of the world right will be quickly accomplished by Him at His second coming.
The prophets of old and the apostles of the New Testament were not silent as to the enormity of men's sins. But they made more of men's sins against God than of a man's sins against his neighbour, and they charged home those sins on men's consciences with the object of bringing them to repentance and thus into right relations with God.
If as the result of men getting right with God they altered their ways and so abuses were reformed it was indeed well. This, however, is a secondary consequence, and not the primary object of the Christian's witness.
There can be no harm in the believer doing all he can to improve things, can there?
Many useful societies exist, and he can help on their good work.
If a believer allows himself to be side-tracked from the main line of God's purpose for us, there is very GREAT harm indeed.
Here is an earnest child of God most zealously labouring at work God never allotted to him, a work indeed so utterly beyond his powers that it has been reserved for accomplishment by the mighty Son of God when He comes in glory with ten thousands of His saints. Is there no harm? There is in fact a double harm. First, the waste of energy in the pursuit of what is not God's present programme. Secondly, the neglect of what is.
The Church, composed of all God's saints, is on earth as a fortress in the enemy's land, or, to change the figure, is like an embassy in a foreign country. Are the officials of the British Embassy in Paris — from the ambassador downwards — in that city in order to improve French life? Do they conduct an agitation, or join clubs for political reform? They do not. They are there to look after the interests of their own King and country, and to rightly represent those interests in the eyes of the French people. To interfere with French affairs would be really an insult to the French people.
We Christians, being heaven's embassage, are concerned with Christ's interests. We represent Him. We do not meddle with world interests as though we were natives in the world-system, and not foreigners.
You would surely advocate that as we go through the world we should do all the good we can?
Certainly. The crux of the matter lies, however, in the question — and what good can we do?
A ship, let us suppose, is grounded on the Goodwin Sands in a gale and the seas are breaking her up. The sailors are already on the masts. The lifeboat draws near. The coxswain skilfully brings it alongside the doomed vessel. See! instead of removing the sailors by rope from the battered ship into the security of the lifeboat, the majority of the lifeboat men spring on to the wreck, hammer in hand, and with a bag full of heavy nails slung on their backs. They attempt with feverish energy to undo the sea's ravages and nail up her shattered planks. The coxswain protests, but they have an answer ready. Are they not doing all the good they can to the imperilled ship?
Possibly they are. But they have forsaken their true calling. They are lifeboat men and not ship's carpenters. Moreover, their puny efforts fail. Their nails are no match for the raging sea. Their work is destroyed, and the sailors, who might have been saved, are drowned.
Need we apply our parable? Do all the good you can: but what GOOD can you do?
What, then is the object of the service and activities of the Christian?
To save people out of the world, as the parable just used would indicate.
We cannot too earnestly press this point. Thousands of dear Christians are busy tinkering with the growing defects of the world-system. The oncoming tide of lawlessness and apostasy will submerge all their efforts, and meanwhile they are diverted from what they could accomplish, under God, viz. the saving of souls out of the world-system.
The mischief, however, does not end here. By these well-meant efforts they are themselves entangled to a considerable extent in the world-system; instead of taking their stand with Paul and saying, "The world is crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
When Lot "sat in the gate of Sodom" (Gen. 19:1), which means that he acted as a magistrate, he, being a righteous man, must have earnestly desired to assist in improving its fearful state of unrighteousness and immorality. He accomplished nothing save the wrecking of his own power to witness against it and the destruction of his family. "He seemed as one that mocked to his sons-in-law" (v. 14). He himself barely escaped at the last moment, without any power to deliver others. His very wife was lost, and though the angels did extricate his two unmarried daughters, they promptly involved their backslidden father in drunkenness and immorality — the very sins of Sodom itself.
What a story! How great the warning for us! Let us take heed to it.
We naturally shrink from conflict.
If we take up our true position is it inevitable?
Quite inevitable. We must make up our minds for it. Having unfolded to His disciples their true place on earth as His witnesses in John 15 and 16, the Lord closed with these words: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Tribulation, then, in one way or another, we shall have. We shall also have the mighty power of the risen Lord on our side. "All power," said He, "is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore … and lo, I am with you alway even to the end of the world" (Matt. 28:18-20).
If we deviate from His path, if we change His programme and ally ourselves with the world, can we expect to realize His power? No. The more truly we are obedient to His word and way the more that power will be at our disposal. He wields "ALL power," and that in both spheres: heaven, the seat of those evil powers which are against us; and earth, where they operate and where we are.
In Ephesians 6:12 the devil and his hosts are called "the rulers of the darkness of this world" — the Greek word for ruler being kosmokrator, or literally, "world-ruler"; i.e. they are the rulers of this kosmos — this ordered world system. But in 2 Corinthians 6:18 God speaks of Himself as "the Almighty," the Greek word being Pantokrator, i.e. the ruler of the "all-things" — the "universe" — and not merely this little "kosmos" in which we move and suffer.
Do we tremble in the presence of the mighty invisible rulers of the kosmos? Above them towers the Almighty — the Ruler of the universe. He is for us. The keys of His power are in the hands of Jesus. We may well be of good cheer.
How best may a Christian keep himself unspotted from the world?
By keeping much in touch with the Lord in heaven. The negative is secured in the strength of the positive. The greater includes the less.
The Christian is like a diver. He finds himself in an element utterly foreign to him. Why does a man don a diving dress if he wishes to spend half an hour at the bottom of the sea? Because he knows two things are necessary. Negatively the water must be kept out. Positively the air must be let in. Therefore he encases himself in an air-tight garment and sees to it that he has uninterrupted communication with the boundless expanse of air above. But if air-tight then necessarily water-tight. In securing the positive air supply the water is necessarily excluded.
If some one points out that after all the diver cannot keep up his own air supplies but is absolutely dependent upon a helper faithfully pumping down the air from above, we reply by affirming that this but increases the applicability of the illustration. There is, thank God, the ONE at the top, both Advocate and Priest, and His faithful services never fail.
But, then, like a diver, we are in the death-element of this world but for a time, and our business is not the cleaning up of the sea or its bottom but the extrication from its depths of the pearls that our Master values.