What is the Lord's present mind about your path and mine today? I find it in 2 Tim. 1:8, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner." The essential thing for us, at this moment, is the maintenance of what has been recovered. The direction for the Church-remnant, in her weakness and little strength, is "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," and never was it more needed than now. The watch-word for today is retention - holding fast - not recovery, excepting so far as we have been letting slip what we had. Let us not be dislodged from where the grace of God has set us. We are called upon, as never before, to stand our ground. Nor is the danger that confronts us the ruin. Why should that dismay us? It is too late in the day to allow ourselves to be upset by the ruin. We began with ruin - complete, total, irremediable ruin. We recognized the utter failure of the structure which Paul, the architect, reared, to start with, and have nothing to find out about it now that was not even better known and realized then. Remember, however, it is the house that is in ruin. It is the housekeeping that is a failure. It is in what has been committed to man that the confusion is, as always, so now. Ample proof of this is afforded in 2 Tim. 2, and there we go for divine instruction and guidance in the midst of it.
We find that everything in or about this edifice was in question, except the foundation, before ever Paul left the scene. Thank God, that stood sure then, and it stands sure now, whatever else may go. No matter what the confusion and evil, there is divine security. Still, all this is in relation to what man builds upon the foundation; it never touches what Christ builds. It is the visible profession. It is that which names the name of the Lord. But when it has reached such a condition as to be compared to a "great house," with vessels to dishonour as well as to honour there, what are we to do? We cannot put things right, nor can we put others right; but we can put ourselves right. I must begin with myself. "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." Whatever is iniquity I must depart from, and surely not the least in the house of God; not only moral or doctrinal, but ecclesiastical iniquity - "great house" iniquity.
Yet there is no direction to leave the house. That would be giving up the profession of Christianity altogether. I find vessels to honour there, and vessels to dishonour, and I have to distinguish between them, when the question at once arises, "How am I to be a vessel unto honour?" The Word of God answers, "If a man therefore purge himself from these (vessels to dishonour), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." There is no other way of becoming a vessel unto honour in such a state of things. I am not called to purge the house, nor to purge myself from the house, but from the vessels to dishonour in the house. The moment I have done this, I find others have done so before me. What is the path to follow then? I have to follow with those who have done likewise - "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
But this is the unchangeable character of our responsibility in the ruined state of the Church nominally, our conduct with regard to what names the name of the Lord, separation from the iniquity, and following with those who have separated. This, however, is negative, and is how I am to act with reference to the ruin. But this is not all. I have a responsibility, and I am bound to act with respect to that which cannot be ruined. I have a positive duty as well. Following is one thing, gathering is another. To what spot am I to follow with these? That is the point. I reply, to where the testimony of the Lord is. Gathering that God can own, is gathering to and with Christ, according to the testimony of the Lord. The snare of the moment, I repeat, is not the ruin which is unreservedly admitted and confessed, but lest the ruin should be misused to make us ashamed of what is above the ruin, for the testimony has to do with that.
The condition in chapter 3 is even worse than chapter 2. There we have the perilous times of the last days, whose most subtle feature, as has often been pointed out, is imitation. The number of imitations is, indeed, sad, and we suffer from them undoubtedly. Still, the existence of the imitations is not our special danger. They can be detected, and further, we may be protected from them; only what serves for the one will not suffice for the other. What exposes Jannes and Jambres, as has been well said, is life; but though life is excellent for detection, we must remember it is altogether insufficient for protection. Life is not union. It is short of the Church. It does not reach to the testimony of the Lord. Life, important as it is in its place (and we are not underrating it by any means), is no safeguard against our becoming an imitation ourselves; for that is what threatens us now, unless we are steadfast. Nothing will prevent us from that pass, as chapter 3 shows, except Paul's doctrine and all scripture, or, in other words, the unity of the Spirit, and the unity of the faith.
The ruin is beyond question. We owned it as our common sin and shame to commence with, and we do so still, but we found it our strength and blessing to have faith in that which never has been, or can be, ruined, and it is with this the testimony of the Lord is connected. Let us not be ashamed of it. The imitations, too, are manifest. We admit their existence as indisputable. But the snare of the enemy lies neither in the fact of the ruin, nor the fact of the imitations, but lest either or both should be wrongfully employed to shift us off the ground of God's church, and make us ashamed of the testimony.
What I feel so solemn at this moment is, that one of the most wonderful things God ever did for us, opening our eyes to see His present mind, and recovering to us what the testimony of the Lord is, should be the very thing we are in danger of losing. Bear with me if I seek to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance as to
WHAT THE TESTIMONY OF OUR LORD IS,
with regard to which Paul makes this touching appeal to Timothy, the servant of the hour, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner." I do not mean testimony to or about the Lord, though there has always been some special revelation with which for the time such a testimony has been connected. I refer to something more precise and definite than that. It is truly and literally what it says - the testimony of our Lord - that which the very lips of the Lord of glory uttered from the glory to the apostle Paul, and through him made known to us. Its main burden is the mystery which had been hidden from ages, and is essentially wrapped up in those wonderful words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" Not my people, but "Me." This is emphatically the testimony of the Lord, declared for the first time in Acts 9, to which were added other revelations from the Lord in glory about the Table and the Coming, as we shall see, but the blessed fact itself is its grand and glorious feature which is distinctive of the dispensation, and claims our earnest attention.
If we trace it up to this point, its peculiar character becomes marked, and stands out with singular clearness. Having died and risen, Acts 1 shows us the Lord gone up to heaven, and the testimony of the angels in view of His ascension was, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" In chapter 2 the Holy Ghost had come down from heaven, and we have His testimony through the apostles to the exaltation, as both Lord and Christ, of the One who had been crucified and slain, with an additional offer to the Jews, giving them the opportunity of receiving Him in heaven whom they had rejected on earth. But so far from repenting, and embracing the offer, not only had they refused Him on earth, but they do so also from heaven, and send the messenger after Him, in stoning Stephen to death, saying, "We will not have this Man to reign over us."
Then, not only have we the Lord gone up, and the Spirit come down, but now heaven is opened, and opened to us. It is no longer, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" Mark the change. Looking up "stedfastly into heaven" is henceforth the Christian's proper attitude, of which Stephen here is the pattern, as it is written, "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God."
Not only are the heavens opened; in chap. 8 the earth is closed. All question of His return to bring in earthly glory for the Jew is over when Stephen is martyred, and Jerusalem is to be done with. Accordingly the eunuch has his back on Jerusalem, and while reading the prophet Esaias comes to that portion, "His life is taken from the earth." The moment he sees water, he says "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" His life is taken from the earth, and I want to go out of the scene, too, he says. The Lord had gone up, the Spirit had come down, heaven is opened and the earth closed, now the time has arrived for the testimony of the Lord in chapter 9; not of angels, nor of the Spirit, nor of Stephen, nor of the eunuch; but of the Lord Himself.
Saul sees Jesus for the first time in heavenly glory, too resplendent for human sight. It is not Jesus known upon earth made Lord, but the Lord of glory who, as such, declares that He is Jesus. But for Paul where is He found on earth? In those who are His. Seen unequivocally as Lord in heaven, Saul asks "Who art thou, Lord?" "I am," replied the Lord, "Jesus whom thou persecutest." The saints were Himself, His body.
Thus we have, and that from the mouth and heart of the Lord Himself, the strongest expression of our union to Him - that He considers the feeblest member of His body as part of Himself. The Lord did not say, My people, My disciples, My servants, My friends, but "Me." He does not say "us," nor "Me and them," but "Me." The language was distinct enough, but the idea wholly new. Jesus of Nazareth, then in glory, had a body on earth. The assembly and God's house were thoughts familiar to every Jew, but now, for the first time this was expressed, that the closest union known to us existed between the Lord in heaven and His people on earth, viz., body-union.
Peter preached the Man of Psalms 110 and 2, but the testimony of • the Holy Ghost through him to a glorified Christ having been rejected by the blinded nation, the transition to Psalm 8 takes place, and Stephen sees Him as Son of Man, in the glory of God in heaven, not returning to Israel here below, but receiving the spirit of His faithful martyr above. Then comes out the testimony of the Lord to the effect that the Man of Psalm 8 was not complete without His body. As God, nothing could be added to Him; but as the mystical Man, He had to get His body before He could take the prophesied dominion. Consequently everything is in abeyance till this is accomplished.
This is the mystery made known to Paul, who preaches this Son of Man as Son of God, because it is not Christ, as the object of promise and prophecy, but Christ revealed in the fulness of His Person as Son of the living God, who is the foundation and Head of the Church, though it is to Him as glorified Man we are united, not as Son of God. How precious it was to speak of it thus from heaven, that saints on earth (for it was not from the "seated together" side, but as to persecuted ones here it was first revealed) should learn from His own lips their intimate union to Him in heaven. How blessed, too, as well as fitting, it was that He, who is the Head of the body, should Himself break the silence as to it, and be the first to announce the marvellous fact - from its Colossian aspect also, be it observed, the simplest way to apprehend it. The rejected Christ has a body on earth, over the members of which He watches with unremitting care, and all told out to our hearts in that little word from heaven, "Me:,
The doctrine of how this mysterious union was effected is afterwards taught by the vessel chosen for the purpose, viz., by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, showing that it existed before it was revealed, but no one knew it till the Lord first declared it. What we have here is the blessed reality itself. And mark its nature and character. Christ had prayed to His Father, in John 17, that His own might be one on earth, and we have the short-lived answer to it in that lovely picture of oneness in Acts 2:44. But that bright and happy scene, like Eden and innocence, soon disappeared, never to be seen on earth again. That was a unity, or rather, family oneness, which could not,
and did not, exist apart from its manifestation. When it ceased to be manifested, it vanished. But Acts 9 discloses a unity which does not depend for its existence on manifestation, but on the union of every part to the Head. It is a body, not a family merely.
There was a momentary exhibition of the oneness of John 17, when the multitude of them that believed were together, and had all things common, but it passed away as soon as they discontinued its expression, because it consisted in manifestation. This having hopelessly failed, the testimony of our Lord is about a unity that cannot fail, because it is the mystic Christ Himself - the "one new Man" of Eph. 2, the "so also is the Christ" of 1 Cor. 12 - He the Head, and we the members, making up one whole, just as my body is the complement to my head to make up a complete man. This exists in all its integrity, whether manifested or not manifested; but it is the privilege and responsibility of every member to act as one, and thus to express what he is, in common with the other members.
Come what may, we are not to be ashamed of this testimony of our Lord as to what He is to us, and we are to Him. It has been revealed. We have been born since it was revealed, and cannot go back to what was prior to its revelation, without sinning. We cannot excuse ourselves on the ground of ignorance. We never can be in the position of those who lived before it was revealed, and to go back to that, so far from being of God, would be of the enemy, whose effort has always been to divert from what is distinctive - which the principle of the body can never cease to be, since its revelation - till the Lord Himself comes. Let us never forget that what is special to the dispensation, is the power and testimony of the dispensation, and not what is common to all. Whatever God is most set upon, Satan most opposes; and faith in God can alone enable the faithful to surmount opposition, and give strength to maintain the testimony at any given time. The gravest question that can occupy your soul or mine, now, is whether we are answering to this urgent appeal
of the apostles. Satan will allow us to do any amount of active work, he will let us be earnest preachers, he will even take away opposition from the gospel, if we will only consent to compromise the testimony of the Lord committed to Paul. The delinquency of all them "which are in Asia," is the very danger of the hour - that tendency to return to a previous testimony, in order to escape the peculiar and exacting nature of this - the greatest of testimonies. The servant of today ought to realize that he has one duty, paramount to all others, and that is not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord nor of His prisoner, the chosen vessel of it.
Let there be no misunderstanding, We are not gathered to a truth, a charge that has been brought against us by the opposers of the testimony ever since a divine position was taken. We are not gathered to the body, we are gathered to Christ, on the principle of the body, which is the opposite of sectarian; indeed, nothing else is unsectarian. There may be those among ourselves who have so little apprehension of where they are, as to imagine they are gathered to the body as a mere doctrine or truth, instead of to Christ, the
Centre and Head, on the principle of something that is in living union with the Head, what the Spirit of God has actually made us, and not a dry theory. Such might as well be with a sect; but gathered to the body is one thing, and gathered on the principle of it to Christ is another; and we must be very careful not to allow ourselves, in this day of confusion, to abandon the only divine ground of gathering for this age, on any pretext whatever. Let us beware, in seeking to avoid one form of sectarianism, of rushing into another. For what is a sect? Being gathered on any principle other than that of the body, constitutes a sect.
Let us not deceive ourselves; we cannot be gathered in the truth of the body, if we go back to what obtained prior to the revelation of it. It would be nearer the truth, in that case, to say we were gathered in defiance of it. We assume nothing, we pretend to nothing. We simply recognize what God says we are, in common with all our fellow members, and seek, through grace, to act on it. Shun spurious imitations, avoid pretensions, and keep clear of assumptions, but let us be true to the principle of the Church of God, and not go below the Lord's purpose concerning us as the body and bride of Christ.
We have seen what the testimony of the Lord is in its primary and essential element, and the supreme importance of not being ashamed of it. But Paul had also fresh revelations from the Lord in glory respecting the Supper, and the coming of the Lord, so that the testimony of the Lord comprises the three things, (1) the revelation of the mystery, (2) the table as its expression in fellowship, and (3) the rapture out of the scene altogether. In fact, it takes in the whole scope of Paul's doctrine, which Timothy fully knew, and was instructed to hold fast, even to the form of sound words as learned from the apostle. . . . Thank God, whatever else may fail (and the house of 2 Tim. 2 has failed), the body of Christ cannot, because it is that which He nourishes and cherishes as His own flesh. The body consequently abides intact in all its integrity, whatever the confusion as regards its manifestation. It remains an unbroken, existing reality, to be expressed as long as the Spirit is here, and Christ is at the right hand of God, by all who have faith to own and act on it; and a feeble, but faithful remnant may find in doing so an excellency of grace not known at the first.
But that remnant must be a church-remnant - a bridal remnant, to be the one that God can acknowledge, for no company gathered on the ground of the filial relation only, could possibly meet the mind of Christ in this age, much less one calling on the name of the Lord, which merely goes the length of profession. If real, of course, it is salvation, but even that would reduce the Church to a mere aggregate of saved individuals instead of what it actually is - union and fellowship, over and above the thought of being saved.
Salvation is a thing which, though. complete in Christ, supposes in the heart of the person enjoying it personal exercises, which go on necessarily and exclusively in his own conscience, and which bring his soul into immediate connection with God, and without which, all relationship, all happiness - the very existence of spiritual life - would be impossible. If but one individual were saved, his salvation would be equally perfect and sure, but he would not be the Church, which includes an additional thought, a super-added relationship to that of saved individuals. Hence, calling on the name of the Lord, real or nominal, though the basis of profession, never was, or could be the basis of Church fellowship. Indeed, you have it as far back as Genesis 4, in Seth's time.
Basis is a vague term, as it may mean basis in the sense of foundation, in which case the Person and work of Christ is the basis of everything. Or it may mean basis in the sense of principle, that is, what they were gathered as. Now, all through the Acts, the basis of fellowship, in the sense of principle, was the reception of the Holy Ghost over and above life. It was not calling on the name of the Lord, which, except the quotation from Joel (chap. 2) as to the future, is only once referred to, and that by Ananias, in association with baptism (chap. 22:16) as the visible door of entrance into that which names the name of the Lord, and is quite distinct from the testimony of the Lord.
We must remember that at the beginning it was the Lord who added, not only saved, but added; and He knew what He was adding to, and on what principle He did so, even if they were so sectarian that, had their prejudices not been preternaturally overcome, they would have excluded all but Jews; only until the fresh offer to the nation had been finally rejected, He did not see fit to disclose it. Yet, whether it were the 120 as the original formation, and the consequent adding of the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost, the subsequent inbringing of the Samaritans, the still later introduction of the Gentiles in the household of Cornelius, or, lastly, the believers at Ephesus, every question of fellowship was decided by the reception of the Spirit of God. What settled the letting in of the Gentiles was, they "have received the Holy Ghost as well as we." After all, that was virtually membership of the body, because from the baptism of the Spirit, in Acts 2, the fact was there, though not revealed for wise reasons till chapter 9, while the positive doctrine is to be found alone in Paul's epistles.
The testimony of the Lord concerns a divine unity, having a divine basis, accomplished redemption; a divine Centre, the Christ of God; a divine principle, that of the body; a divine power, the Spirit of God; a divine Authority, the Word of God; and composed of all those sealed by the Holy Ghost. It exists today for us to observe, and its expression in fellowship is on the same principle as ever, and acting on it - if only two or three, we can count on His presence, and find His blessing. He expects us to be true to Him, and acknowledge the united relation, into which He has brought us to Himself. The house-keeping has been a miserable failure, but the vital unity remains, and the bride, in company with the Spirit, can say "Come" to the Bridegroom, notwithstanding failure, scattering, and general confusion. It does not affect the reality of the relationship one iota.
Let us not, then, be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of Paul, His prisoner, but be found strenuously maintaining it to His glory, keeping rank, and standing shoulder to shoulder, in the witness of a good confession of that which is nearest the heart of Christ in this evil day. W. S. F.