1867 257 Our first duty, I doubt not, is this, to acquaint ourselves with our condition in the dispensation. We are not only to know the character of the dispensation itself, but its history and progress.

In order to attain this, we must distinguish between a state of apostacy and the act of divine judgment.

Kingly power, for instance, in Israel was not apostacy, but divine judgment. It was the fruit of sin or of a revolted heart, I grant. But its presence in Israel was only divine judgment.

So, the division of the tribes afterwards. This also, was judicial, the punishment of sin, but not, in itself, a state of apostacy.

The captivity in Babylon was of like character. The fact of Israel being captive there was the witness of divine judgment, and not of itself, apostacy. Now, according to all this, I read our present condition. The scattered lights, the fragments of the candlestick, is a condition of things which has come from unfaithfulness, most surely; just as kingly power, the division of the tribes, and the Babylonish captivity, were the fruit of sin in Israel.

But, like them, the present broken condition of the saints is a divine judgment.

But upon this I further say, it is always obedience to accept the punishment of sin, or to bow to the judgment of God. Not to do so is rebellion. (2 Chron. xxxvi. 13; Jer. xxiv.) To make efforts to escape from such judgment is but adding sin to sin, as in the going up to the mountain, after pilgrimage of forty years in the desert had been judicially awarded. (Numb. xiv.)

Therefore David, for instance, rightly owned kingly authority in Saul; the prophet Elijah, for instance, owned the sceptre of the ten tribes apart from the throne in Jerusalem; the godly remnant bowed to the sword of the Chaldean, Persian, Greek, and Roman, in their several seasons, as Jesus Himself did in His day. In like spirit, I doubt not, we are to own the divine judgment in the present broken condition of the saints.* Here, however, another duty arises, for we are still to distinguish things that differ — we are not to add sin to sin.

[*I would not join any uncomely assumption; it is a refusal to accept the punishment of the candlestick's sin.]

King Saul used his power in such a way that the righteous were driven out. The head of the ten tribes acted as an apostate, and the righteous had to refuse his calves at Bethel and Dan. The Chaldean demanded the worship of his image, and the righteous, who had before bowed to his sword, suffer death rather than bow to his idol. So, as to ourselves. While we accept the present dismemberment of the saints as a divine judgment, and must not sin by refusing such punishment; neither, however, must we add sin unto sin, by not walking according to that light which we have, or by consenting to the apostate actings around us, in the place of the divine judgment.*

[*We have a beautiful illustration of these principles in the conduct of the returned captives. They own the Persian power, and take favours from it, in that way accepting the punishment of sin and bowing to the judgment of God. But they will not admit of intermarriages with the heathen, or strike hands with the Samaritans, for such things would have been evil compliance, and contrary to the light of the Lord.]

Then again, having found out the present state of things, or our condition in the dispensation, it is our duty neither to refuse to do what we can, nor to affect what we cannot.

The captives in the book of Ezra, returned from Babylon, acknowledged their want of Urim and Thummim. (Ezra ii. 63.) Nor do they imitate the cloud and the glory, or affect to make something and call it the Ark. But they do what they can. They build the city walls, and the house of God, they keep the feasts, and order the Sabbath. And the prophet seals, I may say, the rightness of all this, telling them, as from the Lord, that His Spirit was with them as with their fathers at the exodus. (Hag. ii. 5.)

So, their brethren before them, who had lived, and it may be died, in Babylon, in like mind, take knowledge of their condition, and do what they can, without affecting more. They refuse to sing the songs of Zion there, and hang their harps upon the willows. Their condition admits of no more, and no more will they attempt.

So, as to ourselves. We should enter, for instance, on 1 Cor. xii. — xiv. in kindred spirit and intelligence. We are not to imitate those chapters, or play the part of Corinthians, as though we had all the gifts of Corinthians. Nor are we to assume to be the only light in our place, as the Church then was at Corinth. But we must have faith to know this, that the scattering of the lights or the judgment of the candlestick is not the withdrawal of the Spirit from His temple, the gathered saints. We must hold to God's principles in the judged place or the scene around us. In typical language, we bow to the sword, but not to the image of the Chaldean, we own the head of the ten tribes, but not the calf at Bethel.

We are not to expect, it may be, such corporate power as would have been, had no divine judgment come upon the candlestick; but we are not to be a body or congregation without faith to regard it as a habitation of God through the Spirit, with power to order and feed it in the Spirit.

And again, as we are not to surrender God's principles to the corruptions around, neither are we to give them up because of some disappointed efforts in asserting them. "Let God be true, but every man a liar." The light of the Lord must be borne aloft and apart. We are to distinguish things that differ. We are not to give up principle because it is hotly assailed, neither are we to do so because it has been poorly and faintly illustrated. The principle outlives a thousand disappointing attempts to exhibit it. The light is not [to] be judged because of the soiled lamp through which it may shine. We are no more to identify it with that than with the darkness around. I may be grieved and disappointed that the candle has been, as it were, under a bushel, but I am to remember that it is a candle still, able to give light to all that are in the house.

And though disappointed in the house of God, in the candlesticks of the sanctuary, it is a comfort to know that the perfect order and worship of that house waits till the inheritance be reached, and we are at rest from all enemies about. (Deut. xii. 8–12.) So was it in Israel. Worship in its fulness waited till the peaceful day of Solomon. Then the house was built, and sacrifices, and offerings, and joy before God marked the time as well as filled the place where He had set His name for ever. (2 Chron. i. — vii.) So Revelation xxi. 9 — xxii. 5 (which is our 2 Chron. i. — vii.). The building of God shines in its glorious beauty, and all is temple, and the worshippers worship. God has His congregations and His worship now, it is true, as of old He had His sanctuary at Shiloh and His altar at Gibeon. But we wait for such in their perfection, till the rest and inheritance be reached; and a comfort to know that God waits for it till then also. (See again Deut. xii. 8–12; 1 Chron. xxii.)

And still further. I know that it is the proper business of light, or of the renewed mind, to prove what is the acceptable will of God, and that too in all things. (Rom. xi. 2; Eph. iv. 10; Phil. i. 10; 1 Thess. 5:21.) But still we are to distinguish things that differ, I doubt not, as in the following manner, and by the following rules.
1. The faith of God's elect is to be required. If it be not at the first confessed (2 John 10), or if it be afterwards abandoned, fellowship is to be denied.
2. The holiness of God's house is to be required. If it accompany not the confession of the faith, fellowship in like manner is to be denied. (1 Cor. 5)
3. The discernment of divine principles is not to be required in all things. As far as we discern them, we must act on them; but such a discernment being a matter of spiritual attainment, we are to bear with different measures* of it.

[*The word is, of course, the test of truth; but it does itself, in certain cases, make the conscience or judgment of the saint the rule of conduct. (Rom. xiv. 14.) This gives individual conscience or private persuasion a high authority.]

This division of subjects is very simple. It involves, however, practical and needful admonitions for this day of division and disturbance, and is good in guiding us wisely in our communion with others.

But further still. I believe it is right in us to hold the divine idea of the assemblies of the saints much before the mind. They are called "an habitation of God through the Spirit," and are, therefore, sacred spots, had we but faith to discern them duly. But we eye them too much with the eye of sense. We know them rather as we see them than as we are taught about them. We read them according to the writing of flesh and blood, and not according to their description under the pen of the Holy Ghost. We are disappointed in the exhibitions they make, and this is a godly sorrow; but we should also delight ourselves in the brightness and purity which belongs to the idea of them that is ever before the mind of God.

This idea may be discovered in its great features from the light of different scriptures.

1. This "habitation of God" is not mere stonework, however carved and polished, even like Solomon's temple, but formed of materials quickened or instinct with the life of the Son of God Himself. As Peter says, "to whom coming as unto a living stone, ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house."

2. God Himself is there through the Spirit. He is at home there — "the house of God, the church of God." And as He says of such temples or assemblies of saints, "I will dwell in them and walk in them," He is either resting there or active there. If the house be silent, He is dwelling there; if it be stirring, He is breaking the silence in the energies of the Spirit, as if it were letting the walk or footsteps of the Lord be heard in His courts.

3.This habitation of God through the Spirit answer the sublimest ends and purposes which the mind can conceive — as we may thus see —
(1.) There is conducted the worship of God, "a holy priesthood" being there "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter ii.)
(2.) There is dispensed nourishment for the saints growing up into Christ in all things, the highest richest destiny to which a creature could be appointed. (Eph. iv. 15.)
(3.) This teaches angels, instructs the natives of heaven in the manifold wisdom of God. (1 Cor. xi. 10; Eph. iii. 10.)
(4.) This subdues the proud and hard heart of sinners. (1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25.)
These are some of the features of the Spirit's idea respecting the "habitation of God."

But let me add, that to entitle any gathering to be regarded, it is needful that it should present itself as having come to Christ as a stone "disallowed of men," and also, as a place, where "the holy priesthood" is commensurate with "the spiritual house" (see 2 Peter ii. 4, 5). I feel that I could not regard any gathering as an habitation of God through the Spirit which did not, according to this, take its distance from the world or from man, and own all the members of it equally within the priesthood as within the house or gathering itself.