7 — The Church in Decay and Disorder

(Read Matthew 13:24-43; Acts 20:28-32; 2 Timothy 2:19-22)

The above scriptures all have a bearing upon the subject proposed for this evening, which is the decay and disorder in the church of God. There is decay so far as doctrine is concerned and disorder so far as moral and spiritual practices are concerned.

We have on a previous occasion considered briefly the founding of the church of. God at the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and we then saw a beautiful and striking picture of the new formation in Jerusalem that had been constituted in the Name of the Lord. We also saw that the small nucleus consisting of disciples of the Lord, baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, very quickly, even upon the first day, began to add to their numbers. The power of the Holy Ghost Who had come down was such that He wrought mightily through them for the blessing of others in the city, and men who had been betrayers and murderers of the Lord Jesus were born again through the word preached. They confessed faith in His Name, and they were added to those who were already together in Jerusalem.

Spreading Out From Jerusalem

And the word of God grew and multiplied still further, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea, Samaria and Galilee, and subsequently to the very ends of the known world at that time. In the first few years of the church's history, the spread of the gospel was undoubtedly phenomenal, but although the companies of believers multiplied so rapidly, although the numbers of individual saints increased so quickly, yet still they were all together in the same purpose, though not in the same place; there was a unity between them; they were one in the things of the Lord. They walked together in the truth, and acted together in faith and love; and throughout large districts, though there were many assemblies, there was but one church.

And, in view of this marvellous development, we might ask ourselves, Why did not this glorious work continue to spread and spread? If the church spread so rapidly in the first thirty or forty years of its existence, and it is now more than eighteen centuries later, how is it that by this time the whole world is not confessing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? If the church was one in those early days and growing apace in those early days, why is it that things are so different now? Instead of seeing those who name the Name of the Lord Jesus all walking together in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, we see that they are sadly divided and scattered, and that things are permitted among the saints of God and encouraged in the name of the Lord which we know to be of Satan and not of God. Many popular doctrines and practices are absolutely foreign to the character of our Lord and Master, and yet they are all ostensibly authorised under His Name.

If we close our Bibles, we shall be baffled by this great mystery, because apart from the word of God, the declension cannot be explained. There is no hypothesis to account for the contrast between the present days and the early days of the church, except what we find when we turn to the scriptures. There we find that the whole discreditable history was foreknown of God and foretold by the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, we learn that the reason why this failure in the church has arisen is the same reason that accounts for the failure recorded in Old Testament times. In those times, the people of Israel, when they were brought out of Egypt to Canaan, and were called to witness to the unity of the Godhead against the prevailing idolatry, forthwith began to worship idols like other nations. They were held responsible before God for this sin against the light, and were punished in consequence. The church, like the nation of Israel, failed in its responsibility, as man always does fail and dishonour God in the things which are committed to him. Do you regard this breach of trust by Israel and the church as a strange thing? If you do, you may not perhaps have rightly considered your own history; because I am bold to say that there is no one here tonight who is absolutely faultless in his own private life. Is there one here who would stand up and unblushingly declare in the presence of God that he has been absolutely true and faithful in all that has ever been committed to him, and that when he is called to give to the Lord an account of his stewardship he will have no excuses to make, no acknowledgments of failure, nothing to deplore?

From the beginning, everything that was committed to the hands of man became manifestly a failure, and was often grossly abused. And on this account we read right through the scriptures intimations of God's purpose to bring in the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, His own beloved Son. The last Adam will never fail in what is committed to Him. What our Lord Jesus Christ does abides for ever, it never deteriorates, it never decays, it is never subject to disorder, it never in any way brings dishonour upon God the Father. The work of the Lord Jesus is absolutely perfect and glorious to God, and this truth is an immense comfort to every one of us here tonight. Man has failed, miserably failed, and wickedly failed, and he is responsible to God for his unfaithfulness; but we can look confidently upon our Lord Jesus Christ and glory in Him Who never failed God as the perfect Servant in the work that was committed to Him to do. He did all things well, and to the glory of God.

The Lord's Work Perfect

Therefore, while we look upon ourselves with distrust and dissatisfaction, we look upon our Lord Jesus Christ with satisfaction and delight. We glory in His cross, and in His perfection and His fullness. We rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Now in connection with this subject of the church, the scripture makes it perfectly plain that whatever our Lord Jesus Christ does in connection with His church is perfect and always will be perfect. When the church is spoken of as Christ's work, there is no failure nor imperfection attaching to it at all. The Lord Jesus Christ said at the beginning, "Upon this rock I will build My church." He is going on with this building, and every living stone He adds to that spiritual edifice is perfect. The building is growing, stone by stone is being assembled, and the whole structure is rising up into a habitation for God, which will be flawless, and will be seen to be absolutely perfect.

Christ loved the church — here is the real motive; the whole church is before His mind and heart. The Lord knows each individual that is His, and forms part of His church. But He also loved the church in its unity and completeness, and gave Himself up for it; He lives for His church; He serves it on high; He cleanses it by the washing of water by the word. Then by and by, when it is all complete, He will present to Himself His church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The day is coming when the last member of the body of Christ will be added, and the whole church will be completed. Then Christ will take that church to be for ever with Himself.

Later still, when the Lord comes in glory to this world, the church in glory will accompany Him, by the grace and faithfulness of her Saviour. The world will wonder at those whom God will bring with Him. They will say, "These are sinners saved by grace, and there they are now right in the glory of God, absolutely perfect, without any failure." Where will you find anything in this world approaching that triumphant work of grace? The world cannot discern perfection and glory in the church today. You can search all round the world, but you will never find a church on earth which is comparable with that perfect, ideal church set out in the scriptures, the church which is His body, the fullness of Him which filleth all in all.

The Blotted Record of the Church

No! I have been saying that we cannot look around the world and find that ideal a perfect, blameless church. And when we turn to the scriptures, we find a record of failure even in those early days. Who were the writers of the Epistles we have in the New Testament? Were they not the apostles and prophets, the foundation of the church? And they wrote Epistles to the various churches. They wrote to Rome, to Ephesus, and to other places. What do you find in every Epistle? You find that the apostles had to set to work to correct disorders that even then existed in the church of God. Paul wrote to the saints at Rome, a place he had not then visited; he expounded the gospel to them very fully, but he had to correct their behaviour. The spirit of oneness in the truth, the spirit of the unity of the body in Christ, the spirit of caring in love one for another because they were Christ's had departed from them. Those who rightly thought themselves delivered from the prescriptions of the law scorned those who were not able to rise to the same degree of liberty in Christ Jesus.

Again, when you read the Epistles to the Corinthians, you find a flood of errors in this church. There, those who called upon the name of the Lord Jesus were suffering all kinds of evil things in the midst of the holy assembly; immorality was condoned in the midst of the church of God; the operation of the Holy Spirit of the Lord in their midst was made an occasion for men to display their pride of heart and their self-satisfaction, the rich setting themselves against the poor at the Lord's supper; some denied the resurrection of the body. The apostle had to correct all these things and more in the church at Corinth; and it was only about three or four years after he had founded that assembly that Satan effected an entrance there and these things of the flesh and the world were introduced into it.

Similitudes of the Kingdom

If you go studiously through the whole of the Epistles, you will find that the work of the apostles was not only to found the church and set it upon a stable basis as to doctrines and practices, but also to correct what was evil and wrong which even then had sprung up in their midst. Evil had come into God's assembly while the apostles were still alive.

What was it to our Lord Jesus Christ to see this beautiful house of God so quickly defiled? But the Lord Jesus Christ knew this beforehand, and I read those parables to you from the thirteenth of Matthew, wherein He speaks very clearly of this disorder. You may say you do not get the church there; that the church is not mentioned in Matthew 13; and that the Lord Jesus speaks of the kingdom of the heavens.

It is true that the church is mentioned for the first time in Matthew 16. And before the Lord says anything about the church, He discourses about the kingdom of the heavens. The Lord Jesus came from God to set up that kingdom, which should be like the kingdom of David His father, only better and more stable than that of the son of Jesse; but the people would not receive Him. He was in the midst of the Jews, a greater than Solomon, and He would have given them a dominion greater than Solomon's, wisdom greater than Solomon's, power and riches greater than Solomon's, but they would not receive Him. Have you ever heard of a kingdom in existence without a king? If a king is not acknowledged by his subjects, where is his kingdom? It must remain in abeyance.

In earthly government you associate the kingdom with a person who is ruling. The truth was that the people of Israel would not have "that Man" to reign over them. "We have no king but Caesar", they said to Pilate, "as for this Jesus of Nazareth, crucify Him, crucify Him. We will not have this Man to reign over us." The Lord knew beforehand that this refusal would take place, and taught His disciples accordingly. He said in effect that the kingdom of the heavens would, in consequence of this rejection, assume a specially strange and peculiar form. He said, as it were, I am going to heaven, and in My absence, the kingdom of the heavens will be formed of those who render allegiance to Me throughout the world. I shall not be present to reign over them; I shall not be seen by them. Those who call on Me, those who acknowledge My name, will constitute this kingdom. But it will not be like the future kingdom of Israel, when I shall sit on the throne of My father David and reign over Jerusalem. As a kingdom it will be unique in the world's history. So the Lord gave these similitudes which are in Matthew 13, and which all relate to the kingdom of the heavens, the first being introductory. They depict its new and peculiar features as compared with Old Testament teaching.

The Tares Among the Wheat

In the parable of the wheat-field, a man sowed good seed in his field, but an enemy came and sowed tares in the same field. And when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then the tares appeared also. The servant said to the householder, "What shall we do? Shall we root up the tares?" "No," said the owner, "let them grow until the time of the harvest." Here, therefore, you see the kingdom of the heavens depicted in this composite form. There is good and there is also evil side by side; there is a stalk of the wheat, there is a blade of the tare; both are growing side by side. They are similar in appearance; they resemble one another outwardly; but you will never get any good fruit from a tare. The good wheat will produce that which is the staff of life, but not the tare, though apart from fruit-bearing there is a close resemblance between them.

Now, the Lord explained that the tares are the sons of the wicked one, and the good seed are the sons of the kingdom. The Lord Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and therefore Satan is the great enemy of Christ; and in order to work harm to those that bear His name, the evil one places his own sons in the assemblies of God's people. Though in their nature so dissimilar, they are allowed to congregate together. During the period when they are growing in company, the Lord Jesus Christ does not cast out of His kingdom all things that oppose, as He will when the harvest, the end of the age, comes. Now the Lord Jesus is not on the throne of David. He is on the throne of glory, but not on His own throne to rule righteously on the earth, hence He does not interfere outwardly with the constitution of His kingdom. Those who name the name of the Lord in truth are found side by side with those who are under the rule of the evil one. And this mixed condition will persist until the time of discriminating judgment arrives, when the tares are gathered out and burned, and the wheat is gathered into the garner.

In the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, you find that the mixed condition which was portrayed in this parable had become a fact, and evil persons had crept into the church of God. They were there side by side with true believers. They sat together in the assemblies; they listened together to the teaching of the Holy Spirit; but they wrought evilly to the detriment of what was holy and true, because the sons of the wicked one can only exercise an influence which is evil.

Let me endeavour to make this distinction quite clear. This parable was not spoken as a picture of church condition and relationship. It is a similitude of the kingdom of the heavens, which consists of those who nominally own our Lord Jesus Christ. Some are included who do not really mean from the heart what they say and confess, but these unreal ones are mixed up with the children of God as they gather together. And this springing up of tares among the wheat is recorded in the early church history as given in the Acts and the Epistles. Wolves had even then entered in among the flock of sheep (Acts 20:29).

Birds of the Air in the Big Tree

But there is another similitude of the kingdom of the heavens to consider. The second one is that of the grain of mustard seed, which is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. The mustard seed, the least of all seeds, we saw when we were looking at the second chapter of the Acts. There were about one hundred and twenty disciples of the Lord together in Jerusalem, fishermen, simple folk; what could such a small company accomplish in the world? But although in men's eyes they were "the least of all seeds," they immediately began to grow in, strength and increase in numbers, and they continued to multiply until by and by they became a great tree.

The apostle, writing to the Colossians, speaks of the gospel having been preached to the whole world by that time; such rapid progress was a great and unexpected phenomenon, and a good thing for those who received the gospel. Consequently, this astonishing growth of Christianity was soon considered something worth taking notice of and worth taking advantage of by the world. You will remember that in the first of our Lord's parables, the seed that fell on the wayside was stolen by the birds of the air. They also could easily carry away the mustard seed, the least of all seeds, but when the seed became a tree, they could not carry the tree away, but they could roost in its branches. So people of the world, when the company of believers grew too numerous and strong to be ignored and despised, sought to use the new faith as much as possible for their own advantage and convenience. We know that in the history of the church this was the case. In the early part of the fourth century, the Emperor of Rome found that a great many of his soldiers were Christians, and that there were Christians in all parts of his dominions. As a matter of worldly policy he said, I will become a Christian myself, so that I can have their support. Then it was that the world and the church intermarried. The world abandoned its persecution, and took a prominent part in managing the outward interests of the church of Christ. The birds of the air found a lodgment amongst those who confessed the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This amalgamation formed an epoch in ecclesiastical history, and we know that right on to the present time the world has kept its footing in the church. The world not only holds the sceptre of direct control in its hand, but its indirect influence penetrates everywhere in Christendom. It takes up the things of Christ to use them for its own ends. Worldly men will not scruple to use the name of Christ in an advertisement of displays in a theatre, or of a picture play, or of anything of that kind. They argue that some will be attracted because the name of Christ is associated with their entertainment. This is but a single instance of the world making use of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to popularize its pleasures. The Lord warned against this artifice of Satan in those very early days before the assembly was formed.

The Leavened Meal

Now the next parable is very brief, but full of meaning, First, a man sowed seed in the field, then, a man sowed mustard seed: but now we read of a woman who took leaven and hid it in the meal. The Lord's word suggests secret dealing on the woman's part; the small piece of leaven was concealed in the three measures of meal. And you know the effect of leaven is to spread itself throughout the whole mass in which it is present. The three measures of meal became permeated by the leaven. There was no further effort by the woman; the leavening process went on of itself. The woman only had to put in the leaven, and the result was sure; the whole measured quantity of meal became leavened.

Leaven is a type of evil. "Beware", said the Lord afterwards to His disciples, "of the leaven of the Pharisees." Their teaching was corrupt and corrupting. Nothing spreads so rapidly amongst the children of God as leaven. If it is introduced into a company, it spreads throughout that company: "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump", the apostle said to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:6), and also to the Galatians (Gal. 5:9). He did not only mean that it will go on to leaven it, if not cast out. But the sentence also implies that the effect of the presence of leaven is to contaminate the whole lump, and that result is owing to the corrupting nature of the leaven itself. Unchecked evil has an insidious, permeating effect, destructive of what is good.

Ought we not even from experience to know that sin has this corrupting character? Have we never had the sad, humiliating consciousness of the poisonous effect of an evil thought or idea? Though, at first, but a germ, it is apt to grow and multiply within us. We may not desire its presence, but being there it works, it poisons the springs of action, it spreads throughout the whole life.

As this is true in the case of an individual, it is also true in the case of a company of God's people. No assembly is absolutely immune from the presence and corrupting influence of evil, which may arise either in teaching or doing. In the Galatian assemblies it was a question of evil teaching (Gal. 5:9), for they were adding law to grace, and those who were carried away by it had fallen from grace. Christ had become of no effect to them. At Corinth, the leaven of corrupt practice was at work; gross immorality was permitted; and its presence had its defiling effect on the whole assembly.

Ought we not to allow these word-pictures of our Lord to warn us of what the contaminating power of evil is effecting among the saints of God? We should watch day by day against the danger of defilement. Unless we take account of it, there is the possibility of being ensnared by it and carried away by it. You know how rapidly disease is spread from one to another; infection is easily and quickly developed and carried throughout communities. Men are taken unawares by the epidemic; and it is so also in the matter of evil among the saints.

Paul's Personal Warning

From the beginning the church has been subject to defiling influences from within and without, and we must not close our eyes to the facts. We find them here in the scriptures. Without dwelling further on these parables, let us refer to the address of the apostle Paul to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20). Paul was the great instrument that Christ used for spreading among the saints the knowledge of the church, which was communicated from heaven to him particularly. The risen and glorified Lord revealed the mystery concerning Himself and the church to Paul, the last-called of the apostles. The other apostles knew the truth, but it was particularly entrusted by the Lord to Paul, from whom they received it.

Here Paul is bidding farewell to these elders; he is going up to Jerusalem, and he has it particularly on his spirit to speak to these rulers of the assembly in Ephesus. He had put his whole soul into his work when he laboured there; night and day with tears he wrought amongst them. He was not a man who was in the habit of talking about his own service, but when he did speak in this way, it was for a special purpose, and we ought to follow carefully what he said.

Paul felt in his spirit he would never see their faces again, and it was pressing him that in his absence terrible disorder and declension would come into the church. What the Lord had predicted in His parables would take place; evil would enter and spoil the beauty and purity of the church of God. Accordingly, he warns the elders, those who were appointed especially to watch over and care for the saints at Ephesus. Seeing what was hanging over their heads, he speaks out of his love for them and for the assembly. He said, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."

Wolves Ravaging the Flock

What were the overseers to do in view of this impending calamity? They were to feed the church of God. What is the great preventative against the spread of evil? Feeding upon the word of God. If our hearts and minds are fortified by the word of God, we become protected against the evil that is around and that seeks an entrance. If we know the truth, we also know that what is not of the truth is a lie. If we have the truth, we do not need anything else. We do not need to study the peculiarities of the five hundred or more different sects in Christendom to find out what is real and true. If we have the truth, if we know the voice of the Good Shepherd, we are safe from the deceptive voices of strangers.

Feed the church of God! This was his reason: "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." What did the Lord in the parable say would come into the great tree? He said that the birds of the air would come in and lodge in the branches of the tree. His apostle said that grievous wolves would come in, not sparing the flock. Why do wolves come among the flock? They come to kill, and to scatter, and to destroy — to damage the flock as much as possible.

It is thus clearly foretold by the apostle that agents of Satan would enter the church of God. They are there now with evil intent. The protection against this danger is to give the sheep good food; feed them well, so that they are made strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Let them know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and they will be preserved from those terrible foes which have entered the church from the domain of Satan. Of course, wolves may appear in sheep's clothing to deceive before they destroy. Their presence is a constant danger, and the only safeguard is to exercise shepherdly care and feed the church of God.

The Rise of Party Spirit

But this is not the whole of the peril Paul foresaw. It was not only necessary to watch the doors and see that grievous wolves did not enter, but he also says "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." There would be trouble from an internal source. Some among the saints themselves would stand up and declare things not according to the truth of God, their object being to draw people after them and form a party. A man who can talk fluently, who can say pleasant things, who knows his power of pleasing men, is often very diligent in the hope that his hearers will gather around him as a company. At Corinth there was a party of those who said, "I am of Paul"; others said, "No, I am of Peter. Peter is the man for me." A third company said, "I am of Apollos." They made these little circles in the assembly, each called by the name of its favourite leader, not always with the approval of the "leader" himself.

The saints who were led away were wrong, as well as those who led them astray. But Paul is speaking of those who, instead of standing for Christ their Master, stood for themselves. They did not say, "Look at Christ"; they said, "Look at me, and follow my teaching", instead of following Christ. When we hear a person saying that today, we had better not follow him, because he is of those who are spoiling the church of God.

I know that these things about the corruption and failure of the church are not pleasant to hear, but I have not brought before you a tithe of what is found in scripture on this subject. I hope enough has been said to compel you to look further and further into scripture for guidance upon this important question. While the ideal church of Christ remains pure and holy as consisting of believers made so by His precious blood, not one of whom will be lost, but all will form part of His church in glory — while this is true, it is also true that in the professing church of Christ upon earth there is a state of general ruin and departure from primitive truth. Christendom includes all that which outwardly owns the name of the Lord Jesus, and there we find doctrines and procedure which are contrary to the holy Name of Christ and which are utterly condemned by His holy word. In view of this confusing condition of things every one who loves the Lord Jesus Christ will be inclined to despair and say, What am I to do? What is my responsibility? If there are evil doctrines and evil practices on the right hand and on the left, what is my responsibility to my Master?

Guidance for the Perplexed

Well, there is no need to despair. We may be sure that our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before the day of Pentecost spoke those parables depicting this state of degeneration, has also provided some guidance for those who want to do His will and serve Him. Surely I am not speaking to anyone who is without a real desire to please our Lord Jesus Christ? We may have had the melancholy experience of trying to please a number of people at the same time we find we cannot do it; and so some relapse into a selfish mood, and say, In the future I will only please myself. That is a very poor frame of mind to be in. We are here only to please our Lord Jesus Christ, and in pleasing Him we shall please our neighbour "for his good to edification." He is true to us; now then, are you going to be true to Him in assembly matters?

You say, what shall I do to please Him? Shall I just carry on with things as I find them? Shall I accept them as they are, because I cannot help them? I am not responsible for the present failure. I will do the best I can where I am. No, we are responsible to the Lord Jesus Christ to act upon His word, which we have. We know that He loves His church. We know that through grace we are members of His body, and that we belong to Him, the living Head. Therefore, surely we must be anxious to know His mind for us in this day.

I think we have ample guidance in the Second Epistle to Timothy with regard to these matters. This is the Epistle which deals especially with the last days, the final condition of the church, in which it will be found up to the time when the Lord comes. Is it not good for us that decay and disorder in the church began to take place in apostolic times? Because we have the light of God upon the confusion. We have the written word to shine in the day of increasing gloom and darkness. And we have this guidance here, in the passage I read from the second chapter.

The Solid Foundation

The first thing we notice in verse nineteen is a word of great encouragement. "Nevertheless", says the apostle, "the foundation of God standeth sure." He had been speaking about some of the terrible things taking place in the last days. Evil deeds and false teaching abounded then, and afterwards would increase. But Paul is rejoiced to remind himself and Timothy and ourselves that although what is committed to man fails, the foundation of God stands sure. What is of God abides unimpaired, and nothing can touch it.

And while this character of permanence is true with regard to church things, I think it is a very sound principle to have always in mind also as an individual believer. What the Spirit of God reveals to you of the truth never changes. Make sure that what you have is of God. Let it be thoroughly grasped in your own soul as before God, that what you believe and what you are associated with is of Him. Do not have your spiritual convictions from other people; do not have them even from your father and mother; but have them from God, and have scripture for them, and then you can go to your daily rest with a good conscience and peaceful mind. The foundation of God stands sure; and what was sure fifty years ago is sure now; what was sure in apostolic days is firm and steadfast still.

The foundations of the faith are being undermined and destroyed in these days. There are men who are devoting their whole lives and giving all their powers to the destruction of this holy word; and they in the name of the Lord seek to destroy the confidence of the children of God in the Bible. They teach that only little bits of the Book are true. But what is the good of the Book to simple souls, if it is only reliable in parts?

The apostle says, "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His." The Lord knows, and we can rest confidently on His knowledge. His eyes, those eyes of flame, search the heart and conscience. He seeks for real relationship with Himself. He alone knows those that are His in this congregation. I do not — you do not. But our great assurance in this day of shallow profession is our personal connection with the Lord Who knows us, and will eventually, own us publicly as His.

But there is another inscription upon the foundation, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ (the Lord) depart from iniquity." Apart from our own will and desire, we may become physically infected with some contaminating, destructive disease if we come in contact with it. It fastens itself upon us, and we are laid upon a sick bed. Similarly, we are in danger from the evil around us. We are to beware of its pernicious effect. "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."

The House of Disorder

Then the apostle takes up the figure of the great house. If we had time, we could look at the First Epistle to Timothy where Paul writes to the same man and tells him how to behave himself in the house of God, the church of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15). There he speaks of the true thing, but here it is something else, not the house of God. He calls it the "great house", because he cannot associate the name of God with a composite thing where evil is permitted to remain side by side with good.

When the Lord Jesus Christ went into, the temple in Jerusalem, He heard the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the cooing of doves, the rattle of coins on the money changers' table. He drove them all out and said, "They have made My Father's house a house of merchandise, a den of thieves", for they were cheating one another in the very courts of God's house, making it a convenience for their purpose. It was evil in the sight of the Lord; and here we find the church, the house of God, had become the "great house", having lost its character of holiness.

In the great house, there are vessels of gold, and silver, and wood, and earth. Those of gold and silver are the vessels proper to the service of the house of God. Nebuchadnezzar took them away from the temple at Jerusalem and carried them to Babylon, and Belshazzar brought them out at his great banquet, when he and his lords praised their gods out of God's most holy vessels, which were consecrated for the use of the tabernacle and temple. That night God judged his profanity. Belshazzar was slain, and Babylon was taken. Here there are not only vessels of gold and silver for the exclusive use of the Master, but also vessels of wood and earth which ought not to be there.

You may take a golden vessel and use it to dishonour. When Belshazzar used the sacred vessels at his idolatrous feast, they were put to a dishonourable use. Similarly in the great house, where the vessels represent persons, you may have a real believer in the Lord Jesus Christ doing something, perhaps happily though mistakenly, which dishonours the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord cannot approve of this service, because it is associated with evil. The golden vessel contains a libation to the gods. The good servant engaged in an unholy service is a vessel to dishonour, not to honour.

Purging Oneself to be Serviceable

The apostle says there are vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work. Need I dwell upon this verse; does it not speak for itself to each of us? My Master is good, and kind, and gracious and loving, and He died for me; and now I want to serve Him; but if I would serve Him I must be a vessel sanctified and serviceable. How can I be prepared for every good work? If I purge myself from those vessels which are to dishonour, then I shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's Use.

I cannot come to Him in His service as if nothing mattered as to, my personal conduct. I cannot go to Him, associated with something or somebody which I know to be wrong in His eyes. We often use this text as if it only applied to ourselves personally and individually; exhorting us to purge our service from everything selfish and impure. That is needful, but the passage goes much further than that. It is putting away not only what is defiling in myself, but also what comes from mixing with others. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use."

In the twenty-second verse you get the moral features that are proper to the service of the Lord. "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Here the association with pure hearts is enjoined. You remember the text in the tenth of Romans, "The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him", and so He is. Whether we have pure hearts or not, He is rich into us. If we call upon Him in the day of trouble, He hears. Have you not sometimes felt when you are delivered out of some trouble, that although you had forgotten Him, when you called upon Him you got His answer very quickly? How good of Him! But when it is a question of service, of association, of rendering a testimony for His name in the "great house", you must look for those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart, who have sanctified themselves, and you must follow righteousness, faith, love and peace with them.

By so doing you will purge yourself from those vessels which are to dishonour; you will leave them behind and have no more to do with them. There have been times in the history of the church when this purging has been done to a considerable extent. For instance, when people came out from the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, leaving the carnal and idolatrous worship behind and standing for the word of God and for justification by faith, that was a purging from vessels to dishonour on a grand scale. But today the Lord is calling us to hear His word, to abide by His truth, to keep ourselves clean, and our association pure. And His call is the more urgent for this special reason, that the Lord is very quickly coming. Ecclesiastical profession has become so evil now; the children of God and the children of the world are so mixed up that surely the Lord will not endure it much longer. Surely He Himself will come, and take away His church out of this mass of corruption  — take it to Himself. How long the Lord has waited for His church! Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it; all through these many centuries He has been patiently gathering out souls, one by one, for His assembly. He wants to complete that church and present it to Himself in glory.

If the Lord should come tonight and find you in public association with something contrary to His holy name, though the word of God has shown you that it is contrary to His truth, what excuse could you render to Him? Renounce such links with evil for His sake, because He calls for this sacrifice. Depend upon it, the Lord will approve and reward your faithfulness. Sometimes people refrain from such a step because, they say, "I have so much greater influence and power over others as I am and where I am; and I think I should lose this power for good if I give up my present connection." This specious plea will not excuse your disobedience to the Lord's word. Your service must take the second place. Then the Lord will use you in the way He thinks best. To bring this about you must seek to be a vessel to His honour, "meet for the Master's use."

Remember, no person ever yet gave up anything for the Lord Jesus Christ and regretted the sacrifice. The Lord, as has often been said, is no man's debtor. When a surrender is made in obedience to His word, He makes ample compensation. And how pleasing such acts are to Him! You remember that the Lord was in the court of the temple on that day when the poor woman put her two mites into the treasury chest. Oh, how He loved to see that act of self-renunciation, and to look upon the woman as she gave all that she had! It was a refreshing draught to our Lord Jesus Christ to behold this work of grace in her soul. He was soon to go to the cross, selling all that He had to purchase the costly pearl, His church. She, too, gave all that she had, though only two mites.

Beloved friends, the Lord is looking upon us, seeking that we should exercise some self-denial for His name's sake. In the midst of all the decay and disorder in the church, may we be desirous to respond to His love; and if there is anything contrary to His word and displeasing to Him in our personal ways or in our association, let us give it all up for His name's sake!