The Bible teaches believers to continue in "the daily practice of all things commanded by Christ." Churches of this world have gone astray from the doctrines and have forsaken the commandments of Christ. They have probably left the commandments as the result of losing the doctrines. The commandments will only be obeyed if we recognise our salvation depends on faithful obedience. Most churches don't believe in any obedience, focusing instead on faith alone.
Faith does turn a sinner into a saint. But there must also be obedience to secure a saint's acceptance at the judgment seat of Christ. A disobedient saint will be rejected. Our standard of obedience is the commandments of Christ. Christ speaks 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" (joh 15:14). "Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded" (mat 28:20). "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (joh 13:17). "Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom, but he that doeth the will of my Father" (mat 7:21). "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (jam 1:22). "He that saith 'I know him,' and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar" (1jo 2:4).
These statements are summed up in the saying of Christ, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love" (joh 15:10).
Let's realize first that the commandments of the Apostles are included in the commandments of Christ. They are Bible commands one and all. Some have mistakenly thought the apostle's commands are their opinions only. That thought is wrong. Commandments delivered by the apostles were not of their authorship. They are just as much from God 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" (1co 14:37).
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 promises of supernatural wisdom and guidance. This promise occurs in various forms. For example: - "I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (luk 21:15). "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" (joh 16:7) (joh 14:26) "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" (mat 10:19-20) 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 (luk 24:49) (act 1:4). 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 (act 2:1-13).
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" (act 2:33)
The Holy Spirit remained with them as a guiding teaching presence to the end. This justified Paul's claim to God's authority for the things he wrote. 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" (1jo 4:6). 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" (joh 20:21). "He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me" (luk 10:16).
This is Christ's authority putting the apostles' words on a level with his own. He said: "The word which ye hear is not mine but the Father's which sent me" (joh 24:24). Therefore 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 universe-filling Spirit, through which he was enabled to give commandments that were as truly God's as if proclaimed direct from heaven in the hearing of all the world. (luk 3:22) (joh 3:35) (act 1:2). So the Holy Spirit was upon the Apostles from Christ, who is one with the Father, imparting to their words a God-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."
The apostle's commands, Christ's commands and all the word of God are our instructions for life. The keeping of the commandments of God is of an importance that cannot be represented in too extreme a light. It says in Revelation: "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 22:14).
Jesus commanded his apostles to preach the gospel, and to: "Teach them to observe all things whatsover I have commanded you" (mat 28:20). The obedience of all the commandments is essential to the believers. Read Christ's "sermon on the mount." It is a long series of these very commandments. They are the most methodical and extensive collection of them to be found in 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" (mat 8:24-26).
Our ultimate acceptance with Christ will depend upon our doing the things he has commanded. "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 (mat 7:21).
So there is no room for misconception, realize obedience of Christ must be above every duty and love. Once as Jesus stood in the midst of a listening crowd, somebody 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" (mat 7:47) (mat 7:50) 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" (luk 9:27-28). On another occasion he said, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (luk 6:46). Also: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (mat 5:20); and, again, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you" (joh 15:14).
Jesus said to the leaders of the Jewish nation: "Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (mat 15:6). Most commandments of Christ are ignored by the false Christians that fill the churches. The commandments are not obeyed or recognized. They have been explained away and nullified through the influence of human opinion and precept. The command to believe the gospel has been set aside. The command to be baptised has been removed. The command to break bread from week to week in remembrance of him is absent from the churches. So it is with most commands.
There is a class of commandments that run more directly counter to human bias and inclination than others. Their aim is to test, purify, chasten and discipline the mind into subjection to God's 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. Most people are afraid to think about the commandments as unsophisticated or silly. But the commandments are not altered by their "opinions." They remain the expression of Christ's will. The are not nullified by tradition. 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. It remains the part of people who believe in God, to hearken to the voice of His word, and not to the opinions of the people and their leaders.
What about these commandments? 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 the churches would deny. But they still may be little able to give practical effect to these commandments in life. These commandments 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.
We won't discuss these commonly acknowledged and accepted commands. You probably have heard about them many times. But rather, it is of the commandments whose excellence is not so self-evident that there is need to speak. These are 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 God's pattern in preparation for the perfectly agreeable state of existence to be established by Christ upon the earth in the day of His coming.
"Be not conformed to this world" (rom 12:2). There is not much danger of mistaking the meaning of this. The world is the society, not the physical earth. Peter puts this beyond doubt in calling it "the world OF THE UNGODLY" (2pe 2:5). 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" (joh 15:18). 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" (joh 17:1). 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" (1jo 2:15). By Peter, he indicates their position in the world as that of "strangers and pilgrims" (1pe 2:11), and their life in it as a "time of sojourning" (1pe 1:17), to be passed in holiness and fear (1pe 1:14) (1pe 1:17).
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 apparently professing and ceremonially meticulous people, among whom the standard of respectability was high in a religious sense. All their conversations with Christ show 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 16: "O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee" (joh 16:25). 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, 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. God's 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 5:23).
THIS IS NOT OUR WORLD
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" (jam 4:4). "NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS... YE CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON (money)" (mat 6:24).
The force of this reasoning increases tenfold when we contemplate the present situation in the light of God's explanation and God's purpose concerning it. We must seek for this explanation in the beginning of things - the beginning as Moses showed. (Writings endorsed by Christ, and therefore to be trusted). Genesis shows us man in harmony with God, and things "very good." Then it shows us disobedience (the setting aside of God's will as the rule of human action - alias, sin), and as the result of this, God's 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" (1jo 5:19), "dead in trespasses and sins... by nature children of wrath" (eph 2:13), "without Christ, having no hope, and without God." (eph 2:12).
THE WORLD IS NOW IN DARKNESS
Now, what is the purpose concerning this state of things? It is briefly summarised in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 (2th 2:7), and Revelation 19:11-16 (rev 19:11-16). "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 22:3).
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, God's 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 God's 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 do the churches 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 the churches. 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).
WE MUST NOT GO NEAR POLITICS
Observe politics. Politics are a perfect example of worldliness. 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 the churches from the commandments of Christ. It is a proof that the modern church is "of this world," even if the private practice of its members were in harmony with the mind of Christ.
The common practice of so-called "Christians" shows how worldly churches are in respect to politics. Their leaders get involved in the political process and influence law-making and decisions. They dine with, pray for and participate in party politics at all levels. Their membership all vote and take part in political campaigns, all attempting to achieve more riches, honor and a better life. The Bible tells us not to seek that. We are to seek to please God and stay separate from this world.
SEPARATENESS IS THE CORRECT CHRISTIAN WAY
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" (2co 6:1-18). 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 (1pe 2:21) (joh 8:15) (joh 15:18-20) (1co 6:1) (1co 4:17)
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 12:9) (1th 5:22)). 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 3:23-24). Even servants are to do their part to a bad master faithfully as "to the Lord" (1pe 2:18-20).
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" (2ti 2:22). They are to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts," and "live soberly and righteously and godly" (tit 2:12). They are not to live in pleasure (tit 3:3) (1ti 5:6). 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 (1pe 1:15) (2co 13:7) (2co 6:16).
MORE THAN OUTWARD APPEARANCE
Guided by these apostolic principles, brethren and sisters in Christ will abstain from the defiling habits that are common to ungodly churches. Tobacco smoking or chewing, drunkeness with alcohol or drugs stand prominent. As people 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 don't get high, or caught up in the foolishness of society.
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 live with weapons. 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. They are bent only upon earning Christ's approval 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.
"They that are great (among the Gentiles) exercise authority upon them. BUT IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU. But whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (mat 20:25-27). "BE NOT YE CALLED RABBI, for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Nothing is more natural than for men to seek honour and deference among their fellow men. It is the universal habit, of society "to receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only" (joh 5:44). Men everywhere "love the praise of men more than the praise of God" (joh 12:43). It is considered the right thing to nurse "ambition" - to indulge the desire for "fame" - which is the same thing in modern times. Jesus condemns it without qualification. He forbids men to aim at human approval. It is his express commandment in almsgiving, for example, to "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (mat 6:3); and in prayer, to "pray to thy Father which is in secret" (mat 6:6), and in the exercises of God's sorrow, "to appear not unto men to fast" (mat 6:18). The object is that "thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." For the same reason, he forbids us to accept honourable titles and honourable places, and enjoins us to take a low and serving place. In illustration of his meaning, he himself washed the feet of his disciples, remarking, "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you" (joh 13:15). He expressly said, "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased" (luk 14:11). His command by the apostles is, "All of you be clothed with humility "; put away pride: "mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate" (rom 12:3) (rom 12:16) (phi 2:3) (1pe 5:5-6)
The object of these commandments must be apparent to every reflecting mind that realises Christ's object in the preaching of the gospel. It is to "purify unto himself a peculiar people" (tit 2:14), to show forth "the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1pe 2:9). The celebration of this praise is not finally and effectually rendered until the summons comes forth from the throne, to the immortal multitude of the saints in the day of His appearing: "praise our God all ye His servants" (rev 14:5); who respond to the thrilling mandate in a tempest of enthusiastic acclamation, "as the voice of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunderings" (rev 14:6). How could a people be prepared for such a part except by the command to crucify the propensity that seeks the honour of men in this evil age?
The acceptance of that honour necessarily engenders self-absorption, and unfits the heart for that self-abasement which is the first ingredient of true glory to God. We can see what the cultivation of ambition does for its poor worshippers. Take the elegant crowd at a levee-the haughty, quick-glancing, susceptible sons and daughters of fashion: how would they be qualified to praise God in the heart-felt way required? It is the praise of men that fills and controls them-visible in their arrogance, and impatience and pride. They are eaten up with it as with a fever. The commandments of Christ have no acceptability to them. Their motto is "Who is Lord over us?" When the commandments of Christ obtain an entrance, they allay this fever, and bring the mind into a frame in harmony with true reason in the ennobling recognition that all things are derived, and that the glory and credit of everything is ultimately due to God alone, and not safe to be accepted, in however small a measure, at the hands of man in the present age of godlessness.
RELIGIOUS HONORS ARE WICKEDNESS
How is it with the churches? Are names of honour repudiated? Are good deeds done in private? Is the praise of men deprecated? Is it not notoriously the reverse in all particulars? Have we not "Rev.", "Right Rev." , "Most Rev.", "Very Rev.", and "Fathers in God," and a legion of plain revs.? - a stupendous lying title in its plainest form. Have we not "Masters" and "Doctors " of all sorts - M.A's and B.A's and D.D's, and the M.P's and T.C's, of Parliamentary and municipal dignities, impressing the crowd all the more as an abstraction reduced to what are to them mysterious monograms? And in more private ways, do we not see the same aping after greatness, the same fawning to greatness, in all sorts of complimentary titles exacted and accorded by the millions who call themselves "Christian"?
And are the leaders better than the people? Are not the leaders first in the offence? Who so quick as they to resent the omission of conventional honours, which they call "courtesies," and who so irresponsive to the claims of benevolence and right when out of human sight? There may be, and doubtless are, exceptions; but as a rule, it is now, as Jesus said it was with the Scribes and Pharisees of his day, "All their works they do to be seen of men. They make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men 'Rabbi, Rabbi'" (mat 23:57).
Look at the public subscription lists: where would the contributions be if the names and amounts were not published? Is it not a fact that the contributors of the churches as a class, aim to get their contributions advertised, and that those who ask them, pander to the popular weakness, in the certain knowledge that, if they do not soothe the unholy ambitions with public acknowledgements, the donations would stay in the pockets of the donors?
And as for the "praise of men," it is the inspiration of all public life, the incense of public worship, and the peculiar fragrance of all public proceedings. Who can read the report of a public meeting without having his senses sickened with fulsome eulogy, uncalled for presentations and testimonials, and the cheap, but indispensable vote of thanks? The motives of men are corrupted by breathing such an atmosphere. There is no remedy but the remedy of destruction and of reconstruction which is waiting to be applied at the coming of Christ. The individual remedy lies in "coming out," and doing the will of God in privacy and obscurity, in patient waiting for the glorious day of rectification and recompense which God will assuredly bring at the time of His purpose in fulfilment of His promise.
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (mat 6:19). This is plainly expressed in another part of the word of wisdom thus: "Labour not to be rich" (pro 23:4). Nothing in the whole range of language could be plainer than this. Christ, who surely knew better than all, states a fact which constitutes a powerful reason for the commandment not to aim at riches. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (luk 18:24). Riches he calls "the mammon of unrighteousness." He does not say their possession is absolutely inconsistent with God's favour and inheritance of life eternal. But He gives us to understand that the danger of their "choking the word" is extreme (mat 13:22), and that the only safety of those who have them, lies in turning them by use into friends and safeguards. His advice is: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" (luk 16:9). How this is to be done, he indicates: "Give alms: provide yourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not" (luk 12:33). This advice is repeated by the apostles "Charge them that are rich in this world... that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come" (1ti 6:17). "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1pe 4:10).
The rich in the churches do not conform to these prescriptions of God. On the contrary, they lavish their superabundance on themselves in a thousand ways that minister to "the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." If they get more, their plan is to enlarge the basis of their own individual aggrandisement. They would be considered fools if they did otherwise. How Christ regards the matter (that, in fact, he considers them fools for doing that which the world considers them wise for doing), they may learn beforehand from (luk 12:16): - "The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do; I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, THOU FOOL, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then, whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."
Here we have the law of Christ forbidding the poor to labour to be rich, and commanding the rich to use their abundance in the alleviation of the want around them. What is the practice of the churches with regard to these institutes? Is not "laying up treasure upon earth" the one thing aimed at, the one thing commended, the one thing needful and respectable on all hands? and do not the rich resent the suggestion of liberality to the poor as an impertinence, entitling them to fling the suggestor into the gutters? These things are true. But the commandment calmly remains, and we shall have to face it one day, as Jesus says: "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge you at the last day." We may prosper in our diligent laying by, or pleasantly enjoy ourselves inside the ring - fence we set up for our unrighteous mammon - justifying our course on the social economic theories yielded by the experience of a sinful generation; but where will both be in the day when we emerge empty - handed from the grave, to appear before Him who will "judge the living and the dead," and who will open our eyes to the fact that what we had in the day of our probation, was His? He will decide the issue on His own principles alone, and not on the principle that sinners have rendered popular among themselves.
Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Of him that taketh thy goods ask them not again. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (mat 5:39-41) (luk 6:30). Of all the commandments of Christ, this of unresisting submission to legal and personal wrong is the one that most severely tests the allegiance of his disciples, and which accordingly is most decisively neglected in all the churches. It would not be too much to say that it is deliberately refused and formally set aside by the mass of professing Christians, as an impracticable rule of life. That it stands there as the plainest of Christ's commandments, cannot be denied; and that it was re - echoed by the apostles and carried out in the practice of the early Christians, is equally beyond contradiction. Yet, by all classes, it is ignored as much as if it had never been written. To what are we to attribute this deliberate disobedience of all ranks and classes of men, nominally professing subjection to Christ?
Something of it is doubtless due to a wrong conception of the object of the commandments. It is commonly imagined that the commandments of Christ apply, and are intended to supply, the best modes of life among men - that is, those modes that are best adapted to secure a beneficial adaptation of man to man in the present state of life upon earth. Doubtless they would prove such if all men acted on them. But in a world where the majority ignore them and act out their selfish instincts without scruple, it is otherwise. They expose the obedient to personal disadvantage. They were never intended to have any other effect. They were intended to develop "a peculiar people," whose peculiarity should consist in the restraint of natural impulse in submission to the will of God. They were designed to chasten and discipline and purify such a people by the exercise of patient submission to wrong in preparation for another time when such commandments will be no longer in force, but when it will be given to the developed and obedient saints to "execute judgment" upon the ungodly, and "break in pieces the oppressor" as a preliminary to the blessing of all people (rev 2:26) (dan 7:22) (psa 149:9).
Men say society could not be carried on if these principles were acted on. Such a speech is not the speech of a disciple. Christ is not aiming at carrying on society on its present footing, but at "taking out a people" to carry it on rightly - that is, on God's principles - in the age to come. His own case illustrates the position. The people wanted to take him by force and make him a king, but he withdrew (joh 6:15). A man wanted him to interfere in a will dispute. He declined, saying, "Who made me a judge and a divider?" (luk 12:14). His part was to testify the truth, to do the will of the Father, to do all the good he could on God's grounds, and as for the world, to "testify of it that the works thereof are evil" (joh 7:7). In this course he created hatred for himself, which finally took the form of personal violence. This violence he did not resist. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, his life was taken from the earth. And he said with regard to his whole experience. "The servant is not greater than his Lord. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (joh 15:18-20).
The church resists evil; sues at law; resents injury, brandishes the constable's truncheon, and fights in the army, even if the men it is called upon to shoot are fellow Christians. If pointed to the law of Christ, it shakes its head. It speaks of "duty to society," the "protection of life and property," and the certain chaos that would set in if the law of Christ were in force. In this, the churches speaks as the world, and not as "the church," because it is not the church, but the world. The true church is composed of the brethren of Christ, and he tells us that his brethren are those who obey his commandments, and do the will of the Father, as expressed by his mouth (mat 12:50) (joh 12:49-50). The question for such has no difficulties. The question is: "Does the law of Christ allow them to employ violence under any circumstances?" If not, the loss of life itself would not be a consequence to be considered by them. Thoughts of expediency or philanthropy are out of place when urged in defence of doing that which the law of Christ forbids. If riots must rage unless we disobey Christ, let riots rage. If life and property must be exposed to the ravages of wicked men, unless we do that which Christ tells us we are not to do, let all houses and all lives be unprotected. If we must incur and pay heavy penalties, unless we choose to break the law of God, let the penalties be paid. If we must be killed, and all our families with us, unless we forfeit the approval of the Lord and Master, and lose eternal life at his coming, let us die at once.
It is a mistake to hamper the question of duty with any secondary consideration whatever. The time has not come for the saints to keep the world right. It has to be made right before even keeping it right can be in question. The position of the saints is that of sojourners on trial for eternal life. God will take care that their probation is not interfered with by murder and violence before the time. The matter is His. We are in His hands: so is all the world. We need not therefore be distressed by thoughts of what will be the effect of any course required by Christ. He will take care that His work comes out right at last. The simple and only question for us, is that which Paul put near Damascus: "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" We may not do what involves disobedience to Him. A special constable, for example, is required if need be, to break a man's head with a truncheon. The question in such a case is, therefore, best put thus: "Does Christ allow his servants to break people's heads with truncheons?" It is not a proper answer to this question to say that being commanded to obey magistrates (tit 3:1), we are bound to act as special constables if the magistrates order us; because no one will deny that this exhortation is governed by the larger precept, that we are to "obey God rather than man" (act 4:19). No candid person will contend that Paul meant we were to obey magistrates when their order might be to disobey God. If any such contention is made, it is a sufficient answer to cite the practice of the apostles, who must be allowed to be reliable interpreters of their own exhortations.
They were constantly disobeying magistrates in the particular matter of preaching the gospel, and brought themselves to prison and death by this disobedience. There was no inconsistency between this course of theirs, and their exhortation to "obey magistrates"; for in the matters referred to in this exhortation, they were themselves obedient to magistrates. They paid tribute, honoured the ruling powers, and recognised the authority of the law, in all matters not affecting their allegiance to the law of God. This is a duty required of all saints, and cheerfully rendered by them, notwithstanding that they expect all such orders and institutions to be abolished in due time. That time is the Lord's time; and for this they patiently wait. The work is the Lord's work, and for Him they wait.
But are they to be induced or coerced by human law to do what Christ has expressly forbidden? The only question is, has he forbidden what is in question in this case? Has he forbidden violence? As to this, nothing is clearer, "He hath left us an example that we should follow his steps" (1pe 2:21). This is what Christ himself said to his disciples: "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you" (joh 8:15). Now what is the example of Christ as to the matter in hand? The testimony is that he did no violence, neither was deceit found in his mouth (isa 53:9). As Peter tells us. "When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1pe 2:23).
But some say, this refers only to circumstances of persecution: that when he said: "Resist not evil," he meant that his friends were not to fight against those who persecuted them for their faith, but patiently and unresistingly allow them to do their will. It will be found, upon investigation, that this is a mistake. Christ was not speaking of persecution at all. He was speaking of the legal maxims and practices of the Jewish nation. He says: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." By whom - to whom, for what purpose had this been said? It was said by Moses to Israel, as the principle that was to regulate proceedings at law. This will be apparent by referring to (exo 21:22-24). "He (the offender) shall pay as THE JUDGES determine, and if any mischief follow, thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth," etc. When, therefore, Jesus enjoins non - resistance of evil, it is not with reference to persecutors, but with reference to legal proceedings, and the ordinary relations of man with man.
This is perhaps more evident in the next verse (mat 5:40). "If any man will sue thee at law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also." Here is no persecutor but a man who simply wants your property and tries to dispossess you by legal process. "Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." A persecutor would not be likely to want your company on the road. It is the case of a wayfarer who wants your comfort and protection on a lonely road, and to whom you are commanded to be liberal beyond his desires. "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away." Surely this is no persecutor, who would take without your leave.
The suggestion that these precepts apply only to circumstances of persecution, is the thought of a combative nature which rebels against Christ's flesh - crucifying precepts, but is not prepared to go the length of openly denying Christ. It is a suggestion that is absurd in itself; for why should we be allowed to fight for ourselves, and be forbidden to fight for the Lord? One would imagine that the distinction, if it existed, would lie in the other direction, viz., that we would be allowed to repel and retaliate when it was the authority of the Lord that was in question, but that we should be submissive when it was a mere question of taking our purse. But the fact is, no such distinction is made. The suggestion that it exists is gratuitous. It is a distinction that cannot, in fact, be made; for how are you to know when a man hurts you for your faith, and when from his own cupidity?
The command of the Lord is absolute, that we are to act the part of sheep in the midst of wolves; wise as serpents, but unharmful as doves. The faithful of the first century recognised this as involving non - resistance. This is evident from James's incidental remark to the wanton rich men of the twelve tribes: "Ye have condemned and killed the just, and he doth not resist you" (jam 5:6). It is also distinctly evident from Paul's claim in (2co 11:20), to be heard on this ground: "For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face."
As much as to say, "It is a usual thing with you to submit without resistance, to personal injury; how much more may you endure my words." He had expressly enjoined: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (rom 12:19-21). Again, he says, "See that none render evil for evil" (1th 5:15). Again, "Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?" (1co 6:7).
These principles exclude a resort to law on the part of those who obey the commandments of Christ. Going to law is inconsistent with submission to precepts requiring us to accept evil, and to refrain from vindicating ourselves. What is going to law but resorting to the utmost extremity of personal violence and coercion? Those who look on the surface may not see this, but they feel it readily enough when directed against themselves. They may imagine it is doing a very gentle deed to pay a visit to a quiet lawyer's office, and ask him to set the law in motion in a "legitimate" way, protesting you want only justice, etc., etc.
But follow the matter to its upshot; see what it means, and then judge whether, as a friend of Christ, you are at liberty to do such a bloody and forbidden thing. You get the judgment of the law in your favour: and let us suppose the debtor is unable to pay. What happens? Your servants (for the agents of the law are your servants, for the time being, and would not act a moment after your authority was withdrawn) enter his house and sell his bed, and cast him homeless on the street. But suppose he is able to pay and won't, and takes it into his head to resist, enlisting, let us suppose, a band of bold spirits to his aid. The myrmidons of the law arrive at the house; the door is locked, admission demanded in vain. Your agents knock the door down, but they find the passage barricaded. They demolish the barricades, but find the occupants of the house in an attitude of defiance. Your servants of the law push them; the debtor's friends smite your servants of the law. Your servants smite in return, but seeing they are over - matched, they withdraw.
The debtor exults and fearing a return of the myrmidons, he sends for and obtains a reinforcement of roughs. The bailiffs return with assistance. A melee ensues: heads are broken and property destroyed, and the bailiffs are repulsed. What next? A riot. Part of the people take sides with the debtor and part with the bailiffs. What next? The soldiers are sent for. The soldiers are now your servants. If the men in the house don't give in brains will be blown out and lives taken, and all this will be done because you have set the law in motion. In fact, this is the law in motion. What is commonly called" the law," is but the smooth end of the bludgeon. It is the fear of the other end that makes people cower at the sight of the handle. A bailiff goes and shows the handle, and this is generally sufficient, but the fact remains, that what is called the law is a terrible instrument of destruction, which will break skulls if there is any resistance. A battered house and blood - covered corpses, are elements in the picture to be considered. The fact that it is rarely needful to push matters to this length does not alter the nature of the transaction, or weaken the conclusion that saints are not at liberty to employ such an engine of offence.
The fact that a man does not personally employ the violence only makes the matter worse, so far as the nature of his act is concerned; for which is worse: to do the deed honestly and bravely yourself, or to stand behind a curtain and whisper the words that set a lot of heartless ruffians to do it? If you were the personal actor, your debtor might have some chance of mercy by personal appeal; but when you set the law in motion you hand him over to the tender mercies of men with hearts of stone, and without the power to be merciful even if they had the mind.
It is generally conceded that a brother has no right to resort to law against a brother, because of Paul's express words in 1 Cor. vi, 1 - 4; but some conceive they may do so against a stranger. The first thought upon such a proposition is, that it is contrary to the entire spirit of Christ's teaching to suppose we are at liberty to apply any process of hurt to strangers which we are not to apply to brethren. His command to be absolutely harmless, extends even to any enemy, still more to a debtor, who may not necessarily be an enemy. The supposed distinction in favour of brethren in this matter would be a return to the spirit of things which said "Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy," which Christ expressly superseded.
How comes it that Paul mentions a "brother," in connection with law - going at all in 1 Cor vi.? Is it to intimate that a brother may go to law with a stranger, while not at liberty to do so with, a brother? There is no such hint in the context. It is rather to illustrate the great extent to which the Corinthians had gone in their disobedience. "Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." He commands the brethren to judge if there is anything wrong between brother and brother; but does he recommend a resort to even this judicature? On the contrary, he says, "Why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?"
The command to be passive in relation to evil, is an ordinance for the present probation merely. In due time, the saints will trample the wicked as ashes under the soles of their feet, if they prove themselves worthy of the honour by a faithful submission to what God requires of them now. "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations." (rev 2:26). In this view, it is of paramount importance that the saints remain true to the commandments of Christ; and do not suffer themselves to be led into the path of disobedience by glosses on his word, which while making the way smoother to the flesh will have the effect of depriving us of the crown in the day of glory to be revealed.
There are other commands to which the everyday practice of the churches is totally opposed, but to which, after the great length to which this lecture has already gone, we cannot do more than merely refer. Christ: -
a. Forbids making all manner of oaths (mat 5:34) (jam 5:12).
b. Prohibits the taking of the sword (mat 26:52) (rev 13:10)
d. Insists on peace - making and personal private communication with the offended with this view (mat 5:24) (mat 18:15) (col 3:13)
e. Commands kindness to even the undeserving and the evil (mat 5:44) (luk 6:35)
f. Allows marriage with believers only. (1co 7:39)
g. Enjoins modesty of dress and deportment even to shamefacedness and sobriety (1ti 2:9) (1pe 3:3-4)
It is notorious that the churches habitually violate all these commandments, without the violation of them being supposed to unchristianise the violators in the least degree, although Christ has plainly declared that it is vain for men to call him Lord who do not obey his commandments.
Oaths are regularly administered in public courts (not to speak of the profanities of private intercourse).
Soldiering and going to war
The churches teach that military profession is as a fitting sphere for Christians. The countenance of the "church "is extended to the army in the appointment of chaplains, involving this fearful anomaly that when two so-called Christian nations go to war, Christians on one side cut the throats of Christians on the other side, as a perfectly legitimate business, and Christian "chaplains"on one side pray to the God of all Christians so considered, to prosper the deadly measures of one set of Christians against the prayer of Christian chaplains and the deadly efforts of another set of Christians, that the latter set may strew the field of strife with their corpses while the others march victoriously over their dead bodies, singing Te Deums to God for enabling them to butcher their Christian brethren!
Retaliation is both preached and practised among the masses of the churches as the right and the noble and manly thing to do; and arrogant and resentful speech is excused on the score of necessity, while speaking evil and gloating on the frailties of your neighbours, is the daintiest luxury of common life.
Peace - loving and peace - making are looked upon as signs of effeminacy, and the man who should advocate and practice the duty of seeking a private interview with an enemy, with a view to reconciliation, would be regarded as a demented nuisance.
Kindness to the evil is almost unheard of. Ingratitude and unworthiness are invariably seized on as a reason for not helping anyone in distress. It is the rule to consider yourself justified in withholding help in such a case. It is only excellence (and that too, carried to the heroic point) that propitiates the grace of the churches in favour of private distress.
The idea of restricting matrimony to discipleship is scouted as the prejudice of fanaticism.
And as for dress, so far is the churches astray from the apostolic standard that the mass of so - called Christian women (especially in the upper walks of society), consider it an honourable thing to enter into mutual rivalry in the style and magnificence of their attire. "Fashion" is like a goddess to whose sway all must lean. No one admits to be a worshipper, but everyone acts the part of one. Ambition, the love of display, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, are not acknowledged as the ruling motives, though there is scarcely another at work. All is justified on the score of "taste." The rule, is find a style that doesn't stick out to much, but is nice, and stick to it. Don't be flashy or ostentatious, and don't try to out-do the next person.
These commands are anti-flesh, anti-world
This state of things is grievous to every mind in sympathy with God's aims in human life, as revealed in the Scriptures. There is no alternative but to fight the prevailing corruption. It is for earnest men, in private practice and in public inculcation, so far as there may be opportunity, to uphold the ideal exhibited in the apostolic writings. By no other course can we save ourselves from a generation which is as "untoward" as the one that listened to a similar exhortation from Peter. The fight may be hard, but the objects are supreme.
We can afford to shut our ears to cavils of the adversary. It is not true that the commandments of Christ enfeeble and deteriorate the character. What is considered enfeeblement and deterioration is only the discipline and restraint of the lower propensities, which re - act in the invigoration of all that is noble and pure. While excluding the animal energies and activities that go to make up what is popularly considered "manliness," the commandments of Christ draw us into the channel of higher and ennobling obligations in the direction of goodness and duty, activities unknown to the mere man of natural feelings. They give us the fear of God for deference to public - opinion; the enterprise of benevolence for the energy of self - assertion, the enlightening stimulus of a clear philosophy for the muddy impulse of self - gratification; the guidance of rectitude for the slavish and uncertain law of expediency, the virtue of self restraint for the action of resentment, the power of motive for the caprice of feeling; principle for whim; knowledge for feeling; godliness for manliness; life for death.
1. Describe in a short paragraph something you could change in your life regarding things in this lesson.
2. What effect would a careful adherence to the things taught in this lesson change you as a person?
3. What is "worldliness".
4. What should our position be in relation to this world.
5. For followers of Christ, must anyone have authority over someone else?