Some Lessons from the Chronicles (Part 7)
Harry Lacey, Cardiff
FOUR ATTITUDES TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD
The reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah are grouped in the Holy Scriptures. The statement that Isaiah’s ministry was sustained through the course of them, links them (Isa. 1.1). They are further linked by the fact that as Isaiah, the prophet of glory, was revealing the Holy One of Israel as the Infinitely High and the Infinitely Near (Isa. 57. 15–this verse fairly epitomizes the message of the prophecy), Hosea, the prophet of the broken heart, was ministering in the Northern Kingdom the message of the same Holy One of Israel, hut of Him as the God of the Broken Heart (Hos. 1. 1, see ch. 11.1–4 and 8–9),
It is well worth while to read Old Testament histories along with their respective prophecies, because, in the prophecies, the feelings of God stirred by the events are revealed. The labour entailed will be rewarded by that which may be learned of the character of God and of His ways with men.
If the Holy Scriptures group men or matters, we can scarcely do better them consider those men and matters in the groupings there presented. We shall therefore endeavour to arrive at the message of this group of four reigns.
Apart from the fact that three of these kings are linked in. the opening verse of Micah, there is a fourth way in which they fall together. This will be the basis of the present study. They are linked by what is said of their respective attitudes to the. Temple: –
Uzziah acted presumptuously in the House of the Lord (2 Chron. 28. 16);
Jotham avoided it (ch. 27. 2);
Ahaz desecrated it (ch. 28. 24); hut
Hezekiah owned God’s claims, restored His house, and brought about a great revival (ch. 29. 3, and to 31. 21).
The attitudes of these kings to the Temple are valuable to us as a means of identifying different attitudes to the teachings of the New Testament on the conduct of churches, because their history has repeated itself in the history of churches. Through the misbehaviour in church–matters of good men like Uzziah some have been put off church–truth, just as Uzziah’s misbehaviour put Jotham off the Temple and made him neglect it. In turn, the diffidence of Jotham paved the way for Ahaz’s complete rejection and desecration of the house of the Lord. The failure of one generation repelled the next and helped to create the problem of the third. Similarly, those who have been put off church–truth by the failures and inconsistencies they observe in others tend to impart to others a momentum in a wrong direction. Unlike all these, Hezekiah faced–up to the claims of the Lord and His house, and for the sake of His honour and worship restored the Temple.
New Testament Church Principles
It is well for us to emphasize again that all that is necessary for the work of the Lord and the ordering of churches is provided in the New Testament. We have there all we need for our conduct in the house of the Lord. The pattern of evangelizing and church–building is given in The Acts; instructions against sectarianism and denominationalism appear in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians; the order of the Lord’s Supper is explained in the same Epistle; the rights of the Holy Spirit amongst believers, the motive of ministry and the order of meetings, all follow in the instructions of the same Epistle; order as well as faith is covered in Colossians by the argument that Christ, being sufficient for the purposes of the Godhead in creation, support and reconciliation, is therefore likewise sufficient for all the needs of believers whether individual or collective; ritual and legalism are outlawed once and for all by the teachings of Hebrews and Galatians respectively, and the principles of harmony and blessing in the churches are livingly explained in Philippians.
The inconsistencies of some in their endeavours to express the New Testament order for the conduct of churches is no spiritual, nor indeed logical, reason for neglect of these principles. Rather is the failure of others a challenge to those who love the Lord to do, for His sake, better than their predecessors, especially seeing that history conveys instruction to the teachable as to how others failed. Whatever the mistakes, failures and unbalanced devotion of others in regard to the conduct of churches, the New Testament order is binding upon us, and as binding as if there had been no failure, for the simple reason that it is the will of the Christ we call upon as Lord,
Attitudes of Christendom
It will be useful to envisage Christendom and to recognize the attitudes to New Testament teaching on collective worship and corporate testimony which exist therein, before interpreting further the behaviour of these four kings of Judah. Christendom presents at least live distinct attitudes to church–truth which may be identified and categorized as follows: (1) the theory of development; (2) the compromise of the Reformers; (3) the theory of ‘ ruin ‘; (4) the attitude of evangelical revival; (5) belief in the sufficiency for the whole age of New Testament teaching.
1. The Theory of Development. Roman, Greek and Episcopalian Churches hold the theory of development and claim freedom to advance upon, adjust and ‘ improve ‘ the original simple order of apostolic times in the affairs of the Lord’s house. Whether the professed advancement conflicts with apostolic precedents, the precepts of the New Testament and the principles revealed therein, or not, is ‘ the acid test.’ Sometimes it is claimed that development has be«n superintended of God. Unless it is possible to conceive that God will act contrary to His Word, the same test is the means of dealing with this claim also. We submit that the Lord’s promise to be with His disciples who carry out His commission to the end of the age, presupposes that the commission shall abide unchanged to the end of the age, and that this alone is entirely against ideas of development.
2. The Compromise of the Reformers. The Reformers searched the Scriptures for gospel truth, and acted upon and preached what they found revealed in Holy Writ, They did not do so in regard to church–truth. The fact that they did so for the one and not for the other, makes it evident that their return was partial. This attitude still remains in denominationalism, and the tendency to go to the sub–apostolic age for practices makes this view partly contributory to the theory of development, for the sub–apostolic age is witnessed by the Scriptures to have departed from apostolic practices (see Rev. 2 and 3) and that on the plea of development.
3. The Theory of ‘ ruin.” Many estimable Christians
have considered that Christendom is in such a state of
departure, is so broken and intermixed with the world,
that it; is impossible to give effect to the principles of collective worship and of corporate testimony. Amongst
these may be ranked, notably, the mystics and gatherings of so–called ‘ exclusive brethren,’ The former concentrate upon the development of personal holiness to the exclusion of church–truth; the latter, whilst they give expression to some features of New Testament times, maintain that elders and a complete church–order are impossible now. They claim to be content to be a testimony amid the ruin.
4. The Attitude of Evangelical Revival. Evangelical
revival for the most part has been, and still is, content
with gospel preaching. It avoids the controversial subjects such as Baptism and church–order, and thus fails to carry out an important part of the Lord’s commission to His disciples throughout the whole age. Christ commanded His disciples ”to teach all things whatsoever” He had commanded in His own ministry. To decline to do so involves disobedience. Therefore this attitude, which produces missions and evangelical fellowships, does not produce New Testament churches. After all, the apostles established churches and they established nothing else. This is not written to damp the ardour of anyone in the gospel, but to encourage the enthusiastic to carry their service further and thus make full proof of their ministry. It is surely not the province of a disciple to barter the commission of the Master. To carry out the part with lesser spiritual and moral difficulties, and avoid the part with the greater, is scarcely like Christ. It is in the light of the whole commission that the Lord–the righteous Judge–will grant His rewards to the faithful, rather than the apparently successful, in that day when we all shall be made manifest at the judgment–seat of Christ.
5. Belief in the Sufficiency for the Whole Age of New Testament Teaching. The fifth–mentioned attitude we believe to be the only worthy one for a devout believer and the only one which will honour God fully, give Christ His full rights and the Holy Spirit His proper place. Moreover, in a certain part of the world in recent decades, missionaries concerned with the lack of progress amongst those who were undoubtedly genuine believers found that, by jettisoning de no mi national practices and associations and resorting through diligent prayer and study to God and His Word to practise the simple conduct of churches indicated in the New Testament, such progress was made by these believers as became an astonishment to all. It is noteworthy that these, like many others is this and other lands at different times, discovered the will of God and found it operable without reference to other believers or consultation with any. It must have been this consciousness of the sufficiency of God and His Word that made Paul commend the churches to the Lord (Acts (4. 23) and to God and the Word of His grace (ch. 20. 32), and to nobody and to nothing else. The simple New Testament order is equally operable in any continent of the earth and in any race of men. No other order is universal, just as no other message but the Gospel of Christ is universal, and just as no other person but Christ Himself is such as that all others shall be conformedthereunto. It is submitted that, God being who He is with a heart for all men and the wisdom of the eternities at His disposal, it would be the veriest miracle of astonishment if it were otherwise.
Attitudes of the Four Kings
Some might object and say that the attempt to express this order has not proved as easy as it appears when read of in print. They point to ‘ leprosies ‘ which have arisen as the result of men’s presumption in the assemblies, and like Jotham tend to withdraw. It is submitted that this is natural, but that it is not acceptable to God. For the claims of His house abode the same for Jotham as they were for Uzziah, and Uzziah’s failure is no justification for Jotham’s diffidence. Rather indeed, ought Uzziah’s failure to have been a challenge to Jotham to see to it that he gave to God a devotion of higher quality than his father had done.
It seems that a process developed with Uzziah’s presumption and Jotham’s diffidence, and issued in Ahaz’s rejection of God’s house. Some side–lights on the character of Ahaz appear in the ministry of Isaiah. His heart was easily moved (Isa. 7. 2); he seemed incapable of grasping the message from God not to faint in the face of opposition hut to be quiet and fear not (v. 4); warning came amiss upon him (v. 9); he seemed unable to deal with God, and when God offered him a sign he did not have the practicalness to accept it (v. 11). We do not wonder then that he wrought such havoc and developed such abominations (2 Chron. 28. 21–25).
Hezekiah was otherwise. That in the first year of his reign and in the first month of that year he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and instituted all the reforms and restorations for which his reign became famous, demonstrates preparation of heart beforehand and determination to give to God His place in the midst of His people.
These records are intended to be challenging and admonitory. We must therefore, each for our own selves, ask our souls which man we are like:
like Uzziah–self–assertive in church–matters?
like Jotham–diffident about church–truth?
like Ahaz–opposed to it?, or
like Hezekiah––devoted to discover and to do the will of the Lord in collective worship and corporate testimony?