Our experience confirms what the Scriptures clearly indicate, that our tendency is to drift away from the truth. It has been so from the very beginning and we are no better than our forerunners in the faith. The Hebrew Christians were warned to give earnest heed to what they had heard, “lest haply we drift away” (Heb. 2:1, R.V.), and the Ephesian church, said to be Paul’s brightest work, was charged by the Lord with having left its first love. Look where we may we see this drift, this this falling away, and every one of has had his part in it. We need to pray earnestly and sincerely the prayer made for the sons of Korah, “Wilt Thou not revive us again: that Thy people may praise Thee?” (Ps. 85:6). The word “revive” in that prayer is really “recover.” It describes our need and reveals our drift; nothing will avail but recovery. Let us cease to talk about the truth being recovered for us, it only fosters spiritual pride, and let us desire and pray that we may be recovered to the truth, for it is we that have drifted away from it, and not it from us.

John says. “I heard a great voice as of a trumpet” speaking to him: it was the voice of the Lord, and it said “write unto Ephesus … Thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen and repent.” It is a word for us as much as it was for them, and it should solemnise us and humble us; and yet there is encouragement and hope in it; for the Lord would not call upon His people to repent if the door of repentance and recovery were not wide open for them. We may pray with confidence, if our pride is humbled and judged and we feel our need, “Wilt Thou not recover us again?”

There have been gracious recoveries in the past, for God will ever be true to Himself, and if He gives a revelation of Himself and that revelation becomes His testimony to His own people and theirs to the world, He must labour to recover them when they drift away from it. This is plainly taught in the history of His people Israel in the Old Testament: it is equally true today.

The recoveries may have affected comparatively few, a remnant of the people and not the mass, but it has been said, and it is worth recalling, that “a remnant has the brightest features of the original” This is true. We have an instance of it when the foundation of the temple of the Lord was laid by the returned remnant of Israel from Babylon. “They set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals; to praise the Lord, after the order of David king of Israel. And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord saying, For He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord” (Ezra 3). Then there reappeared the best features of Israel’s brightest days. It was the same high note of praise that sounded forth when the glory of the Lord filled the temple in Solomon’s day (2 Chr. 5). The prayer for the sons of Korah was answered, God recovered them and they praised Him for His goodness and enduring mercy.

We of this most highly favoured church period can only measure our drift from the truth and the depth of our fall by remembering the brightest days, and for this we must go back to the beginning, Paul’s first epistle to the church at Thessalonica was the earliest of his writings and it was sent to a band of believers who were in the full vigour of their first love. In it he rejoices that they were ensamples to all that believed and that the Lord’s return was to them a living hope, for they were waiting for God’s Son from heaven but most striking of all is the joy that rings in his words “From you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything.” Like those who were scattered abroad from Jerusalem at the persecution that arose after the death of Stephen, they went everywhere preaching the word. No church answered more thoroughly to the Lord’s mind as expressed by Paul than that at Philippi, and in the first chapter of his epistle to them he thanks God for their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (v. 5), he rejoiced that “in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, they were all partakers of His grace” (v. 7), and his desire and prayer for them was that this might continue and that their whole lives might be as becometh the gospel of Christ and that they might stand last in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (v. 27).

It was to the saints at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus that Paul unfolded the highest of all the truth committed to him, and for them he gave thanks without ceasing for their faith in the Lord Jesus and love to all the saints (Eph. 1:15-16). Here then are some of the brightest features of the church’s brightest days. They went everywhere preaching the word and their love flowed out to all the saints; the coming again of the Lord was a living hope and their lives were in accord with that sanctifying hope.

Behind all this of course, there was the love of Christ that passes knowledge and their response to it. How do we compare with these bright features? It is a question that we must answer individually, for the word is “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” and it is a question for the assemblies. Who will say as he considers them that we do not used the solemn words, Remember, Repent?

Church history is chiefly the history of drift from the truth, yet God who has called us to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful, and there has always been some light in the darkness, and again and again He has recalled His saints to the truth and delivered them from the enslaving traditions of men. These recoveries have always been when His Word has been given its true authority over the consciences and hearts of His own, and what is merely traditional has been refused. The Word is living and operative, it gives life and maintains it and where earnest heed is given to it it preserves the feet from slipping. There never was a time when we needed more, “What say the Scriptures” than now. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 should teach us this.

No one is likely to deny that in the early years of last century God gave one of these gracious recoveries. An “Irish clergyman” realised as he read the Word that his Head was in heaven, and that united to that same Head and to each other by the one Spirit was every believer on earth. Then the truth of Christ and His assembly broke as new light, though it was old truth, upon many, and it was impossible for them to maintain their sectarian positions which they saw to be a practical denial of the great truth that there is “one body and one Spirit” one Head, one body; “one flock, one Shepherd.” This great truth made those who realised its meaning seek out their brethren, fellow-members of the one body, to impart to them what they had learnt. They could not keep this that was for all to themselves. And along with this, the gospel in its simplicity and fulness and power stirred them to carry it forth into a needy world. The truth of the church for all the saints, and the gospel for all the world was their outlook certainly, a God-given, scriptural outlook. That two features along with an earnest looking for the Lord’s return and lives consistent with it were the brightest features of the original reappearing.

But how do we stand today? Where are these bright features of the original in evidence today? Surely we must feel, if our hearts are sensitive to the Lord’s obvious desires for His own, that we need to hear afresh the words “Remember, Repent.”

It is easy to become occupied with the effect of the truth than with the truth itself, and here the drift begins. The endeavour to perpetuate the effect of the truth instead of giving earnest heed to the truth itself is a subtle snare and leads to the imposing of forms and practices that sectarian zeal can glory in, but which cramp and hinder the activities of the divine life in and through the saints, and bring in dearth and death. Recovery to the truth does not consist in rigid rules but in such a revival of divine life and health in the members of Christ’s body that will make them rally afresh to the testimony of the Lord; it will express itself in whole-hearted fidelity to Him, and in love one to another, and it will reach out in spite of barriers that have not the Divine sanction to all the members of that body for the edifying of which Christ, the glorified Head has given gifts. How wonderful is the Divine thought, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things which is the Head even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly framed together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). To have lost sight of that and to be thinking only of a special community is to have drifted from the great truth of the mystery.

Thank God, He will never abandon His thoughts as to His saints. He is faithful and will bring all those thoughts to pass in His own time and if we desire to be experimentally and practically according to His thoughts He is able to make us so, He knows how to recall the heart and restore us to the joy of the brightest day. This may not be done in a moment for God’s way is to produce heart searchings and self-judgment. He “dwells in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to recover the spirit of the humble and to recover the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 51:15). To be brought thus face to face with God and to learn His faithfulness and grace is an experience that gives an unshakeable confidence in Him, no failure can daunt the one who has known it, for the lesson has been learnt that God’s faithfulness is greater than the failure of man and that He holds and can maintain the truth in His own divine power. Our part is to turn afresh to His Word and obey it and His ward to us is “Remember, Repent.” “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.”

J. T. Mawson