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Christendom Astray Contents

Christendom Astray
From The Bible
  Christendom Astray 18


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IN THE lecture last delivered, mention was made of the necessity disclosed in the Scriptures, of believers continuing in "the daily practice of all things commanded by Christ." Christendom which has gone astray from the doctrines, has also forsaken the commandments of Christ, if ever it made them a rule of life. It has probably left the commandments as the result of losing the doctrines; for the force of the commandments can only be felt by those who recognise that salvation is dependent on their obedience. Popular theology has reduced them to a practical nullity. It has totally obscured the principle of obedience as the basis of our acceptance with God in Christ, by its doctrine of "justification by faith alone."

It is part of the modern restitution of primitive apostolic ways, to recognise distinctly, that while faith turns a sinner into a saint, obedience only will secure a saint's acceptance at the judgment seat of Christ; and that a disobedient saint will be rejected more decisively than even an unjustified sinner.

The rule or standard of obedience is to be found in the commandments of Christ. Christ speaks very plainly on this subject:-

"Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants but I have called you friends" (John xv, 14).

"Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded" (Matt. xxviii, 20).

"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them " John xiii, 17).

"Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom, but he that doeth the will of my Father" (Matt. vu, 21).

"Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James i, 22).

"He that saith 'I know him,' and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar" (1 John ii, 4).

These statements are summed up in the saying of Christ, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love" (John xv, 10).

We shall look at these commandments with the result of seeing that they are neutralised by the traditions and practices of socalled Christians of the modern era. But let us first realise that the commandments of the Apostles are included in the commandments of Christ. It is common to make a distinction. You will hear it said sometimes that while the commandments of Christ are all that is estimable and binding, the commandments of the apostles are marred by the weaknesses of the men who communicated them, and are by no means to be placed on a level with the precepts of their Master, who was without flaw. This plausible distinction is not founded on truth. The commandments delivered by the apostles were not of their authorship. They were as definitely divine as those that came from the mouth of the Lord. Paul distinctly claims this:-

"If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you ARE THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD" (1 Cor. xiv, 37).

This claim is only in harmony with what the Lord Jesus himself said on the subject. In sending his apostles forth to teach his doctrine after he should have departed from the earth, he did not leave them to their own resources as natural men for the execution of the work. He made specific promise of supernatural wisdom and guidance. This promise occurs in various forms, e.g.:-

"I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (Luke xxi, 15).

"If I depart, I will send him the comforter, . . . which is the HOLY SPIRIT, whom the Father will send in my name. He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you" John xvi, 7: xiv 26).

"When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matt. x, 19, 20).

The promise of Christ that he should send the Spirit to the apostles was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told them not to begin their apostolic labours until the Spirit should come (Luke xxiv, 49; Acts i, 4). They were to "tarry at Jerusalem" till the promised "power from on high" came, by which they were enabled to give an effective testimony to the word. They had not long to wait. In ten days, while they were all assembled (the apostles and disciples to the number of 120), the Spirit came with sound of a rushing mighty wind, and filled all the place where they were, crowning each apostle with a visible wreath of flame, and manifesting its intelligent power in imparting to the apostles the power of extemporising the word in all the spoken languages of the day (Acts ii, 1-13).

When the commotion caused by this wonderful occurrence had come to a head, Peter explained the nature of it to the bewildered spectators. He reminded the assembled multitude of the recent crucifixion of Jesus, which they were aware of. He then declared his resurrection as a fact within the personal eyewitness of the apostles, and added, "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, HE HATH SHED FORTH THIS WHICH YE NOW SEE AND HEAR" (Acts ii, 33).

The spirit which was thus bestowed upon them remained with them as a guiding teaching presence to the end. It was this that justified Paul's claim to divine authority for the things he wrote, as above quoted; for although Paul was not among the apostles at that time, he was added to their number shortly afterwards, and in every way supernaturally endowed as the other apostles were. It was this that enabled John the apostle to take the same strong ground in his first epistle: "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us: he that is not of God, heareth not us. HEREBY KNOW WE THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND THE SPIRIT OF ERROR" (1 John iv, 6). When John said this he said no more in substance than Jesus said himself concerning John and his fellow apostles: "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John xx, 21). "He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me" (Luke x, 16).

Here is Christ's own authority for placing the word of his apostles on a level with his own. He said concerning his own teaching, "The word which ye hear is not mine but the Father's which sent me" (John xiv, 24). On the same principle, the apostles could say with Paul, "The things which we write (and speak) are (not ours but) Christ's who sent us." The principle is this: the Holy Spirit was upon the Lord from the Father without measure, making him one with the Father, who is the eternal and universefilling Spirit, through which he was enabled to give commandments that were as truly divine as if proclaimed direct from heaven in the hearing of all the world. (Luke iii, 22; John iii, 35; Acts i, 2). So the Holy Spirit was upon the Apostles from Christ, who is one with the Father, imparting to their words a divine authority equal to that which attached to his own words. Hence, it is a perfectly natural relation of things that Christ exhibits when he says, "He that despiseth you, despiseth me, and he that despiseth me despiseth Him that sent me."

It must be evident in the light of these considerations how grievously mistaken is the view which would treat with small respect the apostolic precepts, while according a high sentimental regard for those which come out of the actual mouth of Christ. The commandments of the apostles are the commandments of Christ, and the commandments of Christ are the commandments of God. And the keeping of the commandments of God is of an importance that cannot be represented in too extreme a light, in view of what is written in the Apocalypse: "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev. xxii, 14).

When Jesus sent forth his apostles, he not only commanded them to preach the gospel, but he said, "Teach them to observe all things whatsover I have commanded you" (Matt. xxviii, 20). It must be obvious that this extends the obligatoriness of the commandments delivered to the apostles, to all believers as well and this not merely in the sense of seemliness or suitability, but in the sense of imperative obligation. That is, the obedience of these commandments is essential to the believers. Christ said this plainly in concluding what is called his "sermon on the mount," which is nothing else than a long series of these very commandments - in fact, the most methodical and extensive collection of them to be found in the whole course of his recorded teaching. He said, "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto A WISE MAN which built his house upon a rock; and every one that heareth these sayings of mine and DOETH THEM NOT, shall be likened unto A FOOLISH MAN which built his house upon the sand, and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it" (Matt. viii, 24-26).

In no plainer way could Christ tell us that our ultimate acceptance with him will depend upon our doing of the things he has commanded. If he did say it more plainly, it was when he said, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but HE THAT DOETH THE WILL OF MY FATHER, which is in heaven (Matt. vii, 21).

The idea thus explicitly enunciated is of very frequent occurrence in the Lord's teaching. It comes out in various connections and forms, but always with the same pointedness and vigour. There is never room for misconception. Once as he stood in the midst of a listening crowd, one said, "Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." His rejoinder was, "Who is my mother and who are my brethren? . . . WHOSOEVER SHALL DO THE WILL OF MY FATHER which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" Matt. xii, 47, 50). On another occasion, a woman in the crowd exclaimed, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." His response was, "Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and KEEP IT" (Luke xi, 27, 28). On another occasion he said, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke vi, 46); and on another, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. v, 20); and, again, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John xv, 14).

Now, as to the relation of Christendom to these commandments, it is well described in the words which Jesus applied to the religious leaders of the Jewish nation: "Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Matt. xv, 6). There is scarcely a commandment of Christ but what is systematically disregarded in the practice of the Christian world socalled. It is not merely that the commandments are not obeyed; they are not recognised. They have been explained away and nullified through the influence of human opinion and precept, traditionally received. We have seen how entirely the command to believe the gospel has been set aside; to what a nonentity the command to be baptised has been reduced; and into what neglect has fallen the command to break bread from week to week in remembrance of him. It is not of these we would now speak.

Our illusion is to a class of commandments that run much more directly counter to human bias and inclination. By reason of their very aim to try, and purify, and chasten and discipline the mind into subjection to the divine will, there is a universal predilection in favour of that way of understanding these commandments that takes away their inconvenience for men called to serve Christ in the present world, and inclined perhaps to do so, though with no great amount of faith, or its resultant enthusiasm. Because of this "consensus of opinion," as it is the modern fashion to phrase it, the common run of men are afraid to think as the commandments, without sophistication, would lead men to think. But the commandments are not altered by the "consensus" They remain as the expression of Christ's will, however successfully they may be nullified by tradition: and it will be a poor apology for disobedience, in the day of judgment to say that we did not dare to comply with them because they were not currently understood to have any practical bearing in modern times. The inclinations and traditions of the multitude have always been in antagonism to the will of God. The divinely recorded history of the world is proof of this. It is, therefore, the part of men who believe in God, to hearken to the voice of His word, and not to the opinions of the people and their leaders.

Of those commandments that are recognised though not acted on, it will not be in place here to speak. That God should be loved and served; that men should be true, just and kind; that our neighbour's interests should have as high a consideration at our hands as our own, no man considering himself a member of Christendom would deny, however little able he might be to give practical effect to these commandments in his life. These commandments are such as are beautiful in themselves, and commend themselves to the moral instincts of all men (not degraded to the very level of the brute) as the dictates of the highest wisdom.

It is of the commandments whose excellence is not so selfevident that there is need to speak; commandments whose aim is not to make the present life agreeable, but to subject obedient believers to a discipline that will subdue and mould them to the divine pattern in preparation for the perfectly agreeable state of existence to be established by Christ upon the earth in the day of His coming.

1. Be not conformed to this world (Rom. xii, 2). There is not much danger of mistaking the meaning of this. The world is the people, as distinguished from the earth which they inhabit. Peter puts this beyond doubt in calling it "the world OF THE UNGODLY" (2 Peter ii, 5). Jesus also makes it plain in speaking of the world as a lover and a hater, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own" (John xv, 18). This could only apply to the people. The command is to be not conformed to the world of people upon the earth as it now is. Jesus plainly laid it down that he did not belong to such a world, and commanded his disciples to accept a similar position in relation to it. "The world to come" is the world of their citizenship. Of their position in the present world, Jesus said in prayer, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world" (John xvii, 16). By John he commanded them, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; is not of the Father, but of the world" (1 John ii, 15). By Peter, he indicates their position in the world as that of "strangers and pilgrims" (1 Peter ii, 11), and their life in it as a "time of sojourning" (i, 17), to be passed in holiness and fear (verses 14 and 17).

The world that hated Jesus was the Jewish world. Consequently, we are saved from the mistake of supposing that by the world is meant the extremely vile and immoral of mankind. The Jews were far from being such: they were a very religious and ostentatiously professing and ceremonially punctilious people, among whom the standard of respectability was high in a religious sense. All their conversations with Christ shew this. That which led to the complete separation indicated in Christ's words and precepts, is indicated by Jesus himself, in his prayer to the Father, so wonderfully recorded in John xvi: "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee" (verse 25). It is the world's relation to God that cuts off the friends of God from the world (if the friends of God are faithful). The world neither loves, nor knows, nor considers God. They care for Him in no sense. His expressed will - His declared purpose - His intrinsically sovereign claims, are either expressly rejected or treated with entire indifference. His great and dreadful and eternal reality is ignored. Daniel's indictment against Belshazzar is chargeable against them all. "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (Dan. v, 23).

This is an allsufficient explanation of the matter we are considering. If the world is God's enemy, how can the friends of God be friends with it? It is not without the profoundest reason in the nature of things, that it is written, "The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God" (James iv, 4). "NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS.... YE CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON" (Matt. vi, 24).

The force of this reasoning increases tenfold when we contemplate the present situation in the light of its divine explanation and the divine purpose concerning it. We must seek for this explanation in the beginning of things - the beginning as Mosaically exhibited (an exhibition endorsed by Christ, and therefore to be trusted in the face of all modern theories and speculations). This beginning shows us man in harmony with God, and things "very good." Then it shews us disobedience (the setting aside of the divine will as the rule of human action - alias, sin), and as the result of this, the divine fellowship withdrawn, and men driven off to exile and to death, permitted only, thereafter, to approach in sacrifice, in token of the final way of return. The present world is the continuance and enlargement of the evil state of man, resulting from man's alienation from God in the beginning. It is enlarged and aggravated. "The whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John v, 19), "dead in trespasses and sins . . . by nature children of wrath" (Eph. ii, 13), "without Christ, having no hope, and without God." (Eph. ii, 12).

Now, what is the purpose concerning this state of things? We have seen it in previous lectures. It is briefly summarised in 2 Thes. i, 7, and Rev. xix, 11-16, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." "In righteousness doth he judge and make war . . . treading the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." When this work of judgment and destruction is done, the kingdom of God prevails on earth for a thousand years, leading the nations in ways of righteousness and peace; and after a brief renewal of conflict with the diabolism of human nature, there comes at last the day of complete restoration, the ungodly consumed off the earth; the servants of God saved. "No more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads" (Rev. xxii 3).

Here, then, we have harmony with God at the beginning of things, and harmony with Him at the end of things, and the dark and dreadful interval of "the present evil world" between, in which God is not obeyed nor recognised, but the pleasures, gratifications, and interests of mere natural existence made the objects of universal pursuit. In this dark interval, however, the divine work goes on of separating a family from the evil, in preparation for the day of recovery and blessing. It is not easy, in view of these things, to realise the reasonableness of the divine command to His servants meanwhile, not to be conformed to an evil world, in which God is disowned, and to which they do not belong?

Now, how does Christendom look in this light? Is it not evident at a glance that this elementary axiom of the law of Christ is totally disregarded? The idea of a Christian of the ordinary type being "not of the world" is an anomaly only calculated to excite the sarcastic smile of the cynic. If the ordinary "Christian" is not "of the world," where are we to find the people that are? To call a man "a man of the world," has, in fact, become one of the highest compliments that can be paid to a man's judgement and culture: as a man at home everywhere, who sees good in everything; and nothing very wrong in anything. In the ears of such a man, the distinctions and scrupulosities enjoined by Christ and his apostles have an antiquated sound: and worse - a sound of uncharity, of harshness, of narrow-minded and bigoted sectarianism. The earnest recognition and observance of right and wrong, as arising out of the law of Christ, are in his eyes the symptoms of an odious fanaticism, disqualifying the subject of them for society or the commonest good fellowship.

Yet "the man of the world," with his kindly unconcern about all things, is a good Christian by the popular standard. He is "of the world" essentially; and though Christ proclaimed himself as "not of the world" and commanded his disciples to accept a similar position, this man's being of the world, is held to be no drawback to his Christian standing in the eyes of Christendom. No wonder! The church is the world. What is there in and of the world that the church does not mix with? (and by "the church" we may understand the dissenting bodies as well as the State establishment).

Take the political sphere. If there is anything characteristically "of the world," it is politics, whether in the exercise or the discussion of temporal power, and its forms. It is written: "The KINGDOMS of this world are to become (at Christ's return) the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." Consequently, the kingdoms are meanwhile "of this world." In modern usage "kingdom" has become "State," because the political form of the State varies. Where is the church in relation to the State? The alliance of the church with the State is of itself a sufficient illustration of the departure of Christendom from the commandments of Christ. It is a proof that the modem church is "of this world," even if the private practice of its members were in harmony with the mind of Christ.

The common private practice of those who consider themselves "Christians," removes any doubt that the public form of things might leave. That common private practice may be summed up as an earnest discharge of all the parts and functions that belong, or could possibly belong, to citizens of the present world. There is no point, part or feature of the present evil world, in which they are not found incorporate. The bishops are part of the world-system in Britain, as they sit in their lawn sleeves in the House of Lords, to supervise the laws made for this world by the much jangling that goes on in "the lower house." The clergy are "gentlemen," eligible for the society of the world, and welcome in the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy and on the huntingfield with the squires. Her churchwardens and minor officials have the management of the world in hand in their several departments, whether exacting the tithes with the sword of the law in hand, or refusing a resting place in the parish churchyard to dead heretics. Her laity look on riches, place, and power as legitimate objects - with all of them - the most successful in attaining which, are the most honourable. In minuter details, they are voters (the secerning blood vessels of the political system); they are patriots and political spouters at public meetings (the thew and muscle of the system); they burn gunpowder on the battlefield, or compete for the civic or Parliamentary honours of the State in the boroughs (and become the organs of the system). They run in crowds to the public amusements, or in private indulge their liking without the least restraint or reference to the New Testament injunctions of sobriety, self-denial and holiness.

What is to be done in such a state of things by the man earnestly seeking to be the servant of Christ, and desiring to be found of him at his coming, in the attitude of a chaste and loyal bride, preparing for marriage? Common sense would supply the answer if it were not plainly given to us by God Himself: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. vi, 17-18). The questions with which Paul prefaces this quotation strike home the reasonableness of this command at a blow: "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial: or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"

The believer of the gospel has no alternative but to step aside from the world. He cannot otherwise carry out the will of Christ concerning those whom he asks for his own. What this stepping aside from the world means, there need be no difficulty in the earnest man determining for himself. Christ and the apostles have in themselves furnished an example which we are invited to imitate (1 Peter ii, 21; John xiii, 15; xv, 18-20; 1 Cor. xi, 1: iv, 17).

It does not mean seclusion: for they lived an open daily public life. It does not mean isolation: for they are always seen among men. It means abstinence from the aims and principles of the world, and from the movements and enterprises in which these find expression. The activities of Christ and the apostles were all in connection with and on behalf of, the work of God among men. They never appear in connection with the enterprises of the world. Their temporal avocations are all private. Christ was a carpenter; Paul a tent maker; but at these, both worked as the sons of God. Disciples of Christ may follow any occupation of good repute; (they are expressly prohibited from having to do with anything of an evil appearance or giving occasion of reproach to the adversary - Rom. xii. 9; 1 Thess. v, 22). But in all they do, they are to remember they are the Lord's servants, and to act as if the matter they have in hand were performed directly to him (Col. iii, 23-24). Even servants are to do their part to a bad master faithfully as "to the Lord" (1 Peter, ii, 18-20).

The sense in which they stand apart from the world is in the objects for which they work, and in the use to which they put the time and means which they call "their own." They are to "follow after (works of) righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. ii, 22). They are to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts," and "live soberly and righteously and godly" (Tit. ii, 12). They are not to live in pleasure (Tit. iii, 3; 1 Tim. v, 6). They are to live to give God pleasure, in which, as they grow, they will find their own highest pleasure. They are to be "holy in all manner of conversation," cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and walking as those who are the temple of God among men (1 Pet. i, 15; 2 Cor. xiii, 7; 2 Cor. vi, 16).

Guided by these apostolic principles, they will abstain from the defiling habits that are common to ungodly Christendom, amongst which smoking and drinking stand prominent. And as men waiting and preparing for the kingdom of God (whose citizenship is in heaven, and not upon the earth) they accept the position of "strangers and pilgrims" among men. They are not at home; they are passing on. They take no part with Caesar. They pay his taxes and obey his laws where they do not conflict with the laws of Christ; but they take no part in his affairs.

They do not vote; they do not ask the suffrages of his supporters; they do not aspire to Caesar's honours or emoluments; they do not bear arms. They are sojourners in Caesar's realms during the short time God may appoint for their probation; and as such, they sustain a passive and non-resisting attitude, bent only upon earning Christ's approbation at his coming, by their obedience to his commandments during his absence. They are not of the world, even as he was not of the world; and therefore they refuse to be conformed to it. The way is narrow and full of self-denial - too much so for those who would like to perform the impossible feat of "making the best of both worlds." But the destination is so attractive, and the results of the cross-bearing so glorious, that the enlightened pilgrim deliberately chooses the journey, and resolutely endures its hardships.




Continued Next Page


Lecture 18

The Ways of Christendom

Inconsistent With the Commandments of Christ


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