1 Corinthians 1: 9
Revelation 1: 12-16; 2: 1
Exodus 32: 15-29; 33: 7-11
2 Timothy 2: 19-22
I would like to say a few words about the church and our pathway in these days. I am aware that this subject may be a difficult one and in many cases a painful one; nevertheless, I feel the importance of an opportunity like this to say a few things clearly, if I can. It would be wise to say that I speak of principles, and do not intend to make any statement on any specific situation whatsoever. We speak of divine principles.
So I have started in 1 Corinthians 1 and, at the beginning of where I read, it says, “God is faithful”. That is a good place to start. Much of the public history of the church deals with our unfaithfulness. It is a great comfort, I think, to see that God is faithful, and we start with that. He is also full of grace. History has shown that, but we stick to the scripture: it says that He is “faithful”. We begin with God. He is faithful. There were many things in Corinth that Paul had to address that were not according to the standard as they should have been, but he begins with this: “God is faithful”. Then he says, “by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of his Son”. That is everyone. It is a thing to state clearly: it means everyone who has believed, all believers, every single one of them. This is the thing seen from God’s side. That means that if you are a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been called into a collective position, the church, and it is God who has done it, and He might renew that call to us today. We have been called! Then he tells us what it is called: it is “the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”.
As far as God is concerned there is one church. You say, ‘Well, there are many; there are hundreds’. There are not. There is only one and it is called “the fellowship of his Son”; it carries His Name, the name of “Jesus Christ our Lord”, and if you do not follow any more that I say, you can maybe take that away to think about: there is one church. There has only ever been one. It was founded when the Spirit came at Pentecost. The Lord Jesus, having gone on high and been glorified, begged the Father and the Spirit came, and He founded that church. At that time “the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” was formed, and you are called into it; we are all called into it.
You might think about when the many denominations were founded, when they began. You can find lots of actions of men and women, and many of them used of God. You can go back and you can find interesting details about the history of people active in the church, but they did not form the church; God founded it; and there is only one. I want to try to say these things as clearly as possible. Paul says, “For other foundation can no man lay besides that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3: 11): one church; one foundation, which is Christ, one Lord; one Spirit, and one body; many members, but one body. These things are great divine truths.
The other thing is that there is a collective position, the church. Someone may suggest, ‘Well, these things await another day’. I do not believe it is so: “ye have been called”. This great entity, “the fellowship of his Son”, exists today. It is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God Himself, and it is one body. You might ask who it consists of? I would go with the definition that we take from 1 Corinthians 12, that it is all those who have the Spirit: “For also in the power of one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit”, v 13.
It is not only called “the fellowship of his Son”, but it is “the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”. It has that name and it does not have any other name. I would not want to put any other name on it. I would not like to try to attach any other kind of distinction to it. It has distinction enough, and that is what I belong to. It is “the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”, and that means that His lordship comes into it. In the church, Jesus Christ is Lord. That means He has rights over it. He is the Head of it; it has no other head; He is the one glorious Head of it; and He is the Lord, “our Lord”. Paul claims Him; he puts possession into the title, “our Lord”. Can we say that as a company here in this room? We could own that, could we not? It is a great thing to own Him, “Jesus Christ our Lord”. What that means is that His rights have to be accorded to Him. That is true, is it not? You would like to accord His rights to Him?
I would add that the rights of the Lord have to be paramount, so that in any decisions I take, any moves I make, I put His rights above any other, especially my own. So if I have any thoughts about what might suit me better, what I might find more fulfilling or anything like that, I would say; first make the rights of the Lord paramount!
It is “Jesus Christ our Lord”, and we have a picture of Him in Revelation 1. This is a picture of the glory of Christ, the great glorious Head of His church. He is the One who has “eyes as a flame of fire; and his feet like fine brass,” - the note says ‘shining’, like ‘shining brass’ - “as burning in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters; and having in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword going forth; and his countenance as the sun shines in its power”. It is a picture of the glory of the Lord. He is the One whose rights in His church have to be paramount.
What I would draw your attention to is that, in the beginning of chapter 2, He is the One “who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps”. Have you thought about Him in that way? There are many things you can say about the Lord’s position now: He is on high; He is seated on His Father’s throne, a place of glory, of permanence, of power; He is also coming and coming to you; He is also the One “who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps”. These seven lamps are the seven assemblies - a picture of the church left here in responsibility. That is the situation. The Lord Jesus has gone above and the church is left down here, responsible to Him. He has not turned His back on it; He has not left it to its own devices, not caring what happens to it. How could that be? It is the “pearl of great value” (Matt 13: 46) for whom He gave Himself. The Lord Jesus is the One “who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps”, and nothing is hid from His gaze, and His rights need to be attended to.
In these addresses to the seven assemblies, you find that mixed conditions have arisen in the church; I speak now of the church as that which professes His Name. If you look at all the different denominations that there are, you will find the Name of Jesus professed there, and the whole scene is very mixed; and the Lord Jesus is walking in the midst of the lamps. This is the day we live in. The church publicly has failed “our Lord” in its responsibility, and we carry that, and we should feel it. It is not something that we are not part of. We cannot say, ‘That applies to them over there; it does not apply to me’. We are part of the breakdown, part of this ruined situation. There is a picture of it in Exodus 32.
We have authority to apply the scripture in Exodus because the writer to the Hebrews quotes it in the New Testament: “therefore let us go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach”, Heb 13: 13.
The first thing here is the people say, “this Moses … we do not know what is become of him!”, Exod 32: 1. Moses had gone up the mountain. It is like Jesus who has gone on high, and they say, “we do not know what is become of him!” I know where He is: He is walking in the midst of the lamps, but they say, “we do not know what is become of him!” Do you know where the Lord is? Are you interested in where He is? Are you interested in His rights and what is due to Him, or do you think we just have to carry on and do the best we can without Him? He is available. He is living and present and interested and caring, sensitive to the state of things, and I think it is right that we should be sensitive too. They say, “we do not know what is become of him!” and so what they do is they take matters into their own hands. That is what has happened. That is what has happened in the public church. In the scene where the church is left in responsibility, men have taken things into their own hands. I do not make detailed accusations, but you can see it, persons going on with unscriptural things, teachings which might shock you being accepted. We can see it in our own history, the way we have come, things that should never have happened being allowed. That is what has happened. Things have been taken into human hands, and men have devised some kind of human arrangement to make do because they do not know where Christ is.
What happens is that the anger of Moses burns, and it says in verse 26: “And Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me”. The risk was that everything was going to be lost. When you read the chapter through, and read the history, it feels as if there was a danger that everything would be lost. God threatens judgment on the people, but Moses stands in the gate of the camp and he says, “He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me”. There is a rallying call and, in His grace, today, there is still a rallying call from the Lord: “He that is for Jehovah” - or ‘he that is for the Lord’. Could that be a call to you and me today? Are you for the Lord? Do these things matter to you? How much do you feel them? How much do you feel the fact that men in Christ’s church have taken things into their own hands? Moses says, “He that is for Jehovah, let him come to me”, and these people, the sons of Levi, “gathered to him”. I do not say much about what they did. We are not called to take up arms in our conflict, but the point about this is that they were decisive; they were convicted. At the call they were convicted of the need to do something. I long for that more in my own heart, to be decisive, to be firm about where I stand in regard to these things. I believe the understanding of these things with us (possibly particularly those of us who are a little bit younger) is lacking and I feel that in myself. These sons of Levi were decisive in responding to the call.
Then the Lord does something. Moses, who is a type of the Lord Jesus here, took the tent of meeting, the place where God was to be met, the place where the presence of God was to be enjoyed, and he pitched it outside the camp. It says, “far from the camp”. The things that were going on in the camp were far from what is right, far from it. Moses knew that; the Lord knows it. He pitched the tent far away. So what was the call? The call here was that “every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting”. What does it mean? It means that we are called to follow the Lord. It means that we are called to leave every institution and arrangement which is of men and go out to Him. That is what it means. It is all of the Lord’s grace that there is a provision for a day like we are in. The breakdown is so grievous, but the Lord’s grace is active in this, and Moses moves like the Lord Jesus to make a provision. A provision has been made, a way has been made for us to find the true privileges that are to be enjoyed in the fellowship of His Son in 2013.
I know these things are not new to us, but they are so important. The Lord’s grace is active, and the tent has been put outside the camp, and the call is to go out. Hebrews says, “therefore let us go forth to him without the camp”. That is what we must do, and that is the ground that we take, and we need to understand it because things will come up that are difficult. Even some of the younger ones here will have questions like, ‘When somebody says, what church do you belong to, what do I say? Why does it not have a name? Why do I not call it the local Manchester something or other?’. It has been said that, if we could find Peter and John today and we asked them which denomination they belonged to, their answer clearly would be, ‘None of them’. That is the position. That is the pathway. As soon as I take some other name, I am making something else, something of man’s devising. I do not want to make anything else. You can see in the context of this scripture in Exodus how ridiculous it would have been for the men and women who were faithful, who sought Jehovah and went out of the camp, then to proceed to make another calf. It does not make sense. They are leaving the camp to get away from that. That is what Henry VIII did: he made some comments about the failures of the church of Rome and the pope, and said he was leaving it all, but all he did was he made another church, and put himself at the head of it; and it was little different from the one he left. He did not leave the camp; he made another calf. We need to take care we are not making something else. We cannot leave the camp and then make another human institution. We need to take care that the Lord’s rights in this are paramount.
I feel we need to be decisive in the ground that we take, about the place where we go and those we gather with, that you cannot find the headquarters anywhere and you cannot find a hierarchy in it. You could not find the chairman or the CEO; you could not find it floated on the stock exchange; you could not find it involved with government affairs or with politics. You find that the Head of it is Jesus Christ and that His place is accorded to Him, that He has “the first place in all things”, Col 1: 18. You find that there is no written creed. At one time I thought it would be a great idea to write down all the things we believe. You would not do that if you had a living Head. We need to go through these things. The Lord Jesus has gone on high; He is walking in the midst of the lamps; the Holy Spirit is here; the Spirit is working in all the members. What would we need a written creed for? It is living. The Head of the church is available and leading it, instructing it, feeding it. Also the Spirit is free; the Spirit is given room to work with one and another. No one is put between me and Christ. It is a place that is “outside the camp”. Let us take care about that. Let us take care there is no invention of man in it, otherwise we may fall away.
I am not called on to make pronouncements about any other Christian company. If you said to me, ‘How many people are there who have gone outside?’. I do not know. I have no idea. ‘What is the boundary around the company?’ I have no idea, but what we must do is we must know for ourselves that we have taken this step. You must be sure of the ground that you stand on. No-one is going to require of you that you pronounce any kind of judgment on anyone else, and I do not think the Lord will require that of you either, but He will require me to be sure myself that I have accorded Him His rights and taken up this blessed offer of grace, that He has provided a way, in the day of ruin, for the divine presence to be known. The reward is the assurance of the divine presence. Again I do not want to be misunderstood: I make no statement about where or how the divine presence may be felt or known by any person in any situation. I would not dare to state such a thing, but I can see that these steps to go outside the camp have their reward, in that the divine presence might be known, and there should be nothing more important to us in these days.
Moses says later on in verse 15 of chapter 33: “If thy presence do not go, bring us not up hence”. Would you go forward any further without the presence of the Lord? How empty it would be! That is what religion can become. We should long for the assurance of the Lord’s presence with us, and I think there is a beautiful picture here of Joshua. It says he was a young man. He obviously took the step and he saw Jehovah, and it says that he “departed not from within the tent”. It is interesting that it says Moses went back to the camp. He is a type of the Lord Jesus and He is working; and the way He will work is not mine to say, where He will go, what He will do. Who would I be to presume what Christ will do? He goes back, but there is a picture of the preciousness of what it is to have the abiding assurance of the divine presence in Joshua who “departed not from within the tent”. That was not available to him in the camp, but having got free of what was not according to the Lord’s rights, the reward was the divine presence and there can be no greater blessing.
The verses in 2 Timothy are well known and have great meaning for us. The first thing is “the firm foundation of God stands”. It is a fine scripture: the foundation of God stands. It stands and it stands today as powerfully as it did in years gone by. It is still valid, and the first thing is that God releases me from the temptation (or burden) to sort out the whole of Christendom because Paul says, “The Lord knows those that are his”. What a comforting thing, what a gracious thing, what a powerful and majestic thing: “The Lord knows”! Some of these things we find hard to understand and cannot disentangle. “The Lord knows”. He will take care of these things. At the great assembling shout He will take away the barriers. The confusions will all be gone in a moment. The Lord Himself will do it at His coming. “The Lord knows those that are his”. And then, “Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity”. Then it says, “If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in separating himself from them, he shall be a vessel to honour”. The point about this scripture is that these are testimonial steps that we have to take as individuals. We are called on by the Lord to accord Him His rights, and take a step in accordance with those rights. It is important that we are sure, for ourselves, of the ground that we stand on. The scripture goes on to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart”. In the richness of the Lord’s grace, if I take an individual step which is faithful to Him, the Lord in His grace will provide me with those that I can walk with, that I can go along the pathway with, and I think we know something of the blessing of it. It is another reward for taking a faithful step for Him. The very fact that there is a way now to work out our Christian fellowship is all of His grace. I am convinced of that: if we take the step, the great reward might be that, like Joshua, we have an abiding sense of the divine presence.
I feel the need of these things, and may the Lord bless the word!
12th January 2013