Ministry to the House or to the Lord

Let us note at the outset that there is little apparent difference between ministry to the House of the Lord and ministry to the Lord Himself. Many of you are doing your utmost to help your brethren, and you are labouring to save sinners and administer the affairs of the church. But let me ask you: Have you been seeking to meet the need around you, or have you been seeking to serve the Lord? Is it your fellow men you have in view, or is it Him?

Let us be quite frank. Work for the Lord undoubtedly has its attractions for the flesh. You may be thrilled when crowds gather to hear you preach, and when numbers of souls are saved. If you have to stay at home, occupied from morning to night with mundane matters, then you think: How meaningless life as! How grand at would be if I could go out and serve the Lord! If only I were free to go around ministering! But that is not spirituality. That is merely a matter of natural preference. Oh, if only we could see that much of the work done for God is not really ministry at all! He, Himself, has told us chat there was a class of Levites who busily served in the Temple, and yet they were not serving Him; they were merely serving the House. However, service to the Lord and service to the House appear so much alike that it is often difficult to differentiate between the two.

If an Israelite came along to the Temple and wanted to worship God, those Levites would come to his aid and help him offer his peace offering and his burnt offering. They would help him drag the sacrifice to the altar, and they would slay it. Surely that was a grand work to be engaged in, reclaiming sinners and leading believers closer to the Lord! And God took account of the service of those Levites who helped men bring their peace offerings and their burnt offerings to the altar. Yet He said it was not ministry to Himself.

Brothers and sisters, there is a heavy burden on my heart that you might realise what God is after. He wants ministers who will minister to Him. “They shall come near to me to minister unto me; and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood. They shall minister unto me” (Ezekiel 44:15).

The thing I fear most is that many of you will go out and win sinners to the Lord and build up believers, without ministering to the Lord Himself. Much so-called service for Him is simply following our natural inclinations. We have such active dispositions that we cannot bear to stay at home, so we run around for our own relief. We may appear to be serving sinners, or serving believers, but all the while we are serving our own flesh.

I have a dear friend who is now with the Lord. One day, after we had a time of prayer together, we read this passage in Ezekiel (44:9-26, 28, 31 ). She was very much older than I, and she addressed me like this: “My young brother, it was twenty years ago that I first studied this passage of Scripture.”

“How did you react to it?” I asked.

She replied: “As soon as I had finished reading it, I closed my Bible, and kneeling down before the Lord, I prayed: `Lord, make me to be one who shall minister to You, not to the Temple.”‘ Can we also pray that prayer?

But what do we really mean when we talk of serving God or serving the Temple? Here is what the Word says:

But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me; and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the LORD God (Ezekiel 44:15).

The conditions basic to all ministry that can truly be called ministry to the Lord are drawing near to Him and standing before Him. But how hard we often find it to drag ourselves into His presence! We shrink from the solitude, and even when we do detach ourselves physically, our thoughts still keep wandering outside. Many of us can enjoy working among people, but how many of us can draw near to (God in the Holy of Holies? Yet it is only as we draw near to Him that we can minister to Him.

To come into the presence of God and kneel before Him for an hour demands all the strength we possess. We have to be violent to hold that ground. But everyone who serves the Lord knows the preciousness of such times, the sweetness of waking at midnight and spending an hour in prayer, or waking very early in the morning and getting up for an hour of prayer before the final sleep of the night.

Unless we really know what it is to draw near to God, we cannot know what it is to serve Him. It is impossible to stand afar off and still minister to Him. We cannot serve Him from a distance. There is only one place where ministry to Him is possible and that is in the Holy Place. In the outer court you approach the people; in the Holy Place you approach the Lord.

The passage we ‘ have quoted emphasises not only our need to draw near to God; it also speaks of standing before Him to minister. Today we always want to be moving on; we cannot stand still. There are, so many things claiming our attention that we are perpetually on the go. We cannot stop for a moment.

But a spiritual person knows how to stand still. He can stand before God till God makes His will known. He can stand and await orders. You who are leaders need to particularly consider this. Can you be persuaded to call a halt and not move for a little while? That is what is referred to here: “stand and minister unto me.” Don’t you think that a servant should await his master’s orders before seeking to serve him? The Sin of presumption

There are only two types of sin before God. One is the sin of refusing to obey when He issues orders. The other is the sin of going ahead when the Lord has not issued orders. The one is rebellion; the other is presumption. The one is not doing what the Lord has required; the other is doing what the Lord has not required. Learning to stand before the Lord deals with the sin of doing what the Lord has not commanded. Brothers and sisters, how much of the work you have done has been based on the clear command of the Lord? How much have you done because of His direct instructions? And how much have you done simply on the ground that the thing you did was a good thing to do? Let me tell you that nothing so damages the Lord’s interests as a “good thing.” “Good things” are the greatest hindrance to the accomplishment of His will. The moment we are faced with anything wicked or unclean, we immediately recognise it as something a Christian ought to avoid, and for that reason, things which are positively evil are nearly not such a menace to the Lord’s purpose as good things.

You think: This thing would not be wrong, or That thing is the very best that could be done so you go ahead and take action without stopping to inquire if it is the will of God. We who are His children all know that we ought not to do anything evil, but we think that if only our conscience does not forbid a thing, or if a thing commends itself to us as positively good, that is reason enough to go ahead and do it.

‘That thing you contemplate doing may be very good, but are you standing before the Lord awaiting His command regarding it? “They shall stand before me” involves halting in His presence and refusing to move till He issues His orders. That is what ministry to the Lord means.

In the outer court it is human need that governs. Just let someone come along to sacrifice an ox or a sheep, and there is work for you to do. But in the Holiest Place

there is utter solitude. Not a soul comes in. No brother or sister governs us here, nor does any committee determine our affairs. In the Holiest Place there is one authority only – the authority of the Lord. If He appoints me a task I, do it; if He appoints me no task, I do none.

But something is required of us as we stand before the Lord and minister to Him. We are required to offer Him “the fat and the blood.” The blood answers the demands of His holiness and righteousness; the fat meets the requirements of His glory. The blood deals with the question of our sin; the fat deals with the question of His satisfaction. The blood removes all that belongs to the old creation; the fat brings in the new.

But such ministry is confined to a certain place: “They shall enter into my sanctuary, and they shall come near to my table to minister unto me, and they shall keep my charge” (Ezekiel 44:16). Ministry that is “unto me” is in the inner sanctuary, in the hidden place, not in the outer court, exposed to public view. People may think we are doing nothing, but service to God in the Holy Place far transcends service to the people in the outer court. Ministry Without Sweat

The same passage tells us how they must be clothed who would minister to the Lord:

They shall be clothed with linen garments; and no wool shall come upon them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins (Ezekiel 44:18).

Those who minister to the Lord may not wear wool. Why not? The reason is given:

“They shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat” (verse 18 NKJV). No work chat produces sweat is acceptable to the Lord. But what does “sweat” signify?

We all know that the first occasion when sweat is mentioned was when Adam was driven from the Garden of Eden. After Adam sinned, God pronounced this sentence upon him: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life…in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19-19). It is clear that sweat is a condition of the curse. Because the curse rested on the ground, it ceased to yield its fruit without man’s effort, and such effort produced sweat.

When the blessing of God is withheld, fleshly effort becomes necessary, and that causes sweat. All work that produces sweat is positively prohibited to those who minister to the Lord. Yet today what an expenditure of energy there is in work for Him! Few Christians can do any work today without sweating over it. Their work involves planning and scheming, exhorting and urging, and very much running around. It cannot be done without a great deal of fleshly zeal.

Nowadays, if there is no sweat there is no work. Before work for God can be undertaken, there is a great deal of rushing to and fro, making numerous contacts, having consultations and discussions, and finally getting the approval of various people before going ahead. As for waiting quietly in the presence of God and seeking His instructions, that is out of the question.

Yet in spiritual work, the one factor to be taken into account is God. He is the one

Person to make contact with. That is the preciousness of spiritual work that is truly spiritual-it is related to the Lord Himself In relation to Him there is work to do, but it is work that produces no sweat.

If we have to advertise our ministry and use great effort to promote it, then it is obvious that it does not spring from prayer in the presence of God. If you really work in God’s presence, men will respond when you come into their presence. You will not have to use endless means in order to help them. Spiritual work is God’s work, and when God works, man does not need to expend so much effort that he sweats over it.

Let us in utter honesty examine ourselves before God today. Let us ask Him: “Am I serving You, or am I merely serving the work? Is my ministry truly unto you Lord, or is it only ministry to your House?” If you are pouring with sweat all the time, it is safe to conclude that it is the House you are serving, not the Lord. If all your busyness is related to human need, you may know that you are serving men, not God. I am not despising the work of slaying sacrifices at the altar. It is work for God and someone has to do it-but God wants something beyond that. The Sons of Zadok

God cannot secure everyone for service to Himself, for many of His own are reluctant to leave the thrill and excitement of the outer court. They are bent on serving the people. But what about us? Oh that today we might say to the Lord: “I am willing to forsake things, I am willing to forsake the work, I am willing to forsake the outer court and serve You in the inner sanctuary.”

When God could find no way to bring all the Levites to the place of ministry to Himself, He chose the sons of Zadok from among them for this special service. Why did He select the sons of Zadok? Because when the children of Israel went astray, they recognised that the outer court had been irreparably corrupted, so they did not seek to preserve it. Instead, they made it their business to preserve the sanctity of the Holy Place.

Brothers and sisters, can you bear to let the external structure go, or must you persist in putting up a scaffolding to preserve it? It is the Holy Place that God is out to preserve-a place utterly set apart for Him. I beseech you before God to hear His call to for sake the outer court and devote yourself to His service in the Holy Place.

I love to read about the prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said: Separate me Barnabas and Sau1 for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). We see there that the Holy Spirit commissions men to the work as they are ministering to the Lord. Unless ministry to the Lord is the thing that governs us, the work will be in confusion.

God does not want volunteers for His work; He wants conscripts. He will not have you preaching the gospel just because you want to. The work of the Lord is suffering serious damage today at the hand of volunteers; it lacks those who can say as He did: “He that sent me…”

Brothers and sisters, the work of God is God’s own work, and not work that you can take up ac your pleasure. Neither churches, nor missionary societies, nor evangelistic bands can send men to work for God. The authority to commission men is not in the hands of men, but solely, in the hands of the Spirit of God.

Serving the Lord does not mean chat we do not serve people, but it does mean that all service to people has service to the Lord as its basis. It is service Godward that urges us out manward. Luke 17:7-10 tells us clearly what the Lord is after. These are two kinds of work referred to here: ploughing the field and tending the flock. Both are very important occupations, yet the Lord says that when a servant returns from such work, he is expected to provide for his master’s satisfaction before sitting down to enjoy his own food.

When we have returned from our toil in the field, we are apt to muse complacently on the much work we have accomplished. But the Lord will say, “Gird yourself and give me to eat.” He requires ministry to Himself. We may have laboured in a wide field and cared for many sheep, but all our toil in the field and among the flock does not exempt us from ministry to the Lord’s own personal satisfaction. That is our supreme task.

What are you really after? Is it only work in the field, preaching the gospel to the unsaved? Is it just tending the flock, caring for the needs of the saved? Or are we seeing to it that the Lord can eat to His full satisfaction and drink till His thirst is quenched? True, it is necessary for us also to eat and drink, but that cannot be till after the Lord is satisfied. We, too, must have our enjoyment, but that can never be until His joy is first made full.

Let us ask ourselves: Does our work minister to our satisfaction or to the Lord’s? I fear that when we have worked for the Lord, we are often thoroughly satisfied before He is satisfied. We are often quite happy with our work when He has found no joy in it. Blessed are they who can differentiate between ministry to sinners or saints, and ministry to Him. Such discernment is not easily acquired. Often it is only by much drastic dealing that we learn the difference between ministry to the Lord Himself and ministry to the House.

Let us seek the grace of God that He may reveal to us what it really means to minister to Him!…   Watchman Nee

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The Ultimate Intention

“Nothing will come out right for the person who either consciously or subconsciously makes the universe to revolve around himself. What a penalty, to live with a self you can’t live with. As long as you center in yourself,
you won’t like yourself. Another has put it this way. “It is so wonderful to get yourself off your own hands and into the hands of God. It’s like living in a new world!”

“Man was not created to be the CENTER and any attempt to build this false universe will only cause confusion. God has made life that way, and there is no use kicking against the goad, as Paul did to his own hurt.”

“Paul explains it this way, “we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for them died and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-
15). “Paul reveals that it was God’s purpose to take all of Adam’s race to the cross in order to deal with the “I” principle that stands in opposition to God. So when God looked down upon the cross, He saw us united in death
with His Son. All that is involved in the treachery of S-I-N (Selfish, independent negation) is dealt with there. Thus from God’s viewpoint man was crucified WITH CHRIST- but more. He was buried with Christ in Jospeh’s new tomb. Yet even more, He was raised with Christ to newness of life. But still more than that, he was positioned with Christ in God in a new heavenly position.”

“Now all this which God reckons to have happened as he sees it from His viewpoint, we must likewise reckon to be our experience by faith-appropriation. So Paul describes it in four words: CRUCIFIED, BURIED, RISEN, and ASCENDED. This is not something that we do. No, we see it by revelation- see that it happened to us “in Him” – and we by faith live in that reckoning.” “Man has been raised with Christ and is now in a new position “in Him.”

We know of multitudes of believers who have well taught about their position in Christ. They speak with conviction of the finished work by which they have forgiveness, deliverance, victory, and authority. And well they might rejoice in all that has been done for them. Yet here is just the trouble- the snare. They have never changed centers. All that has been made available to them in Christ they continue to relate to themselves: the old center. They have missed the deepest severing power of the cross which would deliver them to a life centered in God where all things are related to HIM.”

“For almost fifteen years this writer preached the GLORIES OF OUR POSITION IN CHRIST and emphasized the truths of identification in the death and resurrection of Christ as this made available a victorious walk- a truth which is now being taught by hundreds throughout the country. Yet, I was, without realizing it always relating all this to man and his needs and welfare. It was all FOR MAN- what man received through his new position in
Christ. Thus the center had not really changed.””Then one day the truth exploded. I realized just how short this was of bringing man to a full and total emancipation from his man centered-ness. It became evident as long as one is
still appealing to man FOR WHAT MAN CAN GET, it still fits into the popular approach.

But it is a vastly different thing to experience the radical working of the Cross which liberates one from self to a new center. As long as one is still more alive to what God does for man, to what the cross realizes for man, to what our position in Christ means for man- that individual has never grasped the Father’s full intention for placing us in His Son: that we might come to the same vision, purpose, dedication and philosophy of life as the Son shares in the Father.”

“God intends for man to live with an utterly new center of gravity. We are not merely centered “in Christ” but with Him are centered in God the Father. As we shall see, in this God centered position it is no longer our victory, but living in His victory; it is no longer our purpose, but living in His purpose; it is no longer our dedication, but living in His dedication. All things have truly become new.”

DeVern Fromke

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In the Way

The parable of the wheat and the tares holds a unique place in the New Testament. It is one of the very few parables where Jesus explicitly detailed out the key elements to understanding the meaning. As such, we need to pay attention to the meanings He assigned to them and recognize them, not as mysterious, debatable ideas, but as truths which Christ Himself gave for the edification (strengthening, building up) of His body, His people, whom He has called out of this world’s darkness and caused to enter into and attend to His kingdom of light – that is, His ekklesia. [1577] Greek word poorly translated “church” –  We must pay attention to the details Christ gave or we will misinterpret this parable and misapply these truths, even preventing some of His ekklesia from being what He intends and desires them to be.

Let us first notice the end of the story. When the tares are removed, “Then the righteous [sons of the kingdom] will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  It is only after the tares are removed that we see the greater manifestation of the real nature of God’s kingdom. Thus we can see that a primary characteristic of the tares is that they stand in the way of God’s kingdom being manifested among men. As Jesus rebuked the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, the tares shut up the kingdom of God against men; for [they] neither go in [themselves] nor do [they] allow those who are entering to go in.”

(Mt. 23:13) Luke records this saying in a different way, giving it a different emphasis, perhaps as it was given on a similar but different occasion. As Jesus said of the lawyers (scribes), the tares “have taken away the key of knowledge. [They] do not enter in [themselves], and those who are entering in [they] hinder.” (Lk. 11:52)

It is a terrible thing to stand in front of the door to the kingdom of God and fail to enter. This is a tragedy of immense proportions. Yet it is exponentially worse to do this while barring another person’s entrance into the kingdom! The kingdom of God is that realm where Christ and God are actively and carefully obeyed  – this is the essence of a king over his kingdom! – and a tare is one who, even as he routinely uses the name of Christ and God, diverts people away from actually obeying the commands of Jesus. Whereas Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe [know and obey] all things that I have commanded you…” (Mt. 28:19-20), the tare corrupts and perverts the truth (perhaps most or even only with his notions that he has the right, a “special anointing,” “gifting” or “calling” and God has given him the right and duty to tell other people how to live and be, especially around and under him! – and draws followers away from Christ and after himself. 

This is precisely what occurred in the first and second centuries as bishops arose from the ranks of elders and drew followers after themselves and their own teachings. The Catholic bishops were the most successful as they perverted the ideas of unity and leadership to mean attachment to the very visible hierarchical authority structure centered in Rome – and these were able to subordinate or ostracize any and all who did not bow down to that notion. This is the parent and pattern that the “church” “pastor” comes from! And all this is exactly as Paul prophesied would occur!

As the power to suppress, excommunicate and even execute has slipped from the Catholic “church’s” hands, men have had to resort to the double standard of “believe and practice as we do or go find (or start) a place where they do!” This is the means by which their own divisiveness can be tolerated. Since Christ is not their true King but rather their “denomination” (sect, heresy) is formed around their own preferred “doctrines,” “creeds,” and “theology” (most often a corrupted compilation of truth and error), these tares must have a way to build up their own fiefdom that doesn’t require too much from the affluent customers who come to have their ears routinely itched and scratched by the religious, swelling words that roll so eloquently from the tare’s mouth. This too was warned against by both Jesus and Paul though the concepts have been somewhat obscured through poor translations and even greater ignorance of what the words mean.

Jesus warned, “Because lawlessness (Greek, anomia [458]) will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt. 24:12) Lawlessness, put simply, has the capability of rendering even the chiefest of Christian attributes virtually lifeless. Anomia is literally “no law” and it refers to the absence of any outside source or standard by which one is expected or required to order his life and conduct. This idea is perhaps best captured in the description of the Israelites during the time of the judges: in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 21:25) The time of the judges – strikingly similar to this time of rampant denominationalism and sectarianism – has been described as a time of apostasy, warfare, decline, violence, moral decay and anarchy – traits curbed or accentuated according to the spiritual disposition of the reigning king.  The devolvement of Christianity into churchianity only shows that Christ is not the King over most, if not all, that is done in His name!

Paul warned that those who routinely practiced the works of the flesh would not inherit the kingdom of God.  Included in his list of the works of the flesh are four of the “church’s” cornerstones:

  • Contentions. (Greek eris [2054]) Every “church” must contend, at least in its own pulpit, for its own peculiar or denominational doctrines and “theology.”
  • Selfish ambitions. (Greek eritheia [2052]) The man or group at the top, either in attaining to or maintaining their grasp on the top spot, must be motivated by selfish ambition – otherwise Christ would be the true Head.
  • Dissensions or divisions. (Greek dichostasia [1370]) The double standard, believe and practice as we do or leave, is the most basic building block in all of churchianity. Paul said to avoid those who cause them. 
  • Heresies. (Greek hairesis [139]) The idea of grossly aberrant religious error worth burning someone at the stake for is a later Catholic addition to the meaning. The original meaning is simply that of a forming one’s own party or following. We now call these “denominations” and believe them to be a good thing.

Put bluntly, we will not see the kingdom of God come forth in our midst while we follow or submit to a man, a “ministry” or an organization that is built upon or driven by these sins. Quite simply, the “church” stands in the way of the kingdom of God. We can choose one or the other but we cannot have these sins in our lives and see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. The counterfeit “church” and the kingdom of God are mutually exclusive of one another.

When we recall that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God but it was the ekklesia (and then the “church”) that came into existence, we can see that the primary reason the kingdom of God did not come into the preeminence but was overshadowed by the Romish hierarchy was that the bishops had arisen and stood in the way. Because the bishops first taught and then practiced Nicolaitanism [3531] “conquer over the people” – the people accepted the ways of contention, selfish ambition, dissension (division) and heresy (sectarian) – and therefore progressively the kingdom of God was left far behind, remembered only in the pages of the New Testament and nostalgically longed for from time to time by some saint or mystic. This problem still haunts and plagues the people of Christ to this day.

When we further explore the roots of the office of the “pastor” (traditionally, bishop), we find that he was also called a “pontiff” – literally, a bridge between the people and God. In effect, this title boasts that the man stands in the way of the people attaining to the fullness of God’s plan for them. He was – and still is – aided in this deception by standing on a platform with all his volunteer victims seated at his feet as he speaks whatever he – or in many cases, the demonic within him – wishes. In this way, the passive listeners have their ears scratched as they are told fables – stories that use words and names from the Bible but don’t require the listener to actually know or obey Jesus Christ! 

Though the shepherd (Greek poimen [4166], poor English translation “pastor”) is listed in a group of specially graced (or gifted) individuals who are to train and equip the saints – every believer – to do the works of service (to one another, to the poor, orphans and widows, etc. –), today’s “pastor” and the “church’s” professional staff are now expected to do those works. Where this laziness and neglect of one’s individual responsibilities to God are practiced as “truth,” great “theological” excuses are manufactured. “Grace” is nearly always invoked and any effort toward obeying the commands of Jesus is condemned as “legalism” or “self-effort” toward salvation. Jesus’ command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded…”

(Mt. 28:19-20) is simply “theologically” explained out of existence or just never brought up as a topic in the “pastor’s” “sermons.” Jesus still says, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46) This is the form of godliness of which Paul wrote that has no power to make a person actually godly (resembling the character or attributes of Christ and God) – from these kind of “brothers” we are to turn away! 

Some who are reading this will dismiss it as judgmental foolishness, never realizing that such a response only indicates that the demonic holds great power over them and is keeping them from coming into the light of truth. Others will reject it on the basis of “Well, even if it’s true, don’t uproot the tares!”  Such a response has the appearance of wisdom and of being obedient to the truth but is a deception nonetheless. Consider:

  • The tares were planted “while men slept.” (Mt. 13:25) Those who are awake, are not to follow after blind leaders – we may simply leave them to their own destruction because every plant not planted by the Father will be uprooted soon enough.
  • The tares, by virtue of their place in the pulpit and over the people and of their allegiance to a sinful division (denomination, even the so-called “non-denominational” ones!), are those who are to be avoided. Because the lives of the tares are not characterized by true divine love and righteousness (what is right in God’s eyes), we can know they are children of the devil and we can turn away from their impotent, lifeless churchianity and draw near to God anyway. 
  • The servants who are first told not to uproot the tares but who are later sent to uproot them and deliver them to a fiery furnace are angels. No mere man can uproot a tare and deliver that person to a fiery furnace except perhaps by literally murdering that person – a tactic completely foreign to the New Testament and entirely contradictory to the commandments and ways of Christ Jesus!

It is neither necessary nor commanded that we even attempt to “uproot a tare.” Leaving them alone, avoiding them  and turning away from them  are what are commanded to do. And it is precisely here that we can take our first step toward true spiritual maturity – going forth to meet Christ outside the camp of men’s ideas and “theologies,” bearing His reproach and following Him wherever He leads us. This is the road that leads to life – anything else is merely some man’s “church,” just another lane in the broad highway that leads to destruction … Let he who has ears hear.   Neil Girrard

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The lessons taught to us from the life of Jacob concern the Holy Spirit’s discipline of the Christian. It is this that makes room in our lives for Christ to reveal Himself. This discipline is concerned not with our old man and his sinfulness but with our natural strength, the strength of self. Before we are saved they are as one, and we cannot distinguish between them; but in the Christian they are clearly distinguished in Scripture.

At his creation in the Garden of Eden, Adam had by nature a distinct self-conscious personality, but he had no sin, no `old man’. He possessed free will, which made it possible for him to act on his own account, so that self was already therebut not sin.

Natural strength is what we receive from the hand of God as Creator. Spiritual strength is what we receive from God in grace. At our birth we receive wisdom, skill, intellect, eloquence, feelings, consciousness, and all these go to make up our personality as man-apart from sin. But after Adam’s fall he changed. Sin had come in and taken control of him. Now not only was he a natural man: the `old man’ also was there in him, under the dominion of sin, loving to sin. Before he sinned Adam was a natural man. After he sinned he was the old man.

We must be cautious about drawing parallels between ourselves and the Lord Jesus in His incarnation, but we can say with assurance that He had no old man, because He was free from sin. Nevertheless He had a self; He possessed natural strength. Yet not once, in the smallest degree, did He ever abuse it. That is the difference. It is not that He did not possess personality and individualism-everyone must have these but that He did not choose to live by Himself. `I can of myself do nothing’ (John 5. 30). This was His estimate of the worthlessness of natural human effort apart from God. We can understand therefore why He went on to say of our spiritual fruitfulness: `Apart from me ye can do nothing’ (15. 5).

Unlike Him, we ourselves possess an old man, sold under sin. It is he that must be put out of the way, and as we saw, God has already done this on the Cross in Christ. But that is only the beginning of God’s problem with us, for there is still our natural man to be dealt with. We not only sin in the sight of God; we do a whole lot of things with the best intention of pleasing God that are mistimed and misdirected and fail altogether to satisfy Him. Take the man who is always indiscriminately broadcasting all he knows about spiritual things. That is not the old man but the natural man at work. To speak of spiritual things is not sin, but the natural man is doing it out of his own zeal and not because the Lord wants it.

The natural life is just that, doing what we want and not what God wants. We may do many quite good things, building quite an impressive edifice on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. Nevertheless God calls them wood, hay and stubble (I Corinthians 3. 12). Such materials are not refuse but represent things done by man. True, the man is doing God’s work of building; yet the work is judged. It is not a question of whether the workmanship is good or bad, but of who is doing the work.

The difference between the natural man and the old man is a basic one. God has given us His Son. When we enter into Him and He into us, what happens? One day we receive Him as our Saviour and Lord, and quickly discover that our old man was dealt with once and for all in His Cross (Romans 6. 6). God made no effort to patch him up or improve him, but crucified him outright in Christ, finishing him for good. Therein the question of sin was settled. To know this is of the greatest importance. In God’s eyes the old man had to die. Then our eyes are opened and the truth dawns on us that he is already dead in Christ; and that Christ Himself is our new life, indwelling, empowering, becoming to us everything. This is a tremendous discovery.

But along with this new life indwelling, there remains within us the natural man, the good, honest, worthy human nature that wants to please God. It is this that God encounters in Jacob.

God’s dealings with Jacob as a man concern the question of his fulfilling the divine will. Jacob was interested in this above all, not in sinning. He knew that God had said of himself and his brother, `the elder shall serve the younger’ (Genesis 25. 23). Accordingly he set himself to achieve this. He used human means to reach the divine end, for he was set on spiritual things and on fulfilling God’s will. He only made the fundamental mistake of setting about it in his own way.

God not only hates man’s sin; He has no room for the natural man. Not merely did our Lord Jesus never sin; He never depended upon Himself to do good-indeed to do anything at all. God’s dealings with our natural man are designed to bring us to the place that Christ Himself chose to take. By nature we are so strong, so able to think and plan and do, and God must bring us to the place of weakness, the place where we cannot think or plan or do apart from Him.

As we have just said, nothing is ever done to the old man; he died in Christ. Something, however, is done to the natural man. He is not patched up, it is true; he is weakened. He is progressively incapacitated. Step by step the Spirit weakens our natural life until at length, by a last drastic divine touch, we are as dead before Him. But for what? To show us what? To lead us whither?

We saw that `I in Christ’ leads to `Christ in me’, the outward fact leading to an inward fact, both of them accomplished acts of God. In the same way the progressive discipline of the Spirit through outward circumstances leads to a formation of Christ within us by the Spirit (Galatians 4. 19) so that we live a life that is in a new sense derived from Him.

In the figure of Isaac we have Christ imparted to us so that, in the words of Galatians 2. 20, it is `no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’. In the figure of Jacob we have Christ being wrought in us, so that `that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God’. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to form Christ in us in this latter way. God deals with the natural man that Christ may be inwrought in us, so that we manifest the fruit of the Spirit (5. 22).

Hebrews 12. 5-11 speaks of the loving chastening of the Lord. God, who is the Father of our spirits, deals with us as sons; and He does so to our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Thus is clearly different from I Corinthians I. 30, where it is made plain that Christ is holiness. Here in Hebrews 12, through trial and suffering, I come to be a partaker of His holiness. Thus is something constructive. Something is being wrought in me. Grievous suffering is yielding peaceable fruit-fruit that is produced by the Spirit of God, effortlessly.

What do I mean by that? Let us take the example we have used already. Our human nature delights to expose its spiritual experiences. We prattle on about what the Lord has taught us of deliverance from sin (I am not here referring to witness, that is a different matter) and then the thing we claimed had been finally dealt with in us happens again! We are shattered. And this recurs-until spontaneously we learn not to prattle any more. We do not decide not to talk; we just don’t talk. We have learned through suffering.

Here, in this small lesson, we have a tiny particle of what is meant by the term `Christ inwrought’. In this small degree of self-restraint the character of Christ has become in practice ours. The Spirit is developing in us a new character.

The items listed in Galatians 5. 22-23 under the heading of `the fruit of the Spirit’ are not virtues that the Spirit gives us; they are the natural, spontaneous fruit of the new character. The good tree is bearing good fruit, just as when a peach and a pear tree are planted side by side in the same kind of soil and given the same care and water and nourishment and sunshine, but each of them bears its own distinctive fruit. These out ward things are absorbed by each, and by each they are changed into their own fruit. Just so the sunshine of Christ’s own life is transmuted in us into something that is recognizably our own.

What God wants today is first that we should know Christ as our life, and in addition, that the Spirit should work Christ into us, to become our characters. Few enough of us know what is meant by the impartation of Christ. Fewer still, alas, know the formation of Christ by the Spirit. Yet this is the whole object of God’s dealing with us by chastening.

When we meet some aged saint who has gone through long years of discipline and perhaps suffering under the hand of God, we encounter a depth of spiritual measure, a Christ-likeness, which displays how really and deeply Christ has been wrought into them. (‘This is something the young lack, for of course such formation takes time.) Not only their life but the warp and woof of their character becomes Christ. It is, we may say, the Spirit’s manufacture.

Some of us are naturally so capable, able to do anything. Others of us are impetuous, ready at once to act for God, impatient of delay. Peter was one such. God did not improve him but touched and weakened him, and then worked Christ into him. So, later on, we encounter in Peter not only a new life but a new man. Paul, too, was one who had had Christ wrought into him through the testings of time. `I have learned,’ says he, `in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content’ (Philippians 4. 11), and the context refers to physical want. Through such experience, which took time, there was a progressive but a quite definite change in his character. And this is what we ourselves need: not only exchanged lives, where it is no longer I but Christ, but changed lives. Of course we cannot have the second without the first, but God does indeed want the second; He does want a real transformation in us.

There was a real transformation in Paul, not just a doctrinal one. In 1 Corinthians 7 there are some verses where Paul speaks for himself, expressing a purely personal opinion. `But this I say by way of permission, not of commandment’ (7. 6). `But to the rest say I, not the Lord’ (7. 12). Who dares to speak like that? Yet God puts it into His Word. `But I give my judgement, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful’ (7. 25). There has been the formation of Christ in him, and what such a one says is valuable in the sight of God, even though it be his own words. Paul was a vessel for God’s words, for he could also say `I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord’ (7. 10), but in these other instances he speaks on the ground of God’s dealing with him and his oneness of heart with God, and thus God can confirm it. Only one who has known the formation of the Spirit can say, as Paul does, `be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1 ). If another man said this we should regard him as dangerously proud, but we are forced to acknowledge the power of God in those in whom the Spirit has wrought His formative work.

And this formative work is basic to Christianity. The command of Jesus in Matthew 28. 19 is: `Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.’ The believer receives salvation, but this is not enough, this is not the end. The disciple learns, and his life is worked upon by training and discipline. This is the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

This matter of the quality of life is expressed in figurative language at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the Bible. In Genesis 2: 12 we read, `The gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone.’ In 1 Corinthians 3. 12 Paul tells us `if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire’. And in Revelation 21. 19-21 we read that `the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones; . . . and the twelve gates were twelve pearls; . . . and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.’

God’s purpose for mankind is not just gold but precious stones. Gold surely represents that which is of God, which proceeds from the Father. Silver stands for the redemption that is in Christ, His free gift of grace. Precious stones are the work of the Spirit. Stones are not elements they are compounds. They are formed through fire, then cut. This is a figure of the Spirit’s discipline; through much suffering, difficulty, sorrow, through stress of circumstances, we are made into gem-stones. In the new Jerusalem there is no mention of silver at all; all has become precious stones.

God is looking for a vessel for the meeting of His need and the carrying out of His wondrous purpose. Such a vessel must know the God of Abraham, that all is from Him alone gold. It must know the God of Isaac, that all is His gift in Christ-silver. It must know too the God of Jacob, the Spirit’s dealing with the natural man that works Christ into the being -precious stones.

From ‘Changed Into His Likeness’ by Watchman Nee

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THE divine activities in this age can be shown to have two great aspects, the direct work of God according to His eternal purpose, and His remedial work of redemption. In the revelation of Scripture these two interlock. We may distinguish between them, but we cannot separate them. God’s work of recovery contains both a remedy for sin and a reaffirmation of His eternal purpose for man.

Even when God is dealing with the first step of justification He has the goal always in view. That is why we are told in Galatians 3. 8 that the scripture, `foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel before hand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed’.

God’s power on the earth. They know individual salvation, but they do not know the government of God. And yet our inheritance is bound up with this; we cannot separate our inheritance from God’s power. Unless God’s rule is established and His enemies are overthrown, we have no inheritance. Remember Samson’s riddle: `Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness’ (Judges 14. 14). It is when the lion is slain that we discover the honey.

Abraham was the first man to receive the call of God. He was called because he was chosen; the call implies the choice. And he was chosen for no other reason than that God was pleased to choose him.
In the Book of Genesis God makes three beginnings, with Adam and his creation, with Noah after the Flood, and with Abraham at the time of his call. Noah was sent forth into the new world which he was appointed to govern. His generation saw the beginning of organized social life, of law between man and man. God’s legislation through Noah was designed to give that new world a moral character, from which, however, it turned away.

Abraham’s task was a different one. He was not called either to administer or to legislate for the nations of this world; indeed, he was to turn his back on the world. He already had a country of his own, but it was his only to leave. He had a kindred-to leave. He had a home-to leave. He looked for the city which has foundations (Hebrews 11. 10); he himself had no city. He was a pilgrim. Unlike Noah, he was to establish and to improve nothing. Noah had a task to do, to establish order and to give divine instruction to the world. Abraham in his life gave nothing to the world. He was a pilgrim, called to pass through it. His links were essentially with heaven.

Abraham was called out of the world. `By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went’ (Hebrews 11. 8). There is no call except to come out.

Abraham was at home in the world with its established order, its advanced culture, its justifiable pride of attainment, and he was called to come out of that world to fulfil the purpose of God. That is the divine calling. There had been nothing wrong with Noah’s way of dealing directly with the world in order to improve it; it had been God’s appointed way for Noah. But when it led nowhere, and when accordingly God set Himself to His long term task of recovery, He began with the call to Abraham, not now to improve the world but to come out of it.

Today God’s principle of working is that of Abraham, not of Noah. At Ur of the Chaldees it was not that God had forgotten the world but that He was going to deal with it through Abraham, and no longer directly. Through this one man He would deal with the whole world. Abraham was the vessel into which God’s wisdom and power and grace were now deposited, in order that through him God might open the door of blessing to all men.

How then, we may ask ourselves, should one chosen as God’s vessel for so great a task know His God? For the responsibility resting upon this one man was tremendous. To use man’s finite way of speaking, the whole plan of God, the whole divine will and purpose for man, depended on Abraham. It stood or fell with him. Need we wonder, then, that Abraham had to go through so much trial and testing in order to bring him to know God, so that men could speak of `the God of Abraham’, and so that God could call Himself by that name without moral violation?

Abraham, we saw, is the father of all them that believe. This is an interesting expression, for it shows us that all spiritual principle is based on birth, not on preaching. Men are not changed by listening to some doctrine or by following a course of instructive teaching. They are changed by birth. First God chose one man who believed, and from him were born the many. When you meet a man who believes and who is saved, you become aware that he has something you have not got. That something is not just information; it is life. He has been born again. God has planted living seed in the soil of his heart. Have we this living seed in us? If we have, then we must give birth to others. Paul spoke of his sons in the faith. He was their spiritual father, not merely their preacher or counsellor.

The nations are blessed through Abraham, not because they hear a new doctrine but because they have received a new life. The new Jerusalem will witness the perfection of that blessing of the nations. It was Abraham’s privilege to begin it.

Abraham’s story falls naturally into two parts: his call (Genesis 11-14) in which the land is the central theme; and his posterity (Genesis 15-24) in which of course Isaac figures predominantly. We begin with the first of these.

We shall best understand the call of Abraham if we see it in its proper setting. `The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran’ (Acts 7. 2). Nimrod the mighty rebel had established his kingdom in Babel. His subjects had set up their great tower in the land of Shinar, and they had been scattered. The nations everywhere had not only forgotten God but, as we have seen, were idolaters.

The whole world worshipped false gods, and Abraham’s family was no exception. In this Abraham was very different from Abel and Enoch and Noah. They seem to have been men of backbone, strikingly different from all those around them. They stood out against the stream and refused to be dragged along by it. Not so Abraham. He was indistinguishable from those around him. Were they idolaters? So was he. Why, after all, should he be any different?

The work of God started with such a man. Clearly then it was not in him, in his upright character or in his moral determination that lay the source of his choice, but in God. Of His own will God chose him. Abraham learnt the meaning of the fatherhood of God. This was a vital lesson. If Abraham had not been just the same as all the rest, then after his call he could have looked back and based his new circumstances on some fundamental difference in himself. But he was not different. The difference lay in God, not in Abraham.

Learn to recognize God’s sovereignty. Learn to rejoice in God’s pleasure. This was Abraham’s first lesson, namely that God, not himself, was the Source. Our salvation is entirely from God; there is no reason in us at all why He should save us. And if this is true of our salvation it is true of all that follows from it. If the source of our life is in God, so also is everything else. Nothing starts from us.

From Acts chapter 7 we learn that Abraham was called by God while he was yet in Ur of the Chaldees, before he came to Haran. In his first words before the Jews’ council Stephen begins from this fact. `Brethren and fathers, hearken. The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham. Then came he . . . and dwelt in Haran.’ That was enough. The .man who sees that glory knows he must respond. He cannot do otherwise. Stephen himself was in a tight corner when he said these words; but at the end of his terrible experience we are told (verse 55) that being full of the Holy Ghost he looked up stedfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. He who appeared to Abraham at the beginning and He whom Stephen saw at the end were one and the same God of glory. In the final issue, what is an extra stone or two to one who sees the glory of God?

Both the call of Abraham and the reason for his response lay in God. Once behold the God of glory and you must believe, you cannot do otherwise. Thus it was by faith – faith in the God of glory – that Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out.

But, you say, my faith is too small. I could never have faith like Abraham’s!
This is where Genesis chapter 11 comes to our help. If it were not for Stephen’s words in Acts we should never know that God had called Abraham while he was still in Ur of the Chaldees. If we only had the account given to us in Genesis we would get a different impression. In Genesis 11.31 we read: `And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.’ It seems clear that the events described in this verse follow after the call spoken of in Acts 7.2 and Hebrews 11. 8. He had heard the call and believed yet Terah, we are told, took him out. That was the size of Abraham’s faith at the beginning. He left his country, but he only left part of his kindred and none of his father’s house. It was his father who led him forth. We do not know how it happened, but the one who was not called became the one who led out, and the one called out became the follower.

Noah took his family into the ark with him, his wife, his sons and his sons’ wives, all of them. He was told to do so; and what he did was right, for the situation there was different. The ark typifies salvation, and salvation is designed to embrace every individual man. The more there are who come into Christ by faith, the happier we ought to be. But Abraham’s bringing with him (or accompanying) his parents and their grandson Lot, was wrong. For here it was not a matter of amassing individuals for salvation. Abraham was called to be himself a chosen vessel in relation to God’s purpose, a purpose designed to bring blessing to all the families of the earth. There was no way of taking with him into this purpose others who were not so chosen. Abraham believed, but his understanding was faulty and therefore his faith was deficient. In other words, he was not an exceptional believer; he was just like us!

In the event Abraham was taken by his father only a part of the way to Canaan; then the movement stopped. `They came unto Haran, and dwelt there.’ He had heard God’s call, but he did not appreciate the goal to which that call was leading, and so he saw no reason to pay such a price of loneliness. This explains why we murmur when God deals with us. Remember again, this is not the history of how a man was saved but how he became a vessel unto honour. A valuable vessel or a well-finished tool cannot be created without a high price being paid. Only poor quality goods can be produced cheaply. Let us not misunderstand God’s dealings with us. Through Abraham God wanted to introduce a whole new economy in His relations with man, but Abraham did not yet appreciate this fact. Nor do we know what God wants to do with us. If He uses special trials and testings it is surely for a special purpose. If our hope is truly in God, there is no need for us to ask why.

So Abraham `came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran’. He thought it quite sufficient to go only half-way. Yet the time in Haran was time wasted. Terah means `delay’, `duration’. The years of Terah’s life ran out and they were years in which God did nothing.

Then, when Abraham was already seventy-five years old, there came to him God’s second call. `Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s. house, unto the land that I will show thee’ (Genesis 12. I). Abraham had shown himself less than thorough in his obedience so far, but God, praise His name! did not let go His hold upon this man. `From thence, when his father was dead, God removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell’ (Acts 7. 4). With tears we thank God for that. In Haran everything comes to a standstill, but nothing is more precious than the divine persistence. That is why we are Christians today; that is why we continue. God’s patient persistence with Abraham brought him to Canaan. Do not let us be ashamed to admit that in this life of call and response, nothing is of ourselves, all is of God. We would stay on in Haran for ever, but the divine perseverance would not let go of us. What amazing grace, that Abraham could still become `the father of all them that believe’, even after the wasted years at Haran!

`And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came’ (Genesis 12. 5). God had said, `Come into the land which I shall shew thee’ (Acts 7. 3), and now at last he arrived. Abraham’s coming into the land was of great significance. It was not a question of his owning a piece of territory, for in fact he owned none, but of the power of God taking possession of the whole land of Canaan. And where God’s power took possession, there Abraham had his inheritance.

And so it is with us today; for this is the point, that our inheritance is the ground we take and hold for God now. We are called of God to a given situation, to maintain there the sovereign rule of heaven, and where the kingdom of heaven is thus effective, there is our inheritance. This is the sorrow of our day, that God’s people do not know how to maintain

The kingdom of heaven means that, on the one hand, God is King. Despite all appearance to the contrary, He has dominion on the earth. And on the other hand it means that He is ours. This God is our God for ever and ever. Do we know what it is to affirm this fact today, by faith, here in the place where He has set us?

`And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the oak of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land’ (12. 6). These place-names are interesting. Shechem means `a shoulder’, and may contain the idea of obedience. Moreh means `a teacher’ and suggests understanding and knowledge. How striking it is that these two ideas should be brought together here in the record, for Jesus Himself said, `If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know’ (John 7. 17). All knowledge is the outcome of obedience; everything else is just information. It is when we do His will that we see His will. Abraham had arrived in the land, and now he began to know why.

For here the Lord appeared to him, assuring him that he was on the right road. `Unto thy seed will I give this land,’ He said. This entire land, no less, was his inheritance. Now for the first time we are told that Abraham sacrificed, building an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him. These altars are altars of burnt offering, not of sin offering. They represent Abraham’s- total committal of himself to God. A man cannot do that until he has first seen Him. But as was true of Abraham, to see Him once is enough. It draws out from us everything we have.

Abraham did not come to rest at Shechem. `He removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west and Ai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord’ (12. 8). Here is a second altar. Abraham built the first on his arrival in Canaan, when he saw God, understood, and gave himself. The second he built in the place where he pitched his tent, the place which he made his dwelling place. In doing so he confessed that God had brought him to rest here.

After his visit to Egypt he came back to this second altar. This was the place where God wanted him to be. It was a token of the eventual accomplishment of all God’s purpose.

His tent was pitched between Bethel and Ai. Again the two place-names are significant. Bethel means `the house of God’; Ai means `a heap of ruins’. His dwelling lay between them, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. Remember that later on in Israel’s history the tabernacle of the testimony opened eastwards, so that a man entering it faced west. Here at Abraham’s dwelling place if a man faced towards the house of God his back was towards a heap of ruins.

This has a lesson for us. Ai reminds us that the old creation is under judgment. Bethel, not Ai, is the place where Abraham dwells (13. 3), the place where through him the power of God will be felt throughout the land. And Bethel is the house of God, or in New Testament terms, the Church, the Body of Christ. Individuals cannot bring to bear upon the earth the sovereign rule of heaven; only the Body, the fellowship of  believers in Christ, can do this. But to come to this we must leave behind us that heap of ruins! We bring the kingdom of heaven into this earth only when our natural strength has been brought to nought at the Cross and we are living by the common life of the one new man in Christ. This is the witness of Canaan.

From ‘Changed into His Likeness’ by Watchman Nee

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HERE IS THE BURDEN of my heart; and while I claim for myself no special inspiration I yet feel that this is also the burden of the Spirit.
If I know my own heart it is love alone that moves me to write this. What I write here is not the sour ferment of a mind agitated by contentions with my fellow Christians. There have been no such contentions. I have not been abused, mistreated or attacked by anyone. Nor have these observations grown out of any unpleasant experiences that I have had in my association with others. My relations with my own church as well as with Christians of other denominations have been friendly, courteous and pleasant. My grief is simply the result of a condition which I believe to be almost universally prevalent among the churches.
I think also that I should acknowledge that I am myself very much involved in the situation I here deplore. As Ezra in his mighty prayer of intercession included himself among the wrongdoers, so do I. “0 my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.” Any hard word spoken here against others must in simple honesty return upon my own head. I too have been guilty. This is written with the hope that we all may turn unto the Lord our God and sin no more against Him.
Let me state the cause of my burden. It is this: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely, the evangelicals.
It is a basic doctrine of the New Testament that after His resurrection the Man Jesus was declared by God to be both Lord and Christ, and that He was invested by the Father with absolute Lordship over the church which is His Body. All authority is His in heaven and in earth. In His own proper time He will exert it to the full, but during this period in history He allows this authority to be challenged or ignored. And just now it is being challenged by the world and ignored by the church.
The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king (sometimes depersonalized by the term “the Crown”) is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions. On formal occasions he appears in his royal attire to deliver the tame, colorless speech put into his mouth by the real rulers of the country. The whole thing may be no more than good-natured make-believe, but it is rooted in antiquity, it is a lot of fun and no one wants to give it up.
Among the gospel churches Christ is now in fact little more than a beloved symbol. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” is the church’s national anthem and the cross is her official flag, but in the week-by-week services of the church and the day-by-day conduct of her members someone else, not Christ, makes the decisions. Under proper circumstances Christ is allowed to say “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” or “Let not your heart be troubled,” but when the speech is finished someone else takes over. Those in actual authority decide the moral standards of the church, as well as all objectives and all methods employed to achieve them. Because of long and meticulous organization it is now possible for the youngest pastor just out of seminary to have more actual authority in a church than Jesus Christ has.
Not only does Christ have little or no authority; His influence also is becoming less and less. I would not say that He has none, only that it is small and diminishing. A fair parallel would be the influence of Abraham Lincoln over the American people. Honest Abe is still the idol of the country. The likeness of his kind, rugged face, so homely that it is beautiful, appears everywhere. It is easy to grow misty-eyed over him. Children are brought up on stories of his love, his honesty and his humility.
But after we have gotten control over our tender emotions what have we left? No more than a good example which, as it recedes into the past, becomes more and more unreal and exercises less and less real influence. Every scoundrel is ready to wrap Lincoln’s long black coat around him. In the cold light of political facts in the United States the constant appeal to Lincoln by the politicians is a cynical joke.
The Lordship of Jesus is not quite forgotten among Christians, but it has been relegated to the hymnal where all responsibility toward it may be comfortably discharged in a glow of pleasant religious emotion. Or if it is taught as a theory in the classroom it is rarely applied to practical living. The idea that the Man Christ Jesus has absolute and final authority over the whole church and over all of its members in every detail of their lives is simply not now accepted as true by the rank and file of evangelical Christians.
What we do is this: We accept the Christianity of our group as being identical with that of Christ and His apostles. The beliefs, the practices, the ethics, the activities of our group are equated with the Christianity of the New Testament. Whatever the group thinks or says or does is scriptural, no questions asked. It is assumed that all our Lord expects of us is that we busy ourselves with the activities of the group. In so doing we are keeping the commandments of Christ.
To avoid the hard necessity of either obeying or rejecting the plain instructions of our Lord in the New Testament we take refuge in a liberal interpretation of them. Casuistry is not the possession of Roman Catholic theologians alone. We evangelicals also know how to avoid the sharp point of obedience by means of fine and intricate explanations. These are tailor-made for the flesh. They excuse disobedience, comfort carnality and make the words of Christ of none effect. And the essence of it all is that Christ simply could not have meant what He said. His teachings are accepted even theoretically only after they have been weakened by interpretation.
Yet Christ is consulted by increasing numbers of persons with “problems” and sought after by those who long for peace of mind. He is widely recommended as a kind of spiritual psychiatrist with remarkable powers to straighten people out. He is able to deliver them from their guilt complexes and to help them to avoid serious psychic traumas by making a smooth and easy adjustment to society and to their own ids. Of course this strange Christ has no relation whatever to the Christ of the New Testament. The true Christ is also Lord, but this accommodating Christ is little more than the servant of the people.
But I suppose I should offer some concrete proof to support my charge that Christ has little or no authority today among the churches. Well, let me put a few questions and let the answers be the evidence.
What church board consults our Lord’s words to decide matters under discussion? Let anyone reading this who has had experience on a church board try to recall the times or time when any board member read from the Scriptures to make a point, or when any chairman suggested that the brethren should see what instructions the Lord had for them on a particular question. Board meetings are habitually opened with a formal prayer or “a season of prayer”; after that the Head of the Church is respectfully silent while the real rulers take over. Let anyone who denies this bring forth evidence to refute it. I for one will be glad to hear it.
What Sunday school committee goes to the Word for directions? Do not the members invariably assume that they already know what they are supposed to do and that their only problem is to find effective means to get it done? Plans, rules, “operations” and new methodological techniques absorb all their time and attention. The prayer before the meeting is for divine help to carry out their plans. Apparently the idea that the Lord might have some instructions for them never so much as enters their heads.
Who remembers when a conference chairman brought his Bible to the table with him for the purpose of using it? Minutes, regulations, rules of order, yes. The sacred commandments of the Lord, no. An absolute dichotomy exists between the devotional period and the business session. The first has no relation to the second.
What foreign mission board actually seeks to follow the guidance of the Lord as provided by His Word and His Spirit? They all think they do, but what they do in fact is to assume the scripturalness of their ends and then ask for help to find ways to achieve them. They may pray all night for God to give success to their enterprises, but Christ is desired as their helper, not as their Lord. Human means are devised to achieve ends assumed to be divine. These harden into policy, and thereafter the Lord doesn’t even have a vote.
In the conduct of our public worship where is the authority of Christ to be found? The truth is that today the Lord rarely controls a service, and the influence He exerts is very small. We sing of Him and preach about Him, but He must not interfere; we worship our way, and it must be right because we have always done it that way, as have the other churches in our group.
What Christian when faced with a moral problem goes straight to the Sermon on the Mount or other New Testament Scripture for the authoritative answer? Who lets the words of Christ be final on giving, birth control, the bringing up of a family, personal habits, tithing, entertainment, buying, selling and other such important matters?
What theological school, from the lowly Bible institute up, could continue to operate if it were to make Christ Lord of its every policy? There may be some, and I hope there are, but I believe I am right when I say that most such schools” to stay in business are forced to adopt procedures which find no justification in the Bible they profess to teach. So we have this strange anomaly: the authority of Christ is ignored in order to maintain a school to teach among other things the authority of Christ.
The causes back of the decline in our Lord’s authority are many. I name only two.
One is the power of custom, precedent and tradition within the older religious groups. These like gravitation affect every particle of religious practice within the group, exerting a steady and constant pressure in one direction. Of course that direction is toward conformity to the status quo. Not Christ but custom is lord in this situation. And the same thing has passed over (possibly to a slightly lesser degree) into the other groups such as the full gospel tabernacles, the holiness churches, the pentecostal and fundamental churches and the many independent and undenominational churches found everywhere throughout the North American continent.
The second cause is the revival of intellectualism among the evangelicals. This, if I sense the situation correctly, is not so much a thirst for learning as a desire for a reputation of being learned. Because of it good men who ought to know better are being put in the position of collaborating with the enemy.
I’ll explain.
Our evangelical faith (which I believe to be the true faith of Christ and His apostles) is being attacked these days from many different directions. In the Western world the enemy has forsworn violence. He comes against us no more with sword and fagot; he now comes smiling, bearing gifts. He raises his eyes to heaven and swears that he too believes in the faith of our fathers, but his real purpose is to destroy that faith, or at least to modify it to such an extent that it is no longer the supernatural thing it once was. He comes in the name of philosophy or psychology or anthropology, and with sweet reasonableness urges us to rethink our historic position, to be less rigid, more tolerant, more broadly understanding.
He speaks in the sacred jargon of the schools, and many of our half-educated evangelicals run to fawn on him. He tosses academic degrees to the scrambling sons of the prophets as Rockefeller used to toss dimes to the children of the peasants. The evangelicals who, with some justification, have been accused of lacking true scholarship, now grab for these status symbols with shining eyes, and when they get them they are scarcely able to believe their eyes. They walk about in a kind of ecstatic unbelief, much as the soloist of the neighborhood church choir might were she to be invited to sing at La Scala.
For the true Christian the one supreme test for the present soundness and ultimate worth of everything religious must be the place our Lord occupies in it. Is He Lord or symbol? Is He in charge of the project or merely one of the crew? Does He decide things or only help to carry out the plans of others? All religious activities, from the simplest act of an individual Christian to the ponderous and expensive operations of a whole denomination, may be proved by the answer to the question, Is Jesus Christ Lord in this act? Whether our works prove to be wood, hay and stubble or gold and silver and precious stones in that great day will depend upon the right answer to that question.
What, then, are we to do? Each one of us must decide, and there are at least three possible choices. One is to rise up in shocked indignation and accuse me of irresponsible reporting. Another is to nod general agreement with what is written here but take comfort in the fact that there are exceptions and we are among the exceptions. The other is to go down in meek humility and confess that we have grieved the Spirit and dishonored our Lord in failing to give Him the place His Father has given Him as Head and Lord of the Church.
Either the first or the second will but confirm the wrong. The third if carried out to its conclusion can remove the curse. The decision lies with us.
From ‘God Tells the Man Who Cares’ by AW Tozer
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In Praise of Dogmatism

IT IS VITAL TO ANY UNDERSTANDING of ourselves and our fellowmen that we believe what is written in the Scriptures about human society, that it is fallen, alienated from God and in rebellion against His laws.

In these days of togetherness when all men would brothers be for a’ that, even the true Christian is hard put to it to believe what God has spoken about men and their relation to each other and to God; for what He has spoken is never complimentary to men.

There is plenty of good news in the Bible, but there is never any flattery or back scratching. Seen one way, the Bible is a book of doom. It condemns all men as sinners and declares that the soul that sinneth shall die. Always it pronounces sentence against society before it offers mercy; and if we will not own the validity of the sentence we cannot admit the need for mercy.

The coming of Jesus Christ to the world has been so sentimentalized that it means now something utterly alien to the Biblical teaching concerning it. Soft human pity has been substituted for God’s mercy in the minds of millions, a pity that has long ago degenerated into self-pity.

The blame for man’s condition has been shifted to God, and Christ’s dying for the world has been twisted into an act of penance on God’s part. In the drama of redemption man is viewed as Miss Cinderella who has long been oppressed and mistreated, but now through the heroic deeds of earth’s noblest Son is about to don her radiant apparel and step forth a queen.

This is humanism romantically tinted with Christianity, a humanism that takes sides with rebels and excuses those who by word, thought and deed would glorify fallen men and if possible overthrow the glorious high Throne in the heavens. According to this philosophy men are never really to blame for anything, the exception being the man who insists that men are indeed to blame for something.

In this dim world of pious sentiment all religions are equal and any man who insists that salvation is by Jesus Christ alone is a bigot and a boor. So we pool our religious light, which if the truth is told is little more than darkness visible; we discuss religion on television and in the press as a kind of game, much as we discuss art and philosophy, accepting as one of the ground rules of the game that there is no final test of truth and that the best religion is a composite of the best in all religions. So we have truth by majority vote and thus saith the Lord by common consent.

One characteristic of this sort of thing is its timidity. That religion may be very precious to some persons is admitted, but never important enough to cause division or risk hurting anyone’s feelings. In all our discussions there must never be any trace of intolerance; but we obviously forget that the most fervent devotees of tolerance are invariably intolerant of everyone who speaks about God with certainty. And there must be no bigotry, which is the name given to spiritual assurance by those who do not enjoy it.

The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men. This is such a common truth that one hesitates to mention it, yet it appears to have been overlooked by the majority of Christians today.

There is a notion abroad that to win a man we must agree with him. Actually the exact opposite is true. G. K. Chesterton remarked that each generation has had to be converted by the man who contradicted it most. The man who is going in a wrong direction will never be set right by the affable religionist who falls into step beside him and goes the same way. Someone must place himself across the path and insist that the straying man turn around and go in the right direction. There is of course a sense in which we are all in this terrible human mess together, and for this reason there are certain areas of normal activity where we can all agree.

The Christian will not disagree merely to be different, but wherever the moral standards and religious views of society differ from the teachings of Christ he will disagree flatly. He will not admit the validity of human opinion when the Word of God is clear. Some things are not debatable; there is no other side to them. There is only God’s side.

When men believe God they speak boldly. When they doubt they confer. Much current religious talk is but uncertainty rationalizing itself; and this they call “engaging in the contemporary dialogue.” It is impossible to imagine Moses or Elijah so occupied.

All great Christian leaders have been dogmatic. To such men two plus two made four. Anyone who insisted upon denying it or suspending judgment upon it was summarily dismissed as frivolous. They were only interested in a meeting of minds if the minds agreed to meet on holy ground. We could use some gentle dogmatists these days.

From ‘Man the dwelling Place of God’ by AW Tozer


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