BANNERS LIFTED UP
Isaiah 59: 19-21
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9
Ephesians 3: 14-21
We have been speaking together and enquiring as to the matter of the living God being in our midst. In Isaiah 59, we have God speaking through the prophet. He says, “they shall fear the name of Jehovah from the west, and from the rising of the sun, his glory. When the adversary shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of Jehovah will lift up a banner against him”. This scripture gives some indication of how God has His eye on the testimony. This is an Old Testament scripture, but it applies to God’s doings with His people at all times; “When the adversary shall come in like a flood”. The Lord Jesus knew that this would happen after His departure, as we see when He spoke of His assembly, “on this rock I will build my assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it”, Matt 16: 18. The enemy has been constant in his attack to try to spoil or at least dilute the truth that God has entrusted by the Holy Spirit to each one of us. Nothing that God has said will fail. Nothing that He has set on in your life and in mine will fail. Scripture tells us that, “he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day”, Phil 1: 6. Could we say that of everyone here: “he who has begun in you a good work”? Do you have the sense that God has worked and is working in your soul? “He who has begun in you a good work will complete it”. There is no doubt about the second part, “will complete it”. It lies with each one of us responsibly to have to do with the blessed God in relation to our soul salvation and our links with our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is not a gospel preaching, but the gospel is always current. The teaching of it, the substance of it, should be with us at all times. It says, “they shall fear the name of Jehovah … When the adversary shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of Jehovah will lift up a banner against Him”. When did that happen? It has happened many times. There was never a lifting up like the lifting up at Calvary. The Lord speaks about it three times in John’s gospel, “thus must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3: 14), “I, if I be lifted up out of the earth” (John 12: 32), and, “When ye shall have lifted up the Son of man”, John 8: 28. What a testimony; that stands! It does not suggest at all in this scripture that if a banner is raised up it is removed. God does not remove His banners; when they are lifted up they mark a step forward in the testimony. The finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ is towards us all; “righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ towards all, and upon all those who believe”, Rom 3: 22. If we look backward in the history of God’s testimony, time and time again the enemy has brought in difficulties, attempts to overthrow the truth and light of Christianity, and God in His own sovereignty has withstood them. I refer for instance to the Reformation. The truth of Christianity that had been entrusted to men had largely become diluted, and the profession had largely become the preserve of one particular body in Christendom. What did God do? He raised up a banner. How great that was. The children will know the history I am sure. Remember Martin Luther, that man, who was a fully active member of the Roman Catholic church, who was enlightened by God as to the truth which says, “the just shall live by his faith”, Hab 2: 4. Was that a banner? Yes, indeed it was a banner. It was something that was lifted up by a man who felt his own weakness. He is reported to have said, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’. It was there; he had taken a stand in relation to the truth of God as he understood it and he was supported. Not everything that was done in the Reformation was right. There was a call to arms which was not of God, but the fact remains that God raised up a standard then that has never been withdrawn and cannot be.
We can speak of later instances. We speak of a recovery to the truth which began in the early nineteenth century. After the Reformation, decline and complacency came in and God lifted up a standard again. We should know a little about church history because what we have now is a treasure; it is not an invention of man. We do not have a creed; it is the result of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and it is the result of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You say these are wonderful gifts; yes, they are. They are also the result of a suffering testimony. In these days, we have the Scriptures; no one molests us in this and many other countries; we have liberty to gather and move about. Where did these liberties come from? Saints of God have in a sense paid for them. In the recovery as we speak of it He raised up a banner. What was the banner? The Head is in heaven; and His body on earth is united to Him by the Spirit. This truth has never been removed or modified. It is a fine thing to have a sense in our spirits of what God has done and is doing. It does not require to be modified; it does not require to be improved. What God has said is final and complete. What has come out in the life and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ is final and complete; and the epistles amplified what has appeared in the ministry of Christ. What God did through Christ is perfect, complete and full and He anointed it by the giving of the blessed Holy Spirit.
We have come in to all that. God has maintained that testimony and He has done it in the manner described here: “when the adversary shall come in like a flood”. Have you ever seen a really serious flood? It is devastating; the surge and power of countless thousands of gallons of water which will stop at nothing, which surround or throw down whatever is in the way. A real flood is one of the most destructive things on the earth. What does God do? It says, “the Spirit of Jehovah will lift up a banner against him”. God did that; He did it again at the beginning of the recovery - and I would say in passing that it was not the recovery of the Plymouth Brethren. I do not want to confuse persons, but the recovery had repercussions all through Christendom. Godly persons in the churches were exercised as to what had come in and what was being allowed and God caused them to move. Persons came out from churches, left godly relatives behind and godly clergymen, no doubt, and others; they left them behind and they came out in a way like Abraham not knowing where they were going. They came out in answer to a divine call. All of that underlies what we have now. The testimony that we have our part in and enjoy is based on suffering for the truth by persons. Some suffered as martyrs; others in the recovery as we speak of it did not suffer martyrdom; but they suffered greatly in regard of their families, livelihoods and so on. God did that in order to bring about completion. God has in mind to complete His thoughts as to Christ and the assembly. He needed room, and scope in which to operate so as to bring His thoughts into fruition. We know the history of the testimony in measure. There have been conflicts all through; the enemy has assailed. I do not want to over-emphasise the side of suffering, but I do want to leave this impression that what we have has been paid for by persons who have suffered in the testimony in order to maintain the truth as it is in Christ. That is true. What we have so pleasantly (and thank God for what we have, I would not belittle it at all), liberty to gather, liberty to move about, liberty to read the Scriptures, liberty to preach in the open air - every one of these liberties has been paid for as a result of the Spirit of God lifting up a banner.
It goes on to say, “the Redeemer will come to Zion”. This teaching is in relation to Israel particularly, but it goes on to say, “My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith Jehovah, from henceforth and for ever”. What God has embarked on He will not change. Scripture bears ample testimony to the fact that what God has embarked on, in setting on in this dispensation this great mystery as to Christ and the assembly, Christ among the Gentiles, “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col 1: 27), He will bring to a glorious completion, and He will show it in the day of display. What He has asked us to do is to “hold fast what thou hast”, Rev 3: 11. What do you have? In Grangemouth we have quite a large meeting for which we give God thanks, but there are small meetings, there are difficulties, there are exercises. God has not changed His thoughts by one iota. You say that is all very well, how do we work that out?
Paul is speaking to the Corinthians in our next scripture, and we know the state of things in Corinth was difficult. I would appeal to you, especially to our younger brethren: I know things are difficult sometimes. I do not say that in any critical spirit, but I say to you young ones, with affection and respect, hold on to what you have in your knowledge of Christ, hold on to what has become part of you in your faith; and to your committal to the Lord Jesus: He values that.
It says, “Paul, a called apostle of Jesus Christ, by God’s will, and Sosthenes the brother”. What does this brother Sosthenes have to do with anything? Why include him? I think Paul saw that one of the things that had suffered most at Corinth was the brotherly relation. They were riddled with divisions and sects and various groups. You say that is not the case now. No, but what it does show is that there was a state in Corinth that was not according to God and if left would do damage. So he spoke of “Sosthenes the brother”. That in itself is a commendation. Others he commends; here he just says “Sosthenes the brother”. Are you a brother or a sister? Who to? The brother next to you? Am I a brother? It is all very well looking at others and pointing the finger; the point is, am I a brother in my local meeting? What is a brother for? One thing is he is “born for adversity”, Prov 17: 17.
God has set us together; we did not gather up our local meeting: God did it. The Father plants and the Father has planted. Paul says, “the assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours”. We have spent quite a bit of time already speaking about the local assembly and the value of it, but I think at the present moment it is almost impossible to over-emphasise how important local companies are in God’s arrangements. They must be held together, not by rules, not by looking up page so-and-so of some book or other. I do not decry ministry; we need it and it is helpful, but local assemblies are the sphere in which God is operating and what Paul was saying here was that he had God’s view of this sphere. We might not have written this about Corinth, “the assembly of God which is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints”. That is a dignified address, “the assembly of God which is in Corinth”. How about the assembly of God which is in Sunbury? We cannot claim to be the assembly. If you want the assembly in Sunbury you would have to find every single Christian in Sunbury and put them all together somewhere. That would be the assembly in Sunbury, but what you can do is look around your local meeting and see those whom God has placed there and work out with them the truth that is proper to a local assembly. Paul respects them; he treats them as dignified, although their behaviour was anything but dignified, but Paul held them in his heart with the view that God had of them. And so he says, “called saints, with all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Is that not fine? Could we say that to our brethren as we come in amongst them, gather with them? “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”. That is how we should view each other and salute each other as we come together.
It goes on, “I thank my God always about you, in respect of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye have been enriched in him, in all word and doctrine, and all knowledge”. Local assemblies are furnished by God with what is needed to maintain them. There may be conditions in which local assemblies, because of weakness, call on help from a neighbouring assembly. That is perfectly acceptable but we view our local assemblies in principle as having in them the wherewithal to maintain things for God’s pleasure. I think this scripture would bear that interpretation. It says, “ye come short in no gift, awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you to the end, unimpeachable”. “Unimpeachable”; could we say that of every one in all our local assemblies?
Paul had that in view. He was not ignoring the difficulties and the exercises there; he was clinging tenaciously in the power of the Spirit to God’s view of the local assembly in the place and working in relation to that. It was like the pattern of old. Moses had a pattern of the tabernacle; David was given a pattern by the Spirit. In both cases these patterns were filled out and worked out completely and I would respectfully suggest that we should carry the pattern of the local assembly in our hearts, God’s pattern. It says, “God is faithful, by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord”. Here is the key: “God is faithful”. We have spoken about the living God. Do I trust Him? Oh yes, of course. Do I really trust Him; trust Him to bring an answer in to current exercises? Oh well, things are difficult. Do I trust Him? It is His assembly, God’s assembly and Christ’s assembly. It speaks of “the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own”, Acts 20: 28. That in essence applies to my local meeting and to yours. I know it is not the whole assembly but the features of the assembly are worked out there and God would appeal to us through His word to work out His thoughts as to the assembly. If you cannot find anyone to work them out with, carry them in your own heart; maintain them. It says, “God is faithful, by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”.
I go on briefly to Ephesians because there it speaks of the fulness of things. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named, in order that he may give you according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man”. How great these things are. Paul, that great servant, that man who served His Master so well, says, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. He brings to bear the most dignified and the most elevated thoughts in connection with the Father and with Christ, “of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named, in order that he may give you according to the riches of his glory”. Could we measure that, “the riches of his glory”? So he says, “to be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man; that the Christ may dwell, through faith, in your hearts, being rooted and founded in love”.
How much God has expended on each one of us as individuals, but how much he has expended on local assemblies. There has been much suffering, and no one is pretending that there are no difficulties and there are no problems. There are, but God has not given up His thought as to the Head in heaven and His body here; the truth worked out in local assemblies. There is an answer; “Hereby shall ye know that the living God is in your midst”, Josh 3: 10. Is the living God in our midst? Let each answer for himself: is the living God in our midst? You say you do not see any change; things seem to go on and on. Is the living God in our midst? Will He bring in a solution? Yes, He will, in His own time, when I have learnt what I have to learn (and that may be part of the hindrance). So Paul goes on, “being rooted and founded in love, in order that ye may be fully able to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height”. What is the apostle talking about? It says, “breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge”. Do you ever have the sense, particularly at the time of the Supper, and then the service of God, that you are involved in something that cannot be measured; waters to swim in, and along with it, perfect peace?
These are real things, these are things that are open to us and I know it is all too easy to speak from the height of superiority, but my simple desire is to occupy your hearts with God and with Christ and with what God is doing, “to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge; that ye may be filled even to all the fulness of God”. We have spoken about completion and fulness. Here it is, “filled even to all the fulness of God”, filled so full that there is no scope for anything else. The worry is gone, the moral question settled; the difficulties gone. Can we taste and touch these things. Yes, we can, because it says, “to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power which works in us, to him be glory in the assembly”; “according to the power which works in us”. What power is that? That is the power of the living God who is in our midst. He is the one who has the power to put things right. He is the one who has the power to bring all to completion and, believe me, He will. When that day comes when the Lord Jesus comes for His own, there will be no debate then, no argument, and no discussion. It will be like the voice in Revelation 4: 1, “Come up here”, and every matter will be complete. And Paul is moved to add, “to him be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus unto all generations of the age of ages”.
I would desire to encourage the saints to go on according to the pattern with what Christ has set on in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to maintain what is due to God in our local assemblies. I do not say as far as we are able; I just say to maintain what is due to God in our local assemblies, and to leave the outcome to Him. May the Lord bless the word.
22nd October 2016